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The Usual Suspects. Portobello Road, London. Photo by Mish Aminoff.
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January 9, 2023Mental Health Is A Major Problem Mental health continues to be a significant concern. It’s an issue that our health services and society struggle to cope with. The statistics suggest one in four people suffers from a mental illness. The cost to the UK economy of mental illness is £35 billion annually. Behind the raw numbers, there are worrying sub-sectors, such as suicide rates. 20% of people have suicidal thoughts. 7% attempt suicide and a similar number self-harm. Roughly 6,000 suicides a year in the UK, and the number is not coming down. 75% of suicides are men, with middle age seeing the highest incidence. Enough of me repeating statistics. You can find much better information here, here, and here. I want to ask people who have experienced mental health issues to help those struggling. Take your mental health experience and pay it forward. Between 70% and 75% of people with mental health issues are not receiving any treatment. That’s shocking. Whether it’s the overwhelmed NHS or people afraid to speak up about their issues, many people need help. Can We Talk About Mental Health? There is more discussion on the subject of mental health today. Prominent celebrities and sportspeople, for example, speak up and help others to open up about their struggles. That’s helpful to some extent. There is a level of performative dialogue, as happens when any social shift occurs. Sadly, some can use it to inflate their social media credibility. Some can accuse others of using mental health to cover a perceived failure. Yet this is all white noise. Look past this to find someone who needs help. If you have suffered or do suffer a mental illness then you know what a lonely and isolated place that is. There’s your starting point; empathy. That’s your superpower. You have experienced being asked how you are, and you replying “ok”. Of course, when you are the furthest it’s possible to be from “ok”. As an older man, I have been through decades of mental health struggles. The loneliness crushes you. The confusion; I couldn’t name mental illness as a young man. I was simply “a bit odd” or “an angry young man”. It was my fifth decade before I found my way to the doorstep of a therapist. If you haven’t been there, you haven’t had to go through the process. Of wondering if it’s ok to talk to someone. Where to get support from. Afraid of losing your job. Not wanting to be isolated by people. Mental Health – Pay It Forward I admire everyone who steps up and tells the world about their battle with mental health. Because each story chips away at the prejudice. There’s more we can do. You don’t have to be a mental health professional. Don’t be afraid of discussing someone’s mental health. It’s alright to talk about a person’s suicidal thoughts. Again I leave the advice to the experts here, here, and here. If you feel in a position to help someone suffering from a mental health problem, do so. Take your lived experience with your health and use it to support someone else. Pay it forward. It can help another person immensely. You may well find it helps you too. After all, sufferers from anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness can find that healing is a lifelong undertaking. The most potent inflection points in my recovery were conversations with people. Quite often, unexpected people. We aren’t all equipped to talk to someone about their suicidal thoughts. I have a couple of very dear friends of over thirty and forty years, respectively, and they couldn’t help me. I could feel their burning impotence when it came to me saying, “I’m totally fucked, mate”. But this is the reason people who have been there and dealt with mental health issues are well-placed to have a positive effect. Don’t Believe The OK I have paid my experience forward six times in the last six months. In all cases, it helped the other party. This is not the part where I go off on a humble brag. This is the part where I tell you to act. And that it can be anything from one conversation to an ongoing check-in and mentoring arrangement. Let the other person lead. You are there to listen and support, that’s it. The person in front of you sets the pace. In one instance, a stilted hello led to a long conversation in which someone told me their story. I listened and said the odd thing and we had a hug and parted, and we message each other every so often. Another person gave major “I’m ok” verbal statements while radiating a lost air. I asked the person if they were alright, really alright, and the answer was no. I could give advice and point this person in the direction of some practical help. A third was another where another “ok” was quickly followed by welling up and “shit actually”. A long listening session occurred, and when I saw this person again some months later they were in a positive place, and we reflected on the day we talked. Again, this is no humble brag. Two different things happened here. Someone wanted to talk about something profoundly traumatic, and I listened and said very little. In the other two instances, I did not buy the “ok”. Maybe it sounds intrusive, but I gently persisted, and once the first desperate defence mechanism was gone, the other person could then move forward and express their challenges to me. I’m no expert; I have no training. I do have a family-sized can of empathy, and that helped me to help someone. Use Your Superpower I believe in the mental health pay-it-forward principle. If you’ve been there, you know how tough it is to be alone. Alone and scared, or lost. Your superpower of empathy can help you smell out the coping and defence mechanisms. It knows how to proceed when it comes to listening when it comes to the gentle coaxing to get past the “ok”. Your empathy knows that while an outpouring of visceral emotion is more than likely happening to the person in front of you, there will also be a huge relief of pressure and a chance for them to download. If you have suffered from mental illness in the past and you are feeling in a good place, consider helping