PRISM Summer 2008

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Mining Data to Deltoid: A Personal Journey to Well-Being
Mens sana in corpore sano

Summer 2008

Data drive decisions. This is the great conceptual advance in thinking about education, the basis of any meaningful accountability, the starting point for any meaningful reform. What are the demonstrable facts surrounding an issue? What does research show?

Perhaps because teaching is in the end more akin to art than to science, many of the last century’s important innovations came as intuitive insights of gifted leaders, not responses to compelling data. But even if the brilliant thinking of a few lies behind much of what history records as progress, this Platonic strategy doesn’t fit the grand aspiration of education for all that we pursue today.

Strategies for success can no longer root themselves in deeply held personal conviction, anecdotal evidence, or wisdom received from previous generations. Today, as the result of a healthy insistence upon securing reliable data, the great question surrounding education is not what should we do?... but rather do we have the courage to do the right thing?

Surely how we manage our health and our bodies is the most personal, most data-rich, most far-reaching, and most poorly handled of choices. A new field of study, kinesiology, housed in our College of Education, brings the light of research to this topic of universal and intense importance.

Two years ago, as my weight began to creep up and my sleep patterns erode, a good friend asked me why I had not embarked upon a vigorous program of exercise. Why had I not joined a gym?

The data is overwhelming, he correctly insisted. Men and women of all ages who follow a sensible exercise plan record an immediate improvement in energy, sleep, concentration, and mental agility. The body, in short, will respond at once. What was I waiting for? The answer and strategies to pursue it were already available.

While not doubting the wisdom or the objective assertions of this admonition, I was held back, I confess, by a certain pride mixed with fear. What would an old guy like me do in a gym, surrounded by buffed, dedicated, successful disciples of physiokultura, body building and sculpting? Wouldn’t I feel foolish? And even worse, wouldn’t I look foolish? And how long would I need to continue before I started seeing or feeling measurable change?

Suppressing these misgivings and swallowing my pride, in March of 2006 I selected a gym conveniently located between the University and our home at La Bota. Certain that everyone in the place would turn to look, I timorously entered the premises head down only to encounter my worst fear, Homer, the gym manager. He surveyed me, looking out from an Olympian’s dream physique. “I am here to begin an exercise program, and to improve my health,” I stammered. Then, feeling that I needed to clear the air, I added: “It is not my plan to work toward developing myself along the lines you have achieved.” He smiled. “I understand, sir. We have lots of guys like you.” I cringed with renewed horror—a collection of old, hopeless carcasses.

After taking my membership, Homer led me on a tour of the facility and prescribed a beginner’s regimen of weight training and cardio exercises. I threw myself into the plan for a little more than an hour, and then slowly crawled to the car, wondering if I would make it home. Will this tortuous thrashing truly help me feel better? When will I begin to notice significant changes?

The answer was only minutes away. After arriving home, showering and changing clothes, I followed my custom of many years and poured myself a small drink. I sat down to tell Patricia about my adventure, took one sip, and suddenly wanted no more. For supper that night I managed chicken breast, fruit, and skimmed milk; heavier options were unthinkable in my post-workout state.

Since that March afternoon, for a little more than two years, I have endeavored to spend at least one hour at the gym three times per week. The results have been dramatic, thrilling, immediate, and lasting. First, and without any diet plan or conscious effort to alter my eating habits, I dropped 10 pounds in 6 weeks, returning my weight to where it had been when I was graduated from college in 1969. I miraculously found myself desiring only protein, vegetables, and fruit. Carbohydrates, while still appealing, were satisfying in small amounts. Alcohol remained pleasant only on rare occasions and in small servings of red or white wine. My sleep became deep and dependable that very first night of exercise; my energy throughout the day increased, and by the end of the first week I began to see a body emerge that I had long since consigned to wistful memory.

Most important, I learned how very wrong I had been concerning the culture of a gymnasium. Far from being the strutting chamber of the physically gifted, gyms are filled with men and women of all ages and all sizes. Some arrive to add pounds, others to shed them. Everyone is politely pursuing his or her unique plan, indifferent to what is happening on the neighboring bench. It is very possible to spend the hour without uttering a word, making the gym a haven for silence and reflection.

My only regret is that I did not discover my gym life a decade ago. Even more important than the thrill of feeling my clothes comfortably loose, I now work, rest, and play with more productive energy than at any other time in my life.

Mens sana in corpore sano. The ancients were quite right: a healthy mind and a healthy body can be made one. We need only turn our own data into action.

 

Ray M. Keck III


President
Professor of Spanish
Texas A&M International University


 
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