Fitness Quest: April 2018

Several positive items to report in my renewed quest for fitness since the discovery that I had a heart attack sometime in the past (likely, in my mind at least, in January of 2017).

Mental Health: first and foremost, my mood has improved considerably. Thanks to cardio rehab and the natural adaptation process that we all go through after experiencing major life events I’m happier than I’ve been in a while and am functioning again. At least in my opinion (my friends and co-workers may continue to disagree but that’s their problem). I am looking forward to the future for the most part again and not afraid that each day will be my last – even if it turns out to be.

Physical Health and Exercise: cardio rehab goes well and I’m making progress. I’m biking and walking like I should on days I don’t have rehab – even beating several other “steppers” in my weekly Fitbit step challenge – which I wasn’t doing for a long time. I get through my tap dancing each week without feeling like I’m going to pass out and I’m in general feeling more energetic.

More exciting is that my bodyfat percentage has been on a downward trend for about four weeks now even though my body weight has increased slightly. In bodybuilding this would be known as “making gains.” Not by huge amounts, after all I’m not a newbie or a teenager anymore, but a clear trend. It does mean that I’m not losing fat as is actual goal, but it means that I’m gaining more muscle than fat which isn’t bad either. Especially for someone who is in late middle-age (unless I live to be 130).

Last month I mentioned I was being tested for asthma and the good news is that my lungs are “normal” and have no obstructions. Something is still going on with my breathing though and my gastroenterologist has put me on iron thinking that my anemia could be contributing to the issue.

I do have sleep apnea, both obstructive and central, for which I’ll be getting a CPAP machine for this coming week (I hope). I have one more night of testing with various devices to see which will work best for me.

Crohn’s: speaking of gastroenterology, we’ve decided that my Humira may not be doing the best job for me. So we are switching things up and I’m going to Entyvio. The plus side of this is that I only get an infusion every 8 weeks (at home) instead of a weekly injection. I’ll be blogging more on this as treatments begin.

Nutrition: here’s the hard part. I’ve discovered something that I probably should have known all along. Sugar is bad for you. At least added sugar is. And like sodium, the stuff is everywhere. According to the American Heart Association men should restrict their added sugar levels to just 9 teaspoons a day (4 grams = 1 teaspoon) and women only 6 teaspoons. This means that if you have one 12 ounce can of pop a day, non-diet variety,  you’ve gone over your limit. Not to mention the mega servings most of us consume! I drink the diet stuff so that’s not a source of sugar for me, but my sweet tooth may literally be the death of me. Especially when you consider that sugar has inflammatory properties – which can aggravate my Crohn’s, which may have caused my heart attack in the first place!

Overall: I’m doing as well as can be expected and maybe a little better even. I thank God for each day I’m given and that I’m not worse off.

It’s an old saying but true: it could be worse. Oh well, it’s back to the grocery store I go!

Onward!

Mediterranean Diet

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Sodium, Sodium Everywhere and Not a Bite to Eat

Question: which do you think has less sodium, a medium order of McDonald’s French Fries or a small salad?

Answer: It depends. Are you going to put dressing on that salad? If so, the fries win. In fact, the fries win even if you go up to large size and small fries can win if you are looking at overall fats, too!

Surprised? Don’t be. Since discovering that I had a heart attack sometime in the past, I’ve been working harder than ever to get my diet in line. I was already doing pretty good in keeping my fats low and started cooking for myself and am getting a little more “Mediterranean” in my eating and food choices each week (more fish, more veggies, less sugar). So, I thought it was time to take the next step and reduce my sodium intake.

Ha!

I now understand the trials and tribulations of people with high blood pressure. Sodium is in everything that is even slightly processed. Fast food, sit down restaurants, frozen food, soups, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables (but not always), baked goods, lunch meat, you name it and I bet it’s got more sodium than you would think.

Fat free means “added salt.” Pizzas should be called sodium pies. Surprisingly, things that taste salty, like potato chips, may have less sodium than a small can of spring peas.

According to the American Heart Association we should be eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, 1,500 if you have high blood pressure. But, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg each day (more at the AHA website)! And I know from MyFitnessPal that I’m somewhere north of that figure on any given day. How much is 2,300 mg of sodium? About 1 teaspoon of salt per day.

Now in my case, I do not have high blood pressure and my heart attack does not appear to have been caused due to any dietary issues (arteries, with the exception of the one where the damage occurred are clear and “beautiful” according to my cardiologist). It’s likely, in fact, that the heart attack occurred due to my Crohn’s. And, I could choose to side with some of the research out there which suggests that if you don’t have high blood pressure sodium intake isn’t really an issue. However, with one big strike against me, I don’t think I should risk a second. So, I’m going to keep doing my best to get my diet in line and that means lowering my sodium intake.

