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I don’t want to be sick

19 Mar

I don’t want to be sick die

I often fear getting old, becoming weak and vulnerable; or even dying young from the dreaded C word with nothing to show for my meager existence. Over the years I’ve noticed the wrinkles on my parents hands and have realized that they are slower and more tired than they were before, and it only draws more attention to my own sore back and the laugh lines that peer from below the surface of my skin. They’re becoming less and less bashful and remind me that I am in fact an adult and can no longer, for practical reasons, be careless and carefree.

So with panic in my throat, and denial in the back of my head, I moisturize, hydrate, and update myself on the latest antioxidants and Superfoods. Yet despite these cautions, I still put myself in less-than-ideal situations for my survival.

I struggle to breathe sometimes.

Not because this fear and responsibility overwhelms and consumes me, but because my body physically doesn’t allow me to breathe. It’s too protective, and even more neurotic than my mind, and thinks harmless things – dust, cats, cold, humidity – are out to get me. So my bronchioles overreact and tighten, hiding from the imminent danger that isn’t there.

I’ve had asthma all my life, but that hasn’t kept me from hanging out with the cool smokers and playing with the sassy feline that very well could send me to the emergency room again. I pretend I’m ok and that the cough is just a cold that is coming on, and I’ll be able to sleep it off. I skip my medication because I ‘don’t need it’, and sit in the backyard in the summer rather than in the air-conditioned safety of the indoors because vitamin D will combat any ill effects of ragweed.

The magnitude of my condition didn’t hit me until recently when a chest X-ray came back showing what looked like fibrosis in my lungs.

My lungs are scarred. Lung tissue that’s been scarred won’t regenerate. I’ve reduced my already limited capacity to breathe by being stupid. What exactly this means for me, I don’t know. But a few fears may materialize.

I will never have a dog.

I won’t be able to go outside if it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, or too wet.

I will have to hold my breath every time I leave a bar or restaurant until I pass the congregation of smokers that hang out by the doors.

I won’t be able to exercise or be active spontaneously because I need to time my inhaler dosing.

I am going to create a super sterile living environment to protect myself from asthma which will end up promoting asthma in my children.

There will be an apocalypse and I will fail epically at Survival of the Fittest when my nemesis blows dust in my face and kicks my inhaler out of the reach of my extended arm after I collapse to the floor grasping my chest.

I am not healthy.


I understand that there are far worse things that could have been said to me in that waiting room that day, and I understand that there are far worse things that people need to live with and die from. Maybe I just feel that this is just the beginning of the dark road of invincibility, for myself and for my parents, and I’m not ready to accept that yet. I’m not ready to give up control.

But I know that panic and dread will only make things worse and take away from the quality of my life. The last time I had to go to the emergency room with shortness of breath, the intern who saw me wore a “Keep Breathing, Keep Loving” sweatshirt. My fears consume me and the most appropriate thing to do is to in fact breathe.

The irony of that is not lost on me; I just don’t know whether to feel enlightened or enraged by this.


It’s just a body

16 Feb

It’s just a body

Holds your guts and soul together
Yes, take care of it, feed it, take it for a walk, hydrate it,

Decorate it, cover it, expose it but don’t let it take you hostage.

Don’t be its prisoner.

It has its own spirit and if its spirit has no thigh-gap, its spirit has no thigh gap.

Let it do what it’s meant to do, and let the thighs meet each other. Let them say hi.

The worst thing you can do is hate it and want to tear it apart from you, tear away from your skin

and separate.

Your body has been through things. Mitosis. Childbirth maybe. Happiness, losses, gains, pains. Bodies change. You don’t have the same mind you had at 16 and you don’t have the same body at 16. Let it go, it’s not there anymore.

It’s resilient but it doesn’t forget, there’s only so much you can erase. It’s just a part of the whole, not the whole. Just be at peace with it, work with it, not against it. But understand that it won’t always listen because sometimes it just knows better.

Just be.

The Link between Stress and Health

28 Dec

Why an evolutionary response that helped us survive is now compromising our health

Have you ever noticed that before a big exam or visit from the in-laws your nose starts to run, your head starts to ache, and you begin to fall ‘under the weather’?  This is not a coincidence or bad timing, but rather a manifestation of the intricate relationship between stress and health.

