Tag Archives: Healthy Living

Life is an endurance sport

Endurance events look easy when you watch them on from the comfort of your Living Room.  We get used to watching professional athletes performing amazing feats, it becomes the norm.  We tend to overlook the hours of training that go into the preparation and the effort of the event itself.  They make it all look too easy.

Last weekend I watched my first “real” triathlon.  It was a bit different to watching the Brownlee brothers!  It looked much more like the kind of activity I might be able to participate in!

Historically there were lots of reasons why doing a triathlon was a crazy idea, not least the fact that I was a physical wreck.  Having got myself into some sort of shape it seems a lot less crazy now, and given my exercise regime includes both swimming and cycling, I’m almost there as far as the training is concerned.  My most compelling arguments for not doing one would largely come down to my ignorance, so I decided to educate myself.

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

The swim held the biggest fear for me (and still does to be honest).  I have never been much of a swimmer.  When I’m in the pool, much of my effort is invested in the avoidance of drowning; little energy is left over for propulsion.  The thought of having to battle with hundreds of other participants for space was a scary one (although this was perhaps naïve, and based on watching too many open water events on TV).

As it turned out, it all seemed rather civilised, down to the staggered start, the coloured hats (to tell the athletes apart), and the polite overtaking (requested by a tap on the foot and offered willingly). I found the range of swimming strokes, techniques and speeds reassuring too. You don’t have to be an ex-Olympian to participate (although I’m sure it would help if you were!).

I was particularly heartened by the over-exuberance of some of the participants that resulted in them going out a bit too quickly on the swim. Some were even kind enough to give us a running commentary on their level of fatigue at the end of each length as they struggled to catch their breath and summon the energy for the next 25 metres. I’m sure some people were caught out by false confidence gained from watching too much TV!

imagesINHENCKP

Having selected a triathlon as the target “goal” for this winter’s training, I plan to balance armchair reconnaissance with some solid physical effort, building on the base I’ve built over the past year or so.

With just 10 days to go until the final big event of the summer, Ride the North, it’s exciting to look to the future again and identify some challenging goals. However, first things first…

Cruising

It’s not often that you get a chance to see into the future.  The long term impact of exercise and healthy living can be hard to quantify.  Conversely, it can be hard to understand the potential negative effects of poor life choices.

I have friends whose lifestyles have been heavily influenced by their parents prematurely suffering with poor health.  I am lucky in that my parents and in-laws are all fit and healthy, able to make the most of the opportunities the “Third Age” offers them.  They are reaping the benefits of an active lifestyle in which treats are still considered a treat and excess reserved for special occasions and grand-children.

You could argue that having a Heart Attack should have been enough to open my eyes; after all it could have killed me. To a degree this is correct.  However, death wasn’t necessarily the worst-case scenario, not for me at least.  Long term incapacitation would have been worse, my quality of life could have been compromised, and with it those around me that I care about most.  I was lucky.

Island Escape

The Island Escape… it’s not much but we like to call it home.

I am now four days into my first all-inclusive cruise, and it’s really helped bring things into focus.  A little close personal observation (nosiness!) has provided a unique opportunity to see both the negative impacts and some of the underlying choices that have may have contributed to them.

The passengers on the cruise are a different demographic than on our holidays to date; they are primarily couples and slightly older.  One of the overwhelming features is a lack of mobility; knee bandages and walking sticks are essential travel companions for many.  The general level of fitness appears to be extremely low with some of the physiques having been “carefully nurtured” over an extended period of time.

Even Cardiac Rehabilitation didn’t give me such a powerful insight; I was aware that only a small fraction of people take up the opportunity to participate in rehab.  That means that the majority are either unwilling or unable to attend, presumably choosing instead to rely on medication and / or luck for their recovery and future wellbeing.  I suspect some of the non-participants might also be on-board!

It’s scary… scary for the individuals who seem to be struggling to perform basic everyday activities.*  It’s also scary that until recently I was also on that course.

