The Health Of Our Care – Skin, Bones, and Blood

This post will not be of interest to my foreign readers, it’s all about American healthcare. And this is a subject that no one from around the world can understand. They can’t figure out how it’s such a problem in a developed country. They can’t figure out how by many measures, our healthcare system has been no better than third-world countries. They just don’t get it. So, sorry, this one is not for you.

Post-election 2016, I think it’s time to revive my “Health of Our Care” series. The second place finisher, the man who will be president, has vowed repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare as President Obama’s critics dubbed it. And the people in control of the House and Senate have as well – they’ve made it their goal since before it was even written.

In the days since the election, the incoming leader has walked back from his plans to completely repeal it. He now says he’ll just “fix” it – whatever that means. So we don’t know what the future holds for us.

The many millions of us who have insurance through the ACA have been on pins and needles, or just in a flat out depression, since the election. Especially cancer survivors or anyone with a long-term health issue. Because one of the most important parts of the ACA is no pre-existing conditions – insurers could not deny us coverage because we were sick.

Now we’re hearing that perhaps that will be left in place. And maybe some other elements. But it will somehow – all completely vague – move back to more of a “market” system. Of course, we have no idea what that will look like, we just have to wait and see what the “great healthcare” will be.

So, I thought I’d take a moment to look back at what health insurance through the free market looked like for those of us who didn’t have access to group plans through employers. Just in case you’ve forgotten.

I had an HMO with Aetna for many years. It was expensive, but I was pretty happy with it. Once I was diagnosed with breast cancer, they began raising my premiums. And they started to routinely deny coverage of things I knew were covered. Once I called and complained, they would cover the charge, but it became a regular occurrence. And then my premiums would be raised again. And again. 20, 27, 30, 34% increases every year. And I paid. Because I had no choice. I was in the middle of cancer treatments. Between premiums, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses, I was paying somewhere around $18,000 – 22,000 a year. For one person.

And I felt grateful. Because I lived with someone who could cover more of our housing costs – I wasn’t able to work as much as I’d have liked to when I was sick. And because when would call around to other companies, I’d be told they wouldn’t cover me.

Lots of other people were not so lucky. I personally know people who lost their homes because of healthcare costs, not having someone who could make up the difference for them. I personally know people who had to choose between food for their kids or drugs to fight their cancer. I personally know people who had to tell their kids they couldn’t go to college, not because they had spent their money buying the latest iPhone for their kids instead of saving for college, but because they had to spend the college money on health insurance and hospital payments. I personally know people whose insurance policies were canceled for no reason, leaving them unable to get other insurance because of pre-existing conditions. And I personally know people – lovely women and men, hard-working, mothers, fathers, children – who died, unable to get the care they needed.

Please remember also the housing crisis. Remember? Caused by the big, bad banks? Except that, it turns out, it wasn’t completely caused by the big, bad banks. A study by researchers at Harvard (Himmelstein & Woolhandler) found that 62% of home foreclosures in 2007 were directly attributable to healthcare costs. And a study by Robertson, Engelhoff, and Hoke in 2008, found that 49% of all home foreclosures in the housing crisis were the result of medical problems.

That was the world of American health insurance in the free market. At least for those of us in the individual market.

With my insurance going up 20-25% every year, I decided to investigate why (my post about all the details I found is here). The common reason given by big insurers was rising medical costs and losses in the individual plans. And that we were all simply using too much medical care. If we would just help them control costs by not going to the doctor, it would all be fine. What I found when I downloaded the company’s SEC financial filings was interesting. Their medical costs had indeed gone up, but only around 15%. Their big losses were not in their individual plans, but in their group plans. They were increasing my premiums to offset losses from their group plans – because they could. They also needed to raise my premiums to cover executive pay increases, which ranged from 40-50% up to almost 200%. Every year. They also spent many, many millions of dollars on lobbying members of congress – the same people who now want to return our healthcare system to the “market”, like before, when insurance execs got 200% increases in compensation. (One of the important aspects of the ACA is that insurers must spend 80% of premiums on actual healthcare, not overhead.)

