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January 20, 2019

The tale of a wise donkey and carrots

Of the common vegetables that you probably eat every day, a carrot is one of the sweetest. In every 100 grammes of carrot there is 4.7 grammes sugar. Compare that with Sukuma Wiki at 1.2 grammes or even sweet potato at 4.2 grammes and you can see why carrot cake - not sukuma wiki cake - is popular.

Carrot cake by definition is a cake that contains carrots mixed into the batter. During the baking process, the carrot softens and gives the cake a soft dense texture. Add icing on top and what you have is a rich cake. An average slice can have up to 326 calories. To put this in context, to burn off this amount of calories you would have to carry a small child on your back for an hour and a half. If you want to pay for your exercise then it is the equivalent of playing nine holes of golf carrying your own clubs or doing aerobic exercise for 45 minutes.

But given how tasty carrot cake is, the motivation should be there. It is little wonder that we have the story of the donkey, the carrot and the stick. Human resource specialists may argue about the merits of having the stick as motivation to move forward, but donkeys, even though they do not bake, recognise that having a carrot is good reward for a bit of exercise.

The problem we all have with a carrot and stick approach to a life is determining how much exercise we really need to stay healthy. If life were as simple as it is for the donkey then we would not have a problem. A hard day’s work pulling a cart around ends with a high speed run down some hill and a reward of a carrot and some hay or grass. For humans salving away in the city, a hard day’s work sitting with your laptop in meeting after meeting often calls for a reward of tea or coffee with carrot or chocolate cake. The carrot is always present both physically and in our minds. But when to apply the stick? Some simple measurements can help you decide.

 Your pulse is your heart rate, which is the number of times that your heart beats per minute. While pulse rate varies from person to person and also with age there are some rules that signal health. Generally the lower your pulse is at rest the healthier you are. Secondly how quickly your heart rate can increase and then go back to normal is also important. The heart rate determines how much oxygen the body is getting. If you are seated reading this article, measure you heart rate now. Identify your wrist and place the tips of your index, second and third fingers on the palm side of your other wrist below the base of the thumb. Press lightly with your fingers until you feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers. Using a watch with a second measurement, count the number of beats over 10 seconds, then multiply that number by six to get your heartbeat per minute.

For adults over 18 years, the normal range is 60 to 100 beats per minute. The average is 72 beats per minute. The higher the rate at rest, generally the unhealthier you are. Smoking cigarettes, high blood pressure and diabetes affect the heart rate. For a smoker, the air they breathe is so dirty that the heart has to compensate by increasing the amount of work it does. Little wonder that smokers abhor exercise. They are already stressing their hearts enough. Which is unfortunate because the purpose of exercise is to increase your heart rate and therefore increase the capacity of your body and heart to deliver more oxygen per heartbeat and therefore ease the work of the heart.

To work out the optimal amount of exercise you need requires you to know your maximum heart rate. This is primarily age dependent. A simple formula used is to subtract from 220 your age to get the predicted maximum heart rate. If you are 40 years old that would 180 beats per minute, if 50 years old then 170 beats per minute. To exercise and gain maximum benefits with less risk you need to exercise at 85 per cent of this maximum. This is called the target hear rate zone.

So check the pulse rate you measured earlier. If you are seated doing nothing and already your heart rate is high, then you are living dangerously and need not carrots but sticks to get you into shape. Exercising for prolonged periods at intensities greater than 85 per cent of maximum increases the risk that your body will just lose control both from an aerobic perspective and a muscular one because the heart will have difficulty ensuring that all parts of the body get oxygen. The temptation to end by saying do not be a donkey when it comes to protecting your heart, but in this case, it is the donkey that knows what it is doing.

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