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 Concerns Over Compulsiveness  
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott Are you a compulsive, task-oriented individual? For many of us such behavior is natural, simply our normal way of life. I have always been that way, the old all or nothing attitude. Whether I'm exercising or working in the garden, it's always the same approach. Go as hard as I can until the task is complete. When I was younger, this process proved satisfactory, but with age I have attempted to address my physical activities more sensibly.

Let's begin with a brief self-assessment to see if this column has any practical application to your life. Please respond to the following statements as best describes your typical behavior.

Yes No
1. Once I begin mowing the lawn, I keep going until I finish the job. ___ ___
2. Once I start raking leaves in the yard I stay with it until the lawn is leafless. ___ ___
3. Once I start cultivating the garden, I keep hoeing until every weed is history. ___ ___
4. When I ride the exercise cycle, I pedal until my pre- determined training time is attained, no matter how fatigued I feel. ___ ___
5. When I do my strength training workout, I complete all of my predetermined repetitions, even if I have to compromise form on the last few reps. ___ ___
6. When I take a run, I never slow down or walk even though it would be better to do so. ___ ___

If you answered yes to three or more of these statements, then you are probably a task-oriented individual who may benefit from the following information.

Here's the final test. Imagine that it's December and the forecast is for 12 inches of snow. It's Saturday and there are some good college football games on television. Here are your choices:

Yes No
(a) You quickly go to the store and purchase a snowblower. ___ ___
(b) You contract with the teenager next door to shovel your driveway. ___ ___
(c) You wait until all the snow has fallen (and all the games are over) so that you shovel only once. ___ ___
(d) You shovel the driveway whenever four inches of snow accumulates. ___ ___

Depending upon your personal health and fitness, you may be wise to use a snowblower or have someone younger and stronger shovel the driveway until you are able to do so without risk. Be sure to check with your physician regarding your physical capacity for vigorous activity such as shoveling snow, raking leaves, hoeing the garden, and exercise.

However, even if you are in good shape, I strongly recommend shoveling small layers of snow at a time, rather than hoisting foot high loads on the end of your shovel. Three shoveling sessions may seem like a lot, but the overall effect is much better tolerated and far less likely to cause injury, because every shovel lift is relatively light and easy to perform. On the other hand, waiting until all of the snow has fallen makes every shovel lift a near maximum effort. Although the total time expenditure may be a little longer by clearing the driveway three times, it is time well spent from an exercise perspective, and time wisely spent from an injury prevention perspective. Your back, shoulders, arms, and legs will be most appreciative if you do three low effort work bouts rather than a single high effort session.

This same reasoning process may be applied to raking leaves. It's okay to do one section of your lawn a day, rather than feel compelled to eliminate every leaf on your property before putting the rake away. Working in sections is a much more sensible approach than doing it all and feeling it all for several days following your yard session.

Of course, this same philosophy is equally relevant to your exercise program. Research shows that three 10-minute walks on a given day are equivalent in fitness benefit to one 30-minute walk. In other words, it is fine to break your exercise program into manageable segments, rather than completing a comprehensive workout and feeling fatigued for several days following.

We like to encourage this exercise approach in our fitness center, even on the strength training equipment. For example, instead of doing two exercises for each muscle group during long and infrequent workouts, we recommend doing one exercise for each muscle group on Monday, a different exercise for each muscle group on Wednesday, and back to the first exercise protocol on Friday. This approach permits a consistent exercise program without overtraining and experiencing overuse injuries.

Another favorite for people over forty is interval training. Instead of maintaining a steady state of uninterrupted aerobic exercise for the entire workout, consider alternating between higher effort and lower effort periods throughout your exercise session. For example, if you really find your 40-minute runs too demanding to be enjoyable, consider the following interval training approaches.

Approach A: Harder Training Day
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes
Run 6 minutes; jog/walk 2 minutes

Approach B: Easier Training Day
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes
Run 4 minutes; jog/walk 4 minutes

Being compulsive may be acceptable if you are twenty, but a more relaxed approach to physical labor and exercise is definitely preferred for those of us over 40, at least for purposes of general conditioning. Competitive athletes must obviously put greater effort into their training programs. However, if your primary goals is physical fitness, you should be pleasantly surprised by how well your body responds to regular and reasonable exercise sessions.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA., and author of several fitness books including the new releases, Building Strength and Stamina and Strength Training Past 50.

© 1999 Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. all rights reserved

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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
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