“Everything looks great! Keep doing what you are doing.” This was my Doctor’s evaluation during my last yearly wellness check sometime mid-Pandemic. My blood work was good, apparently my heart sounded good, and I didn’t seem ready to keel over dead any time soon. This is the way my annual check-ups have gone for as long as I can remember. I left the office feeling pretty good about myself, paperwork in hand for next year’s lab work. I will admit to being mildly surprised that my blood work was still “within spec”. The COVID-19 shutdown all things racing and life in general had played hell with my attitude toward training and food. Without foreseeable races coming up, I trained enough to say I exercised. I watched my daily running mileage shrink and slow. With gym shutdowns, swimming and weight training became non-existent. I loathe weight and strength training on a good day so inspiring myself at home was nearly impossible. Bike mileage was at an all time low as well. Unlike most triathletes who live by the phrase “float, hammer, jog”, I just don’t love the bike that much.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working at home since March 12th of 2020. While I love the flexibility in my day this provides and have gained great health benefits from losing the 38 mile one-way commute, the downside is that I’m never more than a few steps from the pantry. That combined with my wife’s penchant to keep plenty of chocolate on hand in case of another supply shortage, and the daily doses of stress from life in the corporate world, I will say a bit more junk food has passed the lips of this 55 year old the last year than really should. Hmmm. Perhaps a lot more junk food. The good report from the doctor served to solidify my state of denial.
I had my next annual doctor at the end of June so had fasted overnight the previous Sunday and headed to Quest Diagnostic Laboratories early on Monday to get a blood test. In 2021 results happen quickly and I got a text early Tuesday that results were available. Expecting no surprises, I logged in to the patient portal and immediately saw a result tagged red. This happens when a value from the test is considered out of range. I zoomed in on the results and discovered, for the first time ever, my “bad cholesterol” or LDL was 102 which is 2 points above what is considered okay. Surprise!
Given that I’ve added chocolate, cookies, and similar junk food as a major food group to my daily diet, maybe it really wasn’t that surprising of a result. In case I needed further evidence of suspiciously bad food choices, there is the baby bump that has formed over over my belt buckle in the last few months. While conspiracy-minded folks on social media might claim there are undocumented side effects of the Pfizer vaccine, I’m pretty sure post-menopausal male pregnancy isn’t one of them. I’m pretty sure the baby bump is more of a bon bon bump.
To be sure, I logged into the health resources available through work and launched the course material regarding high cholesterol. Oddly, I’ve typically opened these classes and clicked “next” in rapid fire fashion simply to get the insurance incentive viewing such material gives me. It turns out, there’s pretty good information available for free! Who knew? So I grabbed a
chocolate chip cookie handful of baby carrots and began reading. Needless to say, there was nothing revolutionary out there but I did confirm a few suspicions. Most notably:
What affects cholesterol levels?
- The foods you eat
- Being overweight
- Being inactive
- Family History
Looking more closely we’ll start by skipping #1 and begin with “Being overweight”. Despite the baby/bon bon bump, I am not overweight. Am I heavier than I was last spring when lock downs began? Yep. Probably by 5-6 lbs or so at least. At the high point of the winter, maybe even 7 or 8 lbs. Additionally, despite getting back to a similar weight, without being a physiatrist, I can tell my body composition has changed. Less exercise equals a flabbier Pete.
We can go ahead and cross inactive off. Yes, I sit for my desk job most days, and I’ve not been motivated to go train hard, but in my worst weeks I’m putting in way more effort to exercise than something like 90% of other people my age. While at the height of my training for long-course triathlon, it was not uncommon to squeeze in thrice-daily workouts, I still get a solid one to two hours or more of good exercise daily including running, walking, swimming, and cycling every day and have so basically for as long as I can remember. Granted, my running paces had slowed but that is changing. Regardless, I’m pretty sure I can cross inactivity off the list as a cause of my 13 point jump in cholesterol from last year to this year.
For age, the materials say that cholesterol starts to rise after age 20. Hmmm. I’m just barely past that. I got carded buying wine the other day. (I did. Really.) Moving on.
As far as family history, I think Mom may have had some cholesterol issues but I don’t know for sure. It’s tough to reference the medical history of dead people.
Never smoked. Never will. Yuck.
Which takes us back to “The foods you eat”. I can beat around the bush all I want but can’t ignore the giant, chocolate elephant in the room. Or the giant cookie in the room. Or the big dish of real ice cream in the room. Oh who are we kidding? None of those things are “in the room” because I already ate them.
I continued reading. The big problem with high LDL and low HDL (good cholesterol) is it all contributes to the possibility of heart disease. I don’t think that bit of news is a big revelation to anyone but the materials used the supporting data to create a segue to a general discussion on a heart-healthy lifestyle.
While the course material was interesting, and I did benefit from a few extra bucks knocked off my insurance premium for reading it, there was nothing I really didn’t already know there. Once finished, I reopened my lab tests and looked again at the numbers. Harsh reality came crashing home and I left the state of denial.
The last time I experienced such a wake up call was well over 12 years ago when Janice snapped an innocent picture of five left-handers in a row at an archery tournament. It was very unusual and featured some dude with a big fat belly as the centerpiece. (Yours truly.) I worked really hard for a couple years and a) got rid of the big fat belly b) transformed from a person who couldn’t walk up a flight of steps without approaching heart failure to a multiple-marathoner and Ironman finisher. So I know the discipline it takes to get my proverbial healthy poop together and get that LDL back down.
I’m adding some new health and fitness goals for the first time in a long time. Ready?
- LDL back under 100.
- Weight down to 165 lbs
- New post-55 5K PR. (Can I go sub-20:00 one more time before I die?)
Even as I publish this post, I’m two weeks into a vastly improved diet with less added sugar, almost no garbage, and a lot more healthy fruits and veggies. If you are a MyFitnessPal user feel free to track me down at PeteGithens and hold me accountable. (I’d love to add a link to my profile here but MFP and an iPad don’t seem to play all that well together for such purposes.