Whernside: Confessions of a Grumpy Nine Year Old

I love the Yorkshire Three Peaks and I try to climb them individually each year, with the added bonus of one day hoping to do the Three peaks Challenge again, this time as an adult with my own children, when they are old enough. Right now there is one major spanner in the works: my youngest daughter. She is an absolute fireball of a child. She has inherited the redhead temperament from me which means that I love her attitude, sass and drive, but good god she can be a real little shitbag.

This last week I climbed Whernside and it was the toughest hike that I can recall ever having done. Aside from the fact that it is the hardest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, it was scorching hot and my little girl decided that she was going to strop ALL THE WAY. I would not change her for a nanosecond – that fire in her belly is going to serve her well in life as she kicks ass, but I really would rather have just hiked and not had to drag her every step of the climb. Still, we did it and that was great. Details and photos below.

Strava

Lovely Photos

Lockdown Lifestyle

So, here we are, a family in a semi rural town with time on our hands. Of course I have been hiking and cycling.

Climbing Ingleborough

Strava Data

Map and Splits

Pace, Heart Rate and Cadence

This was a hard slog for whatever reason, but ultimately rewarding. I am definitely not 100% healthy, my immunity is low and I feel a background malaise but still it was great to get out hiking. Isolation from the rest of the world is the thing I love about hiking the most so it is obviously fine in respect to social distancing. I think we saw perhaps three other people, two at the summit and one on his mountain bike ascending after us.

Cycling

As I previously posted, I bought myself a folding bicycle so naturally the thing to do is buy another bike also, which I did – a tourer hybrid. This means that I can now go cycling off road. It’s no good for mountains or whatever but for towpaths and dirt tracks it’s just fine. The Leeds-Liverpool canal is like an artery running through my town, linking it to almost all of the North West of England so it’s useful to be able to access it, not only for my convenience but also because it is much safer for taking the kids cycling. My daughters love it. The oldest is the cautious, cerebral one and we cycle more or less together. All the while her younger sister – the absolute little shitbag – slams the pedals hard and flies off into the distance. I love her bravery and fearlessness as much as I love her sister’s gentle, caring nature. It’s fascinating how different they can be. Anyway, below are data for a couple of rides. I have done more - you can visit my Strava if you really want to see the lot.

May 12th 2020

Bolton Map

This ride was very strange. Firstly I was testing out my tourer over distance. It’s not only a slow ride compared to what I would have done on my racer, but also because the last eight miles were me cycling slowly, hopelessly lost. For some reason, once I arrived near to my destination my Garmin Edge 1000 took me on an eight mile track which was basically an orbit of my actual intended destination. It was the most bizarre navigation error I have ever experienced.

In terms of features the Edge 1000 is streets ahead of the Edge 800 it replaced, but the navigation performance has been very iffy. The 800 was genuinely a fantastic addition to my gear. Every single destination I used to to reach was in there and I arrived literally at the front door every time. The 1000 has taken me on some exceptionally unusual routes. For example, when I was working in Todmorden it took me over an unbelievably difficult and hilly ride because it was around .25 miles shorter than the much flatter, faster alternative. Obviously the hills added a lot of time to the journey, and I can’t believe that the Garmin algorithm did that. Now it has taken me eight miles around my destination for no reason, and when I was plotting the route originally it struggled to find the address. The 800 always accepted the postcode and took me there. For me the jury is out right now on the 1000. I got it because the 800 has no Bluetooth or WiFi and I used to have to boot my computer and plug it in just to upload routes which drove me batty in the wireless era of technology. Right now I would happily go back rather than have the current issues I am facing. I hope that things improve quickly.

Hormesis: If it Doesn’t Kill You…

Lately I have been listening to the work of an incredible scientist, Dr David Sinclair, Harvard geneticist. His most recent book, Lifespan is essentially a document detailing his quest to cure ageing. One concept he introduced to me in this audiobook is hormesis, the notion that stressing yourself will do you good, aka the popular aphorism, ‘whatever does not kill you simply makes you stronger’. Having given this some thought recently I found a way to put it into action this morning on my run. The details are below. This was a starved run and thus hard work. If you are interested in the book but not sure then Sinclair was recently on the Joe Rogan and Rich Roll podcasts so you can try before you buy.

