live it active



“Don’t throw away your fat clothes” (An Everyday Champion Post)

That is the line that one of my golf buddies used back in 2004, the last time I went on a diet and lost some weight. It was probably the third or fourth time that I had gained and lost the same weight, so although my friend said this “tongue in cheek”, it was actually pretty good advice. Each time I had lost weight I would eventually return to my original lifestyle of a poor diet and little or no exercise. This was his humorous way of letting me know that I would be back to my original weight in short order.  Sure enough, by summer 2005 I was once again back to a 38” waist size and unable to see my feet.  I knew I was in trouble and had to get back to the gym and start working out again.

It was the trip to the gym in the fall of 2005 that provided me the eventual “wake up call” that I needed to make some permanent lifestyle changes. It was early November and I decided to go to the local Athletic Club where I was a member and start working out as I always did when I got into this situation. I spent 20 minutes that morning doing cardio, and 20 minutes doing strength training as I had a social engagement to go to that day and couldn’t afford more time.  I was in such a hurry that I even decided that I would skip taking a shower after my workout. My plan was to run a quick errand on the way home, and to shower at home in order to get ready to go out. I stopped off at the Canadian Tire next to the Athletic Club to pick up some light bulbs, headed to the cashier, felt a little funny, and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team with various monitors attached to my body taking vital signs. Even stranger to me, I was no longer standing in the cashier line, I was now on an EMS gurney in the Canadian Tire employee lunch room.  Based on what I was told afterwards, I had collapsed unconscious to the floor, and someone fortunately called 911. EMS showed up within minutes and moved me to the Employee lunch room.  I am not certain how long I was unconscious, all I remember is finding myself in this strange place with people asking me who they could contact to tell them what had happened to me, and to take me home. My wife and son showed up in short order, I could see the look of worry in their faces, and it was devastating for me. They took me home and I sat for the rest of the day trying to figure out what had happened to me.

As a self confessed “control freak” what bothered me the most was that I had lost control of my body. After about 3 months of medical testing, including a level 2 Stress Test, it was concluded that the reason I had fainted was because I had failed to cool down after my workout and all of the blood that had gone into my muscles from the strength training provided that much less blood to my brain to keep me conscious. The medical term for what happened was “vaso vagel episode”, which sounds complex but for me it is the name of the best “wake up call” I could have ever gotten. As I thought about what had happened to me I realized I was lucky, when I hit the floor at the Canadian Tire I could just as easily not have ever gotten up, I could have died from a heart attack or stroke, and I knew it. I decided on that day that I would never allow this to happen again, that I had not done everything in life that I wanted to do or to see, I wanted to see my grandchildren some day and I knew that if I didn’t change my lifestyle that wasn’t going to happen.

In the series of medical tests that were done after the incident, it was identified that I had high cholesterol, and slightly elevated blood pressure, no doubt from the extra weight I was carrying around. I made a commitment to myself that I was going to make a change, this time a permanent change and I was going to figure out how to make this happen. Along the way, in addition to starting an exercise regiment, I got lucky. When I did the research on why my diets had always failed, I came upon a book called “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. I read the book and what it said resonated with me. The problem in addition to not being active enough was that I didn’t know how to eat. By the time I had “digested” Gary’s book I knew that my diet issues were primarily driven by my craving of carbohydrates, simple sugars in particular. Never saw a cookie I didn’t like. When I was a child my mother had a complete cupboard filled with all kinds of cookies. Old habits die-hard, I just didn’t realize what sugar was doing to me because I had accepted the long time belief that “eating fat makes you fat”. In my case it was not fat that was the problem, it was far too many carbohydrates primarily of the simple variety. Today I eat a balanced diet, with few simple carbs, however my routine does not include me forgoing eating desserts, the difference is I eat them a most once a week, not once a day.

