Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Generic Wellness Won't Work

Typically, I'm a cost conscious guy. I'll always consider the mildly labeled product that reads, "Compare to... ABC brand” The generic alternative often offers me a nearly identical product at a lower cost. At the same time, I'm also a bit of a skeptic. I stand in the store aisle and read the label of any particular product, comparing the generic to the branded version and debate with myself, "While the ingredients read the same, they can't really be the same, can they? Certainly the branded version has a leg up in effectiveness or something, just look at the colorful marketing on the packaging." In many cases, I am wasting my time as the products are, in fact, seemingly identical. Yet, sometimes there is a difference. Take Rice Krispies for example. While the "Crisped Rice" version offers a cost savings, they just don't snap, crackle, and pop in the same way as their legendary counterpart. And maybe it's just me, but the bags of the generic cereal never seem to open easily. You pull and tug until the bags bursts on all sides, cereal spilling everywhere. English muffins are the same. While the generic offers something that looks very similar, Thomas' version has nooks and crannies abounding throughout while the knock off has a flattened surface allowing your spread to just melt and run off the top. In that case, I might as well just have had toast. While generic alternatives are often an economical option, it's in the details that you must pay close attention to not sacrifice quality.

Most health care dollars are spent on treatment as opposed to prevention. In fact, according to the PA Dept of Health, of every dollar spent on health care, only about 4 cents is spent on prevention and public health. In turn, most is spent on treating preventable diseases ($55.9 billion in PA). One such preventable disease is the obesity epidemic. According to a source report referenced by the PA Dept of Health, Pennsylvania's rank has dropped from the 22nd heaviest state (2009) to 19th heaviest (2011). In addition, 1 in 3 Pennsylvania babies born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime due to the obesity epidemic. This tragedy is relatively easy to address, yet we too often fail to make considerable progress. Why? Perhaps the solutions offered are too generic.

In the book, Switch, the Heath brothers talk about a particular community where there was a highly touted initiative to promote wellness and make their community healthier. In spite of considerable resources and funding, it failed. After reviewing their approach, they determined that the messaging was too generic. "Get Healthy," is ambiguous. Instead, they targeted one particular message. They asked people to make one, small change and switch from 2% milk to skim. The initiative was a success and the results were tangible and quantifiable in terms of improving the health of their community. The message wasn't generic, it was specific.

A place like the Y offers a vast array of health and wellness options. Recently, we've worked to consolidate our main messaging in our ongoing efforts to improve the nation's health and well-being. When you visit the Y, you can receive a refrigerator-friendly takeaway that outlines 3 simple steps to a healthier lifestyle. Detailed points are highlighted under the steps of Get Fit, You Are What You Eat, and Stay Motivated. Follow these three specific steps and you're likely to see results.

Seeking the generic can be an efficient approach to shopping. It's not effective in promoting health and wellness. The focus and the details matter. "Be healthier" or "exercise more" often aren't tangible enough to move anyone to action. Reduce sugary beverages from your diet and walk at least 30-60 minutes daily (even if it's around your workplace) are more practical.

As we enter 2012, I encourage you to be frugal and go with the generic when it makes sense. However, when it comes to pursuing a healthier lifestyle or, perhaps, choosing breakfast foods, be specific and don't sacrifice quality or results.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just Let the Kids Play!

You've seen them, the hovering parents. They are at the playground, walking their child from the slide to the swing to the monkey bars; prompting, directing, and managing their young one through each activity. They are at school, the parent who wants their child's day scripted, for prior review and input followed by post day evaluation. They are in backyards across our community, taking over their child's fort-building project to do it more effectively and efficiently. The child who had started to build their backyard fort with a vision in mind is resigned to sitting off to the side, watching their parent build the fort, now complete with a watch tower, kitchenette, and sleeping quarters. When the fort is finished, the parent beams and says to their child, "Look at what you built!" The child forces a smile.

I've too often been this parent, trying to control and direct my child's play in order to maximize their childhood experience. I want them to learn, grow, and develop through not allowing them to miss a single, rich opportunity offered by various clubs, programs, sports, and structured quality time with their parents. Unfortunately, instead of fanning the flames of creativity and learning, this approach smothers independence and development.

Free play time is in steep decline throughout our society and the consequences may be more dire than people think. "Since about 1955... Children’s free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities," says the author Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College (Entin, Esther, “All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed," The, Oct 2011). Free play is described as play that is self-direct and initiated by the child rather than prompted by an adult or through an organized activity. Gray further contends that hovering parents are a significant barrier to free play. "It is hard to find groups of children outdoors at all, and, if you do find them, they are likely [in a structured activity]." He references a 1997 study that showed 6-8 years olds spent 18% more time at school, 145% more time doing school work, and 168% more time shopping with parents when compared to the same group sixteen years earlier. The result is less free time. Further reducing free time, many schools and child care programs have cut recess or free play time to make room for more [structured] programming.

