Monday, March 31, 2008

Rest, Nutrition and Exercise

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the relationship between rest, nutrition and exercise. Getting the balance just right between these important components of a healthy lifestyle is more difficult than it first appears. The balance is even more difficult for those advancing in years as younger bodies have considerably more flexibility and bounce back than older bodies do. The story is further complicated if your intention is to lose weight simultaneously with gaining strength and stamina.

There is considerable risk of doing some damage by over-doing the dieting and exercise that could lead to the complete opposite result of what was intended. Yet how to tell if one has done too much or eaten too little?

Listen to your body is what I recommend. If you exercise hard one morning and during the following hours you feel energized and slightly euphoric and possibly a little smug that everything is going well you have the mix just right. Post exercise feelings are the most important indicators of overall health and fitness. If on the other hand you found it difficult to complete your routine and the routine was just a normal routine for you then your body is telling you something. Either you are not getting enough nutrition or more rest between exercise intervals is required or both. During the day you may feel tired and a little sore. If this happens step up the eating a little with more healthy and energy giving foods. Take a two or three day break from exercise or just do a bit of mild exercise like walking or easy cycling.

Ignoring this advice may lead to feelings similar to flu where the body temperature rises, heart beat increase and you generally feel lousy. This is not a good place for the Active Survivalist to be. Full marks for pushing yourself to the limit but it is important to recognise that the limit has been reached and the time has come to back off. Now is the time to focus on getting enough sleep and possibly over eating a little on the best and most nutritious food you can lay your hands on. Take the opportunity to exercise the mind a little instead of doing that cardio. Reflect on your exercise routine and try to restore the balance.

The objective is to get that feeling back of post exercise energisation. Staying in this zone is all-important because it feels great and your body is getting the most benefit. It will also encourage you to stay fit and well. It will be almost impossible to stay in this zone and over doing it will be inevitable if you are dedicated to the program. The good news is that your body will tell you when things have gone too far. You just have to listen.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Fat Gut and Dementia?

A new study published in the journal Neurology reveals the following:

The study involved 6,583 men and women who were ages 40 to 45 when they had checkups between 1964 and 1973. As part of the exam, their belly size was measured by using a caliper to find the distance between their backs and the surface of their upper abdomens. For the study, a distance of about 10 inches or more was considered high.
The researchers checked medical records to see who had developed Alzheimer's or another form of dementia by an average of 36 years later. At that point the participants were ages 73 to 87. There were 1,049 cases.
Analysis found that compared to people in the study with normal body weight and a low belly measurement:
_ Participants with normal body weight and high belly measurements were 89 percent more likely to have dementia.
_ Overweight people were 82 percent more likely if they had a low belly measurement, but more than twice as likely if they had a high belly measurement.
_ Obese people were 81 percent more likely if they had a low belly measurement, but more than three times as likely if they had a high measurement.

It's not conclusive but why look silly and take the risk of being demented as well?

Just for the record, I am 48 with a measurement of seven inches. At my largest I would guess I was around 11 inches. A fat belly can be reduced. One thing to remember about a fat belly is that a lot of fat can build up under the abdominal muscle layer. This is the strangling fat I have mentioned before that pushes the abdomen out and envelops the vital organs.

What shocked me the most about this study was the high number of people as a percentage of the group that suffered from dementia. It's made me think that I will have to concentrate more on mental exercises and other things to keep myself functional. It seems that staving off dementia may be more challenging than just keeping physically fit and will require a multi-disciplined approach.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Active Survival – What is it?

I was talking to a morbidly obese man at work one day about diets and he mentioned a diet called the Warrior Diet. It sounded interesting so I decided to research it a little. The designer of the Warrior Diet, Ori Hofmekler wrote,” Not actively surviving is passively dying” and this statement impressed me. Exercising and eating well is actively doing something about the state of your health. If you don’t exercise, your muscles are wasting away and your cardio-vascular system is deteriorating. Fat is building up, trying to strangle your internal organs – you are passively dying. You are lying about doing nothing to stop it. The challenge is on to fight back and actually improve the body and mind as we age.

I decided to take the concept a little further and develop the idea of the Active Survivalist. This is someone who is interested in surviving as long as possible and in the best condition as possible. The last part is important as no one particularly wants to live a very long time in a decrepit and miserable state. So the intention is to expand the middle years – basically have middle age extend beyond the sixties and into the eighties and nineties. It will be no good to enter the eighties in an overweight and feeble state. If that happens you may well live to be a hundred but you are just passively making it through with a considerable loss of enjoyment of life and prone to more disease and discomfort. You will also be more reliant on those around you to nurse and care for you. People have successfully got to their eighties and nineties and managed to remain independent and active - the Active Survivalist consciously aims to achieve this.

