A Matter of Fitness

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I’ve been thinking long and hard for a while about my fitness level, which is to say, I don’t really have one. I’m five foot seven and weigh 293 pounds. My back is more often than not in some level of pain, and my knees wouldn’t be up to running long distances even if the rest of me were in shape to do so. My fitness routine up until recently has been to walk leisurely around the complex, which is about a half a kilometer or a third of a mile (or less, depending on how my back is doing that day). More recently, it’s consisted of three round trips down and up the staircase leading to the apartment, which winds me and makes me feel much more like I’ve been exercising than the walk ever did. The thing is, the reason I only do three is that my legs don’t feel like they can do a fourth round trip.

I know I get more exercise than that, but there’s nothing tracking my steps here in the apartment, since I don’t usually carry my phone with me, preferring instead to leave it on its stand on my office shelf. I’d love to get a Fitbit or some other wearable someday and see just how much exercise I am getting here at home. I’d also like to ramp what exercise I do get up a bit.

One of the books I’m currently reading, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD, recommends thirty minutes of vigorous exercise a day, four days a week. The easiest way of getting that done is going to be by walking as briskly as I can around the complex. It’s also the safest for my knees and my back, and it’s something that I can trade out for trips up and down the stairs on days when my back isn’t feeling like much. I can do the stairs very slowly even on days that my back is really bothering me and still get a fairly decent workout out of it.

The timing of this decision is not ideal, however. I just opted to add a couple of new definitions to my daily checklist a week ago and I don’t want to take a chance on overloading myself with new things to have to do and then not doing any of them. So this push for more exercise will likely have to wait until the next round of upgrades at the end of this 60-day period, once the new stuff has become second nature. I know that it’s supposed to take 21 days for a new habit to form, but I’ve found that I’m apparently a slow learner when it comes to new habits, so I’m sticking to 60-day increments right now.

That’s two things that will be new at the end of this 60 days – between the upgrades to my learning and exercise, I think I’ll have my hands full, especially when it comes to time management.

I’m not giving up, just being realistic about my abilities and my limitations when it comes to forming new habits, and I really don’t want to lose forward momentum. I’m scared that will bring everything crashing down around me.

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The Next Steps

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Today was my meeting with my case manager at Texas Workforce Solutions – Vocational Rehabilitative Services and I think it went well.

One of the first concerns that Anthony, my case manager, has is my weight, which is understandable. They want me to be well, and true wellness lies in ditching the weight. That will help the high blood pressure, the diabetes, even help alleviate the situation that I’ve gotten myself into with my back problems.

When he went through my paperwork, the reports that my doctors and therapist have sent in to TWS-VRS covered everything but my back problems, so with a phone call we got my latest MRI results and the diagnostic summary of them faxed over and added to my file. While we were waiting, Anthony stepped out to get a colleague who has more experience dealing with back injuries. The colleague, Eric, echoed Anthony’s assessment that losing the weight would help, but he stressed that getting active and doing what physical therapy wants me to do is more important in the short term – and sticking with that in the long term will likewise be important to prevent my back from becoming a degenerative situation. If that occurs, there’s really not that much that can be done to keep me mobile. I explained that expenses were what was keeping me out of physical therapy but I promised both Eric and Anthony that I would look into going long enough to get some home exercises to help me with my case. So that’s step one.

I also mentioned that my insurance has a program that provides free gym memberships at multiple locations around the city, so I promised that I would look into that as well. There’s step two, although that one has a few prerequisites that I need to look into first – namely the purchase of some gym clothes and actual workout footwear. In the meantime I’ll be getting back to the daily walks around the complex, which I can do in jeans and Crocs.

Then we got to the meat of the meeting, which was to discuss what I want to do when returning to work. I mentioned that my back won’t let me do massage therapy anymore, and between being out of the business for a decade and my back working as a pharmacy technician is pretty out of the question, so I’d like to do something that would allow me to sit some of the time, and I’d decided on architectural & engineering computer aided design. The money’s there, the jobs are projected to be there, and while the job would have me sitting most of the time, there would be occasions where I’d be able to get up and stretch on top of the exercise that I’ll be doing anyway. I fired off some of the stats that I got from the Occupational Outlook Handbook online, and he commended me for doing my research before coming in. So step three is going to be me going back to school for my associate’s degree.