Once I was given the go ahead by my doctor, I set about exercising on a 3 times a week basis, the memory of the incident at the Canadian Tire fresh in my mind. Within 6 months I was back to wearing my “skinny” clothes, having thrown out my fat clothes this time.  I knew I had to think and do things differently, in order to make this a permanent change in my lifestyle.  I would religiously spend 40-60 minutes 3 days a week working with a personal trainer following a cardio and strength program designed by the trainer. I was in such bad shape when I started that I needed a day to recover in between work outs. I also hurt myself many times strength training before I realized trying to keep up with the 20 year olds in the gym was unnecessary. My memory of the “incident” allowed me to maintain this program for close to 2 years until once again I got lucky. A friend mentioned to me a book that he had just read called “Younger Next Year”. The author has followed the same path that I had and had come to the conclusion that physical activity was actually a daily requirement, not something that you did until exhaustion 3 days a week. Seemed pretty strange to me, the physical activity that he recommended didn’t have to put you in the heart rate level of anaerobic exercise or involve muscle burn.  A bicycle ride was considered as valuable as an hour spent pumping iron, the key was to be physically active every day.  Using his concept I began to add to my exercise “menu”.  I took up downhill skiing again, I bought a road bike and my wife and I began to ride once or twice a week.  I soon realized that one of the sure “failure modes” for anyone doing what I was doing was getting “bored” with doing the same routine over and over again. I started to go to classes at the Athletic Club, taking everything from Power Barbell to High Intensity Interval Training. I came to realize I was a “social exerciser” and not a “solo exerciser”, I enjoyed working out with other people who were no doubt doing the class for the same reason I was.

Bottom line, I am active one way or the other every day of the week (OK at least 6 days!) and a large part of my success is due to my being “mindful” each day. When I get up in the morning, I ask myself, “what are you going to do today to get your exercise in?” What is equally important in my health journey is that I have a life partner who saw me that day at the Canadian Tire who has joined me in my new lifestyle.  It would be difficult to maintain what I have accomplished if my partner was not so supportive and had not made all the same changes in her own life in support of me maintain this healthy lifestyle.

Although the incident at the Canadian Tire was traumatic, it provided the incentive I needed to make changes in lifestyle that were necessary to maintain a healthy weight.  What I can say though is that the human mind works in strange ways.  The further I get away from that incident the less I am traumatized by what happened that day. The reason I can still wear a pair of size 34 pants 6 years later is because what I am doing today is part of who I am and the lifestyle I live. Eating properly is now a routine part of my lifestyle, not something I do when I no longer like the fact I can’t see my feet. Exercise is now part of my daily life, one way or the other I make sure that if I have time to surf the Web or watch TV that I spend an equivalent amount of time in some type of physical activity. It isn’t easy to do this. I think of the number of times in the winter that I have planned to go the Athletic Club to work-out , and as I have driven there from the office my “lazy” brain will be saying, “oh, just go home, there is no need to work out today”. Somehow my car always ends up at the Athletic Club and when I have finished my workout and the endorphins are streaming through my bloodstream all I can think of is how lucky I am to have the discipline to do what I know is the “right thing”.  I wouldn’t likely get to see my grandchildren if I hadn’t developed the self discipline I have today, and believe me it is all based on self discipline.

~

This story was written by my “father-in-law” (in air quotes, because it’s not official…yet), Rick Valeriote. Over the past five years, Rick has demonstrated incredible determination, focus, and commitment to his goal – to become a more healthy and fit individual. I’ll have to confirm this with Rick, but I imagine he is more fit as he approaches the glorious age of 60 than he was 10 years ago, or perhaps even 20 years ago. Rick is able to keep up with his sons on the slopes, hike the Italian coast (3 times over), and kick my butt at Power Barbell (my least favourite gym class, but Rick’s favourite…or so it seems).

Rick’s “wake-up” call in Canadian Tire is one that many others have experienced, yet most do not respond in the way Rick did. Most are not able to make the lifestyle change that Rick has. That’s because it’s down right hard. It takes guts, courage, and a fighting spirit to make a long-term commitment to your health, but making a lifestyle change is truly the only way to see, feel, and sustain long-term change. Fad diets and workout routines have got nothing on Rick’s diet and physical activity regime. Rick is mindful, active everyday, and eats well. He does not push himself to his limits each and everyday, because he knows he needs to be active the next. He does not restrict himself from the foods he loves, he enjoys them in moderation. Lastly, he pays attention to his body and mind, he is mindful of what he needs to be the best he can be. This is truly the sign of an everyday champion.

Thank you, Rick. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

M

Photo of Rick skiing at Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia.

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