Newsletter Volume 1, Number 20

April 30, 2006

Newsletter Archive


A Shock to the System

Jakarta, Indonesia, April 29, 2006
People who don't work for a living have no idea what it's like and a quirk of the mind makes us forget quickly once we have left the workforce. When I returned to work after a three-year break, I thought that I could just take up where I left off—just set the alarm clock for an ungodly hour and get on with it. Not so. The first week when the clock said five PM, the hour that usually finds me on my way to the gym, my energy banks were just about TV couch-potato level. There I was flopped upon the sofa like a damp rag all wrung out.

"I'm too tired to go to the gym", I thought. "I'll go on Friday", I promised myself, Friday being Good Friday, a public holiday in Indonesia. On Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I did make it to the gym for weight-training and squeezed in some aerobics on Saturday. So I was back on the waggon, right? Wrong.

Monday and Tuesday we had early dinner engagements and Wednesday I got back from the office late. By Thursday, I was telling myself, "Now that I am working full-time, I haven't got time to work out." That's when I started to suspect that my mind was playing tricks on me, the lazy part of me down in the unconscious depths throwing up any excuse to avoid getting out of the comfort zone.

But that's not what got me off my butt. No, what got me going again was fear of falling back into the life that made me look like a slug, walk like a slug and feel like a slug. What did it was this: on Thursday last week at 5:30 PM, I was back in the gym lifting weights, when I realized that I was failing to complete 15 repetitions with weights that should have been within my grasp. On Friday, I did 30 minutes on the treadmill at 3.6 miles per hour going uphill at 15 degrees. No problem. But then I tried to continue for 30 minutes on the cross-trainer (ski machine). After five minutes, I ran out of juice. Oh, oh! Something's wrong.

I looked around the gym and saw a guy carrying a clipboard around while he was working out. I thought, there's someone who is serious enough to carry a written program and tick off the items in his workout. When he was resting, I asked him what he thought. "Is it possible to get deconditioned so much so fast?" We talked around the subject without resolving anything. His name is Charles.

Next day, I waved at him when I came into the gym. Later he said he'd been thinking about the question I asked and decided that skipping one or two sessions in one week would have no effect. But skipping one or two sessions a week for two or three weeks would definitely lower fitness. I said that I had thought about what he had said the day before and resolved to come to the gym every day. He looked a little skeptical.

That was ten days ago and I have been to the gym every single day. Twice, I did only 30 minutes. That was when we had dinner engagements and I did not get back from work in time to do a whole hour.

I can't say for sure if it's real or only my imagination. But it seems to me that I have almost regained my previous level of fitness. Not quite, because I'm clocking up only 6 hours per week instead of my usual 7 or 8 hours. But it's better than just maintenance—standing still.

Maintenance Versus Progress

When I refer to standing still at maintenance level, I don't mean to knock it. "Maintaining fitness" means keeping fit when you have progressed far enough at least for the moment. Young people might need only three hours per week to maintain fitness, while an older person might need five hours per week. If you work out at less than maintenance level, you will decline in fitness.

Thomas Jefferson is known to have favored two hours vigorous physical activity per day. I have managed 12 hours per week for a couple of weeks straight, but usually reach only 10 hours in my really virtuous weeks, about one week per month. When you are young, you can get by with only a few hours. But as you age, your system will run down very fast if you let go. Like freedom and democracy, health requires eternal vigilance to stave off the twin tyrannies of decline and decay. The older you get, the more hours it takes. Come to think of it: that's a good reason to retire from full-time work—to have more time to spend in the gym and the track.

Is there no respite—no end to the this seeming eternal need to stay active. Is there no rest for the weary—no balm in Gilead. Yes there is, but don't wish for it, for "the tomb is a fine and private place". When you are working out in the gym, you are fulfilling your destiny—living "by the sweat of thy brow." Sit at a desk all day and lie on your couch watching TV and you will become like the caged tiger, a pitiful beast, fat, sluggish and indifferent. I don't knock maintenance as a fitness goal, because a fit person can stay healthy and happy.