When I could no longer afford my Aetna (evil empire) plan, I had no choice but to sign up for an HSA – because no other insurer would accept me. With this plan, I had a high deductible, $10,000. I had an account that I could save money for medical costs. I earned interest in the account, and paid my medical bills from that. There were limits on how much I could add to the account in a year. And on top of that I paid a lower insurance premium. For me, it started out around $450 per month, but quickly rose to $700, $800, nearly $1000 per month, all while paying all of my bills myself. With the account, they charged me a fee for opening it, charged me another fee for maintaining it, another fee if my balance fell too low, and when I finally wanted to close it because I had a great policy through the new ACA, they charged me $200 to close the account. The HSA was a really great plan for the bank!

That’s what free market insurance looked like for those of us in the individual market. Forty-six million people were uninsured. Anyone with pre-existing conditions couldn’t get insurance. And we were all going broke. Because of this, the cancer community (and lots of others) have been freaking out since the election. The ACA was far from perfect, but for millions of us it was literally a life-saver. We owe our lives to Obamacare. Now we’re scared. We’re angry.

We still don’t know what their plan is because they don’t have one. We just have to wait.

One of the common ideas back then was that we – the users of healthcare – were profligate. We were wasteful. We were told again and again that we had no “skin in the game.” Well, we do have skin in the game. Those of us who have been through the system before, those of us who are sick, those of us who suffer, those of us who went broke, lost homes, gave up food, gave up medicine, whose children suffered, we have skin in the game. We have far more skin in this game than any of you politicians telling us how great this market system is going to be.

We have skin in this game. And bones. And lungs. And blood.

And if you – Speaker Ryan, Senator McConnell, Mr. trump – send us back to that completely unworkable system, we will start dying. Our blood will be on your hands, our dead bodies on your heads. And you will choke on the stench of our rotting flesh.

To the rest of us: good night and good luck.

Julie

(you can read all the Health of Our Care posts here.)

 

 

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Cinnabar and Other Shades

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Carrot, pumpkin, cinnabar, tomato, persimmon. For the past few weeks I’ve been reveling in shades of orange. Nearly every day, I’ve gone out into the woods to walk, to smell the slight funk of decaying leaves, to watch the animals scurrying around as they prepare for winter, but mostly to soak in the mutable color.

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I love hiking in the fall. Actually, all seasons have their magic, but right now I’m feeling the fall. Friends are probably tired of my photos popping up on FB, but I don’t care – it makes me happy.

img_2552Getting out for even a couple miles in the woods is good for the spirit. Each day I walk into a slightly different hue, a changed landscape, as the ground shifts from green to brown, bare to mounds of yellow/red/orange/brown, soft to crunchy. Some days I cover many miles, climbing up for a long view across the valleys. Other days I stay down in protected glens and feel wrapped in color. A few times I’ve taken a magnifying glass with me to examine the world closely. And then there are days when I just sit and listen to leaves fall.img_2555 img_2557

Yesterday I hiked a route I hadn’t been on for a long time. I wandered through one of the valleys which had burned a few years ago when the forest burned to within less than a mile of my house. (note: if you are a smoker – and you shouldn’t be – DO NOT toss matches or cigarettes out the window or drop them while out hiking!!) There was a section where the fire had been most intense. Everything had burned, tree roots had burned underground, nothing was left, even the lichen had burned.img_2574

But the amazing thing was that within a few weeks, after a gentle rain, weeds began to pop their heads through the charred crust. Within months, grasses were filling back in. And now, five years later, young trees are dropping their rusty orange leaves and blueberry bushes and young mountain laurel are covering the hills again. Soon, the laurels will be big enough that my springtime hikes through that valley will be bathed in pink and white.

Julie

Posted in change, focus, fun, gratitude, hiking | Leave a comment

Truth

I’ve got a secret. It’s time to open up and tell the truth.

For the past many months, I’ve been dealing with a serious shoulder injury. Without falling or doing anything that I can remember to hurt it, I ended up with a shoulder trifecta: frozen shoulder, small rotator cuff tear, and arthritis.