Garmin Data

Data Summary

Mile Splits

Graphs

Now, with the summary above done I can detail what I learned on this run. Firstly, I really ought to pay better attention to the pavement as I went over on my ankle twice, albeit not badly so thankfully there was no injury but it could have been worse. Secondly, I learned to stress myself. In his work Sinclair details several different stressors that can be hugely beneficial to humans: endurance sports, fasting and cold exposure. The first two I am working on already but the third had never occurred to me previously. Serendipity allowed me to improvise today, however. Running along the Leeds-Liverpool canal I came to a railway bridge on my regular route which was being repaired and thus the pathway was closed, so I had to improvise. This meant taking an adjacent path which either continues as tarmac, or, crucially, there is a short trail. I took the trail and got absolutely drenched, both from the rain and also the muddy filth and freezing cold water that was flowing liberally on the trail.

What I discovered was not only that running in crap conditions is great fun and feels amazing afterwards, but also that I need to get better shoes. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t done as much running as I would like over the last fortnight because here in the U.K. we have had some pretty severe storms and it’s genuinely dangerous to be out in the countryside in such conditions. Where I live you can’t go anywhere for more than twenty minutes before you end up in rural surroundings, and I try to avoid pounding road too much because it is hard on my 6’1, 16 stone frame. I’m a pretty big guy so softer ground is good. I also live in a place where, should I run distances, I end up on country roads where people drive like dickheads. Add that to storm weather and it can be pretty difficult.

That all being said, however, Sinclair’s work and influence has shifted my perspective. I have to start stressing my body more. If I am to run ultra distances as I previously committed to doing then risk is inherent to that, both of injury and some generalised danger. Also, when I thought about it I realised that people are far more likely to endanger me on my bike due to the bizarre cyclist hatred that exists in England and that never stopped me cycling so I think it’s time to start to really hammer myself to get good at serious endurance again. I’ve cycled over 100 miles on a good few occasions, so I can run it for sure.

This means that I can’t fast 5 days out of 7 though. I just can’t see how that is possible, so I have a plan. I will fast on non-running days, meaning that when I do run my fast will commence at 2000 that evening and I fast through to lunch the next day. There is no way I can run endurance distances without eating. That’s crazy and, whilst I am no nutritionist, it can’t be good or healthy for me.

When faced with a closed pathway I took the trail, got myself covered in crap, soaking wet and freezing, but it felt amazing. It didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger. I then finished up the morning by cooking myself this delicious brunch consisting of savoury pancakes stuffed with potatoes fried in garlic, chilli, ginger and turmeric followed by a fruit salad. Yum!

Week in Review, Plus First Running Readings from Vivoactive HR

After the bizarre readings I took the first time I clocked a swim with my Garmin Vivoactive HR watch I am relieved to have gotten accurate, good quality data when running with it for the first time. It will be interesting to see what happens when I swim again. Hopefully it is just a teething issue but let’s wait and see. My cycling is hovering around the 6 mile mark at 12 minute miles, and to be honest I could cycle 25 miles tomorrow easily so right now my focus is on my weaker sports. I have also maintained my 16/8 fasting routine whilst trying various new recipes, all of which are posted here and on my Instagram.

This week I have pushed my swimming up to 100 metre interval drills, hitting the 700 metre mark. My run below is the longest yet, having added roughly 33% in distance to the last one. The one caveat here is that I ran during storm Clara and thus had to stop a couple of times to avoid torrential rain soaking me wet through.

Garmin Connect Data

Garmin Connect Data Summary
Garmin Connect Data Summary
Garmin Connect Data Summary
Garmin Connect Data Summary

Data Breakdown

Detailed Data Breakdown
Detailed Data Breakdown

Split Times

Split Times
Split Times

Graphs for Heart Rate, Cadence, Heart Rate Zones and So Forth

Cadence, Elevation and Heart Rate Zones

Cadence, Elevation and Heart Rate Zones

Pace and Heart Rate
Pace and Heart Rate

Strava Data

Strava Data
Strava Data

View on Strava and follow me here to get a follow back.

Recipe: Flambed Peaches with Citrus Cashew Cream

This is a knickers off dessert, as in serve this to a lady on date number three and watch her knickers fly off! This is a recipe that calls for you to flambé, i.e. ignite alcohol in the pan, so please be careful. You can see how to do it on YouTube, but if you’re not sure then don’t make this recipe.