Dr. Gray states 5 main benefits of free play for children, all supporting their developing mental health.

1. Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.
2. It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self control, and follow rules.
3. Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play.
4. Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals.
5. Most importantly, play is a source of happiness.

Dr. Gray draws a parallel between the loss of free, unstructured play to the significant increase of anxiety and depression among children in the past 60 years. Studies have documents this trend and, in addition, they've shown suicide rates among youth increasing at an alarming rate during the same period. Gray contends that as a society, we should look closely at free play, the core value it has in the emotional and mental health of children, and mitigate the factors that have almost eliminated it from the lives of children today.

My wife is such a blessing to me in this area. She's made me realize that cereal crumbs on the couch, little faces smudged with jelly, and muddy jeans are not only bearable, but things for which we must be thankful. She often reins me in when I want to direct our children's play as well. "Just let them do it their way," She says, "its ok." According to Dr. Gray, it's not just "ok," but rather imperative.

Entin concludes, "The competing needs for childcare, academic and athletic success, and children's safety are compelling. But perhaps parents can begin to identify small changes -- such as openings in the schedule, backing off from quite so many supervised activities, and possibly less hovering on the playground that would start the pendulum returning to the direction of free, imaginative, kid-directed play."

I received a text from my wife today that read, "Don't be annoyed when you get home... house a mess... doing a project w/ the boys, but will be fun." My panic set in as I wondered what this might mean. When I arrived home, the kid's bathroom was awash in brightly colored paint. There were handprints, letters drawn from little fingers, stick-figures, and creative art from the young minds of a 4 and 6 year old. The floor was speckled with drippings of paint. Shirts were smeared with paint erased. What couldn't be erased were the smiles on the faces of our boys as they proudly displayed their handiwork. Their mom had given them a clean slate and freedom to paint their bathroom. And the mess that ensued was beautiful.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Encouraging Words

I've worked at the Y for over two years. I know that we have a top-notch array of land fitness classes. For two years, I've promised the Fitness Coordinator that I'd sample a class. Yet, I've always reasoned that taking a sample class would detract from my own fitness regime. My workouts were likely more challenging than the classes that my wife and her friends frequented. My tough-guy workout couldn't be interrupted by an aerobics class.

I was excited to learn that the Y was offering a new Track and Field class this fall. I am a runner, so this was tailored for me as a class I could attend and not veer from my standard workouts. And, it was held at the Dickinson College football field. I imagined us batting the elements while toughing it out through the grit of the football field. Count me in.

After two years of broken promises, the Fitness Coordinator was surprised to see me actually show up for class. She began class with talk of the importance of dynamic stretching (likely not needed for a self-trained athlete like me) and of circuit training, bosu balls, and light kettle weights. I wondered what happened to the sled-blocking drills on the frozen tundra that I imagined. In any case, I was there and intent on breezing through this class made up primarily of women.

"Let's go," the Fitness Coordinator yelled with a smile, "Let's get ready to work." I don't need your encouragement, I thought. I'll walk through this class and then pick up my own workout after class.

As a society, we're cavalier about the sentiment of encouragement. Often, the encouragement that we offer is limited to a short, "keep your head up," or something passed along through Hallmark or a Like button. Even more impersonal, encouragement is just something we stare at in the lunchroom, a laminated poster with a nature scene and a quote about mountaintops.

Encouragement is so much more - it's about interdependence, harmony, and peace. It's about building others up to achieve. Encouragement is about connectedness and strenght in unity.

A recent article from the website Medical News Today (Family Eating Together Better For Children's Health and Body Weight Control, 5/3/11, Editor's Choice) talked of the correlation between shared family meals and better health. Amber J. Hammons, PhD wrote: "Overall, families that eat 5 or more meals together have children who are [healthier]..." The authors of the study went further, "In addition, family meals are predictive of family-connectedness, which may encourage adolescents to talk about [health and nutrition] issues within their families." This, too, is encouragement. It is this picture of families eating together, developing open lines of communication, and inspiring each other to live healthier lives where we see that encouragement works.

I can be distracted, thinking about too many things at one time, and not being fully present in a conversation. At times, I've shared encouraging words with my children, albeit with my back turned to them or yelling to them from the other room. In working with youth in many settings, I've learned that there is nothing more powerful than stopping, adjusting to the eye level of a child, and speaking to directly to them. There aren't too many days that pass that I don't have my children slow and make eye contact, so that I can tell them that I am proud of them; The short interaction seeding lifetimes of acceptance, love, and encouragement.