I left with some homework – get in touch with physical therapy and do what they tell me for my back, start walking in an effort to begin losing the weight, and submit my FAFSA for the degree program. The goal is for me to start in the spring, which really means mid-January. So I have a little less than two months for financial aid to do its thing before classes start. The process is underway, however – the FAFSA was submitted earlier this afternoon.

I asked a point blank question of Anthony just before I left – how much of this am I going to have to pay for out of pocket? His response surprised me.

“Zero.” Tuition, books, and supplies are all going to be covered for this program.

So I’m one step closer to getting back to work. There’s still a lot of time left ahead of me, but it looks like I’m well and truly on the road, finally. We’ll see what happens in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m nervous, but cautiously excited and optimistic about this new future that I’m planning for myself.

Not So Fabulous

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I mentioned something a few posts back about an app that I’d picked up called “Fabulous.” I’ve got a little more experience with it and can give you a bit more insight into how it works.

I found out that it’s actually called “The Fabulous,” despite everything on the Google Play Store calling it just “Fabulous.” So there’s that.

The first habit that they want you to establish is drinking a glass of water immediately upon waking. That was was easy. They gave me three days to establish that on its own.

On the third day, they added eating a healthy breakfast. My breakfasts tend to be either an egg, cereal, or oatmeal, along with a few strips of bacon, so I quasi-qualified there. (They prefer for you to eat an egg with fruit, and give you an action item to get to the store and buy eggs and fruit, something that we haven’t yet done.) They then give you three days of drinking water and eating breakfast as your morning ritual.

On day five, they fold in a new part of your routine, a seven-minute morning workout.

Now, keep in mind that I haven’t exercised but once since I started into my depressive cycle back in February. So I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happens. They even have a handy seven-minute program for you to follow. So I gave that a shot.

I have never been more wrong in my life.

The seven-minute workout gives you ten seconds to prepare for the workout, and then thirty seconds for the actual exercise, then ten seconds to rest before moving on to the next exercise. This seems easy enough, until you realize there are thirteen separate exercises that the program runs you through, and you don’t know what they are until the timer starts, so you spend the first few seconds of the exercise time getting into position for the exercise itself. It would be much easier if the ten seconds of breathing time gave you a preview of what was coming next.

Exercise one was jumping jacks. Easy enough, excepting that I’m on the second floor and I’m sure the downstairs neighbors weren’t appreciative of the round guy upstairs spending thirty seconds jumping up and down. The cat was also fairly terrified of this very strange thing that I was doing.

Next up was wall sitting. This is where you put yourself into a position like you’re sitting down, only you’re doing it against a wall with your arms crossed so your legs pushing against the wall are the only thing keeping you from falling down. Not so bad, I have strong legs. This was probably the easiest thing that I did.

The third exercise was push ups. Here was where I had to start making some compromises. I used my knees, not my legs as my anchor point and did the best I could. I was not happy with myself that I couldn’t do this simple exercise anymore.

Fourth is abdominal crunches – lying on the floor, arms outstretched, knees bent, crunch your upper body up as high as you can. Given the shape I’m in, this one was surprisingly easy, but then again, I’ve always had a fairly strong core underneath all this extra weight I’m carrying around.

The intervening ten seconds between exercises turned into a minute and a half. I needed water, I REALLY needed longer than ten seconds to breathe. I was starting to look and feel a mess.

The next exercise was stepping up onto a chair. One leg up, next leg up, first leg down, next leg down, repeat. Keeping my balance was the hard part on this one, but I managed to get it done. I also managed to traumatize the cat again, so this exercise routine has collateral damage, I discovered. Good to know.

After that came squats. Well, squat. I think they wanted me to hold it for thirty seconds. I kept standing and squatting. The pictures weren’t very clear and there’s no explanation other than two pictures that supposedly give you the gist of what you’re doing. I felt confused in addition to exhausted.

The next ten second break lasted two minutes. More water, then a quick dive into the next exercise long enough to figure out what the hell it meant.

