Committing to failure – on a regular basis

Good to be back

With the long weekend, I have had time to rest up and pay attention to things that normally sneak by me in the course of my busy life. I’m getting back the energy I had lost to that horrible commute to and from that horrible job, and I’m noticing things that I let slide for about three years.

My level of physical fitness (or lack thereof) is front-and-center with me, these days, as I am wearing lighter clothing and noticing how weak and spindly my arms and legs have gotten. I’ve also been having a lot of back and hip pain, which partly came from those years of driving so much each day, and partly came from poor posture — which came out of the commute, I’m sure.

Also, my level of cognitive fitness is getting my attention. I have made huge strides, over the past several years, however I’m not quite where I’d like to be. I still have issues with feeling foggy and slow — much moreso than I am comfortable with. And while I have been reading more and making more sense of things, and my ability to respond to ideas and comments by people has improved by leaps and bounds, since I started juggling and also having my butter-coffee each morning… my brain still feels foggy and slow, and I need to address that.

I know what has helped me in the past, on both counts — exercise. It’s one thing to want to keep fit so I can have a longer life.  I do, absolutely. At the same time, I want to get fit, so I can have a higher quality life, here and now. In the past, I have exercised deliberately and regularly, and I really benefited from it. Back in 2010, I read about how exercise helps the body AND the brain, and I developed a morning routine that was satisfying and also challenging.

Then it became regular – routine – and it got boring. So I stopped.

And ever since I’ve been on a downward slide. The slide didn’t start right away – it probably took me about a year to see the benefits erode. But for the past couple of years, I’ve really felt like I’ve been declining. Back to being fuzzy and dull — not sharp, like I used to feel.

In the past, I had a routine of lifting relatively light weights for 10 reps of a set sequence of exercises. 10 arm raises to the front, 10 arm raises to the back, 10 press-ups, 10 flys, 10 rows, 10 biceps curls, 10 triceps extensions… It was all very predictable and measurable, and it felt good. It helped my brain as well as my body. And I felt very sharp, indeed.

However, I did it every single day, and there were days when I used heavier weights, and I did not rest afterwards to give my body a chance to catch up. So, I overtrained. And it wasn’t much fun anymore.

I needed to give myself time to catch up, but I frankly overdid it on the “rest”  — and now, after several years of resting, I am pretty much a lump, and it’s not only draining my energy but also my self-esteem, as well.

I used to be in terrific shape — not Ah-nold Schwarzenegger shape, but more of a “swimmer physique”, and I was able to do just about anything physical I set my mind to. Now it’s very different, and the concept of myself as being physically capable has really eroded.

So, I’m doing something about it.

I have made a pact with myself to remedy this by working out on a regular basis and pushing myself to failure each time. Pushing to failure really strains your muscles, it creates micro-tears in the tissue, which then rebuild later to make you even stronger. At first, it’s tough and painful, but eventually the body rebuilds (if you give it a chance) and you end up stronger than ever.

I won’t exercise every single morning, but I will do it at least 3 – 4 times a week. I will go to failure each time, and I will not exercise the same muscle group two times in a row, to give my body time to rebuild and restore. I’ve doubled the weight I was using before, and I’m doing fewer reps, which feels good.

Half an hour of vigorous exercise in the morning, 3-4 times a week, is what I’m setting my goal at. I’m going to go to failure — gradually working my way up, and concentrating on specific muscle groups each time. I’m going to keep my caloric intake the same, and cut down on the carbs (yet again — the 4th of July weekend, with its chips and potato salad are killer). I’ve kind of gone off the reservation on keeping to my diet, eating coconut or almond milk ice cream with abandon (it’s almost as good as dairy ice cream), and chowing down on chips and popcorn while watching t.v. at night.

I’m also back to doing intermittent fasting (IF) — I did that on Friday, until I broke my fast at 7 p.m. with hamburgers, potato salad, and chips. And I’m going to do it once a week, to get myself trained to not be so driven by food. Each time I do IF, it gets easier for me, so I need to keep at it. Going without food for 18 hours, one day a week is not going to kill me. If anything, it’s going to make me stronger in mind and body.

I’m feeling really positive about all this. And I want to keep that positive mood going.

