It’s a great American tradition, perhaps even an international one, to want to start out the year on a high note with some promise of better things to come. Not relying on serendipity or magic to bring about these improvements, we make solemn promises to ourselves. We promise that we’ll start doing thus and such, and we promise that we’ll stop more behaviors we deem as destructive.
Then, we proclaim our newly-hatched New Year’s resolutions so boldly and proudly at the end of December and into early January. It’s with high hopes that we aim to make a general improvement in our lives. Then, the holidays fade to a dim memory. Alas, so does our resolve regarding the actions needed to realize the benefit of those solemn oaths we made to ourselves.
The way human nature plays out in our economy permits anyone to make an educated guess regarding the nature of these resolutions. Let me take you on a guided tour of the morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources that can help revive that flagging resolve. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.
Many people resolve to relax more during the coming year. The business world consistently raises its expectations about what each of us ought to be contributing to the corporate good. Trying to do more with less only leads to a severe case of time poverty for those of us who are pathologically responsible. And that leads to a diffuse sense of stress and, perhaps, other less-than-acceptable physical consequences.
It’s not what happens to us that’s important. How we respond is the issue -- and that’s a concern of the Atlanta Reproductive Health Center. An article posted on the center’s Web site -- “Stress Management” -- argues that if we want to function at our best, we should tolerate an ongoing, optimal level of stress.
The article, found at www.ivf.com/stress.html offers six suggestions for better managing stress, should it start getting out of control. Each of the six are followed by several bullet points that amplify the idea, but the page doesn’t offer you a cookbook approach.
It’s the physical consequences that make getting control of stress so important. Remember, we’re going to pass this way only once. Our dependents, no doubt, would prefer that we tarry a bit longer before moving on. It’s common knowledge that uncontrolled stress can kill. You can read about a stressed body’s response mechanism at the molecular level in “Stress and Disease: New Perspectives,” an article by Harrison Wein, Ph.D. that appeared in the October 2000 issue of The NIH Word on Health. The good folks at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., post this document at www.nih.gov/news/WordonHealth/oct2000/story01.htm.
The Cleveland Clinic posts “Manage Your Stress: Ten Ways to Ease Stress.” Aside from the obvious, this article, found at www.clevelandclinic.org/health/health-info/docs/1800/1824.asp?index=8133 delves into biofeedback and ways to get a good night’s sleep.
Veterans of recent and ongoing wars might have an interest in learning something about treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder within the Department of Veterans Affairs published “A Brief Primer on the Mental Health Impact of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” on its Web site at www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts/veterans/fs_iraq_afghanistan_lay_audience.html. The topic is complex and I offer this citation as merely an entry page. Users can find much more additional material and details as the site navigation is quite good.
Sculpting the physique
A basic axiom of engineering is easy to comprehend: input minus output equals accumulation. It leads directly to the relationship between diet and exercise. If one of your resolutions had something to do with thinning down, you’ve got two options. You can modify either your diet or your level of physical exertion.
After all, it’s good for the ego to collect a few admiring glances from members of the opposite sex. And, one of the benefits of being slimmer and more physically fit is that you’ll have an uncomplaining body as you do more with less.
The first item on the agenda is a brief check of your baseline measurements. This means determining your body mass index (BMI), the relationship between your weight and height. Fortunately, there’s at least one instance of our hired hands in Washington having spent our tax money reasonably well. FirstGov for Consumers is a one-stop link to hundreds of federal online information resources. In the case of BMI, the appropriate link takes you to www.consumer.gov/weightloss/bmi.htm. The first thing you’ll see there is a table that correlates BMI with the risk of specific weight-centric diseases. The second table offers a coarse determination of your BMI that uses height (in.) and weight (lb.) as inputs. The bottom of the page has a more precise BMI calculator, which allows you to enter your exact height and weight.
Raise the output
Within reasonable limits, a lower BMI is better than a higher one. Physical exercise is one way to decrease your BMI, but that raises the question of just how much exercise is going to be required. Being rational, time-impoverished people, we need to be efficient about this matter. We’ve got more important things to do than spend hours performing an exercise that burns relatively few calories. That’s why I recommend a visit to the calorie-time calculators at www.bodybuilding.com/fun/calories.htm, a Web site by Higher Power Nutrition in Boise, Idaho. The key element for our purposes is a database of the caloric burn rate for more than 600 activities. The page answers two questions: the number of calories burned in a specified time and the time needed to burn a specified number of calories. You select an activity, enter your weight and either the time you plan to spend or the quantity of calories you want to burn. Similar activities are grouped and the output can be sorted.
