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Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey by Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs discusses an approach to fitness that does not require you to focus on your looks but more on the quality that being fit adds to your life.
Allan (3:16): Our guests today are both PhDs, academia and researchers on feminist issues. Together they created Fit Is a Feminist Issue – a popular blog offering feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health. We will discuss their book Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey. They are Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs. Samantha, Tracy, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Tracy (3:41): Thank you.
Samantha (3:42): Thanks.
Allan (3:43): The title of your book, Fit at Midlife – of course, that’s going to attract me because I’m pretty much there. I hope I still have the other half coming up, because I’m 52 right now. Right now I’m targeting that probably being somewhere around the middle. And then I got into the subtitle, and it’s A Feminist Fitness Journey. I wasn’t sure where you were going to go with this, to be honest. And when I see “ist” or “ism” at the end of a word, it can get muddy. I typically try to stay away from those. But the way you approach this in the book I thought was actually very, very good. I didn’t understand where you were coming from just with the subtitle, but once I got into the book, it made a lot more sense to me.
Tracy (4:29): Good. That’s what most people seem to find.
Samantha (4:33): We’re really about inclusive fitness. We’re writing about our perspective as women in midlife approaching fitness, but lots of the lessons there, especially around starting out, when you’re not sure what level you’re at, or your concerns about body image – those might apply more to women, but I think they apply to everybody.
Allan (4:52): Yeah. Contextually, sometimes it’s very hard for me to connect with a client. I’m a man, obviously, and I’ll be talking to them and some of the words that they’re using, I have to sit back and wrap my head around, why are they particularly using that word? Does that mean anything in particular? And I think one of the words that gets used, but I don’t think most people have built a good context around it, is the word “fitness”. And you cover that in the book. You get into, fitness is not always just being able to run a mile in four minutes or just being able to deadlift 500 pounds. Fitness can mean something different for all of us.
Tracy (5:42): Right, because there are multiple measures.
Samantha (5:46): Actually, I think a lot of people do mean one thing by “fitness”, which is you look fit. So they say, “She looks really fit.” What do you mean by that? What it means really is that she looks lean, she looks thin, and I think for me getting beyond that message is pretty important.
Tracy (6:06): I would agree with that. We want to divorce the idea of fitness from the idea of thinness, because almost every single fitness plan or program is about weight loss.
Samantha (6:18): That’s one thing I think that’s different for men. There’s a lot of pressure on men to look muscular, and these days to look muscular and lean, but at least in the sports we recognize that there are a lot of awfully fit big guys. No one thinks football players aren’t fit, or no one thinks that some of the larger male athletes aren’t fit. They’re just big men. But we don’t really have that. Even though those women exist in, say, the Olympics, when we think about women in fitness, we tend to think about maybe the CrossFit ideal these days – the lean and muscular women, and that’s what fitness is about, is achieving that look. It’s not about doing things, it’s not about exercise and health. It’s about attaining a certain kind of appearance.
Tracy (7:05): In popular culture, but that’s not what we think fitness should be about it.
Allan (7:10): When I sit down with a new client and we go through what I call basically “making a commitment” – it’s a vow that I want them to make – and the thing I talk to them about is, first I need to know why. Why you want to do what you want to do. And I have to say that invariably 95% of the clients that come to me want to lose weight. This is what they believe their goal should be. So they’re like, “I need to lose weight. I need to lose 10, I need to lose 15, I need to lose 50 pounds.” And I let them want that. I say, “Okay, I understand where you’re coming from, but we’re going to talk about health and we’re going to talk about fitness. It might not always be about weight, it might be about something else.” So the second part of the commitment piece is where I start getting into what I’d call “vision”. And I might need to change that word, because I don’t want it to be thought of as, this is how you look, because it encompasses a look and feel. It’s being comfortable, being confident, enjoying what you’re doing and knowing that you have the capacity. So mine is, I run, I’ve done some obstacle course races with my daughter – the Tough Mudder and Spartan and things like that. I’ll do those races. They’re extremely intense and difficult and not many people over the age of 50 are doing them, but I’ll go out and do them with my daughter. My commitment, my thought is, if my granddaughters or grandchildren are into that type of thing, I want to be able to compete with them. I want to be out there with my grandchildren. Not just my children, but my grandchildren when they come along.
Tracy (8:50): You want to age well. You want to experience vitality and energy and capacity, not just in your 50s, but in your 60s, 70s, 80s. I look at my dad, who is 80 and he’s told me on the weekend he’s playing the best tennis of his life. He’s played tennis ever since I can remember, and he’s always been a good tennis player. So I want to be like my dad.
Allan (9:18): That’s how I want to put it out there for folks, but it is so hard to get them away from the scale. And I think one of you said you put it in a box and put it in your closet.
Tracy (9:30): I put it back in its original packaging with the Styrofoam ends and everything. We put it way up high so it’d be a big conscious pain in the ass. If I took it down I have to really think about it, and I did not.
Allan (9:47): Yeah. So when I think of fitness – and it’s kind of where you’re going in the book – is you’ll do different things. It might be weightlifting or rowing or triathlon or anything like that, but what you’re doing is you’re fit for a task, fit to live the life you want to live, not fitness as a fitness model or a physique model would look. I’m not after six pack abs. If they happen as a function of what I’m doing to train – that’s great, but I’m not training specifically just for the look that my body would have.
Tracy (10:22): And then if you don’t achieve that look, you won’t abandon your activities, which have all kinds of other benefits. But if it’s only that you’re going for that look, or only going for the weight loss, not everybody’s going to achieve that. In fact, a lot of the data shows that not many people will achieve it in any lasting way, sadly.
Samantha (10:46): We have two groups of people who really lose out. Once the people who start physical activity and don’t lose weight and then say, “Well, it’s not working”, so they quit. So those people lose out. The other group are people – our physiotherapist was talking about his wife who the doctor never mentions to her that she works out, and no one ever suggests that she should exercise. People don’t suggest that because she’s really thin and they think she’s already in pretty good shape, but she’s not. She gets winded walking up a flight of stairs. I think lots of people in their own lives actually mistake being thin for, “There’s no real need for me to work out.”
