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  • J Felix

Aging Mindfully

Updated: 7 hours ago

October 18, 2022

Two weeks ago, my son, 12, challenged me to try and pass the Navy SEALs physical fitness test.


Minimum requirements:

  • a 500 yard swim in 12 minutes, 30 seconds [10 minute rest]

  • a minimum of 50 pushups in two minutes [2 minute rest]

  • fifty curl-ups or more in two minutes [2 minute rest]

  • 10 pull-ups or more in two minutes [10 minute rest]

  • running 1.5 miles in 10 minutes, 30 seconds

I'm 50. I thought this could be a worthwhile challenge. I came across a number of surprising findings readers might find useful. I wanted to apply, test, and share these evidence-based protocols with you.


In accepting the challenge, I wanted to inspire my son whose faith in me motivated action . When I was his age, Jack LaLanne was my hero! Jack LaLanne was called the "Godfather of Fitness." He opened the nation's first fitness gyms in 1936. He designed the first leg machines, cable/pulley machines, and weight selectors. The Jack LaLanne Show was the longest running exercise program on television.


My hero was well into his 60s when I learned of his prodigious feats. At 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf. He was handcuffed and shackled while towing a 1,000 lb (450 kg) boat. To celebrate his 70th birthday, he towed 70 rowboats, one with several guests aboard, for one mile. He continued working out for 2 hours daily well into his 90s. He died at his home at 96, but his example lives in my heart at 50.


In accepting the challenge, I thought it might be useful to document my learning and keep a running record of my progress. Going public, moreover, would hold me accountable.


Week 1

October 8-15

I started with baselines. I swam 500 yards freestyle in 13:20. I completed 92 pushups in 2 minutes, rested 2 minutes, completed 76 curl-ups in 2 minutes, rested 2 minutes, then did 15 pull-ups in 2 minutes. I ran 1.5 miles in 13:07. I did the swim, run, and calisthenics on separate days.


Given that I haven't swam nor have I run distances greater than 1 mile in years, my results are OK. I'm within striking distance of passing. I need to improve my aerobic capacity and VO2 Max.


So, I began with a review of the scientific literature. Performance decrements are inevitable with age. For example, the world record for the marathon was set by Eliud Kipchoge. He ran 26 miles in 2:01:09. He was 37 years old. The record for 50 year olds was set by Nolan Shaheed. He completed the marathon in 4:25.04. It took the world's fastest 50 year old twice as long to cover the same distance.


But mile times are less divergent. Hicham El Guerrouj holds the world record. The 24 year old ran a mile in 3:43.13. Brad Barton, then 53, ran the mile in 4:19.59, 53. Impressive.


I suspect the difference is due to the metabolic demands required for running longer distances. The SEALs fitness test exacts different energy demands on the body, and tests aerobic (swimming and running) as well as anaerobic (calisthenics) capacity.


There are 3 energy systems to train: the Anaerobic Alactic (ATP-CP) Energy System for high intensity exercises of short duration performed in bursts, the Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System for medium to high-intensity bursts of activity that last from 10 seconds to approximately 90 seconds, and the Aerobic Energy System for low to medium-intensity activities that last anywhere from two minutes to a few hours.


At the cellular level, the 3 energy systems are powered by mitochondria in the muscles. Muscles use energy. That energy comes from the foods we eat. But before exploring diet, I want to dive deeper into mitochondrial health. Since mitochondria have been recognized as the key cellular organelles involved in energy production during exercise, targeting the organelle with specific protocols designed to boost mitochondrial biogenesis might positively affect exercise performance and recovery.


I was surprised to learn that fasting enhances the activators, regulators, and transcription factors that mediate mitochondrial biogenesis and improve mitochondrial function. I fast for 3 days monthly and fast intermittently about 5 days a week. I eat between 6 and 2. I didn't know that fasting improved athletic performance. It seemed counter-intuitive. So, I decided to train before breakfast, but eat on test days.


Cold is another way to boost mitochondrial biogenesis, increasing their number (Chung, 2017; Jornayvaz, 2010). Regulating body temperature, interestingly, is a lesser known tool for improving performance.


ATP is involved in muscular contraction. But the body can't generate more contractions if body temperature gets too hot. Temperature, moreover, dictates recovery as well as how restorative your sleep is.