Progress in fitness is something else altogether. To get fitter this month than you were last month means you have to work harder this month than last month. Yes, it's a pain. Some days you will feel aches and pains all over. If you become as decrepit as I was, you will be caught between two rocks: you will be in pain if you don't work out and pain if you do. Why ever then would you do it? Because if you persist, the time will come when the aches and pains go away, almost. And you will feel your body start to sing. I can't think of a better word than "sing". Yes, and you will not just "become happy", you will "feel" happy right down to your cells. The happiness will become pervasive. You will become "muscle happy" and "bone happy". I now feel it about 95% of the time. It's something money can't buy. You have to earn it by the sweat of your brow, in the gym, the pool and out on the track. It's what we're made for. What our bodies adapted to for millenia before civilization made couches all the rage.

Looking for the secret of eternal youth? It's not an elixir that comes in a bottle; it's a fountain that bubbles up from inside you when your body learns to sing again.

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Blogs you may have missed

Working Out Overseas

Jakarta, Indonesia, April 16, 2006

I felt awkward. True, the names were the same, machines marked 'Cybex' and other familiar brands. But the gym in the hotel has different models than the ones I'm used to. Besides, almost everything is marked in pounds instead of kilograms--must be an American franchise. Zounds! My first task was to change my spreadsheet and print a new workout schedule in pounds.

Missing Workouts

I missed two workouts, Monday and Wednesday. So on Friday, I repeated the workout from the previous Friday and shifted the whole schedule by one week.

Adjusting Our Programs

We can't just skip missed sessions for two reasons. First, any program that is worth doing has progressive effort. The weights lifted get heavier as we progress, but we don't suddenly jump the level of weight from 10 pounds to 20 pounds. We add small increments, maybe 5 pounds per session.

The second reason applies more to older athletes: deconditioning is swift. Six days off means that we are deconditioned compared with the previous week. If we miss sessions, we should drop back to lower weights and work back up.

I was naughty and I paid for it

This Friday, instead of reducing the weights a little, I used the same weights as last Friday. Today, Sunday, I was still feeling the ache in my muscles, but I went back to the gym anyway.

Yes, I lost a week and will have to be more vigilant. It's so easy to get back from work and just put your feet up. But I've been down that road before. It's downhill all the way and well marked--with tombstones all the way to the pit.

Mainly, I don't want the hassle of climbing back out of the pit.

Hypertrophy-Specific Training

Message for Breaditarians

Jakarta, Indonesia, April 15, 2006
When I was 10 years old, I asked my mom to buy 'brown bread', not knowing that brown bread was just white bread dyed brown. So they faked it.

Buying Ready-made Bread

We have been eating home-baked whole-grain bread for 15 years, dark dense chewy bread with crunchy crusts and seeds inside and out.

We freeze the bread and keep it in the freezer, popping slices into the toaster as needed. I take a teaspoon of olive oil for each slice and run the spoon over the bread, round side down, letting the oil spill over the edges of the spoon, spreading the oil over the surface as I go. With real wholegrain bread, the result is a low-glycemic-index snack.

We Got Conned

On our first day shopping in Jakarta, we searched for real bread and found one loaf of rye bread and one loaf of multi-grain bread. What we got was not as heavy as bread I make at home, but it looked OK. As it turned out, the multi-grain loaf had maybe one part wholegrain for four parts white flour. We were taken in by the whole grains sprinkled on the outside of the loaf. The rye loaf was about 60 per cent rye and 40 per cent refined wheat flour.

My wife, says that one slice of our homemade bread and houmous and some fruit lasts her about three and a half hours, but store-bought bread with houmus lasts only two and a half hours. What's worse, the glycemic boost from store-bought bread drives a craving for carbohydrate that lasts all day.

Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X

If you feel very hungry soon after eating, you may be developing carbohydrate sensitivity. Your reaction to bread may tell you that you have to become strict about limiting refined carbohydrates.

