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Columns : In My Sights

The Dose Makes the Poison

Remember, everything in moderation, including vices and virtues.

August 22, 2012  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

Like me, you probably remember studying how the ancient Greeks lived according to the philosophy "All things in moderation," and marveling at how wise that was. But as I grew older I discovered just how hard that was.

When you are a young officer in your 20s, moderation seems likely to leave you missing more than a few good times, but does it really? I think back to the "choir practices" I participated in as a young Tucson cop after a great midnight shift only to awaken in the afternoon looking for the train that hit me. My days off often started with these great drinking parties and I look back fondly on what I can remember of them. But I'll never forget the day I walked by the full length mirror in the locker room and saw a chubby, out-of-shape version of me walking by.

After that, I moderated my food and drink and started running and working out intensely again. In fact, as I got into better and better shape the less and less recovery I would need. I started keeping a training journal to track my workouts, a practice I still keep today. I was soon impressed with myself that each day was a "run" day and three days included a lift following the run. That was until I ended up in the ER with a severely sprained back.

The doc was stunned to learn I didn't schedule in a rest day. I knew how important recovery time was in exercise, but had simply become obsessed with having a journal that showed an entry for exercise each day.

Now I look at my journal and make sure my workouts are balanced and my recovery time is appropriate. We should probably do that for all activities: How much wine did I drink last night? How much did I eat yesterday? How much snuff did I dip? (I did that for 18 years!) In fact, maybe seeing a reckoning of what we’ve done in black and white is why so many studies say daily journals are good for us.

But a journal may not be enough, since journal or not I became so fixated on getting ready for a bench press competition that I blew my left pectoral muscle off my arm five years ago. It was a terrible surgery, but now I've (almost) forgotten it ever happened thanks to a great doc and a wonderful physical therapist.

Getting ready for the surgery, I kept kicking myself for pushing so hard, for not recovering enough. I knew better, and had known better since I was a kid reading history. I remember reading how the ancients would exercise and train, how Alexander the Great conquered the world with an army that included many warriors in their 60s at a time when people in most cultures didn't live past the age of 40.

In short, I knew better, but forgot the concept of moderation. Scientists are always saying this or that is bad for you and then coming back and finding some study that contradicts their first condemnation and sometimes reverses it. Let us examine one of my favorite vices: alcohol. You can't drink a beer from a can or bottle that doesn't tell you to stop if you are pregnant. Not being pregnant, I usually ignore this and go to step two, drinking away. Now science says not only is drinking a brew OK, but two drinks a day is considered therapeutic. Yes!

In fact, even the alcohol ban during pregnancy is being challenged by some scientists, as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. They've found that women who have a glass or two of wine a week during pregnancy have no ill effects ... The wonders of moderation.

My point is, vices and virtues that are taken to extremes are bad. You can get too much of a good thing, from vitamins to exercise, and some things thought bad can be good for us. If an occasional cigar brings you peace and relaxation, go for it. George Burns lived to be 100 smoking eight cigars a day, but then I think that’s pushing it.

Finally, I know you are wondering what exactly a moderate amount of anything is and does it change as we grow older, or illness intervenes, or pregnancy occurs? Some answers come from science, and a lot of answers come from your own perceptions. Tequila teaches you about moderation very quickly, and much of what’s deemed moderation at the age of 25 will be reevaluated as excess at 45. But I do believe if you follow that Greek truth your 45 will be a whole lot better than most others'.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Related:

Alcohol a Growing Problem in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, Report Says

Watch What You Eat


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