Allan (11:25): I was talking to a therapist at a clinic, and they deal with people with kidney issues. There’s a term out there called TOFI, which is thin on the outside and fat in the inside. So there’s this whole population of people that are very fortunate that they don’t look heavy. They don’t gain a lot of weight, but they can have a huge amount of body fat and be unhealthy, because they’re not eating the right way. They’re not taking care of themselves. And so, as you’re defining fitness in the book, which you’re basically saying is you find those things to do. We’ll talk about your “Fittest by 50” mindset. This was a longer range thing that you were working towards as you got into your late 40s, and then you were trying to work towards a goal by the age of 50. But you weren’t thinking in terms of, “I’m going to do this till I’m 50 and then I’m going to quit.”
Samantha (12:22): No, not at all. We both continued right on ahead.
Tracy (12:26): Right. We were thinking of it as setting us up for the second half of life.
Allan (12:31): Perfect. And that’s why terms like “diet” and signing up and doing a program – and I know you guys were really negative on boot camps, but I think sometimes boot camps are good about getting people to show up because of the fact that you’re accountable and you’ve got some people there that you can actually connect with. So some of these things, even though they’re not always your favorite exercise – like, who likes burpees – but they are exercises that get you moving. And if it’s a boot camp that gets you started, but you’re not trying to define yourself as the next CrossFit queen and you’re not looking to get on a magazine cover – at that point you now have a more balanced aspect of what your life can be like and what this exercise can do for you. We did a burpee challenge. It’s not a boot camp thing, but there’s a lot of burpees.
Tracy (13:25): We did a burpee challenge too.
Samantha (13:27): I loved it. I had fun with the burpee challenge.
Tracy (13:29): I couldn’t handle it after about 50.
Allan (13:35): I had them over the course of 28 days. The beginners did 1,000 burpees in 28 days, and the advanced ones did 5,000. So you can see it’s a lot of burpees. But I had a woman tell me after she did the burpees, she wasn’t even thinking about it, but her boyfriend came over and they were going to go somewhere and she says, “What vehicle did you bring?” And he has a Navigator and a Corvette. He said, “I brought the Corvette.” And she said, “I hate getting in and out of that Corvette because it’s so low and I struggle to get in and out.” But she said she walked up, she sat down and she got in. It was perfectly fine. And then she got back out. He was even commenting, “You’re not having problems with the Corvette.” She’s like, “No, I guess the squats that I was doing basically have now strengthened me to a point where I can get in and out of your Corvette with no problem.” To me that’s a huge fitness win, in that she can now live the lifestyle and do the things she wants to do without having to be worried about what car he’s going to bring over, or how her inability to do something is going to affect her life. So, I really do like how you guys have gone on to fitness to say, this is about your ability to live the life you want to live.
Samantha (14:47): I think we both have realizations in the book where there’s something like that that we’re able to do, that it was nothing we were aiming at, but at the end of the challenge we were able to do. I’m trying to think of examples, but I think for both of us there are moments like getting in and out of the car, that, “Wow, this is something I used to find difficult, but now seems pretty easy.”
Tracy (15:07): For me, one of the things that really motivated me to get back into it – because I had done resistance training in my younger years, but I had let it go – was my groceries were starting to feel heavy. I thought, “I’m 48 years old and my groceries are starting to feel heavier than they used to.” Now I find I can practically lift them up over my head.
Allan (15:33): I’d say buy more vegetables.
Tracy (15:35): I’m vegan, I buy plenty of vegetables.
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Allan (15:55): The next topic I wanted to get into – and I know that women struggle with this because you hear it on a daily basis – is body image. But I’d offer to share to you, men have the same kind of concern; we’re just not as vocal about it.
Samantha (16:16): I’ve got two sons, so I know watching my sons go through this, so it’s an issue for them too. I just think it’s less of an issue and not the entire thing on which they think they’re judged in the world. Whereas I think for women it just occupies a bigger part of our mental space and a bigger part of how we’re treated in the world and the assumptions people make about us. If you’re a larger person, people assuming that you’re lazy. There’s all sorts of research that shows we have a lot of bad attitudes towards people who carry extra weight.
Allan (16:50): Yeah. And like I said, I think there’s a little of that with men; not as much. I have a neighbor, he’s 55 and he has one of those one-wheeled skateboards, with a big wheel in the middle. He rides all over the place on that thing, and I’m thinking that’s pretty decent balance. He also wind surfs and does these other things that you’re like, “That’s not normal behavior for a 55-year-old”, but he’s doing it. I think one of the big challenges that men have, as well as women, is we just seem to want to compare ourselves to something we see as a peer group. And the magazines don’t help because they’ll sit there and show Robert Downey Jr. I know he didn’t live a really good lifestyle when he was in his 20s, because I read about it a lot. But he’s in his 50s and he’s fitter than he’s ever been, and posing for muscle and fitness magazines and things like that. I guess knowing it’s possible makes you want something for yourself. But to me, I just don’t know that the body part is what’s going to really keep you involved, particularly, like you said earlier, if we’re not seeing the results.
Samantha (18:15): No. I think for most people you don’t get the kind of results you want unless you’re going to make it your full-time job, and most of us can’t do that.
Tracy (18:24): We’re not celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. He has a team, a personal trainer that’s dedicated to him and maybe he works out every day with that trainer. He might have a chef. What I like about our book is that we’re ordinary women with big careers and families and we’ve done this. And we don’t have six packs, but we’re in pretty good shape.
Allan (18:52): I want to talk a little bit about your experiences, because you both got into this together, and throughout the book you take us on a journey, which was basically two years for both of you. Could you each take a little bit of time to talk about your reasons for wanting to do this? It was a two-year journey, so it was not something you just said, “I’m going to do this in six months and do this thing.” This was a targeted approach, long-term approach. And then some things that you learned along the way.
