Thursday, December 30, 2010

Experiments in Speedwalking

I'm starting to worry that my running days are over. Well, worry may be too strong a word. I started running after Teddy was born since it was the only exercise I could do on the spur of the monent any time of day or night ... "the baby's asleep, I'm going for a run." I have never considered myself a runner in a "I am a Dancer and a Dancer dances" sort of way. Still, I like it in a lot of ways. It's a highly portable workout. It gets me outside day in and day out. It also is a more challenging aerobic workout than anything else I do. The problem is that it's also very high impact and I suspect that's one of the causes of my current achy back. I actually stopped running for a year and had far fewer back problems. Since I joined an early morning bootcamp class earlier this year (a class which is full of serious runners) I have been going back to it, with a corresponding increase in back issues. Now I have a herniated L3-L4 disk and feel like I'm 90 years old. The funny thing is I'm fine while moving: walking, kayaking, rowing, running. It's staying still that hurts.

Anyway, I've been looking to find activities to take the place of running. My current experiment is speedwalking. I wouldn't say I was racewalking, since I don't have that odd racewalking gait down. Rather, it's just walking as fast as I can with a fast cadence. So far the experiment has been a success. Thanks to my lovely Garmin Forerunner I know that I can get my heart rate pretty well up there - not quite like running, but definitely into Zone 4 (aerobic training). With running I get my heart rate up to about 150 BPM pretty quickly and stay there. When speedwalking my HR takes longer to ramp up and tends to sit in the mid-140's. My second speedwalk I got up into the 150's for the last ten minutes or so - not sure what was different or if I was just worked out at that point. The tables all say I should be exercising at abut 146 BPM but I seem to be able to handle a little faster. Maybe I should try speedwalking the hills of my neighborhood.

The only downside is I'm sure I look like a dork doing it. But, it still gets me outside, and it's much lower impact than running. I'm going to keep experimenting.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meditation By the Numbers

V bought me a wonderful birthday present: a Garmin Forerunner, which is a combination GPS and heart rate monitor. I have been using it for all sorts of things: keeping myself from slacking off when I run, keeping track of distance when I run in unfamiliar places, and just as a HR monitor on the erg (rowing machine). It's very cool. I love data!!!!

I decided to wear my new toy while meditating to see if I could see any physiological effects from meditation. For my first trial I turned on some streaming ambient music and settled in on the couch. The problem was that right after I settled in an announcer came on and started talking up the station's Premium (paid) Service. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ignoring this disturbance, but the heart rate shows otherwise. Or maybe it's just Heisenberg effect - knowing I was monitoring myself got me a little agitated. Anyway, after a few minutes the announcer finished and I settled into a body check-in: a mindfulness meditation where you turn your attention in turn to the different parts of your body. That settled my HR down into the 60's. After a while I switched to another technique; a "Yud Hay Vov Hay" breathing meditation I learned from Rabbi Jeff Roth. Interesting results there - a choppy and slightly higher HR before finally settling down. As a third step I tried a prone visualization meditation that I learned in a yoga class. That produced a very steady, slow heart rater. I ordinarily wouldn't do three types of meditation in one sitting, but I was experimenting. My conclusion is that physiological effects of meditation are clearly measurable through HR.

One thing really bothered me about my first trial, and that was the absolute numbers of HR. Because I exercise regularly I have a pretty low resting heart rate and I was surprised that my meditation numbers were as high as they were - particularly since an initial brief focused breathing test had yielded a HR of 56 BPM. So I decided to try again. The chart below shows my second result. I started with the same seated check-in as the first trial (minus the initial aggravation) and quickly got down below 60 BPM. I think I have an explanation for the little bumps at 4:00, 6:30 and 9:30. I was tired and I think I dozed off a couple of times. I think the bumps are where I caught myself and awoke with a start.

I continued with a repeat of the prone meditation. Again, my HR clocked right down into the upper 50's. Apparently I dozed off once there too, as shown by the wake-up bump just after minute 14. I was much happier with these absolute numbers, which I think reflect less HR elevation from experimental stress (and more tiredness-induced relaxation to boot).


I would love to be able to repeat this experiment with blood pressure. In the meantime, I may continue using the HR monitor as a new-found way of monitoring my meditation.

Oh, one last thing. I wasn't trying for a certain duration and so I find it interesting that in both trials I meditated for almost exactly the same duration.

Now, back to tonight's meditation ... drinking cognac while looking out the window at the snow :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My new Forerunner

One of my Channukah presents was a Garmin Forerunner. This amazing little device combines a GPS and heart rate monitor to allow you to track your workouts - distance, pace, heart rate, time. I love it. It's been keeping me honest. Seeing my pace, I've been running harder. I have been using it on the erg and have been rowing harder (in that case I'm using it just for the HR monitor, since the GPS track of rowing in place isn't very useful). I wore it while raking leaves the other day just to see the impact on my heart rate (about 90 - 100 BPM, since you asked). I have even done a quick test of my ability to lower my resting heart rate through meditation. Initial results are positive: got down to 56 BPM. That was just a quick test; I need to collect a longer sample. If anything gets me out of bed in 20 degree weather tomorrow to go running it'll be the opportunity to collect another data set. I love data!

The thing does look like a "Dick Tracy watch" (for those old enough to know what that means) though. And speaking as a one-time GPS designer, the size and capabilities of the thing just blow my mind.