After only about 15 minutes into class, I was pulling off my sweatshirt. This wasn't because I was uncomfortably hot, but rather to steal a break, a breather, and a drink. I thought that I must have started the drills too fast or were doing them incorrectly as the other people in the class seemed to be cruising along effortlessly. As we moved into circuit training, my stabilizer muscles were shaking wildly and the Draer Roll exercise set me up for humility at it's finest. As I eased out of the exercise, catching a break when the instructor had her back turned, I realized that my workouts were bunk. Or, my workouts were at least isolated to areas that hadn't prepared me to walk through this class. I was challenged, and tired.

As we moved through the class, the instructor took time to specifically and intentionally cheer on each participant, by name. She corrected form and pushed us to go harder. She praised and encouraged, by name. As we tired, we began to do the same. Clapping and cheering for one another, by name. The instructor had pre-planned a high-energy, challenging class and successfully pulled everyone one of us to the end through encouragement. As the challenges heightened so did her calls of encouragement, spreading it throughout the class until the culture of the group was immersed in affirmation. Bring on more Draer Rolls, we can do this! We could have been on a lunchroom poster.

The apostle Paul used the phrase, "encourage one another" multiple times in his letters to the early church. Two thousand years ago, he knew that this idea of encouraging each other was integral to a healthy community. In 2 Cor 13:11, he says, "...Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace..."

Whether it's encouraging your children through directly speaking positive truth into their day, cultivating trust and communication through family meals, or inspiring a friend to live a healthier life by challenging and then encouraging them to join you for a fitness class - be intentional about building someone else up today. It matters.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Exciting News...

Our Y, Awaken Haiti, and One Thousand Gifts all mentioned in this blog / article that was recently picked up by the magazine, On Site Fitness:


Friday, September 16, 2011

3 Simple Steps to Wellness

During a recent marketing meeting, I communicated my desire to simplify the messaging that we were crafting by saying, "We need to break it down to 3 simple steps. You know, just like Special Agent Oso and the '3 Special Steps' song." One of my team members looked at me with a frightened sense that I was going insane. The other team member, who has children, immediately picked up the signing, "Step one... step two..." We found a You tube link to the Special Agent Oso song and sent it to our colleague who wasn't attuned to music inspired by Disney. Special Agent Oso's "3 Special Steps" songs are now a regular part of our marketing discussions.

A recent study linked short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year olds to watching just nine minutes of the "Sponge Bob." (Chicago) Historical research has shown similar connections between watching too much television and long-term attention problems in children, however the recent study showed a more urgent issue in identifying problems after only limited exposure. The children in the study who had watched "Sponge Bob" scored worse on mental function tests after watching the show than those who had watched the slower-paced, PBS cartoon "Caillou" or children who were assigned to draw pictures. This study adds another issue for parents to be alert to in terms of controlling the television that their children are exposed to along with studies that support parallels between increased time watching TV and childhood obesity. U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce childhood obesity contains a focused component of encouraging children to get outside and exercise, supporting the idea of getting kids away from the TV for a bit.

Our family does a reasonable job in controlling the TV habits of our children. Granted, I am all-too-familiar with Disney's Jake and the Neverland Pirates and often find myself singing the theme song to Disney XD's Zeke and Luther. However, we limit the duration of our TV time and most often enjoy those programs together as a family. Most importantly, we balance the time in front of the TV with outdoor play and active exercise, which is mentally and physically healthy for all of us.

Bloomberg reported this week that "the United States health care spending will rise by as much as $66 billion a year by 2030 because of increased childhood obesity if historic trends continue..." That is $66 billion, with a "B." One of the authors of the findings, Boyd Swinburn said, "We are in an obesity and chronic disease crisis, although it doesn't feel like it. It's a little bit like the frog sitting in hot-water -- it doesn't realize that it's going to boil until it's too late." To be certain, these are alarming trends of epidemic proportions.

The good news is that we have the ability to directly and significantly impact chronic disease, obesity, and reportedly, attention problems in children. Epidemics of global proportions can be mitigated. Today. By us. We can start small, but behavior change is imminent.

Change isn't easy, but the prescription is simple, actually it's 3 special steps. Step one: We must make smarter, more nutritious food choices. Natural food that isn't processed is always a better choice. Step two: We must increase our exercise and activity. Walking the dog or choosing the stairs are easy ways to add to our daily activity. Step three: We must intentionally seek lives where our stress is reduced and positive, healthy relationships flourish.

At our house we typically protect Fridays as family night and it often includes pizza dinner and a movie. It's not a bad choice, as we limit pizza to once a week and enjoy the movie time winding down from the busy schedules of the week. But, maybe tonight we'll collaborate to create healthy smoothies for dinner and enjoy an evening outside playing and having a campfire. It's 3 special steps to a healthier evening. And that's a plan Special Agent Oso would love.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mentoring to Build a Stronger Community

I've had the opportunity to work with various non-profits, schools, and youth programs during my career. I've been a part of many fine organizations working tirelessly to support and develop youth. While their missions, strategies, and outcomes have varied, I've observed a consistent theme in youth work. It seems that almost exclusively, there is a parallel between troubled youth and fatherless homes. Daily, an all-to-familiar story of pain and loss plays out in the lives of children where Dad is missing in action.

At the Y, we began discussing the idea of developing a new mentoring program. While the brainstorming created a lot of excitement, we quickly recognized that the best way to address this need isn't through an isolated effort, but through a collaborative approach from our community. In turn, we invited local churches, non-profits, schools, and social service providers to join in a book discussion about the fatherless generation while identifying this need locally and the best way to address the issue.

In our country, youth from fatherless homes account for: 63 percent of youth suicides, 71 percent of pregnant teenagers, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, 70 percent of juveniles in state operated institutions, 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison, 85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders, 80 percent of rapists motivated with displaced anger, 71 percent of high school dropouts, and 75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers (“The Future: Set Adrift on a Sea of Fatherless Children,” Idaho Observer, July 2003. As quoted in: Sowers, John. "Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story.” (Zondervan, 2010). Read those again. And again. The downside is that these statistics are extraoridnarily sad. The upside is that we can do something to siginficantly improve these numbers - today.

This Fall, the Y will begin The Mentoring Project initiative ( This initiative will seek to respond to the crisis of fatherlessness by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless youth. Through dynamic trainings, mentor recruitment, and the creation of sustainable mentoring communities, TMP is rewriting the story of a generation. We can’t bring back all the fathers, but we can provide mentors to step in their place.

The Y isn't going at this alone. The Mentoring Project will begin with a collaborative team that includes Big Brothers Big Sisters, area churches, and local educational institutions with funding support from the Kiwanis Club of Carlisle and Keystone Financial Associates. These agencies have come together to address the growing issue of fatherlessness in our community with the Y serving as the hub.

Donald Miller, founder of the Mentoring Project says, “[The story of the fatherless generation] does not have to be cyclical. It can end with fewer men in prison, less families abandoned, and the fatherless being cared for by positive role models who believe… that we can choose to live a better story.”

How can you be involved?

- Refer a youth, typically a boy between the ages of 7-14 without a father in the home, to be mentored.
- Learn more about what a TMP mentor looks like and if you might be a fit to potentially changes a child’s life through mentoring. The first mentor training will be held on October 8, 2011 at 8:00 a.m. at the Y.
- Get your church involved. Each faith community will have a church liaison that will seek mentors in their church and support mentors in matches.

For more information about The Mentoring Project, contact Steve Kuhn, Youth Outreach Director, at 243-2525 or

Friday, July 29, 2011

Follow our own Jim Mader...

Follow our own Jim Mader at as he embarqs on an exciting journey!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Living Slow

My friend recently returned from a missions trip with Awaken Haiti ( He told the story of a Haitian woman who recently enjoyed an improved quality of life in moving from a long-term tent home to a more permanent structure. Rustic and rudimentary, her new shelter offered protection from the elements and offered her the opportunity to make it her home. While doing so, she had decorated her walls with an array of colorful pictures from children who had crafted the drawings in a recent Vacation Bible School event. Her complete contentment was evident in the gifts of moving from long-term tenting and receiving colorful creations from smiling children. Gratitude and joy were thick and seeped from the walls of the shelter. As my friend reflected on the story, he recounted how they set out on the trip to serve Haitians in need. But, who, he wondered aloud, was really being helped and rescued in the experience? Who was poor? Who was rich in life and happiness?

A recent excerpt from the Wall Street Journal (Lahart, Justin) discussed a recent poll (General Social Survey, University of Chicago) that showed the number of Americans who said that they were "very happy" fell to 29% last year. This number has dropped since the recession began and is at the lowest level in the 39-year history of the survey. Lahart says, "... people tend to measure how happy they are not just by the impact of such [economic] forces on their lives but also by comparing their circumstances with their neighbors." If Lahart's theory is true and the happiness index of our society parallels the economy and how well we perceive ourselves to be keeping up with the Jones', perhaps we need rescued.

While I didn't have the opportunity to speak with her, from my friend's retelling of the story I'm sensing that Haitian Woman's happiness factor was fairly high, even in the midst of political instability and environmental turmoil. She had a roof over her head. She had colorful pictures birthed from the hearts of children. She had relationships. Though thousands of miles separate, Haitain Woman's thankful heart illuminates the dark places of my ungratefulness and arrogant self-focus; as I write the conviction grows.

