Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Couple That Gets Fit Together...

This month, YouMeADD blog kicks it up a notch, following last month's Nature Sufficient Syndrome and the hikes my husband and I enjoy.  Now get ready for "Adventure Hikes" for couples and a companion strategy for boosting brain function called Intermittent Fasting.

Your guide: psychiatrist Michael Lara, who will be speaking about The Exercise Prescription for ADHD at the upcoming CHADD International Conference on ADHD in San Francisco. He also wrote a piece for the June issue of CHADD's Attention magazine.

First the back story: I'd heard about Intermittent Fasting and learned more through this BBC documentary. Still, I wondered: Was it another fad or could there be something to it?  I turned to Dr. Lara, a local Silicon Valley psychiatrist and athlete with a long interest in supporting brain function through exercise and dietary strategies.

Not only was he familiar with Intermittent Fasting, he reported some success in his practice from patients using the technique to better manage anxiety and depression. He'd also noticed a "side effect" in these patients: improved physical composition.

Most notable to me and anyone else who needs to lose a few pounds: He said that Intermittent Fasting was in part responsible for his wife's dramatic weight loss (80 pounds!). Each time I've seen May Lara in recent months, she's looked dramatically fitter and younger. See for yourself.

August 2012
December 2010

When it comes to exercise, Dr. Lara follows his own advice, and so does May. They hit the trail by their home each morning for what they call an "adventure hikes." It sounds more fun than the gym; plus you get Vitamin D!  You're exercising together but adapting the routine for your individual skill and strength levels. I asked for details, and here they are. As soon as my broken toe heals, I might meet them at a local park soon!  Enjoy!                                 –Gina Pera   

Adventure Hiking 101

by Michael Lara, MD

May struggled with obesity almost all of her life. A busy mother of three daughters with a full-time job, she barely had time for herself. Finding time to go to the gym had always been a challenge. But earlier this year, after more than 30 years of struggling, May finally attained her ideal body weight...without ever stepping foot in the gym.

Elsewhere, I've shared the story of how she achieved this transformation with a combination of a dietary strategy called intermittent fasting and strategically timed exercise. Below, I'd like to share with you  some details of our daily exercise ritual.

We combine outdoor hiking with body weight exercises in a routine we call "adventure hikes." We do this routine every morning for about an hour, every day of the week, usually after an overnight fast of about 8-10 hours.

Today's adventure hike was done in our backyard: at Big Canyon Park in San Carlos, California.  Our hike begins with a steep but picturesque climb along the shaded side of the park. During the first 10 minutes or so, we're basically focused on keeping an easy pace as we take in the scenery.

After about 15 minutes of a steady climb, we come to our first stopping point to perform incline pushups from a park bench. May does one set of 10 incline pushups, then one set of 10 squats.

At this point, we continue hiking up the steep trail at a relatively slow pace. We will occasionally stop along the way to do L-sits or pull-ups from low-hanging branches.  May will hold her L-sit while hanging from branch for about 5 seconds, then lower and repeat 5 more times. I'll typically crank out 5 sets of 5 strict pull-ups.


We continue along and after about 20 minutes into the hike, we begin a slow, steady jog as we take in views overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  We're careful not to allow ourselves to exercise too intensely at this point. As we jog, we do so at an intensity that allows us to keep up a conversation. When we come across any steep sections, we'll typically power hike up the hill, then break into a slow jog on the way down.

There are several wooden bridges along the path, and we use them as exercise stations along the way. At one bridge about 1 mile into the hike, May does a set of single-leg walking lunges (10 each leg) while I press a 30-lb rock overhead (10 presses with each arm) that I'd previously found and set aside under the bridge. We rest for about 30 seconds or so before continuing our slow jog.

There's a ravine about another 1/2 mile along the path that's filled with shale and rocks of various sizes that serve as excellent make-shift weights. May finds two rocks that weight about 5 lbs each and does a curl and press to overhead. She does one set of 10 reps.

