The 6th Thought: Never Too Old

“You’re never too ‘old’ to get into the best shape of your life…”

-Jeff Sekerak from Confessions of a Super-Fit Vegan

Following up on yesterday’s Journey to Greatness story, Jeff Sekerak continues to inspire me as I read more of his story. Last year was an introduction to exercise, this year I full the promise I have made to myself to improve my overall health, conditioning and appearance.

The 6th Thought: Splurging

“Splurging is the key to life…How would you appreciate vegetables if you never had chocolate? You couldn’t live without a little chocolate, a little French fries…I still splurge when I can, but that’s why I try to exercise almost every day.”

-Source Yahoo News

What a poor message being communicated to Americans by the first lady, Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! program at the annual White House egg roll event. This quote, by an overweight mother of two is along the same lines of “everything in moderation is okay.” As Jeff Novick, MS, RD says, “items we know that are causing harm to Americans right now are the excess consumption of added sugars, refined grains, sodium, fat, and saturated fat.” The numbers don’t lie and I have written about this previously, people are moderating the WRONG foods. Yet splurging is just another word for moderation and not a good message to be sending when heading up an expensive government program.

Someone also needs to tell Mrs. Obama that nutrition and eating right, not exercise is key to life. Many Americans still don’t understand nutrition and the roll it plays in their life and health. Many will claim to be healthy based on how they look or their weight, but what do the blood results show? Exercise is important, but one must take control of what and how they eat before they imagine eating anything and splurging are okay, as long as you are exercising.

Shoulder Pain

shoulder-pain“No excuses!” That was the motto I was living by as I trained for 14 weeks while training to run my first half marathon. During that time I missed only one, midweek run and felt good about my accomplishment. It’s very easy to talk yourself out of exercise or say “I’ll do it tomorrow.” I have been struggling the last 3-4 week with ongoing shoulder pain. I underwent and MRI in August, but it took 2 weeks to get a follow up appointment with the orthopedic surgeon.

I finally had this appointment 2 weeks ago and in the 5 minutes he saw me, he referred me to an other orthopedic surgeon who specializes in shoulders. I met met with this specialist this week and he confirmed the finding. Aside from calling the shoulder a bit arthritic, there were indications of fluid in the joint, bone spurs and a tear in the labrum and bicep tendon. Chances are good it will be arthroscopic, but he said he would let me know more once I was contacted to make a date for the  surgery.

Life after 40 has been tough. First it was right right knee in 2009, then the left knee in 2012, now the left shoulder in 2013. What’s next? So this upcoming surgery has put a hold on much of the exercising I have been doing. I haven’t lifted but three times the last 2 weeks and have only put 6 miles in during that period.

On a positive note my wife persuaded me purchased a set of hanging abs straps for my Rogue Fitness power rack. I have decided to get a bit more serious on the core and strengthen my abs in order to make me a better runner. Chances are I will only be able to use these straps for about 2-3 weeks before my surgery occurs.

Talking to the orthopedic surgeon he said it was be about 2 weeks off from work because of the pain and medication, another 2 weeks with the arm in a sling, followed therapy and at least 8-10 weeks before strengthening the shoulder. Going to be another long road to recovery and plans I had to run in the Urbanathlon in November and my first marathon in Sacramento the following month are now on hold. Thankfully I will have time to recuperate and strengthen for challenges in 2014.

Measure My Health

measure-healthHow does one measure healthy? If you are skinny, you might consider yourself healthy. Some who claim to “eat clean” seem to think they are health. Eating low carbo or low fat, selecting “lean” or “grass fed” animals possibly makes one believe they are healthy. I now measure my health in terms of my blood work results. I have been doing this since I changed my diet back in 2011.

No doctor, diet or article can replace the evidence for changing my lifestyle to a plant-based, whole foods diet. The results have been nothing short of amazing! Some individuals I communicate with claim any change in my diet would have shown positive results in my blood work. Maybe they are true to a degree, but I don’t believe I would be at the same level of health if I were still eating a diet that consisted of animal products, dairy and oil.

When I was 39 years old I decided to start getting yearly physicals, as I had a myriad of ailments that were causing my problems. Along with an ACL replacement in my right knee I had abdominal pains, as yet undiagnosed Plantar Fasciitis, constant migraine headaches, what was thought to be arthritis in my left hand and lateral epicondylitis or “Tennis elbow.” It wasn’t until I was 41 that I realized I was sick, overweight and in considerable pain.

Previous blood work results revealed I was not seeing any improvement in my health. My weight, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol continued to rise. No longer was diet the solution. Enter statins (Read LDL is Bad). These were short lived, as I suffered leg cramps, which is a common side effect along with headaches (possibly related to the continual migraines), gas, heartburn and stomach problems. Who knows what else this medication was doing to me! Without consulting my doctor I stopped taking simvastatin and attempted to make further changes in my diet, but found myself feeling hungry.

As I continued to look for alternatives to medication, I started to change how I cooked. Just one month after my physical in July, 2011 I wrote, “Since my physical I am reevaluating how I eat. I’ll be honest, my diet is not good, but it’s not too terribly bad. I know, I don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and probably drink a bit too much beer on my days off. But I really avoid sweets and don’t over eat, which seems to be a common problem in the U.S.

While changing what I ate helped, seeing some early success (dropping 4 pounds) was really nothing but a facade, as I continue to use cheese and oils, while looking for vegetarian offerings that my wife would enjoy. I had limited success with a few casseroles, pasta dishes and soup. They were “lighter” but honestly not much healthier than how I had been eating. It would be 3 months later before viewing Forks Over Knives and making radical changes in my diet that would change my lifestyle forever.