Fortunately everyone seems to be mobile enough to take full advantage of the “all-inclusive” part of the cruise… if you are unable to carry your plate or glass there always a helpful member of staff to assist.  Ironically, the only constraint I’ve discovered is on the Cardiac Setting in the gym… limited to 5 minutes… for health reasons presumably!

Cardiac Workout (Max)

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* I appreciate not everyone has a completely free choice, but most of us are fortunate enough to have at least some level of influence over our physical well-being even though it may frustratingly diminish over time.  I also appreciate that I am very lucky to have more choice than most having received my “wake up call” so early!

A heart attack waiting to happen?

The driver who collected me from the airport this morning was concerned about his health:

As I got into the car he was connected to someone at his Doctor’s Surgery who informed him that there weren’t any appointments available today. Apparently he had been waiting in a queue for 30 minutes. He seemed slightly disappointed but not surprised.

I don’t know what his symptoms were. Fortunately he didn’t volunteer any details and I didn’t ask. Even I have learned that’s not a question to ask close relatives let alone complete strangers. Given I was in his hands for the duration of my trip to the office, and that we were breathing the same air, I hoped it wasn’t anything too serious!

As he drove however I was treated to a monologue on his general state of health and associated concerns. One of the major factors seemed to be his father having a Heart Attack last year, something I could obviously relate to…

Driving a taxi isn’t the most physically active of jobs. Since he started driving about 18 months ago he has put on a lot of weight. In fact, he said he’s put on over 20 kilos. This seems an awful lot of weight to put on in such a short period; it just goes to show what a combination of negative factors can do for you.

Doritos are his major weakness. He eats two family bags a day; one to pass time while waiting on his car, and one at home as a pre-bedtime snack. He felt that he was “unable to give them up”.

There are plenty of more healthy snacks available!

Eating healthily is a challenge for him. He doesn’t like vegetables. Apparently he’s scared of them. To be more accurate, he’s scared of the idea of the taste of vegetables and therefore doesn’t eat them. As he continued to talk about his fear of vegetables, it transpired that due to this fear, he has only ever tried two types.

To his surprise, he actually liked both of the vegetables he has tried; grilled tomatoes and okra. I would therefore put him in the “likes every vegetable he’s ever tried, but hasn’t tried many” camp.

Over the weekend he had been required to help push a friend’s car. He struggled; feeling generally weak, he tired quickly and it wiped him out for the day. An ex-smoker, he doesn’t do very much exercise. He’s often exhausted after a hard day at work, and tends to relax in front of the TV to unwind.

It is recommended that we do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

As our journey went on the number of risk factors increased. On one level I felt sorry for him as he was obviously worried and is stuck in a rut. Many aspects of his lifestyle are not that different to how mine used to be pre-Heart Attack.

On another level I wanted to shout at him; he seems fully aware of what he’s doing, not doing and the potential risks, but is seemingly unable to do anything about them.

I sincerely hope he does get an appointment with his Doctor, and I hope his Doctor is able to help him get back on track.

For me it served as a reminder of how easy it could be to slip back into bad habits. Any thoughts of skipping a trip to the hotel gym this evening due to fatigue were quickly erased.

 

Dinner suit disaster!

Yesterday we discovered that my wife used to be married to a fat man.  It might sound strange, but it was as much a shock for her as it was for me.

It all happened quite innocently…  a work Dinner Dance offered a rare opportunity to wear my Dinner Suit or, more correctly, one of my Dinner Suits (as I have accumulated several “emergency” suits over the years).

I’ve always thought I looked good in a Dinner Suit too!

I’ve always felt good in a Dinner Suit.  I’ve enjoyed getting dressed up ever since I bought my first one from a Charity Shop to attend my first “Ball” when I was at school.  Yes, it is easy for men; we always get to wear the same outfit, no particular thought is required, and we can accumulate accessories over time.

Generally the key pre-requisites have been to (1) remember to get the suit cleaned after particularly heavy / boisterous nights out and (2) make sure the Dinner Suit is in the right location for the Bash (this has been the primary contributor to me owning multiple suits).  On top of this, there is the concern of whether the suit will still fit – the irregularity that the Dinner Suit is usually donned means it provides a good commentary on the (usually expanding) waistline.