Why was I hiding this? Because I’m a professional violist and a personal trainer. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that in a very competitive field, perception matters. Even though I was able to play everything I was hired to play (I just didn’t feel great doing it), I was afraid that if people knew I had shoulder pain, they would choose not to hire me. I learned that when I was in cancer treatment. No matter how much I told people I was working, and only accepted work I was confident I could manage, some people stopped hiring me. I know there was nothing mean-spirited about this, most just had my well-being in mind, but still, I lost work. (There were others who stuck with me, in spite of my bald head, and I am eternally grateful to them!!!) So I’ve learned that perceived weakness can be detrimental to my bank account. And on the fitness trainer side, who really wants a trainer who can’t demonstrate exercises. Besides, I’m not the type of trainer to just tell people what to do and stand by, I do the exercises right alongside.

It started bothering me last winter. I kept working to stretch and keep it moving. I got a lot of massage and acupuncture, worked with an Alexander Technique teacher. Those things kept me functional, but not improving. Finally after several months, I decided it was time to see the doctor since it was clearly not something I could fix myself. Plus, since I was having pain in my collar bone and shoulder on the side I had breast cancer, I started to worry that it could be cancer metastasizing the bones.

Lots of scans and blood work led to an all-clear on the cancer, just routine shoulder issues. Even though it was severely impacting my life, frozen shoulder was a fixable thing. I’m sure my orthopedist has never had someone so happy to be told they have a frozen shoulder!

This is why I haven’t been as active as normal. No climbing. No ultramarathons. In fact, I’ve had difficulty running more than a few miles at a time because running irritates my shoulder.

But I haven’t been doing nothing. I’ve been working very hard on my shoulder. It’s getting a whole lot better. I’ve got good range of motion again, and now am working on rebuilding strength.

Frozen shoulder is a pretty common problem after breast cancer surgery/treatments. I didn’t have that trouble after my mastectomy, but because of my surgery, I knew early on some of the stretches and exercises to do. I started out doing a lot of wall climbs: standing next to a wall and slowing crawling my hand up the wall. It seems like such an easy thing to do, but can be such a challenge. At the beginning, I couldn’t get my hand much above eye level. But I kept working it, every day. The other thing was hanging arm pendulum and circles. Bend over from waist, lean on a chair or table for balance. Let arm hang straight down from shoulder. Gently swing it up and back, like a pendulum. I would do this many times a day, up and back, also side to side. Then gently swing arm in small circles. This helps to get a little movement into the shoulder joint in a non-stressful way.

But that wasn’t enough. When I got back from playing opera in Saratoga, I started physical therapy. I went for my assessment and when the PT heard that I did some work at a fitness trainer with cancer survivors, she said, “Oh, then you probably don’t need us at all, you know most of this.” I laughed and said, “Yes, but you know more.” Of course I know how to work range of motion, then build up gradually, beginning with no weight. But I also know the value of working with someone who knows more than I do, and someone who can check my progress.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been working on improving my range of motion through gentle movements. Slowly, once I had better range of motion, I started building strength, beginning with movements with no weight. Over weeks, I increased the number of repetitions of all the exercises. A few weeks ago, I started adding very light weights. When I would add weight to an exercise, I would drop the repetitions down, and gradually increase again.

I think tomorrow will probably be my last day for PT – I graduate. It’s still a long process to build my strength back to normal, but I am functional. And physical therapists – good ones – are totally my heroes!

Whether the result of surgery, illness, or injury, recovery from a serious issue is not fun. It’s difficult and frustrating. The exercises are hard and can be painful, even as they seem so stupidly easy. It’s easy to get frustrated…”I can’t believe I’m struggling to raise my arm to shoulder height, I used to climb cliffs!!” And there are days that it just doesn’t feel good. It’s so tempting to say, “it hurts, I don’t want to do this.” But I knew that was the only way to get better, that the short-term discomfort was the path to long-term functioning. And that was the only way I was getting back to a normal functional life.

Step by teeny, tiny step. It’s not perfect, but it’s the only way forward.

And again, hurray for physical therapists!

