Relevant Research and Articles:
- Outlive by Peter Attia
- Guided Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) Meditation
- Huberman Lab podcast
- NIH Physical Wellness Toolkit
David Pace 0:02
Hi, I’m David Pace.
Alex Barilec 0:04
And I’m Alex Barilec and this is Pace Yourself, a podcast from the University of Utah College of Science on Wellness.
David Pace 0:16
And we are talking about the eight dimensions of wellness for our friends and family and you, whoever you are. So today we’re going to talk about physical wellness. And I want Alex to start out here because he’s got a pretty interesting story to tell us about a 50K race. Take it away Alex.
Alex Barilec 0:38
Yeah, Thanks, David. Talk about a big physical feat of wellness. I finished a 50K for the first time about three weeks ago and I think when I think of the definition of physical wellness, being caring for your body to stay healthy, now and in the future, my hope is really to use this opportunity as a way to practice that and then also make it tangible. And I learned some really cool things throughout it that, you know, hopefully we can weave in through this podcast. The first being that I like to see physical wellness as a door to other areas of wellness. So I started on this journey running and being consistently moving my body. It opened me up to other dimensions of wellness that we’re going to talk about through the series. And that was something that was really interesting and eye opening to me.
David Pace 1:27
So it was very concrete. It was embodied, literally wellness embodied.
Alex Barilec 1:32
Yeah, that’s a great word to use. It’s like the physical wellness and the physical component of running brought on the emotional, the mental side of it, and also the spiritual well-being, as well.
David Pace 1:44
Alex Barilec 1:44
But it also ties into, you know, my occupation and ways in which I was able to make time to focus on physical well-being.
David Pace 1:54
Why don’t you talk about that, occupational. Because we’re going to talk about occupational next time. But what do you mean by occupational wellness?
Alex Barilec 2:02
Yeah. So another dimension of wellness that we’ll cover through the series is occupational wellness, which is really about preparing for and participating in work that provides personal satisfaction and life enrichment.
David Pace 2:14
So how did this race dovetail into that? That’s interesting.
Alex Barilec 2:18
Yeah. Well, I think what I found was that through committing to physical wellness, I had more energy. So one of the most counterintuitive experiences I found was that people think that through running and exercising, you’ll be tired or you’ll be a bit groggy. And one of the most surprise aspects was that the more physical effort I put in, the more energy that I had, the more clearly that I could think, the more time I could spend working on projects or spending with students. And that positively affected pretty much everything in my life.
David Pace 2:55
So you’re talking about during the actual race as well as afterwards, correct?
Alex Barilec 2:59
David Pace 3:00
So it had residual effects, obviously, which is why we’re doing it. But let’s talk about your experience actually running. What do you mean you had different you kind of visited different dimensions of wellness.
Alex Barilec 3:13
Yeah. So the first place we go through is the movement, right? That’s the physical aspect. So, you know, 50K is just over 30 miles. So I was running for around 5 hours. So moving and moving for a little while. But very quickly, those voices that pop up, like the mental voices popped up for me, like, why are you doing this? This doesn’t feel nice. This is painful. Like, all of those started to come online. And then it started to become emotionally taxing, like, you know,
David Pace 3:44
How did that feel? What do you mean, emotional? Did you start crying?
Alex Barilec 3:49
I know my feet were, but I held strong. It’s more of a willpower. Like there is this emotional side of me and mental side that was really challenged to a degree that I’d never experienced before. And I think pushing through that helps. You know, just I learned like that I’m strong and capable in the face of these challenges physically. And I think that gives me confidence to approach other challenges in other areas of life, to say like, if I can do that, well, maybe I can do this too. So I think that goes back to this metaphor or this idea that it is a doorway to other areas of wellness, but maybe we can talk a little bit specifically about like what is what is physical wellness, right? So like, what are some ways that you practice?
David Pace 4:39
Well, first off, I have to say I will never be running a 50 K and for my exercise, which is just one aspect of physical wellness actually, but for my exercise I do like to swim and I basically return to that after swimming competitively when I was in high school. And that’s been really gratifying. People ask me how fast I swim. I say, as slow as possible without drowning. So I don’t see myself as a performance athlete at all. But yeah, so that’s my physical as the, you know, the actual exercise part of physical wellness. But, you know, there are different at least the definitions that I’ve looked up are that this is about performance of your heart and lungs if you want to get right down to it as well as the muscles in your body. And what I found interesting, what I’m finding interesting as I get older is that muscle strength isn’t the same thing as muscle endurance. So I’m working on muscle endurance right now. When I get to the second floor of the Crocker Science Center and my legs are giving out, it’s not because I don’t have the strength to do it. It’s because I don’t do it long enough to be able to endure basic tasks like getting to work. So anyway, that’s what I think of when I think of exercise, which is part of physical or physical wellness.
