The more your spirit lives in a culture, the more you get what you pay for. After all, the culture has evolved, or perhaps been manufactured, to satisfy people just like you. Blessed are the average amongst us. Maybe your accepted culture has you salivating over a delicious dinner photographed on the plastic packet of a snap frozen supermarket meal. You will microwave the dubious mess inside the packet and suck it up. By the time you suck it up, your mind is on TV football or a soapy anyway. Such is one kind of happiness. If your culture is a millennium old and tells you that meat (or whatever) is unclean, you will smother some overcooked vegetables in curry and wash them down with a litre of Coca Cola to prove that you are up with the times. Such is progress.
These notes on exercise and diet have not been written for average people in any known culture. ‘Culture’ is shorthand for a rough consensus on the grab-bag of events, habits, attitudes and actions that make up daily living. Once you start to ask questions about any of this stuff, you are stepping outside of the consensus. You are no longer average. You are alone in the big bad world, and there is nothing heroic about it because probably there is no one there to clap. So these notes are about non-average survival, specifically my own. Take what looks useful, ignore the rest.
I was born more or less born outside of much cultural consensus – a story too long to go into here – have never been on anyone’s dinner party A-list, have neither a fortune nor a family to lose, and perhaps only the neighbourhood dogs will notice when one morning I no longer appear for a morning walk. At 67 I have the superb good fortune to be still distance running, living a passably interesting life, and learning new things every day. Well, everyone goes to hell in their own way in the end. Personally, the only time I’ve been seriously unhappy is at times of poor health. Looking back I could have saved myself a lot of grief with a starting insight into theknowledge I’ve now accumulated over several decades, which is why I bother to share it here. There is so much ignorance and shonky advice out there, not least from medicos. Since I’m a teacher, I pass on a bit of what I’ve learned and people can take it or leave it. No missionary zeal intended. Anyway, here’s my pitch.
A] Exercise & survival
1. Accidents and sheer bad luck aside, most people in ‘developed’ countries can choose their life-spans, more or less, at the upper or lower end of 50 to 90 years. That’s quite a range. My father did himself in at 57, with anger + half a bottle of brandy & 30 cigarettes a day + a lousy diet. That’s one extreme. Of course, it’s not only years, but the quality of those years that count. If you are a prescription drug-enslaved, pain wracked mass of waddling protoplasm for years, then it is hardly worth it. Doctor’s waiting rooms are full of these miserable ghosts.
2. The basic, engineering fact about bodies is that we are a bunch of bones held up against gravity. Every bone is counter-tensioned with opposing muscles and sinews (a bit like a flagpole or ship’s mast). Once a muscle becomes weak, or it becomes more or less strong than its balancing muscle, you are set up for pain, and eventually cascading internal problems.
3. Gravity is both a threat and an opportunity. Most people see it as a threat, and never miss a chance to “save” exertion. From about age 30 they go into a downward spiral, and persuade themselves that it is inevitable. Laziness though is not inevitable. It is a mental habit with lethal consequences. Laziness is always cool of course because it is a popular mutual conspiracy. A curious fact though is that you can multiply energy by burning it, and even have fun at the same time. There is no need to be dour or resentful about it. I see stairs as “stairways of opportunity”, walk whenever possible, climb hills when there is a chance, try not to park next to my destination … and so on. People fighting to “save” 5 minutes walk in a shopping centre are knocking years off their life. What do they do with the five minutes anyway?
4. It is exhilarating to feel strong. Just lying on a bed, there are endless ways you can use gravity to build muscle power. For example, straighten one leg, raise and lower it 30 times. Then the next leg. Turn over on your stomach and do another 30 straight leg lifts above your back… Use a straight arm to slightly roll your body to one side 30 times. Arch your back 30 times … and so on. You can build strength without ever getting out of bed. The secret, as with language learning, is a consistent routine.
5. I’ve been running for over 50 years. A high school sports teacher said I should stop running because I would never win a race with my body type. He was right about racing, and criminally stupid about running. Running has also taught me a lot about the toxic ignorance of doctors (the vast majority over that time have warned me that running will “wear me out”, and have shown a barely suppressed hostility to actual fitness). It has kept me young, and played an important role in chemically moderating mood swings. I have learned a great deal about avoiding or managing occasional minor injuries.
Running & exercise research is progressing all the time. A key known fact at the moment is that short, intensive bursts of exercise are far more beneficial than long slogs. While I used to run 10km without a stop, now I do a total of 7.4km in sprints of about 300 meters with a couple of minutes of recovery walking each time (that is two days out of three; on the third day I take a long evening walk). Below you will find a Mercola reference to “super training”, which I translate each morning before breakfast as 8×35 second bursts on a mini trampoline, with a minute to recover each time.