Cooling the palms of the hands, the bottoms of the feet, and the face passes heat out of body and allows athletes to cool the body and core quickly because the vasculature in the palms, feet, and face is different than other parts of the body. The palms, feet, and face are glabrous. Arteriovenous anastomoses (AVAs) are short vessels in the glabrous skin of the hands, feet, and face that directly connect small arteries and small veins, bypass capillaries, and quickly shunt blood (Walloe, 2015). AVAs allow more heat to leave and more cool to enter the body more quicly than any other part. So, one way to optimize athletic performance is to expose the hands, feet, or face to cold for 30 seconds to a minute. Professor Craig Heller at Stanford University found that by taking advantage of specialized heat-transfer veins in the palms of hands, researchers could rapidly cool athlete's core temperatures, dramatically improving exercise recovery and performance. Athletic performance was “equal to or substantially better than steroids… and it’s not illegal.”


On test days, I plan to grip something cold or run my hands in cold water during rest periods. If the research is sound, this will boost performance.


Although I don't eat before training, I do hydrate and consume about half my body weight in fluid ounces throughout the day. Before a workout, I'll drink teas, water with electrolytes, Athletic Greens, and juice red beets. Beet juice contains nitrates which improve cardiovascular function. The increase in nitric oxide also improves lung function and muscle contraction.


Week 2 Training

October 16-23

I begin each day with an hour of meditation and breath work. For this test, I'm doing more breath holds and using a breath trainer. Current evidence indicates that respiratory muscle training may improve athletic performance (Shei, 2018). Repiratory muscle training decreases the rating of perceived breathlessness or rating of perceived exertion (McConnell, 2009; Sheel, 2002), improves respiratory muscle economy (Turner et al., 2012), reduces the work of breathing, and improves respiratory muscle endurance (Sales et al., 2016).


A daily dose of muscle training for the diaphragm and other breathing muscles helps promote heart health and reduces high blood pressure. Doing 30 breaths per day for six weeks lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 millimeters of mercury. Those reductions are about what could be expected with conventional aerobic exercise such as walking, running or cycling.

Endothelial cells, which line our blood vessels, promote the production of nitric oxide — a key compound that protects the heart. Nitric oxide helps widen our blood vessels, promoting good blood flow, which prevents the buildup of plaque in arteries (interestingly, humming also increases nitric oxide 15 fold). Researchers found was that six weeks of inspiratory-muscle strength training will increase endothelial function by about 45%. A training regimen consisting of only 30 breaths per day with a breath trainer would be very helpful in endurance exercise events, according to the study.


Elite cyclists, runners and other endurance athletes also benefit from breath work. Six weeks of inspiratory-muscle strength training increased aerobic exercise tolerance by 12% in middle-aged and older adults.


There are other breathwork protocols found to improve athletic performance. Short breath holds simulate the effects of high-altitude training by inducing both a hypoxic (lack of oxygen) and hypercapnic (high carbon dioxide) response. These two effects lower sensitivity to carbon dioxide, increase endurance, reduce the discomfort and fatigue from lactic acid build-up, increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, improve breathing economy, and improve VO2 max (McKeown, 2015).


Nasal breathing is also important. I breathe through my nose even when I'm training below my aerobic threshold. It's more efficient. Swimming is the only exception.


This week, I'll be easing into aerobic training which consists mostly of bike rides and swims. Each week, I'll increase mileage by 5-10%. Last week, I started with 10 laps (or 500 yards). This week, I'll add a lap. To improve aerobic metabolism, I'm training in zone 2. I'm taking this slow not only to give my body time to adapt to the new stressors and regimen, but to recover from the stressors and regimen.


I haven't started running seriously because I have Achilles tendonitis. Injuries are the surest way to arrest progress. I found an analysis of injuries in long-distance triathletes (Egermann, 2003). The incidences of injuries seem to be related to age, performance level and weekly training hours. Older athletes sustained more fractures. High performance athletes suffered more contusions, abrasions and muscle-tendon-injuries. Athletes with a large number of weekly training hours suffered more muscle-tendon-injuries. The key take aways: do not train too hard, too fast, or for too long. I'm giving myself months to train and pass this.


Athletes in running sports have a high incidence of Achilles tendon overuse injuries. Achilles tendon overuse injuries occur at a higher rate in older athletes than most other typical overuse injuries. However, Achilles tendonitis may not be a tendon problem. It may be mechanical or dynamic: the result of tight muscles and connective tissues, inflammation, or nutritional deficiency.


I will need to correct this before introducing a running regimen. Combing through the literature, ice may be an effective treatment as is pliability and mobility training. More specifically, I'm icing from 1-4 times daily and massaging the tendon with ice. I use a peanut massage roller twice daily. I wear KT bands and compression socks. I'm doing yoga and functional movement exercises for mobility.


