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What lesson did you hope to teach us by your cowardís attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed." Leonard Pitts Jr., Weíll Go Forward from This Moment, the Miami Herald
Donít Bend to the Terrorists
Fight Back with Exercise
In an email exchange with a dear friend following the horrific, senseless events of September 11, 2001, I said, "I donít intend to change anything that really matters." That may sound callous, but I believe itís important that we carry on basically as before. We cannot let the terrorists win.
That doesnít mean we should forget the 4000 who died and the many who were injured, their families and friends, and the heroic rescuers, or the significant blow to the American psyche and our economy. We will never forget. We should grieve and struggle to cope with the terrible reality that the worst acts of terrorism in history happened on our soil. But then, we should grit our teeth and go on about our business.
Carol and I were touched by the personal messages of sympathy and support we received from around the world, including Australia, England, Mexico, Hungry and even Bulgaria. A man from Australia wrote, "As I write to my friends in the USA to send my sympathies, I include you amongst them." A Bulgarian bodybuilder was more expansive: "I would like to express my and that of all Bulgarians profound sadness and deepest sympathies for those affected by this enormous tragedy. We suffer on behalf of, and along with, all Americans. We wish you, your family, and all of your loved ones, strength and solidarity during this woeful time." We have some enemies all right, but America has many more friends.
We were also heartened by the fact that most of the people in our circle were able to resume a more or less normal life in the weeks following the attack -- they continued to visit our website in large numbers and no consultations were canceled. We, our friends and our clients carried on with the business of living Ė and exercising. The fact that we are all deeply involved in matters of health and exercise apparently helped us carry on much as before. Exercise in particular can be a tremendous aid in times of stress.
Personally, I tried to continue training and eating properly. As I told my friend Laszlo Bencze, "I decided the world situation would not benefit in any way if I skipped my workouts," but I would be worse off. I had some good workouts and managed not to think about the terrorist attack while I was training. I focused on carrying out my workout plan. And thatís a good thing. Success in the gym always makes me feel more able to do my job and cope with the turmoil outside.
Weíve experienced a devastating terrorist attack followed by the worst week in the stock market since the great depression of the 1930s. Weíve suffered a double blow to our sense of well-being. We feel less secure, vulnerable, in our persons as well as our pocketbooks. At a time like this, we could use a boost to our morale. Letís look at a few of the ways training can relieve stress and make the us feel better about ourselves and the world around us.
How Exercise Helps
A few years back, The Physician and Sportsmedicine reviewed the scientific literature to see what we actually know about exercise and stress reduction. A number of studies show that exercise and fitness reduce the intensity of the stress response; they reduce the increases in blood pressure and heart rate associated with stress. They also shorten the time it takes a person to recover from stress.
Stress, of course, causes heart rate and blood pressure to rise. Fit people have lower blood pressure and heart rate to begin with, so the effects of stress are bound to be less apparent in a fit person. Whatís more, researchers measured heart rate and electrical activity on the skin in response to laboratory-induced stress and found that fit people recover faster from exposure to stress than unfit people. Unfit individuals donít react more strongly to stress, but they feel the effects longer.
Weight training, by its very nature, involves stress and recovery. You lift, rest a day or two -- to allow your body to recover and grow stronger Ė and then lift again. This conditions your body to handle stress. But the benefits donít stop there. Probably more than any other form of exercise, weight training produces a strong, lean, good-looking body that is almost guaranteed to enhance self-esteem and self-image.
Health experts tell us -- it makes perfect sense -- it isnít the stressfulness of the situation thatís important, but our perception of stress. In emotional response, perception is reality. People who feel good about themselves -- as a result of weight training -- are inclined to perceive negative factors as less stressful than people with a poor self-image.
Finally, the act of exercise itself helps reduce stress. Exercise drains off excess energy and reduces the level of fight-or-flight hormones. In short, itís hard to feel stressed when youíre tired and relaxed after a workout. Thatís especially true after a successful workout. My wife will tell you that Iím always in a good mood when I make my lifts. Donít ask her about a bad workout, however. Fortunately, that rarely happens. I always plan my workouts for success.