someone. And remember, it will likely help your journey too. Please feel free to contact me here. Feel free to give my details to anyone who may want to have a chat. Let me know if you want to help someone, and let’s see if we can make that happen. If it’s a case of just wanting to say hello to me, reach out. Most importantly, remember there is someone in your life, someone close to you, who would appreciate a conversation. Trust me; there is someone close by. Do Me A Favour If I could ask a favour? If this resonates with you in any way, please, as well as paying it forward yourself, pass this thought to someone else. The more people who give this a crack, the more we can continue to integrate the subject of mental health into the mainstream. We can make those conversations everyday conversations. We can move towards each other and ease the pain of the silent suffering many of us have experienced and do experience. [...] Read more...
December 31, 2022How Bad Do You Want It? Mind over body is the subject of a fascinating book by Matt Fitzgerald, recommended by a colleague. It’s on the subject of the limiting factor in endurance performance being the brain and not the body. It’s based on the 1990s work by South African Professor Tim Noakes, who has more than once proposed controversial ideas in human performance science. Noakes’ mooted the central governor theory, which proposes that the brain ‘protects’ the body from damage by reducing the neural recruitment of muscle fibres, so that exercise intensity cannot damage the heart muscle. Therefore if you can control your mind and push through the toughest of circumstances, your body will deliver extraordinary performances. This is best demonstrated to a layperson like me at the end of brutal events. Where does that seemingly impossible burst come from at the end of the race? The brain anticipates the end of the risk to the body and lets the handbrake off, knowing safety is in sight. The book tells the stories of various people who have produced performances well beyond what they believed possible, where mind over body was a key factor. While highly entertaining and inspiring, I have a creeping doubt about the theory. Simply because a good story doesn’t necessarily equate to there being any scientific basis for the notion. What Would Goggins Do? I recently read the new book “Never Finished: Unshackle your mind and win the war within” by ex-Navy Seal and ultramarathon runner David Goggins. His life story and feats of overcoming obstacles and prevailing are jaw-dropping. He makes mind over body a way of life, again and again. I listened to the audiobook, and his gravelly voice was compelling. Even his voice sounds tough. Goggins’ whole mentality is to seek out impossible challenges and complete them, and overcome myriad injuries and health problems and press on. Is this central governor theory or an aberration in mindset? Maybe Goggins is simply wired differently, his anxiety and fear driving him to achieve the seemingly impossible. The Buddhist Mind Over Body Approach I’m fortunate enough to know people with a much more robust approach to suffering than I can summon up. An old friend who completed the Marathon de Sables with a broken rib, having suffered the injury on the eve of the race with an ill-advised drinking session with another competitor. He told me, “it’s amazing what the mind can will the body to do”. He was unwavering in his mind-over-body approach. After his ‘retirement’ due to a hip replacement, he found being a spectator boring, so laid his camera down and joined in and finished an ultra marathon. The last time we spoke, he was a Buddhist priest in a high-security prison. Like Goggins, he marches to a different beat. My Struggles Mind over body comes from a different place for me. I don’t think I’m mentally tough. Yet I don’t tend to give up, either. When I find, for example, a long Gran Fondo or sportive tough, my inner chatter starts. I feel that it’s my amygdala in play, exercising its fight-or-flight capability. I tune into this consciously and try to be rational about the process. My frontal cortex, the CEO of my brain, tries to rescue me from the amygdala by taking back control. I stress this isn’t a story of the process leading me to glorious event wins. My idea of a win is finishing. And there’s nothing wrong with that approach. I’ve set my goals for 2023, and mind over body will definitely be needed. So my current reading and reflection is helpful. I will get this done. [...] Read more...
December 29, 2022What’s The Target? My deadlift plan is part of my list of goals to achieve in 2023 on the bike and the gym. I will be 66 in May and want to be sure that I’m still in decent physical shape. Physical decline is happening to us all from the age of 30 onwards. But I would like to remain active for as long as possible, for all the well-documented physical and mental health reasons. My deadlift goal is to lift a one-rep 170 kg before the end of 2023. That would be an advanced standard for a male of my age and weight. It’s a challenging goal, no doubt. It is probably seven years since I singled a 165 kg deadlift. I will need to train hard for this one, and that will be made harder given my cycling goals for the year. What’s The Deadlift Plan? I will use a deadlift plan set by Eric Cressey, the renowned coach to professional athletes and a handy lifter in his own right. I purchased one of his training plans a few years ago and found it effective. As well as laying a solid plan out, he has some excellent instructional YouTube material on technique. The distorted video – something about GoPro and YouTube not playing nicely – is me part way through five sets of deadlifts at 70% of the targeted 170 kg maximum. The deadlift plan has a steady progression, with many weeks of foundation building. I need exactly that, given my age-related physical niggles and my slower recovery time. I remember a wise barbell veteran saying to me “if in doubt always leave a rep or a set on the table.” That’s something I need at the top of my mind; it’s in my nature to press too hard and regret that later. Deadlift Diaries My deadlift plan is going to take several months to execute. I must balance my cycling training with my deadlifting. The cycling season is frontloaded for me, with events in May and July. My idea is to consistently build deadlift base strength while putting cycling first. Then in the late summer, back off cycling and look to peak on the lifting. Let’s see how it goes. Hopefully I will improve with my video skills. [...] Read more...
