Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Late Fifties - Old or Young?

I had a bit of an epiphany today - it had to do with being old. Because of my clock and dulcimer fascinations I get a chance to talk to quite a few people. There are times I get into some really good discussions.

Today I was discussing a rather wide range of subjects with a well educated, erudite gentleman who had done a lot of interesting things in his life. As part of the discussion I found he was in his late 50's. In truth, I am sure he did not mean for me to get the impression I did, but when he told me he was in his late 50's, I had the impression he was explaining why he couldn’t exercise as much as he might have at one point - when he was younger.

It was a really weird moment - I pictured this gentleman as fairly old, and slowing down - for a variety of reasons not doing the things he used to do. It was not pretty.

It was like I was 30 again, and picturing someone in their late 50's as being not only old, but slowing down - not able to do what they once could. Yech!

And then I remembered that I was in my late 50's. That’s when I had this epiphany thing. Either I had never really accepted that I was in my late 50's, or somewhere along the line I decided being 57 was in fact young.

I guess I haven’t been thinking about what it really means to be in my late 50's. Why? Because I am so much more fit today than last year I suppose - or because my doctor tells me I have the body of a 40 year old perhaps. So, how is this being old???

Flip side, I also meet people at the gym who are in their 50's and 60's. They don’t ask to work out with me very often. And, if they do, they usually only last a day or two. One gentleman in his 40's lasted two days. He told me a week later (when he had recovered and could work out again) that his wife made him promise not to work out with me. Ever.

Honestly - I try to look out for the people I work out with - I keep the weights light and the reps reasonable. But, if they don’t usually work out very hard, even 30 or 40 pushups can leave them pretty sore. Which makes push-up day an interesting thought - in that we do upwards of 400 push-ups, including 90 of the one arm variety.

Of course, I can also remember the day I did a leg work out with this rather fit 40 year old baseball player back in OKC. Walking was virtually impossible the next day. Stairs were in fact not possible. And, if I had not gone right back and done the same workout a week later, I suspect today I would not be where I am.

Sort of like waterskiing - which I only do once a year on average. The next day is really not pretty.

When I first moved to Portland and started into the gym here I thought about how neat it would be to get a class started for folk on the north side of 50 - because I was so excited about the progress I was making. The class would focus on the core and balance exercises that I believe are so critical for protecting aging backs and joints. I plan to start discussing these exercises in future posts.

But, for my daily workouts, I am finding that I am gravitating toward working out with people in their teens and twenties. Don’t get me wrong, I know a couple of fit older people at the gym, both men and women, who I hope to slowly work into some of my routines. But, for a balls to the wall workout nothing beats a young wrestler, soccer player, football player, well, you get the idea.

In case you are curious, “balls to the wall” is a term used by pilots. When accelerating quickly, the throttle is pushed all the way to the panel and the throttle lever (ball) actually touches the panel (wall). Hence, balls to the wall.

One of the things that I love about working out with young fit people is they understand that muscle soreness is part of growth. Many have reached a plateau in their workouts and welcome the chance to work out hard enough to see real results - as in be sore the next day. And they truly understand why I am excited when I find a new routine that leaves me with a muscle group that is screaming uncle. NOTE - we are talking muscle ache here - not sharp pains associated with damaged joints or torn ligaments!

None the less, I also discuss with both young and older folk the risks associated with some of the exercises I do, and do my best to make sure they don’t over do it so badly they really do hurt themselves.

This all comes right back to the premise I have based this blog on - finding satisfaction and happiness from doing things. Or, in my case, going to the gym and doing incredibly difficult exercises until it hurts like crazy and I have to stop!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting Older

At 57 I suppose I might be considered a bit of an anomaly - I don’t fit some of the molds out there for 57 year old males. Why do I bring this up - because I look forward to next year, and the year after. This is what comes from working out hard enough that I can do more now than I could last year, or the year before - I suspect this is true for every year since I was 30.

Perhaps that is one of the advantages of not being fit when younger. It was only when I was in college that I got into bicycles in a significant way and rode up Lookout Mountain regularly. And, while in New York City and Capetown South Africa I rode quite a bit. But, since being 30 I haven’t kept the cycling at that high a level.

Don’t get me wrong - yes, I have worked out pretty much 5 days a week since I was 25 or 26. But, now that I am retired and I have the time to work out longer, I am truly amazed at how much more fit and how much stronger I am.

Think about this for a minute. I am saying I am in better shape now than I was when I was 30. And I look forward to being stronger and more fit next year.

I have been working out with an 18 year old for 6 months now. Michael started out pretty sure he would catch up with me - and likely surpass me. Today, when we were working out with a couple of 19 year old guys I heard Michael commenting that he is in fact not catching up, but that I am in fact continuing to raise the bar.

Another way of looking at where I am - as I was finishing up my 30 minutes of cardio on a stationary bicycle one of the 19 year olds spotted me and made sure I was going to be available to work out with them.