This relationship is based on an evolutionary response that is called the fight or flight response.  This adrenaline-based response occurs automatically when we perceive danger, and was actually very useful back when we were hunting and gathering our food.  We would see a threat or target-depending on how you interpret it-such as a lion, and our bodies would respond by elevating heart rate and breathing, dilating the pupils, narrowing our focus, and shunting blood away from our extremities (so we won’t bleed to death if our hands get cut). This response was preparation for what would happen next: we would either fight the lion, or run away from it (flight).

The problem is that these days we don’t face similar dangers on a daily basis, yet we still have this evolutionary response hard-wired in us.  During the fight or flight response, our body puts functions such as digestion and immunity on hold since they are not necessary for fighting off an external threat.

Furthermore, this response is activated by both the nervous system and the hormonal system so that hours after the perceived threat is gone, stress hormones linger in our bodies. So now when we perceive things such as public speaking, school, work or family as something scary, we have an exaggerated and lingering stress response and a greater susceptibility to infection and sickness.  This is why you get a dry mouth and cold hands when you have to make a major presentation, or find yourself getting sick during important (yet stressful) life events.

Interestingly, something as simple as going for a routine check-up with your doctor can set the fight or flight response in motion.  Many people experience “white-coat syndrome” where they will have a normal blood pressure on the way to and from the doctor’s office, but when they go in to meet the doctor face to face, their blood pressure skyrockets.  Fear of bad news, anxiety of getting a needle, or removing clothing for a check-up are all very real things that can trigger an intense bodily response!

Now imagine if you were always on edge and just couldn’t relax. Your blood pressure would be high all the time, your heart would be working overtime, your digestive system would not be able to properly absorb the nutrients your body needs, and you would be taking a lot of sick days!  This is a formula for disaster and can put a serious damper on your well-being.

So try to indulge in at least one thing each day that is going to make you happy, whether it’s reading your favorite novel, enjoying your favorite latte or taking a nap in your favorite pajamas. Feel free to take a chill pill once in a while for the betterment of your health!

Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats: a Look at Macronutrients

7 Dec

Our bodies require nutrients from food sources to thrive. Nutrients can be classified into macronutrients (macro=large) such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins; and micronutrients (micro=small) such as vitamins and minerals that are required in smaller quantities. This article will discuss macronutrients.

Carbohydrates and the Glycemic index

All carbohydrates from food sources such as breads, pastas, and vegetables are broken down to glucose (sugar) molecules in the digestive system and then released into the blood stream. Some carbohydrates such as white bread and rice are broken down very quickly in the digestive system and as a result blood glucose levels go up very fast. This is undesirable as it increases the risk for diabetes as it makes it more difficult to control glucose levels; increases appetite; and increases the risk for heart disease.

The glycemic index illustrates which carbohydrates tend to release glucose into the blood quickly (i.e. high glycemic index) and slowly (i.e. low glycemic index). It is preferable to chose low-glycemic index foods.


Protein from sources like animal meat, lentils and tofu are the building blocks for our muscles and help keep us strong. Protein should make up to 15-20% of your daily dietary intake and come from lean sources (e.g. avoid bacon and foie gras).

Fats- Not all are created equal

Fats can be categorized as unsaturated and saturated. Saturated fats usually come from animal sources such as meat, cheese, butter and ice cream, but can also come from non-animal sources like coconut and palm oil. These types of fats are considered ‘unhealthy’ because they are chemically ‘less fluid’ are ‘more stiff’ than unsaturated fats. To put this in perspective, imagine if the cells of your heart were made up of stiff cells versus more fluid and movable cells.

Fats should make up no more than 35% of your daily dietary intake, and the majority should come from unsaturated fat. Sources of unsaturated fat that you can include in your diet include olive oil, fish, nuts, and legumes.