Now some 19 months later I continue to reap the benefits of a plant-based whole foods lifestyle as taught by Dr. John McDougall. This journey of “enlightenment” has been nothing short of amazing on the road to health. I probably overstate this every time I speak about the improvements in my health. Every day I feel better than the last, no longer eating to live, but living to eat.

Blood work still plays a major part in my health, as it does many like-minded individuals I communicate with in certain plant-based circles. Since changing my diet I look forward to getting blood drawn and more important wait like a kid on Christmas Eve to get the results and see how my numbers have changed, hopefully for the better.  I haven’t had much luck getting my physician to sign off on blood work other than my physical. Thankfully he has wanted to follow up on a few other numbers (Vitamin D) and I had a few additional tests outside my yearly physical.

Last month, at the insistence of my wife I finally decided to look into life insurance. Being in good health it was something that I figure I did not need, but she wanted the reassurance that IF something went wrong (not health related) that she and my son would be taken care of. I guess that is something I take for granted and don’t really think of. So I started researching life insurance and the companies that offered it. When I settled on a company I called and spoke with a representative, who provided me with the details on term life insurance.

After a series of health and lifestyle questions, she informed me I would be required to get blood work done. Excellent! Another opportunity to check the “health” of my blood. I was excited at the prospect. I received the results yesterday and have started reading through them and comparing them to previous results. Based on my July 31, 2012 results my numbers were trending down. This was the last blood test I had taken. Results from that test:

July 31, 2012
Weight: 172 pounds
Chol: 130 mg/dL
Trig: 162 mg/dL
HDLC: 35 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.7 H
LDL: 63 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 95 mg/dL

The only number last July that was still a concern was the Triglycerides level at 162 mg/dL. It was also the only number my doctor commented on telling me to cut back on carbohydrates, specifically potatoes. Uh, okay doc. Needless to say I did not follow his “recommendation” and continued to eat a starch based diet, as promoted by Dr. McDougall. The big change between July, 2012 and now is the level of exercise. I had gone from 3 days a week with some cardio work to lifting weights 3 days a week and running 3-4 days week. The level of weight lifting has increased greatly since October and running has been routine for the last 2 months.

May 8, 2013
Weight: 175 pounds
Chol: 146 mg/dL (+16)
Trig: 136 mg/dL (-26)
HDLC: 44 mg/dL (+7)
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.3 H (-0.4)
LDL: 63 mg/dL (+11)
Non-HDLC: not measured

Starting with weight, it’s no surprise I have seen an increase from my low of 172 pounds. My goal weight was 175 pounds and I have been within a few pounds of that since hitting my goal weight. With any luck I will see an increase in weight as I continue to add muscle to my body, while reducing my body fat. The hydrostatic test is scheduled for June 20.

My total cholesterol increased from my all time low of 130 to 146. I am not sure why or how this number increased over the last 9 months since my diet does not include meat or dairy. The only answer I can come up with is the fact I use nuts and nut butters on a regular basis. Knowing these both contain oils and fats, I do use them in moderation (with my cheese sauces), but have found an acceptable alternative (white beans). Avocados would be the only other culprit of a high saturated fat food. Those are used more infrequent and usually as guacamole.

I am pleased with the drop in Triglycerides by 26 points (now 136), this appears to be well under control. In my assessment it was the amount of alcohol I was drinking that led this number to remain elevated. While I haven’t cut the beer out completely, I no longer drink a 6 or 12 pack while working around the house and finding alternatives, such as Crystal Geyser or La Croix to quench my thirst. I will need to look at the “normal range” provided by my doctor, not quite sure when 136 would fall, but based on the Mayo Clinic anything under 150 is normal. The Chol/HDLC Ratio dropped as well, which indicates a lower risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Overall, I a continue to be pleased with the progress I am making. I continue to follow the plant-based, whole foods way of eating with very little cheating or straying too far away from what got to me this level of health. Like life, there is always room for improvement and I will continue to work towards making myself “heart attack proof” as Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn talks about in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

Both HDL and LDL increased in the past 9 months. I am not trying to get stuck on the LDL (or bad) being increased, as the overall total cholesterol number is still below 150 (146). Interesting to note that even with the 11 point increase in the LDL it is reflected as “LOW” on the results

From Gym to Garage

rackThanks to a good friend and co-worker, I now have a rack in my garage that represents the start of my home gym. Currently I spend $129 a month for membership, which includes 3 adults and my son. While he doesn’t use any of the services, I have taken him with me and placed him in the day care center while I worked out. My wife, who has back issues and is still recovering major surgery in December has yet to use her membership. On the other hand, my aunt (or nanny, if you ask the gym) uses the membership quite regularly. Together we each saved $20 on our membership.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I want to invest the money or time in the gym any longer. I have been doing some research and reading lots of reviews on power racks and squat racks, which make up the basis of the Stronglifts 5×5 program that I have been following since October. I love the program and it has introduced me to free weights and gain strength, which I have done since I began.

Since January my regime hasn’t been as consistent as I would like it to be. NO reason to cite excuses, I just haven’t put in the effort, thus results are suffering. Now with the rack in the garage, along with 270 lbs. of weight, I purchased a barbell from Rogue Fitness and picked up another 100 lbs. of weight from a local Sports Chalet that was going out of business. Can’t argue with 50% off all weights! The last piece to call my home gym complete, a bench, which will probably be ordered before the week ends.

With any luck this will kick start the training regiment again and get back to weekly gains, thanks in part to Stronglifts.