My strength training does involve some weights, but, for this event, I'm using mostly gymnastic rings, body weight, and a weighted vest. Rings allow for more joint mobility and flexibility. Conventional exercise machines don't stimulate the deeper muscle fibers that we need to stabilize the body while on rings.


Post workout, I'm drinking tea with creatine monohydrate. Daily dosages of creatine supplementation (i.e. 3-5 g/day) are effective for increasing intramuscular creatine stores, muscle accretion and muscle performance/recovery. I also drink carrot juice with turmeric root and pepper to aid in recovery as well as herbal ginger/turmeric tea with l-leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid for protein synthesis. Leucine can be used to generate ATP and regulate several cellular processes such as protein synthesis, tissue regeneration, and metabolism (Donato, 2015). I started supplementing with 200 mg of Coenzyme Q-10 after reading a study which found that CoQ10 improved muscle performance as measured by time to anaerobic threshold (Deichmann, 2012). CoQ10 may also reduce muscle toxicity.


Jack LaLanne stressed the importance of nutrition.


Dying is easy. Living is a pain in the butt. It's like an athletic event. You've got to train for it. You've got to eat right. You've got to exercise. Exercise is king and nutrition is queen: together, you have a kingdom.


My meals are nutrient dense and anti-inflammatory. I eat low-glycemic, high-quality fat foods. I snack on fruits and raw vegetables. I'm avoiding processed foods and sugars and am limiting bread and grains.


I exercise in the morning and usually before breakfast. During this fasting period, the body is removing toxins, generating energy and resisting fatigue and stress. Under eating increases protein efficiency. The body becomes more efficient at recycling proteins and uses them more efficiently when consumed. Fasting also improves insulin sensitivity.


October 16

This morning, I cycled to the gym, swam 11 laps and did the calisthenic portion of the test to time: 75 push-ups in 2 minutes, 52 push-ups in 2 minutes, and12 pull-ups. While my results appear to have dropped, I was fasting. I also did the calisthenics after a swim and after sitting for several minutes in both a sauna and steam room with cold showers in between sets. Exercising after heat can be much more challenging as body temperature regulates exercise performance. Exposure to heat and cold accelerates recovery and challenges the vascular system. Going from heat to cold to heat to cold requires the body to adapt as vessels dilate and constrict, dilate and constrict. I cycled home, took a cold bath, then enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal with berries, bananas, and walnuts. I wrapped my ankles with ice packs, then took a nap.


My diet is vegetarian and nutrient dense. I'm eating raw and fermented foods, consuming lots of fluids and natural juices that include vegetables, fruits and adaptogens like ashwaghanda, mucuna pruriens, gingko, and ginger. I'm also consuming good fats like avocado and nuts. My protein comes mostly from eggs, nuts, beans, tofu, and protein rich foods like okra, edamame, mushrooms, asparagus, kale.


October 19

My nephew is a soldier in the Air Force. He's training for the Special Warfare Operator Fitness Test and sent me the details today.

  • A 3 mile march with a 60 pound ruck in 49 minutes or less [30 minute rest]

  • 76 inch minimum standing long jump [5 minute recovery time]

  • Pro Agility Drill in 5.5 seconds [5 minute recovery time]

  • Minimum 270 pound trap bar deadlift 3 rep max [5 minute recovery time]

  • A minimum of 10 pull ups [5 minute recovery time]

  • A 100 yard farmer's carry with two 53 pound kettlebells in each hand in under 29 seconds [5 minute recovery time]

  • 2x300 shuttle run sprints in 80.5 or less [5 minute recovery time]

  • A 1500m combat swim in under 42.5 minutes or a 1.5 mile run in under 12:17

Why not...


This test seems more comprehensive and demanding on the body. As previously mentioned, the body has 3 energy systems. I suspect I'll be training all 3:


1. The Anaerobic Alactic (ATP-CP) Energy System uses the body's creatine phosphate stores for high intensity exercises of short duration performed in bursts, like the long jump or deadlift.