Samantha (19:25): Sure. So I was already pretty active, but I found the things I like to do and just did those things. So, I was a cyclist, I was still riding my bike lots, but I was no longer riding as far or as fast as I like to ride. I was doing aikido, but at that point I wasn’t testing for any belts. I was just doing the things that were easy and made me happy, but I wasn’t really challenging myself. So what I wanted to do going into the Fittest by 50 challenge was up the ante on both of those things. So I wanted to up the ante on cycling, to ride further and faster. I wanted to try some new things, to kind of break out of a rut. So I tried CrossFit, rowing, I tried lots of different things during the course of the challenge. I added a lot more weight training. Then I wanted to do some belt testing in aikido and move up a few levels. And by the end of the challenge, I’d ridden my bike from Toronto to Montreal, which is about 400 miles, 660 kilometers. And I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I’d been faster maybe as a cyclist before, but never as strong at the same time. I used to just weight train during the winter offseason, and I started weight training year round. I tried a bunch of new things, so I think I’ve met my goals. I was pretty happy, and it was a fun challenge for me.
Tracy (20:54): When Samantha proposed being the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50, I said that’s a project I can get behind because I had also sort of stagnated. I was walking a lot and doing yoga, and I had just started back into some weight training, but I was feeling pretty green at it actually. I very much had associated fitness with thinness, even though I knew that that was not right. We’d been having this conversation about feminism and fitness for many, many years, like 25 years. So I knew that it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t let go of the body image as the main driver of all the things that I did. And so one of my goals in the challenge was this mental shift. I wanted to lose that sense of having to look a certain way and that that’s the reason why I would do these activities. I really wanted to lose that.
Allan (22:00): Can you tell us a little bit about that? It sounds like you were trying to reprogram.
Tracy (22:08): Yeah, I was. So one of the first big things that I did – you mentioned it already – I put my scale away. So about three months into the challenge, I had tried sport, nutrition counselling, and finally, I just said, “Forget it, I’m going to do intuitive eating.” Everything in the sports literature would argue against it, but basically, you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full or when you’re satisfied, you eat what you want and you don’t weigh yourself. That is what I had to do to let go of that obsession.
And then the other thing that I did was I signed up for a triathlon, which was extremely out of my comfort zone. I didn’t run very well, I certainly didn’t know how to ride a bike with clipless pedals or any kind of racing road bike, and I hadn’t been swimming in years. So, all of a sudden I had this daunting thing to train for that how my body looked was the last thing on my mind. It was more like, how the heck am I going to finish this event? So I re-oriented my focus in a way on the performance side. And you know what? It was transformative. I shifted my Fittest by 50 goals after that first summer. My goal was to do an Olympic-distance triathlon in the second half of the challenge. The one year I did four triathlons of different distances, and my entire focus was on the performance. Through the training I stopped weighing myself, putting the scale away. I did reprogram myself and I really am still there today. It was incredible actually.
Allan (24:11): Good. And so, Tracy, what I’m hearing is that you’ve basically put something out in front of you that was going to effectively force you to address your training.
Tracy (24:24): Yes, to focus on something else.
Allan (24:26): Yeah, with passion and knowing that it’s really going to be about the performance: “How can I be comfortable swimming a distance, spiking a distance, running a distance? And then I’m going to put them all together. I’ve got to have the fitness level to be able to perform and do those things.”
Tracy (24:42): Yeah. And it’s a learning curve. In triathlon, the transitions even are things you need to train for, like how do you transition? How do you get your wetsuit off but your bike shoes on?
Allan (24:55): Yeah, I’ve never actually done anything like that. Like I said, I’ve done the mud runs, but you wear what you wear and if it comes off while you’re running, you just leave it. I could see that being one of my huge challenges – if I didn’t just drown in my race really early, then it would be, “Now I come out of the water. How do I get on this bike and not kill myself?” And you’re up there in Canada, so it’s cooler. You are wearing a wetsuit, so definitely.
Tracy (25:30): My first event – the swim got cancelled because it was too cold. They turned it into a duathlon – a run, bike, run. And I hadn’t really prepared for that, because I still wasn’t a very strong runner. It’s like, “Oh my God, we have to do two runs?”
Allan (25:49): That’s good, it mixed it up. And I think that’s where I want to go with Samantha, is that you tried a lot of different things that were going to tax you in ways that you had not been taxed before, and you probably learned a lot about yourself as a result.
Samantha (26:02): Yeah, I did. There were things I loved that I realized just did not fit into my life or my lifestyle. So, I’d always wanted to try rowing. I know lots of cyclists who are good rowers and they’re often thought of as complementary sports. They place demands on the body; you’ve got to be super strong and aerobically fit. And so I joined a master's women’s rowing team and loved it. But I discovered that they have a kind of dedication to schedule that I just can’t have, given my job, how much I travel for work and given family demands. So they have certain times where if you are going to be on the water at 7:00 PM, you have to be there and on the water at 7:00 PM. And if you have a certain spot on a boat, you train for that position. And if you can’t make it because you’re away at a conference giving a paper, you have to find someone who can come in and take that spot in the boat who’s also trained for that spot. It’s tricky.
And so I thought in the end probably rowing for me is going to be a retirement sport. It’s going to be a thing I can do one time somewhere near a lake and I can just say I’m going to be there two or three days a week, mornings or evenings, and make that commitment. It’s also a lot of traveling for racing. So rowing involves derigging all the boats, loading the trailer with all the boats, driving hours. And then some of the races are five minutes long. So it’s a lot of derigging and carrying. It’s a sprint effort, so it’s a lot of derigging, carrying boats, loading trailers, driving, re-rigging, carrying boats to the water, and then it’s over. The comradery is great. I love going to rowing events, but I would rather be on my bike for three or four hours, which simply I throw on cycling clothes, I put some air in my tires and off I go. A lot less coordination, organization. So I found it was interesting to try different things and see what worked and what didn’t. I loved rowing and I loved being on the water, but I’m going to have to wait till I have a less big job and a different kind of schedule, I think.
