Saturday, May 01, 2010
A recent article in the Toronto Star says that Canadians are healthier and live longer than Americans. Here's the link if you are interested:
Like many Canadians, I'm a huge Obama fan and in particular admire his courage in advancing socialized medicine in the US. Politics is the art of the possible -- what Obama wants to do and what he has been able to do are not entirely co-extensive, but he has made a start. And of course he may pay the political price for his principles.
As a Canadian I'm well aware that many Americans believe that they have good reason to be concerned and wary about the Obama health care programme. And I don't consider that as an outsider to the American system I've any right to comment about that. ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin.’—We must cultivate our (own) garden, said Voltaire quite properly!! However, for those Americans who do fret about these changes, the recent comparative Canadian/American statistical data reported in the Toronto Star may offer reassurance.
The Star article describes a report prepared by David Feeney, a dual American/Canadian citizen based in Portland Oregon who looked at the effects of two Canadian measures: universal health care and social programmes intended to reduce economic inequalities. Canadians pay more taxes to fund our safety nets. There is a price and we feel that pain for sure.
Apparently, however, they work.
Canadians on average live in perfect health till age 52: Americans, only until age 49.3.
Canadians on average live to age 79.7; Americans, only until age 77.2.
While we live out those longer lives, only 6 % of elderly Canadians are poor in comparison with 23% of elderly Americans.
These discrepancies are considered by experts to be statistically huge. And the stats don't change when racial differences are taken into consideration. To top it off, although Canadians do pay more taxes the cost of health care in the US is significantly higher than in Canada.
I work hard to stay healthy and to keep my family healthy. I earn a decent living and could afford to pay for our routine and basic health care myself. In fact I would be very willing to make co-payment for non-catastrophic health care proportionate to my income, as would many Canadians. Not all of us would claim that Canadians have the perfect funding model for the universal health care system we enjoy and it's likely that some tweaking will be required to keep it solvent.
Still, and despite my best efforts to keep us healthy, members of my family have from time to time required some pretty extensive health care interventions. The costs of the crisis health care we have needed could have been crippling if we had had to pay for it. And there is no question paying for it would have significantly affected my ability to support myself and my family in the past, presently and in my old age.
Voltaire would probably have approved of my work cultivating my garden this morning! It felt good snapping off those dead perennial stocks; rooting out the arching and invasive raspberry canes; bagging the debris; dragging it to the curb. While I worked, bending and yanking and clipping and heaving, I experienced my strength and health with pleasure. Surrounding me and intoxicating me was the colour and scent of dozens of pink, mauve, white and deep purple hyacinths -- naturalized from the bulbs I've enjoyed during the winter and then planted out in the fall over the past 23 years. There are clouds of pale blue forget-me-nots and dark purple violets. Lily-of-the-valley and lilacs are budding and soon to bloom.
Last spring passed in a bit of a blur as I wrestled with health stuff: this spring I'm consciously inhaling every minute. Nothing feels better than feeling healthy. But it also helps not having to worry about paying for the health care that I received unstintingly when I needed it. May need again.
So -- I'm not Canadian smug -- really not. But today I'm cultivating my garden. And feeling quietly Canadian grateful.
Friday, April 16, 2010
I was interested in a recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail with this headline; here's the link if you'd like to read it too:
The gist of the article: many people GAIN weight when they start a running programme or are in training for a 10k or marathon or triathalon -- as much as 10 pounds or more. And for only a small number of people is the weight gain related to increased muscle mass.
Mostly, the weight gain results from people failing to realize how few additional calories they are actually burning because they're running. The average runner burns only about 420 calories for 1 hour of running at an 8-minute pace. And runners find their schedules more time-crunched than ever because they're fitting in the runs. That means less time to plan and prepare healthy foods -- chopping vegetables for salads, and so on. Plus appetite increases and they feel entitled to "grab and go" -- a handful of cookies, a sandwich (there's the 400 calories) because they are, after all, virtuously embarked upon a vigorous workout.
But, according to Joe Friel (in a different article), every pound of additional body fat causes a runner to slow by 2 seconds per mile -- 25 extra pounds means 7-8% slower runs. The lighter you are the faster you go: up to a point. Running coach Simon Whitfield says that persons who are excessively thin because of poor nutrition (about a third of female college age runners) are generally not able to sustain their running careers for long. Not to mention: every extra pound has the effect of about seven extra pounds when you're running and landing on your heels!
Moderation in all things: not a new message, but one I need to keep telling myself. After a month's hiatus (slow recovery from pneumonia, breathing difficulties) I'm back to my podrunner intervals week eight, running a steady 28 minutes after a 5 minute warmup and then a 3 minute cooldown. Using the POSE technique: rapid cadence, short stride, landing mid-foot, vertical posture --and it still looks dorky but is beginning to feel more instinctive. Remembering to stretch after the run. And I've got right back into my strength training too, with attention to the lower body hip flexors, quads and hamstrings to stablize the knee joints and hip joints. No injuries so far: yay!! Plus I've been out on the golf course as much as possible . . . my 'cross training" on non-running days.
