Running in the 'Meda: Improving your health

Running in the 'Meda: Improving your health

Marty Beene

I had an opportunity the other night to speak and demonstrate strength exercises to one of the medical weight management groups at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. The Kaiser nurse working with this particular group had briefed me on the program that these super friendly folks were on - it was intense. They were currently in their 13th week of subsisting on a medically crafted liquid diet, and were looking forward to starting to eat actual food again in a couple of weeks. That's right: Four months without actual food. Several of them have already lost in excess of 50 pounds.

My role was to teach the group some simple strength exercises using elastic bands. One of the challenges of a weight loss program that involves a significant calorie deficit is that you not only lose fat, but you also lose muscle mass. So it's very important to introduce (or re-introduce) an exercise program at the right time and level of difficulty. I view the role of strength exercises in this context as threefold:

1. To build functional strength that is used in day-to-day activities (heck, that's the main reason I do upper body strength - I don't want to wrench my back getting that heavy salad bowl out of the cupboard);
2. To build muscle mass, which - even when not being used - burns more calories than a body with less muscle mass; and
3. To prepare for more intense exercise, such as walking, jogging, or cycling, which can burn lots of calories in a very healthy way. That is, you don't want to try those other forms of exercise and injure yourself because of some key muscle weakness.

This group was very inspiring to me. It's much more common in our society for people to hear, "You really should do 'X' to try to make yourself more healthy," and then not do it. We all tend more toward being, well, lazy. Many of us figure that if we develop health problems, we can just take a pill to resolve it later. To actually commit to taking action on the scale of the people in this group is impressive.

Imagine that you have gotten to a point where you are significantly overweight and out of shape. People - perhaps your doctor, maybe some friends - have told you that you're hurting yourself, maybe even slowly killing yourself. Then you find out that there's a program available to you that involves being on a liquid diet for four months. Sure, it also includes moral support from peers and professionals. But would you do it? Clearly, there are many, many Americans who wouldn't, and don't. These people did commit.

One of the best things I saw is that the program is working. The people at the meeting were upbeat, cheerful, and quite interested in what I was teaching them and what the nurse was discussing with them. These folks are already significantly healthier than they were only a few months ago, and they will be even more so in another month or two. Ultimately, this will have been only a tiny piece of their lives that they had to buckle down and make sacrifices. They are utilizing resources that are available (nutrition professionals, fitness professionals, peers, etc.) to significantly improve their lives. Yes, improving your health is possible!

When are you going to make a commitment to improved health?

In other news, as you read this on Friday morning, I will be braving the rain down at the Municipal Golf Links on Doolittle Drive near the Oakland Airport watching the PAC-12 Cross Country Championships. Cal is hosting the meet, and there will undoubtedly be some terrific running, as the PAC-12 is traditionally one of the stronger conferences in the country (currently, five men's and three women's teams from the PAC-12 are among the top 12 teams in the country). Alameda High 2014 grad Cameron Tu is expected to be running for Cal. I will report on the meet next week!

Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at