Move It or Lose It

About to run my first race, the Wonder Woman 5k at UNC-G’s 2019 Homecoming
Okay, so this blog post is going to be a bit out of character for me but it’s important. But I promise you I won’t proselytize, just share what I’m doing and learning. And, leave it to you to make your own choices. So, let’s get started.

So, what is this mysterious topic? Health. As in exercise, weight loss, aging, that sort of thing. If you were to dig through the archives of this site, you wouldn’t find anything about health. Why is that? Because, I’m sad to say, I didn’t really put a priority on it. I should have. As a firefighter, I saw the need, both for me and numerous citizens I helped. I made efforts now and then, but they never took hold. Until 2019, that is. Since then, I’ve lost over 50 lbs. and I exercise daily, including running 3 days a week. That’s a drastic change. So, what brought it about? I became a grandfather. And, I realized that if I wanted to see my grandkids grow up, I had to do things differently.

That realization really hit home in 2018. That’s when my doctor told me that my Type II diabetes was progressing to the point that I was going to need insulin soon. I’d been using Trulicity, an injectable non-insulin medication, for a while. But actual, for-real insulin? That got my attention. Up till then, I’d never really thought of myself as a diabetic before. But, if I started insulin, there would be no denying it. So, I asked him for other alternatives. He suggested weight loss surgery and I was on board immediately. Now, I know that sounds weird but, with my medical history–7 major surgeries in 5 years (most of them cancer-related)–surgery is no big deal for me. I had to jump through some hoops insurance-wise and do a shitload of tests, both medical and psychological, but in May of 2019, I underwent sleeve gastrectomy and never looked back.

After surgery–the recovery from which was the easiest I’ve ever experienced–I decided that I wasn’t going through all this for nothing. I had to make it count. I owed to myself and my family to do whatever it took to be here for them. Within 5 days of being discharged from the hospital, I was walking every day. Within another week, I started a Couch-to-5k running program. As soon as it became available, I started an exercise program for bariatric patients through UNC-G’s Kinesiology department called BELT. After completing that, I moved over to another UNC-G program known as HOPE. Between my doctors and these two programs, I’m in better shape at age 60 than a lot of people half my age. I’m kinda digging that.

That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing and I promised you info on what I’ve learned, too. Here’s some: weight loss and aging have a genetic component. There’s only so much influence you have on them at a day-to-day level. And, when it comes to losing weight, there’s a double whammy: not only is the resistance to dropping pounds genetic, it’s evolutionary. We haven’t lived with our current abundance of food for all that long on the evolutionary scale and our bodies still react like to a lowered intake of calories as a sign of starvation instead of an effort to maintain a healthy weight. When that happens, it lowers your metabolism and scavenges fuel from places like muscle instead of that pesky fat around your middle. Not really what you want, right?

Unfortunately, exercise is of limited use in either losing weight or living longer. No matter what you think, it’s not really feasible to exercise enough to offset that amazingly delicious calorie bomb from Cinnabon. I suppose there is an indirect benefit from exercise when it comes to aging. Being fit does decrease your chances of cardiovascular disease and other things that might cause you to prematurely shuffle off this mortal coil, but exercise is no guarantee that you’ll live longer. I mean, you could have the cardiovascular system of Usain Bolt but there are a multitude of other ways to die that won’t be affected by that. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise, though. While it won’t add years to your life, it will add life to your years. Is that a trite platitude? Absolutely. It also happens to be true. Daily movement does so many great things: improves your mood, keeps your bones, muscles, and joints in good working order, it even boosts your sex drive. Oh shit, I said I wouldn’t proselytize, didn’t I? Sorry about that.

So, I told you the why, and I touched on the how. Here, I’ll go a little deeper in that second one. I mentioned HOPE, the exercise program I’m part of, and running. HOPE is 3 days a week in the gym with trainers. And, by “trainers”, I don’t mean someone who watched a couple of videos or something. I mean, college students who study the body and the best ways to optimize its performance. That looks like strength training, aerobic exercise, along with stability and flexibility work (i.e. lots of core work). And, lots and lots of sweat.

My aerobic regimen is a 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) run 3 times a week with a 5-kilometer walk or 9-kilometer bike ride on my off days. For me, running has an almost zen-like quality. Especially in the warmer months when I can get out in the early morning and everything is quiet. It’s the ultimate “me” time and often makes my day. Walking, on the other hand, gives me inspiration. I’ve worked through many instances of writer’s block while walking. Hell, I wrote most of this post while walking. Biking, though? Biking is just fun. It reminds me of childhood, riding all over the neighborhood and exploring. Let me clarify something: these runs, walks, bike trips are outside. No exercise machines for me. One of the trainers in the BELT program was an avid runner and referred to the treadmill as the “dreadmill”. Every minute I’ve spent on one of those things confirms the truth of that epithet.

I’m going to take a minute before I close and return to the “why” of my newfound zeal for health and fitness. One of the things I like about all of this is the way it makes me feel. Before, during, and after. I mean, it’s pretty damn nice to climb a flight of steps without getting winded anymore. And, there’s the fact that I’m shallow enough to like what I’m seeing I’m the mirror these days. Not to mention the compliments I’m getting, even if they do make me uncomfortable. But, I’m learning to live with that.

So, there it is. Everything I’ve been thinking and saying (mostly in my head, but still) about my relatively recent conversion to fitness nut. It runs a bit long, sure. But there’s a lot I wanted to say. If any of this inspires you to start exercising or helps you keep going, that would make me very happy. If, on the other hand, you think I should shut the hell up and mind my own business, you’re not alone. And, I understand completely.