2. The Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System provides energy for medium to high-intensity bursts of activity that last from 10 seconds to approximately 90 seconds. The sit-ups, pull ups, sprints, and pushups probably pull from this system. The main differences between systems 1 and 2 is that the ATP-CP system will only produce energy for 10 seconds, whereas fast glycolysis can work at capacity for much longer. But waste products such as lactate begin accumulating in the blood and in muscle cell compromising performance. The burning sensation in the muscles, shortness of breath, and fatigue are all symptoms of lactate build up. To produce less and less acid over time, we want to train below our aerobic threshold. The “Talk Test” is a simple way to identify lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is the workload at which an athlete can no longer comfortably talk. When an athlete can no longer comfortably talk, they're in Zone 3 cardio. Zone 4 and 5 are when an athlete is training at 80-100% of their maximum heart rate. Zone 4 is race pace. Zone 5 is close to redline.

3. The Aerobic Energy System provides energy for low to medium-intensity activities that last anywhere from two minutes to a few hours. To pass the Navy SEALs p.t. test, a recruit must complete it in 53 minutes from start to finish (including rest periods) or 160 minutes to complete the A.F. Special Force's test. This takes aerobic capacity. Unlike the other two systems, the aerobic system requires oxygen and takes longer to overload and fatigue the system. Training this system enhances the body’s ability to utilize oxygen, and allows an athlete to prolong the ability to sustain higher intensities before tiring. Training at 60-70% of one's max heart rate, or zone 2, a few times per week is the best strategy for improving performance by pushing the body to edge of acidosis.


My results suggest that I've optimized energy systems 1 & 2 (the Anaerobic Alactic (ATP-CP) Energy System & the Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System). I need to improve the Aerobic Energy System. Yet, it is also clear that endurance is not the obstacle. I can run or swim long-distances without stopping. The problem is speed. I'm slow. I am not training at my VO2 max.


VO2 max is the maximum volume (V) of oxygen (O2) the body can process. A VO2 max score is a little like horsepower in a car—it’s a measure of the capacity your body (engine) has to use oxygen when exercising. If you have a high VO2 max, you have a big engine. VO2 max measures three components:

  • Lung capacity and heart volume: The more oxygen your lungs can intake and the more oxygenated blood your heart can pump, the higher your VO2 score.

  • Capillary delivery: The more oxygenated blood your circulatory system can transport to your muscles, the higher your VO2 score.

  • Muscle efficiency: The more your muscles can extract and use oxygen from your blood, the higher your VO2 score.

VO2 max serves as a baseline measurement of overall fitness. My VO2 max (45) puts me in the 90th percentile for men in my age group, but in the 30-40th percentile for men 20-29. And these physical fitness tests are designed for young men, not middle aged dads like me. I would have to train at the 95th percentile to compete with young bloods in the 50th percentile. Let's make it happen!


Week 3 Training

October 24-30

I ordered and read Run Fast by running guru Hal Higdon. I will begin implementing his training protocol for beginners.

Week

MON

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

SAT

SUN

1

REST

0.25 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

0.25 mile run

REST

1.5 mile run

25 min walk

2

REST

0.5 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

0.5 mile run

REST

1.75 mile run

30 min walk

3

REST

0.75 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

0.75 mile run

REST

​2 mile run

35 min walk

4

REST

1 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

1 mile run

REST

​2.25 mile run

40 min walk

5

REST

1.25 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

1.25 mile run

REST

​2.5 mile run

45 min walk

6

REST

1.5 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

1.5 mile run

REST

​2.75 mile run

50 min walk

7

REST

1.75 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

1.75 mile run

REST

3 mile run

55 min walk

8

REST

​2 mile run

​Rest or run/walk

​2 mile run

REST

3 mile run

60 min walk

I thought to start at week 3 or 4 as I am in relatively good condition, but then thought it wiser to curb my enthusiasm. To prevent injury I will start slow.


Diet matters. Training matters. Mindset matters. I know I will fail and fail and fail until I reach the goal. I keep failing forward, so am not disappointed if my results fall short. A pea-sized structure in the brain called the habenula inhibits dopamine activity. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which affects learning, attention, and motivation- among other functions. Too little of it, we lose interest, attention wanders, motivation wanes. The habenula is an anti-reward system; it plays an important role in aversive experiences and in making decisions so as to avoid future disappointment. This may explain why so many people quit when the going gets tough. Their illusions were never indexed to reality, so when setbacks come, they do not have sufficient motivation to push through.


If, on the other hand, I temper my enthusiasm and celebrate small victories, I keep my reward system engaged. I set myself up for small wins. For example, to run 1.5 miles in under 10.5, I calculated that I would have to run a 1/4 mile in 26.25 seconds and a lap in one minute, 45 seconds. I can do that. So, I'll run a lap at race speed, walk a lap, run another lap at race speed, walk, and continue like this for a mile of more when I train for speed.