These guys were football players in high school and are seriously fit. They were hoping I would be able to work out with them.

If all this seems like a fantasy - it is - I am truly living a fantasy I wasn’t even smart enough to come up with.

Bottom line here - what are you willing to do to live a fantasy? Are you willing to start out a bit harder than you can handle now, and gradually increase your work outs duration and level over the next 10 years? If so, you too can likely exceed your wildest expectations. I honestly can’t tell you how gratifying it is to work out with young men who are fit, and who look up to me because of the exercises I can do.

While I am not, and never will be perfect, I am a very satisfied and very happy old man. And at least two people think I am pretty special.

Are you willing to put in the work to achieve such a life?

Sunday, November 27, 2011


My last post talked about research into the impact of stress on our DNA - or, more specifically, on the “expression” of our genes. I realized the word expression might be confusing - the concept is that changing the methylation of a gene can change the genes impact - some articles even talk about the gene being turned on and off with the addition or removal of a methyl group.

Surprisingly, given my last post, when I was reading the 10/24/2011 edition of Chemical & Engineering News (a publication of the American Chemical Society) yesterday I found another article on genetic expression. But, this time the article was focused on RNA.

OK - DNA is made up of genes - and, as you recall from your high school biology class, each of your parents give you about half of your genes.

RNA translates DNA’s genetic coding into actual proteins needed by our body. That is a simplified explanation. In reality, RNA, like DNA, is pretty complex.

But, back to the C&EN article. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that an enzyme can remove a methyl group from a specific type of RNA - a messenger RNA (or mRNA if you are into abbreviations). This suggests that RNA may have a role in genetic expression. But, the thing that got my attention was the fact that the enzyme that removes the methyl groups is a protein that is linked to obesity and diabetes. Previously the proteins cellular role was not clear.

My take on all of this - our bodies are amazingly complex - in my last posting I discussed how a mothers stress can impact the expression of their children’s genes. Now there is evidence that RNA’s expression can be reversibly changed, and that a protein associated with obesity and diabetes acts as the switching agent.

While this does not suggest there is “fat” gene, it does suggest that our genetic expression can be changed such that we have a propensity for obesity and diabetes. Question naturally is, what causes this change in our genetic expression?

My hope is that one day such research will help us understand the unforseen impacts of our environment (such as stress) on our genetic expression. Who knows, perhaps such knowledge will help all of us better control our weight and fight diabetes!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Epigenetic Impact of Stress

Being an engineer and interested in health and fitness, I read quite a bit about progress in the medical field. An area that has fascinated me for some time now is epigenetics. Before learning about epigenetics I figured that much of what we are was due to our DNA. The color of our eyes, or our hair, how much we looked like one or the other of our parents - these things were passed down to us in the DNA we received from our parents. Now I find that the expression of our genetic code depends on more than just the DNA - the way the genes “express” themselves can be altered by changes in the methylation or histone deacetylation of genes. OK - pretty technical terms - suffice it to say, it turns out that things can be added to or taken away from our genes and, in effect, turn our genes on or off.

So, while there is no change in the underlying DNA sequence, non-genetic factors can cause an organism's genes to behave (or "express themselves") differently.

For more reading on this part follow this link.

Having gotten past the technical part while trying to keep it simple enough that eyes didn’t roll back into the head, let’s see what impact stress has on the expression of our genes.

One area that has been researched is the impact of stress on the children of women who were stressed (physically or psychologically abused) during pregnancy. Research has shown that women abused during pregnancy were significantly more likely than others to have a child with a specific gene that is methylated. This research suggests that the genetic methylation happens in the fetus in response to a mother’s stress, and the change in the expression of the child's genes persists into adolescence.

What impact does methylation of this gene have? It has been shown to increase the risk of obesity, of depression and of some autoimmune diseases. It also makes people more impulsive and aggressive—and therefore, if male, more likely to abuse the pregnant mothers of their children, thus perpetuating the whole sorry cycle.

For more reading on this section follow this link.

Today there is research focused both on the epigenetic impact of a mothers stress on her children, as well as the impact of stress on an individuals genetic expression. A quote from another article: It's becoming increasingly evident that the epigenetic changes ... could play a significant role in the brain's response to stress and the treatment of stress related diseases, such as post-traumatic stress disorder”. For more reading on this follow this link.

And, finally, why do I really give a hoot about all of this? Because it is becoming apparent that stress impacts our health not only through the flight or fight hormonal changes discussed in my previous post, but also in a much more fundamental way - changing how our genes are expressed.

Do I know that these changes are necessarily bad? No, I don’t. But, if these epigenetic changes and their impact are similar to the changes discussed in yesterdays posting from long term elevated cortisol levels - well, I am concerned.

