Skip to main content

Follow Up To My Health Upgrade

It finally happened - I got a cold.  For the first time since I drastically reengineered my health half a year ago, I found myself coming down with something. Since temporary setbacks are often a good time to judge your progress, I decided to take this opportunity to write an update on my personal journey through health and fitness reinvigoration.

Last time, I wrote about how low-intensity aerobic training had completely upgraded my health. My sleep schedule normalized, my digestive issues completely disappeared, my energy and mood both skyrocketed, and I generally felt "good" for the first time in my life. Since then, I've realized just how drastic a change I've actually made, but the real eye-opener is that I had never seriously considered that there was anything wrong with me - although my baseline was shitty, I never knew anything else, so I just wrongly assumed I was normal. Well, there is nothing normal about getting cold after cold in the winter, having one slowly improve but never quite disappear, only to tail right into the next one. For as long as I can remember, every single year I would come down with an upper respiratory infection that would last at least a month. This made training (gymnastics) difficult, because you're constantly coughing and can't get enough air. This literally happened every single winter, and I stupidly assumed that I was just susceptible to bronchitis/URIs (which I was), and there was nothing I could do about it. In retrospect, that seems completely ridiculous. Young, "healthy" people should not be sick for over a month every winter!

So back to that cold. After three weeks of round-the-world travel, consistently less than ideal food choices, holiday stress, sleep deprivation, and a ton of baby visits, I woke up jetlaggedly early last Friday on a fine San Francisco morning and decided to go out for a run. I ended up running a little over ten miles, from SoMa to Sausalito. That was my longest run ever, and I followed it up later that day by seeing a few different groups of friends, drinking plentifully with each group. The next morning, I woke up a bit congested. I met a friend at the gym, got a quick workout in, and noticed that the congestion wasn't going away. The next day, I was still feeling kinda congested, and only got a couple hours of sleep in due to more visits and an early flight the following day. I woke up that morning, finally decided I had a cold, and was lucky enough to treat myself to 14 hours of unadulterated luxury flying across the Pacific in United Economy while listening to a small child across the aisle scream incessantly throughout the entire flight.

Now, I know some might disagree that I actually had a cold, but that morning of the flight I know that's what it was based on how I felt. Except in contrast to every single cold I've ever gotten previously in my life, my immune system fought this one off like a friggin' champ. I never got sluggish. I never "felt like shit". No sore throat, which accompanies most of my colds. I never had a cough, or anything even approaching an upper respiratory infection. Heck, I even started feeling better on the flight! For the first time in my life, a cold left me with zero downtime and really not very much unpleasantness. Sure, it's possible that I coincidentally caught a really light cold for the first time ever, but it's also possible that coincidentally my health just magically got better at the same time I changed my diet and exercise. That's the problem with anecdotal stories like mine - they're experiments of one, and it's impossible to rule out chance.

In any case, I can now visualize the strength of my immune system pretty well. I think of it like a gauge, where 100% is "fully healthy", and 0% is "completely broken and sick". The stresses that you place on your body deplete your immune system and bring the gauge down. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, if it's "good" stress - in fact, stress is necessary to get stronger, as long as you give your body time to recover. So when I lift heavy things, that's good stress. When I drink too much alcohol, that's also stress, albeit bad stress. When I'm stressed, that's additional stress on the immune system. Sleep deprivation - more stress. All these things make the bar go down. But now, since I have a normal immune system, the bar fills back up quickly. Eating good foods fills it up even quicker (I specifically go for lots of vegetables, and bone-based soups such as seolleongtang, galbitang, samgyetang). Getting quality sleep fills it right back up. Basking in the sun tops it off. And another thing I never expected - the low-intensity aerobic exercise that I focus on (with heart rate down in the 180-age range) seems to be rejuvenating for me. It's healing. And if I don't get enough of it, I don't feel quite right.

In case you're interested in fitness specifics, last month I ran my first 10K ever. Before the race, I had done less than an hour total of "speed work". I don't mean in the week prior - I mean since I started doing low-intensity running six months ago. About two weeks prior to the race I did two minutes fast, eight minutes "aerobic" intervals for an hour or so, and then the Monday of race week I did five minutes fast/five minutes "aerobic pace" intervals for about 8K. That's it. I knew my approximate "fast" pace from the fast intervals, and thus set my goal time at 50 minutes, despite having no idea if I could actually maintain the pace for that long. I ended up finishing the race in 48:58, which I was incredibly happy with. For point of reference, in April I ran about 5K in San Francisco during a training run (pre-Maffetone) in about 31 minutes, and I felt like crap and ended with an awful stitch in my side. The improvement from that to a sub-8 minute mile pace for 10K in such a short amount of time is pretty mind-blowing to me. I'll take it.

Back in that original post, I stated that I thought my cardio capacity was "somewhere near average". Now I am quite certain that it is well above average. This is evident not just from the race, but from the way I feel in general. I feel exactly like how people who live at altitude describe going down to sea level: it feels like I have more oxygen at all times, and that it takes less oxygen to do everything. I'm certainly not running up mountains yet, but I can at least imagine it now. And contrary to conventional wisdom, my muscles didn't "melt away" from focusing on cardio - in fact, all of my lifts are currently at new maxes, despite barely lifting for the first four months of the new training (I was doing one day a week of light maintenance work), and losing weight from when the previous maxes were set. Improved cardio makes lifting easier, because I recover faster both in the gym between sets and also in the regular post-workout recovery period. Everything works better this way.

