56. Choose When to Live and When to Die – Some Notes on Exercise and Diet

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.


B] Fuel

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


Peak Fit­ness




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). 

con­tact: http://thormay.net  thormay@yahoo.com


Note : this story is also on my main web­site, The Pas­sion­ate Skep­tic, at http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/choosewhentolive.htm


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2 Responses to 56. Choose When to Live and When to Die – Some Notes on Exercise and Diet

  1. John the Wise McGregor says:

    Very wise com­ments indeed Thor – tonight I missed out on a spag bol din­ner and salad at my sister’s place think­ing of your allur­ing lasagne image at the top of this post – well, maybe it was a sub­lim­i­nal ref­er­ence.

    I’ll cer­tainly try to take your advice with regards to sugar, and also the 8 * 35 sec­ond mini tram­po­line jumps – I pur­chased one of these last year and did three days of 10 mins run­ning, and since then it’s been gath­er­ing cob­webs.

    But maybe 8 * 35 sec­onds with one min­utes rest is far more achie­ve­able.

    Thanks again for your inter­est­ing ram­blings – let’s hope my adven­ture into the land of new sugar with a mod­er­ated dose of mini-tram­polin­ing does the trick.



  2. Thanks for finally writ­ing about > 56. Choose When to Live and When to Die – Some Notes on Exer­cise and Diet | Thor’s Unwise Ideas < Liked it!

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