Allan (28:16): I can see that. Team sports are great for that comradery, for getting you out there and keeping you out there, particularly if they’re counting on you to be a particular function on the team week in and week out – then yes, you’re there. But that is a commitment of time and effort that you have to be able to fulfill. But I think it’s awesome that you guys put this together for yourselves and you went through and followed through with it. You have a blog, and now the book. If someone wanted to learn more about you or the book or the blog, where would you like for me to send them?
Tracy (28:52): For the blog they would go to FitIsAFeministIssue.com. That’s our WordPress blog. We blog seven days a week there, at least once a day. Samantha blogs every Monday and Wednesday and I blog every Tuesday and Thursday, and then we have regular contributors and occasional guests. So that’s the blog. And the book, Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey, is published by Greystone Books out of Vancouver and it’s available on Amazon. And we would love it if you read the book and want to write a review on Amazon.com. That would be great too.
Allan (29:29): Cool. This is going to be episode 324, so you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/324 and I’ll have the links to the book, to their blog and all of that right there. So, Samantha and Tracy, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Tracy (29:46): Thanks, Allan. It was nice chatting with you.
Our guest today has the mission to help 100 million people feel fantastic by returning them to optimal health. That's a big one. He's The star of the BBC one show Doctor in the House. He has practiced medicine for over 20 years and he wants to help simplify health. I think he's done that with this book, How to make Disease Disappear. Here is Dr. Rangan Chatterjee.
Allan (1:57): Dr. Chatterjee, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Chatterjee (2:00): Thank you so much for having me.
Allan (2:01): I am so happy to have Dr. Chatterjee here. His book is How to Make Disease Disappear. And the reason I really liked – and I know I say I really like a lot of books, and I really do. But this book is special because it puts a lot of medical stuff out on its ear a little bit, because it actually gives you the understanding that you can reverse a lot of the diseases that we’ve come to accept, like diabetes, and heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. There are some opportunities for us to basically reverse and in some cases potentially cure ourselves of these diseases, and hopefully through what’s in this book give people tools to make sure they don’t get these diseases going forward. Dr. Chatterjee, thank you so much for being a part of the podcast. And again, I want to thank you for this book because it’s very actionable. It’s something that I think anyone can absorb and get a lot of benefit out of.
Dr. Chatterjee (2:57): Thanks for having me. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share some of my ideas and my philosophy with your listeners because this really matters. You look around you, I can see it in the UK. But I was actually in the US last week and it’s even more noticeable when I’m in the US that people are struggling with their health. Whether it’s obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, mental health problems, the list is endless. And the reality is that the majority of them – not all of them, but the majority of them are related to the way that we are in some way living our collective modern lifestyles. I’m not putting blame on people. I’m not saying people are doing it to themselves. What I’m saying is that actually the modern world, the modern living environment for many of us, makes it very challenging for us to make healthy choices. My book really is to try and give people an actionable plan, a blueprint if you will, for how they can live well in the 21st century.
Allan (03:58): There’s a concept you bring up at the beginning of the book, and I really like this concept. When we go to the doctor and we think of going to the doctor, it puts a lot of that into question in my mind, because it makes sense to me what they’re doing is they’re looking at a symptom – like you have Eczema, so I’m going to give you a cortical steroid lotion or cream. Or you have depression, so I’m going to give you an antidepressant. So they’re basically saying symptom equals solution, but we’re a little bit more complex than an if/then statement. We’re a system. Can you talk about how we’re a connected system and how that works within your paradigm?
Dr. Chatterjee (04:41): I think that’s a great point. The underlying premise of the whole book is that we are interconnected. Every single system in the body influences another system. For far too long we’ve looked at these things in isolation. I’ve been a practicing MD now for nearly 20 years. I’ve seen tens of thousands of patients. Over my career I’ve really had to progress my understanding, because earlier on in my career I was using a lot of drugs. I was suppressing a lot of symptoms with medication. I’m not necessarily saying that that’s a problem. The problem is if we don’t also explain that there may be something that we can do to help get rid of the problem in the first place. And I think that comes down to the fact that the medical establishment has been set up in an era very different from the era that we’re living in today.
Fifty, sixty years ago, the bulk of what we saw as medical doctors was acute disease. Acute disease responded very well to this sort of approach. A little bit like you have a chest infection. A chest infection is the overgrowth of a bug in our lung. The doctor will usually give you an antibiotic, something basically to kill that bacteria. The bacteria goes away, the chest infection goes away, and you no longer have your problem. We’ve tried to apply that kind of thinking to these chronic, degenerative diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. And the reality is that these things don’t respond very well to that single-bullet approach because many of these modern, chronic diseases have at their core lifestyle choices that people have made.
I have put those lifestyle choices into this four-pillar framework because health has become incredibly complicated. I think a lot of people out there sort of know what they should be doing but they’re not doing it. So why is that? My view is that we’ve got to simplify health. The core rules of good health haven’t really changed. They’re the same today as they were fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago. What has changed is the modern living environment. What I’ve really tried to do is to say, if you make small changes in these four key areas – food, movement, sleep, and relaxation – you get really big outcomes and really big benefits for your overall health. And this is the approach that I take with my patients.
I’ve done quite a few prime time documentaries on BBC, where I’ve used the same approach to help people get rid of diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Fibromyalgia, and even reducing weight by 70 lbs. So I’m very passionate that all the listeners who are listening to this podcast think about those four pillars and try to think about their own lives. Identify the pillar that needs the most work and start there. I think that’s how you get really quick, but also sustainable benefits.
A lot of patients that I see, their actual diet is pretty good. They’ve read a lot of blogs, they’ve made a lot of changes, and they come in to see me. They get frustrated. “Maybe I need to cut out this little bit of sugar here” or, “I go out with my friends on a Saturday and maybe I should just eat in every single day of the week.” And I think, “Hold on a minute. If we look at this four-pillar framework, your food choices are actually very, very good. What you need to do now is look at one of the other pillars.” Rather than trying to max out and get the very best and the most perfect diet that you can think of, I’m more about saying, “Your diet is good enough. You’ll get much more benefit by focusing on getting to sleep one hour earlier each night than you will trying to make a 5% improvement in your diet.” That’s how my approach plays out in reality for people.
