Fitness Quest: September 2017

A busy month for me as it turns out that was pretty good all in all despite getting back some iffy blood tests from my doctor on Monday. Nothing terribly serious, but we’ve got a couple things to watch regarding my liver enzymes as they spiked which is an indication of liver damage which is one of the side effects from my medication. So far no word on an ultra-sound to check things out, so I’ll follow-up. The numbers aren’t very high above the normal range. Everything else was pretty good though except for my iron and vitamin D levels. So back to the supplements. Ugh.

Crohn’s Update: In addition to the above, I’m actually feeling pretty good these days. I have energy it seems – which may be in part to the iron, vitamin B and other supplements. But I’m not complaining. Still not “normal” by most people’s standards, especially in the bathroom if you get my drift, but pretty darn close I think (i.e. no accidents or emergencies in a long time). Met with my new gastroenterologist and like her a lot. Very good doctor/patient rapport and she did her homework on my case before coming seeing me!

Workouts: I got all my weight workouts in despite a tough rehearsal schedule for the show I’m in (It Came from Mars at the Toledo Rep). This included two on Thursday, one before rehearsal in the gym (shoulders and back) and one after rehearsal with my brother-in-law (chest). In the past week I’ve been feeling particularly good. I’m waking up better in the morning and getting my daily push-ups (up to 30 per set) and concentration curls (gotta build that biceps peak) each morning.

Results are coming with my weight training, though slower than I’d like (naturally). My arms – the left one at least – are back over 16 inches cold and I think look a lot better (more defined – they are also harder it seems). Probably more importantly, I’m getting more reps in per set with my bench and increasing weight in other lifts. Not at my strongest yet, but not bad for an old man (8 reps at 225 for three sets currently). The goal is still 25 continuous reps at 225. Getting there slowly – thought my brother-in-law and training partner is getting stronger by the workout lately. 

Speaking of who, he unintentionally provided some big motivation this week. During our Sunday workout it was pretty obvious that he had his “swole” on – as in his short sleeve shirt was stretched to its max. Turns out he’s gone through a recent growth spurt sometime in the last three months, if not in the last couple weeks, especially in his arms and chest.  He now leads our “arms race” by a little more than an inch and is still growing. It’s a mystery to me why after several months of essentially the same workout he grew, though I’ve read somewhere that muscle growth occurs in spurts and isn’t a straight line gain kind of thing. He thinks it’s just from being consistent which is true as we’ve rarely missed a workout in the past year or so, I think maybe he adjusted his diet somehow or perhaps unbeknownst to us he was “belted by gamma rays*” though he isn’t turning green. However, instead of being jealous (okay, maybe a little) as I may have been when we were younger, I’m finding myself motivated to hit it harder in the gym and other workouts to catch up. Or at the very least, not fall farther behind. So even though we shouldn’t judge or compare ourselves to others, a little competition between friends is a great motivator it seems.

 

Cardio: thanks to my sister, I’m really stepping up my step game (pun intended). She’s been pushing a weekly “workweek hustle” on Fitbit and gotten several others to join in. I used to think I walked a lot during the day but now, whew! I’m also working harder to keep up with her.jacobsladder-3-full

Discovered a new cardio device at the College gym called “Jacob’s Ladder” (here’s their website – I’m not reimbursed for this endorsement btw) If you haven’t used one of the things and have the opportunity to do so – DO IT! One of the toughest cardio workouts I’ve ever had and it also works the arms and legs at the same time.

 

Nutrition: I met my protein goals most days this week, thanks to Muscle Milk and protein bars (again, not an endorsement – research all supplements before using). I’m surprised at how difficult this is. Especially without increasing fats, which unfortunately, I have not mastered. However, I have cut down on my carbs including simple sugars considerably. Turns out you can live quite well without french fries. Who knew?

Other Cool Things this Month: got an unexpected and random compliment on my triceps; had a pleasant conversation with a cashier about Fitbits – the young ladies really like the leather band it seems 😉; and had another good conversation about working out in general late in the week with another friend. 

All in all a surprisingly motivating week.

Onward!

*obscure reference to lyrics from a Marvel cartoon show in the 1960s. Bonus points if you know which one and just saying “Hulk” doesn’t count.

More bonus points if you know where the featured image is from.

 

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Fitness Quest: August 2017

I know it’s really September now but I thought I’d add a brief update on my activity in August for those interested (and those who aren’t, I guess).

