Getting your exercise religion back

After a few months of the new routine, it's obvious that my heart strength is improving. Now what's missing is an appropriate diet


VANCOUVER, B.C. Aug. 21, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Seven years ago, I ran around Stanley Park with my daughter. About two-thirds of the way into the effort, at Third Beach, my daughter said, “Dad, I’m going to call you ‘Scuffy’ – pick up your feet!”

Suddenly I was aware that my pace had slowed, I was overheated, and I was scuffing along.

A few months later, at my annual physical examination, my doctor said, “Michael, I think you’ve tipped into arrhythmia. I’m going to arrange for you to see a cardiologist.” This was all new territory for me. I soon found myself getting wired to a Holter monitor for 24 hours, getting an echocardiogram, and being stress tested on a treadmill. The verdict was indeed arrhythmia.

Arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm, can occur in nearly anyone, and becomes more common as you age. Mine caused my heart to beat abnormally fast, and literally took all the joy out of cardio fitness exercise. It is defined as atrial fibrillation, and though not usually life threatening, it causes rapid, irregular and uncoordinated beating of the heart’s upper chambers, preventing them from pumping effectively.

It can cause lightheadedness and palpitations. If it goes on too long, it can cause a stroke. So it pays to get diagnosed and act accordingly.

My arrhythmia responded well to drug treatments, and no surgery was required. Instead, the aftereffects were more emotional than physical – I just lost interest in my old exercise program. Running came to an end, and was replaced with walking to work in downtown Vancouver. For six years, I commuted on foot, about 8,000 steps round trip according to my iPhone fitness app. There was no rigorous program of cardio fitness. Raising one’s heartbeat seemed counter-intuitive when you have arrhythmia. Even treated arrhythmia.

A fitter Mike

Early this year, my cardiologist said that I could basically go back to all of my old sports routines – especially running and biking. Strangely, my body resisted, as if the pre-knowledge of my untreated condition was trumping my new desire to lose weight and get back in the game. Left to my own resources, I was too lazy to move beyond the daily walks program, and my weekend warrior efforts in the country where I cut firewood, move garden soil about in wheelbarrows, and sweep pine needles off roof pitches.

This summer, I got my exercise religion back. My son came up to our country house and challenged me to run every morning. So we started with six kilometres. He does the route in 27 minutes; I currently take 45.

Then he and my wife challenged me to haul out my old Breezer bike, and join 25-kilometre road trips to the local store. The fitness app counts 104 storeys return on this venture – that’s a lot of hill climbing. Then we started swimming every day. And so it goes as seven years of walking and gardening gets juiced up with real cardio fitness once again.

After a few months of the new routine, it is obvious that my heart strength is improving. After all, the heart is a muscle that needs to be worked to keep it in shape. Now what is missing is an appropriate diet. During my six years of total cardio avoidance I packed on some weight. Once again my son has come to my rescue, pointing out how addicted I am to sugar, complex carbohydrates, and large portions. Like a few people I know, craft beer has made a firm impression on my psyche and my gut. Enough.

Weight loss through diet starts with thinking. It’s shocking to realize that a committed program of walking and running and biking and swimming doesn’t equal weight loss. It’s mostly about not eating and eating and eating. So bring on the Paleo-diet, hydrate (and don’t carbohydrate), and switch to wine. And a big thank-you to my daughter and son who are turning ‘Scuffy’ into toughie.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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