When life gets in the way, yeah
Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.
This popped into my head after I instinctively extended my arm to help a woman, probably in her late 50s, as she walked from her car into a theater in Warsaw, Indiana, a few weeks ago.
We were standing on a slight incline steps from the entrance. A bus pulled up and began to unload. I was seeing the 2 pm matinee of "Grease" at Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts with my close friend Carmelita Watkinson, and it was a gorgeous day. We were there to see her awesome and talented son Sean Watkinson play the role of Danny Zuko.
Wagon Wheel has been around since 1956 and appeared to me to be the jewel of Warsaw and the surrounding communities. Their shows are always sold out and it's no wonder - "Grease" was wildly upbeat and refreshingly authentic. Sean is a musical theater student at Florida State University - watch for him in the coming years.
The woman stopped and hinged at the hip as she massaged the back of her right thigh.
"I have a cramp," she said.
"Is it your hamstring?" I asked.
"I'm not sure," she said, "I get this sometimes."
She wasn't able to take a step. Luckily a group of her friends called out to her and walked over to help her.
"Feel better," I said, "and enjoy the show." Then Carm and I walked easily up the hill and into the theater.
I know the correct terminology is "obese," but what I was thinking was how shockingly overweight this woman was. I sometimes carry more weight on my frame than is comfortable, and it's always challenging for me to make healthy lifestyle and food choices. But this woman? She was the definition of uncomfortable.
I was picturing her getting ready to go out to the theater. Sitting at her computer to purchase the tickets, sending her friends an email to suggest they see the show together. Then on the morning of the show, I tried to envision her selecting her clothes, leaning over her bathroom sink to brush her teeth. All of this must have been a struggle, a huge effort.
Is she in a relationship? Does she have sex? Does she drive around grandchildren?
Is she happy?
Carm and I sat down in our seats. I looked around. There were more than a few people squeezing into their seats. Some perched their playbills on their bellies.
From my own perspective, running and getting fit and making good food choices have at times made my life complicated and even difficult.
I've dealt with small injuries, and I turn down social invitations in order to get more sleep. The payoff? I feel great and have more patience with myself and with others when things aren't always great.
I feel fit.
And I'm happy.
Does that mean there's a connection between obesity and unhappiness?
The researchers were looking at the connection between obesity, life satisfaction, and where a person lives, and found that obese people who live in places with a lot of other obese people have higher levels of happiness than obese people who live in places with a lot of skinny people.
“This illustrates the importance of looking like the people around you when it comes to satisfaction with life,” Slate quoted the study's co-author Philip Pendergast.
In the study, researchers asked participants to rate their level of happiness. It turned out that where obesity was the norm, there was very little reported difference in happiness levels among obese and non-obese individuals.
"But where obesity is less common," according to the researchers, "the difference in life satisfaction between the obese ... and non-obese is greater. In that light, obesity in and of itself does not appear to be the main reason obese individuals tend to be less satisfied with their lives than their non-obese peers. Instead, it appears to be society’s response to or stigmatization of those that are different from what is seen as ‘normal’ that drives this relationship.”
Hmm. I wish I'd checked myself before I started judging the happiness levels of the Warsaw, Indiana, community. The audience was enthusiastic and engaged, sometimes commenting audibly on the characters' predicaments or laughing loudly as Danny Zuko stopped to smoke a cigarette during track practice.
Yet even if obese people might report high levels of life satisfaction, there isn't any controversy over the serious health risks of being obese, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, menstrual issues and infertility in women, sleep apnea, cancer, type II diabetes, to name a few.
And there isn't anything funny or happy about lung cancer or the inability to walk from your car in a parking lot to the entrance of a theater.
There's a big difference between being overweight and being obese, though, and according to a New England Journal of Medicine article, it's obesity that raises your risk of death not being overweight.
Still a new NIH study connects exercise with possibly delaying cognitive decline. In the study, the NIH researchers found that when we exercise our skeletal muscles secrete proteins into the brain that may have a regenerative effect on the brain.
We already know that there’s evidence that people become more open to new information and more creative while running, but if you're like me, you want to find a way to become less forgetful as you age. If exercising can do that, I'm there.
Yet it's difficult and maybe dangerous to exercise if you can't walk across a parking lot because you're carrying too much weight.
According to the CDC, you're overweight if you weigh more than what is considered healthy for your height.
Even so, there are plenty of fit people who exercise regularly who might be considered overweight. So I don't believe it's about how much you weigh.
It's about how your weight affects how you feel when you move around.
If you can't walk from your car to the theater entrance because you are carrying too much weight on your frame, regardless of your level of life satisfaction, you are putting yourself at risk.
But then the idea that people have a higher level of life satisfaction when they are surrounded by people who look like themselves made me think about the popularity of races and triathlon events.
Gini mentioned in one of her blog posts this summer that she was feeling distracted in her Ironman training in Ontario while her friends and family were experiencing devastating losses in Baton Rouge during the flooding.
"My concerns about completing a race are miniscule compared to what many of them are experiencing," Gini wrote. "So less self-pity for me, move on and do everything I can to finish the race, schedule some time to go to Baton Rouge, after I get home, and help wherever I can."
I've often felt embarrassed and even ridiculous registering and training for races. Who do I think I am? I'm not an Olympic athlete, I'd think to myself.
My training takes me away from other activities in my professional life and my personal life because there's only so much time in the day. And like Gini, I've had the experience of training or running a race when a loved one is in the middle of dealing with a loss. At those times especially I've felt conflicted about the role of sport in my life.
Yet for me competing in these events has made me a part of a community that looks like me.
After my road trip to Indiana, Bob and I visited Missoula where I finished the River City Roots 4-Miler on a brisk, early Saturday morning. At packet pick up I chatted with the race volunteers and at the start I took in the crowd lined up on a street surrounded by mountains.
What a beautiful spot.
The gun (an actual gun) went off, and there I was, running my (slow) race with people like me.
People who share my perspective.
Nothing is as good as the way healthy feels.
See you next time!