Sunday, December 27, 2015

10km again (with a brand new heart rate monitor!)

Santa Claus (aka Mam & Dad) brought me a nice running watch with heart rate monitor. It's a very useful device that measures the heartbeat while running through a belt to be worn around the chest. The display shows different data, such as the maximum heart rate, information about calories and of course the time. The function that I find particularly useful is the percentage of maximum rate, as all over the last 6 months I've been training my aerobic endurance to increase my resistance in the medium-long distance (10km). My maximum heart rate is 181, so my training zone for the aim I set should be between 80% and 90% of this value (according to some theories), but I prefer to take into consideration the higher zone, between 90% and 100%. The watch helps me monitor my hear rate according to this parameter. 

My new HRM watch
This morning I ran 10 km in 49:22 (4:56 min/km) and I learned something interesting: I noticed that the first 1000 meters are quite stressful for my heart (it goes beyond 200 beats), but after 5 minutes the pace gets normal (around 80%). After the 7th km it reaches 100%, which is ok. The last 2 km the watch showed 101%, and during the last 500 meters, which I sprinted in around 2 minutes, the percentage reached the peak of 104. Now my (very hard) task is to keep the rate below 100% for longer distances, up to 21 km. Will our hero accomplish this mission?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

7 km Personal Bests from August to December 2015

7K is an intersting distance to cover for a runner. On one hand, it's not that long and exhausting and can be run even in less than 30 minutes (if one is fit, of course), on the other hand it requires a certain effort, if the runner opts for a brisk pace (let's say, 4:30 minutes per km). Here below you can find the list of my best performances on this distance, from August to December. I decided to update the list today, after a satisfying session concluded with a decent time.

7 km Personal Bests

1. September, 22nd -  32:39
2. November, 3rd    -  32:59
3. August, 8th          -  33:00
4. December, 25th   -  33:00
5. December, 17th  -  33:45
6. December, 12th   - 34:25
Standard: 35:00 (5min/km)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Numb feet again: updated information

Do you remember my post about the "numb foot effect" after 35 minutes of running? Well, here it comes again! 
The last time I ran 10 km was October, 13th. Since that day, I haven't run more than 7 km and longer than 40 minutes without break, due to different reasons. Today I've resumed my long-distance running: my intention was to cover at least 8 km or even 10 km, but after 32 minutes (my pace was around 4:50 minutes per km) I perceived the same hitching sensation I used to feel some months ago, so I stopped. 
This fact corroborates my theory, according to which it takes constant long-distance exercise in order to avoid this annoying problem, that seems to reappear each time after 4-6 weeks of inactivity.  I will keep you posted about further development. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How to combine job and running?

This is an open question. As you might have noticed, I haven't posted so many articles this month (actually zero, except this one). The reason is: I started working hard(er) as an online contents writer, which means, the more I write, the more I earn. This leaves me little time for my favorite hobby, namely running and this is the reason why I've been training less this month. Ok, ok, I admit it, it's just an alibi, a poor excuse...The fact is that outside it's pouring, windy and wet and I am afraid to catch a cold. What I need it's just a little more courage, isn't it?

Apart from that, I really didn't have any time at all last week. I coordinated an intercultural project (after 1 year of inactivity) and it was absolutely great! Unfortunately, such projects require a 24/7 commitment, therefore I could not train during the working days, even if I tried to wake up 1 or even 2 hours earlier than the rest of the group. Furthermore I spent many hours traveling (train, airplane, car). Therefore I repeat the question: how can we combine work and running? Suggestions are more than welcome!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Running style: spot the differences

Today I want to talk about running styles, or the "athletic aesthetic". A well trained and passionate runner is very easy to detect: slim, elegant, self-assured, as the man in red trousers on the picture above. What about the other guy on the left? Well, if you think he's Rowan Atkinson aka Mr. Bean you are mistaken: he's no less than the Italian Prime Minister himself, mr Renzi! 
The man is obsessed with the idea of constantly promoting his country wherever he goes. So here he is, running in Havana, in occasion of a business visit to Cuba, sporting a green-white-red (Italy flag colors) and blue outfit and accompanied by an athletic bodyguard.

Unfortunately none of his advisers had the courage to tell him the truth: he looks ridiculous. To make things worse, the PM's running style reveals both his lack of style and training. Let's go down into details:

1. Neck and head
Look at the man on the right: his neck is straight, he's looking into the horizon. The man on the left looks like he's going to attend to his dog's funeral. 

2. Shoulders
The position of head, neck and most of all shoulders says a lot about our anaerobic threshold, stamina and resistance to fatigue. In the picture above, the Italian PM seems to be running on empty.

3. Elbows
While running, many inexperienced runners keep their elbow in an inefficient position, that might cause energy consumption or more fatigue. The man on the right is a perfect example of an optimal arm running position.

4 & 5. Legs and feet
Whereas the man on the left is apparently crawling and his legs seem to be quite rigid, the real runner on the left is bending both his knees and ankles, sign of flexibility and elasticity. He looks much more tonic and reactive than his running partner. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New Personal Bests

October has arrived, fall is here, leaves drop...and so do my personal bests!