Bottom line - stress is a problem in our lives - finding ways to reduce stress, cope with change, accept what we can’t change, fix what we can - all become very important. In my world, exercise, first and foremost, is my response to stress. And, as discussed in previous postings, doing all I can to find satisfaction and happiness in my world.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!!! I want to quote one of my corespondents in closing: “Thanksgiving - May it never be just a day to eat and drink. We have so many great and small things for which to give thanks.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cortisol and Stress

Before getting into epigenetic changes associated with stress, I thought I would delve a little deeper into the bodies response to stress. It is recognized that stress causes the human body to prepare for “Fight or Flight”, actions which our ancestors would have considered when threatened. When stressed, the human body secretes cortisol to enhance the bodies chance of surviving an attack - small increases in cortisol give us a quick burst of energy, helps us remember things, reduces our sensitivity to pain - all good things if a lion is about to make you the main course.

For a short time, these are all valuable responses in a crisis. The problem is that people today tend to be stressed all the time. At that point cortisol levels are elevated for longer than is good, causing a number of problems:

•Impaired cognitive performance
•Suppressed thyroid function (feeling tired all the time is one impact)
•Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
•Decreased bone density
•Decrease in muscle tissue
•Higher blood pressure
•Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing
•Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with heart attacks, strokes, increased “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and reduced “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels

Cortisol has been termed the “Stress hormone” - perhaps a better name would be the stress killer.

OK - raise your hands - how many of you are stressed most of the time.

I think I see one person who has their hands in their laps - ooops, he’s asleep. Lean over there and wake him up.

Cortisol is a healthy hormonal response to stress - provided it is a short term response. So, how do you get your stress levels back in synch? Here is a short list of actions which will help:

•Listening to Music
•Breathing Exercises

To this list I want to add: Doing things that generate satisfaction and happiness. As in fixing little things around the house before they bother you. Taking a moment to help someone who doesn’t quite get how to do something. Thinking about the things that went right today, and putting together a plan to take care of those things that didn’t.

If you want to read more on stress and cortisol - check out this article

Tomorrow we will dig a little deeper into the impact of stress on our bodies.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I’ve written a bit now about my concept of retirement - doing things, which gives me a massive dose of satisfaction, and ultimately happiness.

Recently I have written about why I have radically reduced my intake of animal-based protein. While becoming a vegetarian poses challenges for someone who ate meat for many years, even the successes I have as I adapt to a meat free diet give me satisfaction - because I am doing what I can to reduce my risk of cancer.

But, does all this satisfaction do anything more than make me a happy camper?

Perhaps the biggest benefit from being satisfied, being a happy camper, is the reduction of stress in my life. OK - I suppose the example above carries a double benefit - going vegetarian reduced the stress of knowing that animal-based protein increases ones risk of cancer. But, on the flip side, knowing I am doing something about my risk of cancer gives me satisfaction.

I wanted to start out this discussion of stress with a couple of quotes I found appropriate:

Charles W. Mayo, M.D ~ Worry and stress affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system, and profoundly affects heart action ~

Doc Childre and Howard Martin ~ The irony is this: Our bodies react to stress in exactly the same way whether or not we have a good reason for being stressed. The body doesn't care if we're right or wrong. Even in those times when we feel perfectly justified in getting angry - when we tell ourselves it's the healthy response - we pay for it just the same ~

Adabella Radici ~ If your teeth are clenched and your fists are clenched, your lifespan is probably clenched ~

Dr. Hans Selye ~ Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older ~

One of the subjects that I try to monitor is research on the impact of stress in our lives. A simple example is that stress can contribute to increased blood pressure, especially short term, thereby increasing our risk of strokes and heart disease.

But there are many other insidious impacts from stress. Stress can actually make us more susceptible to catching a cold, as documented in a May 12, 1998 article in the New York Times:

“Being under severe stress for more than one month but less than six months doubled a person's risk of a cold, compared with people experiencing only routine stress. Stress lasting more than two years nearly quadrupled the risk. Likewise, the stress of interpersonal difficulties doubled the risk of a cold, and being under work-related stress raised the risk 3 1/2 times. However, less common stresses had no effect on participants' chances of developing a cold. NY Times Article

In fact, if you search “stress” and “catching a cold” you will find a number of studies that point out this link.

Tomorrow I will discuss another area that fascinates me, how stress can impact the expression of our genetic code.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


While it is best to just throw junk mail away, once in a while I open a flyer, just to see if there might accidently be something interesting inside. Usually not. But, recently I did run across something that was in fact interesting, in a negative, perhaps even pejorative way. (I always wanted to find a place to use pejorative - in case you haven’t run across it before - it means “having a disparaging, derogatory, or belittling effect or force”. Wow, a legitimate use for this word!)

Most of us know what DIY stands for - Do It Yourself. This is a mantra that I am particularly attuned to, and one that leads to a massive dose of satisfaction in my life. Then there is DDIY: Apparently it is a new term, perhaps only being used by one outfit that wants to convince you to sit back and let them do everything. I did a quick Google search and came up with a lot of DIY references, but none for DDIY.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, DDIY stands for Don’t Do It Yourself.

