Saturday, October 25, 2014

Health and fitness

Though I hope this post will be of interest to readers, I'm writing it largely as a personal aide memoire of details which are very important to me - though that's pretty much the purpose of the whole blog. One day, I'll want to look back on this part of my life, and the blog will remind me of details I might otherwise forget.

After Christmas 2012, my weight was 13 stone, the highest it had ever been. I'd lost some weight when we first started living on Kantara, then put it back on again, started walking to try to get fitter and lighter, then got my exercise bike (and stopped the walking). I bought and read a book called "Younger Next Year" which really inspired me.

But alongside that, Grace especially became interested in new thinking about nutrition. Then I discovered High Intensity Interval Training, and we both started Intermittent Fasting. And then something happened.

My weight has been just under 11 stone for two or three months now. This morning, I'm at 10 stone 10 pounds. I've lost that two stone plus through a combination of just over an hour's cycling a week, various changes in my diet, and intermittent fasting. Grace has lost significant weight, too. She doesn't cycle, but uses a "stepper" sometimes.

As I've written here before, High Intensity Interval Training is a fairly new approach to exercise. It involves no more than three sessions a week either running or cycling, following a particular regimen.
  • 5 minutes warm-up
  • 30 seconds of "flat-out" cycling/running
  • 90 seconds at warm-up speed
  • repeated 6 to 8 times (any more than that is not recommended)

Expert proponents of HIIT say that this kind of cardiovascular, aerobic exercise is far better than jogging or the cycling equivalent. (In fact, there seems to be a lot of evidence now to suggest that jogging may be bad for you.) Many people jog or cycle to lose weight, but it's not why I do it. In fact, I doubt that the calories I burn in three, 20-minute sessions a week amount to enough to represent a significant weight loss. I do HIIT for the sake of my cardiovascular health, and over the year and a half in which I've been doing it, my blood pressure has gone down to the mid 120's over mid 60's, and my resting heart rate is around 50-55 bpm. 

The changes in our diet have evolved over the past three years, and may still be evolving, but basically amount to this. 
We're not stupidly strict about this. We eat out if we have to, or as a treat, happily. We treat ourselves to chocolate and ice-cream from time to time (and Grace has found a source of original milk gums!), and have croissants and jam and pains au chocolat for breakfast every now and then. We often drink wine, cider, lager, Guinness (though we're trying to cut down!) Grace sometimes makes cake or biscuits, too, though these contain butter rather than margarine, and less sugar than bought cakes do.

Intermittent fasting is probably the main reason for our weight loss, and the loss speeded up when we started this. It basically involves missing our normal breakfast; eating nothing between our last meal of one day and our lunch the next. The purpose of this is to bring about a change in one's metabolism in such a way that the body burns fat for energy, and not sugars. This results in the loss of body fat which we have experienced, and the consequent loss of weight.

IF isn't, in itself, about cutting calories, since we may eat the equivalent of three meals a day if that's we feel we need. All meals just have to be fitted into an eight-hour window, with 16 hours of fasting (7 or 8 of which will be spent in bed). I do have to say, however, that though we may have a small snack occasionally during the afternoon - a piece of cake with tea or coffee, perhaps, or a handful of mixed nuts - we never feel the need for anything more than that, so it is likely that we do consume fewer calories by missing breakfast. That's incidental, however, and not the point of the fasting. And recent evidence suggests that IF and HIIT complement each other extremely well.

Again, however, we're not strict to the point of craziness about this. If we're really too hungry to miss breakfast, then we might have toast, croissants and pains au chocolat, or even bacon, egg and tomatoes. IF isn't intended to be punishing, simply helpful. Monitoring our weight regularly means that we're can be totally in control of it.

All in all, we're both fitter and healthier than when we started life on Kantara -and we're three years older, too! "Younger next year" is a reality which we hope to maintain.

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