December 27, 2022Knees Over Toes Guy Knees Over Toes Guy helped me to recover from a meniscus injury last year. I found a simple bodyweight routine I do anywhere. For me, what was a rehabilitation regime has become a very convenient and effective strength-building method. The concept is the work of Ben Patrick, a former collegiate basketball player who suffered multiple knee injuries and many subsequent surgeries. You can see more details on his atgonlinecoaching.com site, and his YouTube channel is handy too. Here’s Ben explaining his methodology: Getting Started With Knees Over Toes Like any new programme, I started slowly with knees over toes. Which was helpful, given I was still experiencing periodic swelling and clicking in my right knee. The calf exercises were easy enough, although the tibialis raise found some new muscles I didn’t realise I had. There’s a lot of emphasis on building from the ground up, and it didn’t occur to me that ankle strength and range of motion were important until this point. The novel element is Reverse Knees Over Toes Walking. That’s right, walking backwards and making sure the knee goes over the toes. I got some strange looks on Hampstead Heath, as I did my daily ten-minute reverse walk. But it works, and I improved after only a handful of days. I progressed quite quickly to reverse Knees Over Toes Sled Pulls in the gym, using a Spud Inc harness together with a climbing rope bought from eBay. I grind out ten minutes of reverse sled pull and get my quads pumped, before getting into the work. Knee Stability Initially I worked on the Patrick Step, which was helpful to get that initial quad strength to stabilise the knee. It also demonstrated to me the imbalance between my legs. I saw this most when cycling, when my left leg consistently did 6-7% more of the work. After being patient with the Patrick Step, I moved to the single-leg Ass To Grass squat; the heart of the Knees Over Toes philosophy. Five ATG squats per side was my starting point. Reverse sled pulls and Patrick Step laid the foundation. Then ATG squats over the next 12 weeks really started my recovery. Some months down the road, I can do sets of 20 on each side, and I will tend to do anything between 40 and 50 reps per workout. Even with bodyweight, that’s a serious workout. Does Knees Over Toes Work? Yes, Knees Over Toes does work. My knee pain is virtually gone after 14 months. My consultant has me diagnosed with mild osteoarthiritis in the left knee, and moderate in my right knee, given the meniscus wear and tear. Muscle mass has visibly increased on my quads, with the vastus medialis supporting the knee having become prominent. There is measurable improvement on the bike, my left and right power balance are almost perfectly balanced. The other benefit is flexibility, my hip flexors and ankle mobility having improved beyond recognition. A number of strength coaches and physiotherapists are opposed to the ATG squat, firmly believing that the knee should never cross the vertical plane of the toes. Ben Patrick believes the movement and pressure stimulates delivery of synovial joint fluid to the knee. I’m not qualified to referee an argument between people highly qualified in sports physiology. I do know that my knee pain is gone, and I’m stronger and more flexible. At 65 years old, I can knock out ATG single leg squats deep enough to ensure the calf muscle makes full contact with the hamstring. Maintaining Knees Over Toes Fitness As expressed elsewhere in my blog finding time to work, exercise, and recover is difficult. That’s before I get to living life outside of the office and exercise environment. Sometimes my regular Knees Over Toes workout gets missed, particularly when I’m focusing on my deadlifting. The knees remind me relatively quickly that they need regular attention, via some nighttime pain. Fortunately even a session, or two sessions at most, restores my knees. The beauty of the regime is it can be done anywhere, I can easily do a few minutes at home, or in a hotel room while travelling. There’s no excuse to miss is the truth. Where Next ? Ben Francis, Mr Knees Over Toes, has programmes for full body work. He starts at the foot and works all the way up. The ATG squat is as far as I go, but you may find some of his routines very useful. It’s worth noting that there are more advanced versions of each exercise, where weight is added. For example, I use the Tib Bar to strengthen my ankle and tibialis. I also use a Slant Board to increase the intensity of my Patrick Steps. Many people progress to holding dumbells while doing the ATG squats, although I find three sets of bodyweight squats does it for me. Ben is very open with his training knowledge. You can see all his techniques demonstrated on YouTube, and much of the theory discussed on his Medium page. You can sign up for his ATG online coaching programme, with 50% off the first month. I subscribed for three months, and this gave me the most in depth understanding, including access to coaches via the app. Ben is also generous with his time for his subscribers. As you would imagine, I wholeheartedly endorse Knees Over Toes Guy. It worked for me. [...] Read more...