Ingredients

  1. 4-5 peaches, stoned and sliced
  2. 2 tbsp of rum
  3. 3 tbsp sugar
  4. Zest and juice of a citrus fruit of your choice – I used a lime
  5. 100g cashews, soaked in boiling water to soften
  6. 100g icing sugar plus a little more for dusting
  7. Soy milk

Method

  • Heat a skillet very hot, then add the sugar and caramelise it
  • Add your peaches, reduce the heat and toss well in the caramel
  • Now you flambé. Take the pan off the heat and we’ll away from the flame, then add the rum and then ignite it. Be very careful and be sure you do this safely
  • Once the alcohol is burnt off the flames will stop, turn off the heat and leave whilst you make your citrus cream
  • Blend the icing sugar, cashews and soy milk to make a smooth cream. It’s up to you how thick you make it, obviously more milk will thin it out.
  • Pour into a jug and then whisk in the juice and zest. This will add air and lighten the cream a little
  • Serve by layering the peaches shortbread or some other similar type of biscuit, pour on some of the cream, then some of the rum sauce, and finally dust with icing sugar

Delicious dessert.

Grief

I have more experience of grief than most people in my age group. I do not believe this makes me an authority on the subject. I simply wish to share my learning on the matter because I think that grief is so poorly handled and understood that it is actually quite the problem. This post was inspired by an article about Martyn’s Law. I have to start out with my opinion on this story, and this is a genuinely, strongly held conviction of mine:

Never pass laws named after dead people, and especially never pass laws named after dead children

Now, to be clear here, I wish not to trivialise anyone’s loss. Bereavement is hell and the loss of a child is something I would not wish on anyone. The issue is thus; that a grieving person feels entitled, and nobody wishes to say ‘no’ to the demands of that person. The problem is that someone recently bereaved is precisely the last person who ought to be advising anybody about anything, let alone laws that will be almost impossible to repeal. Inevitably Martyn’s Law, which is going to turn accessing a concert venue into the same, pointlessly miserable process as boarding an aeroplane, is the result of a campaign by a bereaved mother.

Martyn’s Law is a bad law, but even if it were a good one the motives for passing it are toxic. It is the manifestation of ego, of selfishness masquerading as dignity. Just as the flowers that are left at a car crash site are not eternal, so it ought to be with all acts of commemoration. Life goes on, and passing laws that memorialise the dead do nothing other than vex the lives of others and stop the bereaved from looking inwardly and dealing with their loss. It becomes a trophy of indulgent behaviour, a focal point for bad reasons to avoid confronting the agony of death and tragic loss.

My mother passed in sudden, tragic circumstances around a decade and a half ago. This was an episode in my life which became the subject of a successful lawsuit and a fitness to practice hearing against her GP. If you really want to know death first hand then getting a call at around 2pm to say that your mum is sick, only for her to be dead by 9pm will do the trick. I do not wish to indulge my grief, that is private. What is teachable is how differently people react. It may surprise you to learn that, where my father and sister went after the doctor with a vicious and vengeful fervour, hoping to have him convicted of negligence, dismissed and potentially imprisoned, I felt no such bitter, savage emotions. I absolutely believe(d) both then and now that it was right to hold him accountable for his actions, and I understand the anger of someone who has been wronged but I do not feel angry about him and I did not wish to destroy him. Why? Because I do not believe that my bereavement, grief and loss entitle me to anything. Not a damned thing.

The doctor got it wrong. It is as simple as that. He was censured and we received a settlement. Am I furious? No. By god I wish he had come to see my mum when she was first taken ill. The conclusion was that the delay in consulting her symptoms cost her life. I am not bitter, however. He did not mean to harm her, he just made the wrong call. The problem is that such calls have consequences that are out of all proportion relative to the size of the error. He made a mistake. That is all. His ruination would mean that fewer people would practice medicine and those who do would be a little more scared to make brave diagnostic calls and prescribing decisions. Call me crazy if you like but if I am potentially fatally ill then I want a doctor with the balls to make the call, not a timid mouse who fears the lawsuit he or she might face. It sucks that my mum paid the price and I lost her when she was only fifty four years of ago but it’s going to happen sometimes, and the dumbest thing you could do to a superb physician who has bettered thousands of lives would be to ruin him purely as an act of indulgence. What would be the point of retribution? Do I think he sleeps soundly despite his error? Maybe. I hope he does, not just for his patients’ sake but also because the pain I feel at the loss of a life that should have had thirty or so more years in length is mine to bear. Subcontracting it to him in order to make him feel as bad is pointless. Life will bring him his own loss and grief. I have no business insisting that he suffer mine also. He already cost a patient her life and I do not for a second believe that he ever wanted to practice medicine for reasons that were ignoble. All that aside, how weak it is to demand that others also suffer purely so they know your misery. How do I enrich the world if I behave in such a way?