My latest Dinner Suit was my favourite.  A simple, single breasted Ted Baker Suit with a light grey lining.  Nothing special, but it was a good fit and I always felt very comfortable in it.  I looked after it, and it looked after me.

Organised as always, at around midday on the day of the Dinner Dance, I got out my favourite suit for a last minute readiness check.  I knew I had lost some weight but I anticipated a belt or, in the worst case some braces, would be all that was required to make it “fit”.

This used to be a snug fit!

When I tried it on I was shocked!  Louise was shocked!  The suit was HUGE!  How could it ever have fitted me?  It looked absolutely ridiculous!

With growing desperation, I tried on the other suits in the wardrobe… they were all way too big!  Even a made-to-measure suit I had made about 5 years ago, when I thought I was fit was way too big.  A disaster!

It takes a lot to get me to visit a shop, particularly a clothes shop, but even I had to (reluctantly) admit that an emergency visit to the Menswear Shop was required.  Fortunately, thanks to the help of a very understanding Assistant Manager, I found a suit that would meet my immediate need.  It’s not quite my old favourite, but I think he’s history.

Now all that’s left is for me to do is to pluck up the courage to go through the rest of my wardrobe and get rid of the clothes that in all probability I’ll never be able to wear again.  Even packing some of the clothes away “just in case” is too depressing a thought… that would mean all my hard work has been in vain, and wouldn’t augur well for my future health.

Just the three of us

The maintenance work at the Local Pool finished yesterday bringing the week-long closure to an end.  I don’t usually swim on a Saturday, but I was keen to get back in the pool, particularly as we have visitors this weekend and an early morning swim seemed like a good way of getting some exercise without impacting our plans for the day.

Not being a regular on a Saturday, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Given it had been shut all week I assumed the pool be busy.

I arrived to find 6 lanes marked out.  Normally the swimming team would have been using 4 of the lanes but today they were all available to the public.  There were some early comings and goings, but shortly after my arrival there were only three of us in the pool, and it stayed that way for the duration of my session.  What a difference it makes to have a dedicated lane.  A rare luxury.  Bliss!

Sharing a lane can be frustrating!

After the session, one of my fellow swimmers asked me a question:

“What are you training for?”

I thought this was a fantastic question to ask in a Swimming Pool / Gym type setting.  There’s no real downside… if you’re not training for something you’re likely to be pleased that someone considered you might be, and if you are it’s obviously a good conversation starter.

Personally, I was really pleased to be asked.  It’s the first time anyone’s openly mistaken me for someone who’s fit for a long time.  I took it as a sign that I’m making progress.

As it turned out, the chap I was speaking to is training for an Ironman event in South Africa in April next year (2.4 km Swim, 120km Cycle and a 28km Run).  Clearly he has a little more conditioning under his belt than me!

The delights of competitive Open Water Swimming!

I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous.  I suspect I’ll never be in a position to take on such a gruelling challenge.  I’ll continue to set myself challenging goals, but they will always be within the context of my medical history, long term medication, etc.

I was recently asked a question about what I can’t do as a result of my Heart Attack.  The list of things didn’t extend much beyond “some rides at Disney” and “scuba diving”.  I suspect in reality the list is much longer, but I’m not going to add Ironman events to it just yet.  Instead I’ll focus on doing what I can, taking it one step at a time.  Who knows where the journey will end up!

Probably a step too far for me right now!

Make time to play

I think most of us spend much of the day being pushed for time.  As a result, exercise tends to get “fitted in” around the other commitments… a class in the lunch hour, or a run between dropping off / picking up the kids, a pre-work swim.  It’s admirable that so many people keep it up, but I’m sure it didn’t used to be that way.

The pressure’s generally on!

