On being healthy…

Nov 23, 2010 by

Maybe its a mid-life crisis, maybe its the desire for change, maybe its being just fed up with how unhealthy I feel; but it doesn’t really matter. For the last few months I’ve sort of changed my lifestyle and I feel like its going to stick, but it certainly isn’t easy. I’m thinking The Big Easy is more apropos than I ever considered: Its easy to be BIG. Being healthy on the other hand is a bit more difficult. And lets be clear; I’m not even trying to be all that healthy, just healthier I suppose. Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed in the last few months of trying to be a little healthier while living in New Orleans – some good and some bad – I’ll try to be objective.

Social – This is a cheap excuse, but it really is a factor more here I think than anywhere else. The key to being healthier is consistent exercise. Exercise sucks and no one likes to do it at first. The only way to get to not resent it is to do it a lot so you start reaping the benefits. The calendar of events in New Orleans is extensive. Between The Saints being awesome, and Mardi Gras, and Jazz Fest, and Po-Boy Fest, Greek Fest, Running of the bulls, etc, etc, etc. The list literally goes on and on; and remember, this is all in addition to the normal holidays the rest of the country participates in. Then you throw in the random band you want to see, or just catching up with friends and your schedule becomes very erratic very quickly over the course of a few months. I’m constantly talking to people who are “backing off” cause they’ve been “hitting it pretty hard”. It probably sounds stupid to people who don’t live here – but I think if you’re not acknowledging the social climate here then you’ll set your expectations too high and disappoint yourself. A good personal example of this is that I rarely run on Monday mornings due to the Saints playing on Sunday – I’ve allowed myself this.

Food – I have come to the conclusion that the only way to consistently eat healthy in New Orleans is to eat at home. This may be the case everywhere, but it might be a matter of degrees of unhealthy. After all, there aren’t all that many places where you can get breaded, fried shrimp crammed ito a loaf of French Bread and slathered with mayo on nearly every other street corner. And that is but one example. I’ll ignore the fast food thing since that’s universal in this country – but I’ve found surprisingly easy to get away from. There are ways to eat healthy, but they’re expensive. Making Groceries in a healthy way isn’t all that bad, but if you intend to eat your veggies it gets pricey quick. A quick sidebar: how is it that fresh veggies are expensive but if they’ve been frozen and bagged they’re about half as expensive? I would think the processing and such would make them more expensive. Anywho, for a while I was a vegetarian and that really isn’t so easy here. Other places I’ve been its much easier to be a vegetarian, but here its just a non-stop fucking hassle; again, unless you only eat at home. Ironically, I still shop vegetarian (for the most part) even though I abandon that when I go out.

Weather – Well, the weather, what can I say. The people of New Orleans are probably more fascinated with the weather than just about anywhere else. Other than the detail of it smashing your house and all, there’s also the impact it has on the various social events mentioned above. I’ve already had three separate conversations about how Mardi Gras is later this year so it should be warm. But most days its the heat that’s the concern. I know people that run mid-day but I’m not that guy what with my aversion to heat-stroke an’ all. I also know people that run after work, but that didn’t work for me either. The afternoon is too inconsistent: I could have to work late, or the afternoon rains could be going on, or maybe someone invites me out for a drink after work….the point is, there are too many opportunities for an excuse to not run in the evening. So for me, its a morning run and I’m apparently not alone. I was surprised to find so many people out. I was getting up at 5:30am would be running by 5:40am and there were people everywhere!! The first time I stood on the path at Audubon watching the sun come up and there were a dozen people within view in both directions on the path I was just astounded. It was like discovering yet another hidden New Orleans world.

Facilities – I don’t go to a gym but I understand from people that do, that there are some very nice ones around and pretty reasonable pricing. I’m just not the kind of person that will go to a gym with any regularity and I know this about myself. But I am an avid bike rider now. I’ve been commuting from uptown to the CBD for months now. Ive adjusted my route several times. Partly this is due to traffic patterns and how much room there is along the side. I’ve had my handlebars clipped twice in the last month by passing cars – all I can say is thanks to folding mirrors I didn’t wreck either time. I think that’s a symptom of two things: narrow roads and a stigma against cyclists on the streets. I understand this stigma somewhat since there are plenty of cyclists out there that for whatever reason feel like traffic should accommodate them – I disagree with that – I think it should be cooperative and mutually respectful. Additionally, New Orleans infamously pitiful streets don’t help anything at all. So that’s as much, if not more of a consideration than traffic. And I basically have a beach cruiser so the tires are huges. Still, the brakes have rattled loose to the point that the back ones aren’t even connected and need to be repaired. Both rims are bent slightly – well, the back one is pretty fucked up but that might have been from getting drunk and falling on it, uh, repeatedly… but still, some of it is from the roads. There are some potholes around that will just seriously end you if you hit them on a cycle.

Miscellaneous shit – I’ve been here a long time, and its interesting to see another perspective of New Orleans. And honestly, I have a whole new appreciation for the people that manage to live healthy here. Its a real effort. But also, for a city that is so drink-intensive its easy to forget that alcohol is a depressant. As you get older it seems to lag in your system longer and longer which can’t be good. Throw in any kind of stress into a drinking culture and its easy to see what happens – the ol’ viscous cycle. Exercise is a great help in dealing with stress and heartbreak (i.e. Forest Gump). There’s also this weird sedentary thing culturally in New Orleans. Somehow just sitting around has become part of the cultural identity which I assume is due to the heat. And physical fitness just doesn’t seem to be respected at all…like health just isn’t an issue that anyone really thinks about. I mean, sure people may not be all that happy with their body-image but I don’t think they make the jump to what’s really going on with their health in conjunction with that. Believe me, I understand the ‘Lester Burnham: I just want to look good naked’ mentality but the other benefits put that one to shame.

Downside – I gave this a lot of thought and I only came up with a few downsides and I’m not sure they’re even real. First is the frustration of trying to be healthy in an unhealthy place. Its not a huge consideration. Little things though kinda get to me. For example, I was running a couple of weeks ago in the evening so there were more not-out-to-run people around. This little kid, maybe 6 was sitting on the porch with his mom when I ran by. He asked his mom “Why is that man running?’ and the mom something like, “I dunno, white people do that”. Which is a little funny, but also very sad. So there’s that. And the other thing is, well, it doesn’t really apply to me but I suppose it could at some point. And that’s the lifestyle thing. There’s a tendency, given the effort it takes and the relatively small number of people making said effort to be healthy…um, to be sort of pretentious. And I suppose there’s some amount of truth to that in the same fashion as other commonality concerns. Like, could I date a barfly? Or even not that extreme, but someone who isn’t “active”? I guess the fear is that I would drift into that lifestyle (again) but that’s really not fair since its up to me to be who I choose to be. Still, I think it could be an issue not unlike dating someone who has a child when you don’t – its just something that will be a factor in the relationship sometimes. There’s an old joke: “If your girlfriend works out more than you do then the clock is ticking”…meaning she’s going to get tired of your dumpy ass and trade you in on something a little…well, you know. But who knows, maybe the other person would adopt your lifestyle (or enough of it) and things would be just peachy. I guess it occurred to me because the last thing I need is a more limited dating pool – and I think that’s true of everyone who’s single. But on the other hand, maybe I’ll have more in common with the people I date which will might help forge stronger bonds. I dunno people, I’m just trying to think of potential problems that could come from all this so as not to sound too preachy. All I know is I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in years and if someone would have told me a couple years ago that I’d be doing this I’d have said they were full of shit and flicked my cigarette at them (assuming my beer bottle wasn’t completely empty).

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