THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Time to walk the walk

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I know that over the years, I’ve been doling out advice on how to eat to prevent or delay chronic medical conditions, exercise tips to help prevent the “battle of the bulge” or simply shed pounds packed on during the holidays or simple everyday tips that help maintain our youth, well-being and health. Well, at some point, I started falling off of the bandwagon. Of course, as the saying goes, “To err is human, to blame it on someone else is even more human,” and I’ve been placing the blame elsewhere: the JOB. For the past five years, I’ve commuted from Kane‘ohe to Wahiawa on a daily basis. A 54-mile roundtrip that has me up at 4 a.m. and back at 5 p.m. I know the mileage seems like a walk in the park for you Stateside commuters, and it probably also seems insignificant, timewise. But because of the extra time and mileage involved, my regular cardio sessions on the bike have been reduced from four days per week to just Saturday and Sunday. And if we’re out late on Saturday, sometimes the Sunday session gets nixed. But it’s the JOB’s fault.

Another casualty of the JOB is a lack of resistance training. I used to go to my local 24 Hour Fitness at least once a week, sometimes twice weekly for an hour of resistance training. But no more. I can’t; it’s packed after 4 p.m. on weekdays, and there’s no parking. And since I used to go on weekends, that’s been nixed since weekends are the cardio days. It’s not my fault! I purchased a set of adjustable dumbbells so I could do the resistance training at home, and even purchased an adjustable bench. But on weekdays when I get home, the house is usually unbearably hot. I don’t want a heatstroke. So the dumbbells sit there just looking at me accusingly, asking: “Aren’t you gonna use us today?” “Sorry, it’s too hot.” Blame global warming.

Even when it cools off in the fall and winter, there’s no time. If I get on the bike for my usual 90-minute ride, by the time I finish and complete my stretching, it’ll be after 7 p.m. That’s just an hour left for dinner and a bath! It’s not my fault, blame Father Time for not making weekdays 30 hours long.

And although my weight hasn’t changed much over those five years, the distribution certainly has changed. I’ve “only” packed on about three or four pounds over the past five years which doesn’t seem like anything significant. But my body fat has gone from roughly 15 percent to just under 20 percent in the same time period. And five percent of 145 pounds means an additional seven pounds of body fat, which also means I’ve lost three to four pounds of muscle, the tissue responsible for burning those calories.
So I guess now is as good a time to walk the Walk!

Changing the Exercise Mindset
For starters, I have to change my cardio mindset. Currently, if I can’t dedicate 75 to 90 minutes of straight biking time, I nix the session completely. What I should do is break up those cardio sessions to shorter, more frequent sessions, like two 35 to 45 minute sessions instead of one 75 to 90 minute session. Or I should push the pace harder, but over a shorter time span.

I also have to explore other modes of cardio, like walking. I always viewed walking as an “old man’s” exercise. Whenever I did walk (usually only when taking my car in for maintenance — walking home, then walking back to pick up the vehicle when it’s done), I never got my heart rate above 130 beats per minute. When pushing those bike pedals I got to the 145 to 165 range. How can a heart rate in the 120s be exercise? Well it is especially when sustained for 20 to 30 minutes. And walking can solve the house-is-too-hot scenario. Even when the house is in the 90 degree range after work, the outside ambient temperature is about 10 degrees lower since the sun has usually gone past the Ko‘olau Mountains. Plus, my original assumption that walking was for “old men,”well, if the shoe fits … I mean, I am past the half century mark.

Don’t Resist Resistance Training
Especially as we age, resistance training plays a vital role in preventing that slide into decrepitude. For starters, resistance training keeps the muscles active, the very muscles that primarily burn excess calories. It also can improve insulin sensitivity for those of us getting into that pre-diabetes range. Resistance training also can help with balance and coordination. This is important as we age, as one of the bigger causes of morbidity and mortality in the elderly is falls, especially falls that cause fractures. So in that sense, resistance training plays a dual role in that weight bearing exercises help strengthen not just muscles, but also strengthens bones. reducing the risk for osteoporosis. So along with giving you better balance, perchance you do accidentally fall, your bones may not be as brittle, preventing that dreaded hip, wrist or spine fracture.

So since I already know the “Whys” and simply need the “Hows,” what is my strategy? For starters, I won’t place anything on the dumbbells so that they simply function as a clothes rack (my biking clothes often sit on the dumbbells). I’ll also use my laptop instead of the desktop after work as it will allow me to multitask like read e-mail and get repetitions at the same time. And I’ll try to dedicate Sunday mornings to 24 Hour Fitness and move most of my cardio sessions to the weekdays. I haven’t gone to 24 Hour Fitness for so long, I didn’t realize that you’re checked in with a fingerprint instead of a membership card.

Portion Control
Finally, though my daily breakfast and lunches are healthy and portion controlled, my evening meal usually is a bit larger than it should be. Even healthy foods pack fat on to your midsection if you consume too much of them. So I’ll use a smaller bowl or plate and just stick to one serving. Like I tell all of my patients (but haven’t been following myself), just eat until you’re not hungry. Don’t eat until you’re full. And spoil your meal with fresh fruit and a glass of water before dinner. So instead of that large Fuji apple with lunch, I’ll have half with lunch and half before dinner.

I’ll also load up on those bulky foods that stretch your stomach signaling the brain that you’re not hungry anymore but don’t contain a lot of calories like celery, mushrooms, zucchini and broccoli. Or have more Japanese “Soul Food,” nishime, which contains a lot of bulk in the form of shiitake, wakame, konnyaku, hasu and takenoko, but is actually low in calories.

Can I Walk the Walk?
Well, now that I’ve put in in print I can only set a good example or end up being a hypocrite — do as I say but not as I do. And if I do succeed in getting back to my previous fitness and body fat levels, this wouldn’t be just a temporary measure as if my habits over the past five years return, I’ll end up in the same place. But if I can maintain better lifestyle habits for at least three months, then there’s a greater likelihood that it will become a habit. We’ll see. I’ll keep you updated monthly on my hopeful success or my regression.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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