That exercise was called “triceps dip on chair.” The goal here was to put my hands on the seat of the chair, use my arms to hold myself up with my legs outstretched, and then bend my arms to where my triceps were what were holding me up. Again, the picture wasn’t very clear. They may have wanted me to continue to bend and extend my arms through this exercise. They got me holding it for as long as I could, and by the time the thirty seconds were up my arms felt like Jello. The monotone female voice that accompanied this program wanted to helpfully let me know that I was “halfway there.” I felt “halfway dead.”

On to exercise eight. Planking. I managed to hold this for the whole thirty seconds. I felt proud of myself for being able to do this. My arms felt more like Jello than ever.

This ten second break between exercises lasted three minutes. I was quickly getting to the end of my very out-of-shape rope.

The next exercise was “high knees running in place.” Thankfully self explanatory – just run in place, lifting your knees high. I thought back to the jumping jacks and decided that I was going to have to modify this to protect my neighbors downstairs, so I would lift one leg high, lower it, then lift the other. I always had at least one foot on the ground. Not sure I could have done this one the way they wanted me to anyway.

Following this was lunges. I did the best I could but I was slow and didn’t actually get many lunges in my thirty second time period.

There was an extended break after this one to catch my breath and try to figure out just what the hell exercise eleven was all about. They called it “push-up and rotation.”

I got past my ten second timer and paused the workout just as the picture came up. The goal was to do a push up, but upon raising my body, I was to lift one arm and rotate my body to the point that I was raising my arm over my body. I thought about it for a couple minutes and then made my decision.

Not just no, but hell no. I didn’t even attempt this one.

The penultimate exercise was right side plank. This is where I propped myself up on my right forearm, and extended my body straight so that I was only touching the floor with my arm and my feet. I could barely get my hip off the floor, and even then not for the full thirty seconds.

Last break. I was pretty much Jello all over at this point.

The final exercise was repeating the side plank on the left arm. My shoulder made that one impossible after about ten seconds.

I finished their suggested workout and collapsed in a heap on the couch. The Jello feeling in my arms and legs eventually passed some twenty minutes later.

During this twenty minutes, I started evaluating how well this app would fit into my life. See, the morning ritual is timed. You have one minute to drink your water, then fifteen minutes to prepare and eat your breakfast, then seven minutes to exercise. Ideally, this routine runs nonstop, but you can pause it as you need to.

The habit that they’re trying to get me to form early in the morning was proving to take up the better part of my morning, between all the other stuff that I have to do already. It proved to be more disruptive to the things that I have to do otherwise. Besides, I have exercise at the end of my day, and that routine – my checklist – has been carefully curated over more than a year’s experimentation to progress in the most effective way it can for my life. This app is throwing a monkey wrench into my day, and I can already tell it’s going to get worse. Once I’ve finished establishing a morning routine, there’s an afternoon and evening routine to establish too.

So I’ve made the decision to delete the app from my phone. It might work with someone else, but I don’t think it’s for me.

But hey, at least I get to cross off exercise for the day.

October 5, 2015: Three Good Things

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1. Despite waking up to some bad news (personal stuff, nothing, uh … personal … the situation is under control at this time) my mood was pretty chipper throughout almost the entire day. My computer is beginning to frustrate me and I’m thinking a clean install of Windows might not be a bad idea, but it’s not anything that’s greatly affecting my mood. Sure, I’m not looking forward to the process, but I think it will improve my computer’s performance. Might start that process after my show on Thursday night.

2. During the walks that I’ve been taking recently, I’ve started to get winded well before the end of the lap around the complex. Tonight, I didn’t get winded until after I’d climbed the stairs to come back home. My endurance is getting notably better.

3. Today my cat was especially social, spending almost the entire time my wife was at work on the couch with me. She usually naps for a few hours in the afternoon, then comes out a couple hours before my wife comes home for dinner to cuddle with me on the couch, and then hops up with me off and on after lunch. Today she was right there from the beginning and didn’t much leave until my wife kicked her out of her spot upon coming home for the evening.

Bonus: today is day eight of the complete checklist streak.

