Just recently, I had one of the proudest moments I have had as a doctor. No, it wasn't a visit from one of my patients who have undergone successful acupuncture fertility treatment. Nor was it one of those patients who end up on my doorstep after seeing three specialists at the Mayo clinic and the hot-shot New York doctor from Yale, and all of a sudden start to get better after a couple of weeks under my care.
(As I told a new patient the other day -- a patient who had come to me after exhausting all other options, "I don't mind being the House of Last Resort. If I do what I do and it works, you're going to think that I'm Thor, God of Thunder. If I do what I do and it doesn't work, I'm no worse than the rest of those chumps that you've already seen. I'll take those odds.")
On the surface, what happened the other week was nothing spectacular at all. It was just a patient who parked her bike out front and came into my office. And as soon as I found out that she had ridden to the Center for her appointment, I broke into a smile that lasted the rest of the day.
Any of my patients who are reading this blog know why this would be so. It is only the new patient who will come in and say, "I didn't know that anyone was here! I didn't see a car parked out front." A patient who has been here more than twice is more likely to say, "Oh, you rode the Redbike today." (Of course, when it is the dead of winter, 10 degrees F outside, and 4 feet of snow on the ground, the comment is generally more along the lines of "You rode your bike today?! What, are you nuts?"
I'm what is known as a "transportational cyclist." I ride my bicycle for almost any trip under 10 miles, including grocery store runs, trips to the hardware store, and I've even been known to fill up my bicycle trailer with Jerry cans of kerosene for the space heater. I would, under most circumstances, rather ride my bicycle than drive a car, and will hop on a bike with limited provocation.
And I am an absolutely shameless shill for cycling when it comes to my patients. Many of my patients are suffering from chronic diseases from heart disease to diabetes to fibromyalgia. And every single one of those diseases is responsive to lifestyle modification, particularly exercise. So my most frequent recommendation to my patients is to begin exercising, and I mean more than the rather ineffectual 20-minute meanders approved as "exercise" by most mainstream doctors. I suppose that is a fine starting point; but most of my patients will have to exert far more than that to knock those diseases back on their heels.
As I like to say, "If you aren't panting, it doesn't count."
The call to exercise is not a suggestion which meets with frequent approval, particularly because the lack of exercise is one of the causes of many chronic diseases. So I'm already addressing someone for whom physical activity may be not only a distant memory, and at this point difficult to perform, but disdained as well. It's an uphill battle.
Over the years, I have noted that the responses fall into one of four categories, much like the four children of Passover. The first, and my favorite, is the general agreement, as in, "You know, Doc, I've kinda been thinking the same thing." This is wonderful, because already the patient and I are on the same page. All I have to do is find the wedge to get them moving.
More often, the response is a variation of "I know I should exercise, but I just don't have the time." This may be true -- most mothers of young children really don't have much time to exercise -- but more commonly, it is an excuse. We tend to be able to find the time to do things that we feel are important. Sometimes it is my job to make sure you know how important exercise, and your health, really is.
A third type of response comes from a failure of confidence. "Oh no, I can't do that," this patient will say. These patients have often led entirely sedentary lives, and at this point are utterly disassociated from their bodies. They really have no idea whatsoever what their body can do, and may be terribly afraid of finding out the answer.
And the fourth, and most disappointing response is "I don't want to do that." These patients are not only unwilling, but will actively oppose any recommendations on my part that require physical activity. These patients are the ones whom I know stand little chance of succeeding in becoming healthy, because they are unable to accept the responsibility for their own health. They are the patients for whom "a pill for every ill" is a legitimate approach to wellbeing.
The best way to exercise, I have found, is to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. And cycling is the easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this. I usually recommend cycling, instead of driving, for any trip under 3 miles. In our terrain, you'll sweat, you'll pant, and you will get a nice feeling of fatigue, especially if you are not used to physical activity. And if you have to get off the bike and walk up some of those hills, at least initially, that is just fine as well. Before you know it, you'll be riding them.
And at the same time, you are getting the grocery shopping done, gone to the post office, and picked up the dog food.
Oh, yeah, one other thing -- one stop you haven't made is at the gas station. These days, a couple of missed stops puts some jingle in your pocket. In fact, I calculated that last year, I saved about $6,000 by replacing the truck with the bicycle whenever possible. I tend to slide that little factoid into my sales pitch as well.
Upon arising this morning, I thought to myself that I really should get out for a ride today. But on the other hand, I really wanted to leisurely sip a cup of coffee and read the news. It's a dilemma faced frequently by anyone who works out on a regular basis, the competition between sloth and fitness.
Then I remembered that we were out of milk and almost out of eggs. Perfect. That means a trip to the farm was in order, a 7-mile round trip that I could easily bounce up to 10 miles by taking a couple of lefts instead of a right, and I could do the milk run at lunchtime.
Problem solved. Instead of having to dredge up the wherewithal to saddle up for an "exercise ride," all I need to do is a little grocery shopping. And the exercise disappears, replaced by just another chore, but this time enlivened by a swift ride on two wheels, while I save a couple of pennies as well. (Anyone with a child in college is no doubt familiar with my obviously single-minded focus on shaving costs wherever possible).
And when you consider that during the recently overhyped "Carmageddon" in LA, a group of California cyclists managed to beat a jet plane commuting between Burbank and Long Beach, the added time commitment to cycle from A to B is generally miniscule.
Monthly, we are faced by additional research, confirming the already large corpus which demonstrates that regular exercise is the key component in avoiding, managing and curing many chronic diseases. (Yes, FDA, I said cure. Got a problem with that?)
Cycling is one of the best ways to incorporate regular exercise into your daily routines. It is age-appropriate regardless of your age, it is inexpensive, it is effective. It saves you money while reducing your dependence on prescription drugs and even more appropriate therapies such as mine.
I think that I will put a bicycle rack out in front of the Center. Please feel free to use it.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.