Alex Barilec 6:10
Yeah, I think it’s the most relatable piece. And there’s a physician, Dr. Peter Attia, who I’ve heard describe exercise as the most potent longevity drug, which is a really interesting way of framing it. But just he talks about how really it helps our human body to perform and to be better over a longer period of time in pretty much every way. And the metaphor that’s coming to mind as you’re talking about how it helps you like get up the stairs is like if you think of a car that sits in a garage, like everybody kind of looks at that car and it’s like, Oh man, we’ve got to get that thing out in the road this summer. Got to get it, move in. We got to get, you know, the oil and the gas pumping through it. And I think exercise is the same way, right? Like it helps to improve our cognitive function in our memory. It helps to improve cardiovascular function that you’re talking about. It helps us in energy production. And these are just like three small little aspects that moving really helps us to make the the machine, if you will, operate a little bit better. And I think that the challenge with that and I’d love to hear how you approach this, the challenge is we live in an environment that really tilts towards comfort and convenience and being sedentary. We have to like, intentionally think about moving. So what are some ways that you approach that maybe it’s swimming or how do you think about intentionally moving in the environment we live in?
David Pace 7:33
Yeah, well, I mean, I, I figured out fairly recently that if I want to get the exercise that I think I need, that I have to fold it into my day. I can’t do it. I’m not going to go to the gym. I can barely make it to the swimming pool. So don’t tell me to go to the gym as well to do resistance training. So I take the stairs. You know, I do a lot of the wellness activities. Actually, the College of Science is developing, like walking around with my team looking for the trees that were… It’s a tree scavenger hunt and we should probably talk about that briefly. And it again, folds into this whole idea of the whole person in terms of wellness. It’s not just about getting outside into the sunshine and looking for trees. University of Utah is the original arboretum of the state of Utah. So there are a lot of trees and I think there’s 90 that we have to find and take a selfie of ourselves there. And what we find out is that the conversation and just moving around this very large campus is not only physically demanding to me, I have to wear my orthopedic shoes, which I am holding up for the studio to see. But, you know, we talk a lot and we joke around a lot. And doing a selfie in the right way means that you have to stretch a little bit. So anyway, it’s a lot of fun. I think you have to find ways to have fun doing physical things. And I think that’s kind of the the approach that I’m trying to take. How about you?
Alex Barilec 9:08
Yeah, I love that. I love how you fold that into your day. I think that’s a really important aspect that, you know, like my story relates to that too, right? Like, not everyone needs to go out and run a 50k I think what we’re trying to do is give people tools to think about moving or to think about nutrition or sleep and folding into their day to day life. So that might look like, I like to block out some time either in the morning or for lunch. And I will walk around campus as well some days if I can, you know, remember to get my gym bag together. I’ll go for a run too. But I think like building that into a part of my day, knowing that when I come back from whatever that physical activity is, I’m going to have more energy. I want to be clearer in thought, especially if I know I have big things in the afternoon. I’ll really try and prioritize that during the lunch hour because I really think that making it easy and fun is something that maybe we don’t give enough time and credit to. And it can be just that. And it can be it can be like small, right? We can start with small steps consistently that might be like the secret is is consistency rather than making these big drastic moves in that direction.
David Pace 10:16
Right. Because there are you know, we’re all subject to habits we’re all subject to self-regulation and not self-regulating. And we have to remember that that’s part of this. And I think the key to this is intentionality. I think we have to be intentional about, especially at first, you know, about going to pick up my prescription up at University Health, why not walk? Why do I have to take the train for that? And also not being too hard on yourself? You know, that’s a big hike for me some days when I’ve got a lot going on in my mind and so, yeah, I think that intentionality is really important. And I was going to mention something else. Maybe we could pivot a little bit from the actual exercise component of this, but I guess weight management is really related to exercise, but it’s different, I think. I think it’s useful to kind of think about that as separate from exercise. What experience do you have with weight management? Has that ever been an issue for you?
Alex Barilec 11:18
You know, it’s interesting you bring that up. It actually has. You know, we started off talking about, you know, this great exploit that’s doing this 50K, But the truth is for much of my twenties, I had a really hard time. I was a college athlete and when I stopped playing hockey, I didn’t know ow to take care of my my body. I thought that I could continue to live and eat and sleep in the way that I was when I was an athlete. But that didn’t translate to, you know, my early days working.
David Pace 11:48
Swimming is the same way I ate anything I ever wanted to right up until I, you know, got into college. I had no problem with that because I swim five miles a day.