Nutrition and Weight: Slow and steady seems to be the pattern. I had a couple weeks of no loss, but overall the trend is still downward. The problem is I’m really holding steady for the most part and can’t seem to shake the weight I gained several months back – the penalty of not paying attention to my nutrition for a week. I’m doing better now keeping my carbs under control but am still eating too many fats I think and not enough protein. However, though I’m not lighter, I believe that I’m becoming more defined in my arms, chest and shoulders (thanks to the exercise, more on that below). Always a good sign.

The never ending battle continues.

Exercise: Doing well here. I’m keeping to my weight workouts twice a week – though I need to increase the number of exercises I do I think and add more (i.e. any) leg work. I had an experience climbing a lot of stairs this weekend and it wasn’t pretty. Cardio needs to be increased again, too. This has been put on the back burner as I got my Plantar Fasciitis under control. Foot still hurts but with my shoe inserts it’s bearable. Got nearly 40,000 steps in this weekend already though. So that’s good.

I’m back to morning push-ups (30 now) and some light weight work to help me wake up and start the day energized. And I think this is having a positive effect on my overall physique as I mentioned above. Need to shrink the gut though. Always need to do that. Always…sigh.

Overall: Crohn’s is under control for the most part (maybe three days this past month of bloating and other issues), according to my doctor my blood pressure is good, my heart rate is good, so that’s all good news.

Onward!

Fitness Quest and Crohn’s Update: July 2017

It’s been far too long since my last blog in February when I discovered that I was suffering from DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). The good news is that this issue seems to have cleared up completely – at least that’s the news I expect at my check up next month. My afflicted leg is no longer swollen beyond recognition and doesn’t ache more than the other one. Well, except for a tightness with my “IT Band” (Iliotibial band) which runs from the hip to the shin. This seems to coincide with a flare up of my plantar fasciitis (foot pain) in the other leg so I’ve put my orthotic inserts and bought new shoes. This, along with taking a break from extended walking/running, seems to be helping.

Speaking of running, I once again participated in The Rose Run in Petersburg, MI (my hometown) a 5K to support cancer research – which is also held in Los Angeles in October as well! Anyway, I set the goal of beating my time from last year and I did it! Only by a few seconds, but I was faster than last year. Remarkable because I made many mistakes including:  1) I didn’t train properly or at all and 2) I probably shouldn’t have run given the above mentioned injuries. But, I did it with the encouragement of my niece, who ran with me, and sheer stubbornness.

In Crohn’s news, I have moved to weekly injections of Humira. My doctor felt that my disease was progressing still with the DVT being a symptom of that and that we needed to up the dosage. I think it’s working and have had only one significant flare up since going to the new weekly regimen. Though I keep calling my case “moderate” my gastroenteroligist says I actually have quite a bit of damage regardless of how I feel about it. I think he’s always suprised that I seem to be able to maintain and even gain weight. Again, stubbornness I suppose.

In other news:

Nutrition: Still experimenting with macros and seem to have finally figured out what works best for me as I’ve been losing weight consistently for a few weeks now. Lower carbs, higher protein are working now. Still getting too many fats according to my tracking through MyFitnessPal but I’ll get there. If I can keep avoiding the drive-thru I can better control this.

Workouts: These have been going okay, nothing spectacular. Still kind of looking for the next challenge. I’ve done planking, push-ups, an “arms race” where I competed against a few other guys to see who could put the most size on their arms in a set amount of time (it wasn’t me), my 5Ks, and wall sitting. What’s next? I’ll let you know.

Attitude: Overall, still positive. I do find myself reminding myself of all my blessings more these days – probably middle-age malaise or my general disgust with the state of politics in the USA these days (no politics, stay calm…must control blood pressure).

Onward!

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Fitness Quest: A New Wrinkle and Warning

Those of you who have read my other blog posts know that I have a digestive disorder called Crohn’s. Though my case is well controlled and I’m responding very well to my current treatment (Humira) I’m always at risk of other complications. Well, one of those complications occurred this week and it wasn’t even one I was aware of: Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

DVT is a potentially serious and life threatening condition where, in the simplest terms, a blood clot forms in a vein (usually the leg) and blocks the blood flow. The result is pain and swelling of the limb – yes it hurts. In about 1 in 9 cases, if I’m reading the stats right, the clot will dislocate and move to the lung causing a blockage in the lungs (a pulmonary embolism or PE) and resulting in death. Scary stuff!  And it turns out that having an inflammatory bowel disease – like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis – is a risk factor. Other risk factors are sitting still in one position too long (as in on a jet), a hereditary blood disorder known as “Factor V” which causes blood clots, injury, and others.