Here are my four new achievements:

5 km
22:09 (average: 4:25 min/km) - October 31 (2nd PB) 

7 km 
32:39 (average: 4:39 min/km) - September 22 (new PB)

48:53 (average: 4:53 min/km) - September 26 (3rd PB)

10 km 
48:13 (average: 4:49 min/km) - October 13 (2nd PB) - wearing new shoes :)

Reebok Dash Runner after 700 km

In April 2015 I bought a pair of Reebok Dash Runner on Amazon. I chose these running shoes mainly for the combination of a cheap price and the so-called "vintage" style (how I hate this expression! Or maybe I am just growing old?). Anyway, I used my shoes over the whole summer. After 2 injuries, 6 months, around 700 km and several sessions on the woods, at the beach and on the road, it was about time to hang up these glorious shoes. Actually I did it reluctantly, because they were not so bad: elegant, nice colors, comfortable inside. Drawbacks: a bit too heavy if compared to the shoes I used to wear, and maybe too warm (but I ran with high temperatures, so I cannot give a fair judgement).
The main reason why I decided to change them was the excessive consumption on the outside, as you can see in the pictures (I am a supinator). Moreover, they were pretty worn-out inside, and  during my last sessions I started feeling more and more uncomfortable.

Even if the Reebok Dash Runner are out of production, I happened to stumble on a German/Polish online shop selling them for a low price (29 Euro). I didn't miss the chance and I ordered them. After a few days, here they were, the same "old" Reebok, this time black and yellow. The size of the old ones was 43, the new ones is 42,5. Actually I feel a small difference in the width of the shoes: I think that my left foot is slightly larger than my right foot, and wearing the new shoes I can feel it. Anyway, today I covered 10km...and I ran like the wind!

PS: I admit that I have a bad conscience, because the Reebok I bought are made in Vietnam, probably in a sweatshop. Hopefully they were not made by children. I know that we, as consumers, can have an impact on the market, and I will try to find a sustainable brand in the future.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Alcohol, heart attack and unwarranted correlations

Let's assume that we want to design a medical research on cancer: we set up an experimental and a control group, made up of 50 individuals each, and we check their health for a certain period of time, let's say, 25 years. We order the members of the experimental group to say “Merry Christmas!” as soon as they get up from their bed every day in the morning; members of the control group should say nothing. After 25 years we compare the results. Let's imagine that 2% (1 out of 50) of people belonging to the first group died of cancer, whereas the amount of people belonging to the control group who died for the same reason is 10% (5 out of 50).
Conclusions: saying “Merry Christmas” every morning reduces the risk of cancer disease.
What a nonsense, you may say. Indeed it is. Unfortunately it's not unusual to find similar mistakes in social and medical researches. Actually the real mistake rests often in the the interpretation that journalists, especially those with limited knowledge of methodology of social and medical research, give to such studies. The recent news about beer, women and heart attack is a clear example of this approach. A Swedish study, based on data collected over a 32-year period on 1462 participants, found that women who drank moderate amounts of beer were at a reduced risk of getting heart attacks. Online news magazine jumped immediately to the following conclusions:

Why women should drink beer: Two pints a week slashes the risk of heart attack by a third

Women who drink 2 pints of beer a week cut heart attack risk by a third
(Mirror UK)

As a matter of fact, things are not as straightforward as these headlines claim. The Swedish researchers simply made a correlation of two things (namely: drinking beer and suffering from heart attack), but such correlation can be arbitrary (just as believing that saying “Merry Christmas” every morning has the power to avoid cancer). It is possible that, among the women who drank and didn't have heart problems, a considerable amount of them went to the pub on foot. In this case, what might have prevented them from suffering from heart disease was not the drinking, but the physical activity. We can also assume that those who drink have a more social active life, which is an index of healthy lifestyle. It's not my intention to put down altogether the Swedish research. I'm just saying that we cannot come to convincing conclusions based on a relatively small study like this one (featuring less than 1500 participants in a limited geographical region). The fact that enthusiastic online journalists trumpeted the study results (probably without even reading the whole research) and the benefits of beer, shows three interesting things: 
1) alcohol lobbyists are powerful and always on the lookout for new groups of consumers. Now it's the turn of women (by the way, I am sure a new sensational study on the benefits of alcohol on pregnant women will follow soon...)
2) I detect here a certain disapproval towards people who promote healthy lifestyle and try to highlight the danger of drinking alcohol. For instance, I read the news following a link on FB. The link was posted by some FB female friends of mine who celebrated the good (?) news as a “slap in the face" to those who claim that drinking alcohol is always unhealthy. Such misleading news hit considerably the ego of those suffering from “cognitive dissonance” (a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors: drinking is dangerous vs I like drinking).
3) Beer, wine and alcoholic beverages are very popular in our society, therefore many people don't accept the fact that their consume brings poisoning effects on our body and mind, even if it contributes to specific economic sectors (but causes even larger losses on health budgets).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Effects of running 40 km per week

Since August I've been running 40 km a week (around 20 km a week under 5 min / km pace) and I've been doing exercises for the upper part of my body every other day. I've also increased considerably the consume of fruits and liquids. Here is a list of the effects I detected on my mind and body:
  • LDL and total Cholesterol, Tryglicerides have decreased;
  • Blood pressure is quite low: 61 / 102 (exercise is known to lower blood pressure);
  • In spite of the fact that I was already quite thin (when I started running in April my weight was 64 kg - my height is 174 cm), I lost 3 more kilos in the last two months. Now my weight is 61 kg, and I think that it's the "minimum" weight I can get;
  • I need for sure a new pair of shoes (after 700 km my Reebok Dash Runners' soles are worn-out);
  • Never felt fitter and lighter than now; 
  • My muscles are tonic, no pain in my joints;
  • I sleep soundly 8 hours at night; 
  • When I run in the morning I feel the need to recharge my batteries in the afternoon (in such cases, even a ten minutes nap is enough);
  • Good mood after each running and exercise session;
  • I feel more and more the need to eat fresh food (fruit, vegetable) rather than processed food or cooked meat, specially after running.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Commercial brainwashing (part 2)

Independent thinkers are not welcome in the market society, where people are passive consumers whose free will must be absolutely switched off. I don't want to put down technological progress, the whole automotive industry and the great amount of services which are now available (if you have money to afford them). The point is that a market economy is based upon growth, but growth, at least on our planet, is limited. Therefore it is not possible to increase production, consumption and waste of natural resources for ever. Moreover, if we really learn to think critically and to reflect on what commercials offer, we might realize that many of these products and services are superfluous. Switching on self-awareness and turning consumers into citizens is something our economy cannot afford, and spreading around concepts like sustainability and critical thinking is a dangerous risk that multinational companies don't want to run. Fashion, trends, emotions, addiction, compulsion, desire to show off and compete help selling much more than wisdom, foresight and discretion. But we are blackmailed: do you want to promote self-awareness and sustainability at the cost of making millions of workers redundant? You must be kidding! The show must go on!  