What does DIY mean to me - perhaps the simplest way to explain it is to talk about my Jag E-Type. Many times people who see my car proceed to tell me about the XKE they had. I really don't know how many times I have been told that their E-Type spent all its time in the shop.

Funny that, my little primrose yellow ‘69 has given me 130,000 miles of fantastic driving. Yes, I do all my own work. And, yes, the car is reliable.

Would I ever have been able to afford a Jag XKE if I didn’t do my own work? Easy answer to that one - heck no. Or would I have ever been able to build a clock business that prepared me for retirement if I paid others to do everything for me?

I found the concept of promoting DDIY to be very obnoxious, as I suppose the above might suggest. In terms of my Jag, do I really believe that it would have gotten me home from every trip if I had used the specialists to keep it maintained? Can’t say I have ever, not even once, had someone comment on how reliable their XKE was. Hmmm - a message here?

Thought comes to mind - the old expression “Them’s Fighting Words”. That is how I feel about DDIY. There will be those who like the idea of having someone figure everything out, do all the challenging tasks, and get all the satisfaction of a job well done. I suspect those folk might not get why I am a bit lathered about DDIY.

Flip side, it took me a while to get to the point I could say I was a good Jag mechanic - I have done a fair bit of work on my XKE, I have made mods that make it a better car for me, but have kept the heart and soul of the car - its torquey 4.2 liter straight six. Given my financial situation when I first bought it, it never would have been with me all these years if each time I ran into a challenge I had headed for a specialist to sort it out. The money just wasn’t there, so I did it myself. I suppose that is why I do so many things myself - I couldn't afford to have someone else do it for me. In fact, I believe that is one of the secrets to my satisfaction and happiness - not being able to have everything done for me.

On my end, I plan to keep right on doing all the things I love to do, and taking on new challenges, and being a very very satisfied old dude driving a primrose yellow XKE.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meat Alternatives

The first question I am typically asked by folk who are thinking about reducing the fraction of their diet that comes from animals is how do you get enough protein. Actually, this was also the question my new doctor here in Vancouver asked me when I told her I was a vegetarian and also a fairly serious exercise person.

I have found that it is not difficult - it is amazing how much protein there is in vegetables. And, if you work out, rather than using whey protein in your protein shakes, just switch to soy protein. I have been pleased to see that even the macho muscle magazines now agree that soy protein offers all of the benefits of whey protein for body builders.

I put together the following table to give you an idea how much protein you can get from several food types:

This should give you a pretty clear understanding why body builders eat a lot of meat - it is loaded with protein. But, that being said, so are soy nuts, soy powder, tofu, almonds, and even bread. I often have half a cup of soy nuts before I go to bed, and half a cup of almonds with my breakfast. That is the equivalent of 3/4 of a chicken breast. Throw in a couple of pieces of bread and a half cup of beans and you have the other quarter of a chicken breast. And, if you work out, a quarter cup of soy protein powder before and after working out and you are there - at least that is about what I do each day - along with an assortment of vegetables. For reference, I weigh about 175 pounds and put in pretty strenuous workouts.

I don’t want to pretend that my simple table will give you all you need to know about taking meat out of your diet. And, in truth, I don’t expect anyone to go from eating meat with most meals to being a vegetarian in a short time. It took me several years to cut way back on my meat intake, but only 1 book to finish the journey.

There are hundreds of web sites that can guide you through replacing at least some of the meat in your diet with vegetables. And I havn't even touched on the soy-based faux meats - some of which are amazingly good - like Boca Burgers - I especially like the flamed grilled Boca's.

Interestingly, we find that we are paying less for food now.

Flip side, the rewards are really pretty darned significant. A subject I will get around to sooner or later is the impact of stress in our lives. And how beneficial it is to find satisfaction - in terms of stress relief. One of the reasons I am so satisfied with my life is I truly believe that I am reducing my risk of serious illnesses - because I have cut most animal-based foods from my diet.

It really is a great feeling eating a meal and believing you are making your life better!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Feeding Cancer

The author of the book “The China Study” did not start out trying to convince people to cut back or eliminate animal-based protein from their diets - his work initially focused on finding a way to alleviate child malnutrition in third-world countries. His focus on peanuts as a source of protein led to a study of the liver cancer caused by a fungus (aflatoxin) that grows on peanuts. His research showed that Philippine children who ate peanuts were at risk of liver cancer, but that the children from the most affluent families, who ate most meat, had the highest incidence of liver cancer.

His later research demonstrated in animal studies that increasing meat consumption increased cancer growth. Switching to plant-based protein shrank tumors, and then switching back to animal-based protein caused the tumors to grow again.