The good news is that we caught mine early, I’m on treatment (blood thinners) and there’s a good chance that I’ll get over this without any ill effects whatsoever (there’s also a chance I’ll have post thrombotic syndrome, aka PST, a couple years down the road, but I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it). Only time will tell and it may be as long as 6 months before I’m completely out of the woods.

There’s a lot of information on DVT on the web. Sites I used to gather my information and stats are:

Mayo Clinic
Cleveland Clinic
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
American Society of Hematology

I urge you to check out the facts for yourself and watch for the warning signs. If you have a leg cramp or strain in your leg that won’t go away, notice swelling, get checked soon. I thought my leg pain was just from lifting a heavy object the wrong way and waited almost a week before deciding that something was wrong. If I had been aware of the warning signs I could have started treatment that much earlier (that’s the warning).

In other personal fitness news:

Workouts: mine have been pretty blah since the New Year. Most people get geared up and motivated but for some reason I didn’t. I’m back on track with my weight training again – only upper body for now due to the DVT (and with my doctor’s permission). However walking and running is out of the question until the swelling and pain in my leg start to subside. I did get some good hiking in on a recent trip to Las Vegas and Death Valley recently though before the DVT hit.

Fitness and Nutrition: for whatever reason even with my exercise curtailed and my diet being, shall we say, lax my body fat seems to be decreasing even though my body weight is going up slightly each week. Could be a broken scale, could be that I’m doing something right and perhaps that my low carb, high fat strategy is more effective than I thought.

Well, as always the only direction to go is forward. So I’ll keep on keeping on.

Onward!

P.S. and for those who are not faint of heart, below is a picture of my good leg and afflicted leg side by side.

dvt-022517
Can you guess which leg is swollen? Hint: it’s the one with no definition.

 

Fitness Quest: November 2016

I know that it’s technically December, but I thought if I’m going to keep track of my “Fitness Quest” I should try to update at least monthly. So here’s last month’s progress report (or lack thereof).

Workouts: workouts have been going okay. Nothing spectacular to report in terms of strength or size gains, but also nothing spectacular to report in terms of going back wards either. I’m injury free and getting in some form of exercise everyday.

As my facebook friends know, I’ve been doing a different type of “challenge” for the past three or four months. It started with the “22 Push Ups for 22 Days” challenge that a friend invited me to join to raise awareness for the problem of veteran suicide, then morphed to a 100 push up challenge that I created where a few friends and I worked our way up from the 22 push-ups to being able to do 100 push ups in one session, then it was working up to a four minute plank. Now I’m doing “wall squats” (aka “wall sitting”) and working up to being able to do that for four minutes. This one is pretty tough as it increases by 10 seconds each day. However, it was time to do something for the legs.

I continue my twice a week weight training sessions with my brother-in-law. Though we’re pretty good about doing them, they are feeling a little too routine for me. I’ll be talking to him about upping the weight or varying the reps some to keep it interesting. The good news is that I’m at the very least maintaining strength and think that I’ve gaining based on workouts and measurements (waist is still down, arms and chest are getting larger again).

Nutrition: After it was suggested to me by a new friend, I experimented some with a low-carb, high protein diet last month and unfortunately, moved away from it somewhere around Thanksgiving. Though I liked adding carbs back in (I missed bread of all things) I paid a significant price and my weight jumped back up in pretty short order. So, essentially in terms of overall weight and bodyfat I’m about where I was a year ago. I’m going to double down on this style of diet again – yes, I know it’s the Holiday season – and see if I can make some improvements before the start of the New Year. I’d rather not have to make some drastic unkeepable resolutions like the rest of the world on January 1!

Crohn’s: The good news is that there isn’t any major change in terms of my Crohn’s disease. The Humira seems to still be doing it’s job. I have noticed that as I get within a couple days of my next injection that I start to feel queasy inside again. Not sure if this is a real thing though or a psychosomatic response to knowing that I’m due for an injection. Weather changes seem to be playing a role again this year. We’ve had some dramatic swings in temps (going from 70 degrees to 30 degrees overnight) and such as winter comes on and I felt it inside.

Once again this year I did go to an annual IBD update to learn about the latest research in the area of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (of which Crohn’s is one). As usual, it was very interesting and informative. The main take away is still hang in there. Better treatments are coming soon (as in about 5 years).