My father, in his grief, has succumbed to anger and bitterness. It has twisted his soul and destroyed his family and his old age. Of course, losing the retirement of which you dreamed is horrible and I understand, but what are we to do with that? I remember after mum passed, he would rage at anyone and everyone. He once spotted a parking space when going to the supermarket and when another person parked in it – my dad was nowhere near it – he followed the driver and assaulted him. His justification began with ‘after what I have been through’. He believed that his loss entitled him to something from the world, and he is now so bitter, twisted and malevolently narcissistic that I do not believe that he can be helped. The GP error cost him his retirement with his wife, but his bitterness has cost him far more, and which is more, he did it to himself. He has allowed grief and bitterness to twist and gnarl his spirit to the limit where what good there was is long gone. Now he rages bitterly at a world that owes him nothing.

For a man to handle grief well, and by that I do not mean it will be easy, he must decouple his ego from his loss. Death is a fact of life. It happens to all, some more than others, but it is something to be assimilated and handled with dignity. It is hard to pick up one’s cross at the best of times, even more so when bereaved, but there is a wrong way to do it. The right way is deeply personal and thus difficult to describe as it varies from person to person. The wrong way is simple. Indulge your ego and entitlement in your grief. That is how to grieve badly. Do so and you will never heal. Go ahead and allow existential rage to consume you. You might feel good temporarily but in the end it is still you who is consumed.

The truth is that when grieving you must forgive yourself. All of the missed opportunities and wasted years are gone. When my time comes I will not be angry at my children for the time they did not spend with me. What would upset me most is the notion that they might stand at my grave and weep for the loss of that which will be gone forever. So forgive yourself. Chances are your lost loved one already has and if they haven’t then they are not worthy of your consideration.

My father grieves like a clenched fist. If he softened and opened up then there is so much still to take from the world and so much life can give to him, but as long as he is clenched like that fist all he can do is cling to what he has – bitterness, hatred, resentment and anger.

My final thoughts are these: we all deserve the time to grieve when we endure loss. We deserve compassion, empathy and understanding and the truth is that if you use that loss to gain something you do not merit, such as a law that will impact others negatively, or you simply believe that the world owes you a favour, then, quite simply, you are a predator. Grief is the camouflage for your predatorial nature. Worst of all, in the end you will only destroy yourself. It is hard to forgive your enemies, perceived or otherwise, and it is hard to let go of pain and anger when nobody would blame you for feeling that way. Even harder still is to summon the courage to look in the mirror and accept that the world does not owe you anything for what you lost. A better way would be to think that you owe it to the world to fill the gap left by whomever has left it and for whom your grieve. What can you do to ensure that their loss will produce something of value? My mum is dead. It is unjust, unfair and unfinished, but she is dead. It serves no good purpose for me to inflict that upon the world. However, what I can do is use the memory of the pain to soothe that of another, to empathise and show compassion to someone else. This is surely a better way.

Week in Review

Last week I picked up my schedule for the first time in 2020 after a pretty awful 2019. I got Twitter and Instagram accounts, and in addition to easing back into the outdoors I started to further expand my nutritional horizons. I love cooking and it’s a great way to express one’s creativity. I remain on a 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule and I am more than ever committed to a vegan diet that contains little to no sugar and is not processed wherever possible.

I cycled twice but only over short distances. I don’t pay too much attention to statistics and data for rides under five miles as cycling in Lancashire is so roly-poly, hilly and stop-start that it is difficult to build up a decent cadence and pick up a good cruising speed for any meaningful length of time. I was hoping to post some swimming data but I have been held up by the supplier of a replacement strap for my Garmin Vivoactive watch, which has yet to arrive and is now six days late. Thanks useless eBay parts supplier.

Today’s Cycle
Today’s Cycle

I have cycled today already, again just a short town ride on an errand, the virtue of which I extolled last week. My focus this week is to begin to add swimming to my cycling again. I hope to strengthen my lower back after hurting it quite badly last year, such was the sedentary nature of caring for my crocked little boy.

Small beginnings yield massive outcomes. Let’s destroy 2020.

Recipe: The Comfort Food of Champions!

