So for those already turned off by this title, hold on! When you have a faster metabolism, your testosterone is more abundant, and you haven’t already been plagued with aging health conditions, the time to start is now!
Just like Retirement Planning for your finances, you have to do the same for your health. If you only start saving for retirement when you reach 40 or 50 years old, you will have a super steep hill to climb at the end of your journey. For some, quality of life healthwise will be severely deplenished as you get old because you refused to plan.
Your health can be easier to handle than finances for most. I’ve read of someone who only started becoming active when they reached 60. It’s never too late. But I wouldn’t wait. I think there is a point of no return, especially if your bones decay to the point where not much can be done. Also, if you get something like type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, or autoimmune disorder, then your ability to change your health becomes that much more difficult.
For me, my metabolism had a major shift when I reached my early thirties. In my teens and 20’s, I could eat whatever I wanted and still have 6-pack abs. I was super active and it seems I couldn’t get enough food, whether junk or otherwise.
When I reached 40, I knew something had to change. I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. But I still did it all wrong. I was under the misguided impression that you could fitness your way out of a problem. So I started running ultramarathons. It was such a fun journey because long runs like that are adventures. I saw so much wildlife. I smelled amazingly wonderful fragrances. I saw many eyes reflecting back at me when I ran in the darkness. I felt pains too because sometimes it doesn’t always go well. But it all contributes to a mental toughness that we need in life.
The problem with this is after a big run, I’d often be laid out for days. The cortisol screaming through my body triggered insulin, and that triggered lots of sugar cravings. So I loaded up on pizza, pasta, and sugar. At the time, that’s what endurance athletes did. It didn’t matter because of the thousands of calories I was burning on the trail. WRONG!
I was fit, but I wasn’t really losing weight. I still had belly fat that never went away. I got skinny arms and legs from swinging both millions of times. I’d swing my arms so much that my hands would swell. My feet would swell too. Many times, I’d just lay around and eat for days. When I would start back on recovery runs, a slight incline or hop up on the curb felt like a mountain. I wasn’t healthy at all. But the worst part was my back pain worsened.
I would get so weak after a long run that anything I did could throw out my back. I would pick up my dogs (that are very small) or twist to change a fuse in my car and my back would seize. I would sometimes go an entire month not being able to walk my dogs. There were nights when I had to crawl to get from the bed to the bathroom. It was really terrible.
At this 40 awakening, I also started CrossFit. That made me feel invincible. That is, until my back would go out. CrossFit during the week and then a long run on the weekend. I should have been super fit, but I wasn’t. I still had problems.
Not long after, I felt a stabbing pain under my right shoulder blade. It was like someone stuck a knife in me. I had gotten up to go to the bathroom. When I got to my bed, I dropped to my knees in pain. It was like a heart attack, but on the wrong side. I had my wife open the hatchback on the car and I crawled into the back. She took me to the ER. They did some tests but pretty much left me lying in the hospital bed for hours without doing anything. My chart said I had a history of back pain, so they didn’t investigate any further. They just prescribed muscle relaxants and hydrocodone for the pain. I went back home not feeling any better.
So I visited my doctor and he had a blood panel ordered for me. It revealed I had fatty liver disease. I mean, ME, an ultramarathoner and CrossFit’r. Then they ordered a test for my gall bladder where they inject dye into it and quantify how much was being released. My gall bladder was down to 26% functioning ability. That’s not good. So the surgeon’s office called to schedule my appointment to have it removed. I said "wait a minute. Let me get back to you."
I’m a researcher, so I started doing my research. There’s a gastroenterologist in the 1950’s who prescribed a diet that worked for his gall bladder patients. Later, they found it also worked for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases. As it turns out, it was a version of the Paleo Diet. So I jumped on it immediately. Within 2 weeks, I no longer had symptoms. I was pain free.
So in the hey day of my CrossFit days, I found a healthier way to live. I still got terrible back pain episodes, but otherwise I was feeling better. My fatty acids looked better too. Problem solved….NOT!
Meanwhile, I still had a fat belly. I could hardly breathe when I tied my shoes. I also felt like my body was getting tighter. So to improve my Olympic weightlifting, I started taking Yoga classes. I had printed out the Bikram 26 poses and kept it in my wallet. I would do that sequence every day. Eventually, I found a yoga studio that I really liked called Amara Yoga. I started there at the dawn of a New Year.
