While I do not have a weight problem, I do share my patient’s struggles to live a healthy life while trying to balance work, marriage and raising children. Exercise, especially the time to exercise, has been a continuous problem. I had been an athlete all my life, and was used to training hard for my sports. Exercise to me meant “working out” through aerobic conditioning, mostly jogging, and calisthentics for strengthening and flexibility. This worked in my 20’s and even into my 30’s. As I reached my 40’s, problems began to develop. Running hurt my knees. I started fearing the effects of my training on my heart. I could no longer take my health for granted and just push my body harder and harder. Having friends die in their 40’s from heart attacks didn’t help either and made me more cautious. Surgery on one knee and a rebuilt shoulder in the past two years only added more vulnerability and confusion. Exercise now not only was more difficult but felt unsure and unsafe.

Walking several times a week with my wife and dogs seemed like an answer. But it didn’t feel like the kind of exercise that I was used to. I wasn’t pushing myself like I did to go harder or faster. I felt lazy and weak, like I was giving in to aging and “letting myself go”. Should I walk, how far, how fast, what was safe, what was healthy. were all questions that didn’t have easy answers.

I found a lot of those answers with using the Personal Digital Coach (PDC) of the New Leaf Exercise System by Angeion. The PDC is a piece of exercise equipment that involves a heart rate monitor worn on the chest with a set of head phones. Data from a VO2 test that measures the capacity of lungs to oxygenate the blood with each heart beat is loaded into the unit . Voice coaching instructions based on your heart rate instruct you on how fast to go the distance that you have selected with your exercise. You can walk, jog, run on a treadmill, ride a bike or exercycle, use the elliptical machine or a rowing machine, almost any aerobic activity and the PDC will pace you through your activity.

Using the PDC had some unexpected benefits for me. Like most high tech equipment, it doesn’t look like much to see, but it’s psychological effects on me were dramatic. First of all, I felt like I was exercising with a friend, even if that friend was only somebody in my ears. I didn’t feel alone as I trained. Secondly, I was no longer afraid. I could hear instructions based on my personal data and knew that I could trust the pacing. I felt an immediate drop in my fear of exercising too hard. I now knew how much to push myself before I was exposing myself to risk. It was like I could listen to my body and had an exercise professional in my ear telling me what to do. I no longer had to make any decision. I could relax and just enjoy the activity.

A third unexpected benefit was the relief of the psychological tension to define what was “a good enough” effort to be healthy. Was it good enough to take 2 or 3 walks per week, or do I need to do it everyday? How far do I need to go every time I go out? How many miles per week is reasonable and healthy? Those choices were not only difficult for me, but even harder for many of my overweight patients. The guilt and shame of our culture haunts many of them, as they have been to taught to believe that they have let themselves go and the problem is of their own making. Nobody made them eat or drink. They did it to themselves and feel deeply ashamed. They often try to compensate for this shame by trying too hard and proving that they have the self-control and discipline to exercise or diet. Failure carries far more weight than my simple dilemma of how much or how to exercise safely.

I didn’t expect it, but using the PDC created relief from some of that guilt, shame, and blame for both myself and my patients. The PDC calculated several outputs from my activity: maximum and minimum heart rates, calories burned, total time, and even time spent “in the zone”. I entered these values into the Energy Management Training section of the Support Network in the websjte, www.burnratediet.com, to provide a high-tech behavior modification approach to my lifestyle management. With the graphs of my exercise stored on the web, I could see clearly what I was accomplishing and compare it to what I had been doing. I could see my progress or where I needed improvement. I now had a record to rely on rather than my misguided recollections that were reflections of my self-blame. I now felt that I was doing everything in my power to be as healthy as I could be, and even had a record to show for it. The process of keeping track helped to motivate me to exercise in a positive way. I could trust myself more and avoid shaming myself into taking better care of myself.

The last issue I struggled with was whether the PDC was going to be another “dust collector” like the array of other exercise equipment in my basement. Was it going to be another gimmick that I use for a couple of weeks and never use again, or was it something that would help long-term? After several weeks of using it, my schedule changed and my exercise program dropped out once again for several weeks. The PDC didn’t change that exercise is hard to maintain in a hectic lifestyle. What it did was gave me more interest and motivation to return to exercise. The comfort and safety reduced my resistance to restart my activity. While it certainly wasn’t magic, the PDC did give me more reason to begin again and helped minimize the time I spent without exercising. That alone made it more than a gimmick.

Try the PDC. You will be more than pleasantly surprised and feel more in control of your self and your life-and you just may exercise more because of it.