Comfort food. We all eat it and need it from time to time, some more than others. For me comfort food done well is filling, hearty and it makes me feel better when I’m either unwell or I need to console myself, lick my wounds or similar. Usually comfort food is garbage nutritionally speaking. It is typically high in salt, high in sugar, high in bad fats and loaded with simple carbohydrates. I am here to tell you that it need not be so. If you want good comfort food then usually it has to be:

  • Filling
  • Savoury/umami
  • Tasty and/or hearty

So here is one of my favourite dishes that is all three: socca flatbread with a cheesy dip sauce.

Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce
Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce

This is a dish that will fill you and satisfy your comfort hunger, but will not leave you bloated and tired with a food hangover, and it relies on my favourite staple, the mighty cashew cream. The flatbread, socca, is gluten-free and low on carbohydrates. So below is how you make it.

Ingredients

Socca

  • Two cups of water
  • Two cups of gram flour (chickpea flour)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh rosemary for garnish

Cheese sauce

  • 150 grams cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least 10 minutes
  • 1 cup of nutritional yeast
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • Soy milk
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp Chilli flakes
  • Salt to taste
Served at the Dinning Table: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce
Served at the Dinning Table: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce

Method

Socca

Mix the ingredients together until you have something similar to pancake batter. If it is watery add a little more flour, or water if too thick. Socca needs to be crispy at the edges with a creamy tasting centre, so once your batter is smoothly mixed you must let it rest for half an hour. This will give the dense gram flour time to hydrate thoroughly.

To cook it spread some oil around a frying pan and keep the heat at medium. Coat the pan with batter, and let it cook slowly. It will bubble up, this is normal. You do not flip it, hence why a medium heat is important. Allow it to cook through. It is ready when you can lift it from the pan without it falling apart. If you lift it too soon it will flop and split. Patience is key here as it will take a little longer than a regular pancake to cook through, and the first one will be a little more difficult than the others to cook properly. Garnish with rosemary and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Once done you can do anything with it. You could spread with garlic butter, use it as a pizza base, top with a Mediterranean salad, maybe a tabbouleh, or tomato sauce. The possibilities are limitless. For this dish however slice it into six with a pizza cutter.

Cheese Sauce

Drain the cashews and put them in a blender. Start it spinning on a low speed and slowly add milk. Keep this up until you have a smooth cream. It can take a couple of minutes to completely pulverise the nuts so there is no need to rush. Once done, add the chopped pepper and blend again.

Once you have the cream add the nutritional yeast, and add a little more milk if necessary to keep the smooth consistency. Once that is blended add the paprika, garlic, turmeric and chilli flakes. Blend thoroughly. Now you will have a cheesy, creamy sauce.

Unplug the blender and taste. Depending on your preference, add salt slowly and blend, unplugging and tasting as you go. Once you are happy the sauce is ready. I serve it in a bowl that I have warmed in hot water to keep the sauce warm like a fondue. Now it’s your choice! Either spread the sauce on the socca, or dip and munch. Whatever floats your boat. You now have a dish full of good fats, protein, no gluten and very little carbohydrate. Best of all, it is absolutely delicious.

The Best Comfort Food in the World: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce
The Best Comfort Food in the World: Socca and Cheesy Dip Sauce

That is how you eat comfort food that hits the spot without hitting your waistline.

Reasons the Gym Sucks – Change my Mind

I am just going to put this out there. Gyms suck. Okay, to clarify, they suck for me. I hate gyms, which is a weird position to be in for someone blogging in this fashion. Obviously I really don’t care much if anyone else goes to the gym but I loathe the place. Why? Below is my thesis.

Before you read, however, be aware that I am not down on gym users. If you enjoy it then crack on. I am just outlining my feelings about it, and the pretence that it is about fitness and health.

Indoors

Being outdoors is a person’s birthright. Given the choice of running a trail or running on a machine? For me there is no contest. Besides, a treadmill is literally a conveyor belt. Why would you wish to be a cog in a machine?

The Weights

I have a theory that barflies and weightlifters are the same people. They just hang around the same places, peacocking, waiting for something to happen. When they aren’t lifting drinks up and down they are lifting weights up and then putting them back down again.

