Keeping the Active Writer Healthy

Not exactly one of the “Feeding the Active Writer” posts, but related.

I try not to go on and on about my diet, my exercise program, and my health issues.  But the issue does come up from time to time in online conversations here and there.  So, to save some time in the future, I decided to put it all here.

When I grew up, I walked everywhere.  Hated school buses so if I was within two miles of school, I walked.  Had a girlfriend in a neighboring town six or seven miles away.  I walked.

Oh, occasionally I had a bike and rode that instead, but I was into my twenties before it was “walk or don’t go.”  So I walked a lot.

Between the walking and bike riding I burned a lot of calories.  I ate pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down and if I could pry it up it didn’t count as “nailed down.”

For a while, in my mid twenties or so, I was actually training for bicycle racing.  An hour on the bike, covering 20 miles, was a short workout.  My long days were two to three hours averaging eighteen to nineteen miles per hour over rolling terrain (southeastern Ohio).  I actually dieted here, trying to cut fat back to boost my effective aerobic capacity to the maximum.  During this period I had the “best” weight I would ever have, about 170 lbs (at 5′ 10″).  And at that I was lean enough that my sister, visiting from college, asked my mother “what is he doing to himself?”

Well, time passed, knees went bad, and I got busy so that exercise fell by the wayside.  Also, metabolism changes as I got older caught up with me and I started gaining weight.

About fifteen years ago I had the first actual “physical”, with bloodwork, I’d had in years.  Cholesterol was up.  So, lecture from doctor on diet and get the “low fat, high complex carb (what used to be called starches) advice that was coming down from the USDA.

And I was a good boy.  I followed it.  I started to exercise again.  I took the prescribed medicine for the cholesterol.

Cholesterol stayed high.

Well, over time I had to change to another doctor. (Insurance plans changed, different networks.  You know how it goes.)  Cholesterol still high and, in particular, HDL (“good”) cholesterol low.  So we shift to a different medicine.  I continue to follow the diet recommendations.  Still no effect.  They add another cholesterol medicine.  Still nothing.

In the meantime I discover that I have some real issues with nasal allergies.  I develop chronic plantar faciitis.  And I develop periodic heart palpitations to the point that I would “grey out” on rare occasions (this latter scared me because I could imagine it happening while tooling down the highway).  And declining testosterone levels, another hallmark of age.  A variety of issues, mostly unrelated except through the fact of my getting older.  And all requiring different medications to treat (as well as things like prescription orthotics for my shoes and what have you).  At the same time cholesterol remained an issue and my doctor added yet another medication to try to bring it under control.

At least my blood pressure and EKG’s remained good and I nailed the stress test.

Then, a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

That caused me to sit back and reevaluate.  I had friends who swore by a “low carb” diet but I had been skeptical.  And, frankly, I had also known people who had thrived on the low-fat, high carb diet.  Well, people are different and one size does not fit all.

In any case, I changed my diet.  Went “low carb”.  Stopped worrying about fat content entirely.  Took the medicine my doctor prescribed for the diabetes (first Metformin, then Glumetza when we found that Metformin made me gassy).

Next exam, cholesterol was better, a lot better.  Blood sugar back under control.  And my weight was dropping.

I dropped thirty pounds in six months and there I’ve stayed.  Higher than I might like but using a home body fat test (one which uses a lot of measurements and, therefore, I believe is more accurate than the usual ones with just a couple of measurement) I get a body fat of about 21-22%.  That’s right on the cusp of “healthy weight” and “overweight” (never you mind what BMI claims me to be).  It seems that I am less “fat” and more “big”–long, rather squarish trunk and short arms and legs.

So, while maybe not where I’d like it to be, I can’t say I’m unhappy with my overall condition.

Here’s where I am now.

Diet
 I follow a low-carb diet.  Atkins low.  Some people have long lists of specific foods, how much of this, how much of that.  That sort of thing.  I don’t.  Instead, I am strictly by the numbers.  I read labels.  In the cases of fresh foods, I look up values.  The rule I follow is:  no more than 6 grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) per serving and no more than three grams of sugars per serving.  “Sugar alcohols” (although I generally try to avoid them since except in very small amounts they give me stomach cramps and make me gassy) count 1/2 toward net carbs and other artificial sweeteners count zero.

