BE IN TUNE WITH YOUR BODY!
Regardless of our varied disciplines as music educators, including both our specializations and our grade level of instruction, we all recognize the highest priority in our lives is our fundamental quality of physical health. It goes without saying that without good health, it quickly becomes impossible to perform our daily functions as educators, let alone anything else! We’ve all heard the disturbing statistics of rising cases of obesity in both children and adults, or that obesity is one of the leading causes of heart disease. In addition, we’ve all been exposed to the wide range of benefits that promoting good physical health can bring, including a dramatic reduction of emotional and mental stress, a higher developed sense of confidence and pride, and an increase in energy and endurance that is essential to our field of music education. But one needs not be obese, or in any other immediate danger of deteriorating health to recognize the imperative to develop a regiment of proper fitness in our lives. In fact, all educators in positions that require physical work (of which music is a certainty!) should develop a lifestyle that promotes healthy choices and staying in shape.
First, we must understand that promoting good physical health means to look further than the goal of achieving your desired weight, or how many miles you’d like to walk without getting winded. True, short term goals are important for laying out a structured plan, but once those goals are accomplished, then what? For many people who desire to lose weight, they go on a diet. They change their entire eating habits, much to their own chagrin, or even join a gym for a limited time. The problem with this approach is that once that person accomplishes their desired level of physical health, everything goes right back to the way it was. The previous eating habits resume, the gym membership expires, and then it’s only a matter of time until the weight comes back or more serious health problems emerge. I dislike the term “diet” because it implies a temporary change of lifestyle that will eventually return once the goal has been reached. Instead of continuing the downward spiral back and forth between weight gain and weight loss (which in itself can create serious bodily stress), why don’t we develop the goal to continuously maintain our good health once our short term goals have been reached? Why don’t we develop a lifestyle that keeps the weight off and gives us the energy and endurance to teach to our highest potential?
The Fitness Triangle
Before I became a music teacher, I used to manage a New York Sports Club fitness center in Princeton, NJ. Having more than twenty years of experience in the martial arts prior to this, I believed I knew everything there was to know about good health. I had endurance, flexibility, strength, and a confidence that transcended into all my endeavors. But when I accepted the position of a high school music director, I quickly found that my healthy habits were becoming less of a priority as I put all of my energy into creating a successful program for my students. Soon, my stress level was rising, I was gaining weight, and I was spending less and less time focusing on my personal health as I was on my job. It wasn’t until one day where I went to my normal karate class and found I did not have the energy to keep up with my own students that I realized my habits needed to change. Fortunately, I remembered my many conversations with the personal trainers of my former gym, and their philosophies regarding what I call the “fitness triangle”.
The fitness triangle consists of the three primary aspects of staying in shape, which are cardiovascular training, strength training, and dietary habits. Cardiovascular exercises are anything that increases the flow of your circulatory system. Exercises that increase heart rate and cause perspiration can help burn calories, which reduce fat, and increases endurance and breath control. Proper cardiovascular exercise is a leading deterrent against heart disease and circulatory problems. Doing things like taking a long walk, jumping jacks, running, and playing sports that require constant movement such as tennis, basketball, or swimming all enhance the cardiovascular system. Taking aerobics classes, martial arts, or kickboxing are all excellent ways to get your blood pumping and energized.
Strength training involves the building of muscle to replace fat, creating stronger, healthier tissue, and will also lower blood pressure. It also offsets the normal loss of muscle from aging, and protects against injury by building stronger bones. Other positive benefits from strength training include anti-depression, loss of back pain, and lowering the risk for kidney disease, stroke, and cancer. Strength training can be separated into two separate concepts: weight training and resistance training. Training with weights can be as simple as lifting a dumbbell or performing a bench press. There are innumerable exercises for each individual muscle, so if one exercise is too difficult or complicated, don’t get discouraged. The best way to learn how to properly train with weights is to join a local gym and get a tutorial from a personal trainer. Most gyms offer an introductory service for free with a membership. Resistance training is very similar to weight training except that you are contracting against the weight of another object. That object could be a weight, such as a dumbbell or medicine ball, but it could also be the weight of our own bodies. Push-up, sit-ups, chin-ups, and leg lifts are just a few examples of resistance training that you can do without any extra equipment.
