In between Johnny Cash tunes, a couple of Suzanne's friends found out her age, as well as mine. They also marveled at her fitness level and appearance as of late. I like when people look at my wife. Why not? That's what I like to do.
We talked about the observation later in the afternoon. We don't see our health as fantastic. In fact, when we compare ourselves to many individuals near our age we consider ourselves somewhere closer to the median. I guess that's where that theory of relativity kicks in; if you spend much of your free time with active persons you're more likely to fool yourself into thinking it's the norm. But if you have a lot of friends or associates who aren't necessarily athletic you soon find out exercise is not the norm.
Research done in 2010 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found 22 percent of American men and 16 percent of American women over the age of 15 engaged in sports, recreation or exercise activity; almost an hour and 20 minutes for women, just a little under two hours for men. That averages out to somewhere a little under 20 minutes a day for the entire population of America.
In 2008, the US Center for Disease Control recommended that adult Americans get anywhere from 75 to 150 minutes of aerobic activity (depending on the intensity), combined with at least two days a week of activity designed to strengthen and work the major muscle groups. If you divided those activities up it would be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week, and two days (CDC recommends multiple sets of between 8 and 12 repetitions of any exercise requiring some muscle strength) of muscle strengthening activity, which can range from weight training to resistance bands, to hard yard work, to yoga.
Yoga, huh? I've tried yoga. For me it's more an exercise in frustration. To each their own.
Even with such a low standard, why don't Americans get in a reasonable workout?
The government survey data says something I've always felt: We invest our time, finances, and resources into the things which are the most important to us. It makes it easier to understand why people buy workout club or gym memberships and never step foot in the place.
Many persons who do invest in a gym membership or a treadmill or an exercise device think exercise is a zero-sum game. If I don't have an hour to invest in a workout then I'm wasting my time. For many of them it's impossible to block out an entire hour or more to dedicate to a workout.
Ever consider whether the workout can be split into two or three sessions throughout the day? What if I can do a 30-minute workout in the morning before I go to work, and a 30-minute workout in the evening once I return home? Some physiologists have opined that anything less than 20 minutes of aerobic activity is probably not going to provide a benefit, especially in the case of weight training. No lollygagging in the gym.
So what are the benefits of splitting up a workout into smaller pieces? A little bit is always better than nothing. Personally, I can hit the road for a 30-minute run before I go to work, and get at least three-and-a-half-miles in. I haven't beat myself up too much; my body is still burning calories during the day, and I'm stimulated when I hit the office as much as if I sucked down a cup of coffee. Even better, if something suddenly comes up in the evening which requires my non-running presence I'm less likely to feel guilty.
Are there down sides to splitting runs?
The first drawback may be an endurance limitation. Running two 30-minute pieces a day may work well for a runner focused on races up to 10,000 meters, but anything longer may be a disaster. For longer events the training runs are still going to be long. Time-crunched runners can still split runs in their training plan which will take longer the two-and-a-half hour physiological limit for distance training. Two-and-a-half hours of running on Saturday, followed by an hour-to-90 minutes on Sunday, is more likely to keep my wife and family members happy as marathon training grinds into the later weeks of the plan.
In our household, the dirty clothes already multiply at an astounding clip. Two runs a day means dirty running attire accumulate at twice the rate. Add to that pile of stink sweaty shoes which need to dry or need time to dry; you'll either spend time shoving newsprint inside the shoe, money to maintain a running shoe arsenal, ingenuity in finding ways to make wet shoes less wet in as little as eight hours...or you'll develop a tolerance for damp running shoes.
Lastly, splitting runs in two means more attention to the (brief) recovery period available. When running twice a day run efforts ideally vary between hard and easy, or all of the efforts are easy. A good diet, portable self-massage devices, regular hydration and even sports supplementation also become more important during the period between runs.
Time, as David Crosby wrote, is the final currency. We can only spend what we have available at a particular moment. It doesn't necessarily mean the time we have during a day for running is absolutely limited to one unbroken 60-minute period. With a little discipline and the desire to do what is absolutely necessary, even the time-constrained runner can achieve the goals they've set for themselves. It all boils down to will.