Alex Barilec 12:00
Yeah so, like, that’s a place that we’ve, you know, found ourselves at today and we’ve got there, but it’s not the place that I started. And to relate this to what we’re talking about, the onramp for me was actually sleep. When we think about weight management and we think about fundamental pillars of physical well-being. I started with sleep. I was very erratic in my sleep and I found it really hard to exercise. And so the thing I focused on to get me to the gym was actually sleeping for trying to be the same amount of hours every night and having something routine that could set my circadian rhythm in a way that I would have the energy to get to the gym. Because if I didn’t have the energy to get there, I wasn’t going to go. And then I, you know, I moved into nutrition as well. So I think those are the three pillars here. We think of physical well-being. We have like sleep, diet, nutrition. But finding the onramp for you is going to be most important. For some, it might be exercise, for some it might be diet, others it might be sleep. But I think all of those relate to this pillar and they can all be approaches to weight management, the one that maybe you struggle with the most might be a clue to the door that is calling your name. What about you?
David Pace 13:11
Well, before we move out from sleep, I just have to say I am a big fan and a big advocate of taking lots of naps. In fact, one of the funny things that have happened since I’ve come into an office with many young people and I’m a boomer, is that other than trying to figure out the music that they’re listening to and all of that, I have to say that when people say, Oh yeah, well, we went to Spain or we did this or we did that, and then we took the kids out to a concert and then went down camping and rivering, I guess they say, And what did you do? And I said, I took a nap. And I have no problem saying that because that to me is probably the most foundational aspect of keeping centered and keeping my energy up. So there you go.
Alex Barilec 14:04
I love that. I’m also a big nap fan and I think it’s, you know, I use it as my onramp, but I think it’s maybe the most overlooked and like low hanging fruit in terms of being effective to help you with physical wellness and whether it’s a nap or or you know, getting your sleep schedule on track can be hard, right? If you’re working long hours or you’ve got to commute or you have kids, you know, life happens, you’re traveling, it can be challenging. And so like maybe a nap falls in there as a tool. There’s this great tool that Dr. Andrew Huberman talks about called non-sleep deep rest.
David Pace 14:38
Hmm. Tell me about.
Alex Barilec 14:39
Yeah, it’s a technique to essentially bring your body into a rest-like state over, you know, 20 minutes or so. You can find all kinds of tools and YouTube to guide you through this, but it just brings you in touch with your body and it helps you kind of bring on that, like parasympathetic response to calm you down. So it mimics a nap, but it’s a little bit more of like a guided way. If you sometimes have a hard time turning your brain off in the afternoon. But you know this would benefit you it might be a practice to explore. But some people like you and I, we can probably just put our heads on the pillow and we can be out. I don’t think everyone’s like that.
David Pace 15:18
I could definitely see that I drop into bed like a sack of sand very, very quickly. But yeah, I think the idea to be intentional about that, especially at first and to be aware of I think downtime is part of that too. You know, for me I don’t always just take a nap, but I think downtime is like, do you know what I do when I do downtime? I go out into the garage and I just putter and it’s very restorative. So I don’t think that you have to have a garage to do that. But, you know, one of the things that I’ve also made an intentional point of doing, which I think is related to this, is that I refused to power through lunch at my desk. I will go into this really cool reading room that we have next door with all the books and the, you know, the lighting is low and I’ll eat my lunch and that’s all I’ll do. I won’t even take my phone in there. And it’s been really helpful. And it doesn’t mean that I have to stay until that brutal 5:00 hour, but it’s worth it to have that one hour of just intentionally eating good food. Maybe we should talk about food.
Alex Barilec 16:30
I think we should but before we do that. I want to say that if, you know, we’ve shared a lot of ideas for people at all different levels of their physical wellness journey. But if people take nothing else from this, they want the lowest, most effective hanging fruit. I think what you just said is gold, like taking some time to step away from your desk, whether it’s during lunch or at home. I think it can be so challenging to do, but so overlooked as a tool to restore your physical wellness, your vitality and your energy throughout the day to continue to do your best work. I think that’s awesome. And food plays a role in that, right? So food is our fuel. There’s a framework from Michael Pollan that I use. It’s really simple and it’s like eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
David Pace 17:19
Alex Barilec 18:53
And I think in that framework that I shared that first piece of eating food often gets super overlooked. And I think that’s what you’re talking about, right. Like if you go into a 7-Eleven or you go into the, you know, the aisle of the grocery store, what you have around you is like food, like substances. There are these sweet treats and candy and it’s all highly processed. Right. Sounds like what you guys have done is prioritizing real food and you’ve had a really profound impact. And, you know, I use that metaphor earlier. I don’t like to to make us like machines, but it can be relatable. Right? We’re not cars we’re more than that, but the food that we’re eating is like the fuel. And it’s like if you’re a Ferrari, you’re a sports car, which I think every human being is. And you put regular fuel and it’s just not going to run as well. Right. But if you’re Ferrari and you put top notch fuel in it, now we’re talking about it running optimally. And it seems like that’s the experience that you guys have.
