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What were you thinking this Thanksgiving?

Published November 30. 2019 01:16AM

So what did you do this Thanksgiving?

Sleep in? Skip your workout? Eat a day’s worth of calories in a single meal? Loosen your belt one notch and fall asleep on the couch?

If that’s a fairly accurate assessment of your day, that’s okay. In order to stay the course long term, some people need to stray from it on occasion.

But there is one element crucial to health and fitness that you should never stray from — especially on Thanksgiving. It’s why the day is named as it is.

Give thanks.

I don’t mean the lip service many families pay when the head of the table speaks before the feast followed by perfunctory “amens.” What I have in mind requires a daily and solitary listing your blessings.

Give it an honest try, and I’ll give you a guarantee. Your mood will improve, you’ll start to feel more optimistic about things, and both will help your health.

Or fitness.

For instance, I took my own advice on the Saturday morning I started this column, did a typical training ride with my typical training partner later, and found it infused with extra power.

So much so that just before we went our separate ways, my buddy said, “You were absolutely flying today.”

And the blessing’s list that spurred on the exceptional ride also added an element of gratitude to the things I do every single Saturday. The 30 minutes of stretching. The drive to the grocery store and the browsing in it. The 20 minutes before supper where I both elevate my legs and take a nap.

If you’re wondering what was on my list, here it is:

still riding

still teaching

still trying

still have dad.

As you may know, I cycled seriously and at a fairly high level for years and still do about a dozen age-group bicycle races each season. But along with all that racing and training came dozens of “nuisance” crashes and three really serious ones.

The three serious ones required months of rehabilitation, and two of those made future riding problematic.

So along with the 10 to 12 hours of riding time each week comes another 2 to 3 hours of specific stretching to mitigate the discomfort in the areas where the doctors cut through my quads and glutes. It’s caused because the two titanium rods that needed to be inserted fight my muscles and nerves inner-city gangs engaged in turf wars. Despite that ongoing battle, I probably enjoy riding hard and pushing myself to the limit even more than before.

That’s because as I dress for every ride, I focus on the fact that being able to exercise as intensely as do at my age is a gift — not a guarantee.

And as you may also know, I’m still teaching junior high school language arts — even though I could retire and receive full benefits. Some of my colleagues say I’m foolish for sticking around, but I say I’m fortunate.

I still receive tremendous satisfaction from what I do, still do it well, and still really enjoy interacting with students. From my point of view, the foolish thing to do would be to give up all that.

You may have found the third phrase on my blessing’s list, “still trying,” a bit vague. But what I was trying to capture can be summed up in what a coach of mine used to say.

“You gotta wanna.”

He meant, the way I interpreted it, that desire trumps everything else. So I feel blessed that I still “wanna” ride hard three times a week and do front squats until I scream once a week in the offseason, still “wanna” grade a weekend’s worth of research papers four times a year, and still “wanna” hear the thoughts of my students when we discuss things.

Finally, I couldn’t imagine creating a list of blessings that didn’t include my dad.

First — as schmaltzy as it may seem — he’s my best friend. But schmaltzy or not, it’s the truth and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

The guy is so selfless he makes Mother Theresa look egotistical. Sure, he has his faults, but not one comes from bad intentions.

Add all that to the fact he’s 85 and probably should’ve died seven years ago and you can understand why I give thanks every time I visit him.

To review, if you do as I do and spend some time every day counting your blessings, you’ll certainly develop a more optimistic look on life. And that optimism may do more than enhance your days.

It may also lengthen them.

In research published last August in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was found that compared to those in the study who displayed the most pessimism, the most optimistic men and women studied were 50-70% more likely to live to be 85.

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