Preventive Medicine Column

Dr. David L. Katz

My father is a cardiologist.  When I was little, he was first completing his training, then establishing himself in practice.

Under both of those “low man on the totem pole” scenarios, his work schedule was brutal; he was on call every other night and every other weekend for years, and while on call spent most of his time in the hospital.  So much so, in fact, that according to my Mom, I once mistook the Ice Cream Man for my father, because his white coat looked like a doctor’s lab coat.  (My mother assures me the Ice Cream Man was NOT my father!)

So, time with Dad was a rather rare and precious commodity.  Over a span of years, I tended to think of him as two people: work Dad and vacation Dad.  Vacation Dad was a really fun guy.  Work Dad was generally a bit scary, and given a rather wide berth.

But vacation Dad wasn’t limited to vacations per se.  There was a bit of vacation whenever he had a weekend, or evening off.  And among my earliest and fondest memories is an invention of my Dad’s that was tailor-made to turn just a few minutes of down time into a treat: up-dee-do!

Up-dee-do (honestly, I have no idea how to spell it; I’m not sure anyone has ever tried before!) was a game that more or less turned my Dad into my personal trampoline. Generally, he would lie on the floor on his back, place me over his legs while holding my hands, and then swing his legs up while shouting — to my perennial delight — “up-dee-do!”

It never occurred to me, and perhaps never occurred to my Dad either, that while he was packing a whole week’s worth of father-son time into the few minutes we actually had, he was getting a pretty good workout into the bargain.  (On reading this, he told me that he does recall his heart pounding pretty good by the time we were done!)  I was sitting on his feet, and as he bent his knees and pulled them up toward his chest, he was working his quadriceps, iliopsoas (the muscle involved in flexing at the hips), his abdominal muscles and, to some extent, his chest and arms as well.  Up-dee-do was the precursor to circuit training!

It certainly never occurred to me this might be exercise — I was just a little kid having fun.  And I don’t think it ever occurred to my Dad either — he was just being a Dad (and, I think, having fun as well, because I produced some very gratifying squeals of delight).  Nor did it occur to me a generation later when I was the dad of young kids, and we played our variant of this game, called “pinja.”  (For those wanting to know: adapted from the Lion King when Nala tells Simba: “pinned ya’ again!”)

But that this was a great opportunity for exercise did occur to Josh Levitt.

Dr. Joshua Levitt is a naturopathic physician and father of young children.  Like all of us dealing with the competing demands of work and family, Josh found himself contending with frequent multi-tasking, and constant time pressure.  One of the casualties for Josh, as for so many, tended to be exercise.

But then Josh had an epiphany (or at least I’m assuming he did): playing with his kids was really good exercise.  So he certified himself a “human jungle gym,” and just went with the flow.

The result of his insight is a book called Baby Barbells (see:     Basically, it’s a manual for any busy Dad trying to choose between a bit of play time with young kids, and protection of his own fitness that explains: he doesn’t have to choose!  Babies make great barbells.  But, unlike barbells, they will hug you and laugh for joy when you lift them this way and that.  (And that much more so if you make some noise while doing it; I’m partial to a hearty cry of “up-dee-do,” but go as the spirit moves you.)

Build some muscle, bond with your baby.  If ever there was a case for multi-tasking, “Baby Barbells” is it!

And actually, there’s one more thing.  As you build a bit of muscle, you’ll be building something even more important: lifelong and loving memories.  Baby Barbells takes “up-dee-do” to a whole new level, and up-dee-do was good enough to count among the most indelible and joyous memories of my childhood.

So, thanks, Josh — for a great idea, and a great book (and, I might add, the perfect Father’s Day gift for any new dad).

And while we’re at it … thanks, Dad!  I loved every minute of it.




Dr. David L. Katz;