A different neural process unfolds. When we celebrate small wins, neurons activate in the brain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA), a place in the midbrain that secretes dopamine. Dopamine is the signal that creates that rush of joy or bliss, and it travels from the VTA to the nucleus accumbens and spreads from there to other structures throughout the brain. The increased dopamine levels deliver a sense of pleasure, improve attention and interest. We’re then motivated to repeat our behavior to reach that pleasure again.


October 25

I tried some of the Air Forces Special Forces elements this week.

Results:

  • A 3 mile march with a 40 pound ruck in 45:31 min [Failed. Minimum is 60lbs in under 49 minutes]

  • 88 inch minimum standing long jump [Passed]

  • 265 pound trap bar deadlift 3 rep max [Failed. Minimum is 270lbs]

  • 17 pull ups [Passed]

  • A 100 yard farmer's carry with two 53 pound kettlebells in each hand in 27 seconds [Passed]

  • 2X300 shuttle run sprints in 68 seconds [Passed]

  • Pro-agility drill in 5.4 seconds [Passed]

October 29

I took a trip to Marathon Sports in Plymouth this week to experiment with footwear. I stood on a 3D scanner which took measurements of the length, width, inset, and girth of my feet, as well as pressure measurements: distribution, total area, etc.



I was fitted with a pair of running shoes that felt like they were custom made just for me.


I've been training for three weeks and am seeing results. These protocols work! Today, I swam 500 yards in 11:30, passing the swim portion of the Navy SEALs test. It's important to note that I work 3 jobs and am a father to 3 young children. Being a father is not an excuse for not being fit. After all, the inspiration for this challenge came from my son.


Week 4 Training

October 31-November 6

I integrate exercise into each day. I've been cycling to work- a 3 mile round-trip. I decided to start running or hiking with my weighted vest. Walking to work, a man thought I was a detective with the gang suppression unit as my shirt was black and my pants and cap a dark blue. I was wearing boots. I must have made a strange sight. Small price to pay for good health.


I tried some of the Air Forces Special Forces elements this week with my sons.

  • 90 inch long jump [passed]

  • Pro-agility drills in 5.18 seconds [passed]

  • 2X300 shuttle run sprints in 62.38 seconds [passed]

  • A 100 yard farmer's carry with two 30 pound dumbbells in each hand in under 21.76 seconds [failed, minimum is 50 pounds in each hand]

  • 1.5 mile run in under 12:32 [failed. Minimum is 12:17]

Week 5 Training

November 7-November 15

290lbs deadlift [passed]

100 push-ups [passed]

68 curl-ups [passed]

14 pull-ups [passed]


A recent research study with over 85,000 participants found that exercising in the morning was associated with the lowest risk of heart disease and stroke (Albalak, et al., 2022)... yet another reason to train early.


Week 6 Training

November 16-November 23

I ran two 5K races this week, one with my daughter (8) and the other with my son (12) who started me on this wonderful adventure! Optimal health compliments fatherhood.


Week 7 Training

November 24-December 1

I ordered Inside Tracker's Ultimate Plan which tests up to 43 blood biomarkers—including glucose, cholesterol, cortisol, and hemoglobin. I had my blood drawn and was eager to see my results.

95% of my biomarkers were within optimal range. Results tagged with a yellow dot indicate that those markers, while within a healthy range, could be improved. My HDL levels were below optimum. High-density lipo-proteins (HDL), called good cholesterol, helps protects against damage to the cardiovascular system by removing excess LDL (the "bad cholesterol") from the bloodstream.


My sugar levels (glucose & HbA1c), by contrast, were on the higher end of the spectrum. I started a no-sugar challenge this week and will continue until February (when I take a follow-up test). My sugar will come from fruits and vegetables. I also started taking spirulina, a blue-green algae, which reduces the rise in blood sugar following a meal (called postprandial glucose). Spirulina has also been shown to be effective at lowering high levels of fasting glucose. I'm consuming probiotic foods for breakfast (miso and unsweetened Greek yogurt). Fasting glucose levels improve after regular consumption of probiotic foods. I bought an ALA supplement (alpha lipoic acid). ALA can lower blood sugar levels by reducing excess fat in muscle cells.


ALA also acts as an antioxidant to reduce free radicals. Free radicals, if left unchecked, can cause oxidative stress, which contributes to body-wide inflammation. Inflammation is the body's response to a problem. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) is an inflammation biomarker. ALA can decrease CRP by about 38%.