Mental Health: Overall, I think I’m still doing pretty well here. I’ve been having some odd “stress dreams” for some reason but not sure why so I’ve given some thought to this. But things are going well with work, I don’t feel over burdened and despite the usual malaise of not being quite where I want to be career-wise I’m employed, have friends and family and overall am in doing pretty well. Heck, I even have a new car that so far is running like a dream so no more “when will it break down” thoughts which were part of my daily life for the last, oh, 3 years or so!

The only real disappointment I had recently were the results of the US election. But, I can rest easy in knowing that whatever happens it’s not my fault! I just keep hoping for the best and expect the worst like a lot of other people and at least the darn commercials have stopped.

Summary: Life is good and the only way to move, as always, is forward.

Onward!

 

 

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Fitness Quest: October 2016

The past three months seem to have been a blur of activity. Which is probably a good thing since it is an indication that I’ve had energy to do things, and given my normal state of anemia (in part due to the Crohn’s) that’s a good thing. One concern I haven’t had is my Crohn’s as that continues to be under control by most accounts. The Humira appears to be doing its job and that’s a very good thing.

Exercise: Since my last update I did complete my personal “100 Push-Up” challenge. A few friends joined me which helped as we kept each other honest. At the end I was able to do 100 Push-Ups in less than three minutes which by most standards is a sign of excellent physical fitness and strength. I noticed huge benefits in a short time just by being consistent with the push-ups. Triceps are larger, arms are “harder” overall and I have definition and size in my chest and delts that I don’t think I’ve ever had (I can now “roll” my pecs which is pretty cool actually). However, in some ways they did take a toll and the last couple days were as much an exercise in mental toughness as physical strength. I took a break this past week and will be putting a lower number of push-ups into my regular routine going forward.

Another thing I discovered with these last two push-up challenges is the support I’d get from friends and family by going “public” (I posted daily on Facebook my progress). I learned that I actually inspired a few others to try and improve their own fitness, and I never thought I’d be a fitness role model, and I didn’t mind the comments about my weight loss and increase in overall “buffness” (the occasional “hey, you’ve got some tricep action going on there” while wearing a long sleeve shirt and “wow, you can tell Dave’s been working out” while wearing a short sleeve shirt and “you lost a lot of weight” from people who haven’t seen me in a while).

The next challenge is going to focus on core strength and tightening up the middle. I may never have a true six-pack but by golly I can have a flat midsection. I’ve also got a side challenge already in the works with another friend who works out but has been lax lately. He was lamenting that his shirt sleeves were getting too loose. So we’re going to see who can put the most size back on his arms by the end of January. Sadly, I’ve got a long way to go to fill out my sleeves again, too!

Weight workouts are going well. We, my brother-in-law and I, got back up to a 250 pound bench press and now backed down to about 180 to focus on increasing reps. I want to start getting some weight training with the legs going again. I just need to figure out how to get this back into my schedule.

Cardio could be better. I haven’t been running but for the most part I’ve been walking and at least getting 10,000 steps in each day. I did participate in a 5K Fun Run/Walk during the annual NACAS Conference and was only a couple minutes off my best time earlier this summer. Not bad considering I hadn’t planned on running at all during it!

Nutrition: Despite my research and trying new things I still struggle with getting the proper nutrition and keeping fat off. Most of this is discipline – I need to stay away from the drive-through – some is lack of planning. I find myself too often not packing lunch or having a dinner plan. I’m starting today to fix this. You can’t control your weight (i.e. bodyfat) without complete control of your diet. Only I can change this.

I had an interesting conversation with a fit young man at the annual NACAS Conference and he suggested I try a “keto” or low-carb diet. This is something I’ve been sort of trying on my own to a small degree anyway, lower carbs and upping the protein, but I also reduced fats which he suggested may be the wrong way to go. I’m doing some research and will be giving a more hard core low carb diet a try this week. Giving up carbs will be difficult – but I’m tired of looking at this belly.

Mental Health: Overall, attitude is good. Like everyone else I do have those moments of doubt and worry. However, in general, life is fairly good. A lot of people have it a lot worse than I do and I do remind myself of that every day. I do need to make time for some regular prayer/meditation however to clear my head at the end of the day (or maybe the beginning).

So, in keeping with accountability, I’ll be posting more often here on my Fitness Quest and hopefully other things as well. Until next time…

Onward!

 

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Fitness Quest: Weight Loss, Running, Weights, and Crohn’s

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new blog so I figured at the very least I should update everyone on my continuing quest for greater fitness as I move through middle age (better than the alternative, right?).

