My Life, My Health

Zen stone beside a river of raked sand

One obvious truth I am realizing as I learn more about health is this: I’m in charge here.

I spend all day in this body. I’m not powerless, in any way, and I have to believe that I CAN guide myself to greater health. It takes continual learning and experimenting. It takes tuning out the naysayers who think I am merely on a weight loss diet or that the changes I make are temporary. It takes the realization that no one else can, or will, push me forward, and that there are no miracle easy fixes, like a new drug or medical procedure, on the horizon.

The work is mine to do. Or not. The outcomes are mine.

So if I want to take a passive approach to the chronic disease I have been diagnosed with, that is an option. But if I want to learn about metabolic biochemistry, the impact of insulin and too much protein, about mitochondria function and mTOR metabolic signaling, I can do that too.

It’s a choice. About my life.

Health Care?

Close-up picture of brightly colored cereal loops.

It is amazing to me how much energy is being expended on what is fashioned the “health care debate” in this country.

Aren’t we really discussing how to continue funneling money to health care insurers to repair the damage done to our health by the rest of our food and disease-service systems?

In the most wealthy and advanced country that has ever existed in the world, we now have more medicine, more drugs, more medical options, and are spending increasingly more money every year. At the same exact time, the trend lines for most disease, chronic illness, and addiction are all sharply rising up and to the right. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. More than 100 million of us suffer from problems with a range of blood sugar issues, from insulin resistance to full-blown type 2 diabetes. We spend one third again more than the next most rich country ($9,400 per person in 2015 on health care, or 17% of our GDP) and the outcomes from that investment are dismal.

We are 46th in infant mortality, and 31st in life expectancy! Our government and corporate food producers are so tied together that our government watchdog, the FDA, allows Fruit Loops cereal to be certified heart-healthy! Our farmed animals are raised in horrific conditions and deliver antibodies, corn, and other undesirable ingredients to our bodies. So many Americans have given up, and say, “it’s just part of getting older” as they settle for feeling fatigued or being in pain.

There is no central point of information about how to live healthily in a holistic way – what foods optimize health, how to control stress, how much movement and exercise are optimal. If you want to be healthy, you have to dig through a mountain of information and hope you can figure out what is true and what is just mis-information.  It makes me sad and frustrated.

Americans lose no matter which version of “health care” passes. I’m rethinking my health practices, and keeping my own counsel on this topic.

First, I’m getting healthy. Then, I’m getting angry. 

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:

  • 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
  • Make decisions (and say “no”) to choose low stress whenever possible

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.

Being Versus Doing in Retirement

This article from Knowledge@Wharton really resonated for me. Titled The Retirement Problem: What Will You Do With All That Time? it neatly summarizes some big questions.

Stewart Friedman at Wharton summarizes this way: “The questions people ask at earlier stages of life become more profound at these later stages. Am I living the life I want to live? What is most important to me? Who is most important to me? You see the end, and so you think about what you want to do with the time that you have remaining. There is the question of: now what?”

I have struggled with this question. And yes, I realize it’s a first world question. And a boomer-centric question. And one I should have seen coming.

Nonetheless, here I am. What should I do with this time? What’s my bucket list? In which activities should I be involved? Where do I want to make a contribution?

I think the answer isn’t at the end of those question marks. My retirement is not another career step. It is not something I will sink into, get addicted to, play at, or be distracted by. It is not a number of activities to keep busy.

The questions I should have been asking every year – about balancing my health, relationships, community, and career – have gained urgency over time. But these questions have also changed in fundamental ways since the time I stopped working.

What is the universe calling me to be? I’m listening.

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.