The Race of Your Life

Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

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Perception is a double edged sword. It can work for you. Or it can work against you. I knew full well that my plan to pitch Cereal Killers as an entertaining but very serious look at heart disease and diabetes could suffer from the perception that I was lean and healthy because I exercised extensively.  I don’t – but I do exercise smartly for very short periods of time.

The lazy conclusion that any positive results could be easily attributed to a vast amount of exercise – as opposed to my food plan – was a very real risk. So, for the duration of filming, I exercised for a meticulously planned, cumulative total of approximately 8 minutes each week. The manner in which I exercised does have tremendous benefits but I knew that the 8 minute statistic would quickly diffuse any misleading perceptions.

Don’t get me wrong. I have done vast amounts of exercise in my past. But only as a competitor and it was absolutely sport specific. I was an international track and field athlete at an early age and a solid triathlete in my late 20s. But when I saw the back of Gary Hall Jnr and co at the World Masters Swimming Championships in Stanford in 2007, I knew the game was up. I was built to jump, not swim, at an elite level. Through injury and age that was no longer possible.

What participation in elite sport did give me is a very effective toolbox for life. My coach, the legendary Maeve Kyle, equipped me well. In her ninth decade now, she retains the spirit of a spring lamb and one of the greatest minds I know. I have been telling her to write a book for ever.

“I haven’t time.” She says.

Maeve taught me that Specificity – understanding the physical and mental requirements of the discipline and conditioning the athlete accordingly – is the guiding rule of thumb for any training program. If you are running marathons, you need stamina. If you are sprinting, you need speed. Training programs – and the bodies they produce – reflect this. Life? Yes, that too.

So when I took up the challenge of hacking my genes, I adopted a very similar approach. This was not about running faster, jumping higher, or lifting heavier weights. This was me against my genetic make-up. Sure, I had an idea from my dad’s heart attacks what might be coming my way, but I didn’t really know. So I took the time and used the relevant expertise to find out.

My target is to drop dead healthy by avoiding heart disease and diabetes along the way. This is a race with a very different but a very definite finish. It is a race we will each run.

Alone.

Prof. Tim Noakes summed it all up beautifully for me in the making of Cereal Killers -

“The reality is, we are all on our own…. and we need to find the answers.”

My equation is pretty simple. If my ability to continuously pump blood through smooth arteries or control my insulin levels weakens, my race will get shorter.

The vast majority of folks still presume – as I did for a very long time – that exercise will fix all that.

It can’t.

It doesn’t.

It won’t.

Unfortunately, no matter how many times you say it, conventional wisdom will scream to the contrary. Through a mix of ignorance, misinformation and slick advertising, the reality that you cannot outrun poor nutrition still escapes many people. Factor in the ignorance about which foods actually are healthy in the first place and you have an army of joggers dodging a metabolic bullet right alongside the legions of couch potatoes out there. It is illogical but factual to suggest that a jogger with a poor diet would be better off on the sofa but eating very well.

There is actually a vast difference between smart, functional exercise and the type of exercise plan that makes you run faster or longer. I am very familiar with both. But the reason you hear about former world class athletes dropping dead in their early 50s is clearly nothing to do with their fitness levels. It is rare, but it does happen.

My dad had sailed through fitness and cardiac stress tests down the years and I knew I would too. But I also know that metabolic health is a broader, more complex issue than passing a simple stress test and meeting government recommendations on cholesterol. The complacency that traditional  “fitness” inevitably fosters can kill you. Sure it’s a factor, but it is secondary and it is not enough.

By choosing not to be a spectator in the race of my life, I had first to admit to myself that even though I looked lean and healthy, my blood, lipid and DNA profiling may tell a very different story indeed.

What I found shocked me. But I now know that timely, accurate information can be just as empowering as it is frightening. I quickly adopted that position, intervened accordingly for my own long term health, then set out to spread the message.

The question is not how healthy you think you are, but how metabolically healthy you actually are.

As you read this you are running the Race of Your Life.

Don’t suffer from perception.

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