Steps to fitness

First, an update:

FebFast is going well. A couple of minor transgressions, but overall given I’ve normally got a bit of a sweet tooth, I think I’m doing well avoiding junk food. Certainly no chips or chocolate have passed my lips since the start of the month, but perhaps more remarkably, no biscuits (despite the plentiful supply in the office) and no muesli bars. Thank you to those who have sponsored me! If you’d like to contribute: here’s the link.

Running is also going okay. I’m keeping up with at least three runs per week. I would like to go longer distances, and am scoping out some sports headphones (after the normal ones I used just fell out of my ears at speed!) I might adapt to RunKeeper’s interval training, as during my test run with music, the other problem apart from the headphones was I couldn’t keep count of my steps.

Which brings me to the third tranche of my fitness regime: steps.

I’m not into sport, but I love walking, and am blessed with a very walkable neighbourhood.

I recently upgraded my Nexus 5 phone to Android 5. With it came the Google Fit app, which makes use of the pedometer hardware which has been built into my phone all this time but I never noticed before. (Presumably I could have installed Google Fit earlier, but I didn’t know about it.)

Google Fit

With the app running, and given I take my phone almost everywhere I go, I can now very easily track the steps (and time) I take walking or running each day — excluding a small number of steps around the house or inside at work.

The beauty of trying where easy/possible to go places without the car is that I get some exercise built into my day. For instance I have a short walk on each end of my daily train trip to work — this adds up to about 2000 steps. Add a moderate walk at lunchtime, and the trip back home, and I can easily exceed 6000 steps on a work day without even trying.

On the nights that I don’t go running, I often take an evening walk with the kids. Depending on the weather and the errands we want to run (I often pick up supermarket supplies as part of this), this might typically be another 4000-5000 steps.

Some days I walk less. Some days I walk more. My record in one day was this Sunday just gone, where a couple of walks down the street, plus a walk around Southland (another 5653 steps) and an evening run added up to a grand total of 15,796.

How many steps is good? Google Fit seems to come with a default of 6000 per day to measure you against, but a lot of material recommends 10,000 steps per day:

Dr. Hatano’s calculations also showed that we should walk 10,000 steps a day to burn about 20% of our caloric intake through activity.

Today, the World Health Organisation (WHO), US Centre for Disease Control, US Surgeon General, American Heart Foundation, US Department of Health & Human Services, and the National Heart Foundation of Australia all recommend individuals take 10,000 steps a day to improve their health and reduce the risk of disease. — 10,000 Steps Australia

Digging around, I also found this study abstract, which says in part:

Based on currently available evidence, we propose the following preliminary indices be used to classify pedometer-determined physical activity in healthy adults:

(i). <5000 steps/day may be used as a ‘sedentary lifestyle index';

(ii). 5000-7499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered ‘low active';

(iii). 7500-9999 likely includes some volitional activities (and/or elevated occupational activity demands) and might be considered ‘somewhat active'; and

(iv). >or=10000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as ‘active’. Individuals who take >12500 steps/day are likely to be classified as ‘highly active’.

How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health.

I’m thinking my aim should be to get to 70,000 steps or more in a week. Some days will be fewer than others, but if I can an average 10,000 per day, I’ll be doing pretty well.

Last week:

  • Monday 10435
  • Tuesday 9454
  • Wednesday 9926
  • Thursday 9348
  • Friday 6901
  • Saturday 11353
  • Sunday 15796
  • Total = 73213, or an average 10,459 per day

I’m not sure I can keep up that pace, especially through the winter, but I can try.

You met your goal!

At the moment, only a few phones have pedometers or other chips aimed at performing that function: these include the Google Nexus 5 that I have, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S5, and the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6.

Smartphones that don’t have a built-in pedometer can run an app that calculates steps via the accelerometers in phones. Here are some for Android and iPhone

The other alternative of course is an actual pedometer, or a fancier device such as a FitBit, or other devices with a pedometer such as a Nintendo DS.

What steps are you taking?

Taking up running (again)

Part two of my three part plan for weight loss… (Part 1 is diet via FebFast)

I’ve never been one for organised sport, but I’ve had a few failed attempts at an exercise regime over the years. In the late 90s, I would regularly go for a short morning run, but I kind of fell out of the habit after a few months. A couple of years ago I got a punching bag, but it hasn’t really stuck.

I do get a fair bit of walking in. But I was looking for something a little more intensive, specifically to lose belly fat, which over the Christmas period can be an issue, but which to be honest I’ve been picking up over the past few years.

Runkeeper charts

Googling around I found this page, which may or may not be reputable: WikiHow: How to Lose Belly Fat.

It suggests a number of things, but one of the exercise ideas caught my eye:

Exercise in small bursts. Research shows that interval training, or alternating short bursts of energy with brief resting periods, can improve muscle and build endurance more quickly than traditional exercise.