Julie

 

Posted in breast cancer, breast surgery, range of motion, recovery from surgery, rehab | Tagged | Leave a comment

Shooting for the Moon

Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden announced progress and commitments for the Cancer Moonshot (which had been announced as a priority by President Obama in the 2016 State of the Union address). There’s a lot to be excited about, and a lot of hard work to be done.

The initiative is spurring unprecedented collaboration: between public and private sectors, between government agencies, between research disciplines. They’re connecting longtime researchers with new, with resources and researchers worldwide, with private companies, with government agencies. It involves the Department of Defense, the Institutes of Health, oncologists, virologists, geneticists, techies and web diseigners, even drivers.

Among those involved, there are the usual suspects: the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and other cancer non-profits, hospitals and research universities. There are also commitments from private sector companies. Bristol-Meyer Squibb is committing to a large initiative to alleviate inequalities in cancer detection and care. Lyft and Uber have both committed to expanding their efforts to provide transportation for cancer patients. And government agencies are involved: the Department of Defense is working to digitize its vast repository of pathology samples, making the information contained in them easily available to researchers. And the National Endowment for the Arts is developing a pilot program for using therapeutic arts programs to improve the lives of cancer patients, based on successful programs developed for military veterans.

Other highlights are a huge longitudinal study by the DoD to improve our understanding of biological underpinnings of cancer. They have around 250,000 samples saved from the past 25 years which can be analyzed for pre-diagnostic biological markers. And of particular interest to me as a breast cancer survivor, is a commitment from METAvivor for research grants into metastatic breast cancer.

These are just a few of the actions being taken. Please visit www.WhiteHouse.gov for a lot more information on what’s happening.

And finally, for this re-focus on research and collaboration, for making this a priority, thank you President Obama, and thank you Vice President Biden!

Julie

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Looking for Light

Earlier today on Twitter, I was told that, because I had breast cancer, and because my breast cancer treatments rendered me unable to have a child, I am “half of a woman” by a man who is a Trump supporter. He added, “Deal with it.” This was in response to a comment I made on an article about parental leave.

Before this post goes any further, I will point out that this is not a political blog. This blog is about fitness, and inspiration, and cancer. The only times I’ve posted about anything political was about the healthcare debate, and that was from my perspective as someone who had cancer and does not have employer-paid insurance.

Do not use this post to start a rant – on either side.

But I’m posting this now because, quite frankly, I was stunned. And absolutely cut to the quick. So, how to unpack this?

First, I have always been open about my cancer experience – the good, the bad, the ugly. From the beginning, the day of diagnosis, I’ve told people the truth. Maybe just because, as a young healthy woman, it was such a shock that I didn’t even think to hide the truth. But my response was always to try to make the most of whatever I had – try to feel as good as possible, to get strong, to stay active, to have fun. And when I didn’t die, I wanted to do something useful. I wanted to help others. I got certified as a fitness trainer to work with other cancer survivors. To help other people feel as good as possible. To encourage others to stay involved with their bodies in a positive way.

Second, I don’t hide my personal opinions. I generally keep them to my personal pages, keep them off of this site. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I do believe it’s possible – and necessary – to have discussions with people who have other opinions. But I do expect that the discussions remain civil – about ideas and facts – not hurtful. The only people I have blocked on FB or Twitter are people who refused to not be mean and personal. I do not block people just because they disagree with me. At some point, I disagree with pretty much everyone about something. But I try to stick to facts, try to not get personal or mean. I’m sure I don’t always succeed, but that’s my goal.

Third, although body image is a BIG issue for a lot of people with cancer, and especially breast cancer, I generally have a pretty good sense of my body. My self image has always been tied more to what I could do rather than how I looked. (OK, not always, I had to work at it for a long time.) But as long as I was strong and could do the things I enjoyed, I felt pretty good – even with only one breast.

But this year, this election cycle, has been tough for a lot of folks. There’s a HUGE amount of discussion of women’s worth as tied to breast size, attractiveness, and size in the public discourse. It’s a constant barrage.

And then I tweeted something about how it felt to hear that a woman’s most important job was as mother, with the implication that the rest of us are somehow less important. And I was told that I really was just half of a woman – only one breast, no children – just deal with it.