In news from the same day, the Wall Street Journal also reported that News Corp. sold Myspace to a small ad-targeting firm for $35 million. News Corp. purchased Myspace for $580 million six years ago. I'm guessing that News Corp.'s happiness factor is low. Perhaps Myspace is registering a "not too happy" on the scale as well because they certainly haven't kept up with their neighbors at Facebook. Pity.

In this column, we discuss wellness. Often, this includes prescriptions for more activity, exercise, and increased attention to improving our positions of health. When the discussion ends there, we have a tendency to file and pile these well-intentioned tasks on top of our to-do-lists, already bursting at capacity. However, we're remiss if the conversation about wellness doesn't extend to our mental health as well. And the dichotomy between physical and mental wellness is in the pace. While improving our physical health involves increasing our pace of activity, the fog of our mental health is best cleared by living slow.

Author Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts), illustrates this idea well. In a recent blog post she writes about her reflections during a train ride with her family. "Living slow never killed time like hurrying does; hurrying is what races fast, catches up and kills time. Who thinks that doesn’t wound eternity? I’m the one who speeds up the train. Do I have the courage to just slow down? Life’s blurring lull too often sways me into drowsy apathy. But as the train lurches, I am jolted awake, aware: Go slow to see."

Haitian Woman's joy isn't drowned by the state of her circumstances, it's bubbling up within them. Living slow, she finds happiness in the abundance of gifts that surround her daily. Shelter. The Creator's creation: bright sun, blue sky, rains of grace. Children's imaginations drawn carefully careless, smudged with laughter. Do we really desire more out of life than the happiness found by Haitian Woman? Could we really race past her state of affairs to seek the sweet sap of life from our sour position to our neighbors economic condition? Rescue is in order and is found in the simple, wonderfully complex life.

In writing this piece, I'm reminded of the countess blessings that I'm immersed in every day. So many gifts. And the weight of my mental health tangibly lightens, brightens.

As you consider wellness, be encouraged to increase your physical activity and make healthier choices daily. But, do it in tandem with living slow. Be awake, aware, and see.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's Your (Wellness) Sentence?

I was recently intrigued by a professional newsletter that challenged me to create my sentence. In short, it was an assignment to craft a sentence that defines what your life is about and why you're here. In our twitterized culture, it also designated that the sentence be limited to ten to twenty words. On a good day I am a very organized person and on a bad day a perfectionist. In turn, the challenge to define my purpose with such rigid parameters was painful. After much though I arrived at a sentence and I must say that the process was helpful. With attention to detail (a "high-C" for those familiar with the DISC personality profile), I came in at exactly twenty words, each one carefully considered.

The challenge to form your motivational sentence originated from Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive. According to the trailer on Pink's website, there are two questions that if carefully considered might change your career, your work, or your life. They are, "What's your sentence?" And, "Was I better today than I was yesterday?" Using these two sentences to navigate your life, Pink theorizes, provides focus and purpose.

The history of the question traces back to Clare Booth Luce who was one of the first women to serve in the US Congress. In the 1960's she approached President Kennedy with the statement that "a great man is a sentence." Lincoln's sentence was that he preserved the union and freed the slaves. She was concerned that Kennedy was trying to do too much and that his sentence was in jeopardy of becoming a rambling paragraph. (

Too often, in terms of health and wellness our desire and motivation is rooted in purposeful goals (wellness sentences perhaps), but quickly dissolve into rambling paragraphs. We want to eat healthier, drink more water, eat less fast food, reduce our salt intake, walk more, increase our cardio, mix in weight training, practice mindful exercise like yoga, skip the dessert, and on and on... Ultimately, the list becomes too daunting and consequently we scrap it (typically around January 15, a few short weeks after our resolutions). What if we could define our wellness goals in terms of a sentence? Perhaps we could start with something like, "He exercised regularly" or "She ate a well balanced diet" or "They made time for daily activity and exercise together as a family." If we start with a simple, clearly defined purpose and measure it daily against "how was I better today than yesterday," Pink's theory says that our drive, our motivation, and ultimately our success will be positioned to increase.

Of course, the practice of crafting your sentence can transcend fitness to encompass holistic wellness, defining all parts of our lives. The professional newsletter that offered this challenge to me was from the YMCA of the USA and I was inspired by some of the responses that they received.

