Hot, Sweaty, and Determined

In the New Parkinson’s Disease Treatment book, Dr. J. Eric Ahlskog, recommends aerobic exercise not just for Parkinson’s but to improve aging in general. He specifically states that exercise should raise your pulse, cause you to perspire, and tire you out.

I recently noticed more research that supports this idea. New research is showing that 30 minutes of intense exercise daily is connected with keeping you up to nine years biologically younger.  It has to do with telomeres.

A telomere is the “endcap” of each of our chromosomes. They protect each chromosome from deterioration during cell division by absorbing the truncation that takes place during that process. In humans, average telomere length declines from about 11 kilobases when we are born to less than 4 kilobases when we are aged, probably because of oxidative stress or inflammation.

The good news is that we can change the truncation of our telomeres with 30 minutes of regular, hard exercise (40 minutes for men).  It is doable. It has a demonstrable impact.

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari mentions that a hunter-gather before the Agricultural Revolution would have “had physical dexterity that people today are unable to achieve even after years of practicing yoga or t’ai chi.” One reason is that they moved so much more than we do.

In the spirit of my hunter-gather lineage, I ought to be able to fit in 30 minutes a day of hot, sweaty exercise, especially since I don’t have to chase down dinner while I do it.

Uh huh, but what specifically?

Ginkgo Biloba leaves isolated on white

It has been about one year since we relocated to northern Michigan. When I tell people that health is my focus now, I can sense the unsaid “Uh, huh, what does that mean exactly?”

They can see I am thinner and more energetic. Some ask me how I lost weight, seeking a short answer – a ‘trick’, something simple to try. But there is no trick. It’s a whole lifestyle. I do a number of things more, better, or differently now. Here’s a summary of what I have changed in the last year for my whole-self health:

  • Meditate 30 minutes a day to lessen anxiety and increase ability to focus
  • Give myself permission to go to bed early, to get plenty of rest and for general brain health
  • Walk and bicycle outside in nature at least 3 times a week to help my skin produce vitamin D, and reset my circadian rhythm through the production of melatonin
  • Regularly practice pilates for strength
  • Eat a low-lectin diet (to facilitate gut biome health)
  • Do not eat any factory food – no artificial sweeteners, no low-fat dairy, no corn, no wheat, no soy – or factory-made animal protein. Beyond the ethical issues of how we treat the other sentient beings on the planet, I do not want the corn, antibiotics, and other poisons regularly fed to animals to make their way into my body.
  • Eat more dark greens vegetables. A LOT more. To increase the polyphenols in my gut.
  • No NSAID’s to protect the good bacteria in my gut.
  • Take a daily supplement of probiotics (good gut bugs) and prebiotics (what helps the good gut bugs grow) to optimize my gut biome
  • Eat less animal protein to give the mitochondria in my digestive system a break
  • Read as much as I want, and on all the topics in which I am interested
  • Avoid situations that stress me, as much as possible
  • Take one tablespoon of MCT oil per day to increase the medium-chain triglycerides that help my good gut bacteria do their job

In addition I am committed to learning more about neurology and how to reinforce positive developments in my brain using its own neuro-plasticity. When I have the opportunity I question my doctors more about alternative approaches to Parkinson’s and make them aware of my actions.

In the next year I have a list of more items I plan to test on myself, and add to this list if they seem to have an impact.

Real Food

Part of the Parkinson’s Disease research that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago is a survey of all the food a participant has eaten in the past 24 hours. I received my login information and went to the site to log what I have been eating for the past 24 hours. To my amazement, there were almost no options to record food you had made yourself. My morning mug muffin is made from coconut and almond flours, pastured eggs, coconut and perilla oil, flax seeds, aluminum-free baking powder, and some sweetener. Every choice on the survey for muffins had a “brand” attached. There were hundreds of them. I think I am experiencing food industry overload.

My Morning Routine

I love reading about people’s routines. One of my favorite email subscriptions is the weekly feature sent from mymorningroutine.com. It features the same 18 questions every week, asked of a selection of working American adults. I can’t wait for them to interview me, so I thought I’d take matters into my own hands and answer these same questions now, as a baseline for myself (and maybe for you).

What is your morning routine?

I wake up when the birdsong outside my window is too loud to ignore, and when the sun is full on up. This varies significantly from summer to winter at latitude 45° north, so in theory at least, I sleep longer in the winter. I immediately put on my headphones and meditate for at least 25 minutes. Then I get up and take my Parkinson’s medicines. Because these do not kick in for 45 minutes or so, I climb back into bed after taking the meds, and use my phone to check weather, mail, news, and Instagram while I wait. I also note ideas I want to explore more fully later using the voice dictation feature in the Notes app. When my meds kick in, I rise, get ready for the gym, and use the hour or so between that time and 8:20 am to write at my desk. By 8:20 am or so, I am heading to the gym.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

About one year, and I have been evolving this routine over time. The biggest recent change has been relocating to a northern climate, without air conditioning, where the windows are open all night. It is remarkable to wake up connected to the nature outside.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

When I last worked, in 2015, I would wake up, check mail, jump up and get showered and dressed to go to work, all in a mad rush. Most of what I would have called healthy habits were ignored or postponed until I “had time.” I have been focused on a more healthy lifestyle since I stopped working.

