Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What I Have Learned

I have no great wisdom since I turned 65 in 2014, but I have learned a few things going forward in life. Not big things, but important things I see in older people. And I'm not perfect with practicing them, and have to constantly remind myself to follow my own advice, but it's what I know.

First, since pinching my Sciatic nerve in July 2012 and starting walking two months later when the body and legs accommodated it, I've learned a simple rule, use your body. As much as you can, push it, even if it hurts the next morning.

Your body is the old adage about use it or lose it, and it's especially important as you get past 60 and more so past 70. It's easy to be lazy. You have to be conscious to not to be. It's a constant fight you wage against yourself and time.

For example, when you stand, stand. Don't lean against something, like the kitchen counter when working in the sink or on the counter. Put space between your body and the counter or sink. When you pick something up from the floor, squat. Use you legs to to move you up and down.

Don't use a prop to help you get down or up, if possible, use your balance and legs. Do this everytime. It's the practice but also the exercise for your whole body. When you get up, use your legs without using something to pull you up, even your arms, unless you need to, but learn to do without anything but your legs.

Second, walk. And walk a lot. I walk 6 miles days 20-24 days a month, down from 8 miles for medical reasons, but I plan to get back to 7-8 miles this summer, if I can and they resolve the medical issue. I also park far away from stores in their lots, which isn't a lot of walking, but it adds up.

The goal since 2012 has been to get back to hiking, and while I've worked to be fit again, I've frequently run into health issues which sometimes sets back my progress or slows it with physical problems. The problem is that all the medical science and professionals haven't found what's causing the latest problem, which is (my guess) a low grade bacterial infection, but that's another story.

When I go to Seattle I park in one specific lot close to the Interstate and walk everywhere I go downtown. When I'm home I often stop by stores on my walks home to carry stuff in the backpack or grocery bag. I'm still limited by the weight but it's enough.

Third, read newspapers. Some years ago researchers discovered one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp in old age, read newspapers. They engage you to read, to learn (Google and Wikipedia are  great tools when reading to learn more about places, people, events, issues, etc.).

Newspapers teach you about the world, the issues, the people, the events, etc. and engages your mind to learn more and see the greater scheme of life and the world we all live in. It teaches you about other cultures, governments, people, which are far more diverse than your immediate world.

I read 3 newspapers a day (NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal) and often read the previous day's newspapers in the recycle bin at Starbucks, such as the USA Today, and Seattle or Tacoma newspapers. I also subscribe to the Chrisitan Science Monitor Daily Briefing and Weekly magazine, which is great for positive news stories.

Fourth, find something you're passionate about to last the rest of your life and then some. Make it so you'll never run out of stuff to do and will die with a long todo list. Mine is photography and Mt. Rainier National Park. Make sure it's something you can do everyday of the year.

Fifth, listen to music. Not just the music of your generation and genre, but music, all genres and world music, all music. Just listen if only once to hear it. You'll find a lot of music you like you didn't even know before.

It doesn't mean you'll like it, and probably won't, but you'll have listen to know why than say you don't like it without knowing about it or hearing it. But more so listen to music from the all the countries, from their traditional music to the latest.

A good place to start is Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. Another is iTunes new music. Listen to the minute and half samples if not the whole songs and album, at least once. There are other on-line stores for music similar to iTunes. There are Website for artists. Give them a listen.

You don't have to learn the language but you can catch the tune enough to know, and there Websites for lyrics you can translate, but I focus on the music where the lyrics are just part of it than knowing specifically what they're singing.

When you read about a musician, especially from another country, read about them, hear the music they produced, learn about their music. You'll be surprised music is part of the history and culture of countries, just like the U.S.

Sixth, be a kid, if only to learn new things to realize it doesn't interest you. Find what small things interests you to just know, such as the native trees and plants where you live, the local birds through the season to notice their departure and/or arrival. Things which makes you keep asking and exploring.

Seventh, expand your world. Don't stay within your world, such as your faith. Read about other religions and faiths, if only to understand the basics of them, so you're not having opinions out of ignorance. Don't be mentally blind.

Start a blog. Write stories, opinions (reseached of course), whatever. Find one or a few social media sites and visit a variety of others' Web pages. I like Tumblr, but Pininterest, Facebook, etc. are good ones. Read the young generations' Websites there.

They will show you what the young people of the world are doing, thinking, writing, etc. Follow people in a range of interests, but especially include travel. See the world, see the peole, especially the young people, around the world.

Last, and something I learned from watching my father in his later years, keep the number of prescription drugs you have to take to a minimum, and think hard about those you do take, weighing the advantages versus the side effects.

My Dad at one time was taking 11 drugs, just over half to treat the side effects of the other drugs. I won't argue, I'm lucky to have a good, strong heart and a blood pressure at the low end of normal. But I have a block pulmonary artery (~15% blockage), but I've learned my body has adapted and adjusted to it and I've learned how to live with it.

I do have high cholesterol, and after trying statin drugs and health supplements to help, I can't tolerate any of them, and all the excercise and activity barely brings the bad cholesterol under the upper limit. But the good cholesterol has always been well above normal, along with other factors which makes drugs a choice than a requirement.

I also have Dysthymia, genetic, lifelong condition (runs in family), and occasionally worsens to low grade depression, but I've learned to recognize the symptoms and learned ways to, as they say, tread mental water through the episodes. It hasn't always been 100% successful, but the episodes always faded with time.