Personally, when I’m under time pressure I will tend to only do what I know.  I repeat exercise routines that have been tried and tested, that I know will get the job done and won’t take too much time.  I’m keen to get the work under my belt and move on.  The problem is, this approach doesn’t allow me to try new things, to practice new techniques, or to have “fun”.

When I was at university we occasionally used to get a day pass to a leisure centre.  The pass allowed us to do everything for the day.  We’d spend hours “playing”… squash, badminton, in the gym and in the pool (actually, not so much in the pool!).  We had mini-leagues and long running grudge matches to keep the interest levels up.  We didn’t ever have an exercise programme, when we were there we just played and the exercise came for free,

It was certainly a different way of approaching exercise than today.  I understand why; We have different levels of responsibility; Time is precious; It’s not all about us; Exercise is a means to an end.  Personally, I think it’s a shame.

The pool I usually swim at is closed for the week for maintenance. As a result, I will spend a little more time at a gym where we’re family members.  Usually I would only visit once every couple of weeks to fit in a weights session around the more focused cycling and swimming routine.

Today I spent an hour in the gym and then hit the pool.  The pool is shorter than my usual one… not idea for swimming distances, but good for practicing turns.  It was also busy… again, not great for swimming long distances, so I also took the opportunity to practice some of the drills and strokes that I’ve been shown at my lessons.  For once I didn’t worry about the effort I was putting in or how my body was reacting – my heart rate wasn’t a concern.

Make time to play in the water!

I enjoyed trying some things out.  I practiced floating… still not close to cracking it, but the drills are getting easier!  I also went back to the breaststroke kick that I’ve been struggling with… I just couldn’t get any “oomph” into it without it twanging the tendons in my legs.  After some playing around, I think I may have discovered the missing ingredient.  It definitely felt like I was being propelled more effectively.  This definitely wouldn’t have happened in my normal pool during a pre-work swim.

I also enjoyed my time in the water.  I ended up being later than I had anticipated, but it was time well spent.  It’s not something I can afford to do every day, but once in a while it’s something I’ll throw into the routine.

I think “making time to play” is something everyone should do from time to time.  Try new exercises or a new class.  Think of it as an investment… learning new things that may become part of your future routine.  If you can, free yourself from your normal constraints and time pressures (even just for a few hours).  You may even enjoy it!

Going solo

This morning I was presented with a dilemma.  Due to a combination of (1) an unexpectedly  heavy night and (2) a communication break down, I found myself all ready to go for a ride but no-one to cycle with.

So far, whenever I’ve cycled on the road I have done so with a wing man to accompany me.  Initially this was as a safety precaution.  Cycling as a pair provided comfort that any unforeseen Heart issues could be attended to quickly, and also meant that I could rely on someone a bit more experienced to help with any more “run of the mill” cycling problems (flat tyres, minor accidents, getting lost, etc.).  It therefore helped build confidence; mine and everyone else’s.

The risks of cycling alone…

Up to this point I have not really considered cycling on the road by myself.  It’s just not been a factor.  This morning I was ready to ride, but alone.  Hence, my dilemma.

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There were plenty of reasons not to head out… besides all the reasons I prefer to cycle with company… it was a bit cold and clouds were gathering (a hint of  snow perhaps?).  There were plenty of flimsy but credible excuses if I wanted one.

Having had one abortive trip already this winter due to cold weather, I now have all the kit necessary to keep me warm. So, the decision came down to whether I was up for it or not.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t that much of a decision.  It turns out that cycling is just something I do now.

So, I headed out.  I followed a route I know well.  I kept my cadence high, gears low.  I stayed well within my physical limits and I had a rest en route.  I returned safely after an uneventful ride, feeling good.  No biggie!

I felt good as I approached the end of my ride!

I feel like I’ve moved beyond the stage where I cycle as part of my Cardiac Rehabilitation.  Now I just cycle.  Of course it’s good for me.  Of course I constantly monitor my Heart Rate to keep in “in the range”.  However, I think I’ve graduated beyond being a Heart Attack Survivor that cycles a bit, to being a “Novice Cyclist”.  A small but significant milestone!