Commercial brainwashing (part 1)

Commercials are tricky: advertising experts know well how to exploit consumers' weaknesses in order to promote products that we don't really need or we don't even desire. Think about SUV spots on TV: in less than 30 seconds, messages like power, respect, freedom, independence, uniqueness bombard the viewers brain. The fact of the matter is that such vehicles, if purchased by the incautious customer, will cause a lot of problems that the cunning commercial "forgets" to list. Let's imagine a parallel universe, where commercials tell the truth. How would they look like? Here below three funny examples I created. I think that people would make huge steps forward in the process of become independent thinkers and active citizens of this world. On the other hand, economy as we know it would collapse, and I don't dare to think about the counter-effects of this phenomenon if we fail to offer valid alternatives...   

SUV and CARS in general




Friday, September 18, 2015

How I ran 10 km in less than 50 minutes

In June I set myself the task to improve my PB (Personal Best) on various distances. The priority was to break 50 minutes for 10 km. Here below a summary of my modest but (at least for me) gratifying achievements:

5 km
22:20 (average: 4:28 min/km), August 26

7 km
33:00 (average: 4:41 min/km), August 28

10 km
49:17 (average: 4:56 min/km), September 1 (PBs:48:07, 11 October 2011, 47:57, 11 March 2016 )

12 km
59:51 (average: 5 min/km), August 17

14 km
1:10:00 (average: 5 min/km), September 8

Probably the performance that makes me more proud is the 22 minutes and 20 seconds to cover 5 km, which is exactly the same time I made 4 years ago, when I was at the top of my condition (at that time I was able to run 10 km in 48 minutes). I thought I could have never repeated that performance, but I was wrong. Just imagine my surprise when I took a look at my watch after the last sprint! So it isn't always true that when you grow old your times get necessarily worse.

Running 10 km in less than 50 minutes required a certain amount of discipline, but after all it wasn't as hard as I expected. I worked quite a lot on the so-called anaerobic threshold (AT), which is the point where lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. In other words, it's the point when you're running out of fuel and you start panting as an old Irish setter. I remember my first run after the winter break: I ran 1 km (yes, just one!) at a 5 min/km pace and I felt I was about to die. Was my AT really so low? It was sad to admit it, but it was true. 

You may ask yourself why I am so fixated with this bloody 5 min/km speed. Well, this is usually considered the border between jogging and running. Many "experts" claim that if you want to be a serious runner, you should run at this pace and of course, if you can, even below. I think that each of us should judge according his or her personal experience, so don't take such suggestions as they were carved in stone.  Anyway, after some years of running, I tend to agree with the "experts". In addition to that, running at a brisk pace is more challenging and entertaining to me. 

So I started running from mid April every other day, trying to push the AT further each session. At the beginning of May I nearly completed 5 km running at a 5 min/km pace and I remember I had to stop 100 meters before the end, exhausted. Nevertheless, I wasn't going to let these obstacles get me down, and I kept following my plan. Unfortunately I had to stop my training for three weeks due to a problem with my heel tendon. In July I resumed my running and gradually I got closer to my 10 km / 50 minutes task. First I covered 7 km in 35 minutes, some days after 8 km in 40 minutes, all this with no particular trouble. Whenever I felt "uncomfortable" (that is, I felt my legs heavy and my breath rhythm became intense), I stopped. Eventually, on August 11 I made it: 49 minutes and 48 seconds to cover 10 km (a PB which I improved by almost 30 seconds some weeks later). 

On the internet you can find for sure many valuable programmes to achieve the same task in less than a month. The method I used is based on patience and discipline and it worked for me (actually it is a method rather than a real plan, as I didn't care so much to achieve my goal in a limited amount of weeks, but I preferred to take all the time it was needed and to accomplish "naturally" my mission). I'd be glad if you want to use the same method. I wish you success and good luck!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A few words about competition

I love Peanuts! Charles Schulz's humor is so elegant and smart, and it makes you think quite a lot. The strip above is a brilliant example of his refined style (I've been looking that strip for ages and I finally found it on the internet!). Charlie Brown's innocent but logic question "how did the other team feel" might have dampened Linus' enthusiasm, but it is indeed an invitation to reflect about some of the essential values our Western society is based upon, namely competition and individual achievement. 

One of the reason why I like running so much is the lack of competition. Family members see me sweating every day and don't understand why I don't take part in official races. "You could have won for sure! Why don't you compete?". Well, simply because I don't care. More precisely, I don't care to run "against" anyone else but me, and I am not attracted by trophies and accolades. In competitive sports we celebrate the winners as "heroes" and describe their performances as "historical". People tend to forget that their glory depends not only on their undoubted skills, but also on the "losers", those who didn't win and enable them to be in the spotlights. Honestly, I think that they deserve celebration, too.