And it gives this example:

Sprint. Run as fast and as far as you can for 20 seconds, then slow to a walk until you catch your breath. Repeat for 10 minutes.

As someone who sometimes sprints to catch a train, tram or bus, this appealed to me. So I’ve got a routine going now, which I’ve been doing since mid-December:

  • Brisk walk or jog down to the local oval.
  • Do laps: run for 60 paces (which is about 20 seconds), then walk until ready to run again.
  • Repeat for at least 5 laps, which takes about 13-15 minutes. I’m trying to steadily increase this, but 5 is a good starting point. If you’ve done 1-2, you’ve barely started and can’t give up. If you’ve done 3-4 you’re nearly finished, and can’t give up. I figure it’s all about getting the heart pumping, which it certainly does.
  • After the laps, a brisk walk or jog back to home.

I’ve been doing this three times a week (Thursday night, Saturday morning, Sunday night — these are the easiest times at present), but more often in the past few weeks as I’ve had a bit of leave from work. RunKeeper is tracking my progress (hence the graphs above), and nagging me if I go more than three days between runs.

If I get a stitch, I gather there are ways to combat that, by taking care with what/when you eat, and warming up properly.

I’ve tried running with music, but I need to get earphones that don’t fall out… and the music means I can’t count the steps/laps properly. It would work by going at a slower, more consistent pace that doesn’t need counting.

Is the running having an effect? I hope so, but it’s a little hard to tell. Belly still round, but the “grab test” seems to be a little harder, so the signs are good.

I’ll try and keep at it.

Who else is running, or has a different exercise regime?

FebFast: No junk food for a month

I’ve just enjoyed my last takeaway pizza for a month, including leftovers for lunch today:

Last takeaway pizza before FebFast

I’ve signed up for FebFast, where participants are encouraged to refrain from something for the month of February.

They’ve got a few variations on it:

FebFast Smoking — no point in this, as I don’t smoke.

FebFast Social Media — Noooooooooooo.

FebFast Alcohol — I barely drink, so there’d be no challenge here.

FebFast Sugar — not convinced sugar intake is a problem for me, but I think it’d be difficult to do properly.

FebFast Junk Food — that’s the one for me!

Here’s an info-graphic on the benefits of staying off junk food:

FebFast: Junk food infographic

They’re ultimately leaving it up to the individual to decide what’s in and what’s out, though they do have some guidelines.

For me, I’ll be aiming to avoid: chips (both hot and crisps), chocolates (apparently “raw dark chocolate” is okay?), biscuits (a difficult ask in the office), milk shakes. Cakes? I’ll decline anything except a small slice for any birthday celebrations.

I’ll lay off soft drinks, but reserve the right to glug down a Coke if I need to, as I use them to fight off headaches occasionally. But I’ll try and avoid it.

I’ll avoid ice cream, but with one exception: I’m hoping to have one last Dairy Bell cone before they close in late February. I have fond memories of them from when I was a kid living near their Elsternwick shop — it’s a shame they’re going.

Non home-made pizza, burgers, and most other packaged/processed foods are also on the No Go list. I suspect I should also avoid muesli bars… they’re really just a glorified biscuit, aren’t they?

What else should I avoid?

I love my snacks between meals, so I’ll stick to fruit and nuts and other fresh stuff. Maybe I should pack some carrot sticks for morning tea?

Daniel's FebFast banner

So, who wants to sponsor me? Donations are tax deductible for Australians, and go towards supporting youth drug and alcohol addiction services.

Update: I was asked a good question on Twitter: How much junk food to I normally eat? I don’t binge on it all the time, but I do sometimes fall into the trap of a takeaway burger and chips as a lazy lunch or dinner, and I do eat far too many snacks such as biscuits at work, where we have a plentifully supplied biscuit jar.

Update FebFast Day 2: You should have SEEN the number of chocolate biscuits in the office biscuit jar today. Somehow I managed to resist them all!

Update FebFast Day 7: It’s been surprisingly easy to avoid chomping on office snacks such as biscuits. I did eat one muesli bar which I had in a desk drawer, and found it unsatisfying, so I doubt I’ll be having any more in a hurry. I have succumbed to a couple of (small) bottles of Coke as a pick-me-up (one day as I’ve developed a cold which has left me feeling pretty flat). I have been snacking on fruit and nuts, though I wonder what the overall kilojoule count is like on those.

CHs: Here’s what I know

As time goes on, I learn more about the cluster headaches that hit me from time to time. They’re different for each person, obviously, but here’s what I know this time around, from my experiences and from my ongoing Googling research — and I must say, the online resources available have been steadily improving.

The word “headache” in the name is a misnomer. They’re not related to conventional headaches, which is why no conventional painkiller medicine works on them.

The UK National Health Service has a very informative page which I didn’t find the last time I went looking.

