Skip to main content

Follow Up To Health Upgrade, Part 2

More stuff about becoming an aerobic beast that didn't fit in the last post.

First, a few people have asked me how much cardio I actually do. The answer might surprise you: on average, I've been doing between 2.5 and 3.5 hours of low-intensity cardio per week. That's it, and that's all it took to see the massive benefits. That's not a lot, people. I'd like to get that up to around 5 hours per week (I don't think 5 hours is necessary for health - I just want to see if my aerobic pace will improve), but it's tough to do that along with the lifting I do.

However, I do walk a ton. I live in a large city, and I love walking. My gym is a 15 minute walk away from where I live, and the nearest subway stations to me are 7 and 10 minutes away. So along with the targeted cardio, the constant movement also needs to be taken into account when analyzing your own fitness regimen. That being said, I was walking a ton before I got healthy, so while I'd say constant movement is necessary, it's not sufficient. And it's certainly lacking in the West, where we drive between parking spots that are 100 ft apart.

Another important point for me is that I use minimalist shoes (specifically, Merrell Trail Gloves, which I absolutely love). At one point a few months ago, I considered buying more padded shoes so that I could run more, but then I realized that that would completely negate the whole "better body awareness" that I mentioned in the last post. I decided that the signal of "my feet and lower legs are starting to hurt" that comes at the end of a run is actually a fantastic signal; it means that it's time to stop running. And again, since I'm healthy now and giving my body enough time to recover, the distance that I'm able to run before my feet/legs start hurting has been slowly increasing over time. Although I have no desire to run a marathon, at my current rate of progress, in about a year I should be able to healthily run a marathon in minimalist shoes.

About the minimalist shoes - I've been on the barefoot bandwagon for quite awhile (about six years), but it didn't "work" until this time around. When I first lived abroad, for four months in Tokyo in 2007, I walked around in a pair of fairly unpadded shoes. It was my first time walking a lot on a daily basis, and man did my feet hurt. Part of that was surely the newness of it all, but I think another part had to do with my health. Since I wasn't healthy at the time, my body was not reacting to stresses in as positive a way as it is now. Basically, my feet just hurt all the time. Also, when I started running again this time, after very quickly developing some Achilles pain (along with constantly sore calves), I discovered that my running gait sucked. If you're gonna go barefoot/minimalist, be very very careful, and learn how to run properly. I focus on trying to be as light as possible when I'm running, and the forefoot/midfoot strike basically guarantees me an ideal gait of 170-180 steps per minute without thinking about it. My main technique problem was not letting my heels come down to the ground naturally, and that's what caused the Achilles issues. If you're running on your toes, or you hear pounding when you're on the treadmill, you are most certainly doing it wrong.

Another fascinating change I've seen is that teaching my body to run has changed my perspective on the world that we live in. I like to think of it in terms of scale. Previously, when I was aerobically unhealthy, the scale of the world that I could thrive in was small. I could run a couple miles if I wanted or needed to, but it was fueled mostly by anaerobic energy (i.e., carbohydrates) and required immediate refueling and rehydration. Also, I was scared to death of the sun. As such, my world was small.

In contrast, one of the most enlightening things in the Kilian Jornet NY Times spread was about how he can run for hours and hours in the mountains without breakfast or even water during the run. No way, I thought. Impossible. Yet the fitter I've become, the more I understand. That 10 mile run I did in San Francisco a few weeks ago was done fasted (~14 hrs), and I didn't have any water with me on the run. Yet when I finished, I felt ... fine. A bit hungry, sure, but not lightheaded. Mouth was a bit dry at the end, possibly from the salty sea spray while crossing the Golden Gate, but I barely sweated on the run, despite being out there for nearly two hours. Essentially, if my feet weren't sore, I felt like I had plenty of energy to run right back if I really needed to.

In other words, I realized that the scale of the world I could thrive in had grown by at least a factor of ten. In less than two hours, with no food or water, I had crossed a distance which half a year ago would have been nearly beyond imagination without a car. The City by the Bay suddenly seemed a heck of a lot smaller. A similar thing happened in Seoul - if I could run between two distant subway stations on opposite sides of the city, then the whole city seemed way more manageable. What's 45 minutes end-to-end via subway if I could do the same thing in 75 minutes on foot? I started "collecting" the bridges crossing the Han, and am increasingly enthralled by the massive urban structures I run under, over, and through. This modern world of ours was not made to be traversed on foot, but if you can, it feels like you can conquer it.

Finally, the fitter I become, the more in tune with nature I feel, and the more I welcome "positive stresses" in my everyday life. For instance, cold doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. Not only can I endure it, but I can thrive in it. I find myself seeking out small stresses, knowing that I'll come out stronger on the other side. The scientific term for this is hormesis, and it's the basis for everything from building muscles to dealing with cold temperatures to winning a battle of the wits. But again, and this is super important - you need to start from a position of decent health in order to level up via positive stresses. If your body is always on the verge of breaking down or getting sick, then throwing intentional stresses at it isn't going to make it stronger, it's just going to push you over the edge to illness or injury. But on the flip side, if your body is strong and healthy, you'd be amazed at how adaptive it can be.

What health problems can we solve by taking advantage of the body's built-in hormetic stress response combined with aerobic health, healthy diet, and mindfulness? Or maybe a better question to ask: what problems can't we solve?


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) Obvi

Stuttering in Korea

I had given up on English. It's my native language, but I figured after 30 some-odd years of disfluent speech, it was time to try something else. So I signed up for language classes in Korean, rationalizing that if I was going to try to teach myself how to speak, I might as well learn a new language along the way. This might seem completely insane, but when the prevailing theme of your conscious thoughts for multiple decades is some variant of "Why can't I say what I want to say?", you come up with lots of crazy ideas. For background, I've been a person who stutters for my entire life. I wrote about it on this blog a few years ago, so I think it's time for a followup. I've learned a lot since then, about myself and about stuttering, but in this post I simply want to give some insight into what it's actually like to stutter, and how my speech has changed over time. After the last stuttering post, the predominant reaction I got from friends was ei

Is It Worth It To Learn Korean?

Learning Korean as a non-Asian foreigner is an exercise in masochism. Note that I specify "non-Asian". Why does that make a difference? Simply because Koreans possess a deeply-ingrained belief that non-Asians are incapable of speaking Korean. The self-fulfilling prophecy of it is that since Koreans expect you to be incapable of speaking Korean, due to this mental block, they are likely to not understand you regardless of your proficiency level. Additionally, they won't respond to you with normal Korean like they would respond to an Asian person, because they assume you couldn't possibly understand. You will rarely ever have an opportunity to hear natural Korean, because Koreans simply won't speak it with you unless 1) they are open-minded and awesome (meaning they have probably lived abroad - thank you to all of you), or 2) they have known you long enough that they've gotten past the odd sight of a foreigner speaking Korean. In short, nearly every time you o