Why Wellness Matters

Fitness is big business, am I right? Everyone wants to be fit. Fitness, fitness, fitness. Well I am not too worried about fitness because for a long time now I have been prioritising wellness. Wellness, as defined by the sense of being healthy and well, feeling good and positive, of being fit for a purpose in life, able to carry a burden and so forth. Here are five reasons why.

1. Fitness is unattainable.

When pursuing fitness, when does one stop? Running a half marathon? A marathon? Lifting twice your body weight and the putting it back down again? A triathlon? An Ironman race?

The answer is none of the above, because fitness is relative. To get fit is to be fitter than you used to be. This all sounds very nice but at some point you will reach the terminus of fitness where it clashes with the rest of your life. Then what? You have not yet attained fitness, but now must make a decision, whether or not to chase fitness to your own detriment.

2. Wellness is aligned with purpose.

Wellness is not a pursuit. It is an end in itself. You are either well or not. There are no increments of wellness. Wellness is a target that is not only attainable, but once one achieves it one gains rest from the pursuit and other things can be done.

When I feel well I know what I did to achieve that, and I am able to maintain it. It is the point where I can swim, cycle or run or whatever for the joy of it, and that is a great place to be.

1. One cannot overdo or overindulge in wellness.

We have all heard it: ‘no pain, no gain.’

This phrase is so toxic. We all know what it means right? No, because that attitude causes injury, causes people to continue to train whilst carrying an injury and it promotes the notion that fitness must be paid for with misery and agony. Wellness is not like that. You will not exercise through pain when you wish to be well because you know that a rest is needed. Additionally, because you are not chasing the moving target of fitness you do not beat yourself up when you take time to rest. There is no problem because you know that what you are doing will make you well.

4. Wellness is generative.

I have radically raised my immunity by targeting wellness. Once my perspective shifted towards this as a priority I realised that running, cycling or otherwise training myself half to death is not what I need. So I have been taking vitamin D3 for a long time now. Whilst I occasionally pick up a bug as we all do, now I have noticed that I no longer get it every couple of months. By prioritising being well I have managed my body and it has been a radical shift in my health. Fitness does not cure sickness, wellness does. By working towards wellness I have generated better health, better immunity and a better lifestyle.

5. Wellness is liberty and freedom

It may well be a cliche, but when you have your health you have everything. Wellness allows you to live on your feet rather than die on your knees. Whilst none of us knows how or when the end will arrive, we can do everything in our power to avoid slowly dying of preventable metabolic disease, cancer or similar. I do not want to spend the last decades of my life falling apart. I may be unlucky, who knows, but I can make wellness my lifestyle choice and give myself every chance of a healthy and prosperous second half of my life innings.

A Year in the Life of a Runner

Okay, so for the sake of transparency and honesty I am talking about an academic year here. I am a teacher so I measure my life according to school terms and academic timescales.

Since the school year started in 2020 I have been running as consistently as I can. I have had – and been flattened by – coronavirus, and I have been running and meditating in the early morning hours, rising around 0530 to get out between 0600-0630. Here is what I have learned and accomplished.

1. If you want to run seriously then do it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

Doing middling to long runs on a full stomach would be a nightmare. I have no idea who these people are that eat before a run but I cannot imagine doing this stuff with food sloshing around my digestive tract. Also, running first thing is extremely meditative, reflective and sets up the day. In the evening I am just exhausted so smashing the day into the stratosphere means running first, then sitting down to meditate. No food, but always chug a coffee first.

2. Measure and record every metric.

If you do not know where you have been you will never get to where you think you are going. It may seem laborious, but graphs are cool, and thanks to the miracle of Garmin I have been able to track and plot progress using my Quatix 6 and their Connect back end. I do not use the social side of exercise apps so you will not find me on Strava or any of that nonsense, but I do value the fact that Garmin lets me track my progress. At the risk of being repetitive, you have to see where you have been in order to get where you are going.

3. Whatever you do, just keep running.

Some days I can barely get moving and it feels like even running a mile is going to be impossible. Five miles later I realise the obvious truth. Just keep moving and the miles will take care of themselves.