But most of all I haven't taken drugs for it. Years ago the psychiatrist who diagnosed me didn't recommend them then, and one of late still doesn't unless the worse episodes get longer, but even she cautioned against them for the side effects which are often potentially worse than the treatment.

In short, expand your world to the whole world. And above all else, don't stop living. It doesn't have to be 7 days a week, take mental vacations, but keep going back. See the world beyond the horizon.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Weight and Fat

The original purpose and reason to start walkng back in September 2012 was to recover from a pinched Sciatic nerve in July which left me flat on my back for most of a week and unable to sit, stand or walk for very long for a month.

I spent that August walking short distances and recovering, before starting 2-3 miles walks. The back specialist then said surgery wasn't an option, which he didnt' recommend anyway as the relief from most surgeries are short-lived and leave a lifetime of lingering effects on the vertebra.

I've since had a MRI on the lower back in May 2015 (first in July 2012) and the (different) back specialist (specializing in sports injuries and the like) found more degeneration of the lower vertebra, normal for an aging back, but found the compression to have improved, still there but far less.

The fact then I had no pain was a surprise but attributed to the walking. But that's not the point with this post. It's about losing weight and fat. In July 2012 I weighed around 190 lbs, and for a 5' 9", early 60's man, you can imagine it was a lot of "extra" weight, aka fat.

At the time I didn't realize I had gained so much weight and fat. In June of 2006 I weighed about 155 lbs. I was running 15-20 miles a week and hiking 1-2 weekends a month. But then I reduced the running and hiking while taking some medicine for a medical condition.

The combination of the two lead to the weight gain. I had a clue of somehing wrong with the Sciatic nerve in June 2011 with my left leg went numb for 6 weeks. I had enough feeling to walk but not much else, but it went away and life continued.

So when I started walking I had no idea how much weight and fat I could lose or how fast it would be since all I was doing was walking. I stopped training with free weights for fear of hurting the back. But over time I noticed I was losing weight, so I upped the miles to 8 per day, 20+ days a month.

It wasn't until I reached 160 lbs I really noticed the differences in the body, mostly losing fat. This is where it started being interesting how and where on my body I lost fat. It's nothing as they advertise or write about losing fat with this or that training method or device.

In fact, quite the opposite. I lost most of the initial fat from the intramusclar and outer (skin) fat in the legs since that's the muscles walking uses. But then I started to lose fat around the body, such as the arms, hips, etc. everywhere except the chest and abdomen.

I learned the last place I lose fat is the chest and stomach, and even that's been uneven at best. When I thought I had lost most of, if not all, of the fat in the legs and around the body last year, I began to lose the fat around the waist (top of hip bones) and the chest and abdomen.

Until I got to about 145-150 lbs when I started losing fat in the legs and around the body again. Not fat I regained but fat that was still there. Not a lot, but enough to be obvious there was fat there before and not there now.

This has left most of the fat left on the chest and abdomen, and it's begun to come down again, but not very fast for two reasons, one obvious and one I learned of late. The first is the simple fact, I'm walking less miles per trip and less miles every month, so the distance isn't there to lose more.

Second is that with less weight it takes fewer calories to walk the same distance even at the same pace (14-15 minute per mile pace). So I'm not burning enough calories every trip and every month to keep the pace of weight and fat loss as before.

While some some would argue I can increase the weight I carry in the backpack, which is the plan for this summer, to add 5-10 lbs (free weights or water) or add miles to the trips. For now, both aren't possible with some health issues which allows me just enough to walk 6 miles with 10-15 lbs in the backpack.

The third is that I've learned that my metabolic rate has likely dropped due to the lower weight and better fitness level. This means the body needs fewer calories to work. This includes the basal (rest) metabolic rate (BMR), so overall I'm burning fewer calories, less coming from the fat I still carry.

This means after getting to near 140 lbs, it will take a lot more trips and miles to lose the last 5-7+ lbs of fat I want to lose. In additon, I'm also battling my genes. Yes, those pesking things which determines how much and the distribution of fat your body wants to normally carry.

Research has established it's easy to get to your "normal" body fat and weight level, but it's harder to get below it, so you have to exercise more or harder for each pound than being above your normal body weight and fat level. It's also easier to regain the weight and fat if you stop or don't keep the pace for losing it.

When you pair your genes and physiology losing weight and fat below the normal level takes a lot more work and/or time. This is showing as the rate of weight and fat lose in the last year, and especially this year, has slowed taking more miles per pound.

And almost all the rest of the remaining fat is on the chest and abdomen, the most visible part of me, or anyone for that matter, so it's my goal for the summer to work on that by my 67th birthday in the fall, to lose most of, if not all, of the remaining weight and fat.

I'm not focusing on the weight specifically, that's the result of losing the fat, so focusing on losing the fat will lose the weight. I plan to use walking trips in May to test the body for the summer walks here. But I know when I get there I can't let up, or my genes and body will simply add it all back.

So I also have to plan for the longer term trips and walks to keep the fat off and the weight where I want to be. It's been surprising as I've gotten to 140-142 lbs, how good overall I feel. The goal is to be  135-138 lbs which should keep the fat to the minimum and be able to manage any fat or weight gains.

And that's the last issue against the effort, simple age. The older you get past 60, the harder it takes to stay fit. The weight will take care of itself, I fight to fight my body just aging now on top of the rest of the issues against me.

In the end, it really just boils down to one thing, said by the back specialist, "Just get your ass out there and walk as far as you can as often as you can, and add a backpack and weight when you can." That I can do and keep doing.