For many years body-builders and others have talked of “High Quality Protein”. This is the stuff that will result in the greatest muscle growth. What better to grow muscles than the proteins of other animals? They are very similar to our proteins because they mostly have the right amounts of each of the needed amino acids. These proteins can be used very efficiently by our bodies. In fact, milk and eggs are considered the Highest Quality Proteins.

With me so far - if you want to grow more muscle, eat meat and eggs and drink milk. Or, drink whey-protein shakes, whey being a milk-based protein extract.

But, isn’t growing muscles a lot like growing cancer? If animal-based protein is good for growing muscles, wouldn’t it also be good for growing cancer cells?

Let’s go one step farther - if we eat more “high quality protein” than our bodies need for cell regeneration - isn't this extra protein available to feed tumors?

When I look at the plot shown above I see a small increase - from 4 to 8 - in cancer precursor cell development as we increase the animal-based protein from 5 to 10%. In this range our body is competing with cancer for the "High Quality Protein" - and it looks like the body is using most of the animal-based protein for cell regeneration. Even in this range I really believe we should eat as little animal-based protein as we can - even that one chicken-breast we talked about a couple of days ago. But, if we consume more animal-based protein, the precursor-cell development skyrockets, increasing from 8 to 65 as we add just 5% more animal-based protein to our diet.

The China Study documents the fact that eating plant-based proteins does not increase the incidence of cancer. Only animal-based proteins.

So, what does one eat to get enough protein without meat and eggs and milk? We’ll discuss this tomorrow.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Whilst I ended yesterday’s post indicating I would talk more about the significance of ten percent animal-based protein in your diet, I in fact am going to digress for a moment and instead talk about Michael’s and my workout today.

Push-up day. Starts with 4 sets of 30 pushups, hands in different positions, but at least all hands on the floor. Then 4 sets of 30 horizontal pull-ups, with hands in different positions and feet on an exercise ball. It was about here that two college guys came over and asked us to show them some of the abdominal/core workouts we were doing Tuesday.

20-something college guys asking an old guy for guidance on doing ab exercises.

As Michael and I worked through my three primary core exercises we talked a bit about the college guys’ exercise goals. Ex-highschool football players, they discussed various injuries from their football days, and the exercise routines that were a part of their playing football - bench presses, squats, curls - standard body-building fare. The really interesting thing was they both realized that they needed to get away from body building and focus more on core, balance, flexibility, what is commonly thought of as functional fitness. As in being fit enough to do all the things we want to do as part of an active life.

They then spent the next hour working on their form doing two of the three exercises we showed them. They will be sore tomorrow. Really sore. But, as they both said, that is their reward for doing something new - something that really stretches their capabilities, something that kicks them off their work-out plateau.

I somehow suspect I am pretty simple sort who gets a really big kick out of the most mundane things - but I was seriously stoked after we showed them the 3 core exercises, and then a rather unusual pushup. How often does an old guy get asked by college students how to do exercises? And how often do said college guys admit they can’t begin to do what the old guy can do?

Today made it pretty clear to me that I really have to consider people in their 20's as a part of my audience - people who need to figure out how to develop exercise routines that are based on sustainable development, not on lifting heavier and heavier weights. Follow one path and you learn to balance in ways you never dreamed. The other, keep on lifting heavier weights until something goes snap. Because, sooner or later, something will go snap if the goal is to shrug over 700 pounds.

A satisfying day - like you probably really can’t imagine. Satisfaction, happiness, from not just doing something, but from pursuing my own path, developing my own exercise routine, and finding that others understand and appreciate the value of what I am doing.

Pretty heady stuff for an old guy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thriving Without Meat

As I discussed yesterday, my reaction to reading the book “The China Study” was to cut all animal-based protein from my diet. And, fortuitously, I had a physical 2 months earlier, and then talked my doctor into doing a full blood work up 2 months after going vegetarian (actually all the way to vegan - as in no animal products). Here are a few of the results:

I had been exercising for 30 years - which is why I had good cholesterol levels before going vegetarian. Two months after cutting animal-based products from my diet my ratio of LDL to HDL went from 1.4 down to 1.1 (less than 3 for this ratio is viewed as good). And, a year later it had improved still further to just under 1.

My doctor was ecstatic - amazed at the changes. As was I.

Another improvement in my blood chemistry which I had read about was the drop in my fasting blood sugar (glucose) levels. High fasting blood sugar levels are one of the indications that the body is not properly metabolizing sugar - an indication of possible diabetes. My fasting glucose levels had been creeping up by about 2 mg/Dl per year for 14 years. In two months I saw my fasting blood sugar drop to the level I had seen 5 years earlier. And, one year later I saw another 10 points drop in the levels - to levels I had last seen in 1999.

These improvements were unexpected - especially the scale of improvements. OK - I had hoped I would see improvements, but boy was I surprised at the scale of the improvements. Given that I worked out pretty much the same number of hours per week in the year before going vegetarian as I did for the year after switching, I attribute these changes to my change in diet.