Allan (08:41): You had a concept in the book, and you talked earlier about how people might not be recognizing the problem. I think one of the core concepts in your book – you call it “threshold effect”, is that there’s going to be a point when all of these different things that we’re not focusing on across the four different pillars – they’re added, they’re basically going to accumulate over time. So we see our friend and our friend is fine. They’re eating the same foods we are. We don’t know how well they’re sleeping, we don’t know how much they’re moving, and we don’t know how their stress level is relative to ours, but what we outwardly see from them is they’re living the same lifestyle we are. We don’t understand why we’ve gained 30 pounds and they have not. Can you talk a little bit about this threshold effect and how that actually is the point where we start to recognize a problem?
Dr. Chatterjee (9:34): Absolutely. I think this is a really key concept for people. This is the idea that as human beings, we’re incredibly resilient and our bodies can deal with quite a lot of stress before we start to show symptoms or signs of any disease. What I mean by that is, let’s say you were born in optimal health. And I guess we can’t make that assumption for everyone, but I think for most of us, we start off life in a pretty good place. We can deal with multiple insults. It could be a poor diet for five or ten years, it could be bullying at school, it could be the fact that we’ve sat on the couch a lot and not been very active since we’ve left college, and we’ve just started working and we just come back and sit on the sofa every day.
It could be the fact that we think that we can kill it really hard at work and actually stay up late watching Netflix every night and get by on four hours of sleep. But what we don’t realize is all of these things start to add up and accumulate. Just because you’re not showing symptoms, it doesn’t mean everything’s okay. And what tends to happen is that we’re getting closer and closer to our threshold with every new insult that we have to take. And then what happens is that something new happens. Let’s say we lose our job, or our girlfriend leaves us or something like that. That’s a stress onto the body and it tips you over your threshold. We often don’t think at that point, “That was the thing that got me ill; before then I was fine.” The point is, before then you weren’t fine. You were very, very close to your threshold, but that was the final piece that pushed you over.
It’s a little bit like if I’m in the room where I’m sitting now, if I try to juggle a ball, two balls, three balls, four balls, and if somebody lobs in a fifth ball, suddenly everything falls down. Back to the human body, especially with these chronic complaints that I’m seeing day in, day out in my practice, these things aren’t just down to one thing that someone’s perhaps not done to the best of their ability. This is a combination of lifestyle choices and factors over the years that have mounted up, and now it’s causing a problem. And when you get to that point, you almost have to start from scratch and rebuild everything.
A few years back I used to think nutrition was everything. I really did. And I maxed out with my nutrition, I used to do that with my patients. And it’s not that I think nutrition is unimportant, I just realized that it’s not everything for everyone. There are four core components of health that we have some large degree of control over – food and movement, sleep and relaxation. I passionately believe that when you actually take that rounded approach and do a few simple achievable things in each area, that’s when you get the long-term benefits. I don’t know if any of your previous guests have spoken about low carb diets at all. Has that come up on your show before?
Allan (12:25): Yeah. I spent a good portion of the year in ketosis, kind of seasonal ketosis. I don’t have any metabolic problems or any other issue that I think I should use it as a treatment. I just feel better when I am in a low carb, but I know that there are periods of time when I’m going to want to be with family, go ahead and have some beers with the guys while we’re watching football – that’s American football in this case, and there’s a season for that. So I go through that season as my feasting season, and after my feasting season ends with the New Year, I start working my way back into more of what I’ve called “famine” scenario.
And you talk about micro fast – it’s one of the things in there, but I look at what my ancestors would have gone through living in your part of the world – northern Europe. I’m not going to have access to tropical fruits for most of the year. In fact, in UK, unless it’s shipped in, you probably don’t have any tropical fruits. So just recognizing that my ancestry is from that part of the world. Tropical fruits and high sugar things are probably not something my body tolerates very well. And I find that if I can cut my sugars down relatively low, I do feel much better.
Dr. Chatterjee (13:44): Yeah, that’s incredible. Obviously you’re in tune with your own body and you’ve experimented and figured out what works for you. And that really isn’t a million miles away from what I’m trying to do with people with my book. It’s really to help show them how small changes can very quickly become new habits, and these new habits can become your health. Once you understand them, you can be empowered to make those choices. There’s nothing in the book where I’m telling somebody what to do, because that’s not really my approach as a doctor. I think if I told someone what to do, they might do it for a week or two weeks or three weeks, but then they’d get bored. What I’m trying to do is give them the science, give them some case studies and show them how that’s helped patients of mine, and then give them a choice.
So the way the book is structured is there are four pillars, so 25% of the book is on each different pillar of health – food, movement, sleep, and relaxation and relaxation. In each pillar there are five chapters, and each chapter is a suggestion. It’s not a prescription; it’s a suggestion. And four times five is 20. That means there are 20 suggestions in the book. I don’t expect anybody to do all 20. In fact, I think it’s going to be incredibly hard in the modern world to do 20. What I say is the majority of my patients need to do about two to three in each pillar. I think that takes the pressure off, because if one of the chapters, if one of the suggestions I’ve got doesn’t resonate with you and you think, “I can’t fit that into my life. That’s not really for me” – fine, don’t do it. I’m not trying to tell someone what to do. If that’s not going to work for you, fine. Move on to another one and find the recommendations and suggestions that you naturally resonate with and think, “Yeah, I can fit that into my life almost immediately.”
I think that’s what makes my approach slightly different. There’s not hard and fast rule. It’s very much about treating the reader like an adult and a partner and saying, “This is what’s going on. This is how some of my patients have been helped. What do you think? Is it worth a try?” The example I was going to bring up just before we went off on that low carb and you shared your experience with ketosis was, I’ve never been a huge fan of the term “low carb”, and the reason I’ve never been a fan of the term, even though I do use what would be considered that approach with some of my patients, particularly those with Type 2 Diabetes or insulin resistance, I think the quality of food very much determines a lot of its health benefits to the body.