Most of us canít take direct action against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. Weíll have to leave that to President Bush and the powers that be. But we can do our part to restore the country to normalcy: We can hug our family and friends, work hard, spend money, buy stock, have fun. And we can fight back with exercise.
(You can find more information about stress and exercise in The Lean Advantage series; the "Psychological Factors" chapter in each of the three books includes an article on the subject.)
From Ground Zero
I work only about 10 blocks away from Ground Zero and I saw the terror and horror unleashed on September 11th. As I walked towards the Brooklyn Bridge that afternoon, I could not believe the devastation, fire, and ashes. It was as if hell opened up.
For the next three business days, I was forced to stay home because lower Manhattan was shut down. My workouts during those three days really helped me to recover from the shock.
(From second email) Let me tell you that morning of Sept.11th was pretty, damn scary, especially when the twin towers crumpled and debris and smoke covered lower Manhattan. I thought WW III broke loose and the end was near. I kept thinking of that movie, "Independence Day".
My workouts definitely helped me to handle the stress of that awful day.
How true that working out can help through stress. (It got me through a dissolving marriage and a terrible divorce). Something else to add is that being in shape may also be a factor in saving your life. What if you were out of shape, trying to escape from a situation that your life depended on? Could you make it out? Could you survive?
If I had made those statements before Sept 11, most people would have scoffed and told me "yeah right, you must be one of those paranoid people living in a bomb shelter"
.I receive the weekly email from Dave Draper, and his statements were similar to yours: We must be strong. That is now so true.
I started my workouts while a member of the US Air Force in the early 80's. The military wants you in shape for a reason. Why not be in shape for life?
.A Patriotic Endeavor
I just read your excellent piece on "fighting back" with exercise, and wanted to pass on something from the Los Angeles Times that happened to catch my attention.
The morning after the WTC attack, the final article in the 'A' section of the L.A. Times, otherwise filled with news and photos of the incomprehensible tragedy, was headlined "Obesity, Diabetes Rates Soar in U.S."
The article discussed a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) study, reported in this month's JAMA, that documented a 50% increase in obesity and diabetes over the last decade -- an increase that is accelerating, especially in children. From 1999 to 2000, the obesity rate for Americans rose from 18.9% to 19.8%. Nearly 1 in 5 of us are not just overweight, but obese!
Your thoughts on individual exercise being valuable in coping were timely and appreciated (I am kicking my personal program back into high gear). But on a larger scale, I am concerned about the fitness of our citizenry. Do you think it's a stretch to consider personal health and fitness a patriotic endeavor? It strikes me as perhaps more so than spending money I don't have in order to "do my part for the economy." I hate to think of my nation as being fat and sick.
The View from Norway
I read your update just now and would like to comment on it, if you do not mind.
Having just returned from a week in New York, -- we had planned for weeks to go on the 12th, but this was impossible, so we went instead on Monday the 17th, thinking that we would not let terrorists stop us, because then they would have won -- I feel like I understand a bit more.
My only hope after the attacks in NY and Washington, D.C., is that if this does not do anything else good, it will make us, the Western world, lift our heads a little bit more and try to take away the cause instead of just killing the terrorists. I mean poverty and hunger throughout the world, because I do not think that anyone any longer can live with the fact that tens of thousands die every day unnecessarily.
My hope is that the Bush administration will go a long way to make peace in the Middle East, because quite frankly, it is intolerable.
In NY, I found myself inside a herd of people demonstrating against war and for peace. I do not know what the alternative is.
I would be interested in hearing your perspective, if possible.
My Reply: Congratulations on having the courage to travel to New York only six days after the attack. Good for you. I believe more and more people are getting back to business, which is just what we need. Like you say, we can't let the terrorists win.
Thanks for taking the time to comment on my article. It's especially interesting to hear the view from Norway.
I don't believe it's proper to connect the terrorist attack to poverty and hunger. America does more than any other country to combat suffering around the world.
The terrorists apparently want to live in the Stone Age, which is fine with me, but they can't insist that the rest of us do the same and want to kill us if we don't. There's no reasoning with people like that. I believe President Bush is doing a great job of marshaling world opinion in favor of wiping out the terrorist leaders and their networks. Unfortunately, that's probably the only way to control the problem.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment on my article.
Our very best to you and yours.
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