Bottom line, for me, WOW.

So, what is it in The China Study that made me sit up and take notice (and change my diet)? If you have the book, turn to page 57. If you don’t, I have taken the data from a graph in the book and plotted it below:

Consuming up to around 10 percent of your diet as animal-based protein does not significantly increase your risk of cancer. But, go past 10 percent and the risk skyrockets.

Tomorrow I will talk a bit more about my thoughts on why 10 percent is a magic number.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

High-Quality Protein

In a previous post I wrote about risk, about crossing intersections and looking both ways, maybe even slowing down a bit if in doubt.

OK, I also admitted that when younger I tended to just cross intersections, secure in the belief that I was in the right.

Much like I changed my approach to intersections as I aged, I have also altered my consumption of animal based protein (as in meat or fish). I found that it was one of the elements in my diet that deserved some special attention.

Let me first cover the gamut of other issues. We all know we need to cut down on fats and sugar in our diet, we need complex carbs, and we need vegetables. And don't forget fiber. I don’t plan to go over all of this - suffice to say we need a balanced, and varied diet. If you work out hard, 5 times a week, you get to eat a lot more than if you sit on a sofa. If you don’t work out, you don’t get to eat. Or you get fat and can view yourself as a typical American. (OK, a cheap shot - but we are the land where 1 in 3 is obese. This is a national problem, the predominant driver of our health-care costs).

But meat - that is a different animal.

When folk talk to me about their eating habits they pretty much always point out that they have cut back on red meat. To me, this is like stopping for stop signs and red lights - a no brainer. Yes, one can run stop signs and red lights - trusting in ones good luck to keep one from becoming a hood ornament on a Mack truck. And, one can eat lots of red meat, trusting in ones genetic make-up to keep from plugging arteries (would you like fries with that chunk of beef?).

Folk invariably point out that they have switched to eating turkey, chicken, and fish. So they are avoiding the pitfalls of red meat and are instead eating healthy meats!

Perhaps 10 years ago I started caring about what I ate - and actually thinking about the risks associated with my diet. It was pretty easy to cut out red meat - oh, except for BBQ ribs. Those still hurt. But there is way too much evidence out there that eating red meat will plug your arteries.

So I began cutting back on red meat. And, with time, I also started cutting back on chicken and turkey - my lovely wife has been a vegetarian for a long time, and it just made things easier when preparing meals. But I still ate a bit of salmon each week.

Then, in February of 2009 I read the book “The China Study”.

A little background here - I am an engineer who is fascinated by statistical analysis, and the power of data. I have managed research, I have 6 patents, and I have spent a lot of my career generating, analyzing and using experimental data. My wife is a PhD chemist who is also noted for her ability to do statistical analyses. Kelly has been fascinated by the healthcare field for years, and, in 2009, quit her day job and went back to school to become an RN. Kelly’s mom had a stroke when she was way too young for such things. Perhaps because of her mom’s stroke, perhaps because of our mutual fascination with health, for what ever reason, we both are deeply involved in living a healthy life.

OK - so I respect what we can learn from research - especially research involving large populations.

After reading the China Study I quit eating animal based protein - including cheese, milk, whey protein, chicken, salmon, that is how strongly the book influenced my thinking.

If you are into cholesterol levels you might be interested in the impact going vegetarian had on my chemistry. I had a complete blood work-up in December of 2008:

LDL (Bad cholesterol) - 114
HDL (Good Cholesterol) - 83
Fasting Glucose - 106
Triglicerides - 68

I will finish this post by saying I was amazed at the difference in my blood chemistry just 2 months after dropping animal-based products from my diet. Tomorrow we will look at those numbers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Our Body’s Protein Requirements

Protein is required in our diets for growth and tissue repair/replacement. If we do not consume enough protein our body will take the protein it needs from the cells in our bodies (catabolism). This is why bodybuilders consume so much protein - to make sure their bodies always have sufficient protein available to build grow, repair, and replace muscles (anabolism).

It makes sense to think that the more active a person is, the more protein they require. Activity, especially hard exercise, causes tiny tears in your muscles that are later repaired (using protein). This is what makes you bigger, faster and stronger.

So, how much is enough protein? If you are a body builder you might be eating mostly protein in an effort to build as much muscle as possible. And it works - body builders are big consumers of protein.

But, how much is enough for those of us mere mortals who work out a bit but are mostly just average Janes and Joes?

WebMd reports that the Institute of Medicine recommends we get at least 10 percent, and no more than 35 percent of our calories from protein. Reference

And the National Academy of Sciences also recommended a range of 10 to 35 percent. Reference

Another source, The China Study, quotes 12% as the minimum protein required for growth in animals.

