Return of Sciatica

The music of Chick Corea’s band “Return to Forever” is exciting, upbeat, and jazzy. The return of my sciatica after over a year was dull, painful, and humbling.

It happened without warning during the music festival “Lock’n”. I suspect that several factors aggravated my lower back. Of course there is no way to identify a single culprit; I feel quite motivated to avoid all of them in the future.

The first mistake was to switch from my full-body workout to a beach-run in the weeks before the festival. I love the beach, but it’s no substitute, imo. For me, strengthening the body’s core is the key to avoiding sciatica. That’s what the talented Dr. Han taught me.

The next error may have been driving all night to the festival.

Perhaps the tension of a three-hour wait at the entrance gate contributed.

I overworked my back lugging gear to the campsite. (We chose a wooded campsite rather than car-camping.) I also brought too much gear. I should have moved less gear each trip. There may be an attitude problem involved.

I definitely stood too much, and danced too much, all day and half the night, for several  days. Possibly the wonderful craft beers of Virginia dulled pain that would otherwise have served as a warning. As I always say, pain is Nature’s messenger. On the final day of the festival, I was stuck in my portable chair for most of the shows, out of necessity.

There were no seats with proper back support at the festival. I now know this is an absolute requirement.

I received a program of back-stretching and core-strengthening exercises from Dr Han years ago. I haven’t done them regularly for about a year, except that I do the “Horse” position at every workout. Maybe I should restore them to my daily routine.

I do not think that a softer and more level sleeping surface would have helped. I didn’t feel painful upon waking up. Probably the time laying on my back helped.

Thankfully, the sciatica is 99% gone three weeks later. I credit the return of workouts at the park, and, the wooden “English Banker” chair at my computer. (It fits me perfectly; I have a very flat butt.)

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Workouts 305 to 310

Category: Workout log

Workouts number 305 through 310 were “recovery” workouts, after a month without any.

I switched to beach-running workouts for two weeks. Then I went to a festival for a week and got only a little real exercise. Then I had a busy week and failed to get back to my routine.

When I did get back to the park, i reduced my workout by about 20%. But it wasn’t reduced enough. My left forearm muscles got sore. My left shoulder’s tendinitis, and my left wrist’s old injury, began to give some pain too. During this time, I also had some heavy physical work to do.

It was only with workout 310 today, almost two weeks later, that I was almost back to normal. I am still reducing chin-ups and the horizontal ladder, in order to coddle my left arm.

I was surprised how noticeable my loss of aerobic conditioning was. The beach runs were pretty aerobic.

Workouts 301 and 302

Category: Exercise Log

I’ve decided to number the workouts as a motivator. Since I’ve done roughly three per week for roughly two years, numbering begins at 300.

These were very sweaty morning workouts, in warm humid weather. They took extra time, because I cooled down along the way. Luckily, the park where I exercise has many wild blueberry bushes, so I occupied my slack time picking berries.

It’s amazing how much specific muscles matter. Recently, when I jogged a little in sand, my legs ached almost immediately. It seems that the sand engages different muscles, ones my usual workout doesn’t get to.

Two Years of Sweat

Category: Exercise Log.

I’ve decided to categorize posts in this blog. Posts in this category, “Exercise Log”, will discuss progress with exercise, or, describe a single day’s activity.

I have done the exercise course at the park for over two years now, usually every other day. I’ve increased the number of reps at each station gradually, and replaced walking with jogging and running very gradually. I now do the “advanced” level of reps, or more, at almost every station. I now can jog or run (rather than walk) between all stations, unless I am overheated. That is required at the “advanced” level.

Some results are clear. My muscle strength for everyday tasks is greatly improved. My aerobic condition is modestly improved. My muscles are visibly larger and my belly smaller.

I have lost only a little weight since starting, about 5%. Clearly that includes more muscle, and less fat, than before. I hope for more weight loss than that.

I am less depressed than before. Of course, that is subjective and hard to quantify.

I want to have more energy and motivation throughout the day. But actually, after exercising, I am very tired for a while. It’s hard to say whether I am more energetic in the remainder of the day. Again, subjective and hard to quantify.

I want to be fit enough for sports and other physical activity. Here I am a bit frustrated. The other day I did some jogging in the sand at the beach. My (stronger and better-defined) leg muscles were quite sore the next day. Similarly, if I play tennis, my right arm and my legs are usually sore the next day. On the upside, a long day of moving boxes and furniture recently was far easier than it was five years ago.

I want to avoid heart disease, which is probably my main health risk. I used to take statin drugs for years, which is somewhat dangerous to the liver. Now, my blood tests are almost as good, without statins. I’d be curious to see the current condition of my arterial walls, but I doubt that my health insurance would pay for the exam. Twenty years ago, I saw (on an ultrasound) that the walls were thicker than they ought to be.

Net net, I guess the exercise program is going well.

Simpler Ways to Help Your Pancreas

I guess I got too deep into the weeds in the “Glycemic Index Shockers” post. I forgot key points about making life easy for your pancreas. As that post said, it can help to pick foods with low GI. But also:

Most simply, eat less carbs per meal.