All the things that people say – consider the source, don’t stoop to their level, hold your head high – couldn’t take away the sting. While I know that what he wrote is not true, it brought back memories of looking with confusion at my reflection in the mirror because I didn’t recognize my body, of struggling to lift my arm or open a door, of bursting into tears after attending the birthday party of a friend’s child or seeing proud videos posted of recitals because I would never have that for my own.

I cried. I actually cried over a tweet. A Trump supporter made me cry.

I tried to think of the worst thing I could respond with. And then I saw a tweet by Senator Cory Booker, and I borrowed his words instead:  May we both encourage and elevate more than we tear others down.

So why am I writing about this? Because maybe I want to try to change things. Because I guess my response is the same as it was to cancer – to try to make things better. I can’t change a very angry man. But I can take inspiration from a senator and change how I respond. I can choose to not add to the angry rhetoric. I can focus on making the world around me a bit better. I can continue to help others be a little bit healthier, and maybe provide a little motivation along the way. I can continue writing, playing music, putting some good out into the world.

Therefore, I went out into the woods for a walk – to clear my head and to make a choice for health. Instead of sinking into a very dark place, I went walking in the woods, looking for light.

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Now, I have to go practice, so that tomorrow I’ll be prepared to put some music in the air. The next day I’ll work with some fitness clients (and work on my own fitness). I’ll write, always striving to tell the truth, hopefully in an entertaining and uplifting way. And I’ll run and hike and always look for the light.

Be good to each other.

Julie

Posted in breast cancer, cancer treatment, exercise and cancer, inspiration, twitter, walking | 2 Comments

A Good Day

I’m on vacation, and blissfully mostly offline (hence no Life-Cise Daily Tips coming in email inboxes). I’m reading and writing, swimming, running, and biking every day, plus making pies and watching sunsets. Every day is a good day.

But last Sunday stood out. I wandered down to the beach with my coffee in hand to watch a 2-mile swim race. Swimmers swam out into the bay, around a buoy, and back. They had perfect weather for it. I didn’t see the leaders swim – they had already finished – but that’s just as well. I always love seeing the “average” athletes (although anyone who swims a 2-mile race is pretty far above average, IMHO), those swimming or running in the mid to back of the pack. Maybe that’s just because that’s where I run.

But what struck me as I watched was how each one – young, old, fat, skinny – stood up when they reached the beach and smiled and raised their hands or clenched a fist in triumph. They weren’t winning, the winners were long gone. But they finished. They did what they set out to do, what they had trained for, what they had spent countless hours working toward.

Because any endurance event like that, whether running/swimming/biking/skiing/anything, takes work. Someone can go out and run a mile or 5K without much preparation. But endurance races take planning, preparation, hours and hours of working at it. No one is going to swim 2 miles or run 50 by working out for a week or so. They all know it’s a longterm goal. That progress is made in weeks, months, and years. That they’re not going to “get it right” in a day. That it’s a constant effort – much in the same way anyone going through rehab after injury or illness knows that it’s an ongoing effort.

So, no matter how long it takes, finishing a long race feels like success. Because it is. So the person crossing the line last is just as happy as the first. Because all the hours paid off. So three cheers to all who finished, and to all who are trying.

And then I went back to make breakfast. A little later in the morning, after all the racers had cleared off, a bald eagle landed at the beach. My day also included my own swim, a nice conversation with two women at the beach about the books of Karl Ove Knausgaard (an author whose writing I love), and one of the best trail runs I’ve had all summer….All in all, a good day – for me and everyone who got out and got some exercise. Because fitness and health are not what happens for a day.

Did I mention there was a bald eagle?

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Get out and enjoy the world. Make you own good day.

Clarification:

I don’t want to give the impression that I only find extreme accomplishments praise-worthy. Quite the contrary. What I love about the back-of-the-pack swimmers and runners is their very ordinariness. They’re regular folks who worked toward a goal, who worked through a process. But anyone who sticks to the process for any goal is equally praise-worthy. I have run ultramarathons. I have also struggled to get out of a chair and walk across the room on my own. I know what it’s like to walk to the end of my driveway and cry, both because it was so bloody difficult, and because I was so proud of my accomplishment. I know what it’s like to finally raise my arm above my head and pump my fist and say, “Yes!!”

