Jack's Ruminations

Archive for the ‘health’ Category

owlThis post is a follow up to the previous one. In my last post, I complained about getting old. Next month, I turn 52, and the last post describes 7 symptoms of “senescence”.

In this post, I outline what I’m doing about this. I’m not exactly “raging against the dying of the light”. But I am announcing, citing Monty Python, “I ain’t dead yet!”.

Here’s what I’m doing to ameliorate my complaints about aging:

1. Cold. I live in Silicon Valley. Winter days here can feel like a spring day in the part of Canada in which I grew up. Up until the last few years, I was a 2 layer guy: layer 1 would be a t-shirt, and layer 2 would be a sweatshirt for the “cold” winter weather.

Today, I’m a 3-layer guy. Same layer 1. Layer 2 has now become layer 3. And the new layer 2 is a long-sleeved warm shirt/sweater. During winter, if I’m not exercising, I’m wearing layers 1 and 2 constantly (even when the fire has our kitchen at 75 degrees), usually with a skull cap.

Easy peasy.

2. Injury/Slow Recovery. Whenever I feel pain while exercising, an old voice says: “Hey, it’s just a little pain. Keep going and the pain will probably go away”. A new, older voice disagrees and says: “Hey asshole, keep on going if you want to be out for 3 months”. I now listen to the second voice.

I’m looking forward to a new voice cropping up before I even start exercising that says: “Hey, how are feeling today, big guy? You know, if your [fill in blank] is a little stiff or sore today, you might think about taking it slow.”

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oldman-512I turn 52 next month. I’m getting old. Not just in years, but how I feel.

I said that to a friend recently, and the friend took umbrage at my claim of getting old. At 52, I’m sub 10% body fat, have tremendous physical and mental energy (for my age), no long term or short term illnesses, and few wrinkles on my face, and my blood test results are those of a much younger man. People tell me I don’t look my age.

But “old” is a relative term. When I say I’m getting old, I’m not comparing myself to the average 52 year old American male. Instead, I’m thinking about the 20-something Peter.

With that introduction out of the way, below are my complaints about getting old. The next post will address what I’m doing about these complaints. I mean, I may be a whiner, but I’m a whiner taking action.

1. Cold. In the last 5 years, I’ve noticed that I’m much colder in cool climates than I used to be. For all my post-puberty life, I was always the “warmest guy in the room”. Other people would be wearing sweaters; I would be in a t-shirt or shirtless, my body pumping out heat. Today, however, within a random group of people, I will be somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of feeling cold.

Now, I’m pretty sure this has a lot to do with the fact that I’m super skinny. 52 year olds are not supposed to be super lean like me. The personal data I’ve taken over the past five years tells me unambiguously that my body wants to be fat. Today, it is infinitely easier to put on 5 or 10 pounds than it is to lose 2. In my 20s, this dynamic was opposite.

Clever me, I’ve defeated the forces of nature conspiring to make me fat by eating a pure, well considered diet, and little of it, ergo my skinny corpus.

But now, at 52, my reward for rejecting the old man “coat of fat” is that I’m a cold old man.

2. Injury/Slow Recovery. This one has been true for 10 or more years, but it’s becoming acute now. The dynamic here is that, in my exercise — barefoot running and sprinting, wood chopping, power yoga — I am much more likely to injure myself than when I was young, and my injuries heal much more slowly now.

Example: I started doing some uphill 75m barefoot wind sprints on our property a few weeks ago. The second time I did it, I pulled something in the back of my left knee. The injury seemed to heal within a couple of weeks, but I re-injure the knee now and then whenever I “push it” on the sprints. Basically, compared to the lion I used to be, I’m now a fragile old man.

More complainin’ below the fold …

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After four political and sports posts, it’s time to go back to navel-gazing. No, I really mean my navel. Toward the end of July, it started expanding.

Above is a chart of my weight over the past year. For the first 3 1/2 months of this period (up until December), my weight hovered around 170 lb.

At the start of December, I started eating the Grain Brain way. For my already quite restricted diet, this change meant only that I swapped out copious fruit and rice crackers for cheese and more nuts.