December 26, 2022How Much Protein Is Enough? Protein intake for older athletes is an essential and often overlooked aspect of any fitness routine. I’m starting to understand that my mindset needs to be less, more, more, and more. Less overall volume of training. More short, high-intensity sessions. More recovery time. And more protein. This last part escapes the attention of most, yet it’s one which will undermine training, performance and recovery. More protein. So how much protein is enough? A lot more than we tend to ingest. The reference intake is 0.75 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for an adult. In the UK, it appears that adults are consuming the reference amount. For athletes, anything from 1.2 grams to 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight are recommended, by bodies such as the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Olympic committee. I’m fortunate to work with one of the world’s leading sports scientists, and he is at the higher end of the scale, recommending to me 2.0 to 2.5 grams of protein for each of my 103 kilograms of bodyweight; 200 to 250 grams a day. How Much Protein Intake For Older Athletes? I’m not an elite athlete by any means. Average is a generous description. So why would my colleague recommend a high intake for me? The answer is age related, protein intake for older athletes needs careful consideration. Protein ingestion to stimulate muscle protein synthesis must be around 50% more in older athletes. While younger athletes respond optimally to 25 grams of post-exercise protein, older athletes have this same response to a 40 gram post-exercise portion of protein. Doering et al demonstrated that masters athletes had lower muscle protein synthesis than younger athletes, and that slower recovery was demonstrated in cycling time trials carried out over three days after a treadmill trial. The 20 gram serving of protein given to all athletes in the trial was not sufficient to support recovery in masters athletes. Protein intake for older athletes needs to be higher, it’s clear. The Protein Practicalities It’s clear that 200 grams protein per day is a minimum for me. Not because I’m about to set any records, but because my body needs to recover more effectively. This should be spaced out over the day. I find it difficult to ingest this much via, say, chicken breasts; I would need four decent-sized ones to reach my target. I’ve tried low-carb diets before, and large quantities of animal protein gets tired quickly. I say that as a committed carnivore. If protein intake for older athletes must be higher, then I need a plan. I’m going to try a high protein shake in the morning. PhD Synergy plus Greek yoghurt plus whole milk gives me 60 grams of protein to start the day. Then if I go for a casein shake before bed, that’s another 40 grams of slow release protein. Halfway there with those two alone. A post-exercise protein bar. Then my everyday diet. Looked at in that way, it seems doable. So let’s give it a go. What’s the protein intake for older athletes? – higher than most of us would guess. [...] Read more...
December 25, 2022Fitness goals for 2023. Yes, it’s that time. I’ve had an inconsistent time this year. As always life gets in the way. 2,500 miles cycling, and inconsistent in the gym. But as can happen with me, I’m finishing strongly. As the head goes, the body follows. My mood has improved as the year has progressed, and so the training hours have increased. I’ve learned a lot this year, and I’m putting into practice for the coming year. What I Learned In 2022 It was my 65th birthday in May. Time presents an invoice each year, and it needs to be settled, no exceptions. This past few months have brought enough. On the bike I do one longer ride, a HIIT day, and a social day. Then one hard day in the gym. If I miss a bike day for any reason, I do a second gym day. That’s more than enough. My head thinks I’m 35 and my body knows I’m 65. I’m supplementing and making other small changes to support performance and recovery. Supplementation includes creatine daily, beta alanine in pre-workout drinks, and my normal vitamin regime. More time spent on mobility (but not close to enough.) Trying to get enough sleep. One of my main concerns is losing muscle mass. It happens to all of us from the age of 35 onwards, and accelerates as we age. I’ve never been remotely muscular, and it’s very noticeable how quickly my upper body in particular loses muscle if I miss too much time. When looking at my fitness goals for 2023 this is a major factor. It’s not a case of simply training more in the gym, as I will explain. Reasons To Train I need more reasons to train. By this I mean setting targets. The No Plan Training Plan has been ok. But only ok. I’m in better shape than your average 65 year old. But it feels like a losing battle. Which it is. I would love to give ground a little less swiftly. I understand that intensity is still possible, but volume must decline, simply because recovery takes so damn long! It’s not just exercise that slows recovery. I’m still working a decent sixty hours a week, and in quite a pressured job, and that has an effect. It’s not as though I’m a pro athlete who can train hard then go for a sleep. Even if I sometimes would like a siesta. Recovery is most certainly holistic in terms of rest, sleep, managing stress, and active recovery techniques such as stretching. Life is busy for most of us, and there is no excuse not to train. My body and mind needs it. But my mind can struggle to step up if there isn’t a goal. Yes, I’m a simple soul. Fitness Goals For 2023 … Put Them Out There If I put my fitness goals for 2023 out there, it will give me that little extra motivation. It helps hold me to the deal with myself. The Instagram post lays it out for my measly number of followers. Blogging here also adds to the universe of people who I have committed to. I’m going to cycle 6,600 kms – I’m 66 in 2023, so a hundred clicks per year seems a decent number; I have entered Ride London 100 and that’s a week after my birthday, on 28 May; I’m going to ride London to Paris with my work colleagues in July; I will join Ross Edgley and my work colleagues in a 26.2 mile marathon sled push; I will reset my own age group lap record for Regents Park; and I’m going to do a single deadlift of 170kg by the end of the year. I believe this will put me in the “advanced” category for my age and weight. Am I being overambitious? Possibly. I suspect the deadlift will be tough, it’s hard to be bike fit and heavy deadlift fit at the same time. My plan is to go for the deadlift after August, as it’s going to need some fully body work to get me there, and that will need hard graft and a lot of recovery. Check in as I work my way through the goals. The sled push and London to Paris ride will both see me raising money for the local food banks. [...] Read more...