Then we have the following Honour Roll of Pillocks:

  • Mr I have to roar when lifting in order to inform everybody in the gym that I am picking up the heavy thing
  • Mr I drop the weights deliberately and as loudly as possible in order to inform everybody in the gym that I have now finished lifting the heavy thing
  • Mr I leave my disgusting sweat all over the heavy thing because I am a selfish ass
  • Mr I don’t put the heavy thing away because I am an arrogant ass
  • Mr I have got to get my shirt off at every opportunity to prove that I have been lifting the heavy thing

I could go on but you get the point I am sure. Nobody likes these people. Literally.

Real Life

The gym is part of an algorithm. There are those who go believing that if they eat nothing but chicken and broccoli six times a day and then do exercise then they will achieve something to do with muscles. They are probably correct. That being said, I much prefer reality. Just as Tyler Durden sneers at those who enrol at a gym trying to look like the models they see on posters, I too roll my eyes at the pursuing of an external ideal. The guys who joined Fight Club were, after a few weeks, ‘carved out of wood’. I wager that if you put any one of these preening peacocks at the gym in a bar fight and they would fall apart.

My preference is not to be a cookie cutter man with 8% body fat because David Gandy has and I have to look like him. I want to be the best version of myself, and the best I can be is what real life makes me. Cycling the hard hills of Lancashire or commuting on the bike, running the trails all around me and hiking the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and Lakeland? That makes you rugged, dependable, strong and monolithic. Weathered, well -used musculature carved out by real life is authentic. It is a body that tells a story. When you see a physique like that you know that it is a canvas with a painting telling a tale that is more than ‘yeah, I lift brah. What do you bench?’

Be honest ladies, who do you really want on your arm? Do you want the guy who takes you to a restaurant and then asks about the weight of the bananas in the banoffee pie in case he is five grams over the carbohydrate allowance in his fifth small meal of the day? Or do you want the resilient, tough, weathered guy, maybe he’s ex-military, maybe he’s had a few knocks, the guy who won’t wax his chest, doesn’t use the sun bed, but who will tuck you under his wing, safe and sound? I think that we all know the answer and it is not the permatanned, malnourished, walking crisis of masculinity who worries day and night about how alpha he is.

Vanity

Let’s be real here. Being ripped or muscular isn’t about fitness, health and wellness. It’s visual. It’s about looking good. Naturally we all want to look good, but there comes a point where the line is crossed from sanity to vanity, and that line is the front door of the gym. Don’t believe me? Consider this: there is no exercise that you can do in a gym that you can’t do for yourself, in private without paying a monthly fee. And please, let’s not have the ‘but if I’m paying it makes me go’ excuse. Everybody knows that most people go to the gym three times in January and then never go back. Just tell the truth. You go there because you’re vain.

Still in denial? Then what are we to make of the fact that the proliferation of gyms everywhere has seen a concomitant skyrocketing in obesity and sedentary lifestyles? It’s obvious. We are not made to flog ourselves to death for an hour and then eat dreadful food and do nothing else. We are each made to move constantly and to use that movement to influence the world in our own way. Working out and nutrition is a public health catastrophe. It simply does not work and it never has. We are fatter than ever, sicker than ever and yet we have never had more and cheaper gym access.

The key to health and happiness? Look after your life in such a way that you never stop moving, you cook for yourself and you do exercise that is meaningful and joyful rather than monotonous lifting and dropping.

Life is too short to weigh your bananas.

Counting Steps is Pointless, Moving Constantly is the Future

Along with my loathing of the gym another bunch of fitness bores I roll my eyes at are the 10000 steps a day merchants, and largely for the same reasons – particularly the Fitbit Squadron. I can’t stand the gym not only because of the whole staring at the wall and picking things up and putting them down thing, but also because of the vanity of men trying to pick up girls there. Trust me guys – she’s breaking a sweat and working hard. She doesn’t want you to talk to her. The other thing about gym workouts is that they are often pointless because people often sit around all day, literally not moving, then flog themselves to death for 45 minutes before returning to a sedentary position. This is no good for staying well, and the 10000 steps a day mantra is the same.

I also typically don’t like self help books either but one of the best books I’ve read in a while is Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, in which he visits the six places on Earth where people live longest, happiest and most free of chronic illness. These areas all have huge concentrations of centenarians, almost no cancers or diseases associated with chronic inflammation and no lingering chronic illness killing people. When people in the Blue Zones die they just have one bad day, and in the meantime they live lives of healthy productivity well into their eighties and nineties. The book uses hard data and observations and Buettner discovered several things they all have in common. They are all more or less vegans, drink tea, coffee and a little red wine, they gather as a community regularly, venerate elders, often have several generations in one house and so forth. One thing that stood out to me, however is that these people never stop moving. I should be clear that they aren’t trying to live long lives, rather their longevity is a byproduct of their lifestyles. So, for the same reason that I long since ceased calorie counting, I have never tried to hit an arbitrary number of steps. Instead of fostering the ‘I’ve moved 10000 steps and thus have earned this 500 calorie chocolate muffin’ attitude I have lived, for many years, a de-convenienced lifestyle.