Eating that way seems to have dropped my weight set point by about 3 pounds, taking my weight down around 167 lb.

Then in mid-March of this year, I quit distance running. Up until that point, for the previous 2+ years, I had been running three times per week, including a long (for me) run of 1.5+ hours on Saturdays.

My set point responded to me quitting running by rising steadily over the Spring. But by early Summer, my weight had fallen back to where it had been the previous Fall — i.e. 170 lb.

And there my weight stayed for weeks on end in the early part of Summer. At the time, it seemed that this was now going to be my set point for the foreseeable future.

But in late July, my weight started creeping up again. And this morning, for the first time since Spring, I saw 175+ lb on the scale.

What was going on? I wasn’t eating wheat or refined sugar. Wasn’t drinking too much alcohol. I was exercising the same or more. My sleep has been good.

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IMG_20140526_122437These are my old man feet. Not a pretty sight to be sure. But definitely the center of some pretty amazing health stuff.

Let’s start with waking up this morning. Eight mornings ago, on Sunday May 18, I woke up so dizzy that I almost keeled over to my right upon rising from bed. That feeling soon went away, and I enjoyed an active Sunday.

The next morning, Monday the 19th, I woke up so dizzy, I couldn’t lift my head above the pillow without becoming nauseated. When my mother-in-law suggested I had an inner ear infection, I asked my wife to get me 5g of Vit C in a sports bottle.

After sipping 10g worth of Vit C from the side of my mouth, I was able to hold my head up, and my appetite resumed somewhat. But I was in poor shape to do anything productive.

The next six mornings, I would wake up dizzy. I would have to be careful getting out of bed. But for most of those days, after awhile, I would feel almost normal during waking hours.

The only exception would be when I would lie on my back. During these six days, I tried that in two different yoga classes, and once in a pool. Within seconds of my head going back, I would become extremely dizzy.

What I had was vertigo, probably from an infection in my right inner ear. Googling on these keywords suggested that this lousy feeling I was experiencing could be expected to last many weeks, if not months. The idea is that it takes this extended time for the brain to rewire its balancing system.

But this morning — only nine days since May 18 — I woke up with no dizziness. It seemed that the vertigo was gone. I confirmed this on a hike with my family. We stopped at a picnic table and I lay down on it on my back. All I experienced was the blissful sensation of looking up into an oak tree, the leaves of which were fluttering in the breeze. No dizziness.

Hallelujah! I just might be cured.

Well, bully for me, but what does this have to with barefootin’?

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My oldest sister, the “wise woman” I referenced in the previous post, forwarded me the above TED talk today. It was the second revolutionary health care TED talk she had sent me in the past month. Fascinating stuff. The one above is hilarious as well as being thought-provoking.

I hope that my business partner and I are able to expand our business into the “revolutionary health care” space. Both of us have a high interest in this area.

But the reason I’m blogging is to convey my personal interest in these topics. My angle is probably different from the vast majority of people my age and older.

I ain’t complainin’. The short of it is that, at 51, I have no health complaints, save for lingering hoops injuries dating back to 1980s. But in terms of my body’s internal systems, they’re in tip top shape. So my “complaints” about our broken medical system are not poignant.

But if I’m super healthy, how can I say that? Well, I can report my consistently elevated energy and mood. But these subjective reports might sound like special pleading.

So then I’d point you to the copious data on myself that I’ve collected over the better part of a decade. This includes weight, body fat, blood pressure, blood glucose, and extensive blood test data. All of these metrics say that, internally at least, I’m a much younger man.

Except, however, for one particular set of data over the past year …

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Had a remarkable conversation with my oldest sister this afternoon. Stumbled upon some clear revelations that merit blogging.

Here’s the Twitter version: Hope you don’t have to wait for the deaths of your own parents (or for a life-threatening illness) in order to “grow up” to become your “better self”.

Here’s the longer version:

I’m the youngest of three siblings. The three of us are separated in age by only 3 years. IMHO, we are among the luckiest siblings I know.