My hsCRP levels can be improved. I'll switch from coffee to green and black tea. Black tea is prepared from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Compared to green tea, black tea has been oxidized for a longer time resulting in darker color and stronger flavor. Black tea contains the polyphenols catechin, theaflavin and flavonoid which help prevent oxidative damage and can improve hsCRP levels in a month or two according to the research.

All but 2 biomarkers were within optimal range. The two biomarkers outside of optimal range were Transferrin Saturation (TS) and serum iron. High TS levels indicate that my iron levels are too high. Because I am vegetarian, I supplement. High dosage dietary iron supplements combined with high intake of foods fortified with iron may be causing these elevated levels. Serum iron was the second biomarker outside of optimal range. My ferritin and hemoglobin levels, however, were optimized. Optimized ferritin and hemoglobin levels indicate that I am consuming enough iron to meet the body's needs. So I can titrate down and decrease my dosages.

The data is granular and gives me the feedback I need to make minor adjustments to improve my performance. My Vitamin B12 levels, for example, are slightly elevated most likely due to supplementation. Vegetarians tend to have low B12 levels, so I take a B-complex, a multivitamin, and a B12 supplement. Bloodwork suggests it's overkill. My creatine kinase levels are also slightly elevated which may indicate over-training. Elevated levels of creatine kinase are present when muscle cells rupture during intense exercise. The more creatine kinase in the bloodstream, the more muscle damage there is. When creatine kinase is above optimal, an athlete increases his risk of inflammation, muscle damage, cramping, fatigue, delayed recovery and injury. This is why rest and recovery are so important. Nutrition also plays a key role. Protein is essential for muscle repair. CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to decrease high creatine kinase.


InsideTracker is expensive, but excellent health is priceless. I made all of the changes I described in the chapters above after receiving the results. No doctor has ever provided me such timely and personalized information after a physical. The money spent was worth it.


Week 8 Training

December 2-December 9

Here are my latest results:

  • a 500 yard swim in 12 minutes, 30 seconds [passed]

  • a minimum of 50 pushups in two minutes [passed]

  • fifty curl-ups or more in two minutes [passed]

  • 10 pull-ups or more in two minutes [passed]

  • running 1.5 miles in 10 minutes, 30 seconds [failed]

  • 76 inch minimum standing long jump [passed]

  • pro Agility Drill in 5.5 seconds [passed]

  • minimum 270 pound trap bar deadlift 3 rep max [passed]

  • a 100 yard farmer's carry with two 53 pound kettlebells in each hand in under 29 seconds [passed]

  • 2x300 shuttle run sprints in 80.5 or less [passed]

  • a 1500m combat swim in under 42.5 minutes [have not attempted yet]

  • 1.5 mile run in under 12:17 [failed]

Once I pass all elements, I will try to complete them within the time allotted. Upon completion, I'll challenge myself to pass the Army Ranger's physical test. To prequalify, a soldier must complete:

  • 53 push-ups

  • 63 sit-ups

  • Two mile run in 14:30 or less

  • Four pull-ups

  • Six-mile ruck march with a 35-pound rucksack and weapon in less than one hour, 30 minutes

To graduate, a candidate needs to complete a 15-meter swim in full uniform, a five-mile run in under 40 minutes, and a 12-mile march with a 35-pound ruck in 3 hours or less. I might also add elements from other military units: 20-35 dips and a 25 meter underwater swim (Polish Jednostka Wojskowa Formoza), a 7 meter rope climb (Commando Marines), 48-80 air squats and 19-41 split squat jumps (Austrian Jagdkommando), 30-50 rep bench press with 110 pounds (German Kampfschwimmers), benchpress body weight + 25 pounds at least once and a hack squat with 100 pounds over body weight, dead hang pull-ups with 25lbs (Miami SWAT team).


December 3

I turned 51. To celebrate my birthday, I bought myself a smart watch to better track my running progress. I ran a mile to the gym and attacked some of the above elements:

40 dips [passed]

59 air squats in 2 minutes [passed]

33 split squat jumps [passed]

40 rep bench press with 115 pounds [passed]

Benchpress body weight + 25 pounds [passed]

Hack squat body weight + 100 pounds [passed]

6 dead hang pull-ups with 25 pound weight [passed]

90 pushups [passed]

70 sit ups [passed]

1500m swim in under 46.5 minutes [failed. Minimum is 42.5]

3 mile ruck with 60lbs in 47:15 [passed]


December 6

The soreness in my Achilles tendon is mostly gone. But I will continue icing and massaging not just the ankles, but all the joints. Now, I can adapt my training to improve my running speed. This also means training at or near my body’s VO2 max level of intensity. Improving VO2 max will improve my race times. Today's run:

Interval workout

  • 3 minutes at VO2 max pace

  • 2 minutes of easy running

  • Repeat 4 times

December 7

Equipment matters. I completed the 1500m swim in under 42.5 minutes (the minimum passing score for the Air Force Special Ops pt test). My time was 36:09 on an empty stomach. I failed the trial the first time. I used a lap timer and smart watch on my second attempt to keep pace. The first time I attempted the swim, most of my attention was focused on remembering the lap I was on and maintaining the count. On my second attempt, I used the timer and could focus instead on form and pacing.