Now should we talk about the amount of potassium in salt substitutes and the effect that has on someone taking ACE inhibitors?

The struggle continues.

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: 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!

 

Fitness Quest and Crohn’s Update: July 2016

Wow! I knew I hadn’t been blogging for a while but I didn’t realize it’s been 3 months. I’ve been busy I guess but I haven’t forgotten my fitness goals and efforts. So, here’s the update for those interested:

Crohn’s – doing well. The Humira treatment seems to continue to work. I wouldn’t call what I’m experiencing full remission, but it’s close. I’ve had a few “queasy” days this summer but nothing major to keep me off work or anything. I’m due for another round of testing/scanning/probing this fall and I expect that I’ll here that my condition remains essentially unchanged from last year. Which would be the best news I could expect (the damage can’t be undone, but if further damage is prevented that’s all I need to keep avoiding surgery).

Fitness: I did pretty well again, for me, with the Rose Run 5K that I’ve been participating in. I beat my time from last year thanks in large part to the urging and support of my niece who ran with me. So this is the third straight year of doing better than the year before! My new goal is to get below a 30 minute 5K. I came in 4th in my age group with 5 behind me by the way. My official time was 41:55 and I’m several minutes faster than when I started 5 years ago. Not a huge change, but a positive one. Especially given how little I actually train for it.

I’ve been keeping up with my weight workouts with my brother-in-law. The weight is going up, my body weight is going down (usually), my waist is shrinking and my biceps are growing. Things are on track in this area.

I participated in a “22 Push Ups for 22 Days” to raise awareness of Veteran Suicide. On average, 22 vets in the USA commit suicide each day. This was a pure awareness campaign but I thought an important one. Plus, doing the push ups each day really seemed to up my feeling of well-being each day. I’m continuing to do them even though the challenge is over. I’m planning to work my way to 100 per day (in one set) by the end of the year.

Mountain Climbing: as a benefit of my increased fitness I took on the challenge of climbing the 2nd highest mountain in the contiguous USA (Mt. Elbert) when visiting Colorado this summer. Unfortunately, I only made it to 13,000 feet and was about 1,400 vertical feet short of the summit. It was a fun day nonetheless with a couple cousins who live in Colorado (they made the summit). The thin air was too much for me – or rather not enough for me. Next time, I acclimate at a higher elevation for several days. Next goal though is to fail to summit the highest point in the contiguous USA – Mt. Whitney in California.

Nutrition: as mentioned earlier, my weight has been decreasing. But, in my continuing quest to build muscle while losing fat I’ve been experimenting with my diet. My most recent experiment was to reduce my carbs significantly and increase my protein. There have been some conflicting studies on the effectiveness of this. But, I’ve known a couple people who really dropped the weight while doing this and my limited experience so far is that it does work. I’m still playing with how to add some carbs back in occasionally, since they have a place in the overall healthy diet and maintaining daily “energy,” so more on this later.

Mental Health: overall, I’m still a happy and positive person. Sure, I have my moments like everyone else, but I don’t have much to complain about. My “new” job is going well with supportive co-workers and supervisors, my friends are few but close, my family closer and my faith is strong. The only thing that threatens my well-being right now is the back and forth bickering on Facebook concerning the presidential campaign. Just a few more months…

So, overall things are good. I feel healthy, I look healthier, and I’m more active than I’ve been in a long time. Old age is still creeping up on me (I notice more daily aches and pains) but I’m putting it off as long as I can and hope you will do the same.

Onward!

 

Peter N. Nielsen – Profile in Crohn’s Courage

To close out Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness week, I’d like to mention another person who serves as an inspiration to me as I learned (and continue to learn) how to live with my Crohn’s even though I’ve never met him: Peter N. Nielsen.

I was already somewhat aware of Peter the day that I  browsing through the Border’s in downtown Ann Arbor sometime in the mid-nineties, I had seen him on television with the local NBC affiliate with who he had a regular fitness segment on the news, when I discovered his book “Will of Iron – A Champion’s Journey.” I picked it up because I wondered why I should be interested in his story. Sure, he was clearly fit and a former champion bodybuilder but he was not Arnold or Big Lou. But after a quick look at the book’s cover I discovered that like me, he had Crohn’s – but he sure didn’t look like me. I bought the book and quickly learned of his life story.

He was formally diagnosed with Crohn’s at the age of 15 after being small and sickly most of his life. Shortly after his diagnosis he had surgery to remove a portion of his colon (he has had several more surgeries since then and possibly more) and after the surgery his doctor suggested to his parents that he needed to gain some weight so why don’t they get him a weight set. Well, his dad did and the next thing you know his life was changed.