I did this new workout routine this morning, going to failure on my biceps and shoulders. I might have done things a little differently — and I will next time. But for today it feels fantastic. My arms were tired after I was done, and I could feel the effects. And then the good energy set in. I notice that when I really wear myself out with exercise, it may make me feel terrible for a while, but then the good energy kicks in, and it lasts a long time. It also helps me sleep.

I have no idea why I quit exercising like that. Maybe I was afraid the headaches would come back, and I might have a stroke or some other injury. Or maybe I just didn’t feel like having a headache all day. So far, my head isn’t feeling too bad. It’s a little tight, but it’s not pounding. And that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, speaking of energy, I’ve got to run and take care of some things before my weekend is over. I have removed an afternoon-long commitment from my calendar, so that takes the pressure off… and it leaves me more room to move at my own pace, while getting a whole lot of things done.

Yep. Onward.

Keeping up physically — and cognitively

I just got done with my second workout of the day. I’m not being compulsive (I promise) — it’s just that I really took it easy this morning, thinking I needed a break. Then I watched this great bunch of videos about how exercise helps the brain,  and I got a number of reprints of research by Arthur F. Kramer, who has done a bunch of research linking exercise with cognitive health, (especially Fit body, fit mind? Scientific American Mind, July/August) and I decided I really needed to give my brain a little more stimuli today, than I had this morning.

I have plenty of people around me who urge me to take it easy and not push myself.  They think it’s a little excessive of me to spend the first half hour-45 minutes of each day exercising and getting my heart rate and respiration going. But I don’t push myself hard every single day, and even if I did, would I be doing anything different to my body, than my ancestors once did, when they had none of the conveniences we have today, and every activity they undertook involved a vastly more involved level of effort, than the activities we follow today?

Exercising makes me feel good. And it’s good for my brain. And it wards off infection and illness. I just can’t feel badly about that.

Plus, you know, when I think about it, the folks who are most eager to see me “slow down” are pretty sedentary, themselves. And they’re not particularly healthy. So, do I take advice from them? Hmmm….

Only if I want to be like them, which I don’t — in the physical respect, anyway.

But I’d rather be like myself. And some very elderly, cognitively with-it relatives I have. I’ve got folks in my grandparents’ generation who are still mentally capable and fully competent, and they’re pushing 100. That’s more than I can say for some of my friends who are keen on me slowing down. Their families, from what they’ve told me, are not given to great longevity. Or mental acuity late into life.

Bottom line is, I just gotta be me. And if that “me” is into exercising more than 15 minutes a day and relishing the pump of freshening blood through my veins and arteries, and feeling good off the boost in oxygen in my brain, then that’s just fine.

And that boost goes a long way, apparently. Exercise, especially extended aerobic exertion over a span of 20 minutes, activates the brain to not only function better, but actually build itself back.  I was reading earlier today about how exercise among a certain aging group resulted in their brains having the mass of individuals 30 years younger. That’s pretty cool, especially since everyone has assumed for decades that once your brain starts to go, that’s pretty much it.

But that’s not the case. Not anymore. And in fact, it’s never been. But we bought into that story, so we got stuck in our crappy stories and became our own self-fufilling prophecies. Like a friend of mine who loves to blame their ‘middle-aged brain’ for every little thing that goes wrong in their life. It’s a bogus claim, especially since my very-elderly elders can dance circles around them, cognitively speaking.

So, I’m focusing on keeping up physically, so that I can benefit cognitively. I don’t want to end up like the members of my family who succumbed to dementia and other degenerative disorders. I know TBI predisposes me to greater risk of demential, but by God, I’m going to do everything in my power to prevent that from taking me out.

I do not want to go down some path of misery and decay, just ’cause of a bunch of freak accidents and being the target of stupid a-holes who thought they had the right to attack me for no good reason.  What’s the sense in that? I know, I should probably make my peace with the uncertainties of life, and just try to savor each moment, but I enjoy this life too much — with all its disappointments and frustrations — to give in. I’d much rather listen to music, work out, and read and learn and participate in my life.

With that kind of focus — rather than sitting around, waiting for my sad life to come to an unfortunate end — even if I do get taken out before my time, at least I’m pretty sure to be enjoying myself.

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