I celebrate the win. Another small victory. A dopamine reward. No prediction errors. My strategy was to train bottom up, from the organelle (mitochondrial biogenesis and efficiency; optimizing the 3 energy systems) to the organs (pulmonary capacity, improved VO2 max, improved cardiovascular endurance) to the organism itself (attention to form, stride, speed, strength). This seems to be working.


After my swim, I sat in the heat and practiced breathing exercises. Then I sat in the cold to give the vascular system another work out. I returned to the heat and returned to the cold. Again, the objective is to train systems.


While sitting in the heat, I slowed the breath to about 4 per minute. Heart rate was high (132bpm) due to the heat. I practiced breath holds both at the top of the inhalation and at the bottom of the exhalation. Holding at the top made me slightly dizzy if I rotated my neck. This suggests the vestibular system may need a workout.


Within the inner ear are two organs, the utricle and saccule, which help us maintain balance. They use small stones and a viscous fluid to stimulate hair cells to detect motion and orientation. This is the vestibular system. When I throw myself off balance, I force the vestibular system to re-orient. If we are not intentional, we lose our ability to balance as we age. Balance training sends robust information to the brain about the relationship between the visual world and the vestibular system. It also forces the body to correct. These micro-movements strengthen the kinetic chain from the feet, up the legs, to the core muscles, and the rest of the body. The vestibular system is also wired to the limbic system, which is involved in processing emotion. It could trigger the rush you feel when you're on a roller coaster or in a Tesla rocketing from 0-60 in 2.7 seconds. It triggers the nausea and dizziness you may feel after spinning in circles. Interestingly, children love this sort of play: roller coasters, carousels, spinning. The older we get, however, the less we enjoy these kinds of movements.


Any movement that challenges the body by throwing it off balance- like inversion exercises in yoga or the first of the 5 Tibetan rites which involves spinning clock and counter clockwise- trains the vestibular system. It forces it to reorient.


The specialized ice packs I ordered came in this morning. Rest and recovery are critical to performance.


While it's a popular cliche, age isn't just a number. Order yields to disorder. Life cycles are controlled by genes in each cell. Some supervise cellular maintenance; some replace worn out parts. Some cells are buffeted by random chemical storms and attacked by electrically unbalanced atoms called free radicals (mentioned above). Free radicals disrupt other atoms. Disrupted atoms cannot properly pull on nearby atoms to form intended bonds that build robust cellular architecture. With time, genes get degraded. There are copying errors. At the molecular level, telomeres fray. At the physiological level, muscles slacken and lose mass and strength.


At best, we can slow this process, delay the onset of age related decline, and maintain a degree of health, vitality, and vigor well into old age. Proper diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle can keep the mind in good working order and put networking changes on hold as we age.


With age comes experience. I've suffered enough injuries to know to pace myself, listen to my body, and rest. Rest and recovery are as fundamental to excellent conditioning as diet and exercise. And mobility, flexibility, and pliability training are as important as proper form and good running shoes. Many of the movements tested do not involve whole body biomechanics. Most of the lifting or calisthenics are performed along the sagittal plane (that is, up and down). We push up and down, squat up and down, bench press up and down. Our day to day movements, however, are usually functional, multi-jointed, and multi-planar. We move up and down, laterally (side to side), and diagonally. We rotate. Sometimes we're off balance. Our movements are complex. Athletes are prone to injury if an activity is repetitive or calls for movements they aren't conditioned to do. So, a well rounded exercise regimen trains for flexibility, mobility, functionality, strength, balance, and pliability.


Mobility

Mobility exercises train range of motion around the joints. My favorite mobility exercise is dance.