Allan (16:13): Say that one more time please. I really want the listener to hear that statement because that is gold.
Dr. Chatterjee (16:21): I’m basically saying the quality of food is so, so important. If it was only about carbs, we have to be able to explain why in Okinawa in Japan they eat an 80% high carbohydrate diet, yet they don’t have Type 2 Diabetes and they don’t have all this degenerative disease that we get in the West. And one of the reasons is that the carbs they are having are very nourishing. It’s a lot of locally grown sweet potatoes that actually nourish our gut microbiome, which are the trillions of bugs that live inside us. So healthy microbiome often leads to positive health outcomes. The other thing we forget about sometimes is that those guys in Okinawa are also very well-slept, they’re physically active and they have low levels of stress, and they’ve got a very strong sense of community.
So it’s very hard to just look at their diet in isolation. I absolutely agree in the West, where we are under-slept, overstressed, physically inactive, and where we’re eating a lot of highly processed junk – a lot of it is highly processed carbs – there’s no question that what would be considered a low carb diet seems to have a really powerful benefit with so many people. But I speculate in my book, I try and take people through the science on both sides and say, could it be that there’s a particular role for this sort of low carb diet here in the West? In Okinawa, they actually find a way not to cross that threshold; another way. Does that make sense?
Allan (18:03): Yes.
Dr. Chatterjee (18:04): Health is a result of multiple things. I think looking at these four pillars, it’s a really great way to actually look at your own health. It’s not too big. You could easily make these six or seven or eight pillars, but the reason I chose four is I wanted this idea to take off and I want people to get their head around that. I’ve got an example of a patient who I saw recently, who had Type 2 Diabetes. And they had been reading blogs. In fact, they read one of my blogs on how a diet low in refined and processed carbohydrates can be helpful. And they have gone and changed their diet. Their blood sugar was getting better, but it had plateaued. He was a business executive. He was stressing out over his carbohydrate intake; he was pushing it further and further lower. He said, “I can’t understand why my blood sugar is not coming down any further.”
We used this four-pillar framework on him, and identified that he was highly stressed, he never had any time off, he’s a busy executive, and that stress was also leading to him not having good quality sleep. And I said to him, “I actually think it’s your stress levels and your lack of sleep that is keeping your blood sugar high, rather than your diet.” So I actually eased him off his diet. We increased the amount of carbohydrate he had. The refined and processed carbs were still low, but I increased the amount of carbohydrates he was having. We put into practice five minutes of meditation every day to help with the stress management. I said five minutes a day. I wasn’t talking about half an hour, crossed legs, saying “Ohm”, sitting in the corner. He had a one-hour wind down routine before bed, and we did a couple of other things around sleep and relaxation. And within four to six weeks his blood sugar started to drop back down to normal.
This is the point I’m trying to get across. We’ve become far too reductionist about health. Even in the lifestyle medicine movements, we are overly focused on one area. I genuinely feel that when you focus on all four areas, but you take the pressure off yourselves so you don’t need to be perfect – you don’t need the perfect diet or the perfect gym routine; you just need to do enough in each area – I think that’s where the magic happens.
Allan (20:24): In the book you had said something to the effect of, if they had two in one pillar in four in another pillar, they would do better to spend some time in the two pillars that they haven’t done any work in than to try to get to that fifth item in any of two pillars. I think a better math would have been to say the first one in a pillar gives you five points, the second one gives you four points, so there’s a diminishing return. Go to a different pillar – you’re going to get five points, versus the diminishing return you’d get staying in the same pillar. A good distribution process across all of these pillars is going to probably do you more good than trying to stay in one pillar.
Dr. Chatterjee (21:09): I think that’s a fantastic idea.
Allan (21:12): I’m an accountant by trade. It’s what I started out as, so when you give me a math problem and want me to gamify something, my head’s going to go there pretty quick.
Dr. Chatterjee (21:20): I think that’s a great idea. That really gets that concept across really well, that it’s about that balance. I’ll give you an example. The “Eat” pillar is the second pillar in the book, and I did that on purpose. I think a lot of people in the UK would have expected me to start with food. and I think relaxation and stress is very much undervalued in society, which is one of the reasons I started the book with that pillar. One of the recommendations I make in the “Eat” pillar is, if you have tried in the past to change what you eat unsuccessfully, perhaps you should start with changing when you eat. It’s this idea of, can you eat all of your food that you’re going to eat within a 12-hour window? That could be 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening or 8:00 in the morning till 8:00 in the evening. You can choose as to what fits your lifestyle.
A lot of this research comes from studies that Dr. Satchidananda Panda in San Diego has been doing at the Salk Institute. Lots of these so far have been done in animals, I do accept that; although human trials are underway in the early results are very, very promising. It’s this idea that actually if all you do is compress your eating window, and let’s be honest, 12 hours is doable for pretty much everyone; there are very few people that won’t eat all their food within a 12-hour eating window.
Allan (22:43): All it really means is if you get a good eight hours of sleep, which is one of the other pillars, then you’re only going to be awake for four hours that you’re not eating. So that can be two hours before you start eating, after you wake up, and two hours before you go to bed; or it can be you stop eating four hours before you go to bed. It’s just what fits your lifestyle, but that’s a very doable intermittent fasting window.
Dr. Chatterjee (23:12): It’s very doable, and we know that you can have lower levels of inflammation, better blood sugar control, improved immune system function, you can lose weight, improve your mitochondrial function. All kinds of things have been reported, benefits of this kind of intervention. Here’s the key for me. A lot of people say, “I can do the 12 hours, so can I get more benefit if I move that down to 10 hours?” Or move it down to eight hours or six hours. And here’s where my approach probably is slightly difference. I say some people can, there’s no question. But for me, if you can eat all your food within a 12-hour eating window, give yourself a tick and move on to another pillar or move on to another suggestion, because my approach isn’t about maxing out in one area.
