Frankenstein back with 28 staples (credit: Lindsey Snow)
Life isn’t fair.
I was born with an 80 year-old back. Not exactly 80, but old. It first broke when I was 29. After surgery, it worked again, but only for another six years. It teetered and failed again late this summer in the same spot — a re-ruptured L4/5 disc. The thing was so decrepit, my surgeon had to remove the remains and fuse my spine.
Now I’m resigned to a life of low impact and light lifting. I can’t even hold my youngest brown-eyed boy in his final months of baby-dom, let alone lift a gallon of milk for a month. I can’t return to full activity for six months until the vertebrae fully fuse. And after that, I’m advised to give up running, basketball, soccer, and maybe wake boarding or else.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, I’ve got a heck of a lot to look forward to—a lot more to live for. While having my body deteriorate ahead of schedule and the long recovery are both humbling, I also feel inspired by the experience. Here are 10 things I learned post surgery: Continue reading…
Grant Wood/Wikimedia Commons
As a leading psychologist, Shawn Achor has spent two decades studying happiness. His bona fides include award-winning researcher and teacher at Harvard, best-selling author on positivity, and popular TED lecturer.
So when he speaks you should listen. For instance, Achor asserts our circumstances — including age, race, gender, social status, and wealth — only account for 10% of our happiness. The rest is determined by our genetic baseline for happiness (i.e. optimist vs pessimist) and our individual intentions, including the way we spend our time and the things we ponder.
Obviously, happiness means different things to different people. But there are plenty of standardized things we can do to boost our chances of finding it. Somethings such as knowing oneself, learning how to forgive, and balancing the personal, professional, and social demands on our time can be life-long pursuits.
But other happiness-building attributes are quite easy, Achor argues. In order from least difficult to most difficult, they are as follows: Continue reading…
Below is an edited summary of Eric Barker’s excellent list written for TIME Magazine:
- Get happy yourself. How happy you are dramatically affects how happy and successful your kids are. So plan time each week to nurture your own relationships and hobbies.
- Teach kids to build relationships. Encourage them to invest in relationships and perform small acts of kindness to build empathy.
- Expect effort, not perfection. Banging the achievement drum messes kids up. The research is very consistent: praise effort, not natural ability. Continue reading…
Craig Weiler has the answer:
You have one set of teeth, one set of knees, one set of lungs and one back. If you don’t take care of them, you can’t re-boot. You can get knee replacement surgery and you can get your teeth capped and wear dentures, or get new lungs, but it’s not the same as your originals. The back is much more tricky and if you damage it enough you’re never coming back from it.
You have one set of hands and feet. They are irreplaceable as is your brain. So if you damage them you’re never coming back from it.
Your body, in other words, is a one-off. You will never have another one as long as you live. If you start taking good care of it and you’re mindful in your 20’s, you’ll be far healthier and happier in your 50’s and beyond.”
Courtesy Iceland Tourism
Reporting for Paste Magazine…
Yours truly surfing Lake Powell
Someone recently asked me what I’m excited about. “Oh, I don’t know,” I lied. Not because I didn’t have an answer. I just hadn’t articulated it yet.
After further deliberation, here is my answer: Continue reading…
In the early 1900s, bananas may have been named the world’s first superfood. At the time, even The American Medical Association praised them for being “sealed by nature in practically germ-proof packages.”*
Although still one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, bananas are no longer consider a superfood. (I eat one every morning, however, as they’re always in season). Trendy things like acai berries, green tea, quinoa, kale and other manufactured foods are. It’s gotten so out of hand, that the FDA issued a warning letter recently about falsely advertised “superfoods.” As of 2007, the European Union has prohibited food makers from using the term “superfood.”