Welcome To My Blog …

Welcome to my blog. It’s mainly about my mental and physical health in the context of ageing well. I’m 65, and that’s the age that my parents, grandparents, and broader family would suffer serious health issues. Certainly we have been, with the odd exception, a three-score and ten-ish family regarding longevity. But we don’t have to accept this, given advances in medicine and the broader health and wellness space.

After a lot of time not taking it seriously, I do look after my health more. Time streaming past and a sense of mortality can do that to you. I have spent a lot of time working on my mental health. I have been depressed and anxious for as long as I can remember. The last dozen or so years have been particularly challenging. I realised during this last period that mental health and physical wellness are very much linked, and I’m very much an advocate of a more rounded approach to health.

Being Open About Mental Health

I chose to be open about my mental health a few years ago and started being open about it, mainly through this blog. It has been disseminated widely through my social media pages, and my blog posts on mental health have been well received. But I have gone further in the past three years and discussed my mental health with many people in my personal and professional spheres. And the more we talk about it, the less taboo it will become.

The prime purpose of my blog is to portray my mental health journey and to hope that it helps one person. Undoubtedly, if it can give one person a nugget of advice, it’s worth it. I blog about physical and general wellness too. I believe the whole human functioning well is essential to good mental health.

The Glide Path

I’m on the glide path to the final destination; that’s a fact. While I may die in the morning, equally I may live for another twenty years. On the one hand, a sliver of time left; on the other, I must remember fifteen or twenty years is a long time. I’m excited about the chapter that’s still to play out. Therefore, a secondary purpose of my blog is to diarise my ageing process. I’m not really for gradually retreating into a waiting room of routine, and a silent and grey fading of my spirit. So long as I’m breathing, my intention is to remain curious. In time, it will end, and I don’t dictate those terms. Until then, I’ll be searching. For sure, we never stand on one spot, we are either going forward, or going backward. Forward.

Find me on my social media feeds here – Instagram – Strava – LinkedIn – these are a mixture of my personal and professional activities and images.

If you would like to contact me directly, please use the form below. I will reply, and I guarantee not to spam you.