I see this all the time. I see this on social media, I see this with many of my patients. If they’re into food for example, they want to go all in: “How much better can I make this? Can I fast for 16 hours a day? Can I make my diet 2%, 3%…?” Meanwhile, neglecting the fact that they only get four hours sleep a night, neglecting the fact they’re glued to their smartphone from 5:00 AM till 1:00 AM. My point is trying to say that is good enough for me. For most of my patients 12 hours seems to be good enough. I get it – some people will say, “When I make that smaller, when I make it an 8-hour eating window, I feel fantastic.” Of course, there’s always going to be that trial and error that we can do, but the primary focus of my approach is to say 12 hours is enough. Let’s focus on something else now and give you that really rounded 360 degree approach to health.
Allan (24:50): I’m working on a book myself, and one of the concepts I put in the book is a story of this professor who brings out these big rocks, these little rocks and the sand. And he tells the class that they can get all of that into this particular jar, and he tasks them with doing so. And they try several different ways. They can’t seem to get all the big rocks, little rocks and the sand in that jar. And he comes out and demonstrates by putting the big rocks in first, starting to put in the little rocks and shaking them to a point where they settle, and then putting the sand in and shaking it to a point it settles. You chain effect to get all of that in there, but it takes a methodology. The core of that methodology is to focus on the big rocks first.
As think about your four pillars, it’s like I might have a bigger rock in my relaxation / stress pillar than I have in my food pillar, because I’ve already done all the big rocks in my food. So moving onto the stress one and actually focusing on a big rock is going to give me a lot more benefit than trying to deal with the sand that I have left in the food area.
Dr. Chatterjee (25:58): Absolutely.
Allan (26:00): We’ve talked a little bit about food, as far as looking at an eating window, we’ve talked a little bit about stress from the perspective of your client that incorporated some things about his meditation. And you talked a little bit about him having a ritual beforehand of about an hour getting ready for sleep. Could you talk a little bit more about that one?
Dr. Chatterjee (26:24): Sure. Why do you start with sleep? There’s no question, we’re in the middle of a sleep deprivation epidemic. About a year ago, some scientists from Oxford University came out and said that they think we’re sleeping one to two hours less per night than we were 60 years ago. That’s incredible because in the context of an eight-hour sleep cycle, we may have lost up to 25% of our sleep. I think that’s absolutely incredible. When we think about what happens when we sleep and the potential benefits of having a good night’s sleep, we know in the short term we have better energy, better concentration, our relationships with those close to us and our work colleagues and much better. We crave better foods when we have slept well.
But long-term as well, we know that a lack of sleep is associated with pretty much every single chronic disease that we’ve got, whether it’s Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, even Alzheimer’s disease. Matthew Walker is one of the world’s premier sleep researchers recently, and he said there’s pretty compelling evidence that a lack of sleep may be causative for Alzheimer’s. If that’s true, it’s just incredible how much we undervalue sleep. The crux of the matter with sleep is that for the majority of people who are struggling with their sleep, they are doing something in their everyday lifestyle that they don’t realize is affecting their ability to sleep at night. I think it’s a really important point to hammer home. Yes, primary sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea do exist, there’s no question. But I’m saying that the majority of people who I see in my practice or when I go around the country in the UK speaking – the majority of people who want to improve their sleep can do so by changing various aspects of their lifestyle.
I mention something that I call in my book, the “No tech 90” – this idea that for 90 minutes before bed, can you switch off your modern tech? If 90 minutes is too much, start with 10 minutes. Build it to 20 minutes, 30 minutes. I’m not too prescriptive, but I think 90 minutes is a really good thing to aim for. And there are two reasons why that works so well. The first reason is because a lot of these electronic devices like smartphones and tablets emit a form of light called “blue light”. If you go out in nature, blue wavelength light is only really seen in the morning. So your body’s used to seeing it in the morning and we’re not really seeing it in the evening. What happens is if we’re looking at our devices in the evening, that blue light is sending a signal to your body that it’s daytime, and it can reduce quite dramatically levels of a hormone called Melatonin.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone. If we had a drug that was going to reduce the levels of your sleep hormone, Melatonin, there would be a huge alarm sign on it. In the side effect package it would say, “Please note, this changes your hormone levels.” Yet, the majority of the Western world at least are actually doing that every night by looking at these devices. So, blue light is one reason why these devices can have such a detrimental impact on our sleep, but the other reason is that if you’re scrolling Facebook or [inaudible], the emotional noise coming into your brain is just continuous.
Just as with your children, you don’t wind them up with scary stories and lots of sugar and bright lights in the hour before bed. You start to wind them down to create the right environment so that the body wants to switch off and relax. We as adults are no different. I’ve found that both for adults as well as children, actually switching off your tech an hour, an hour and a half before bed, can be incredibly helpful and helping you fall asleep. So that’s something you can do in the evening. But the other one, which is rather counterintuitive, and there’s a chapter in the book called Embrace Morning Light. That basically explains to people why if you’re struggling to sleep in the evening, often it’s because you’re not getting enough natural daylight in the morning.
And the reason is that we as humans have evolved to have a very big differential between our maximum light exposure and our least light exposure. So if you were to go outside on a sunny day for about 20 minutes or so, you’d probably be exposed to 30,000 lux of light. Lux is a unit of light. A dark green will be zero lux. Go outside on a bright sunny day and it’s about 30,000 lux. Even if you go outside on a cloudy overcast day, you’re still probably getting 10,000 to 15,000 lux. If you go into a brightly lit office, at most you’ll be getting 500, or even you might be getting up to 900 or 1,000 lux. But nothing compared to going outside. Here’s the points. If you, particularly in the depths of winter when it’s dark, depending on where in the world you live, a lot of people are spending the majority of their day indoor or in the dark. Your body is not getting that big differential between maximum light exposure and minimum light exposure.