So how can we distinguish marketing hype from science when seeking out nutrient-rich foods? Highbrow did just that recently. This is what they came up with—the top 10 superfoods backed by science. Continue reading…
I, Blake Snow, wrote this for my children, but figured you might enjoy it too. According to science, the following habits lead to a healthy, happy, and sustainable lifestyle: Continue reading…
Smart people don’t make better decisions because they’re smart. They make better decisions, research shows, because they habitually do the following:
1. Remove unimportant decisions. If a decision doesn’t have an impact on your work, relationships, or spirit, then remove it from consideration. For example, many CEOs, heads of states, or creative people wear the same thing every day. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck everyday. Mark Zuckerberg only wears blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. Similarly, the leader of the free world only wears blue or gray suits, “Because I have too many other decisions to make,” the president recently told Vanity Fair. “I’m trying to pare down decisions,” he added. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.”
For those of us without a personal chef, deciding what kinds of food to eat is a very important decision. But removing or outsourcing unimportant decisions to other people helps us make more meaningful decisions. One of the ways I achieve this is by removing TV from my life, limiting the number of sportsball games I watch, and restricting the number of news sources I read to only three per day. Doing so introduces more social encounters, analog experiences, and thought-provoking literature into my life, which make me a better writer (instead of regurgitator). Continue reading…
I’m grateful to my parents for teaching me basic personal hygiene. Things like regular bathing, brushing teeth, grooming, laundry, and hand-washing.
But in recent years, I’ve picked up new habits that have improved my life. My parents probably tried to teach me some of them. Others I discovered on my own or with the help of my wife.
Whatever the catalyst, all of the below have greatly improved my life:
- Relentless sun-screening. Several summers ago, I had an epiphany. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “I wish I hadn’t used so much sun screen.” Upon realizing this, I challenged myself to not get burned that summer, despite getting burned every prior summer through negligence (I’m a pasty caucasian). To beat the sun’s harmful rays, I applied sunscreen whenever I knew I would be exposed to direct sunlight for longer than 30-60 minutes. When swimming, for example, I reapplied often, several times an afternoon. Three months later, I conquered without getting burned once. And to my vain surprise, I was tanner than I’d ever been. Since that successful experiment, I haven’t been burned again, at least my skin hasn’t turned lobster, itched, or peeled. So remember: sunscreen only filters the sun’s harmful rays. It doesn’t block the good stuff like vitamin D and sun kissed skin. Continue reading…
Photo: Lindsey Snow
The young man was hiding something. Perhaps unknowingly, but he was still hiding something.
He had spiked hair with an Archie look to it, albeit dishwater blonde instead of bright. A little under six feet tall, he wore an oversized t-shirt and basketball shorts like something out of the ’90s—two sizes too big.
He was pigeon toed, around 175 pounds, and with a case of mild acne. I’m guessing he was 20, give or take a few years.
Why was I so concerned with this guy’s looks, especially as a heterosexual man in a public gym?
I’ll tell you why. Continue reading…
credit: lindsey snow
Bad habits. We all have them. Here are some of mine. But not for long. I’m not doing any of the following any longer. I’m done. For good. Watch me.
Why do some people willingly participate in unpleasant things like regular exercise, cold showers, bland but healthy food, sacrificial restraint, and drinking lots of water, which cause a lot of annoying bathroom runs?
The short answer: Everything has a price. Good health is no exception. In exchange for long-term health, humans must endure short-term discomfort associated with the above.
In more succinct terms, “no pain, no gain.” That’s the catchphrase Jane Fonda popularized in ’80s workout videos to express that rewards are worth the work. Or as David Morris wrote in The Scientist, “The road to achievement runs only through hardship.”
In my experience, that’s the case for good health as much as anything in life. Of course, knowing that won’t make difficult things easy. But it does give them meaning, which I believe lessens suffering.
credit: lindsey snow
Thanks to my wife, I’ve grown to appreciate winter instead of loathing it. Still, the persistent cold, dormant life, and extended darkness can take its toll on our mood, especially near the tail end of the season.
That said, here are four things everyone can do to beat the winter blues, according to USA Today:
- Volunteer, it will warm your heart. To get inspired, visit United Way.
- Eat healthy, from scratch foods; mostly plants, no seconds, but don’t vilify entire food groups (including sugar). The right nutrition can improve your mood.