“He accepted me as I was, saw the potential that lied beneath and helped me to become it.” - Joe Lopez, Jefferson City Area YMCA

“She was the best mother two kids could ever wish for, the best wife a husband could hope for and the best friend and family member to everyone she cared about.” - Teresa Mowry,Blocker Norfolk Family YMCA

“I don’t just work with individuals, I influence self discovery and celebrate their purpose.” - Jenna Grossman, Triunfo YMCA

“She led others to find more joy from the simple things in life, not sweat the small stuff, be thankful for what we have and to follow the golden rule.” - Terri Falkenberg, Marinette-Menominee YMCA

After much thought and over-analyzing, I crafted my sentence. It's much more simple than it would have been had I crafted it a year ago. It's much less career and me centric and more about what I believe matters most. It relates to health and wellness in terms of if I'm not paying attention to my personal health, I'm unable to effectively move toward my purpose daily. Each area represents a priority where I seek to focus. Some days I pursue these areas well. Other days I fail. Ultimately, I'd hope the legacy of my life to be reflective of this sentence:

"He loved God, loved people, deeply valued time with his wife and kids, and ultimately found life to be enough." Matt Tuckey, Carlisle Family YMCA

What's your sentence? I'd love to hear from you and be inspired by your sentences. You can email your responses to and I'll explore them in a follow up post (article).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Single Best Exercise

Gretchen Reynolds recently posed the question, "What's the Single Best Exercise?" (New York Times, April 17, 2011). The article pieced together the expertise of many offering their opinion. The butterfly swim was suggested as were some old-fashioned calisthenics. Interval run/walking was proposed along with the squat life. All things considered, the author concluded that running up the stairs may just be the single best exercise.

My wife, two boys ages 4 and 6, and I packed up our vehicle and traveled to Family Camp 2011. This was our third Family Camp, the first without diapers. We braved the rain and joined a group of ten other families at Camp Thompson for a weekend of adventure.

Family Camp started off with a fun-filled game of adults versus kids dodgeball. The large field in front of Masland Hall set the stage for a showdown of this classic game among families. In the background, more families arrived and were checked into their cabins by Y staff. As one game finished and a new one started, two families introduced themselves, noting that they remembered meeting last year at Family Camp and recognizing how big the kids have grown since then. Off to the side, children who tired of dodgeball made their way over to the trampoline surrounded by parents with flashing cameras. The day unfolded with canoeing, archery, and lawn games.

Employed at the Y, I workout a few days a week. (I would not boast this as my motivated self will, but rather a complete lack of any excuse not to workout as I'm surrounded by opportunities for exercise). I've ran multiple distance races and even attempted a full marathon as well as a sprint triathlon). Overall, I'd consider myself in reasonable shape for my age (my age begins to show simply by using that phrase).

Even so, I was tiring at Family Camp. After dinner on Saturday, my friend and I braved the harsh elements (light drizzle), using our outdoor living skills to masterfully build (lighter and fire starter sticks) a campfire. Our village of cabins enjoyed Smores while the children played, explored, and imagined.

Our children are active. They play outside often, participate in community sports, and battle back the tired with everything that they have. My wife is high energy as well, working out often at the gym or with Billy Banks in the living room. I'd suggest that our family lives an active, healthy lifestyle.

Even so, we were tiring at Family Camp. On Sunday, we woke to homemade breakfast, crafts, lawn games, the Alpine Tower, and free choice. We chose to head out for a hike with our friends. The six adults and seven kids headed for the steep assent to Pole Steeple. It's about a mile up to the lookout. We decided to take a less steep route back down that was suggested by a friend who will remain nameless. The alternate route extended our mile decent three-fold. After a two-and-a-half-hour hike (which only by Divine Intervention included almost no whining and all children walking the entire way on their own), we returned to camp for lunch. Family Camp came to a close with children playing, the sun overpowering the rain, and friends new and old packing up their vehicles.

Both of our sons were asleep before we made it to the main road to return home. They slept as we unpacked the car. The older son slept for 2 hours immediately after school on Monday, passing up his snack and playtime. My legs were sore and my wife and I both fell asleep on the couch Sunday night and again on Monday night (my wife might argue that this is a regular occurrence for me, but I continue to contend it's due to physical exertion).

What's the single best exercise? Running up the stairs carries weight of a fine physical activity. However, I'd argue that for the best exercise that is relational, spiritual, physical, and emotional, pack up your vehicle and travel to a camp. Do it with others you know or meet others along the way. Exercise your mind, heart, body, and spirit while appreciating the beauty of Creation. Nature provides a better holistic exercise than any machine or routine can offer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Living Well Through Learning Well

The sawdust puffed from the back and forth of the hand saw on the board wood. My grandfather huffed with each smooth stroke as my 3-year old watched intently. My wife's vision for window seats around our dining room table were coming to fruition, carefully constructed by the years of experience that my grandfather offered to the project. The 3-year old worked quietly alongside, mirroring the tasks, wondering why his plastic tools didn't produce the same results as the heavy steel tools used by his great-grand-dad. I stood by, foreman (runner) of the project, appreciating the multi-generational teaching - the giving and receiving.