Why? It’s because both of our parents are dead, and they died during our 30s and 40s (50 for my oldest sister when my dad died).

Now I know what you may be thinking. You may be thinking that our parents were horrible people, and their deaths brought relief to us. That’s why I feel lucky.

Mom was Wonderful. If that’s what you’re thinking, I’ll tell you that you’re flat out wrong. In 1999, when our mother was in her final coma, it came out in conversations among us siblings that each of us had long suspected that we were our mom’s favorite. We had assumed this was fairly obvious to the other two, but we had never spoken of it before these final moments because, well, you know, it wouldn’t have been nice.

Dad was Wonderful. As for our dad, I blogged the hell out of his funeral, my theory-making going into overdrive. Just so you don’t have to read those old posts, I’ll summarize them for you: I believe our dad died an “enlightened” man, and my hope is that when I die, I do so with at least a few iotas of the grace he displayed during those final weeks.

Well if our parents were all that, why would be we so lucky that they died?

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Above is a chart of my daily weight measurements going back to late last year. As this chart shows, my normal weight (indicated by the white trend line) hovers around the upper 170s.

But notice the two dips in the chart — the first shortly before “Mar 12” and the second shortly before “Oct 12”.

These sharp dips, that drop my weight into the lower 170s, correspond to the detox programs I undergo every year in March and September.

These dips in weight also correspond to a drop in my waist circumference from 32 inches to 31.5 inches. Using the navy method of calculating body fat percentage, this half-inch drop corresponds to a 1.1% decline in body fat (from 13.3% to 12.2%).

What is the reason for this decline in body fat during the detoxes? Well, the detox programs require a strict diet devoid of wheat, sugar, and dairy, as well as eliminating a number of other foods that are potential allergens. In addition, the programs (particularly the liver detox) include taking one to three supplement-laden smoothies per day. These smoothies tend to decrease my appetite for other food.

If that’s why my body fat/weight drops during the detoxes, then why do those numbers climb back up afterward? Notice in the chart above the period from March to August of this year. You can see a quick climb of my weight back up to the upper 170s, with some peaks above 180.

The reason why I fatten up between the detoxes is that I cheat from time to time on avoiding wheat, sugar, and dairy. If you think about it, almost all human “comfort food” comprises one or more of those three ingredients.

This food isn’t just comforting for individuals, it serves as social glue. Offering and sharing this “poisonous” food is a core way of offering friendship and love in our culture.

So the act of declining this offer of poisonous food can be misconstrued as a rejection of friendship and love.

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Went for a glide today at Castle Rock State Park. Actually, it’s a 6.5 mile trail (or ~7 miles) that runs for two miles along the edge of Sanborn Park and then goes through some sparsely-traveled areas of Castle Rock park (link shows a topo map of the route).

The trail is the favorite of my neighbor Mike, a super-in-shape 50-something who runs a 32 mile uphill “I ain’t dead yet” ultramarathon to celebrate his birthdays.

Now, generally speaking, I’m a bad listener. What that really means is that if I don’t expect you to be saying anything insightfully intelligent, I make the mistake of tuning you out. But if I do think I’m hearing some useful stuff that I don’t know, I’m all ears. Sorry it’s a life-long annoying habit about which I’m just now becoming aware.

So when Mike told me last week about ultra-marathoners who glide along, barely lifting their feet above the ground, I listened.

I listened even though Mike demonstrated the technique by landing heel-first on his glide steps.

What I’ve read is that landing on the forefoot is far preferable and healthier than landing on the heel. Whether that’s true for everybody (and I suspect it’s true for most over time), I know it’s true for me with my wonky old-before-their-time knees.

Landing on my forefoot requires that I bend my knee. That is, when my foot strikes the ground, my knee is bent.

Now gliding is that, plus my feet never get more than about 1 inch off the ground. Many times, during a stride, I can hear the bottom of my shoe dragging a little on the ground.

Put simply, gliding = bend knees at all times + minimize knee lift.

The reason why I stumbled onto this way of “running” today was that I realized this technique puts the least amount of stress on my hips.

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