So this book came out in the UK a few months ago, and the feedback I’m getting from people is just incredible. Some people are saying that they’ve not slept this well for 20, 30 years just by applying some of the tips that I talk about, and one of those is getting outside in the morning. One of the things you alluded to at the start is that this book and my approach is full of practical tips, because I didn’t want to just write a book where people read it and go, “That sounds great in theory.” I wanted to write something that people feel as they’re reading it, “I could do that straight away.” The tips that I put in the book have literally come from 17 years of seeing patients; not only what the science says, also what the patients report back, what actually works in real life, with busy people with busy lives. And that’s the core thing for me – I try to make all these things achievable. So the Embrace Morning Light chapter, I say, “Can you make a habit – every morning you’re going to get out for 10, 15 minutes, ideally half an hour? Can you build in a morning, breaks at your work, even at lunchtime, the first thing you do is go outside for 20, 30-minute walk, just to get you that light exposure?” These things work, and are not as hard as people think.
Allan (32:57): Yeah, and I think that’s why I really liked this book. Across all four pillars, these are reasonable, actionable steps, and they're fairly simple. Obviously someone can do more after they feel like they’ve gotten good coverage across the four, but if they do the four, then they’re really getting themselves away from that threshold we talked about and they’re pulling themselves back into understanding that this is a system – a system of movement, a system of sleep, a system of stress reduction, and a system of eating the right things to fuel your body. And as a result, all that pulls you together to be more healthy, and as you put it, make disease disappear. Dr. Chatterjee, if someone wanted to get in touch with you to learn more about the book, learn more about what you’re doing, where would you like for me to send them?
Dr. Chatterjee (33:47): There are lots of resources on my website DrChatterjee.com. If you guys go to DrChatterjee.com/book, there are all kinds of resources and blogs relating to the book, including something called The Five-Minute Kitchen Workout, which is one of the big hits from the book, which I encourage you to check out. You can actually find a very quick and easy way that you can start to incorporate strength training into your everyday life that doesn’t cost any money or require you to join a gym. So I’d probably point you there. If you’re on social media, I’m very active on Facebook and Instagram and the handle is @DrChatterjee. And on Twitter it’s @DrChatterjeeUK. Those are probably the best places to find me.
Allan (34:28): Outstanding. So you can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/320. This is episode 320, so go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/320 and I’ll have all the links there. So again, Dr. Chatterjee, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Chatterjee (34:47): Thank you. Really appreciate you having the time to get me on. Thank you.
Fred Bartlit is the author of the book, Choosing the StrongPath. Fred chose to change his life when his wife, Jana pushed him to begin taking his fitness seriously. As he aged, he noticed that the friends he had that were his age were falling off and not participating in activities like skiing.
Beginning in our 30's we begin losing around 1% of our muscle mass per year. That puts us into a death spiral that if not addressed, we'll end up disabled and face many chronic diseases. This is preventable with a resistance training program.
Falls are a very common and they can lead to disability and death. Being stronger not only reduces the likelihood of falls, it also prepares the body to handle falls better.
Sponsor: This episode of the 40+ Fitness Podcast is sponsored by Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Company. They are offering you a $39 bottle of their high quality, fresh-pressed olive oil for only $1. Go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/oliveoil to learn more.
You should go the gym and get a trainer to teach you proper form. It is a great investment to get started on the right foot. A solid program will work all of the muscle groups with good variety. Having control and avoiding ballistic movements that can cause injury. Fred has a strategy for the time he is in the gym, with focus and dedication.
Just like there are different types of attorneys, trainers can specialize on older individuals. That will allow them to provide the best advice and guidance, allowing you to train, get the gains, without injury.
At the age of 85, almost 85, Fred's commitment to the StrongPath has him breaking life-long strength goals.
We should lose no more than 1 – 1 1/2 pounds per week. Losing more than that is not sustainable or healthy. To lose weight, you should record your weight where you see it each day. If you aren't getting results, pay attention to what you're eating and change to get yourself back on path.
All that said, the wafer thin woman is no longer the ideal of beauty. Instead, being strong and fit is seen as beautiful. Women that follow the StrongPath are on their way to looking and feeling their best.
Jay Dicharry, the author of Running Rewired, is board- certified Sports Clinical Specialist. He focuses on running biomechanics. Beyond therapy, he seeks to correct the muscle imbalances that lead many runners to injury.
What really happens when you run
When we run, we are putting the body through a high amount of stress. The forces on the body can exceed 2 1/2 times our body weight. For an overweight runner, this can make running not only difficult but dangerous.
One of the main areas that cause running injuries is a weak core. But the fix is not just about doing crunches or planks. You should look at your core as if were an aluminum can. A can will support a great deal of weight. However, if you make a small dent in the side, and the can collapses. This is why it is critical to ensure the full musculature of the core is strong, balanced, and stable.
Sponsor: This episode of the 40+ Fitness Podcast is sponsored by Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Company. They are offering you a $39 bottle of their high quality, fresh-pressed olive oil for only $1. Go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/oliveoil to learn more.
Quads vs Glutes
Your running correlates with the way you move. If you squat and you find that you squat more forward, you're using your quads too much. If you squat more toward the back, then you may be glute dominant. You can do an exercise of squatting down and at the bottom position, oscillate forward and backward to feel how to activate both. The more you can use your glutes (the stronger muscles), the more powerful your running will be.
Muscular endurance, strength, and mass
Most runners don't want to lift weights because they don't want to add too much mass. But there are ways to use weights to improve your running. To improve your running economy, you want to be able to put more force down on the ground in a shorter period of time. That requires heavier loads with squats, deadlifts. Plyometrics and powerlifting are very effective tools to improve your running. You won't gain much weight as you'll still be running and sarcopenia will keep you from putting on too much muscle.
You can learn more about Jay Dicharry and Running Rewired at LINK.
Jonathan Beverly is the author of Run Strong, Stay Hungry, a collection of tips and wisdom from veteran runners who are still running after many years.
The book includes nine principles that would keep someone engaged in running over the years. Surprisingly, only three are physiological and six are psychological. A few include: