I have finally managed to articulate my health goals precisely. It’s just this: I want to play tick-tock-tick-tock-bong! with my grandchildren.
In case you don’t know the game, it’s simple: you hold the (enthusiastically willing, squealing with glee) child upside down by their ankles. Swing them a few times side to side like a pendulum, yelling ‘tick’ one way and ‘tock’ the other. Repeat a few times, then lift them straight up in the air as high as you can, and drop them straight down so their head is maybe six inches off the ground, BONG! Lift and drop BONG! Lift and drop BONG! Lower them gently to the ground, and repeat according to demand.
This requires the following things:
1) being fit enough to do it safely (for both of us): it’s a bit like a two-handed overhead press, with a kid weighing up to maybe 25kg.
2) having the sort of relationship with my kids and grand-kids, that this is natural.
I’m 46, my youngest child is 11. She might have her last child at age 40, and kids tend to get too big around age 8, that puts the window at being able to do this at 37 years from now, when I’ll be 83.
So the question to ask of any activity or intervention is this: will this make it more or less likely that I’ll be able to play tick-tock-bong at age 83? My fitness routines, diet choices, and interactions with my kids are all covered by this goal.
Let’s take diet first:
I’m running blood sugar tests; I’ve written up something about them starting with The Myth of the One True Diet. Read that if you don't know what I'm going on about.
A diabetic friend gave me a spare continuous blood glucose monitor, the Libre Freestyle, which lasted for 14 days. After my initial horror at seeing the size of the needle I was about to stick into myself (by normal standards it's tiny. By mine, it's like a 6″ nail), I found the monitor a huge improvement over the finger-prick method; not least, it automatically took readings all night, and it never forgot to run the experiment (though the 8 hour memory was not ideal; I had to remember to take a manual reading (tapping my phone to the sensor) right before sleep, and right after waking, or I’d get a gap in the data. It starts deleting the older records when the memory fills up. The sensor is small, easily installed, and I could do all my usual activities with it in place, and once I got over the needle shock, it was extremely unobtrusive. I think it ached a bit once because I’d slept with my weight on it, but that’s it. And the data is awesome. It takes a reading every 15 minutes, plus whenever you manually check.
My goals after running this experiment is to avoid unconscious blood sugar spikes, and to reduce my fasting blood sugar level a tad below the middle of the normal range. I absolutely do not intend to avoid all sugar forevermore- life is for living, and my Dad’s home-made marmalade is awesome. But being able to completely avoid sugar spikes without significant effort is very useful, and because I know what spikes it, I can avoid or embrace at will.
It’s important to establish a baseline, so I am going with fasting blood sugar at 12 hours exactly from the last calorie consumed. Simply avoiding the spikes has brought my average morning reading down from about 5.6 mmol/L to about 5.0 (which is the middle of the normal range). One reliable effect has been that exercise quickly raises my blood sugar a little (presumably as my muscles split glycogen into glucose), and no amount of exercise that I’m actually willing to do pushes my blood glucose down. This is a different body response to many people.
Another side-effect is my trousers are looser in the waist than they were. That’s no bad thing- lockdown encouraged some unhelpful habits.
I’ve also found that my previous time restricted eating protocol wasn’t doing me much good. I was doing 14:10 (last calorie in about 7pm, breakfast at about 9am). So I changed it.
At the moment, this is the protocol I’m following:
Monday to Friday: 18:6 time restricted eating (TRE). So, last calorie in about 7pm, first calorie in the next day at about 1pm. I find this works well for me; I don’t need to eat in the mornings, so skipping breakfast is no hardship. And it dropped my morning blood sugar level very quickly. I’m not terribly strict about it though: if I’m going out to do something at 12, and don’t want to be hungry for it, I’ll eat before I go (which is still a 16 hour fasting window).
At the weekends, I eat breakfast if I want to. Last Saturday I wasn’t hungry before taking my daughter to her riding lesson, so I ate when I got home at 11.30 (a bit over 16 hours since last calorie in). Sunday though, I felt like breakfast, and yes it did include marmalade on toast. And the angels sang.
I should also mention that I’ve had problems with acid reflux for the last couple of years (badly enough that the doctors shoved a camera up my nose to inspect my oesophagus). It’s been resistant to the usual interventions such as omeprazole, and over-the-counter treatments like gaviscon. One thing that I really, really, have to avoid is eating a big meal within three hours of going to bed. The consequences are truly disgusting. This puts a cap on my last-calorie-in time at 8pm at the absolute latest, 7pm better, which means when I wake up I've usually been 12 hours or more without food already. I’ve also found that this 18:10 pattern may be helping with the reflux (though I’ve no idea why).
Dinner is the main meal of the day, which we all take together (which is totally in line with the tick-tock-bong goal). We almost always cook proper food from scratch, with a decent amount of vegetables.
Thanks to reading David Sinclair’s Lifespan, I’ve also started supplementing with NMNs, and Longevinex’s resveratrol formula. If you want the details of why, I suggest reading the book. It’s very complicated, and I’m not a biologist. Suffice to say these supplements and the TRE all follow the basic rule of there being an acceptable, measurable, downside that is much lower than the probable upside.
Regarding exercise, the positive constraint of my morning training sessions has been a lifesaver (perhaps literally!). There was a time in May when I got up for my morning training and did three squats and one push-up, and thought ‘fuck it, that’ll do’. Not having seminars to stay fit for made it a serious self-discipline challenge to stay fit. I’m not a fan of using self-discipline when you can create external constraints instead. I’m a teacher first, martial artist second, swordsman third. If I wasn’t teaching swordsmanship, I’d be teaching something else. Students can bring out the best in me. So, I started the morning training sessions (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) knowing that if there was even just one student expecting me to be there to lead a session, I’d be there. It takes no mental effort, it’s a law of nature for me. It’s the same mental posture as “I have no choice”. The sessions have developed into a lovely small group of regulars (and newbies always welcome: you can join us here), such that I actively look forward to our sessions, and I am much more thorough about exercise than I ever would be on my own. We’ve even started working through my hellish ‘health qigong form’. Which means I’m practising every day to get it polished up such that I can teach it properly. Something I've been meaning to do for ages, but suddenly am finding easy. The students need it, ergo I do it. No discipline required.
You can see a sample session here:
None of this guarantees anything of course. My kids might choose not to have children, for instance. Or I could lose both my legs in a freak lightsaber accident. But luck favours the prepared. The probability is that whatever I do I’ll be alive at 83; both my grandfathers were heavy smokers who lived into their 90s. Both my parents are thankfully still alive too. The question is, at their age, will I be alive and well enough to chase toddlers over climbing frames? Fit enough for tick-tock-bong?
Framing the problem in such simple terms makes everything much, much easier. It's specific, and it includes physical strength and fitness, and mental health and connection. So that's my goal. What's yours?