When I was running 10 k some 15 years ago, I forgot about the strength training, ran every day, landed heavily on my heels with a long stride, and weighed at least 20 pounds more than I do now. Blew out my hip and knee joints. And I'm determined not to do that again. Gotta stay light so that I CAN run: and not expect that my tentative return to running justifies eating more.
Which is tough. Because: I'm hungry!! But: I'm runing because I really love to run. And there's no way I want to let running make me fat.
Friday, April 02, 2010
There was an interesting article in the April 1 Toronto Globe and Mail which I'm pretty sure wasn't an April Fools joke: "Most Canadian dieters can't keep pounds off, poll finds".
If you want the link, here it is:
In a nutshell, a recent Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation poll found that only 17% of those who were overweight and took weight off were able to keep at least five pounds off for five years. For those who were obese, only 8% who lost weight were able to keep five pounds off for five years. And I'm guessing that the US stats are probably comparable.
Why weren't even these modest successes sustainable, according to the Canadian research? What you'd expect: fad diets; too-rapid weight loss; lack of professional advice. But the number one reason why the weight crept back on is lack of support after the initial "diet" plan. To sustain weight loss, people have to stick with the nutrition plan for the long term. And without support most people can't do that.
Over the past 30 years, obesity has doubled in the 40-69 age group and tripled in the 20 to 39 age group. It's a serious health problem: we all know that. And people are spending lots of money to try and lose weight -- 42% of dieters spent more than $500 a year on their efforts to lose weight. The younger the dieter, the more he or she spends.
The article doesn't say so, but I'm cynical enough to believe that commercial weight loss programmes have a vested interest in sustaining -- not weight loss -- but weight recidivism. If their customers pack it all back on, those customers are more likely to come back to the commercial weight loss programme and spend their hefty weight loss dollars all over again. For commercial weight loss programmes, the profit motive may conflict with supporting maintenance.
So: what about SparkPeople?
Are we beating these odds? I'll bet we are. I'll bet that among those who've been on SP for more than 5 years and started in the overweight category, more than 17% have kept more than 5 pounds off. I'll bet more than 8% of those who were obese when they started have kept more than 5 pounds off. Way more. SP is all about healthy lifestyle, slow weight loss, tons of professional advice and above all SUPPORT. And SP is all about free: we certainly know that SP services aren't costing anyone anything. So there's no incentive for SP to withdraw support during the crucial maintenance phase. On the contrary.
I'm not a five year member -- I only started SP in May 2009. But I have maintained weight loss (with just a lilttle blip) for over five years. And yup, I was obese. That initial 80 pound weight loss was accomplished between June 2001 and February 2002. Seven years later, in February 2009, I'd found 20 of those pounds again. That was my blip. And maybe I had some pretty compelling health problem distractions . . . which would be an explanation but absolutely no excuse justifying my temporary loss of focus! Actually, risk of recurrence increases with weight -- all the more reason to keep weight under control .
And I knew that. Which is why after joining SP in May 2009 I'd taken the 20 "blip" pounds off again by July 2009, and I've kept them off since then. With the help of SP nutrition and exercise trackers, expert information and an amazingly supportive community I've sustained my maintenance range of 150-155 for 8 months.
When I huddle on my At Goal and Maintaining team, I regularly signal "MAINtaining!". That's my shorthand for "maintaining is my MAIN goal". And it is. Because maintaining for me is more important than ever. And because maintaining for me will always be harder than losing.
First of all, it's pretty clear that SP is offering everything that the Canadian researchers identify as essential to weight loss maintenance. Which means that SP has to be beating those kinda dismal 17% and 8% 5 pound/5 year stats, doncha suppose? But by how much? How're we doing, stats wise? How many of us have lost weight and kept it off? How much weight? And for how long??
And second: can the SP site be tweaked to focus even more on maintaining weight loss? I do notice that some members vanish swiftly or drift away a little more slowly once they've accomplished their weight loss. Which is fine if that works for them, of course. But for those "losers" who leave, we can only wonder how successful they are in keeping the weight off without the support of the SP community. What are the stats on "at goal" members dropping out? Regaining? Coming back? And what suggestions can SP members offer SP coaches and site administrators to make the maintenance phase just as cohesive and supportive as the weight loss phase?
We're participating in an amazing experiment, which seems to be completely in accord with the cutting-edge sustainable weight-loss research. When you're losing weight, it's hard work but it's also dramatic and immensely rewarding as the compliments flow in and you can fit into smaller and smaller sizes of new clothes and you feel healthier and healthier. Maintaining can be much less exciting, much less glamorous, attract much less attention -- especially if better appearance rather than improved health was the main goal (vanity is a powerful motivator!!). And it can be a bit dismaying to realize that weight loss doesn't solve all our other problems! That's when weight can creep back on. That's why figuring out how to sustain weight loss has to matter more than the initial weight loss for each one of us. And for our families, our friends, and our communities -- virtual and real!
MAINtaining is my main thing -- and as over time SP builds a community with more and more maintainers in it, I'm guessing that SP will focus more and more on support of weight loss maintenance.
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