It is so cliched but so important to remember that you just have to keep going and do the hard miles when your warm bed is calling and you would rather laze around. Once the muscles loosen and the feel good sensation hits I suddenly find the miles in my legs again, and nothing has ever felt better on the trail.

4. Dump the phone.

I know that it is almost blasphemy to not carry a phone everywhere but you really do need to unplug. There are times when I feel as though I am a cyborg, however the terror of not being connected to the world is an illusion. You will survive, as we humans have done for almost all of our – mobile device free – history. The right to unplug is a luxury and also a necessity and we ought to all indulge in it. I have long since binned social media, the most pointless use of time on Earth, and the improvement in my mental health has been immeasurable.

So, leave your phone at home. It will not kill you to be alone for a while.

5. Decide what you will be and then do what you have to do.

Enough said.

Lessons From the Trail

Things I have learned from running on the trail.

1. Silence is golden.

If you are introverted then running, or any other exercise that can be done in a solitary fashion, is the best way to start the day. I love nothing more than suiting up, plugging into a podcast or audiobook on my watch and disappearing to the middle of nowhere. Nobody knows where I am, it is quiet and deserted and the day has yet to begin so no cars or other fuss is around. Heaven. So good for the soul and brain.

2. Green is also golden.

Green is good for you. Not just food, but the spectacle. If you are outdoors in the greenery you are flourishing, and that is just a fact.

3. Sunrise is… er… golden.

Watching the sun come up. What absolute bliss, to be running through beauty, seeing beauty slowly appear and then watching it bathe the beauty in more beauty. Did I say beauty? I meant beauty.

Beauty.

4. Trails are better than roads.

If I must run on the road I do so on roads surrounded by green, but all things being equal I would rather be on the trail. Why? The soft grass underfoot, the animal sounds, the cool of the morning under a tree canopy, the moisture of life in the air, the smell of vegetation. I mean, can’t you just sense it all now?

5. Bathing in nature.

Gyms are stupid because human beings are meant to be outside. It is our birthright. Who the hell wants to spend time in a smelly, sweaty room full of sweaty, smelly people listening to dreadful music, trying to avoid eye contact with talking people who want to talk to you, all the while you are lifting things up and putting them down again. I mean, does that sound like appropriate behaviour for a real man? And then there are the posers who look at themselves all the time, the roarers who cannot exercise without panting and grunting and the talking people. Did I mention the talking people? These people want to talk to other people. I do not like the talking people.

Plus, why endure that when you can be outside, bathing in nature?

Mr T Pities the Fools

I do indeed pity the fools: those fools being those not concerned with Mr T. T as in testosterone. That is correct dear readers, I have embarked upon a testosterone binge, also know as cleaning up and optimising my endocrine system. Having done plenty of reading on the potentially devastating effects of low testosterone on men I decided to get ahead. I did not have low testosterone but I am in my forties, also known as the old age of youth, and so I do not wish to wait until the problem emerges before I act. It is no secret that testosterone rates in men are falling every decade so I hatched a plan to exempt myself from that dubious honour. I have already been long convinced that a whole food, plant based diet is the best for raising and sustaining naturally high testosterone levels. This lifestyle plan is complimentary to that. Below is what I did.

Eliminate Xenooestrogens

Xenooestrogens are substances that the body metabolises as oestrogen even though they are not. I began to take notice of products such as soap, shampoo, shower gel and suchlike in terms of their ingredients and I found something very interesting. Firstly many of these products have an ingredients list that I need a PhD just to understand. That is a bad sign. Not only should there be relatively few ingredients in such products, but also any time there are names of compounds that you cannot recognise or pronounce then the odds are high that you are dealing with things harmful to testosterone production. I have eliminated these. I think that absorption through the skin is probably the biggest source of my exposure to these chemicals so this was a big one to remedy.