Macronutrient % of Daily Dietary Intake Important considerations Examples
Carbohydrate 45-65% Choose low glycemic index and high fibre carbohydrates Whole grain and high fibre foods such as breads, pastas, oat, lentils, eggplant, okra, barley, spinach
Protein 10-30% Choose lean meats or vegetable sources Chicken, turkey, lentils, tofu
Fat <35% Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources and avoid saturated and trans fats. Olive oil, fish oil

You’re holding a barbell. Now what?

13 Nov

Ever wonder how body-builders do it? Aside from strict diets, hours in the gym, immense dedication and the possible consumption of illegal and harmful steroids, body builders get their bulky look from lifting higher weights at lower repetitions.  So if you want to be the next Salman Khan, a good start is with 3 sets of 6-12 reps at 70-80% 1RM.

Resistance training has been found to provide a range of health benefits including the prevention of sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass with aging) and osteoporosis (the loss of bone density with aging) and improvements in metabolism.  Although these benefits are reason enough to hit the gym, most of us don’t know where to start, or are concerned more so with the aesthetics of strength training (be it the pursuit of a lean tone, or a ‘bulging t-shirt’ effect), or with the improvements in our ability to play certain sports.

Before starting a resistance training program, there are a few concepts you should become familiar with.

Reps and Sets

In the resistance training world, a repetition, or rep, refers to how many times an exercise such as a bicep curl is repeated. A set is simply how many groups of repetitions you do.  For example, you could do 3 sets of 12 reps for a total of 36 reps. You should always take a break between sets to rest and stretch the muscle.

1 RM

One Repetition Max, or 1RM, is the maximum weight you can lift through your full range of motion, only once. So if you are doing bicep curls, it is the maximum weight you can hold in your hand with your arm extended, and bring up to your shoulder while bending at the elbow. If you can do two of these movements with this weight, this is not your 1RM, it is your 2RM for your biceps muscle. Calculate your 1RM for all muscles you want to work on.

Muscular Power

Power is defined as efficient muscular contraction and requires a balance of speed and strength.  Power is demonstrated in actions where quick acceleration is required such as jumping for a basketball rebound or throwing a football. It is not surprising then that power is developed through performing maximum contraction in the shortest time possible. The best way to improve power in your sport activities is very simple: practice the action. That means if you want to jump higher in basketball, practice jumping and not throwing.  But be careful! Power training is particularly dangerous because of its quick nature. It is also important to have some degree of muscular strength and endurance (described below) before working on power. Do not focus on power if you are relatively inactive since you may get hurt.

Muscular Strength

This is often what we think we are improving when we lift weights, which is understandable since we often refer to resistance training as strength training.  However, strength, or the ability to exert force (and this force doesn’t have to be exerted quickly as in power), is most optimally improved at a certain workload.  Specifically, you need to do 3 sets of 5-8 reps at 80-90% 1RM.  Improving muscular strength improves your ability to do things such as open pickle jars, lift heavy boxes and climb stairs, which is especially important in older adults.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability to contract a muscle repeatedly over a period of time, and individuals with high muscular endurance often have a lean and toned appearance. Muscular endurance is required for running, swimming and dancing and although participation in these activities will improve endurance, you can also include a resistance-training program of 3 sets of 12-15 reps at 60-70% 1RM.  Keep in mind that you will also be improving your muscular strength during muscle endurance training.


Ever wonder how body-builders do it? Aside from strict diets, hours in the gym, immense dedication and the possible consumption of illegal and harmful steroids, body builders get their bulky look from lifting higher weights at lower repetitions.  So if you want to be the next Salmaan Khan, a good start is with 3 sets of 6-12 reps at 70-80% 1RM.


If you ever have the misfortune of being injured and you don’t have the ability to consult with a physiotherapist, you can improve muscle functionality by performing 3 sets of 6-10 reps at 50-60% twice a day. Be sure to see a doctor before doing this.

Remember: Be careful! You can hurt yourself training so make sure you stretch and have a buddy nearby who can help you lift weights safely if you get tired. And always give your muscles 48 hrs of rest before you start working out again. A good method is to alternate muscle groups everyday so you don’t injure yourself.

% 1RM Reps
Power 90-100 1-5
Strength 80-90 5-8
Bulk 70-80 6-12
Endurance 60-70 12-15
Rehabilitation 50-60 6-10