I go with a slate weighing about 50 lbs and do a single set of 10 biceps curls while May runs about 20 yards ahead and does a set of single-leg step-ups (10 reps with each leg).


We continue along at a very slow jog for another 1/4 mile or so until we hit the end of the trail, conveniently marked in case we forget.

So now we've hiked about 1.5 miles in a little under 30 minutes. That might seem like a slow pace, but when you factor in the time to do body-weight exercises and the steep uphill climb, it's actually a challenging workout. At this point, we make a decision: we either decide to run back along the same path (eliminating the body weight exercises), or we decide to continue at a slow jog, continuing with variations of squats, lunges, presses, and push-ups on the way back. Today we decided to run back at a pretty brisk pace and do a couple of sets up uphill sprints. Two days from now, we'll be doing our first trail run together at another nearby park.

We continue running back along the same path without any stops until we reach the shaded side of Big Canyon, where we did our L-sits and pull-ups at the beginning of our hike. This time, we increase the intensity a bit by continuing to run and keeping rests at a minimum. I'm feeling good today so I crank out a set of pull-ups midway through an uphill sprint.

We continue sprinting down the shady side of the canyon until we reach the park entrance, where we started. In a little under an hour, we completed a warm-up, upper and lower body resistance-training, slow cardio, and sprints. We also reaped the cognitive benefits of exercising outdoors and don't ever plan on joining another indoor gym again.

I hope this blog post gives you some idea of how to incorporate cardio and body-weight exercises using  nature's equipment: tree-branches, boulders, steps, and park benches.

I'll be presenting a modified version of this workout and detailing how exercise can improve cognitive functioning at the upcoming CHADD International Conference on ADHD in San Francisco, CA in November. I hope to see you there.

Michael Lara, MD

How about you? Could you create some Adventure Hikes in parks near your home?  And what do you think of Intermittent Fasting -- is that a strategy you'd like to try in order to lose weight and/or boost cognition? Please share your thoughts and experiences.


  1. This sounds and looks (great pix!) a fairly do-able program; I'm looking forward to the presentation in November, so that I can take it back home and also offer to my clients. Here's to Vitamin D!

    1. Hi Ellen,

      I agree! Can you believe I damaged my "good" foot? Broke a toe. As soon as it heals, though, I hope to try some of these moves.

      With so many nice parks around us in the Bay Area -- and such great weather -- most of us have little excuse for not getting outside and moving a bit!


  2. Wow, May and Mike look better than I've ever seen them. That's awesome!

    I've been reading more about the "paleo" or "caveman" diet/lifestyle lately and in addition to the food part, there's also the fitness and exercise part. While we can't say with certainty what our ancestors ate or did, we can be certain that they weren't sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours a day and then sitting in front of a TV for 4 hours more. They were moving around, hunting, gathering, cutting trees, running from bears or whatever for most of the daylight hours. Our bodies were designed to move and work at a fairly intense level (as compared to modern lifestyles) and when we don't move enough our bodies and our minds suffer.

    I have exercised pretty much for the last 25 years. I make sure to exercise at least 6 days a week and I can definitely tell that my brain works much better when I do. I've found that there's two different kinds of "better" depending on the type of exercise and/or the intensity that I do.

    There's the simple "get out of the house/office and clear your mind" type (could be just a simple walk or yoga) that helps me feel more calm and gives my mind a chance to rest from thinking about work or daily life.

    Then there's also the "brain boost" kind that you get from more intense exercise (swimming, cycling, running, intense weight training, intense hiking, etc.) At a certain level of intensity I notice that my mind seems to be more clear and able to focus for several hours after the exercise. (Plus it can help you to lose weight as May proves.)

    Glad to see Mike's post as it's given me some ideas of things I can do on my hikes to make them a little more fun and fitness focused. And congrats to May for the huge weight loss! She looks great!

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