These tips are “simple”, not “easy”. 🙂

Also very simple: Eat more slowly.

There is a delay between the time time you eat food and the time it makes you feel full. So, eating more slowly will help you to eat less without feeling deprived. But the point, for your pancreas, is that the “glycemic load” will be distributed over a longer time. So, lower insulin levels can do the work successfully. The pancreas won’t need to make huge amounts suddenly, which stresses it. (Large amounts of insulin also lead to “sugar crash”, when the excess blood glucose is all processed but lots of insulin is still in action.)

Eating more slowly is a very healthy habit. Conversation at meals slows you down, and improves digestion in general. If you eat alone, puzzles or reading can slow you down.

Here are some famous quotations that mention digestion:

Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.
William Shakespeare

Yes, exercise is the catalyst. That’s what makes everything happen: your digestion, your elimination, your sex life, your skin, hair, everything about you depends on circulation. And how do you increase circulation?
Jack LaLanne

Meat eaten without either mirth or music is ill of digestion.
Walter Scott

Now, good digestion wait on appetite, and health on both!
William Shakespeare

Good food, good sex, good digestion, good sleep: to these basic animal pleasures, man has added nothing but the good cigarette.
Mignon McLaughlin

Good digestions, the gray monotony of provincial life, and the boredom – ah the soul-destroying boredom – of long days of mild content.
Jean-Paul Sartre

 

Less-Amazing News

My wife’s usage of fasting to fight rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”) provoked a lot of interest. (Recap: She has tried virtually everything to fight RA. After she fasted for twelve days, symptoms abated, and blood tests showed zero levels for C-reactive-protein (“CRP”), a marker for inflammation.)

(Warning: Long fasts are very dangerous for some people, and one requires knowledge and medical advice beforehand, and careful attention during the fast.)

After the fast, my wife began a modified diet. She now eats a diet that is 100% vegan and gluten-free. She also avoids the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.  (Nightshades are traditionally associated with arthritis. Modern medical science does not support this idea.)

Also, since the long fast, she has done occasional one-day fasts. These are much less dangerous than long fasts; many people do these weekly or annually.

After the long fast, my wife’s RA symptoms returned gradually, to the point that she resumed taking the dangerous medications that reduce the symptoms of RA. (Untreated RA is more dangerous and harmful than the medications.) Now, after many months of the diet and the medications, her blood tests show lower levels of CRP than before the new diet. (She used to take the medications, but ate an ordinary diet and did no fasting.) Subjectively, she now feels less pain and swelling than before. Also, her weight is lower than before.

Many doctors believe that a vegan diet full of fruits and vegetables is healthier than an omnivore diet, as long as one gets the necessary nutrients. Certainly, modern medicine has established that red meat, especially grilled and smoked meat, is associated with health risks;  research into what-and-why continues.

Many doctors believe that “white foods” are bad for health,in large amounts. (“White foods” include sucrose, fructose, and high-glycemic-index foods like white flour, white bread, and potatoes.) It is well-established that these foods lead to obesity and diabetes, although not everyone suffers these results.

Arthritis by definition is inflammation of the joints. We can see my wife’s new diet as a way to keep her weight down. Reducing body weight is well-known to be helpful for treating arthritis, because it reduces the wear-and-tear on the joints.

It is worth mentioning that RA flare-ups typically come and go unpredictably. So, I cannot say for sure what is helping, or why.

It Wouldn’t Be Life Without ………

Jello? Sorry, that’s not it.

No, I am talking about the big D. Death isn’t just for older people, but there’s a correlation. More and more frequently, people who I know personally die.

When I was twenty, a beloved friend died in an auto accident at the age of twenty-two. That was a horrible shock. The next year, on the day when I left Georgia to move to California, my beloved great-grandfather died at the age of one-hundred-and-one. If I had been more aware, I would have noticed a steady stream of relatives, and relatives of friends, and friends of friends, dying off steadily.

These events feel quite different from the knowledge that many of the world’s billions die daily, somewhere. It’s different from hearing media accounts of horrible, unnecessary deaths of strangers in my town, state, or country.  I’d like to value everyone’s life, but when it’s personal, it’s different.

Of course, animals fear and avoid death. It is a basic feature of the “lizard brain” that all sentient life shares.

Many cultures and religions provide reasons not to fear death: reincarnation, heaven, fatalism, glory (as in ancient Sparta), and such. Belief in these takes a lot of training. The reasoning brain can barely overrule the lizard brain.

Lizards never get depressed. Only intelligent creatures do. We humans logically understand that our death, and the deaths of everyone, will come. We know it almost our entire lives.

Here’s one theory of why it’s so depressing: We normally put aside our knowledge of death, but when it happens to somebody close, it intrudes back into our thoughts. It forces us to think that we ourselves will die.

Certainly I am sad for my own loss of a friend or relative, and sad in posthumous empathy with that person, and sad in sympathy with other people who lost the deceased, and sad for my eventual loss of myself. But sadness isn’t depression. (Maybe this leads to depression for some people.) Beyond sadness, I also am forced to think and feel about my own death.

