Friday, January 28, 2011

Is It Time To Get Started On Those Collateral Vessels?

Everyone knows that the heart is a muscle. But who wants to dwell on it? I am well aware that my heart --progenitor and keeper of my desires, pangs and longings ---has a mechanical side, but I like to keep that awareness at a comfortable distance. The ceaseless pumping action over which I have no control, as if this heart had been placed within me by aliens, or mad scientists, freaks me out a little. To contemplate my heartbeat is to imagine it stopping, which brings into focus my mortality, which is best relegated to a fuzzy blur in the background.

Yet this organ's staggering workload cannot be denied. The wattage it puts out over a lifetime could light up Manhattan. Okay, not exactly. But it could power 2000 one-ton trucks speeding past at 160 miles per hour. The heart's normal 1 to 5 wattage, sustained for say, eighty years, adds up to two and a half gigajoules. Which sounds like a Cajun stew, but is actually a tremendous amount of energy. A gigajoule is equal to one billion joules, which is equal to the energy expended (or work done) in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre (1 newton metre or N·m), or in passing an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second. The joule is named after English physicist James Prescot Joule and is measured in SI units.

My personal goal for heart wattage is to shoot well past the two and a half gigajoule mark, aiming for say, two and three-quarters gigajoules. However, there are certain hard-as-plaque realities one must face: I like fat, and lots of it. In some quarters I am known as the Dairy Queen, wantonly consuming milk products with high levels of saturated fats --the baddies. My favorite foods are cheese, ice cream and fried potatoes, or potatoes with butter and/or cheese. I like old World cheddars, and creamy Pont L'eveque. I like Ben and Jerry's. Where can all of this lead? Can I allow myself to believe that my arteries will maintain an adequate bandwidth on such a diet?

It was this nagging concern that drew my glance towards a recent article in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter. I work in a health science library, and medical journals cross my desk every day, but this article stood out because it suggested I can create my own work-around for my potentially beleaguered arteries.

Using bold graphics, the article showed two meaty bundles of contractile tissue in vivid detail. But one of those hearts was not like the other. One had a burgeoning network of little blood vessels branching out from its main artery, while the other heart had none.

Reading further, I learned that regular exercise creates an increased demand in blood supply, which stimulates the growth of new! collateral blood vessels. These collateral blood vessels are like evacuation routes, for when your blood is trying to get out of town and the main highway is clogged. They provide a detour around the point of congestion back to the main road. We all want ancillary roads to open up for us when we encounter a traffic jam, as in the Simpsons episode, where Homer's membership in the exclusive Stonecutters club gave him access to a secret bypass that circumvented a car pile-up and got him to work in record time. Well, imagine if you could build such a road within your heart for a day when you might need to fast-track your blood flow downstream? You could be headed towards a calamitous heart event, as your plaquey pipes begin to close, yet have only a whisper of an attack, thanks to those collateral blood vessels.

This information puts cardio fitness into a whole new light. Working out to make the heart more efficient has always seemed a little too abstract for me, but exercising to create new highways and byways is exciting. These extra blood vessels will enhance my body's overall circulation too, turning my winter pallor into a deep, ruddy glow. And as if that weren't enough, exercise improves the function of the endothelium, the thin layer of cells on the inner lining of the vessel that causes the vessels to contract or relax. Quite a payoff.

So how much exercise is enough? The Mayo Clinic Health Letter says 150 minutes a week of moderately intense activity is better than nothing, moderate being where you can talk but can't sing. But the most benefit comes from six to seven hours a week. Holy deep-fried cannoli, that's 60 minutes a day. That will definitely cut into my fondue hour.

I'm going to have to give this some serious thought.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Coffee Shops I Wanna Open

Here’s the list. All I need now are a couple of investors with plenty of cash but no sense of proportion when it comes to funding shaky little start-ups like mine, and I’m on my way!

Bean me up, Scotty---get your geek on by stepping onto a replica of the Star Ship Enterprise from the original Star Trek series. Enjoy an audio sampler of soundtrack music from the TV show’s “dramatic sequences” (Kirk battling various aliens) as you sip your earth-brewed java. A giant poster of William Shatner will be an irksome and unavoidable part of the d├ęcor.

As You Like It---a Shakespearean-themed coffee house where the baristas cavort about in Elizabethan tights and are trained to greet every customer with “To bean or not to bean, that is the question?” when sorting out customer’s preferences for coffee or tea. Choices on the menu board will include “Taming of the Shrew,” “Much Ado about Nothing”, and “Twelfth Night”, a 20 ounce five-shot latte.

Bean Bling--- a coffee shop offering a sleek, club atmosphere for the young, urban professional. On Saturday nights the staff will heft the roaster out of the way to make room for a dance floor.

Rude Awakening---- a no-frills caffeine experience for the thrash crowd and those just coming off Meth.

Cosmic Cup---- fuzzy-headed coffee service at its finest. Will evolve into a thinly disguised head shop and be raided often. The biscotti will be suspect.

Coffee Land----Coffee Land is a happy land. Need we say more? The tenth cup is always free at Coffee Land.

Percolator----1950’s style coffee shop will be full of fun, kitschy details: dinette sets with chrome chairs, starburst clocks…but the coffee will suck as bad as it did in the days before drip brew and espresso drinks of any kind will be unheard of.

Grounds for Dismissal----will cater largely to the unemployed and unwashed or those about to be, who have nothing better to do all day than sit around in a coffee shop.

Cuppa Joe-----pays homage to Joe DiMaggio, the late ball-player and ex-hubby of Marilyn Monroe. Video screen plays endless loop of grainy footage of Joe’s glory days. A stipple drawing of Joe will customize the to-go cups. Menu items will contain corny references to baseball lore.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Is Here And Waits For No One

It's only the 3rd. The year is so tender. Yet here we are, breaking it in. Everything gearing up, full steam ahead. They roll out a new year, then give us only two days to prepare ourselves. On the third day, we rise up and head straight into it, ready or not. I like the time after Christmas and before New Year's, when it feels like we are floating free, inbetween years. The current year, dwindled down to a few remaining days, doesn't carry much weight anymore. The checks you write probably won't be cashed that year. The calendar which hung with such relevance and importance in your kitchen is now a has-been, ready for the recycling pile. Yet the new year hasn't arrived yet. So there you are, suspended in a sort of non-time, a state of timeless liberty.

Well, it takes a few days, after a new year has been sprung from its packing, to accept it, and adopt it. It takes a body some getting used to, returning to a time-governed state. And re-joining the relentless march of time, a billion feet stepping in rhythm, a billion calendar pages turning, takes a certain willingness, that does not come in just two days. No, I need a whole week to ease myself in. I need a week to watch the old year falling away, like a space capsule jettisoned to earth, and to incorporate a new year into my reality. But we are given two measly days, and on January 3rd, we must resign ourselves to plotting our life, our moments, in terms of this newly minted year. We must remember to use the new year when writing dates, and before the new year has had time to mature and ripen, we open our calendars and begin filling them up immediately.

The new year is like a train, charging through town, everybody running to catch it. And it is this collective urge to not be left behind, that surely was the reason I awoke this morning, determined to post something to my blog, before the new year got away from me.