So, just to be clear, whatever you’re struggling to do, stick with it, be diligent, and be proud of the work you’re doing!

Julie

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Stability, not the mental kind

A couple weeks ago, I was down in Texas for Beloved Eldest Niece’s wedding. OK, Texas in August is HOT. Seriously.

So, needing some exercise to break that sluggish, post-travel-day slump, I got up early to run along the riverwalk (Waco). I saw lots of other like-minded folks out walking, cycling, running – because early is the only sane time to do that when the day will top out in triple digits. (I did see a couple of people running on lunch breaks. They were loaded with water bottles and hydration packs, enough to run an ultramarathon. But they were probably only running a couple miles – it was HOT! What is that saying…”mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

I also worked in time to workout with my favorite clients – my parents. Lots of you know my parents from this blog, especially my mom. (you can read about Mom’s quest to be the pushup queen here )

They’re both in very good shape because they are great about exercising regularly. But they’ve both had some health issues in the last year or two, so I wanted to check in on their routines – make some adjustments and add some new things into the mix to keep their exercise routines from becoming too “routine.” With recent hip and eye surgeries, I wanted to add stability work.

Some changes were just modifying exercises they’ve been doing. For instance, instead of lunges forward, I had them do lunges on the diagonal, stepping out at a 45 degree angle instead of straight forward. This works the stabilizer muscles – abductors and adductors – a little more. Also, they don’t do deep lunges any more. They step and dip down only as far as is comfortable and stable for them.

I also took the post-hip surgery exercises for strengthening abductors and turned it into an upright, moving exercise. Originally, it was extending the leg out to the side, which can be done lying flat on the back or seated. Mom has modified it to a lift, lying on her side. I just took that exercise and changed it into a moving exercise for both of them because I want everything to relate to movement and making sure they are strong and stable as they move through their day.

So I had them stand facing a wall (for stability if they get off balance), then walk sideways: step, together, step, together. Next, I had them (still facing the wall, even touching it lightly for stability) walk sideways doing “grapevines” – cross over step, step, cross behind. These are both great exercises to help with balance and agility. They’re the same exercises I do for running, slowed way down, but still working the same muscles.

As my parents get older, I want to make sure they retain good stability and mobility. It’s so important for their health, their independence,  and for their peace of mind. But this focus on stability is important for all of us, at any age, especially anyone who has been injured or been weakened by illness or surgery. These are some of the same exercises I’ve done after my long surgeries and recoveries to get myself back on solid ground.

Julie

Posted in balance, modification, mom, older adults, stability | Leave a comment

Relief?

It’s amazing how 80 degrees can feel almost chilly. Honestly, I don’t know how southerners do it.

We’ve finally had a bit of a break in the “heat dome.” But it’s still wicked humid. I don’t do well in heat, and I really don’t do well in humidity! I am the sweatiest person on the planet – this is a fact, just ask my brother who, when crewing for me on races, has been heard saying, “Eeew, you squish, every step you squish, gross!!” as I squish out a puddle of sweat with each step.

I’m having a particularly hard time because I haven’t really had a chance to adjust to it. Our bodies do acclimate to temperature changes, but it takes time. We had a strangely cool spring, and then I spent a month upstate where it’s a lot cooler, even on the hottest days. So I’m still getting used to it. Normally by this point in the summer, I’d be used to doing long runs and racing in the heat.

And so, I continue to take it easy. Each day, I plan on building up mileage or speed, but change my plans when I step out into the sauna. That’s the only safe thing anyone can do. Heat and humid conditions can be dangerous, especially if you’re de-conditioned, have any number of medical conditions, or recovering from illness or injury. But that doesn’t mean don’t exercise. Just be reasonable.

Last weekend, I was up early to go meet friends for breakfast. I saw 5 different people out walking (I almost never see anyone out walking where I live) at 8am – before the heat. Go slower or not as long – your body has to work harder in the heat, so don’t push it as much. Stay hydrated. Stay in the shade – the other advantage of 8am is the sun is not directly overhead. And take a break if you need. On the hottest days, even if I’m only running a couple of miles, if I’m getting overheated, I slow up or walk. Or stop to try to get a picture of a Great Blue Heron at the Girl Scout camp.