What time do you go to sleep?

I try to get into bed by 9:45 pm and have lights out by 10 pm. I’d like to evolve both my bedtime, and my rising time, even earlier if possible. I find that the mornings are my most creative and solutions oriented hours, and I’d like to extend that time.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

My meds and my gym clothes are all laid out. I have a glass of water next to the meds.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I rarely use an alarm.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

I usually drink one glass of water in the morning, and otherwise do not eat or drink until about 10:30 am when I return from the gym. Breakfast is usually a green smoothie or coconut/almond flour muffin, both from the Plant Paradox cookbook, which is the lectin-free diet I follow.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

I participate in a classes at either a gym every morning – Pilates class three times a week, yoga once per week, and a boxing class for Parkinson’s patients once per week. I try to do all my gym-related workouts in the morning. In summer, almost all the rest of my exercise comes from working in the yard, or riding my bike on one of many nearby trails.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

I do a breath based meditation for 25 minutes first thing in the morning. I also use a guided meditation occasionally when I see one that appeals to me.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I answer email as I can, depending on my mobility and the urgency of the email. I don’t segment my email time.

Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

I track my sleep with my Apple watch using an app called AutoSleep. I also use an app for meditation guidance – Insight Timer, Buddify, or Mindfulness.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

I use my phone to meditate in the morning, but all notifications are turned off, and I don’t open any app but the meditation app first thing.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Meditating, and getting my medicine into my system so I can move.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water is first, followed multiple hours later by coffee or green tea.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

My partner is instrumental in enabling us to get to bed early. When she comes to bed later than me, I often don’t sleep as long or as well. In the morning, she knows my routine, and she has her own, so we support each other and check in often during the morning.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I rarely go to the gym on weekends, so I tend to sleep a bit longer.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I just go with the flow now, and because I am trying to evolve this routine to be more and more healthy, I expect it to change.

Anything else you would like to add?

Just that meditating is the best addition to my morning routine I have ever made, and I’d recommend it highly.

The Plant Paradox by Steven Gundry MD

I found this book on the goop page on Instagram (I know, I know). I’m not sure what grabbed my attention, but I read it and the science seemed sound. We have been following the diet for just over 3 weeks now. We have both lost weight, and are feeling good about what we feel going on in our gut. I am hopeful that eliminating lectins from my diet will boost my immune system, breed healthier mitochondria in the future, and stop causing stress on my vagus nerve. It is thought that if Parkinson’s Disease begins in the gut, it is this vagus nerve that allows it to travel to the brain. Obviously I need to learn more about this mechanism, but I like what I am eating and I like how I feel.

“If you are experiencing memory loss, Parkinson’s, or neuropathy, exciting research suggests that the exhausted Mighty Mice (mitochondria) in your nerve cells can come back to life if they are fed ketones instead of sugar.” Gundry, Steven R., M.D.

It is easy to look up research, references, and resources in this book, using the footnotes. In this case, here is what researchers Maalouf, Rho, and Mattson conclude from their study “The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies.”

“Calorie restriction and the ketogenic diet share two characteristics: reduced carbohydrate intake and a compensatory rise in ketone bodies. The neuroprotective effects of reduced carbohydrate per se are being investigated by several research groups (Mattson et al. 2003; Ingram et al. 2006). We have evaluated the possibility that ketone bodies might mediate the neuroprotective effects of calorie restriction and of the ketogenic diet. An expanding body of evidence indicates that ketone bodies are indeed neuroprotective and that the underlying mechanisms are similar to those associated with calorie restriction – specifically at the mitochondrial level.

However, several important questions remain unanswered. The effects of ketone bodies on gene expression have not been investigated, although inhibition of glycolysis with 2-deoxyglucose (which blocks phosphofructose isomerase) has been reported to inhibit BDNF expression and kindling progression in rats (Garriga-Canut et al, 2006). Moreover, the neuroprotective of ketone bodies in vivo have not been thoroughly examined. For instance, it is imperative to demonstrate that the neuroprotective effects of ketone bodies are associated with a preservation of clinically relevant functions such as cognition. Finally, it is crucial to determine if the anti-apoptotic properties of ketone bodies might potentially increase the risk of carcinogenesis. Intriguingly, both the calorie restriction and the ketogenic diet have been associated with anti-neoplastic properties and similarly, preliminary data suggest that the ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate have anti-neoplastic effects on human glioblastoma cell lines (Patel et al. 2004; Jolly 2006 Zhou et al. 2007). Further research will hopefully further clarify the mechanisms underlying the neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction and ketone bodies and explain the counter-intuitive effects on carcinogenesis.”

Parkinson’s Research Project

I’m really excited to learn about this new research project from Dr Terry Wahls. Basically this team will survey all participants every six months for five years, and try to identify what impact alternative treatments might be having on the course of their Parkinson’s Disease. I am working on both my mitochondrial health through diet and lifestyle, and my brain’s neuroplasticity through learning and movement. It is my hope that I can model how to slow or halt this disease. I’d urge anyone with a Parkinson’s diagnosis to participate; it took me about 30 minutes to answer the first survey.