OK - that was fun, now let’s put all that in perspective. Let’s say you weigh 170 pounds, and are moderately active. You probably need somewhere around 2500 calories per day. And, if 10 percent of your calories come from lean chicken, you would need to eat a skinless chicken breast a day to give you the roughly 250 calories you need from protein. That’s roughly a half pound, 8 ounces, of lean meat per day. From which you get roughly 60 grams of protein. As a reference, a typical American meat-eater consumes about 93 grams of protein daily—more than anyone else in the world on the average. Reference

If you are not so active, and only weigh 120 pounds, likely a half a chicken breast would be about right.

Or, if you are a body builder, weigh 250 pounds, and work out a lot, you may well need 3 chicken breasts per day to meet your minimum protein requirements if you are not eating any other protein (as in beans, nuts, tofu...).

There is also a lot of discussion in the body-building world about “High-Quality” protein. The belief is that the body will have an easier time making more muscle if the food we take in is very similar to muscle. Makes sense, huh? So, that half pound of chicken breast sounds like a good deal all the way around.

While it might not be obvious so far, this posting is about risk - or, more to the point, it is laying some ground work for talking about the risk associated with eating animal-based protein. But, before getting into that subject, I wanted to see if I could lay out some numbers for our consideration as I delve into the issue of risk tomorrow.

Give some thought, based on the above examples, how many chicken breasts you should be eating each day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Risk Reduction

Over the course of my engineering career I learned a lot about doing things safely - and designing processes so they would minimize the risk of harm to people or the environment. I found that companies today are extremely risk averse when it comes to the potential for damage to people or the environment, and spend a lot of time and effort to assure a focus on safety.

In fact, as I now write technical articles on the techniques I use in restoring clocks I include a section in each article discussing the safety issues that need to be addressed.

And yet, the same people who spend hours and hours discussing the impact of a small design change on the safety of a process or piece of equipment eat large meals that are anything but healthy and then manage to convince themselves that they have no time to workout.

Don’t let the above statement give you the wrong impression - I really admire and respect the people I worked with - and I grieve as each of them die younger than they should because they have not been willing to reduce risks in their own lives.

In point of fact, I am getting rather tired of finding out that another has died.

I got a note from a friend who I met when riding bicycles up and down mountains on dirt roads in the rain in Costa Rica. Oh, it was cold too, and the wind was nasty. He asked if there was anything driving my workout routine other than staying in good shape/health. I suppose I could respond that I wanted to be able to go back and ride up big mountains on dirt roads in the rain, but I am not actually sure I really want to - have you ever climbed into a shower with your clothes on just so you could get enough mud off the back of your clothes that you could take them off? Or had to scoop sand and gravel out of the shower to keep from blocking the drain? Nope, not sure I want to head back to Costa Rica, but I want to be fit enough that I could ride up and down mountains in the cold rain if I was stupid enough to want to.

The real reason I work out is that it reduces risks - let’s see - eaxercise reduces the risk of some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, dementia, stroke, osteoporosis - the following article chronicles physical and mental health conditions that are improved by exercise: Science Daily Article

An extensive research review, published in the December 2010 issue of IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice, says that apart from not smoking, being physically active is the most powerful lifestyle choice any individual can make to improve their health.

Besides, working out keeps me fit so I can do things I want to do. And so I can look like I am 40, not 57, and can have blood work that suggests that I am perhaps 30.

I realize as I write that I should perhaps soft pedal some of this, so I don’t come across as a raving exercise freak. But, in truth, I likely am a raving exercise freak. Michael, my work out bud, once commented: “It’s no fun doing something you are not good at”. He’s right - and there is a corollary to that. Getting really good at doing something makes it really fun.

Doing things - making yourself satisfied with yourself - engenders happiness!

In the posts to come I plan to talk about other ways that we can reduce the risks in our lives.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Over the next few posts I would like to talk about what we eat - and what impact what we eat can have on our lives. Which is why this post is on risk: What we eat has an impact on the risk of our being unhealthy.

Risk then. When I first started driving I believed that people stopped at stop signs. And stop lights. Simple things those. But, as I saw more and more of how people drove I saw lots of examples of people not really stopping. Or not stopping at all. But I still drove as if people would in fact stop.

I think I understood that people might run a red light and run into someone, but I just didn’t believe that someone would be me.

Or, I was convinced that if someone ran a red light and hit my car that it would turn out all right - because I was the one who was legally crossing the intersection - I was in the right.

This all came into focus when Kelly and I got a scooter and attended a two day motorcycle safety course. The instructor told us (several times) that there were 4 things that killed the most motorcyclists - one of which was people running into cyclists because they didn’t see them. OK - in truth it wasn’t even the class time when this message began to penetrate my brain - it was coming home and seeing in a Saturday newspaper that 6 people had died in motorcycle-related accidents, and all 6 died of the causes presented in the class (I still have to shake my head, one of the four is running into a stationary object - like a parked car, and another is losing control in a corner).