Below is yesterday’s health data from my iPhone:

Not bad huh? This is a typical day in the summer for me. I had no idea that I had covered such a huge distance yesterday. I didn’t try to either. All I have done for the last five or six years is to live according to a set of principles that essentially force me to move constantly. So, for example, below is what yesterday entailed. I preface this by saying that I work from home so I’m lucky in that sense, and I can arrange my day around bursts of work.

  • Walk the school run
  • Go running straight from school
  • Come home, draw a bath
  • Hang out wet washing, start new load
  • Bathe
  • Prepare evening meal whilst dripping dry
  • Dress
  • Work for three hours, raising to either prepare food, hang out washing, prepare next load etc. Much of work is reading and I do as much as I can standing up
  • Walk 2 miles to shops, collect what I need
  • Another hour reading in the sun by the canal
  • Walk home and collect children
  • Whilst children change hang out more washing and prepare another load
  • Walk 3 miles to the park, play with children for an hour
  • Go home, eat
  • Collect washing
  • Put children to bed
  • Another burst of work
  • Walk the dog 3 miles
  • Bed

Obviously we all live our own lives but what you can see there is that I never stop moving and this raises my metabolism all day. Rather than being sluggish and sedentary for 12 hours with one burst of high intensity exercise, this way I ended up moving over 15 miles without even thinking about it. This is a better way. As long as you eat well you simply cannot gain weight living like this.

I also live according to a few simple rules that make a huge difference. This will read like luddism but there’s a reason that the Blue Zone communities are all relatively poor ones, or in the case of the Seventh Day Adventists, living lives of modest means deliberately.

  • The car is a deadly sin. Use it only when the journey cannot be made without it.
  • All journeys under 3 miles are walked
  • Any activity done whilst sitting can be done standing – getting a standing desk at work for example can be a remarkable change
  • Never automate that which you can do by hand

This list is not exhaustive but you get the idea. I also stress the need for common sense in the sense that this has to work with one’s lifestyle. Fit these things in so that it’s natural. Even simple things like taking the stairs rather than the lift make a huge difference to one’s heart rate and keeps the calorie burn ticking over in the background. Walking everywhere also frees up time for podcasts, audiobooks, quiet reflection etc, or if walking with family it frees up time for conversation.

Previously we would often drive to places to do things and view the car as a time saver, but then I realised that we rushed around like that for no reason. I literally thought that it was best to get out and in as soon as possible. Why? We would only sit around during the time saved. The constant drive to get somewhere more quickly is pointless. What will you do with the time saved? You can’t put it in the bank to use it later. When we stopped the lunacy of rushing around everywhere we found our days to be much more pleasant. No mindless rushing around like headless chickens, no stress from trying to park with energetic children bouncing around in the back. Just joyful nature and long, productive days of healthy activity.

I also live by the following dietary rules:

  • No animal ever
  • Default morning drink is green tea
  • Cook by hand, from scratch with fresh ingredients
  • Where possible buy local, as this makes you walk to the shops
  • Snack on food that looks like it does when it is in the ground, on the vine or branch etc.
  • Where possible grow your own food
  • Put turmeric in everything as it is a natural anti-inflammatory

In addition to this I would also argue that counting calories is a disaster. When I used to engage in this ridiculous practice of logging meals to the gram I would always eat right up to my limit, even if I wasn’t hungry a lot of the time.

I’ve discovered that living a life of convenience is a disaster. Spending 3 hours a week in a gym trying to run off 168 hours of sitting or lying around just doesn’t work. I’ve seen the future and it is one where I never sit still. Not only is it good for physical health, but also being productive and useful all day has a profound effect on mental health and wellbeing. Being outside is how humans thrive, and making our bodies work constantly generates a life of purpose and induces healthy sleep.

I remember as a kid I never tried to be thin, I simply was thin and I never thought about it. The main reason is that I never stopped moving and nothing was convenient. The things I do now are the things I did as a kid. The only difference is that I have to do real life as well, so I adapt.