Recently, I was getting in an early afternoon workout at the Y. I took my seat on a rowing machine, planning to do a 5-minute cool down. Within a moment, a friend from church, retired dentist, sat next to me. Dentist pays close attention to his physical and mental health, visiting the Y often to exercise both. He began to row next to me, effortlessly. He is a storyteller. Not one that you hope quickly finds the ending of their recount, but one who you're intrigued to ask questions, to ask for another story, to ask for more. We talked of Japan's crisis, of World Wars, and of the world's wars. Stories of horses bought and sold, of weather on the west coast, and of parenting lessons. He's smart, reflective, well seasoned for this season of life. The timer on my rowing machine read 30 minutes, but I didn't care. I rowed on. And listened.

I'm appreciative that the Sentinel runs this blog as a monthly article. I've enjoyed many comments and conversations in the moving of the words from virtual to print. I even received a hand-written note from a former high school teacher, saying that the articles are appreciated and that she uses them in her class to provoke discussion. In her humility, there wasn't mention of the articles being fruits of her (and so many other teachers and mentors) seeding. Gardens of education grown up. Lessons of life being passed on, cultivated, nourished.

A recent headline read, Exercising gets more important with age (Lloyd, Janice, USA Today). The article talked of the importance of continued physical activity as people age for improved physical health and longevity. Conversely, I'd offer another thought headline, The aged are important for our exercise. There is a component of wellness that is found in the circle of giving back, those with more wisdom and experience and life pouring back into those of us with so much left to learn. The rowing helps my heart beat stronger, the conversation with someone whose walked more life than I helps my mind grow deeper.

Health and wellness is found in not only the physical, but the emotional, social, and spiritual. The next time you invest in exercise, carve out time to step beyond a solitary regiment of activity. Consider adding to your workout the opportunity to seek out and listen to the aged, the seasoned, the experienced. Proverbs 2:2-3 reads, "Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight and ask for understanding."

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I am not home improvement guy. My construction of the widow seats would have consisted of calling for price quotes. But, on this day, I was glad that I'm not skilled in carpentry. I learned more from watching and the lessons had nothing to do with woodworking.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Connecting to Better Health

I recently had a business lunch meeting at a local restaurant. I noticed two couples eating at adjacent tables. At one table, a couple sat across from each other and the silence was only broken when they ordered and asked for more napkins. At another table, a couple sat on the same side of the table (a rarity in our culture) and talked throughout the meal. While I am not aware of the circumstances surrounding either meal, the observable difference was in the connection between the individuals. When my wife and I were dating, I would take her to breakfast and I'd buy a newspaper beforehand to read during the meal. Over time, she taught me that it was important to her that we use that time to connect, not isolate and read. To this day, when we go out to dinner as a family, my tendency is to allow the kids to take the video games and for me to manage the chaos until the meal is over. My wife leans toward leaving the video games at home, everyone being present, and sharing about the happenings of our days (and sometimes intentionally allowing some chaos to occur)! The difference is in the opportunity that we're giving our family to connect.

My pastor friend often talks of the life cycle of someone new to church. They'll come, they may like what they find and stay, and they may even check out a program or two. This will last for some time, but the engagement will fade unless there is a deeper connection. To this end, people are encouraged to join a community group or commit to serving in a ministry area. If they find a deeper connection in community, they stay. If they don't connect with others, they eventually move on.

A recent article in the New York Times asked if gyms are passe (New York Times, Catherine Saint Louis, January 26, 2001)? One gym owner said this, "Now everybody is plugged in... now they come to disassociate themselves from everyone... it's killing the health club..." The article goes on the argue that while there is a market for the anti-social approach to fitness, that socializing is still the key to long-term exercise success. Casey Conrad, a fitness industry consultant says, "There's no question that the social element is a huge, huge piece to getting participation. I travel a lot, and when I miss a yoga class [at my gym], they are like, 'Casey, where have you been?" Other industry experts reported that people have to have the opportunity to be challenged while connecting in a meaningful way to others. A personal trainer stated that the environment was important, but ultimately, "It's about connection."

If your exercise resolutions are fading and your commitments to wellness are waning, try connecting for better health. In each community that you are a part of, find a way to connect at a deeper level. Find a gym where you can work out while also connecting to others in am meaningful way. When you go out to eat, make healthy food choices by choosing fresh, nutritionally rich menu options while also making healthy relational choices by leaving the newspaper at home and connecting with the person that you are with.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finding More in Less

There are days when I long for the simplicity of life that my kids enjoy. They love their parents and gain security through the love that they receive from us. They're eager to learn, grow, discover the world through the joy of play. They laugh at each other and at themselves. They imagine themselves in exciting adventures. They're fully awake and present until the moment that they finally drift off to sleep at night. Their lives are simple. Their joy of living isn't choked out by the weeds of stress and worry. In their innocence, they make simple choices that provide them with a better reality.