Many of these exercises can’t be performed in the plant environment. What you’ll need is a way to burn calories and tone muscles while slaving away in the work-a-day world. You may have heard of isometric exercises, those static muscle contractions against a fixed resistance. Easily performed, they were the rage for a while. Alas, it was too good to be true and isometrics were brought low because of overblown claims about their efficacy for building muscle mass. You can get the full story from Paul Spencer-Wimpkeny at isokinetics.net in the United Kingdom. Visit www.isokinetics.net/basics/exercise.htm [no hyphens] to read his comments.
The second approach to raising your caloric burn rate will test your tolerance for acting somewhat dorky in front of people who are competing with you for a paycheck and continued employment. “How to Exercise at Your Office,” a treatise from eHow Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., demonstrates activities you can use to “boost energy levels, relieve stress and burn calories.” This material is found at www.ehow.com/how_5755_exercise-office.html.
Another office exercise routine is found at http://forum.mamboserver.com/showthread.php?t=4672. It’s easier and doesn’t make you appear too silly.
The other half of the equation
Minimizing input is purely a matter of self-control. No magic diet or diet supplement can slim you down while still giving you unfettered access to the feedbag. It’s your hand that holds the fork. With that said, I offer you “3 day diet,” a page posted by Foo Yeong Seng in Bandar Kinrara, Puchong, Malaysia. The major thesis Seng claims here is that you can lose 10 lbs. in three days by strict adherence to a particular diet regimen he details. Then, you can return to your regular eating habits, if you don’t overdo it. Perhaps it works. The reason I mention this Web site is not so much the diet claims, but rather the access to a list of food items showing the calories, protein, fat and carbohydrate content as a function of portion size. Superimpose this data on a constant amount of physical exercise, and you can determine changes in body weight as a function of fuel input. It allows you to find the tipping point below which you can lose weight at a controlled rate and reduce your BMI. Drop in at www.3-day-diet-plan.com [hyphens separate each word] and you’ll be in control of your own fate and weight.
Ditching the monkey
Another common resolution is to cease using tobacco in all its forms. You already know, I’m sure, the arguments for making this resolution stick. Few of us, however, know much about the background of this agricultural product. That knowledge gap can be filled by a page on Loring Holden’s Web site, http://smokingsides.com/docs/hist.html, where you’ll find “Breed's collection of tobacco history sites,” a page attributed to Larry Breed, DrPH, of the Community Health Education Institute. It has no fewer than 280 links to sites holding much arcane tobacco lore. Learn about indigenous peoples of the Americas and tobacco use, the experiences of explorers and colonists, the history of tobacco control, places with a tobacco-related history and more. The material is interesting and I wanted to find more, but was unable to locate the Community Health Education Institute’s own site.
But, back to quitting. For that, I direct your digital attention to a site operated by our friends at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How to Quit,” found at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/how2quit.htm, is a site dedicated to the proposition that it’s possible to cease and desist from using the weed. It offers resources that explain the physiological effects of nicotine on the body. It makes an appeal, sometimes emotional, to those who are serious about wanting to quit. That select audience will find a lot of supportive motivational material that can help beat the addiction. The site also has material for clinicians to use in persuading patients to start the process and for helping them be successful. Nevertheless, it’s your hand that holds the lit match.
Move back from the edge
When Ben Franklin made his famous comments about lending and borrowing, he had no idea of the depth of the financial abyss that we would be able to dig for ourselves. With recent changes in personal bankruptcy law making it much more difficult to leave someone else holding the bag, it’s conceivable one would feel that paying off credit card debt might be a worthy resolution. But it’s tough to kick the habit and move from a plastic-based economy to one based on good old cash that comes out of current earnings. Because the withdrawal symptoms aren’t necessarily pleasant, this resolution easily might fall by the wayside of daily life.
Of the thousands of Web sites offering tips and advice about personal debt, one with the least gloom-and-doom content is The Motley Fool. David and Tom Gardner founded this multimedia financial education company with a mission: to educate, enrich and amuse individual investors around the world. Their site addresses the matter at hand with its “Welcome to the Get Out of Debt Seminar!” It includes five lessons plus links to several other resources that can be of value to someone whose bank balance could use a little more value right now. So, point your mouse in the general direction of www.fool.com/seminars/sp/index.htm?sid=0001&lid=000 to start the seminar. Explore the rest of the site while you’re at it.