Aromatase Inhibitors

I have begun to take a supplement that essentially blocks the uptake of oestrogen. It is non-prescribed, over the counter stuff but I would not recommend you start this without speaking to your doctor. That being said I use them and they are proving themselves to be very effective in terms of clearing my excess body fat, such as it was. Right now I do not know whether or not prolonged use is effective or healthy but thirty days of this stuff has been profoundly transformative. People whom I see on a weekly basis are commenting – unsolicited – on the transformation in my physique. I am also further convinced of the efficacy of these supplements by the fact that I have not lost weight. My body fat content has reduced substantially but I am still the same weight or thereabouts, meaning that I am gaining lean muscle. This is the promised land of male health.

High T Herbal Supplements

There are a few natural substances that are readily available online, very cheap and which will raise testosterone naturally. I have started to take this as a supplement. I plumped for ashwagandha, a herb. I have added it to my daily pill regimen. Aside from prescription medications I now take ashwagandha, resveratrol, lion’s mane extract and aspirin. All of these I have been he back of reading peer reviewed research and taking expert advice. Ashwagandha is for raising testosterone levels, resveratrol is the healthy part of red wine, lion’s mane is found to sustain brain function and even stimulate neurogenesis, and aspirin as a blood thinner is good for my heart. With the exception of resveratrol, the effects of which accumulate over a lifetime, I have noticed positive effects from each of these. Aspirin has been recommended for heart health for decades so that is nothing new. Lion’s mane, which is recommended by the incredible Paul Stamets, has definitely given me a cognitive edge. I have noticed that my intellect and wit is far more powerful after a year of taking it. Ashwagandha seems, after a month, to be generating positive outcomes too.

The message, to me is clear. Take Mr T seriously.

Battling and Recovering

Coronavirus got me, and by god did it get me. In addition to two weeks in bed I have taken a long time to get over it. It was as bad as when I have had flu, and I mean real flu and not a cold. Of course, one by one it was transmitted to my family and they all had the sniffles. This is a thing. Whenever there is a respiratory ailment doing the rounds everyone else gets the sniffles and I get absolutely smashed by it. Man flu jokes aside I must just be susceptible. This of course makes personal fitness even more important so I have religiously adhered to my intermittent fasting regimen, and now I am back on the road. The weather has permitted me to run twice recently, and today I just did a mile in the snowy, freezing cold winter. Garmin very kindly gave me a badge as a result:

I chuckled when it said below that I ought to try for the toasty badge by exercising in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Clearly those guys have never visited the north of England.

I Never Learn

I have indulged myself in another watch upgrade. I just cannot cope with Apple Watch and I think I finally know why. As an introvert it is common to switch off and zone out when completely overloaded with sensory input, and Apple Watch is all about data, nagging and constant contact with technology. I have owned three and each time I have lasted a few months before I had to get rid of it. Introverts are at their best when functioning independently and left alone. Apple Watch is the antithesis of this. I have, hence, bought a Garmin Fenix 6S. It does not support media playback so, to avoid taking my phone on runs I have broken out my ancient iPod Nano. One day I will upgrade to a Garmin watch that supports media playback but right now I am just glad I can use it for sports, then take it off and put a proper watch on. I know I could do the same with Apple Watch but it is not designed for people like me or that sort of usage. It is a very needy device and designed for constant interaction. I just cannot assimilate all of this data from Apple. It is too much. I prefer to take what I need and then be left alone.

Sadly it took me three iterations of the damn thing before I figured this out. In my defence, introverts are so often placed in such positions. Ask any introvert and they will tell you that this is common and that we are often treated as though we are malfunctioning. Thankfully a solution was readily available, and thank god for Garmin.

Looking Forward

I want to get the drop on spring by working hard in winter. Coronavirus and the five weeks of self-isolation I have had to endure have each, obviously, been difficult. I am still fitter than previous years when I have been in this position so I will get up to speed quickly. Despite doing just a mile today it is progress. I could have gone further but it was -2C. You can knock that even lower if you include windchill, and breathing air that is so cold can be very painful. Thankfully the nights are getting lighter so I can easily be up to double figure distances by the time warmer weather arrives. I think that, even without factoring in lockdown, this has been a bitter and long, dark winter. The biggest challenge has been mental health and at my age I manage it scrupulously and without slacking off.

After a horrible year in 2020 it’s time to get moving.