I’ve just come from Zumba. It’s 60 minutes of pure fun, a fast-paced, coordinated dance workout to infectious Latin music, which in my case takes place in a rustic old wooden community hall in Victoria, BC, on the wet, west coast of Canada.
It was pouring sheets of rain today, a typical dreary, grey November in this region of temperate rainforests. The winter’s soggy weather produces enormous trees, for which British Columbia is famous. But it also produces subdued, even depressed, people this time of year.
Inside the hall it feels almost hot and sultry, as if, with a little imagination, we were salsa dancing in some pavilion near a Brazilian beach. (Albeit, in the off season — I am not delusional.) The rain drummed on the old wooden roof; our feet drummed on the wooden floor. I couldn’t help but smile.
Every time I go, which these days is every Saturday morning for the 9:30 am class, within minutes I am grinning ear-to-ear, even though my feet can’t keep up with the class leader’s, the irrepressible “Sam.” My arms flail in the opposite direction of 90% of the rest of the class.
A pony-tailed, spirited, British ex-pat, Sam’s enthusiastic smiling, mugging and whoops of encouragement get me laughing no matter how much I’m behind the beat or leading with the wrong foot in a mambo move.
At the end of 60 minutes my face is always red – the curse of being fair haired and freckled and of Celtic ancestry. No matter how fit I get in my life, my face after a good workout looks like I have been tortured in a hot box. (And if it doesn’t get red, maybe I haven’t worked out hard enough?)
My mood, however, is soaring. I feel full of joy, energy and verve. My face, thank goodness, reverts to normal within 20 minutes or so, but that pep and positivity stays with me for the rest of the day. Such movement is the best boost to dreary-day doldrums.
Movement as a part of a healthy life
I have been thinking recently about exercise and movement and its role in a healthy life.
As Drs. Andreas Eenfeldt, Aseem Malholtra and others say on this site: “You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet.”So true. I would add, however: “When your diet is right you CAN exercise your way into a fantastic mood.” When you eat a low-carb high-fat diet, become a fat burner, lose your cravings and stop the glucose roller-coaster ride, you feel so good you want to move. You wanna dance! And it feels great to do so.
We’ve been fed a lie for 50 years that if as long as you burned more calories — with vigorous exercise — than you consumed, you could eat anything. We were told the reason we were getting so obese in Western societies was because we moved too little, relied on the TV remote, sat at our computers, commuted by car, used labour-saving devices like robotic vacuums and smart washing machines. If we only turned back the clock, to a time of more movement, the logic said, our weight would normalize and out health problems would be resolved and we could eat the pie and ice cream with impunity.
Those of us who have embraced the low-carb keto lifestyle — and thrived with it — know that the calories-in-must-equal-calories-out equation never worked for us and likely has not worked in modern times for anybody but the Amish — and it may be their genes, not their manual labor, that has protected them from diseases like diabetes.
Truth be told, I believed that exercise lie, however, for decades. In fact, there were many years in my life when exercise felt like penance, like an absolution I must perform to atone for my bad habits and my weakness, particularly after eating junk food and lazing around. Had too much ice cream? Get to the gym. Partied a little too hard with friends? Go for a run. A few pounds too heavy when I stepped on the scale? Hit a hard hiking trail. I thought exercise was the panacea that could reverse any sin.
I am almost embarrassed to confess that I have participated in pretty much every fitness trend that has occurred in the past 30 years:
- Jane Fonda aerobic workouts: I bought the headbands, leotards, tights and leg warmers and joined the high-priced gym. Went three times a week for at least 5 years. Trends changed, prices climbed, gyms failed. Head bands looked very stupid on me.
- Triathlon training: did the clinics, swam the laps, struggled to switch from swimwear into cycling gear. Panicked in an open water start when other Type A’s climbed over me with their aggressive freestyle. Realized being fit was not worth the risk of drowning, nor listening to others drone on about their split times.
- Pilates: mind-numbingly boring, but I endured the micro-movements, thinking if ballet dancers swore by it, maybe it might elongate my muscles? Not a chance. Lasted one season.
- Hot yoga: did it for 7 years, feeling self-righteous and morally superior to those who could not tolerate the 42C room or the pools of sweat. Coming back into the hot room after a forced six month break, I looked around, OMG, I’ve been brain washed. This is icky, sticky torture!
- Boot camp: did three, 12-week rounds. Got yelled at doing push-ups in the mud; got buff; got a bad knee injury; got laid up on the couch for six months with ice-packs and physio. (See hot yoga forced break.) Got wise that any fitness trend that ends in serious injury is stupid.
- Spin class: actually kind of like it, if only they would turn down the volume and switch up the tunes now and again. But losing my hearing to techno-pop while getting fit likely not a good trade off.
- Cycling: ride to work almost every day when it is not raining (ie. 8 months of the year) and love it. But can’t ever see myself joining an aging, wannabe peloton or wearing spandex clothing adorned with fake Italian sponsors.
- Yoga: who doesn’t like yoga? My formal classes have ranged from the fabulous to the flaky (leader chanting while ringing a Tibetan singing bowl.) Twenty-minute YouTube videos now my predictable, reliable, no-nonsense go-to.
I also find, to my surprise, that I now enjoy lifting weights, taking Dr. Ted Naiman’s advice to make them heavy-enough so that after about 12 reps I can lift no more. It literally takes about 20 minutes to work all my major muscle groups, is making me objectively stronger, and also fills me with a positive buzz for the rest of the day. Who knew?
I have noticed among many people who post to Diet Doctor, like Frank Linnoff and the recent, inspiring story of Calvin, that eating the low-carb high-fat keto lifestyle first creates the feelings of wellbeing, health and vigour. The weight comes off. The knees feel good. Then, when we are feeling so good, the feeling of wanting to dance and move and lift heavy things comes so easily after.
These days I wake up with energy, joints feeling great. It is a pleasure to hike the trails, cycle a path, paddle a dragonboat or dance to a zumba beat. On a work day, I will even take a break every few hours or so, get up from my desk, and dance to a three-minute song on Youtube.
How many calories do I now consume in a day? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. I just feel like dancing.
Forget the calories in/out equation. Now, finally, I have the formula right.