In his book, Peter explains that he did not think he would become a bodybuilder or be a celebrated trainer – this was the late seventies after all and such lifestyles were still looked upon with suspicion, but that weight set changed a lot of things. Slowly, other influences crept into his life. First, he lived in Brooklyn, NY just a couple miles away from were Lou Ferrigno, already a neighbor “legend” and about to become more so as the “Hulk,” grew up. A cousin who played football at Boston College who was also an avid weightlifter left some “muscle mags” around the house and Peter would find them and at first laugh at why anyone would do that to themselves, let alone get on stage all oiled up. Then he took a weight training class in his last year of high school and he admits that he didn’t try to hard. Illness forced him back to the hospital though and when he got out he made a decision to build himself back to “normal.” He began working out in small basement of the apartment building his family lived in. The bug had bit and soon, he built himself back to normal and then some!

Peter went on to become a successful competitive bodybuilder and after dabbling in that lifestyle for sometime he made the decision to move to the Detroit area and through hard work and dedication found himself as a local fitness celebrity and inspiration to many people, including myself.

Peter has quite a web presence and can tell his story better than I can. If you’d like to learn more about this remarkable man his web site is: http://petersprinciples.com/home/

 

 

Early Inspirations

Even though I’ve obviously never been a serious bodybuilder/weightlifter, for as long as I can remember I’ve had an interest in the sport. Though there are those who don’t really think it’s a sport. But at the very least it’s a competition, albeit a subjective one from a judging point of view. Much like boxing is when I come to think of it (barring a KO). I’ll call it a sport anyway as it is a competition, it does involve training and much like professional football and baseball they like to pretend that there is no steroid use or abuse (“no, really, I just naturally have 23″ arms and can bench press a Ford F-150 judge…”). But, I digress…

As I was saying I’ve always had an interest and I must say it was this interest that first led me to pick up a weight in my teen years when my father one day bought a weight set (I suspect that he was a bit of a frustrated bodybuilder himself looking back on it). That and the fact that I never really identified with the “jocks” in high school and was actually afraid to work out with them. Of course, back then weight lifting was not really advocated by the coaches, especially for those of us on the track team who were not in the strength related field events (i.e. shot put). Also, my high school was not well equipped in the weight room department. I remember we had one Universal Lifting machine in a small store room just off the gym near the custodian’s office. It was tough in those days. Today, by comparison, I understand that the weight room at my old high school takes up what used to be the entire wood shop. But, again, I digress…

Anyway, I’ve often wondered if my interest stemmed from my early reading of comic books (back in the sixties kids actually read comic books, today it’s mostly 20-40 year olds). But not because comics were filled with hyper-muscled heros (and women very blessed by mother nature by the way, but not as well endowed as many of today’s super-heroines), but because of the ads that filled the pages of every book.

You see, I think Charles Atlas, Joe Weider, and other gurus of bodybuilding understood that the boys reading comic books were the boys who would become the teens who would want, nay yearn, for their products with the promise of building muscle, defeating the bully, and getting the girl. And, they were right. While much of the public at the time saw bodybuilders as oddities or worse yet, freaks, the men who sold muscle building “systems” knew that behind every skinny kid lived a super-hero waiting to get out.

Well, it worked for me…but not completely. Though I have always had an interest and have tinkered with weights – getting serious about it here and there (see my earlier post on bench pressing) – my true love revealed herself later. Yes, I’m talking about theatre and let me tell you, theatre is a demanding mistress (or mister if you prefer). Takes a lot of time and effort, more so than most people think. And let’s not even talk about work and other life commitments! Okay, excuses all, but I’m sticking with it. We all make priorities in life and somewhere along the line bodybuilding for me fell to the middle of the priority list (at least not to the bottom as it clearly has for so many Americans).

I’d be interested to hear about other people’s early bodybuilding inspirations and/or stories. I’d even like to hear about comic books and theatre too!

Onward!

Dave Draper ad for Joe Weider
I remember this ad clearly. Dave Draper in the sixties was something to behold. He is still an active bodybuilder today and still sports those impressive arms.
Arnold Schwarzenegger early ad for Joe Weider
When I first saw this ad I wanted those wrist weights. I thought for sure I’d look just like Arnold even though I was only eight or so at the time!
Early Charles Atlas Ad
Don’t we all know about the “Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac” the original bodybuilding ad.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Betty Weider in a Joe Weider ad
Picking up women was a strong theme in these ads. FYI I believe that the lovely young women who Arnold is holding up is Betty Weider, Joe’s wife.