Now, being a CrossFit endurance runner, it was "go hard or go home" for me. I liked the beginner and restorative yoga classes, but I loved Ashtanga. The teacher was amazing. I also started taking Rocket Yoga. By that Fall, the teacher convinced me to take yoga teacher training. I was already a CrossFit level I trainer, so I was like, why not? I need more skills under my belt.
Yoga saved my back! I no longer had back pain. I could twist and contort into positions and never feel pain. It was a miracle. In running and CrossFit and most of exercise, you do things symmetrically. Everything is bilateral and you don’t brace your body properly. Yoga works in all planes and makes you hold them isometrically with the breath. I love yoga and teach it today.
But I still had a weight problem. I would go mostly Paleo, cheat on most weekends, and cheat badly on the holidays. I really wasn’t finding success in that area. I was riding this wave up to Christmas of last year (2020). I actually did pretty well over the holidays, but I was averaging 193 pounds bodyweight.
I can’t say that I only recently discovered Intermittent Fasting. I had been doing it off and on for a year. Some things I read say that’s why its Intermittent, you don’t have to do it all the time. Wrong! I started watching Dr. Berg and other videos on YouTube and they started talking about this insulin connection. Everything is about insulin. It drives most of the other hormonal processes, like cortisol.
So after going strong with not only Intermittent Fasting but Ketogenic dieting (Keto), the final step is being taken. I’ve lost 13 pounds without much trouble and am still going strong. My goal is to get to 176 pounds (80 kg) and hold there. Then I want to continue to lose bodyfat but gain muscle.
So this takes us back to my original premise. You too can make changes in midlife and later. But it becomes so much harder. Let’s say you think a healthy weight for you is 160 pounds, but you weigh 180. Testosterone declines in men AND women drastically from 30-50 years old. The best time to lose that weight is when you are 30, not 50. When you get to 60, some of the bone degenerations, tendon weakness, and other structural problems limit what we can do. If you were usually a runner, you can’t run anymore if your achilles tendon blows out. Or, if you fall and break a hip. Do it when you’re 30.
But, like Mark Sisson of the Primal Blueprint says, nearly all of our health is driven by diet. Diet first, then exercise is the icing on top. You cannot exercise your way out of a problem. Getting rid of sugar and carbohydrates is key. Insulin drives everything. This is something I didn’t fully embrace until now. But combining Keto with Intermittent fasting is key. It’s what makes fat-burning really work effectively.
The last point is that you have to stay aerobic to burn fat. Sisson calls working just above aerobic the black hole. You don’t even realize it, but it’s not good for fat burning. This is roughly 180 minus your age for heart rate. If you are 30, then that makes 150 beats per minute your maximum aerobic heart rate. This is the fat burning zone. When you go above, you trigger your fight or flight hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol triggers a cascade of stress hormones including insulin. Now, you are no longer burning fat, but you are burning sugar. You can run out of sugar in 15-20 minutes and then need glycogen stores to release more sugar. When you run out of that, you BONK. You hit the wall. But when you learn to use fat as your source of energy, you don’t bonk. Instead, you go for a long time without hitting the wall.
Don’t wait until you get too old to make healthy changes. You can still do it when you are 60 or 70, but don’t count on being healthy enough to make those changes. Learn about ketogenic eating and intermittent fasting. It’s the key to everything and isn’t very hard to do after about 21 days. You have to break your normal patterns that your body is hard wired to live. The biggest thing about intermittent fasting is that it eliminates night snacking and eating the worst meal of the day (breakfast!). Yeah I said it. Think of all the yummy breakfast food. There’s pancakes, muffins, scones, oatmeal, waffles, orange juice, and fruit. All of these foods are high in sugar or are easily converted to sugar. It’s all terrible for you. Its better to have a cup of coffee or tea and maximize your fat burning while in your fasting zone. When you adjust to it, you don’t even feel hungry anymore. After 18-20 hours of fasting, you may feel like you need to eat something, so you do. That’s OK. But if you can go longer, even better.
Unfortunately, there are many who just give up when they get old. They can’t see light at the end of the tunnel. It’s over for them (so they think). But diet is paramount. Not everyone can start a running program right away, but everyone can change their diet. Do it now! Ditch the carbs, eat plenty of healthy fats, and moderate your protein.