Recognition of my own limited time points up how precious life is. And that brings to mind the time that I wasted, the opportunities that I squandered, the love that I missed, the times that I failed, the people I wronged, and the general grubby self-centered jerkiness of life. And that’s depressing.

It’s no wonder it takes Zen monks decades of silent sitting to relax.

More Sugar! **

It’s a little shocking that the sugar industry bankrolled research to expose the role of fatty foods in heart disease – and to ignore the role of sugar and white foods (refined carbs) in general. (Their reasoning was: lower fat consumption would lead to higher sugar consumption, and draw the Spotlight of Shame away from carbs.)  It’s even more shocking to see that their secret funding of slanted research was legal and very normal back then. Free markets and all that. Caveat emptor.

Today medical opinion about eating fats has changed radically. The advice then, in part due to the secretly-subsidized publications and studies, was to reduce fatty foods. Today the usual advice is to eat good fats and avoid bad fats, most especially trans-fats. I wonder how much of that misconception was due to the food industry’s propaganda and public relations efforts.

The sugar industry knew well that high consumption of either fat or sugar can lead to heart disease, because they had their own secret research. They knew well that high consumption of sugar or refined carbs leads to diabetes. Yet sugar stayed out of the spotlight as a medical menace, and that is mostly still the case. If they knew the dangers all along, and kept it secret, they may end up paying fines and settlements just like the tobacco industry.

Is our accelerating obesity epidemic and our accelerating diabetes epidemic due to the food industry’s propaganda and public relations efforts? Or are we just genetically doomed to eat tasty foods, more than is good for us? Are we ignorant of the causes of diabetes, heart disease, poor circulation, cancer, and gout? Do we just disbelieve in Science? Or are we food’s doomed voluptuaries  – committed to sacrificing our organs, our extremities, and life itself, in order to savor the world’s pleasures fully?  Probably some of each; I know I am. (except the Science thing!)

________________________________________________

**(no relation to Firesign Theater nor to Georgie Tirebiter)

 

Expert, or at least, intermediate plus 51%

via Daily Prompt: Expert

“Expert” happens to be the term for the third level of exercise at the fitness course I use. The signs at the stations give three numbers for how many repetitions to do: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert. I do “expert” rep-counts at some of the stations. I haven’t even reached “beginner” on the one where you swing along a horizontal ladder. On most, my rep counts are 51% between “intermediate” and “expert”. My muscle strength and stamina continue to improve. I increase by a rep or two here and there every few weeks. On the way to “Expert”!

Along with rep-counts, the instructions on the sign say whether to walk, jog, or run to the next station. On this question, I am pretty well stuck at intermediate. It isn’t the legs, it’s the breath. I wonder how much aerobic conditioning can improve at an advanced age.

Amazing News Beyond Today’s Medical Science

My wife has scored a zero. That’s the best possible score on the blood test which looks for C-Reactive Protein (“CRP”). CRP is present when a person has inflammation. People with rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”), like my wife, always have inflammation. She has had inflammation for about twenty years. It is inflammation that damages the joints of RA sufferers and causes so much pain.

During those years she has used various powerful medicines with bad side effects. Some can cause blindness. Some can cause baldness. Some are immuno-suppressants that can, and did, lead to infections. Some are anti-inflammatories that can, and did, cause ulcers.

She also has tried a wide range of other therapies. A few examples: Chinese herbs, the “elimination diet”, more exercise, acupuncture, cupping, physical therapy, hot yoga, and my personal favorite for its weirdness, bee stings. Yes, since the Romans, physicians have had occasional success with bee venom in patients with auto-immune diseases such as RA. No such luck for her though.

So what was the miracle treatment that relieved the pain? Was it another genetically engineered, half-mouse-half-human medical marvel? Was it a new molecule discovered in a giant laboratory of a giant pharma company?

No and no. What led to this remarkable result was a twelve-day fast. Twelve days with nothing but water!

Please see my earlier post “Fast!” for warnings and disclaimers (IANAD, talk to your doctor, fasting is very dangerous for some people,  etc.)

During the fast she was tired. Serious exercise was out of the question, but she did take walks. All medications were stopped during the fast, and for a while before it.

She lost muscle tone (and lots of fat). She lost muscle tissue, because the heart must have glucose, and there are only three sources: food, the liver’s glycogen (a day or two’s supply at most), and the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Other than the heart, the rest of the body’s cells can get energy from ketones, which  the body will make from fat. In fact, the nerve cells probably benefit from the switch to ketone energy.

As the fat cells are emptied, toxins dissolved in the fat are released into the bloodstream. This probably is part of why a dieter feels bad.

The fast was not a pleasant experience for her. Actual hunger pains went away after the first two days, as the digestive system shut down. But the yearning for food increased over time. It took a lot of willpower.  a

I was skeptical, but apparently, it worked.

Now she is on a strict vegan diet, as recommended by many of the same doctors who recommend fasting. She feels much better. Even on a vegan diet, she is regaining weight. A week later she is exercising vigorously again, and feeling much much better. It is practically a miracle!