The good news is that there is no news. My Crohn’s has been pretty calm since I’ve started taking Humira several months ago. Sure, I have a grumble here a little constipation and/or diarrhea there but no days long bouts of intense pain and lack of energy and overall “pushing” just to get started for and through the day. I have a CT Scan on Monday and hopefully it will show that there has been no significant progress of the disease putting off the day I’ll need surgery for a little longer.

On a tangent – I attended an IBD Patient Update hosted by the University of Michigan IBD team and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America with participants from Henry Ford Hospitals and Baylor University. A lot of good information from this session. I finally learned that my medicine may costs about $40,000 a year for those who don’t have insurance (yikes!). No cure is on the horizon but several potentially game changing treatments are in clinical trials. It also reaffirmed that given what could have been that I’ve been very, very fortunate with my Crohn’s. It turns out that 44% of patients with Crohn’s have required surgery by 9 years after diagnoses. Me, I’ve gone about 30 so far. Surgery, if it goes well, often does provide relief. But too often it is temporary and then there are a host of potential complications. Most that I don’t even want to think about but may discuss later.

I haven’t been running lately, trying to rest my shins and recondition them before running again. The pain was getting pretty bad. However, I am keeping up with my walking and watching my diet. I need to move from just counting calories to better tracking my “macros” though. I think if I up my nutrition that I’ll make better gains in the weight room and with fat loss.

Speaking of the weight room, it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve started lifting again regularly. I was pretty sore after the first couple workouts but I’m doing better and my lifts are getting heavier. I’m also working out about once a week with my brother-in-law again and he helps to push me simply by staying ahead of me in his bench press. Though this should not stop you from trying. Friendly competition never hurts as long as you don’t get hung up on the fact that some people will always be better than you at something. In fact, I’m still “competing” with a couple friends to see who can do better over the course of time in terms of fitness goals. Celebrate other peoples success and you’ll be happier in the long run (trust me).

So, overall, I’m down in weight about 15 pounds since this time last year. I’m stronger, faster, and feeling pretty good overall. Not where I want to be, who is after all, but getting a little closer each day.

Onward!

Fruits and veggies

Road to Skinniness: The Road Less Traveled

It should not come as a shock to anyone who’s ever known or paid attention to me (or has read this blog) that I’ve had a long time interest in health, fitness, bodybuilding, etc. This interest goes back quite a ways to my first flirtations with the gym and working out in high school, through a more serious attempt during college, up to the current day. Yet, during all this time, even when I was at my strongest and curling more than 100 pounds and benching almost 1.5 times my body weight (when I weighed close to 240) I don’t think there was ever a time you would have called me muscular. Sure, I had big arms and a big chest but I also had (have?) a big butt and big gut to go along with them. In my quest for size and strength I only gave lip service to fat loss. So even though I could bench more than 300 pounds (which is why I’m glad I write down my workouts – it’s hard to believe that I was once capable of this) I couldn’t run around the block without the risk of heart attack. Though my arms taped at just over 17.5 inches in circumference when flexed (4.5 inches more than the “average” man’s) my biceps lacked peak – though my tris were pretty well defined – in short, I was big but not built. I wanted to look like a bodybuilder but I looked more like a Bluto (from the Popeye comic strip).

Over the years I’ve tried a variety of workouts with varying consistency. I always blamed my lack of consistency, genetics and even my Crohn’s for my lack of progress. Well, people with Crohn’s much worse than mine have made better progress (see my earlier blogs on Peter K. Vaughn and Peter Nielsen for examples) and I know men who have made dramatic changes in their physiques in the course of a few months.

Well, today in the grocery store I finally had a revelation. My problem has been in front of my for all these years. Why do I not look the way I want? Because I eat the way I want!

I’ve been told this over the decades by at least two personal trainers (maybe three), a nutritionist, friends, family and God only knows how many books on exercise, weightlifting, diet, and nutrition.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, I’ve already started.

Now that I have my caloric intake under control I need to improve the quality of what goes into my mouth. I loaded up on fresh (or as fresh as we get now days) veggies and fruits. I avoided the sugary treats, and I have enough to last the week. I chose Greek yogurt over regular because it has fewer calories and more protein (need some dairy after all). Tomorrow I plan my meals out so that I’m not caught in a situation where I “have” to go through the drive-thru and I’m taking another look at my supplement plan. Currently, I’m not taking anything except iron and calcium that my doctor prescribed. I’m thinking of adding back in a multi-vitamin and fish oil. Possibly some glucosamine as well for joint health.

I currently feel  better than I have in years so I’m determined not to squander this feeling. I may never lift 350 pounds again (or maybe I will, who knows) but I bet I still have time to see my abs. At least two of them…

Onward!