A note about servings.  I consider a “serving” of most things to be about 1/2 cup.  1/2 cup makes a serving.  4-6 servings make a meal (depending on how hungry I am).  Or 1 serving might make a snack.

So “non-starchy vegetables”, various meats, some nuts, and cheeses feature heavily in my diet.  Fruits, juices, and grains are right out.  There are some “low carb” tortillas that meet my guidelines and I use those.  I’ve also got a recipe for Flax Meal muffins that are a pretty good bread substitute.

It’s on this diet that I dropped thirty pounds and kept it off.  Kept it off because this isn’t a case of “going in a diet” and then resuming “normal” eating after achieving some goal.  This is a forever thing.

Exercise
Exercise has been a bit of a challenge.  For one thing, who’s got time?  Between work, home, and family–plus trying to find/make time to write–there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

One of the things I do, though (part of that “family”) is take my daughter to swim team practice.  It’s actually pretty convenient to drop her off at practice, hop on over to the gym for a quick workout, and then be back for the latter part of her practice and to take her home.

The gym I use is Planet Fitness.  Yes, I know that a number of my friends sneer at it (“Planet Fatness”), but it’s cheap, it’s convenient, and it has what I need for where I am now.  I just started there recently so I haven’t seen much effect yet, but I’m hoping to build a bit more muscle mass.  At least I don’t think I’m yet to the point where staving off loss of muscle mass due to age is the best I can hope for.  I’m sure I’ll get there if I live long enough (age sucks), but I don’t think I’m there yet.  And with more muscle mass I’m hoping to make my body better at burning fat so that I can, if not lose weight overall at least change the composition for the better.

So here’s what I do.

I’ve got a nominally four day split.  Well, nominally four day.  I haven’t hit that fourth day yet because of reasons.

The target is eight to twelve repetitions of each exercise.  If I can’t do eight before failure, I reduce the weight next time.  If I reach twelve, I increase the weight.

Warmups are five minutes on a treadmill at a brisk walking pace (3.5 MPH) and moderate slope (5.5 degrees currently, but I’m gradually bumping it up).  There’s a three minute “cooldown” at the end of that cycle so it’s a total of eight minutes.

I then do resistance training for that day’s target muscle groups.  One set of an exercise then move immediately to the next, each day usually has a pair of muscle groups and I’ll do one, then switch to the other for the next exercise, then back to the first group after that.  Going immediately from exercise to exercise helps keep my heart rate up through the workout.

I also include a couple of abdominal/waist exercises each workout–changing up what I do from workout to workout.

Finally a “cooldown” that’s actually a more severe exercise than the warmup.  Five minutes, still at a brisk walking pace, but with a steeper angle (11.5 degrees currently but, as with warmups, I’m gradually bumping it up).  I push my heart rate hard in this workout, close to the nominal max (using the 220-age formula) for my age.  Five minutes at that pace and an additional three minutes of the treadmill’s “cooldown cycle.”

All told, that’s about 40 minutes and a pretty good workout.

The one part that changes from day to day is the resistance training and it’s as follows:
Day 1:  Chest and triceps.
Exercises like bench press, triceps press, dumbbell triceps press, fly’s etc.

Day 2:  Back and Biceps
Bent rows.  Curls.  Concentration Curls.  Lat pull downs (someday I’ll be able to do chinups again!) That sort of thing.

Day 3:  Legs
Leg press.  Squats (when my knees are doing well).  Leg curls.  Leg extension.  Calf press.  And so forth.

Day : 4 (although I haven’t actually gotten to this one because so far something has always interrupted me for one of the available days) Shoulders and “incidentals”
Overhead press, shoulder flys, front lifts, bent flies, wrist curls (one of the “incidentals”), whatever else I can think of.

And that’s my health plan, such as it is.  Diet, exercise, and taking the various medicines my doctor provides for the various issues that have arisen over the years.

With any luck, I’ll still be around for when my daughter (now aged 10) decides to give me some grandkids. 😉

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