- Schedule leisure. Lunch with friends, night out with a loved one, or your next vacation. Anticipating events does wonders for your mood. Planning yearly vacations in late January (after the tax man takes his cut) has served my family well.
- Get moving. Exercise is a dead horse. But I’ll kick it again, because it works. Don’t know where to start? Try a 20 minute outdoor walk everyday or the scientifically proven 7 minute workout.
See you in spring.
credit: blake snow
I haven’t written one of these in half a decade. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here goes again. Continue reading…
Cold showers went viral this year. I jumped on the bandwagon this summer and haven’t gone back, not even in winter. Here’s why:
- Indisputable health benefits. Cold showers and winter swimming aren’t fun. Neither is exercise. Humans do all three primarily for the health benefits, which include more vigor, less stress, higher immunity, improved complexion and skin, better circulation, and elevated alertness. Since switching to cold showers, I feel more alive not only in the act, but after the fact. Continue reading…
After deciding to attempt centenarian status, I’ve become hyper-aware of my health.
I won’t touch fad diets with a 10 foot pole. But I exercise regularly, I’m cognizant about the things I put into my body, and I think about how I consume food.
So health.com caught my eye last month after crunching the numbers on foods that may shorten life, specifically those that harm our DNA’s ability to protect itself from disease. The four that made their list: Continue reading…
My defective lower lumbar
Thanks to genetics, I inherited two bad discs in my back, the neurologist told me. (Sorry kids, you’re next.)
For no particular reason, the first one broke six years ago. It laid me up for six straight weeks, forcing me to work lying down for a month and a half. After surgery, I could thankfully sit, run, and walk again with a normal gait.
I was also given a clean bill of health. “Blake, I’ve had patients scale Mount Everest and play two hours of basketball every morning for the rest of their lives after similar surgery,” the doctor told me. “Except for moving refrigerators and pianos, you have my blessing to do whatever physically adventurous things you want.”
I took his counsel to heart, got fit, ate more plants, and experienced a renaissance of outdoor exploits and saw a lot of wonderful things since then. In a way, breaking my back was the best thing to happen to me since marrying Lindsey, fathering children, and being awesome.
Now I get to do it all over. Last week, I broke my back again. Continue reading…
My latest for the fair and balanced department at Fox News: Online blood tests like WellnessFX are empowering and affordable as much as they are against medical advice.
My sister-in-law challenged our family to a plank-off recently. Person who could plank the longest wins. “I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t stomach those things for 30 seconds.”
Or so I told myself.
Before continuing my story, a quick note: Like any inherently lazy human, there are a lot of exercises I hate doing. But planks are the worst—invented by Satan himself. They’re right up there with Turkish getups, mountain climbers, and wall sits as most uncomfortable for me. So I wasn’t enthused to participate.
“I’m in!” my wife said. My daughter, too, was excited to compete. “I’ll try,” I relented, offending Jedi Masters everywhere. Continue reading…
Beyond the obvious weight loss and cardiovascular benefits of regular fitness, here are a few bonus consequences of working on your body:
- Your skin improves. If vanity is your top goal for getting in shape, I’ve got good news: Regular exercise, particularly when coupled with a healthy diet, does wonders to your hue. If you’re white and pasty like me, your skin starts glowing the longer you work out. It looks healthy, full of color, slightly tan. The reason: “Exercise enhances blood flow to skin,” says Dr. David Katz. Plus, sweating works as a natural cleaning agent, unclogging pores and removing oil and dirt for fewer zits. My skin has never looked healthier. What a pleasant surprise. Continue reading…
Like many of you, I go through food phases. Here’s what I’m particularly keen on eating, making, and cooking right now: Continue reading…
If there’s one certainty I’ve observed in life, it is this: Rather than just eating more produce, less meat, and smaller portions of food, humans will vilify something in an effort to simplify complex food choices. Instead of accepting a “moderation in all things” approach to life — which limits superiority complexes and indulgence — they insist on inventing artificial food guidelines to live by.