My wife is reading a book entitled, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (Voskamp, Ann). The book is about finding hope in the ordinary. The author started the book on a dare to keep a list of the many things that bring her joy. The list contains many ordinary things like the sun shining through the window, the smell of cookies baking, or a beautiful landscape that you see on a summer stroll. The book focuses on finding joy and experiencing happiness through being attentive to the thousands of blessings that we have each day. She makes simple choices of gratitude that provide her with a more joyful reality.

Rueters recently ran an article that also discussed simple changes that can change our reality for the better. (Kelland, Kate. Simple Life Changes Could Stop Millions of Cancers). The article says that about one-third of all common cancers can be prevented through simple life changes such as eating healthier, drinking less alcohol, and exercising more. Cancer is the leading cause of death around the world, killing 7.6 million people each year. This number is projected to climb to 13.2 million people a year in 2030. Low levels of physical activity are the leading cause of many of these cancers. (The World Health Organization recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week). In short, simple changes can save your life.

Consider the time that you have on this earth and what story you are writing with your life. Make small changes to write a better story. (Thanks to Don Miller for this illustration). Learn from children to laugh at yourself and with others. Create more margin in your life and be thankful for the ordinary. Do your part to prevent cancer: eat healthier, stop smoking, walk more. Find more life in simplicity!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Different Kind of Strength

After seeing a YouTube clip of the the memorable crane-kick scene of the original Karate Kid, my five-year-old son begged me to watch the entire movie. While I immediately broke out my checkered Vans, stone-washed jeans, loaded up the "You're the Best" theme song, and prepared to enjoy the movie with my son; my wife was hesitant. "They're not going to get it, our boys will just end up doing karate on each other." After a month of my wife getting sad eyes from my sons and persuasive arguments from me about the positive themes of the film, she caved. We rented the 2010 version and watched the movie together. If anyone hasn't seen the movie (and I can't imagine a scenario where someone could not have seen any film in the Karate Kid series), the premise is that work causes a single mom to move to China and her young son finds himself scared, confused, and in a place of experiencing great weakness. He turns to Kung Fu, taught to him by a maintenance man master. The boy finds life lessons and strength through his relationship with the master. After a week of time outs for the boys doing karate on each other, we had a family discussion about the lessons of the movie. First, as Mr. Han said, "The best fights are the ones we avoid." Next, an important lesson was that the boy found a strength in someone else that he couldn't have found in himself. He found strength beyond anything that he could possess on his own through another person.

I recently read a blog authored by a friend, John Ulsh. John was living the American Dream with a wonderful family and a successful career when on December, 2007, John and his family were hit head-on while driving home from a swim meet. John was flown to Hershey Medical Center with little chance of survival. His family had serious, but less threatening injuries. John now maintains a blog ( where he discusses his recovery from a variety of aspects. It's powerful and motivational. I particularly enjoyed this excerpt from a recent post: "Trust is always easier when things are going well or when things are so bad that you are unable to do things for yourself. Trust becomes a completely different thing when it is blind or when you could just do it yourself, but instead put your faith in another person or process. I trust God has a plan. I believe my calling is to live each day with passion and conviction and to be open to His plan in every experience." His blog reflects a self-reliant, successful man forced to depend on others in ways that he might never have imagined. Yet, through the process he finds strength beyond anything he could possess on his own.

The same storyline appears in Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 12 (NLT), the apostle Paul talks of a struggle that he is having, a weakness he is experiencing, a "thorn in his flesh." Paul writes, "Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me." This revelation was a perspective-changer for Paul to say the least. Instead of asking God to relieve him of his weakness, he embraced the weakness because he knew a greater power was found in something other than himself.

This storyline unfolds daily at places like the Carlisle Family YMCA. Someone can purchase a workout DVD and will themselves to exercise in their living room. Some are successful. Many are not. Conversely, when people enter into community, their will and motivation is increased as it is pulled from others during times of weakness. This is easily identified in pursuit of a physical goal (Don't feel like running today? It's much more likely you won't bail if you are supposed to do it with a friend). However, the idea of finding emotional and spiritual strength in our own weakness flourishes in communities like the Y as well. (Just see the uncertain child gaining confidence from participating in a team sport or the teen increasing their faith from a corporate outing with their peers at camp or the notes of encouragement pulled together by friends when someone from their group has been absent for a time) These moments are wrapped in humility, respect, and a maturity to recognize that this life isn't about you. It's about something more. And as you experience that, you find a different kind of strength - a strength that can only be found in weakness.