As O'Keefe and Loren say:
Many current vegetarians would be more appropriately labeled 'breaditarians.' Modern vegetarian diets often rely heavily on processed carbohydrates such as white rice, potatoes, and white flour and sugars. The South Asian paradox refers to the relatively high prevalence of coronary heart disease despite low levels of LDL [bad] cholesterol and low prevalence of obesity in urban vegetarians from India who consume a diet high in refined carbohydrates. In westernized societies, sugar intake has increased substantially during the past two centuries.... A recent study showed that a high-glycemic-load diet is the most important dietary predictor of HDL level (as an inverse relationship). A high-glycemic-load diet predisposes a person to the metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular [heart-artery] disease and is one of the most atherogenic [artery-narrowing] features of our modern eating pattern.

James H. O'Keefe Jr, MD; Loren Cordain, PHD. Cardiovascular Disease Resulting From a Diet and Lifestyle at Odds With Our Paleolithic Genome: How to Become a 21st-Century Hunter-Gatherer, (Mayo Clinical Proceedings. January 2004, Vol. 79, No. 1.)
Pita Bread

Decline With Age Is the Default Option

Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 11, 2006

Twenty years ago, whenever I reported for duty on an assignment, the first week I could barely hobble to the office. At age 55, I wrecked my back every time I traveled, just by heaving suitcases on and off trolleys. Finally, my wife banned me from lifting suitcases. At age 32, her workouts in the gym had made her stronger than me. So my wife lifted lifted the suitcases for the next 18 years, until our last assignment in 2003, also in Jakarta.

This trip we traveled with 150 pounds (68 kg) of luggage, including two laptop computers. But as she approaches age 52, my wife can no longer heave the bags like she used to. So I've got my old job back, baggage handler.

If you ever needed proof that an older person can regain muscle and strength, my experience might convince you. On Sunday and Monday this week, I humped 150 pounds of luggage in and out of 4 taxis, on and off 6 trolleys, in and out of one X-ray machine and one security strapping bench. I counted 12 times shifting most of those bags, a couple of them weighing 40 to 50 pounds. A couple of times, I carried the two biggest bags, one in each hand.

So what happened to my back? Nada. Rien. Zilch. Kosong. Nothing at all.

After a year of shifting weights in the gym, humping heavy bags just does not do it for me anymore--I mean wreck my spine like before.

Posted April 14th when we got our broadband connection.

Living Longer: Role Models for Health and Longevity

Greetings from Sunny Downtown Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 10, 2006

We arrived in Jakarta this morning from Singapore, raring to go on a new consulting assignment, only to discover that today's a public holiday. So my wife and I went shopping instead, mainly for food.

I will continue to eat the same wholefood diet as at home. Some things we brought with us, like a two pounds of raw almonds, a pound each of quinoa and millet and two bags of psyllium husk.

Other things we knew we could buy here, like prunes, raw peanuts, olive oil, made-in-Italy tomato base, whole-grain rice, whole-grain rye bread and all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, supermarket prices in Jakarta are twice as high as in Malaysia, which is almost next door--Penang is about 1000 miles (1,600 km) from Jakarta, about the distance from New York to St. Louis, Missouri.

The raw peanuts are for making a "bean" sauce. For a working person who prepares his own meals, peanuts have the advantage that they take less time to cook. Since peanuts are higher in good fats than other beans, they are a top notch food when prepared without added oil, sugar or salt. The final sauce does need a little olive oil for sauteing the onions and garlic and, although the made-in-Italy tomato base does contain a little salt and sugar, I don't add any.

So now we are all stocked up. I just prepared a 16-ounce (480 ml) whey protein shake with ground almonds and prunes added, containing about 85 grams of protein. Half will be for breakfast with a slice of whole-rye toast and olive oil plus a pear. The rest will be for lunch in the office, along with an apple and orange.

When we got back to our serviced apartment, we decided not to cook. Instead, we celebrated our arrival by going out to dinner. I had a local dish called gado-gado, made with boiled vegetables tossed with a spicy peanut sauce.

In mid-2003, when I left Jakarta, I weighed 35 pounds (16 kg) more than now. Maybe I'll gain weight during this visit. I have no objection, so long as most of any weight gained is muscle and not fat.

Posted April 14th when we got our broadband connection.

Bean sauce.

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Bye until May 13, except for blogs.
Fred Colbourne, It's never too late!
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