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The point is, you don’t have to let the heat stop you. But you can make sensible choices in the heat.

Julie

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Alternatives

I did not go for a run yesterday. Instead, I decided to beat the heat by spending the hot afternoon hours at the Met Museum. Interestingly, when I looked at my little activity app on my phone, I discovered I had walked about 3 miles. (That’s partly because I hate to pay for parking, so I found street parking several blocks away. And because, well, the Met is a BIG museum.)

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Much of the country is under a massive heat dome, as they’re calling it. What that means is it’s hot. Really hot. And humid.

I always prefer to exercise outdoors if I can, and I exercise in pretty much any weather: frigid temps, snow, rain, wind. But I have more trouble with heat and humidity. So I’m a little more cautious in weather like this.

But everyone should be. It doesn’t mean don’t exercise. It just means be cautious. Consider changing activities to something indoors: get on a treadmill or stationary bike in an air-conditioned gym or house, swim, walk somewhere cool. If you do exercise outdoors, make the necessary adjustments. Carry plenty of water with you, stay in the shade as much as possible, go out in the early morning before it’s too hot. Slow down – your body has to work much harder in the heat, so slow down. Or go to a museum.

And remember, for health benefits, it’s the total amount of activity that counts, not just exercise done in one shot.

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A lot of my Met visit was spent in the excellent exhibit on the art the Seljuqs, 11th to 13th century Iran. It closes this weekend, but if you’re in NY, go see it.

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So, Did You Win?

“Did you win?” That’s a common question runners and cyclists get from non-runners and non-cyclists when we say we have a race. Of course, the vast majority of us who are racing are not, or will never be, the winners. But there are so many reasons for racing.

This morning I ran the Saratoga Firecracker 4 – four miles to celebrate the 4th of July. I’ve run this race most years when I’m up here playing with Opera Saratoga. It’s a fun, community event which helps support some good local programs (like local track teams and an outdoor sports program for disabled folks).

But I haven’t been racing. It’s been almost a year since my last race. In fact, for a variety of reasons, I haven’t been running all that much this past year. All that didn’t matter, I decided. I didn’t care about my time, didn’t care about my lack of consistent training. Like I said, there are a lot of reasons for racing. So, a couple days ago, I signed up. (I REALLY didn’t want to get up this morning, did not want to race, but I had already paid my money, so I went – that was part of the reason I signed up before, knowing I might change my mind if I waited to register the day of.)

As I was jogging to the start, I was wondering why I was doing this. But then I got close enough that I started seeing all the other runners walking and running in, warming up, pinning on numbers, adjusting clothes. I saw the families who were coming out to cheer on husbands/wives/kids/grandparents. I heard the music blaring. And I remembered why.IMG_2194

Everyone was out for their own reasons. There were some really fast kids (I think the local schools must have some really good track coaches – I’m always impressed). There were teams. There were moms and dads, some running with kids who were running their first race, some pushing strollers. I ran for a while with a new mother, pushing her baby girl. It was her first race since giving birth (and also first race since breaking her ankle while pregnant). She didn’t care about her time, she was just happy to be out. Another mom was pushing a newborn with an impressive scream. Lots of parents or brothers and sisters were pushing disabled sons/daughters/brothers/sisters. There were people dressed in all the latest hi-tech gear. Others in old shoes and cotton T-shirt. One guy was rocking an old pair of Converse canvas basketball shoes – you know, the high-top ones. Some people ran for their best times. Others walked. I just wanted to feel that race feeling again. In some ways it’s been a tough year, so I just wanted to run, and to know that it was a manageable distance, and that I had to finish, and that I could.

So I ran. It was fun. I ran about 2 1/2 minutes slower than last year. But I didn’t care. Everyone was happy. Strangers encouraged each other. And that was why I raced. These are my people, my tribe, everyone just happy to be out. I’m sure someone won, probably impressively fast. But that’s not why we ran.

IMG_2195  Happy 4th of July!

Julie

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