Tips for Starting a News Workout Plan

"This is so great. I can finally watch the news again," a friend said to me shortly after the Inauguration of Barack Obama. It's a common sentiment lately, at least in liberal Cambridge where I work. Like many people, my friend disliked George Bush so much that he couldn't bear to watch the news during much of the last eight years.

He isn't alone. There is a whole new generation of people eager to pick up a newspaper again (metaphorically at least), and dive into all the latest policy news -- without the risk of encountering a President that they hate. But, if you're one of these people, you have to be careful. Dive in too quickly, and you could end up straining your brain. Oh, how I remember those lofty days of idealism in 1977 when Jimmy Carter was inaugurated and I binged on arcane tax policy* so long that my brain nearly exploded!

The lesson is clear. If your diet has consisted of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" until now, you can't just turn on three hours of C-Span right away. You have to work up to it slowly.

Luckily, most of us did have some practice with the debates -- when suddenly we seemed interested in things like Azerbaijan, entitlement reform, earmarks, and, of all things, Alaska. But here are some tips on avoiding news burnout in the next few weeks and pursuing a healthy and enriching news regimen.

Don't binge on the policy. Seriously, you have to take it easy at first and work your way up to the hard news. Don't start with health insurance or the financial bailout package. Start with something light like stories about Michelle Obama's inaugural dress. You can't start off reading about the closing of Guantanamo Bay when you haven't laid a foundation by having a serious discussion with your friends about how freakin' cute those Obama children are. Seriously, did you see Malia up on the stage with the camera?

Don't be surprised if presidential speeches seem strange at first. It will take some time to adjust to a president who speaks correctly in complete sentences. Out of habit, you may find yourself searching for the malapropism during a speech only to find that there is none. For the first time in eight years, White House speeches could possibly make sense to you, which may cause a certain dizzying sensation. Doctors call this "vertigo," or "Whoa, I think I just agreed with what the President said for the first time in eight years. Screw the patients. I've got to watch more of this." Republican Doctors don't say that actually, but nevertheless the feeling is natural. There is no need to panic.

Don't blindly support everything the Obama team does (unless your last name is Reid or Pelosi, of course). Just because you've got a President you like doesn't mean you have to defend the fact that our incoming treasury secretary doesn't know how to do his own taxes. Just because Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State doesn't mean you have to defend Bill all over again. Pick your battles with Republicans. Yes, Joe Biden's speeches can be really boring.  It's okay to admit this.

Don't get discouraged if your head starts to hurt. It's fine to flip over to "Entertainment Tonight" for a few minutes, except that lately President Obama seems to be on there too. A little pain is natural when adjusting to a new news workout. If you experience a tingling sensation running up your leg during a speech, that, however, could be serious. Be sure to consult with a doctor.

Start off with something familiar like all the controversies caused by Hilary Clinton being Secretary of State. You remember how to read about Clinton scandals from the 1990s, don't you? From there, you can branch out slowly and read about other former Clinton appointees like Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel. Eventually, you will be able to have an opinion on Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, whoever they might be.

Finally, always be sure to stay hydrated. Experts recommend that you drink a glass of water before, during, and after watching the news. This will be a healthy change from the straight shots of Scotch you may have needed to get through the news when Bush was President.

* Note: May have been Gummi Bears as I was five at the time.

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