For example: In the ’80s, butter and natual sugar was bad, so Americans (at least) ate lots of margarine and artificial sweeteners. But those turned out to be worse, so now butter and sugar are back on the menu. In the ’90s, it was the low-fat diet, which in many ways still influences our culture, although not to the extent the diet did in its hey day. In the 2000s, it was low-carbs: Atkin’s diet, South Beach, and other variations. Nowadays, popular grains like wheat bread, oats, and barley are suddenly the enemy. Even though we’ve been eating gluten for thousands of years, it’s just as bad for us as other fad diets. Which is to say it’s not.
Hey, you. Yeah, you—the one reading this. The one that says ignorant things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” “I’m busier than you,” or “I only require 3-4 hours of sleep.”
This research by Harvard obviously doesn’t apply to you, because you’re the exception in life. You’re superhuman.
For the rest of us, the study is a convincing reminder of mortality. Not only convincing, but alarming.
My wife looked at me with bright amber eyes the other day and laughed in my face. “Is no hobby off limits for you?” she mused.
We were cleaning our attic and going through an old box of mine. It was a veritable time capsule of previous hobbies I once held dear. The one that made Lindsey laugh most were my magic tricks.
“How much did you spend on these?” she asked. “A few hundred,” I responded. “Let me guess, you only played with them for a few weeks,” she countered.
You see, I lose interest in hobbies as quickly as I discover them. I do have lifelong passions—music and sports chief among them. But most of my hobbies are fleeting. I get what I need and then move on to new hobbies. The old ones remain as slice of my former self; a talking point with anyone who has shared my enthusiasm for x, y, or z.
But it’s not out of boredom that I lose interest in hobbies. It’s out of a desire to experience as many things as I can. Someday I’ll list a comprehensive set of passions that I chased in this life. But for now, here are personal hobbies I’m particularly keen on at the moment: Continue reading…
Eating well is hard to do. Here are a 13 lucky food strategies I follow to keep extravagance at bay.
- Never order a cheeseburger. I said never. “But, Blake,” you ask, “Don’t you like cheese and beef?” Yes. Both are bursting with flavor. But there’s no sense overdoing it when each are good on their own. “I really wish this delicious burger had cheese on it,” said no one ever. “I really wish this grill cheese had meat on it,” also said no one ever. Pick one and enjoy.
- Hold the mayo and sour cream. Speaking of burgers, my wife and I made homemade ones over the weekend. Mine was topped with red onion, lettuce, tomato, Dijon mustard, and ketchup on a Texas toasted bun. It was a taste explosion, even without the mayo. Same goes for the tacos we had tonight. Beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, on a freshly cooked tortilla. No sour cream required. Again, sour cream and mayo are delicious, but there’s no sense in adding them to an already heavily-flavored meal. Continue reading…
If you’re happy with your health, nutrition and self-image, skip to the next post. If not, read on.
In nine years of marriage, Lindsey and I have never owned a weight scale. Not one.
Why? Because they’re superficial, largely meaningless, and a lousy motivator of long-term health. Continue reading…
One of my goals in life is to become a centenarian, someone over 100 years of age. A few years ago, a team of researchers identified four areas that had the highest number of centenarians per capita in the world. They studied these people, wrote a book about them, then distilled their similar lifestyles down to a set of consistent life-giving habits.
And by life giving, I really mean death halting. Since there’s no brake on death, the best you can do is ease off the accelerator. With my added commentary, here are nine ways to do just that, as compiled by author Dan Buettner:
- Find a physical activity you enjoy and keep doing it. Do it for as long as you enjoy it. If and when you tire of that activity, find something else that pleases you. For example, you could start jogging, and if that becomes a bore, move to biking. Then swimming. Then Pilates. Then kickboxing. Then underwater basket weaving. Whatever it is, be sure to do it at least three times a week, moreso for idle or cubicle people. (In my case, since I sit at a desk and work from home, I have to move a lot more than most people to achieve the optimal amount of fitness.)
