LATE last month, I quietly turned half a century old and celebrated the new forty with a solo ride up the hills of Antipolo and Morong astride Nessie, my trusty mountain bike, to a popular biker’s destination fondly called Pisong Kape, or PK for short. With the vestiges of a two-week long battle with bronchitis on the wane (my first health compromise in over five years), I pedaled out and back through a cool and sunny Saturday morning, taking in the sights of busy urban intersections that dissolved into quieter landscapes of countryside, as I cycled farther out of the metropolis. Like most bike trips that have taken me beyond city limits, this ride provided pause and relaxation as the backdrop of billboards and blaring of jeepney horns gave way to the canvas of blue skies and verdant ridges. Of course, there was still the ride back to the rackety reality later, but that’s always been part of the package. You take the bad with the good.
The city may have its own brand of charm and convenience, but nothing comes close to the allure and appeal of the greenbelt, flush with abundant flora and fauna, and replete with fresher air and a perceived healthier dose of sunshine. Why, even the people are nicer out in the country. To many, going on vacation means traveling out of the city to a nearby or distant tourist trap, that still has the modern accouterments of fast food joints and Wi-Fi connectivity. Call me old fashioned (well, I am fifty), but apart from needing communication for practical reasons, could you perhaps put away the smart phone for even a minute? Your destiny isn’t going to change if you miss reading Kanye’s latest tweet or fail to see what Taylor’s wearing on her 2 a.m. trip to the corner grocer.
My recent trip to the summit of Mount Pulag reminded me of why I’ve decided to take a break from all the urban racing I’ve done in the past six years. Sure, I’ve joined races outside of the city, even having to fly to my race destinations for some, but much of the scenery I have taken in during these events are paved in concrete or asphalt. As for the Pulag experience, it was like Mother Nature held me to her bosom and welcomed me home. I need to get out more, and the best way to do that is by roughing it and going off-road. So I’ve made a commitment to enter more trail races and spend more weekends traipsing hillsides and navigating fire roads, connecting with madre naturaleza while disconnecting from la vida urbana.
And science and medical research make a strong case for the benefits of the outdoors. From the website www.allaboutyou.com, Jane Murphy cites 10 reasons to get outside, from which I am citing five verbatim:
1. Fresh air can provide an oxygen boost, which encourages production of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. You don’t necessarily have to run: the results were the same for other types of exercise, such as walking, cycling and horse riding.
2. Exercising in the open air isn’t just a mood-booster: you’ll also see quicker results from your workout. The reason? Walking, running or cycling outdoors puts more demands on your body. No matter how many fancy settings there are on your treadmill or exercise bike, they can’t totally replicate the varied terrains and weather conditions you’ll encounter outside.
3. Vitamin D is a key player in the fight against the bone-thinning disease because it regulates our bodies’ calcium and phosphate levels, ensuring healthy bones and teeth. And where do we get most of our vitamin D from? Sunlight!
4. Vitamin D may also help lower blood pressure, according to recent research presented at the European Society of Human Genetics conference. Or to put it another way: having low levels of vitamin D in your body can trigger high blood pressure, putting you more at risk of heart disease or stroke.
5. Low levels of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ have also been linked to a worsening of asthma symptoms, according to major research at King’s College London. Scientists found that vitamin D helped calm an over-active area of the immune system associated with asthma. Meanwhile, a recent US study discovered that people who live in sunnier climates have a significantly lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis: researchers speculated this may be due to the protective qualities offered by vitamin D.
And if that isn’t compelling enough, consider the Blue Zones, defined as ‘a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live marginally longer lives’ (Source: Wikipedia). The five blue zones are as follows: The Italian island of Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula, and Ikaria, an isolated Greek island. The people in each of these blue zones easily reach 90 to 100 years old, not only living longer, but also living healthier — without medication or disability. The researchers found that the secret came down to a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, daily exercise, and a low-stress life.
Dan Buettner, in his book Blue Zones: Lessons For Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest, distills the powerful yet practical lessons to living longer in what he calls The Power 9; these are:
1. Keep Moving. Find ways to move naturally, using fewer labor-saving devices.
2. Find Purpose. And pursue it with passion.
3. Slow Down. Work less, rest, and take more vacations.
4. Stop Eating … when you’re 80% full.
5. Dine On Plants. Eat more veggies and less processed food and meat.
6. Drink Red Wine. Do it consistently, but in moderation.
7. Join A Group. Create a healthy social network.
8. Feed Your Soul. Engage in spiritual activities.
9. Love Your Tribe. Make family a high priority.
The study makes no mention of treadmills, oxygen chambers, or food dehydrators. I’m willing to wager that the people who live in the blue zones spend less time on Facebook and Instagram than the average person spends outdoors.
So, what’re we all waiting for? Get outside!
And don’t let anyone tell you that trail running and mountain biking are more dangerous than their road counterparts. Those well-intentioned dissuaders probably never even set foot in a sandbox in their lives. You’re more likely to twist your ankle stepping off a poorly constructed parking lot step (as I did a few years ago) or suffer a collapsed lung as a result of blunt forced trauma from a tricycle (me, again) than sustain an off-road injury. But always exercise caution. As my coach says when mountain biking: When in doubt, dismount.
With the proliferation of gadgetry and its near-indispensability to some members of society, it wouldn’t surprise me if there will come a time when children are enrolled in summer courses that include instruction on playing basic street games such as patintero and tumbang preso, and field trips that expose them to more unrefined experiences like running barefoot on grass, climbing trees, and catching dragonflies.
Facebook is the devil’s work. I say that with all sobriety. It’s a vice that’s in a class entirely of its own, above even illegal drugs, fantasy sports leagues, and cockfighting. It amazes me how much I can get done in the same time it takes to scan Facebook. Okay, so maybe I don’t just scan. There are moments when I just check myself and realize that I’ve spent too much time looking at pictures of Facebook friends enjoying trail runs and rides, when I could and should be doing those very things myself.
Anybody have plans to stare at their phones somewhere exciting this weekend?