Since that time I have found myself really looking to see if there is a car approaching an intersection and responding defensively if it looked like there was a chance of a problem. Or, better example, making sure people know I am coming - if I am on the other side of a truck and know the people who might pull out can not see me - I slow down and try to get out of a potentially really dangerous situation.

But, the thing about risk is that it is only a measure of the chance that something will happen. In my world I think in terms of increasing or decreasing risk. Looking both ways before starting up when the light turns green reduces the risk that I will become a hood ornament. This is a good thing in as much as I don’t want to be a hood ornament.

Does it absolutely prevent my making friends with the front of a car? NO. But it reduces the risk.

The other thing that I have done is install a kit that continuously flashes the headlight as we ride during the daylight hours. I can safely say it significantly reduced the number of times that I have been almost hit - I figure it is because drivers think we am on a police motorcycle.

The point I am trying to make is that I believe there are things that we eat that increase the risk that we will have health problems. For some, eating rich red meat every day of their life may well not increase the chance of heart disease. This discussion, and the topics covered in the next several posts are for those who are not willing to bet their life that they are genetically protected from the various illnesses that are related to diet. My goal is to give these folk some ideas that can reduce their risk of the diseases that seem to plague Americans.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


We are creatures of habit - we get comfortable with what we are doing and don’t want to change. Well, I guess I should be careful with that - most people find it all too tempting to stop exercising just weeks after making their life-changing commitments every New Years. So, I guess I should say, we are creatures of habit, and, to varying degrees, lazy.

This has been made clear dozens of times in my workout routines. While I like to think I change my routines reasonably often, I still sometimes find myself acceding to a maximum weight or number of repetitions based on what I have been doing for a while.

One rather stark example came up when my nephew was visiting several years ago. As is usual for us, we included a trip to the gym during his visit. I had been comfortably doing leg presses with 3 plates (weights) on each side of the bar. Stevo suggested I was on a plateau and needed to up the weight. I was perfectly happy where I was, but with his gentle prodding (pushy little tyke that he is) I did 4 plates on each side, and then 5. And, from that point on, rather than starting out with 2 and moving up to 3, I started with 3 and moved up to 5 each time I did leg exercises.

Notice the level of change - from 3 to 5 - a pretty significant change that.

The reason I am posting this tonight is because of the leg workout we did today. Michael has been progressing very quickly, and is able to lift within one pair of plates of what I press. We had been doing 5 sets for a while, increasing the number of plates by two for each set. Today we did 10 sets, increasing in single plate increments, but also increasing the number of reps for each set. And we survived!

Tomorrow we will both be having problems walking, but it is amazingly gratifying to see this kind of progress.

I also have to admit we made sure to be ready to help out if the other got in trouble while doing the latter sets with the most plates. This is called spotting - if you are making a big change in the weight or reps, be sure to have someone you can trust spotting you while you push past your plateau.

It is way too easy to get into a routine, with exercising, eating, your marriage... And it can be so very beneficial to once in a while get out of that routine - do twice as many reps, go to a heavier weight, eat a vegetarian meal, surprise your mate by doing something really thoughtful...

Find a way to shake-up that plateau!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Helping Out

Each day in the gym I say hey, hi, how’s it going, looking good, or some such to perhaps 20 people. Sometimes it is in response to their getting in the first word, sometimes I get it in first. So, how is this “helping out”?

Working out is one of those things that can be very lonely - even, or perhaps especially, in a crowded gym. All too many of us have a few self image issues - and to be working out with the younger, buffer, “beautiful” people can make those who are not quite there any longer a bit reticent, and make their working out a lonely experience. Just noticing they are there - saying hi each time you see them - telling them if you see they are doing something well, or perhaps losing some weight. These little things will make it so much easier for others to enjoy their time at the gym. And, if you are able, give them some tips if you can see something that might help them in their workout (remembering to be very cautious if suggesting anything that might hurt them - especially older them’s).

For myself, when someone notices me, and perhaps makes a kind comment - I glow for a while. OK - most of the teens in the gym are probably not really interested in what an old fart thinks of their routine (unless said old fart’s routine has elements that are significantly harder than theirs). But the older people, in general, really really appreciate a little kindness, a word recognizing their doing things well, or their just trying hard to do things well.

Michael, my work out bud, sent me a sermon that he thought was instructive - it told several stories of people who were kind to others and got some kind of a materialistic reward for their efforts. This is not what I am going on about in this post: I am talking about being kind to others for the simple reason that it will make them feel better. No other reward is necessary - just the satisfaction of knowing you made someone else’s time at the gym a bit better - perhaps making them a bit more willing to come in tomorrow.

Take a moment next time you are in the gym, look at those working out around you and make a conscious effort to give an older person a reason to look forward to being in the gym.

It’s all about doing things, and the satisfaction and happiness one finds from even the simplest kindness.