The Active Survivalist is also interested in any technology that prolongs the human life beyond the natural. Why not remain active well beyond a hundred? Currently it seems a difficult challenge yet new discoveries that enhance longevity may be just around the corner. The Active Survivalist is training for the day when some genetic engineering marvel arrives on the scene and saves the day. You will have a much better chance of taking advantage of these discoveries and inventions if you are in good shape. Imagine a new ‘elixir of youth’ drug becoming available yet you are no longer in a position to benefit from it because your body has gone beyond repair? How sad that would be.

Aside from the possibility of living forever it feels good to be fit and slim no matter what age you are. Largely it is a matter of developing the right habits and over time it becomes very easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There really is no excuse for someone to let himself or herself go and become a burden on all those around them.
Your body and mind are the most precious things you possess. A healthy body is worth an incalculable amount and it is a true under statement to say that it is worth preserving. Preserve it at all costs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Caffeine and Other Drugs

A while ago someone told me that if you stopped drinking coffee you would find that you had more energy and that your life would be transformed. I took this onboard and gave up coffee and any other caffeinated drinks. My abstinence lasted about a year and I can faithfully report that my general well-being was unaffected which was quite disappointing. I was eagerly awaiting transformation - maybe it was a bit like the time I took St John's Wort hoping for a miracle when a colleague pointed out that you actually have to be suffering from depression for an anti-depressant to show results. What I can report is that first coffee after a year had a terrific enlivening effect – I wondered why I had gone without for so long. Whoever suggested that coffee was bad for you was a complete party pooper. Indeed I can’t think of another readily available drug that is so useful for the Active Survivalist.

I always drink a couple of cups of coffee before exercise and recommend that others do so as well. It appears that there are no bad things to say about coffee. It increases endurance, may fight cancer, may delay Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and tastes good too. Sure you can drink too much coffee and feel a bit jittery. I tried this just the other day as an experiment, drinking about eight cups in a morning and can report that this is probably not a good idea. There’s no sense in over doing it as caffeine will reduce in effectiveness if too much is taken. The connection to Parkinson’s seems quite compelling and this alone seems enough reason to imbibe regularly.

The all good news about coffee has led me to think more about the possibility of other drugs being beneficial to the Active Survivalist. Resveratrol and Glucosamine look like promising substances too. Possibly green tea too which I have started to take daily.

The links in red above are worth the time to follow - who'd have thought that mice get Alzheimer's? Transgenic mice, half mouse half man...coool. Active Survivalists should have a bit of mad scientist in them. After all there is only so much healthy eating and exercise can acheive. To push the human life span beyond what it is now will require some extreme measures.
In case you were wondering the above brain images are those of a healthy patient and one suffering from Alzheimer's.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mental Fitness

As one ages it is often perceived that the mind becomes less sharp. Concentration is not as good and reaction times have reduced. I suspect that we become a little hard on ourselves, interpreting a momentary lapse in memory as early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia. What good would a fine body be if the brain was totally shot? So we fear the breakdown of mental faculties more than we fear the aging of our bodies. Yet I remember making an awful lot of dumb mistakes when I was younger – the most spectacular being while on a first date, thinking that the play, Fiddler on the Roof, was finished when it was only half time. Needless to say that was the first and only date with that particular young lady. I saw her a few years later and she had put on a spectacular amount of weight on her thighs making her look extremely odd. It was a super dumb mistake but then maybe it was for the best - I am just sooo shallow. Yet I didn’t put this faux pas down to mental illness or even think it was that bad a mistake at the time – I remember thinking for a short time that I still had a chance with her – how retarded is that? I’m sure I would not make this mistake today so people probably improve with age. The older brain does have some advantages over the younger one. It might not be as quick but it is generally wiser and mellower. It is not so susceptible to boredom as it doesn’t perceive the passing of time quite the same. In some ways this is an advantage because it makes tedious cardio workouts quite a bit more bearable. I remember when I first started jogging when I was in my early twenties that the first mile was almost unbearably long yet now it seems very little and is over in no time. These days I have to think about reducing my cardio workouts.

Nevertheless it seems that the brain should be exercised along with the body. It makes sense that mental faculties could diminish with lack of use much like every other part of our bodies. When I started studying for exams again a good fifteen years after having sat the last one it seemed impossible. My mind was just useless for any sort of learning. Yet after a bit of perseverance and especially after a successful exam pass I soon got back into it and succeeded spectacularly. I noticed that my alertness improved. I could remember things a lot more easily and found study to be a useful exercise for many other aspects of my life.