When I was in high-school and played basketball (many years ago) my trainer told us that if a member of the other team should accidentally fall down on the floor, well, you should keep on playing and make the most of the situation.  Sport journalists would call such attitude "cynicism", an approach which is highly appreciated and it is seen as a sign of maturity and professionalism. I recall that the best players I met, besides being "cynical", looked really absorbed in the game, just as if nothing else outside the field existed. You could say that they were experiencing a sort of "agonistic trance". I have to admit that, right in the middle of the game, when I was handling the ball, I was often tempted to stop the game and hand the ball to the player standing terribly serious and threatening before me, saying: "Take it! It seems you need it much more than I do!". Of course such behavior would have cost me a direct expulsion from any court of the galaxy. But good ol' Charlie Brown would have understood, wouldn't you, Chuck?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Four kinds of pedestrians runners don't like

Are you a serious runner? I mean, the kind of runner who likes to run at a certain pace (let's say, under 5 min / km), who likes to challenge him/herself, who doesn't care so much to show off his/her brand new shoes while running? Well, if you fall into this category, you will probably understand what I am going to talk about. After many years spent running down the road everywhere in the Milky Way, I've come to the conclusion that the majority of people do not sympathize with us. Is it because the typical sedentary, overweight guy feels provoked by the view of someone else moving around without the help of a machine? I don't know. What I know is that, while running, I perceive somehow an unspoken hostility by the people I inevitably meet during my daily run. In spite of the fact that each of them react in a peculiar way, we can categorize such pedestrians into 4 different kinds:

1) The Path Occupier 

No matter how wide the road is, people belonging to this category do their best to occupy the whole pavement, lane or path, usually by extending their arms and by keeping their legs wide open during their sloooow walk. Their strategic position on the road prevent runners from passing by from left or right. Absolutely annoying! 

2) The Kamikaze

Probably the most dangerous group. They wander aimlessly through the pavement at a snail speed, subconsciously targeting the poor runner in a precisely calculated point-of-collision. Since they seem to appear from nowhere, there is no way to avoid the catastrophic crash. 

3) The Indecisive Pedestrian 

You are running fast. You detect someone in the distance. He's standing on the path. He doesn't move. You keep running. You are coming closer and closer, yet he doesn't move an inch. You are about to crash into the Indecisive Pedestrian. This kind of people seem eternally asleep and their only task is to stand in the middle of (your) way. Just a few seconds before the fatal collision, their brain starts functioning again and horror is depicted in their countenance, as if they were thinking "So it's true! In this world 6,999,999 million people REALLY exist beside me! I am not the only one!". They try to avoid you, first moving hesitantly right, then slowly left, but it's too late: CRASH!

4) The Smiling Post

I don't know why, but it seems that bystanders find runners particularly hilarious. So it's not unusual to meet what I call the "smiling post" (the name post comes from the fact that such people usually stand on the curb of the pavement while watching people running). They smile, meet your eyes, keep on smiling and stare at you, in a quite enigmatic fashion. Probably they feel sorry for you, or they think you're a pathetic loser who runs because doesn't own a SUV car, or maybe they just need a friend and they think this is the easiest way to find one...  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Numb feet while running: how I handled it

This is really strange. I've been running 35 minutes and, as precise as a Swiss watch, my left foot goes numb. It happens every time I run longer than half an hour. Damn, it's frustrating! I would like to run longer and faster, I feel fit and great, but I have the impression that my foot has turned hard as a piece of wood. I must stop.

All over the last 4 years I've been trying to collect information about this awkward reaction. On the internet I found some explanations and some suggestions on how to prevent it. It seems that the most probable cause is a nerve compression, therefore many runners and doctors suggest to wear comfortable shoes and to avoid tight socks. First problem: in my case, I am sure the tingling is not caused by my shoes. How can I be so confident about it? 4 years ago, when the problem first appeared, I went running barefoot on the beach, and my foot tingled. So it could not depend on the tightness of my footwear. 

Back then, I used to keep track of my daily running performances on a small diary (very useful habit indeed!). I started a training programme at the beggining of June 2011, and I detected the first signs of tingling after 3 weeks of light training, always after 35 minutes of running. It went on for around one month, then it never occurred again, and I could run long distances without suffering any problem. 

In April 2015 I resumed my daily running after a sedentary winter season, and here it comes again, the damn tingling! However, my previous experience taught me to keep my spirit up. Whenever the foot got numb, (always after 35 minutes!) I bit the bullet and I kept running for 500 meters before stopping. After two weeks the tingling disappeared and now I can run any distance I like. I want to be clear: I am not suggesting you to do the same! This method worked with me and honestly I don't know why. I tend to ascribe the numb foot to the lack of training after a long stop, but being no doctor I am not 100% sure!

Monday, August 10, 2015

My running shoes after 1 year and 1000 km

On September 2013 I bought a pair of Kalenji running shoes. Exactly one year before, on September 2012, I had bought the same model, which I used throughout the year, running around 1000 km. Experts recommend to buy new running shoes after 800 km. Mine were pretty worn-out and dirty, as you can see in the pictures below. Comparing the two shoes (the new and the the old ones) I had the chance to learn something interesting about my running style. For example, observing the soles, I realized that while running the external segment of my heel applies a considerable power on the ground. I don't know whether this is correct or not (I will try and get more information about it). 
I am currently running with a pair of Reebok Dash Runner. The Kalenji are for sure cheap and good quality shoes, but I experienced that they are not suitable to cover distances longer than 5 km (or running longer than 30 minutes a day).

Friday, July 24, 2015

How aliens see luxury, fashion and money

Just the other day, when I was walking down the streets of my neighborhood, I heard a strange noise that made me stop and look around. It was a summer afternoon and the streets were empty, so I didn't understand where that low buzz could come from. I walked on and again I perceived the unusual hum. I turned around and this time I saw it. I say "it" because it was not a "she" or a "he", I mean, a human being. Nor it was an animal, as I expected. It was a short, five-legged, single-handed, blue-skinned, long-necked, three-eyed being looking at me and still buzzing. I am not a drug user, and, although high, the heat of the day was not particularly hallucinatory. Thus, the alien, or whatever it was, had to be real, and not a product of my mind. Before I could utter any reasonable expression, I heard it speak. Or better said, I heard its voice inside my head. It was communicating to me telepathically. It had been on our planet for a while, it explained, and it experienced many things about our species it just could not understand. Among the many unexplainable phenomena, it mentioned "money", "fashion" and "luxury". It seems to it that, no matter where it went, everybody here on Earth seems incredibly obsessed by grasping these apparently valueless tickets of different colors and dimensions. It was also puzzled by the weird behaviors of Earth people, especially when it comes to wear pieces of clothes and showing them off.  I was speechless, er, thoughtless. Meeting an alien in the middle of the street was the last thing I could expect that day, let alone one asking me such unpredictable questions. Seeing that my reaction was far to come, it sent me a very powerful set of brainwaves that left me bewildered, as if I were hit by a train. Then, it disappeared. You are about to read here below the content of the message I received by that "thing". It's a list containing 5 considerations related to luxury, money and fashion as they are seen by the alien. You will notice that the way it sees our world is very peculiar, if compared to our mainstream perception of reality. I don't want trouble with the police and the press, so I didn't report to the authorities the event that occurred to me. I content myself with publishing the following list in my post, trusting that you will give it a thought now and then. I think that 99,99% of Earth people is not ready to share the alien's view, so it's better to keep a low profile, at least until things change. 

1. Sport cars: people have two legs and can use them to walk. So why spending so much money with these strange four-wheeled coffins? The alien observed that it seems that owning a fast, sport, expensive car makes feel the owner (usually a male being of our species) more important and respected, which is hard to understand, considered how polluting these vehicles are. It also remarked that although the car users seems to love speed, when challenged to run using their legs only they either refuse or turn to be quite slow. 

2. Precious jewels: if the first item is more palatable to males, this one seems to attract females more, so our alien noticed. What it could not fully understand is why on Earth (no pun intended) people endow stones with so much values. It could not tell the difference from any stone it picked up from the ground and those exhibited so proudly by our women, usually around their necks, in some of their fingers or hanging from their ears. The fact that entire nations (by the way, it hardly understood the concept of "nation" either) hold reserves of a special stone called "gold", and that those stones confer an added value to the nation according to their quantity, it is something that goes beyond the alien's understanding. 

3.Name-brand clothing: fashion comes second only to luxury, in our poor alien's irrationality list. It noticed that millions of people wish to wear the same garments according to what they see on flat screens (billboards, TV, smartphone and PC screens). By doing so, people feel at easy and unique. It seems nobody is able to grasp the paradox of the whole thing.

4. Hairstyles, piercing, tattoos. Same as above. We are entering the realm of fashion, something the alien labels as highly disturbing and irrational. Through its wave-communication system, it told me that its species possess special skills, like projecting their minds in the future. Using this device, it made a simple experiment on our planet. It showed to 100 young units of our species pictures of hairstyles and fashions that will be trendy in the next 10 years. 100% of the sample screamed horrified, claiming that never and never they will ridicule themselves by dressing in such an embarrassing way.

5. Technological gadgets. Where it comes from, the alien explained to me, technology is practically invisible, noiseless and effective. It is provided for free to every member of its species and its use is strictly bound to functional reasons. Therefore it could not really understand why people here constantly show their piece of heavy machinery and utilize it for frivolous and useless tasks, like making a digital copy of already existing reality and share it among selected members of their species, probably to reassure them that the reality they recorded is still there and didn't disappear (the alien could not find any other reasonable explanation of this bizarre behavior).

Besides those listed here above, the alien added quickly further factors of puzzlement, namely the obsession to possess large properties in form of houses (and floating houses, which it later learned to label as "boats" and "yachts"); the inclination to gather to some fancy places, usually in the evening, and provide plenty of tickets (money) to eat dead animals, cooked and well served by submissive servants wearing white uniforms; and the attitude to sojourn in glamorous residences (so-called 5-star hotels) when traveling. The alien came to know that only a small fragment of human beings can afford such way of living, and they are the target of admiration, envy and emulation from their fellow species. It's a strange planet indeed.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Benefits (and drawbacks) of adopting a healthy lifestyle

If you read the previous articles about the way I was able to reduce my cholesterol level by 10% in 90 days without using any medicament, you may ask yourself the following question:
"is it really worthwhile to cut down on the tastiest foods on earth and to sweat so much, just to lower a stupid value?"
Well, it's not only about cholesterol and triglycerides. There are many more things involved: feeling fit, healthier, keeping your weight under control, getting more information about your health and breaking the chains of commercial brainwashing. Of course, also some negative effects should be taken into account. Here below, a list of pluses and minuses I have experienced so far.

Positive effects of daily physical exercise

- Runner's high: much better than any drug! When performing a moderate / high aerobic exercise, our body produces endorphins, which are responsible for feeling so "high" after a long run. It's a mix of excitement and exhaustion. In my case, no matter how bleak the world around might be, after a 5 km running at a decent pace (5 minute / km) everything seems peachy. The only disadvantage: I learned that it's better not to drive right after the running session. I feel usually too relaxed to be able to focus on the road. 

- No belly and tonic muscles: I'm not so interested in getting my body shaped like a body-builder. It's enough to have functioning arms and legs. In the last 60 days of my training I paid more attention on my upper body and I included more push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups in my sessions. When I touch my body, I feel new small muscles whose presence I ignored. Furthermore, my belly is flat and now I can easily wear trousers which I found hard to button up last summer.  

Negative effects:

- Injuries: as far as I've experienced (now and in the past) it's almost impossible not to incur injures when I train daily (or 6 days a week). Usually, when I feel a pain on my leg or foot, I interrupt the training period till the pain ceases. I wouldn't recommend to bite the bullet and to ignore the problem, it's an approach that will definitely make things even worse. 

- Boredom: to repeat again and again the same exercises and to run miles and miles can be tedious. I try to overcome this obstacle by changing progressively my exercise sessions and by challenging myself setting new targets (right now my task is to run 10 km in less than 50 minutes).

Positive effects of a cholesterol-lowering diet:

- light & fit: I feel much lighter and I can keep my body weight under constant control. As I wrote in the related posts, beginning the new diet might be hard (my motto is "starting is half the battle!") but after some weeks I was able to ignore the temptation of the poisoning food I used to eat. Now I understand how intoxicating junk food, chips, soda, pastry were. I recall feeling heavy and queasy after those sticky noshes, which had a negative impact even on my mood. 

- saving money: according to where you live, vegetables, fruit and fish can be more expansive than meat and junk food. However, the extra cost of a healthy diet can be set off by deleting unhealthy food and alcohol from your shopping list. 

Negative effects:

- time: a certain amount of time is required to take on a healthy lifestyle, both for cooking & eating and for your daily exercises. I would also add a third task, which is getting information (online, discussing with like-minded people and doctors, reading, watching programs and videos about health). Not everybody can afford that. If you want to seriously deal with it, you should consider that your choices will affect your daily time management.

-  social life: sad but true, if you decide to eat healthy and to start running, there are chances that you will be doing it alone. I forgot how it feels like drinking liters of beer with buddies, ordering shots at the disco at night or consuming cocktails at the sunset bar. Unfortunately, in our civilized western society everything seems to spin around money and alcohol. If you want to interact with people, you should participate in these crazy alcoholic gatherings. Since I started my new diet, I must say that I've radically stopped hanging around bars, disco, cafes, parties, and these changes have affected my social life. On the other hand, I'm spending more time with my family and with my 5-year old nephew, who drinks nothing but milk, water and fruit juices. Regarding doing sport, you will realize that running is not the most popular discipline. It involves pain and it's neither "social", nor competitive, so it is hard to find a pal to run with. When I run, my best friend is my MP3 player. If you want to join me, just give me a holler!

Friday, July 17, 2015

How I lowered my total cholesterol level (by 10% in 90 days) - part. 3

Let's have a recap: in part 1, we discussed on the unhealthy eating habits I quit, in order to lower my cholesterol level; in part 2, I listed the food whose consume I've increased over the last 3 months; and now, in part 3, I will illustrate the most painful element of the new lifestyle, the physical exercise!

Honestly, it was not so painful to me, as I love so much running. Nevertheless, I still remember the pain and the injuries I went through years ago, when I started practicing this sport regularly. And, woe me, I have recently decreased my weekly mileage due to a problem with my tendon. Plus, last week I hit my head on the granite-rim of the swimming pool, but this is another story...

 1. Information & education
A correct information on the kind of exercise you need to tackle your problem at best is essential. For this reason I decided to discuss about my cholesterol problems with my doctor. As a second step, I collected on the internet as many information as possible about the most effective ways to decrease cholesterol levels, the diets, the lifestyles and the most common mistakes to avoid. 

2. Keep track of your progress
After each session, I keep track of what I do: how many miles I run, what kind of exercise and how many repetitions, injuries or particular reactions from my body. Exactly three months ago, when I started running again after a long winter break, I hardly could run 1 km without stopping (what a shame!). Now I can run 10 km with no break at a decent pace! Keeping track is a big motivational support (see next point).

 3. Motivation
 Motivation is pivotal. If you want to achieve decent results, one or two weeks of sporadic exercise won't do. What you need is a constant exercise that exceeds at least 100 days. After each session, I usually sit down briefly on my PC and google "benefits of sport" or "benefits of running" and I read the related articles. That boosts my will to go on, in spite of being tired and thirsty.

 4. Running and physical exercise
Here some details about what I've been doing in the last 3 months. Important note: if I expected my total cholesterol level to lower exactly by 10% (see point 1), I was negatively surprised to find out that my HDL level remained unchanged. The HDL is the "good cholesterol", (unlike the LDL, its increase is a good sign), which is supposed to go up with the increase of phisical activity, namely running. The more and the longer you run, the higher the HDL value. I've read that a mileage of 30 km weekly is just enough to have an impact on HDL. My average was below this threshold, so this might explain the fact that my value even decreased, even if slightly. 
Coming back to my sport routine, I started moving up my bottom on April the 10th with some warming up sessions. On 14th I started getting serious: I increased my mileage and included sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups. Beginning on May the 18th, I exercised 6 days a week: 3 running sessions every other day (running at least 5 km under 25 minutes - 5 minutes/km pace) plus 3 exercises sessions a week (I started with 25 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 30 crunches per session).
After one month, I was able to run 8 km (always at a 5 min/km pace) and to perform 40 pull-ups, 40 push-ups and 100 crunches.
Unfortunately a nasty tendinitis stopped my running progress on June 26th (my task was to run 10 km non-stop at 5 min / km pace), so I focused more on physical exercise and some swimming sessions. In fact, I stopped running 15 days before the blood test and my weekly average was always around 20 km. Definitely not enough to make a dent in my HDL level, but probably enough to contribute on the lowering of the "bad cholesterol" LDL. It must be said that I like walking and I use the car only to cover distances longer than 5 km. 

That's all I wanted to say about my "cholesterol experience". I intend to adopt further my new lifestyle (probably I will eat some more ice cream in August, but I will definitely avoid alcohol) and to resume running (my task is to run 10 km in 50 minutes or less). At the end of the year I will check my blood again and I will let you know about the results!  

How I lowered my total cholesterol level (by 10% in 90 days) - part 2

Did you read the first part of this article? Are you curious to know what follows? Well, let's proceed!

Cutting down on unhealthy food is only a part of the systemic approach one should adopt to reach significant outcomes. Please keep in mind that lowering the cholesterol level is not a task to be achieved at any cost. Be aware of so-called experts trying to convince you that high cholesterol is a disease and the remedy is to swallow magic pills. As I explained in previous posts, my target is to keep my cholesterol values under control (and thus, the risk of heart diseases in the future) and to feel fit & light by quitting unhealthy habits and by taking on a healthy lifestyle, possibly avoiding the use of medical treatment. 
In the first part I talked about the food I quit and why, now I want to talk about the food I've been eating and the exercises I've been doing all over the last three months. As a result, my total cholesterol level decreased by more than 10%.

1. Fruit
Before starting my diet, I realized that the contribution of fruit in my daily food consumption was near to zero. It was my luck that I began my new eating style in May, as I love spring and summer fruit. There is nothing more pleasant than devouring a bowl of fresh fruit salad right after 1 hour of physical exercise! It's the best alternative to sugar products. Now I try to eat a portion of fruit at least twice a day, possibly between the meals or before lunch. 
 2. Vegetables
My sister lives in a country-house with a big piece of land, which includes an orchard and a vegetable garden, so we can enjoy fresh veggies and fruit for free! They are essential to keep your body healthy. Compared to the past, I tend to consume zucchini, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and salads more often (at least a portion at lunch and dinner). Grilled eggplants are fantastic! (and don't lose any health property).
3. Fish
The best alternative to meat is fish (if you're not vegetarian). On one hand, it's much more expensive than pork and lamb, on the other hand you need just a fishing rod to get some (did I tell you that I live in an island?). I like to barbecue sea bass and sea bream. Grilled shrimps are great, too, but unfortunately they're not so healthy. I've been also eating salmon, codfish, tuna and, now and then, sardines. All in all, fish is on my plate 2/3 times a week. 

 4. Special Yoghurt Drinks
Ok, I'm not sure whether such product is really effective or it's just another publicity stunt. Anyhow, I've been drinking one small plastic bottle of lowering-cholesterol yoghurt every day after my running session. It's tasty and refreshing and it's definitely not a medicament. I'm still taking it with a grain of salt, but for sure it hasn't produced any negative effect so far.  

These are the changes I included in my diet. I kept eating pasta (with lighter sauces, though), bread, rice and soups (seldom, I hate them!). For dressing salad and veggies, I use, as I always did, olive oil (home-made with our olives!). My breakfast consists in a cup of hot skinned-milk with a few drops of coffee and 4 melba toasts with a slight layer of jam. Another factor I've been taking into consideration is the quantity of food: I stopped pigging out and now I am trying to eat "more but less" (5 light meals per day, avoiding eating a lot at lunch or dinner). 

So far we've been talking about food. In the third and last part, we're going to focus about physical exercise and its impact on cholesterol.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How I lowered my total cholesterol level (by 10% in 90 days) - part 1

Warning: in order to avoid any misunderstanding and to fully understand the spirit of this article, I'd suggest that you have a look at the related post "The myth of the high cholesterol". Thank you!

 As you can see in the chart above, on April my level of total cholesterol was quite high, even if not so worrying after all. Why? What matters more is the Total Cholesterol/HDL ratio. If this value is lower than 5, the risk of heart diseases in the future is low. In April I scored 5,4, whereas in July the value decreased to 5,1 (meaning: average risk). Another factor to take into consideration is the Trygliceride/HDL ratio. The closer to 2, the better it is (in my case is even lower).
Now, here below I will list the unhealthy habits I quit and the healthy habits I took on in the last three months. The result was a reduction on the total cholesterol level, LDL level and triglycerides. Unexpectedly, the HDL level hasn't changed, but I have a theory about it (as you can see reading on).


 1. Sweet things, candies, chocolate
This was a real bad habit: right after lunch and dinner, I used to grab a fistful of candies and pralines from the "candy-plate". I think I grew gradually addicted to it, without even noticing. From the beginning of the new diet, I radically cut down on colorful and addictive sugar products. Honestly, now I don't miss them at all.
 2. Fried food
I said goodbye to french fries, fried fish, fried vegetables, fried eggs and of course fried meat. I have to say that I feel much lighter and fit now. Remember: instead of frying, you can roast, grill or bake your food.
 3. Beer (and alcohol)
I loved beer, and still I do. Mainly the local, home-brewed ones. For this reason it was hard for me to admit it: yes, beer produces negative effects on our body. I used to run up to 5 miles a day, and sometimes I indulged in a pint of brewski right after the exercise. I consumed this beverage almost on a daily basis and the result was a belly  that stuck out quite ridiculously on a thin body like mine. 
 4. Red meat & ready-sliced meat
Pork, horse, beef, sheep, need to mention that red meat consumption is associated with heart disease and stroke. I've always intended turning into a vegetarian (not only due to health reasons, but most of all because I hate the idea of eating dead animals), and sooner or later I will give up eating meat entirely (I'm looking for a vegetarian partner that will convert me). Right now, the only meat I eat is chicken and, even more seldom, light beef. Also, I quit eating sandwiches with ready-sliced meat. It goes without saying that McDonald's junk food is off-limits!
  5. Full-fat cheese
Parmesan cheese, Gorgonzola, sheep cheese, ricotta cheese, name it! Southern Europe is the land of cheese but also in Germany and Switzerland you can find excellent dairy products. Although incredibly tasty, this food has a strong impact on our cholesterol level. During my three-month diet I ate only low-fat cheese.