If you ever do try any of this, build gradually. For example, if you try to sprint a few hundred meters without preparation, the first day you may think it is no problem. Within a week, you will have sprained something. Build gradually, be patient. Sore muscles are a hopeful sign of something challenged, but you need to give them 48 hours to recover. Motivation has never been a real issue for me, but obviously that is my good fortune as a minority outsider. For those who find it harder to get going, there is a big recent increase in smart phone apps and other gadgets to push you out the door. Do a web search on “fitness apps” or “fitness tracking devices”. For starters you could try Runkeeper (Android and iPhone), or a clever little thing which electronically tracks every step you take all day, the Striiv (these are only examples in a crowded market). By the way, a good thing about running and walking is that they are ideal learning environments – your brain works better on your feet (I even wrote an article about this: “Standing Room Only – Posture, Space and the Learning Process in ESL Classes”). I’m always listening to language course or podcasts at the same time as moving.
1. Most people know that if they try to run their car on kerosene, it won’t get far. They seem incapable of applying the same logic to their bodies.
2. Sugar is best described as “the aging molecule”. It will make you an old man really fast. That is because sugars are highly reactive chemically. They oxidize furiously. That’s kind of high speed “rusting” of your body parts. They are also a short trip to diabetes. The obesity epidemic mostly comes from sugar, not from dietary fat. Soft drinks and fruit juices are major sources of sugar for many people. Some relevant medical links are posted at the end of this note.
3. Except for hydrogenated fat (fat whose molecules have been modified at high temperature) most dietary fat within reason is not too damaging. That includes saturated fats. Fat you ingest is quite different to the fat your own body creates. Below you will find a reference to one of the great medical scandals of the 20th century – the fake science behind the so-called lipid hypothesis, which many doctors will still quote at you chapter and verse.
4. Food and drink are key lubricants to human social and domestic life. This means that eating and drinking are encrusted with cultural rules, prejudices and habits that are extremely difficult to break. Men usually depend upon their wives to cook, and most of the wives are pig-ignorant about real nutrition. Singles live in cafes and restaurants, flitting between venues for fashion and taste. Yes, the social draw is overwhelming. However, restaurants, cheap and expensive, are appalling venues for safe eating on a regular basis. They are money making enterprises. They cut corners, they use hydrogenated cooking oils, they rarely serve balanced meals. (Side note: from a recent report, 10% of the restaurants in China recycle their cooking oil from drains).
5. There are major health differences between the British and French populations, with the Brits coming out far worse. A big issue seems to be that Brits at best only eat two or three vegetables. French have small helpings of a much larger variety. Nutritionally, this makes much more sense.
6. It never takes me more than 15 minutes to prepare a meal. Each evening, I serve up small helpings of 12 different vegetables (7 of them raw, 5 steamed), with about 120 grams of meat or fish. With a few nuts thrown in, I find I just don’t need any rice, potatoes, pasta etc. Topped with something like mint sauce, this makes a delicious meal. Breakfast is muesli with a sprinkling of walnuts & sunflower seeds, three spoonfuls of unflavoured yohurt and some milk. Also a slice of cheese wrapped in nori (roasted Japanese seaweed lava). Lunch – cheese & nori, nuts, and half a slice of Lebanese flat bread spread with butter and腐乳, ‘fu ru’ (Chinese; Japanese call itnatto, or in English, fermented bean curd). Fermented bean curd has 10 times more vitamin K2 than any known vegetable. K2 is a special life-saver. Chemically, it is fat soluble, so you have to eat it with something like butter. … No I’m not a fanatic, just an “evolved eater” who has gradually developed an intelligent diet.
7. Anyway, below are a few references which you might find useful, mostly from Dr Joseph Mercola. Be aware that Mercola inspires great loathing in many quarters of the medical world and Big Pharma. He is a libertarian and a bit of an enthusiast (he tends to get carried away), and I’ve learned to be cautious about his angle too. However, he does understand medicine and makes a refreshing antidote to the allopaths. By my own 67 year score card on medicos, they have been around 80% useless to dangerous for diagnosis, prescription, advice and treatment. (That is a considered statistic. If you want a personal sample of a horror story from a small Korean hospital, try “The Penis Chronicles”). Apologies to all of the genuinely dedicated and competent doctors out there.
After all this chest thumping, what are the odds that I walk outside and trip under a bus ^_^ ?
Lipids & Diabetes
SevenReasons to Eat More Saturated Fat http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/22/7-Reasons-to-Eat-More-Saturated-Fat.aspx
Doctors Cause Diabetics to D.I.E. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2005/08/16/doctors-cause-diabetics-to-die.aspx
The Truth about Saturated Fats Parts 1, 2, 3 –
CoQ10 ( Ubiquinol)
The Single Most Crucial Nutrient to Energize Every Cell in Your Body
Soy, GM (genetically modified) foods and Vitamin K2:
Sunshine & Vitamin D (You need plenty of this!)
Muscle Loss and Muscle Retention
Choose When to Live and When to Die – Some Notes on Exercise and Diet
copyright Thor May 2012, all rights reserved
Professional bio: Thor May’s PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of drifting through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia in 1972).
Note : this story is also on my main website, The Passionate Skeptic, at http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/choosewhentolive.htm