Guys, gals: Why not try breaking the mold?
WASHINGTON — With opening presents and eggnog and family visits and eggnog and Christmas caroling with the neighbors and eggnog, the last thing to worry about right now is exercise.
But here's a reason to keep reading: eggnog.
No doubt the effects will linger come the new year, so I'd like to offer another word, this one about making resolutions: Don't. They are usually so larded with imprecision they don't get out of the starting gate.
Sure, and will we use the Desert Island Starvation Plan, or the No Pasta Except on Columbus Day Method?
Why not? But by how much? And how?
Instead, let's think about immediate steps to help those longer-range aspirations.
For the guys: Heave yourself back from the feasting board, stand up straight and touch your toes. Now sit in a chair and try to twist your torso 90 degrees to the left (using a wall as a reference point). Now twist to the other side.
If you are like a lot of us, the hands came up somewhere short of the shoes, and the shoulders stopped shy of 45 degrees.
We run, we bike, we pound away on the bench press. Or maybe we just lounge on the couch and watch bowl games. Either way, men are notorious for ignoring flexibility. Maybe we find it boring. Maybe we don't see the need.
But ignoring flexibility may mean injury down the road, and mobility problems in old age. There's a reason it's called shuffleboard.
Your task: Commit at least one day a week to a class or activity that promotes flexibility. There are tons of yoga and Pilates studios in the area, no shortage of DVDs or instruction books, and plenty of advice on the Web.
For the gals: Now that the men have been embarrassed, it's your turn, ladies. Get into a push-up position (yes, you can bend your knees), and show the crowd what you can do. Make sure you get your chest low to the ground and keep your back straight.
How'd it go? Fourteen is considered about average.
Did it seem hard? Just as men are loath to worry about splits and side bends, women shy from lifting weights in a way that builds muscle — even though it boosts metabolism and helps control weight. And just as men seem infatuated with their "show muscles," I know women who can blaze away on the treadmill and crank out lower-body exercises but won't invite their arms and shoulders to the party.
"Women often feel awkward in the gym, and they all don't like going into the free-weight room. They don't want to invade a male domain," said Reston, Va. trainer Mary Layne, who enjoys telling tales of female clients who have graduated from modified push-ups to the full-bore, knees-off-the-floor variety.
Does it matter?
Only if you want to stand upright as you grow older and be able to carry your grocery bags and your grandkids. Muscles disappear if they aren't used. Bones grow brittle if they are not made to bear weight.
Your task: Commit at least two half-hour sessions a week to strength training. It doesn't matter if you start out at home with resistance bands or join the freaks in the free-weight room. No, you won't end up out of proportion, unless you're a candidate for George Mitchell's next report. But you will turn 70 with your head held high.
For newcomers: If you have not been very active, getting started can be hard. There is so much yammering about secret formulas for success.
Here is my tip: Shut it all out and just make a concerted effort to be active for a half-hour a day.
Something that helped me a lot in the past year: Keep close track of what you're doing. Whether you invest in a heart-rate monitor, keep a fitness log or start a spreadsheet on your home computer, you need some way to chart your progress. It keeps you honest.
When the doldrums creep in come February, you'll see it in the record book. And when those one-mile walks turn into three- or four-milers, and the half-hour becomes an hour, you'll know that good things have happened.
For the experienced: Okay, so this has all been a big bore, no doubt, for those of you who are running 25 miles a week and lifting weights and doing a day or two of yoga on the side.
Still need a challenge? Bow to your sensei. If images of Rex Kwan Do — the sensei, or teacher, who slapped Uncle Rico around in "Napoleon Dynamite" — spoiled the idea of martial arts for you, give it a second thought.
I was looking for something new to try back in the fall and ran into a local aikido instructor. I started one of his classes about a month ago, and it has been a revelation. Instead of one-dimensional motion — forward on the treadmill, up and down with the weights — spinning and tumbling are part of each day's warm-up, and integral to the discipline.
I have almost beaten the dizziness, and the back roll is coming along. Though I was concerned about how my fairly inflexible right knee would adapt, it has started moving better as a result.
Which is sort of the point: If you're in a rut, find something new.
If martial arts don't sound attractive, how about ice skating? Or add triathlon components to your cardio routine. If you're a runner, work swimming and biking into the week.
Or change the dynamics of your weightlifting routine: Local trainer Kenn Kihiu recommends a "pyramid" routine — sequentially increasing the weight but dropping the number of repetitions as you work through sets of an exercise.
In any case, let's all resolve not to resolve, but to wake up tomorrow and do something different.