Thursday, August 14, 2008

The beauty of fitness

kw: opinion, personal experience, exercise

Watching the Olympics broadcasts reminded me that nobody can really be ugly who takes care of himself or herself (I'm excluding accidents and deformities here, but even the most stomach-lurching deformity is, to me, along a different dimension than 'beauty-ugliness'). I've felt rather ugly for years, but recently things have changed. Why? I began to get more regular exercise, with results that surprised me.

The portly guy you see feeding ducks in my profile picture—which is more than ten years in the past—settled out by the mid-fifties to 230 lbs (105 kg) at a height of six feet (1.82 m). I was on cholesterol medicine, but not to lower it...I have too little HDL, the "good cholesterol". I am someone who really enjoys a good feed, but the cholesterol medicine, Tricor, made me famished all the time. I was afraid of ballooning even more.

Finally my doctor nagged me enough to make me get off my duff. I knew I could make by blood chemistry better, at the very least, by doing a little exercise. Almost on a dare, about five years ago I walked two miles daily for three months. My blood fats dropped in half and my blood pressure also went down. But it didn't take me long to resume a lifestyle quite a bit more sedentary than average.

Two years ago my wife began going almost daily to an aerobics class at the YMCA. A year ago I said to her, "Sign us both up for full membership. I need to have an incentive (that high monthly dues) to go exercise." I took their beginners' free personal training session to establish a baseline. But I soon established a routine that suits my history. For example, I used to cycle a lot, so I chose a cycle machine rather than an elliptical. I'm not coordinated enough (polio is part of the problem) to work one. They have two types, and I like the one that is more like a recumbent bicycle; I'm rather tired of the racing style of bike, too hard on the back and the knees.

I also began using various weight machines once or twice weekly. At age sixty, it takes a day or two longer to recover from strength training soreness, so the youth's 3-5 times/week regimen is out of the question. Mostly I use a back machine and an abs machine, but I also do upper body workouts at least weekly. I do unweighted squats for my legs, in addition to what the cycle machine does for them.

OK, so what is the outcome? I had blood test results a couple weeks ago at a checkup that amazed me:
  • Triglycerides (fat in the blood) started at ~300. Tricor had lowered the number to ~150. Now it is 80.
  • HDL started at 25 (50+ is best). Tricor raised that number to 35. Exercise without Tricor resulted (so far) in 38. My LDL stayed the same throughout at about 80 (90 or less is best.)
  • My liver enzymes were better. Formerly one was "marginal", indicating minor liver damage and a "fatty liver".
I need to add that I also added a lot of Omega-3 to my diet, which the doctor thinks is partly responsible for some of these results. And what else improved? Well:
  • My weight is steady at 210 lbs (94 kb).
  • I don't puff after a flight of stairs.
  • I used to struggle off the mattress each morning (pathetic!). Now I can sit right up.
  • I can walk rapidly and still talk, so fitness walks with my wife are more enjoyable.
We're still working on walking more times weekly, but the YMCA exercises are doing us both a lot of good.

Such a report needs goals. Mine are modest:
  • Keep it up.
  • Bring walking up to 4-5x weekly.
  • Eat slightly smaller dinners—without changing breakfast and lunch.
  • Aim for a nice, round 200 lbs.
  • Get more sleep (hard to get more than 5h/night at the moment).
I'll see how all this works out over the coming year. Back-to-school week is a good time to reflect and to plan for the year to come.

No comments: