Let me take you back almost six years.   I was in amazing physical shape.  I was in the pool for a minimum of 45 minutes a day, five days a week.  I ran three days a week.  I did weights three days a week.  I didn’t sleep as much as I should have, but I slept well.

Then I went through divorce, drove a semi-truck, lived out of a car… well, my physical shape went pretty much to the wayside.

Now, I do bike or walk to work most days (five miles each way), but I feel it.  I haven’t run much since September due to messing up both Achilles tendons.  I do weights or yoga or Pilates, but it’s haphazard.  Sleep?  Let’s not even get into my sleeping habits.  At least that I can partially blame on noisy neighbors.

So, after being in amazing physical health, I went to take the assessment at the UCR Wellness Center site.

  • Do I know important health numbers like weight, cholesterol, blood pressure… no, not a clue.  I don’t even own a scale.  I do know my measurements and I know my blood pressure was at “normal” levels the last time I passed one of those machines at the drug store that does the test for you.  Beyond that… I have no idea.  Except the Achilles tendon issue and a couple of infections, I haven’t seen a doctor for a checkup since I got my Class A license… and that was several years ago.
  • Do I get annual physical exams?  No, but I never have.  If something is working fine, why mess with it?  (I realize that isn’t considered the healthiest outlook, but it worked fine for my ancestors.)
  • Do I avoid using tobacco products?  Yes. Never have, never will use them.
  • Do I get a sufficient amount of sleep?  No, but I’m trying.  I tend to do well at about 6-7 1/2 hours of sleep.  I set myself up for eight, but run well if I can keep it at 6.  Factor in noisy neighbors… lately, not so much.
  • Do I have an established exercise routine?  Not exactly.  I’m working on that, especially since I can now start trying to run again.  So far, I’ve kept it up three days?

So, in general terms, I currently flunk the physical.  Why do I feel a little like Steve Rodgers at his Army entrance physical?

Here are my goals:

Short-Term (3 Months)

* 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days a week.  Must include at least three sessions of constant aerobic exercise and two sessions of weight-training.

* See a doctor for a full check-up.  *grump*

* Sleep at /least/ six hours a day, six days a week.  If that means I have to throw in a nap, do it.

Mid-Term (1 Year)

* Aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, six days a week.  Weight training three days a week.

* Run a half-marathon in September.  Run a better half-marathon the next year.

* Sleep seven hours a day, six days a week.

Long-Term (Five Years +)

* Aerobic exercise is a way of life.  I should be able to go hiking all day or go for a two hour run with the same level of enthusiasm.   Weight training is also a must.  Three times a week minimum.

* Keep competing.  Maybe I’ll never win a race, but I can at least improve against myself.

* Value my sleep and sleep 7-8 hours every single night.

I think physical health comes more outside of doctors than inside.  There are other physical issues I probably should have included here, but sometimes being transparent to the world is a little overrated for this introvert.  I might add them later.  This is enough for now.

How did you do?

I am generally what you’d call a high-energy person.  My boyfriend calls me the Energizer Bunny, for example.  I usually need a little less sleep (actually need less, not just run on less).  I wake up ready to go and full of energy.  I have to wind down to make myself sleep at night.

At least, that’s what my life is like when my ulcerative colitis doesn’t take center stage.

Most of the time, UC is about food choices, reducing stress, and dealing with urgent bathroom issues most people don’t need to stress over unless they overdid the Taco Bell the night before.  Sometimes, though, UC is about energy.

Because of my UC, I can’t eat as many things.  A good-sized salad, for example, is generally a bad idea.  Because of that, I sometimes lack nutrients even though I eat with a deliberate eye toward nutrition.  Lack of nutrients can add up… and tear down.

This last week, I have been exhausted.  Some of that I can attribute to monthly hormonal fluctuations; some of it to a hard training schedule for my first half-marathon.  But most of the lack of energy, I suspect, is from the UC flare-up I had the week before.

Being this tired makes me feel like a different person.  Rather than juggling multiple items, I struggle to keep one aloft.  Maintaining relationships is always a struggle for my introvert self; when I’m tired, it becomes an “I’ll get to it later” concept.  I feel a bit disconnected from the world at large.

There’s really nothing I can do about it but ride it out, but I feel less me while I do it.  That’s one of the hidden side effects of this chronic illness.

At least I can look forward to my better days as I work my way through these more low-key ones.  For that, I am grateful.

Proverbs 31:19

In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

It’s a sign of affluence that you don’t have to work hard.  Want something done?  Pay someone to do it.  Unfortunately, that’s not how we were created.

Genesis 2:15

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

From the very beginning, we were created to work and care for things.  We tend to forget that in our quest for the next technological marvel that will do the work for us.

A few examples:

  • It takes very little time or effort to wash most dishes if you do them immediately (or at least leave them to soak in water).  Better yet, you only need to have one full place-setting per person if you wash after each meal.  Instead, we buy multiple sets of dishes and silverware, fill the dishwasher to capacity, have to use heavy-duty cleansers because we don’t rinse, and waste far more water with each wash.
  • Having a “kitchen garden” is about as healthy as you can get.  You have your own produce, so it only has whatever pesticides and fertilizers you put on it.  Seeds and seedlings are relatively inexpensive.  The produce is fresh.  You can burn upwards of 272 calories per hour doing simple gardening.  Instead, however, we pay someone else to care for our highly fertilized, over-manicured lawns.  We buy produce from several continents away or used canned or frozen (although I’m a fan of frozen veggies as a secondary option) or we pay premium prices for organic.  Then we pay for gym membership so we can work off the calories from our poor diets.
  • Doing housework burns about 211 calories (more if you weigh more) per hour.  You use cleaners you’re comfortable with and your house is as clean as you make it.  Instead, we pay someone else to clean our house, they use heavy-duty industrial cleaners to get the job done faster, and then we work more hours so we can afford to pay for the housecleaner.

Per a recent Chinese study, a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for more deaths than smoking.  We’ve conquered a lot of the things that used to kill us when we were active, physical people: chicken pox, smallpox, and other diseases are nearly gone from our vocabulary.  Instead, we die of heart disease, diabetes, and not working.

The CDC recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of activity per day for a child and 2 hours 30 minutes per week for adults.  Sorry, but I think those numbers are way too low.  Study after study shows that sitting isn’t offset by a half-hour of activity.  Instead, you need activity (work) all day.  Then, at night, you need to not go home and plop yourself in front of the TV because you’re too exhausted to do anything else.

Here are some practical guidelines to help you not be a sedentary lifestyle statistic:

  • Look at any kind of work as a blessing, not a curse.  If you have to park further away from the grocery store, celebrate the extra couple of calories you’re burning.  Better yet, plan to park further away in the first place.  I currently bike 9 miles a day as part of my commute up to four days a week.  I consider this beneficial, since I get in a workout each of those days without doing anything extra.
  • Stand when you can, sit when you must.  If you are like the average American (or, worse, the average Southern California resident), you spend as much as 45 minutes a day average commuting.  That’s all sit-down time.  Then you get to a job where you work a minimum of an 8-hour day, sitting at a desk, even taking your lunch at your desk.  You may not be able to cut out your commute, but see if you can take a bus or train.  You save money, save gas, lower pollution, and you can stand up for at least part of the ride.  At work, make sure you get up and stretch or move around at least once an hour.  Take your breaks outside and use at least half your lunch for a healthy walk.  If you can, have a stand-up desk.
  • If you have to go home and watch TV, use it as impetus to exercise.  Stand up until the first commercial, then do a quick weight workout until the commercial ends.  Let yourself sit down for the next section (if you must), then go back to working out at the next commercial break.  If you don’t want to work out, at least stand, do housecleaning, or do weights from your seat.

Our bodies were made for work.  Don’t be surprised when it breaks down if you’re not using it properly.


Beauty tip:  If you’re doing a homemade pedicure, use the salicylic acid in Pepto Bismol to smooth rough patches.  Coat feet in a thin layer of Pepto and let set until dry, then soak or rinse thoroughly.  It also works as a face mask, unless you’re sensitive.  The product coats with a protective layer, keeping it fairly gentle; then the salicylic acid sloughs away dead skin cells, giving skin a glow and feet a fresh appearance.

After spending so much time and effort on my health, I can’t end this series without focusing on how minimalism relates to my health.

There is a lot out there about how to best stay healthy.  There are costly creams, expensive supplements, and organic foods.  Gyms, exercise equipment, and workout DVDs are another expense.  It can be exhausting just to try to stay in shape.

Staying healthy shouldn’t be that complicated.  It just shouldn’t.

My workout is pretty simple.  I run 2-3 days a week.  I bike 9 miles commuting to and from work.  I try to do a weight workout for every part of my body two times a week.  Soon I’m adding swimming.  I still don’t love yoga, but am trying to use some of the moves for flexibility.  Okay, it sounds complicated, but it usually works out to two workouts in a day (usually back-to-back) and one day completely off each week.

I’m trying to simplify my food.  I stopped worrying about the Clean 15 and focused on the Dirty Dozen.  I cut a lot of meat out of my diet and put in quinoa (cheaper).  I drink less “milk” and most of it is almond milk.  More importantly, though, I cut out most baked goods and refined sugars, coffee, and soda.  Those things up my grocery bill without providing any health benefits.

My goals in minimalist health are as follows:

1.  Observe the Sabbath.  There is a rest day proscribed in the Bible for a reason.

2. Create a minimal menu, where I eat the same type of food at certain meals each week.  No need to recreate the wheel.  By this, I mean have meatless Monday, fish Friday, soup Sunday, etc.

3. I currently need my gym membership in order to swim (and I got a good deal), but I’m trying to buy very little.  I can use what I have, buy used, or do without.

4. Figure out what supplements I truly need, what I can get from food cheaply, and how to do t inexpensively.

Beyond this, I think worrying too much about health will actually be unhealthy, so I’m going to (try) to stop.

I think it can be done…

I thought I’d spend some time on “hidden” illnesses; ones where the person is ill and you may not even know it.  Because of my personal relationship with it, I’m going to start with ulcerative colitis.

Illustration of Human Intestines

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease or digestive disorder (WebMD lists both).  It is related to Crohn’s Disease, but while Crohn’s affects the entire digestive system, UC affects only the colon (large intestine) and rectum.  Ulcers form on the inside of the digestive tract and there is considerable inflammation.  The more of the digestive tract that is affected, the worse the symptoms may be.

Symptoms include belly pain and cramping, diahrrea, and sometimes bleeding.  In more severe cases, there may be a fever, weight loss, and/ or extreme diahrrea (which increases the risk of dehydration).

Most people will go months or even years without symptoms (remission), then have a flare-up.  For me, it can come on without any warning the first time, then recede slightly, but continue to have flare-ups for several weeks.  Then it will go away for a while.  I have gone years without it, but I’m currently in a high-stress lifestyle, so I have flare-ups more often.

When a flare-up occurs, my intestine gets inflammed (sometimes causing pain and cramping, but not always).  My food will backup and not be digested fully until the pressure/pain is too much.  Then, uncontrollable diahrrea, sometimes (for me) accompanied by passing out from the blood all flowing to the inflammed area.

Diagnosis of UC includes talking about symptoms, a physical exam, and a number of tests including a colonoscopy, possible biopsy, blood tests, and stool tests.

Medication for UC includes steroids (short term), immunomodulators to control the immune system, aminosalicylates to reduce symptoms or prevent flare-ups, and over-the-counter diahrrea medication like Immodium.

Certain foods seem to irritate UC more than others.  I try to avoid popcorn, nitrates (like those found in bacon, pepperoni, or hotdogs), iceberg lettuce, much caffeine or alcohol, and anything very acidic.

Because vitamin deficiency and dehydration are two very real risks with UC, I try to drink a lot of water and eat as balanced of a diet as I can.  I do more hard cheeses and yogurts to get my dairy, I vary my vegetables (but rarely do salads), cut out a lot of processed foods, and when nothing else works, I go for a liquid diet or a one-meal fast.  A lot of times missing one meal will give my body enough of a break that I can recover more quickly and get back to “regular life”.

UC requires a few lifestyle changes.  I try to always know where a bathroom is and I’ve had to make do in an emergency.  I keep a “flare-up kit” on me that includes a change of underwear, sanitary pad, plastic bag/baggies, and wipes.  I’ve learned to stop apologizing for being sick (usually) and to just adapt.  I haven’t learned to completely give up popcorn or caffeine or exercise, but I try to moderate all three.

There are worse invisible diseases to live with, but there are definite risks for UC.  I could have to have surgery at some point, and my risk of colon cancer is higher than the general population.  As healthily as I try to eat, I could be malnourished or dehydrated at any time.  I’ve passed out in some scary situations (never, ever on the road or I’d just stop driving altogether).  Still, it’s not life-threatening in itself and I can still have good quality of life living with it.  But the next time someone makes a mad dash for the bathroom or, worse, embarasses themselves by not getting there in time, know that they could be suffering from UC.. and have a little sympathy.