May 28, 2015: Three Good Things

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1. I found a seated cardio workout that’s 11 minutes long and fun to do. This is good for two reasons: first, I’m actually doing cardio; and second, it’s not 12 minutes long, cause I was DONE at the end of 11. Like, could barely lift my feet off the floor done. Given the weather in Austin lately, it’s a much more reliable workout than walking and I honestly feel it’s a better one, using much more of my body than walking at 21 minutes per mile. Arms went one way, legs went another, and there were times that I got so confused I had to stop and reset the motion because I’d gone past cardio into interpretive seizure, but I think my ability to keep it straight will improve with time – as well as my endurance.

2. Now for something that involves sitting on my butt for long periods of time. I’m something of a gamer, and I found the voice cast listing for the game that’s currently holding my attention. It’s amazing to see how versatile these voice actors are. There were many voices I recognize from the game that I would never have thought were performed by the same actor. I’ve always had an interest in voiceovers, so I was very happy to find this list.

3. Today was the first day with the changes to my checklist, and I made one more change mid-day, changing “walk” to “exercise” to reflect my newfound cardio program. (The program also features cooldown stretching, which took the place of yoga, so it’s killing two birds with one stone.) First impressions: today felt so much easier to manage, despite dealing with a headache for most of the day, and I got everything checked off.

Bonus! I have the medications that I need to manage my blood pressure, at least until my new primary care physician comes online June 30. My blood pressure is still very high, but it’s not quite to the point of being a hypertensive crisis, like it was last night. (I do not fancy regular visits to the ER to manage my blood pressure.) Hopefully over the next few days I can get that down even more.

Extra bonus! I started a food log that tracks what I eat and my exercise. It’s got me on track to lose a pound a week. Yesterday I was over my caloric allotment by 74 calories. Today I was under by 354!

Backed Into a Corner

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On May 11, my doctor asked me to start logging my blood pressure three times daily, which I’ve mostly done since then. Yesterday, my blood pressure escalated throughout the day to the point that the reading at around 10:15 pm was 205/119.

So off to the ER we went.

It’s back down now (relatively speaking) but still quite high, something like 162/109 at last reading about an hour and fifteen minutes ago.

But I’m in a quandary.

I know that exercise is going to be vital to getting my blood pressure lower, but with it being as high as it is, I’m scared to go walk just in case something happens while I’m out there alone.

At this point, I really don’t know what to do and I won’t have a doctor on board to advise me until the end of June. Walking in the evenings is going to be difficult due to the limited amount of time my wife and I have then to get everything done that we need to do at night, though that’s going to be rectified soon enough when her work schedule changes in a couple weeks. I’m just scared to wait until then; I feel that it’s a matter of extreme urgency that I start to lose weight and get my blood pressure down to manageable levels.

Anyone have any advice on what I should do?

A Trend Emerges

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Regular followers of this blog are familiar with my two black books, one containing my daily health and hygiene checklist and my daily vitals, and the other holding my running to-do list. I’ve noticed a couple of trends emerge across time.

First, I notice that by the time I get to my post-dinner activities, I barely want to get off the couch. Those familiar with the Spoon Theory will recognize that feeling of being “out of spoons” by this point in the day.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that if I start the day in pain, or pain develops at some point during the day, the rest of the day is almost always something of a wash.

So I’m doing two things to try and correct the problem. The first is that I’ve moved my yoga/stretching to just after my morning walk. I think the cool down stretching will do me some good and I’ll be in a better place mentally and physically do to it earlier. The second is that I’m trying to remember that if I need to take time away from my checklist regimen for pain management to return to it as soon as the pain has stopped.

I’ll start these things in earnest in a couple days, once I flip pages in my checklist book.

I think the situation is important to address because whenever I don’t get my checklist done I start to kick myself mentally for not even being good enough to get the bare minimum done. Making it easier to do that makes it easier to say I’ve accomplished what I set out to do with my day, and gives me less reason (excuse) to browbeat myself for failing to do the baseline of what I need to do to take care of myself.

I also need to figure out a backup plan for walking. I don’t have any athletic equipment at all that wicks away moisture, I walk in Crocs because I don’t really have anything else, and I’m generally out walking in the one pair of jeans that I own that fit me. And they’re expecting it to be a wet summer here in Austin.

I’ll eventually get it all figured out. It’s good that I note there’s a problem and am doing things to correct the problem. Now to execute this plan, which looks flawless on paper.