Cluster headaches … [are] much more painful than migraines or any other type of headache.

They’re called cluster headaches because sufferers usually get one to three of these attacks every day, for several weeks or months, before they subside. A pain-free period will follow, which sometimes lasts months or years, before the headache attacks start again.

Because of the intensity of the pain, some people will pace the room, rock, or bang their head against the wall out of frustration, restlessness and despair.

Bourke Street fog, looking east towards Parliament
Bourke Street in the fog, looking east towards Parliament

The pattern

I get them generally at the change of seasons. Mine started about 3 weeks ago, just as the coldest part of the winter seemed to pass and the days started getting longer.

From past experience, alcohol can help bring cluster headaches on, so I steer clear of booze when they’re around.

I get them mostly in the mornings, 2 or 3 per day. For me this time around it’s been mostly on Sunday and Monday mornings, which is a bit strange. Some of mine have been early in the morning, waking me up.

I can feel them coming about 5-10 minutes before it really hits. They’re at full strength generally for about 15 minutes.

My CHs are always on the left side of my head. Some, such as today (so far), are relatively mild. Some, such as over the weekend, are incredibly intense and painful (and yet perhaps only halfway up the scale compared to what some people suffer in length and intensity).

The intensity of the pain for the worst of the ones I get actually makes me wonder how I’ll handle it as I get older.

Abortive treatments

I used to think that applying pressure to my head helped, but I’m not so sure now.

Cold air does seem to help, perhaps reflecting that some people use oxygen treatment for them. On Sunday morning, possibly influenced by the description of pacing that some people do, I quickly got dressed and paced the back yard in the cold. It did help. Nothing makes the pain actually go away, but it does help reduce it.

Blowing my nose also helps. Some people get a runny nose when it happens — this includes me.

Most documentation says caffeine doesn’t help (nor hinder) fighting CHs. Perhaps the use of an ice cold Coke helping (my so-called medicinal Coke) is my imagination. Or maybe it’s really the cold in the drink plus the sugar? That said, a cup of tea helps a bit too, so perhaps caffeine is making a difference. Given the CH will generally start to fade within about 15 minutes anyway, it’s really hard to tell.

Apparently sumatriptan/Imigran can be injected or applied via a nasal spray, and can help stop an attack, but takes about 10 minutes to work — mine are usually gone within 15 anyway, but given I often have 5-10 minutes warning that one is coming, that may be worth discussing next time I see my GP.

Preventative medication and research

Verapamil is a common treatment to try and prevent them. That’s what my GP put me on. It’s a little hard to know if it really works. It must be powerful stuff — sometimes my head feels really funny after taking one. It also affects the heart, and unfortunately the higher doses needed to really influence cluster headaches are likely to be dangerous without careful supervision.

They still don’t seem to know what causes cluster headaches. Hmm: this claim is interesting:

“Cluster headache is widely regarded as the most severe pain a human can experience ? that’s not hyperbole. It has a population prevalence that’s approximately the same as multiple sclerosis.”

Over the past decade, [Professor Robert] Shapiro said, NIH [US National Institutes of Health] has directed $1.872 billion to multiple sclerosis research, which he said is warranted. By contrast, less than $2 million has gone to cluster headaches over the last 25 years. “It’s completely invisible,” he said.

Anybody care to start up a Cluster Headache Readathon?

To close, here’s a silver lining amongst the cloud of this medical doom and gloom:

The pain during a bad cluster headache is so intense that it’s a relief — almost a natural high, a feeling of elation — when it stops.

Physical wreck: There will be snot

I’m a physical wreck this weekend, from head to foot.

Some new shoes are fine for me, but the ones I wore on Thursday resulted in three blisters: one on each heel, and another on one of my toes. I’m sure the shoes will settle down after a couple of wears, but in the mean time, I’ve got bandaids on every time I leave the house.

And I’ve got a head cold. It’s not at the top of the scale when it comes to colds and flu, but it’s not very pleasant either.

The movie In The Loop (which is a spin-off from the TV series The Thick Of It) has some very funny deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray disc. In one, Jamie (aka The Crossest Man In Scotland) rants to Malcolm about going to see the movie There Will Be Blood… he complains that there’s hardly any blood in it.

My weekend so far could be called There Will Be Snot. On Saturday I went through an unbelievable number of tissues, thanks to an alternating blocked/sneezy/runny nose. The house sounded a little as if someone was doing a day-long really really bad trumpet rehearsal.

So far Sunday is looking like it might be a day for a sore throat rather than lots of nose action, but we’ll see.

Hopefully this cold will be on the retreat by tomorrow. I’ve got important things to do during the week.

Here for your enjoyment is Jamie McDonald, the Crossest Man In Scotland. (Coarse language)

Finally, what is amazing about In The Loop is that they managed to construct a trailer with no swearing (apart from one bleep):