- Stop eating when you’re no longer hungry, as opposed to being full. There’s a difference. About 20% less food per meal, in fact. In short, this is the best known way to eat less. Stop when satisfied instead of stuffing yourself. Continue reading…
Healthy food prolongs life. Junk food taketh away.
Here are 12 simple rules for healthy, happy eating, taken from Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, my own experience with food, and the good old Word of Wisdom (as validated by nearly 200 years of good health and a recent UCLA study).
- Always read the label. You are in charge of educating yourself on what you digest. When in doubt, pick food with the fewest included ingredients and artificial-sounding names (like xanthum gum)
- Avoid emotional eating. No food rewards, bribes for kids, or eating out of boredom or depression. Hard to do. Brushing your teeth can help. So can striking up a conversation with someone to take your mind off food.
- Avoid short-order or otherwise “fast” food. With exception to simple meals like bread and cheese, food that is fast (snacks, microwavable, drive-though etc) is usually filled with unnatural preservatives and additives that dilute the nutritional value of the food you consume. Continue reading…
Because they’re constantly chaperoning 120 players, “most of them 18-22 years of age,” reports the Associated Press:
Joker Phillips is 47 and in his first season as Kentucky’s head coach after 20 years as an assistant. He said he has made sure to keep good habits despite the demands of the job. “I still work out every day. I still get the same amount of sleep. I just think this game is important to me, but my family and personal health is more important,” he said. “I am a competitor and I do want to win, but I’m not going to let this game ruin my life.”
I like running.
With exception to an injury hiatus, I ran several times a week over the past two years. And since reading Born To Run, I do so enthusiastically (not begrudgingly like I once did).
I normally run continuously for 45 minutes to an hour. On occasion, two hours—whatever I feel like really. I don’t time myself or track miles—an act that makes running feel like work—I just run.
Two weeks ago, I was feeling especially light on my feet. When I left the house on an empty stomach that Saturday, I didn’t plan on running for three plus hours, but I did. I also didn’t take water or food with me, and nearly put myself in the hospital as a result.
At the recommendation of my surgeon, I started doing calisthenics this week in an effort to stretch my healing back and start building my core (so my lower discs don’t have to work so hard). I also need to lose more weight — I currently weigh 212 lbs. Not so fun fact: I weighed 185 at my wedding five years ago. But I digress.
After almost three months of atrophy, I’m amazed how quickly the human body becomes unfit. I’m breathing like crazy after only 10 push ups, whereas three months ago I was in the best shape I’ve been since high school. But I must say, the stretching and light work outs alleviate the lingering pain in my leg caused by a once flattened sciatic nerve. Is nice!
I’m anxious to get back to running, but have to wait another month before doing so. So have you been exercising? Tsk, tsk.
This is an oldie but goodie entitled The Perfect Human, courtesy of Wired.
Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 days. He does 200 miles just for fun. He’ll race in 120-degree heat. Here are 12 secrets to his success.
Reading this article back in January 2007 was one of the reasons I took an interest in running.
I ruptured a disc in my lower back on July 4. I successfully ran a 10K that day, but the spine cushion (as it is called) blew due to genetics, not physical exertion, I’m told. The demanding event and requisite training only aggravated an already degenerative disc.
On Friday, I had a discectomy to cure the problem, which slices through my back, drills a hole in my vertebrae, and traverses the sacred spinal canal to remove the loose fragment that was pinning my sciatic nerve against my bone, causing pain throughout my entire right leg.
After four weeks of inexplicable pain in my right leg, I was diagnosed with a herniated (possibly ruptured) disc in my lower back yesterday. Said injury partially blocks my sciatic nerve, making my right leg mad at me.
In all seriousness, it’s rather disabling — causing limping, an inability to sit or stand for long periods of time, and loss of feeling in my foot. Unbeknownst to me, it seems I sustained the injury during my 10K run on July 4.
If only I had maintained my previous life of idleness and extreme atrophy, none of this would have happened. ;)
(I should be fine, by the way, with at least a shot, physical therapy, and time. If not, routine surgery should take care of it. UPDATE: I had surgery in late August. It was a success and I’m on my way back to 100%.)