The final and most important aspect of the fitness triangle is the way we eat. Like putting the right kind of fuel in our cars, it doesn’t matter if we have a Ferrari or a station wagon, it won’t go anywhere unless it has the right fuel. The great thing about the dietary part of the triangle is that it’s simple to understand which foods to choose that are high in vitamins and nutrition. In fact, the dietary aspect of the fitness triangle accounts for about 80% in total importance. Like I said before, you can outfit your car with the best engine, sound system, and accessories, but it won’t go anywhere unless it has a full tank of fuel. Some foods that are high in protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and low in fat and cholesterol include almonds, vegetables like beans and peas, fat-free dairy products, eggs, turkey, tuna, berries, and whole grain products. This is not to say you have to eliminate things like cheeseburgers, cheesesteaks, desserts, and other good stuff from your diet. It just means that you have to balance these foods with the foods that will help to burn fat and build muscle. Replacing soda with water, for example, is a great start. Bringing a healthy lunch to work instead of hitting the McDonald’s drive through is an excellent way to change to a healthier lifestyle. For more information, I suggest reading up on the latest nutritional tips on the internet, or read The Abs Diet, or The Abs Diet for Women by David Zinczenko.
But I Don’t Have The Time!
Haven’t we all heard that from at least one student when we ask them how long they’ve practiced in a particular week? And our answer is usually the same: “If you can find the time to spend hours on video games, Facebook, or texting your friends, surely you can spend more time practicing your concert material!” Now granted, the situation is not exactly the same (hopefully!) when we consider music educators teaching a variety of subjects and balancing a home, family, and social life all at once. I have had the experience of teaching Choir, Concert Band, Marching Band, Music Theory, Jazz, and running a Music Booster Organization, in addition to finding time to compose, practice my clarinet and saxophone, and having an active social life. And yes, sometimes it can get quite exhausting. However, we need to understand that without prioritizing our own physical health, we risk losing the very thing that allows us to multitask and run at 100% every week.
During my time managing the New York Sports Clubs fitness center, I interviewed numerous personal trainers in what they believed was an adequate fitness schedule that would both build muscle, trim fat, and promote good cardiovascular health. They informed me that for the strength training aspect of the fitness triangle, only about 2 hours a week was necessary to maintain one’s current condition, with a 30 minute focus on abdominal muscles. Only 2-3 hours a week were needed for cardiovascular training, which could be easily accomplished by taking a brisk walk for an hour three times a week. As for the diet, again noted as the most important aspect of the fitness triangle, that takes a bit more time to adjust to. David Zinczenko, editor of Men’s Health Magazine and author of “The Abs Diet”, refers to dietary habits as the most important part of a balanced fitness lifestyle, understanding once again that the general definition of “diet” is something temporary that you use to lose weight, in which after you gain the desired results, you start back on your normal eating habits (and the cycle begins anew!).
Having the commitment to losing weight and improving your health isn’t something you think about when you stand on the scale and realize “it’s time to go on that diet”. Instead, we should be continuing to maintain our health especially after we have reached our ideal weight. That way, the weight will stay off, we’ll be consistently healthy, and we’ll all feel better physical and mentality.
So What Can I Do Right Now?
You don’t have to join a gym, hire a personal trainer, nutritionist, or buy tons of DVD’s of Tae-Bo, P90X, or watch The Biggest Loser. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things. After all, you really can’t put a price tag on health when it comes to your own. The first step is the same thing we say to students who are just beginning an instrument: just start playing! Get outside and take a walk, get on the internet and research healthy foods, subscribe to a fitness magazine and practice the exercises, play a sport, anything that gets you up and moving. There is a wealth of materials out there that can help point you in the right direction. Joining a gym and scheduling time with an accredited personal trainer is one of the best ways to start getting in shape and learn how to keep yourself there on your own. When it comes down to it, the primary factor for creating healthy habits is our own motivation. Only we can decide what we want to do with the body we’ve been given, and just like an instrument, it will take care of us if we only return the favor.