Jogging the Muscle Memory

One month away from gym. Yesterday was my first trip to the gym after a month. I’ve been away in Finland, and my trainer was also overseas. Thus for most of September, we were both absent at the gym.

When I came back in mid-September, by right I was supposed to do some exercising on my own. But my discipline remained lax as usual, not to mention I was pretty sad after 3 days at home. Jet-lagged, missing clean and light Finnish food, and Finnish autumn weather. I told myself I’ll take a week’s break before I start exercising. Then on the Sunday, I had a bout of stomach flu. This took me about 3 days to fully recover.

I finally went for a jog the weekend before my trainer returned. I ran and ran and felt my stamina lagging behind. OK, that was to be expected.

Then there were the chocolates. I brought back quite a bit as souvenirs, and very few people at home ate them. Yes, and I live with my wife and two daughters, strange they are. (OK two of them were also sick). I’d also developed quite a taste for cheese after Finland. In fact, for the first 2 days after returning from Finland I had quite an urge to eat “normal” Singapore food, and indulged in a packet of (unsatisfying) Hokkien Mee.

What I’m trying to say is that I was fully expecting my fat mass to go up. Well, the truth is the stomach flu made me lose two kilos. I can tell you that when I realized it at the weighing machine I was filled with both dread and joy.  Probably my fat will go up, and I will lose a lot of muscle, but at least I haven’t actually gained weight.

I ate rather generously the days before I returned to gym, and yesterday, there, I weighed 66.7 kg. Actually a little lower than before I went to Finland. But what was the real surprise was my fat mass. It was 17.5% – and measured twice to confirm. Really funny! I hadn’t exercised in a month! My trainer suggested maybe the Finnish food is REALLY that good. I wouldn’t disagree.

What would it take to persuade you to exercise?

“What would it take to persuade you to exercise?” asks this article, Changing Our Tune on Exercise, at the NY Times (27 Aug 2012).

It’s something that I think is very important. For years and years, I’ve always been too lazy to exercise. I still am.

“For decades, people have been bombarded with messages that regular exercise is necessary to lose weight, prevent serious disease and foster healthy aging. And yes, most people say they value these goals. Yet a vast majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — have thus far failed to swallow the “exercise pill.”

Exactly! Humans aren’t logical. We know exercise is good, but that’s no guarantee we’ll do it. No pain, no gain, right? Yes we know, but it seems our desire for the gain isn’t as strong as our desire to avoid the pain.

According to the article, researchers now say we should not be offering the prospect of “future health, weight loss and body image” as incentives to exercise. Instead we should “portray physical activity as a way to enhance current well-being and happiness.” It seems, people won’t bite if they see the benefits of exercise as distant or theoretical. The benefits must be reaped in the short term, immediately.

Well, so much for long term investment! We are still hedonistic, materialistic creatures of short term gains. But there is a point.

Essentially, Dr Michelle L. Segar, a research investigator at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, says we should stop positioning exercise as punishment for being fat and unhealthy. We should instead advertize exercise as a means of gaining daily, palpable benefits. She adds,

“Physical activity is an elixir of life, but we’re not teaching people that. We’re telling them it’s a pill to take or a punishment for bad numbers on the scale. Sustaining physical activity is a motivational and emotional issue, not a medical one.”

They say that different people have different motivations for keeping fit. Many do so for the classic reasons – to lose weight. But for some, such as the elderly, it is the conversations and companionship at gyms that are a bigger draw. For the younger ones, the need to look good is an important motivator.

I started out knowing that I needed a trainer to exercise. I never and still don’t have the will to exercise voluntarily. For more than two decades I knew I had to exercise, but I’d only succeeded in doing so by myself, maybe twice, and obviously my success was limited.

As my children grew, I began to feel that I owed it to them to live longer. I was tired of being fat. I was also motivated by appearance, except I didn’t realize it when I started. It was the sight of an ex-colleague who appeared at a reunion dinner missing practically half of her original mass, that really inspired me. I would go on to train under her trainer. And only the day(s) I found myself fitting into “slim fit”, size S and 29″ pants did I began to realize that, hey, the appearance factor is a BIG, AWESOME thing. It thrilled the hell out of me that I could finally look good. And it didn’t matter that I am age 39 – hey I look even better, I think, than some 20-somethings.

So, regardless of your motivation (or lack of), nowadays whenever someone asks me why I did this, among the words I use will always be something they may not have expected. Vanity.

The times you shouldn’t go to the gym

This Monday past was a public holiday, so I arranged to go for gym training at 11am.  I have been recovering from a bit of minor surgery on my back, so the workout was planned to be fairly light anyway.  But, towards the end, when I was doing abs on the vertical crunch machine, I began to feel pretty bad. Nauseous. No good. My trainer stopped me after the second set. The session was almost over anyway.  A fellow gym-er remarked that my face had gone all pale.

I told my trainer that it’s never felt like this before – never on the ab machine anyway. I wondered aloud to him if it might be because of the antibiotics I’ve been taking, post-surgery, which has been playing mischief with my bowels too. He said that that might be it, and added that I really shouldn’t be doing training when on medication.

On the way home though, it dawned on me that actually the past occasions when this nausea has happened has generally always been in the daytime, e.g. in morning training sessions. And I began to suspect that it might actually be my high blood pressure medication. I usually go to gym in the late evenings – by then the medication has pretty much worn off for the day. But morning – it’s probably still in my system, relaxing my heart.

So if you’re taking medication, medicines – do be careful if you’re thinking of going to the gym, even if you feel fine.

You should also avoid going to the gym when:

  1. You’re not feeling well (obviously), or believe you’re going to fall sick.
  2. You’re exceptionally tired, e.g. did not sleep well the night before.
  3. You just ate, like within the last 45-60 minutes.
  4. On an empty stomach.
  5. When you’re on medication.

I’ll add one reason why you should go to the gym though: when you’ve had a long stressful day at work. Don’t bring that stress home – bring it to the gym, and burn it all away. You’ll feel better for it!

Reducing that oil from the packet of chilli sauce

You know those little packets of ground chilli in oil that you get from buying and taking away yong tau hu, fried noodles and the like?

Here’s a simple way to reduce the amount of oil.

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First, before you open the packet, tip it upside down and let the oil do what it likes to do – float to the top.

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Now untie and open the packet upside down – and let the chilli pour out. But stop the flow when you’ve had enough and leave most of the top oil in the bag.

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There’s no way to avoid some oil coming out since it is used for suspension in the sauce. But at least you saved yourself from most of it.

Now glare with disgust at the remaining oil in the bag. You’re done.

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(Extra tip: have a kitchen paper towel? Dip it into the oil in your bowl and watch it soak up some of it. More fat saved.)