David Pace 19:51
Yeah, it’s been really transformative.
Alex Barilec 19:53
David Pace 19:54
I was going to say just a couple other things about just so that we hit all the buckets here on physical health. There’s also a concern about disease and disease prevention they have to be aware of. And coming out of the pandemic, I think we’ve been very cognizant of that, whether it’s, you know, vaccines or care of spreading diseases, I think that we’re probably going to be wearing masks for quite a while. And it’s actually been a good audition for carefully, you know, preventing disease by not sharing germs. So I wanted to mention that. And then one other thing is tobacco and alcohol use. I think that’s a big issue for all of us, societally and otherwise. I think tobacco, we’ve had a pretty successful, you know, campaign in this country to protect our youth, especially from that. What do you think about that and alcohol use?
Alex Barilec 20:54
Yeah, well, I think that I would group those in with all of these because it’s a part of our culture. But these are substances that do negatively impact our health and we all know that. But they’re so culturally normalized it can be hard to step out of them. Personally, I’m actually in experimentation phase right now of cutting alcohol out of my life. I haven’t drank in almost six months. Yeah, It’s to my water here, my kombucha, whatever it is. But I think that the decision for me was around why, right? What type of person do I want to become? And I think that underpins all of these aspects of physical wellness and deciding who we want to be, whether that’s a healthier person. For me, that’s somebody I know this is going to sound long off, but that someone who wants to be able to pick up his grandkids and I think starting early and often is the way to do that, because I can see and I’ve heard that it only gets harder as you go. So I think that, you know, whether it’s reducing, how much you’re consuming alcohol or you’re reducing how much you’re consuming processed foods, the decision that underpins it is why, right. Why is this important to you? Because I do think it can be really hard to swim upstream at a social event when other people are drinking around you and that why is going to help you stick to it consistently. And that’s what’s really going to make the effect here, right? We can talk about what to do, but how are we going to make it actionable? That’s really the challenge that we have here in this dimension. And all of them for that matter.
David Pace 22:28
Yeah, and I think that having that conversation with yourself internally is really critical to that. I like to use the conversation on model with all that we do with when it comes to wellness, whether it’s talking to other people or talking to yourself, beating back those voices when you’re running that 50K that’s telling you yeah, why are you doing this? I think you came up with the reasons why you were doing it, and I think we’ve been talking about that.
Alex Barilec 22:54
Yeah, for me it looks like I want to live a long, healthy life and I want to be able to, you know, move and explore and take part in all the experiences. And it takes some time to develop that answer. And maybe that’s a good place for us to to wrap up. What’s that why for you, when you think of why you want to focus on these physical pillars of swimming and changing your diet.
David Pace 23:16
I do it mostly because it it tells me it again tells me who I am and it tells me that I love myself. And that has to be that’s something that I had to learn as an adult, was that, you know, I used to beat myself up about a lot of things, do a lot of guilt. Basically, it was because I didn’t think I deserved a good life. And so, again, this goes back to a psychological, mental and emotional place. But that’s really where, you know, and yeah, it’s great to look in the mirror and see that you’ve got a little definition, but it’s even better that you can go pick up your grandkids, you know, without losing your breath, you know, or that you can go take them to the pool or do whatever you do normally, you know, without it making you feel ugly or making you feel embarrassed about who you are and that maybe you don’t love yourself as much. So, yeah, this is a good place to end. And another good place to end is ergonomics, which we haven’t really talked about, which is physical, but we’re going to talk about that next session when we talk about vocational wellness. So I’m going to give you the signoff here.
Alex Barilec 24:31
Yeah, I want to sign off on that self-love piece. Actually, I think that just ties everything up so well, that is the door that I was talking about in the very beginning when I talked about how physical wellness is really the kind of like door to all these other areas of wellness. Because when you can commit to the physical and we started with this dimension because it’s relatable to people, right? It’s what people think of when they think of wellness. But if you can decide to act in a way that you care and you love yourself, you can notice other areas that need your attention as well. And so hopefully you find something today that was useful to relate and to take with you and to put into action in your life when it relates to physical wellness. And we’re going to continue to talk in depth about these other elements and how they all relate to one another.
David Pace 25:20
Yeah, so we went through this door, dWe’re going to close it now, but we’ll be back opening another one.
Alex Barilec 25:25
David Pace 25:25
And thank you, Alex.