When we dance, we move along multiple planes of motion- side to side (frontal plane) and up and down (sagittal plane). We twist and rotate, spin and pivot along the transverse plane. Moving along multiple planes of motion is better for the body than moving along a single plane. The functional movements of dance strengthen the body's structural fasciae. Fascia refers to connective tissues. These bands hold the body together, connecting muscle to muscle, bone to bone, and muscle to bone. Fascia is elastic and supple. It helps the body absorb and distribute force. When I dance, I move every body part and every joint along multiple planes of motion with mindfulness.


When we dance, all fascial tissue needs to be elastic, resilient and strong enough to accommodate dynamic, multi-directional movement. Fascia adapts when exposed to movements that cover all planes of motion. Training on machines or free weights doesn’t offer the same stimuli to create adaptations in the fascia.


Pliability

Pliability is quarterback Tom Brady's go to workout. Pliability speeds muscle repair and recovery. Bands, foam rollers, and deep muscle work are some ways to increase blood flow, improve muscle oxygen saturation, cell permeability, and neural muscular efficiency. My favorite tool is a peanut massage roller given to me as a gift by a former student.


Flexibility

Stretching increases range of motion and flexibility. It can help improve performance. Stretching decreases stiffness and lowers chance of injury. Stretching can be dynamic or static. Dynamic stretches are usually used as warm ups. For dynamic stretches, I practice QiGong and Tai Chi exercises.


Stretching statically involves stretching a muscle as far as it can go and relaxing into it. I prefer yoga asanas (poses) for static stretches and hold each asana for 30 seconds or more. Yoga, as a discipline, trains body and mind.


When I get to the edge of a stretch and feel I cannot go further, sensory neurons, called intrafusal muscle fibers, send an electrical potential, or signal, from the muscle to the spinal cord. Another signal is sent from the motor neurons within the spinal cord back to the muscles to contract. This safety loop is designed to bring the muscle back into a prescribed range of motion- ensuring I do not overstretch, damage the connective tissue, or overload the muscles. This biological mechanism is protective and helps prevent injury, but also restricts range of motion.


I can redefine and extend those parameters, however, by relaxing into the stretch, breathing calmly into it. If I breathe and relax into the edge, not judging my performance, not comparing myself with others, a population of neurons (von economo neurons) within a brain structure called the insula, integrates information about my somatic (body) experience, evaluates it as "good" or "bad" then routes this information to other parts of the brain. If I lean into an uncomfortable stretch and interpret the discomfort and unpleasantness as "good," I can override it to a degree. Interoceptive awareness allows me to push myself farther. This also applies to running or weight lifting. When I cross my lactate threshold and feel "the burn" I can lean into it, reframing discomfort as good- or as the Marines say: "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Absent storylines, lactate build-up is just lactate build-up, muscle fatigue is just muscle fatigue. Many athletes are unaware of the restrictions and limits they place upon their performance. When exhaustion comes, so does the mental chatter. Absent mental chatter, the body can go much farther than we may have ever known. Interoceptive awareness allows me to lean into discomfort and reinterpret a seemingly unpleasant experience as positive. This is an interoceptive process which I've written about in previous posts.


Physical decline and weakness in aging may be due, at least in part, to impairments in brain and nerve function, rather than changes in the muscles themselves (Clark et al. 2019). I hypothesize that functional training that incorporates mobility, flexibility, and pliability in addition to endurance and strength training can delay degeneration at the cellular level. The muscles may be willing, but the neural connections may be weak if not trained several times weekly.


In a study titled Youthful Brains in Older Adults: Preserved Neuroanatomy in the Default Mode and Salience Networks Contributes to Youthful Memory in Superaging, researchers found that some individuals "age better" than others. Building on prior research showing that cortical thickness in one brain region, the anterior mid cingulate cortex, is preserved in older adults with memory performance abilities equal to or better than those of people 20-30 years younger (i.e., "superagers"), researchers examined the structural integrity of two large-scale intrinsic brain networks in superaging: the default mode network, typically engaged during memory encoding and retrieval tasks, and the salience network, typically engaged during attention, motivation, and executive function tasks. Superagers preserved cortical thickness in critical nodes in these networks. Thickness in the anterior temporal cortex, rostral medial prefrontal cortex, and anterior mid-cingulate cortex, correlated with memory performance, as did the volume of the hippocampus.


Exercise, diet, sleep, and meditation support healthy aging and can wind back our epigenetic clocks (i.e. patterns of DNA methylation levels attributed to aging). Knowing this, I intend to exploit whatever advantages I can.








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This post is a compilation of past essays on exercise, fitness, and movement. I started the day with an hour of meditation and breath work. But sitting for extended periods of time, even in meditation