6. Pizza
Here it is, my major sacrifice. I adore pizza, and before starting my diet I used to eat it once a week. To make things worst, I chose to add bacon, hot salami, buffalo cheese and many more unhealthy spices. I wouldn't label it as "junk food", yet I wouldn't claim that it's a vegetable (like the US Congress did, in order to keep pizza and french fries on school lunch lines). My final compromise: a light-pizza once a month.

 7. Soda
I've never been a big fan of Pepsi, Fanta, Coke and similar fuzzy drinks. My mom used to ban me and my sister from drinking them when we were kids, so I grew up soda-free and I have to say that I am still alive. Now and then I used to grab a can out of the fridge, but now, whenever I am thirsty, I prefer drinking either water or low-calorie beverages (by the way, Coke & co do not quench your thirst, they just increase your addiction to sugar!). The results? I burp less and my belly is flat. 

  8. Pastry
 If pizza was on the top of my list of favorite food, pastry (croissant, donut, apple strudel, bear claw, berliner, cherry pie, profiterole, small cakes...) occupies the second place. It was hard to cut down on it, but since the beginning of my new eating plan I've radically stopped eating this sweet poison.

9. Packaged Ice Cream
No more! Only home-made and once in a while (for sure not every day, like I did in summer).

10. Extra-salty snacks
For sure, they pair well with beer and a nice sport evening in front of the TV. Not only do potato chips, bar mix, salty sticks contain a high quantity of salt, but they are rich in fat and calories. I decided thus to avoid them.

I admit that taking these steps was no cakewalk, especially at the beginning. The temptation to come back to the old habits was strong and the light at the end of the tunnel very dim. And I can hear your complaining: "no pizza? no pork-meat? no cheese? no beer? Is this a life worth living?". My answer is a big YES, and I'd strongly suggest to check out part.2 to find out more about it!

The myth of the high cholesterol

On April 14, 2015, I picked up my cholesterol test results and, even if I expected to find a couple of high values, I must admit that I was shocked when I read the number next to the LDL level (LDL is the so-called "bad cholesterol"): an amazingly high 208! Luckily, this value was somehow mitigated by a decent HDL level (the "good cholesterol") of 52 and a low level of triglycerides. How was it possible? Ok, I am 39, no more a teenager (well, I guess my psychological age is 19), my weight is 64 kg (140 pounds), my height 1.74 (5 feet and 8,5 inches). A real average Joe. What knocked my socks off was the fact that I am a would-be long-distance runner and I've been training for the last 4 years. Although I've never completed a half marathon, I am still working on it and on 2011/12 I ran 6 days a week. Last summer I used to run at least 10 km every other day (reaching the longest distance of 14 km). I write this because running is one of the most effective way to keep your cholesterol levels down. 
So, what went wrong? 
Discussing it over with my doctor, we agreed that the high levels detected in my blood were the result of  the combination of my recent winter sedentary attitude, my unhealthy eating and a familial hypercholesterolemia. Considering my relatively young age and my general good health conditions, we also agreed that I didn't need any medicament, but only a change in my lifestyle. 
Actually I am very suspicious about all this high-cholesterol-hysteria, created purposely by the medical industry to maximize its profit and to take advantage of ill-informed citizens. Isn't it strange that the risk of heart diseases are associated with ever-increasing levels of cholesterol? (now the threshold value of total cholesterol is 200, 20 years ago it was 250 and you can bet that it will be set lower and lower in the near future). And doesn't it sound weird that new silver-bullet pills have been invading the market, promising to solve "the problem of high cholesterol"? (which, in fact, it's not a problem but a mere index of a risk). 
What I am trying to say here is that a high level of cholesterol in itself is not the end of the world. It should be seen within a context of other measures. It shouldn't be "cured" by magical medicament. And, if necessary, it can be tackled by changes our lifestyle. 
In my post "How to lower your cholesterol level" you can find a list of steps I took to decrease my total cholesterol value by 10% in three months. With no magic pill.

Why you shouldn't call me "doctor"

Dear readers,

Go over the horizon!
My name is Doctor Egg. Well, to tell the truth, this is my nickname. It's not essential to know my real name now. Yet, it is of capital importance for you to know one thing: in spite of my nickname, I am not a doctor. So please, don't call me doctor. In some European countries it's enough to obtain a university degree (any degree) to be called "doctor", and many people enjoy that. I don't.
I know a guy who got a degree at the faculty of agriculture and was so eager to show it off that he displayed the title "doctor" before his name on the label of his intercom. In the middle of the night, he heard it buzzing, he lifted the receiver up and heard the desperate words "doc, please help me!". It was a local junkie seeking for help after an overdose. The self-declared doctor sent him to hell and hung up. The day after, he removed the unfortunate label.
You may ask yourself why my nickname is Doctor Egg, if I don't like to be called doctor. Well, the origin of the name has distant roots. When I was a teenager I intended to boil an egg but I forgot to add water on the small pot, almost causing the kitchen to explode. Kids can be absentminded sometime.
Another thing you should know about me is that I live in a Mediterranean island and English is not my mother language, so please excuse my mistakes and unorthodox syntax.
Last but not least, a couple of words regarding the contents of this blog. It contains articles on healthy lifestyles (but keep in mind that I am not a doctor! Or have I already told you that?), unconventional thinking, critical reflection. And many more things that will pop out of my head. Enjoy reading.