In general, though, one of the best changes that has come with my improved health has been a much greater body awareness. As I've gotten healthier, I've gotten more sensitive to how my body feels, what state of recovery it's in, how different foods affect it (e.g., the Standard American Diet makes me feel awful and lethargic, and after two weeks in the States, my mile pace had slowed nearly a minute per mile at my aerobic heart rate) and so on. All of which begs the most important point - health is an individual initiative, and works differently for everyone. Too much of health and fitness advice tries to give people a "routine" to follow, and they feel that as long as they follow it to the letter, they'll get results. But it doesn't work like that. There is no getting around the fact that you need to listen to your body, and you need to listen closely. I now have a much better sense of when I'm headed towards overtraining, and as soon as I am, I pull back and simply rest. And I feel no guilt at all, because since I am finally healthy, I know that my body will recover and come back stronger than it was before. Whereas before, I knew that there would be a very long asymptotic return to baseline, perhaps never reaching it.

So, where to go from here? On the health side, I'm going to keep pushing my body with lots of low-intensity cardio, but augmented with more heavy lifts and sprints once the weather warms up. There are also a multitude of literal mountains I can't wait to climb, because I know I have the energy and fitness to easily do so. This health change has been one of the most important things I learned this year, and it has been an amazing adventure combing through the research and discovering how connected so many modern health problems are. It's incredible to me how short-sighted the traditional view of health is, when in reality it's holistic and based on the complex interactions of huge systems. Now I'm left wondering how long it will take to undo the effects of three decades of poor health. Whatever the case, I'm certainly not going back to the old life, cause the new one just feels too damn good.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Korean Is Hard For Native English Speakers

A couple of days ago, as an experiment, I wrote my first blog post ever in a non-English language. It was an attempt to explain some of the reasons that Korean is hard to learn for native English speakers, so I figured I might as well try to write it in Korean. Those of you who actually read Korean can see how awkward the attempt was =).

In any case, the post came from an email conversation I had with The Korean from Ask a Korean, a fantastically well-written blog about all things Korea from the perspective of a Korean who moved to the United States during high school. Since I tend to geek out on language things, I figured I might as well post part of that conversation. An edited version follows.

---------

Out of the languages that I've attempted to learn so far, Korean has been the hardest. I've done a lot of meta thinking about learning Korean, and I think there are a number of reasons it's difficult for non-Koreans (and especially Westerners) to learn:

1) Obviously, the…

Don't Take Korean Language Advice From Kyopos

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but the last people you should take Korean language advice from are kyopos (foreign-born or raised Koreans). That being said, if you do follow their advice, you will get many laughs from Koreans. Some of my personal favorites, all of which actually happened to me:

- When I first got to Korea, I was at some open-air event, and during a break I started talking to one of the hosts. He said he was only a part-time host, so I asked him what his full-time job was, and he said "백수" (which is slang for "unemployed guy"). I asked him what that was, and he replied, "Comedian". So then the next few people I met, I proudly told I was a baeksu. (Edit: Actually, this guy was Korean Korean, not kyopo.)

- Next, a kyopo who lived in the apartment I moved into back in 2010 asked me what I was doing in Korea, and I told him I was starting a company, and asked how to say that in Korean in case people ask. He told me…

영어가 모국어인 사람들은 왜 한국어를 배우기가 어려운 이유

이 포스트는 내 처음 한국어로 블로그 포스트인데, 한국어에 대하니까 잘 어울린다. =) 자, 시작합시다! 왜 외국사람에게 한국어를 배우기가 어렵다? 난 한국어를 배우고 있는 사람이라서 이 문제에 대해 많이 생각하고 있었다. 여러가지 이유가 있는데 오늘 몇 이유만 논할 것이다.

1. 분명히 한국어 문법은 영어에 비해 너무 많이 다른다. 영어는 “오른쪽으로 분지(分枝)의 언어"라고 하는데 한국어는 “왼쪽으로 분지의 언어"이다. 뜻이 무엇이나요? 예를 보면 이해할 수 있을 것이다. 간단한 문장만 말하면 (외국어를 말하는 남들은 간단한 문장의 수준을 지낼 수가 약간 드물다), 간단한 걸 기억해야 돼: 영어는 “SVO”인데 한국어는 “SOV”이다. “I’m going to school”라고 한국어로는 “저는 학교에 가요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I’m school to go”이다. 두 언어 다르는 게 목적어와 동사의 곳을 교환해야 한다. 별로 어렵지 않다. 하지만, 조금 더 어렵게 만들자. “I went to the restaurant that we ate at last week.” 한국어로는 “전 우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당에 또 갔어요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I we last week went to restaurant to again went”말이다. 한국어가 왼쪽으로 분지 언어라서 문장 중에 왼쪽으로 확대한다! 이렇게 좀 더 쉽게 볼 수 있다: “전 (우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당)에 또 갔어요”. 주제가 “전"이고 동사가 “갔다"이고 목적어가 “우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당"이다. 영어 문장은 오른쪽으로 확대한다: I (S) went (V) to (the restaurant (that we went to (last week))) (O). 그래서 두 숙어 문장 만들고 싶으면 생각속에서도 순서를 변해야 된다.

2. 첫 째 점이니까 다른 사람을 자기 말을 아라들게 하고 싶으면, 충분히 …