Don’t Get Burned…

Recently, I wrote about the issues surrounding fitness during extreme weather and the effects of high heat on blood sugars. I’m going to reiterate by saying that during the summer season, blood sugars can be adversely affected by high temperatures. It can be different for some people, but in my case, my blood will often drop.

This can be caused by the body straining to lower your core body temperature through sweating and an increased heart rate due to the heat. This is why it’s SO important to consistently sip water throughout the day. It helps to keep you hydrated and aids in regulating your core body temperature to avoid issues like heat stroke and dehydration.

But before I start repeating everything I posted on a previous day, let’s address the culprit of all these issues: the Sun!

Now before I get into the crux of this post, I’ll take a moment to explain exactly what our Sun is. It is a star. It creates heat by fusing hydrogen into helium and this process is the reason behind the Sun’s light and heat. This energy travels to the Earth where it is responsible for most of the life on our planet. (Although explaining this shouldn’t be necessary, we live in a world where some people actually believe our world is flat, sooooo… you do the math!)

Ultraviolet light, or UV rays, are present in the Sun’s radiation and prolonged exposure to this radiation can be damaging to living tissue. This is where the application of sunblock or sunscreen lotion plays an important role.

Last week, I decided to be a smart ass and cycle for 21 kilometres. The temperatures that afternoon reached the high 20’s, low 30’s (that’s in Celsius) and I took off from home thinking if I got too hot, I’d simply turn around. By the time I started to feel the effects of the heat, I had already gone about 10 kilometres and would have to peddle another 10 to get home!

I drank plenty of water and stayed hydrated but as it is the beginning of the hotter season, I totally neglected to apply sunblock before taking off on my trek. Needless to say I got a nice red-skinned surprise later in the day.

Let’s talk about sunblock for a moment. Sunblock is a topical gel or lotion that’s applied to the skin. It helps by reflecting UV rays away from the skin, which prevents damage and sunburns.

What many people don’t know or understand (and what I only learned a couple of years back as well) is what the SPF number on your sunblock refers to. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and the number is a multiplier. So what that means is that if it takes you 10 minutes to start burning and you apply an SPF15 sunblock, you can theoretically be in the sunlight for 150 minutes before you start burning. Theoretically.

You should be applying sunscreen daily, or even any time you step out into the sunlight. According to an article posted by Men’s Health Magazine, the Centre for Disease Control recommends using AT LEAST an SPF15 or higher. To be honest, I don’t recall ever seeing anything lower. Most retail locations in Canada will carry SPF 15, 30 and 50. When I travelled to Japan, they had an SPF110 available, although I can’t speak to whether it was more effective than the 50 or not.

An important factor to consider is to ensure that you apply sunblock properly. Most people tend to dab here and there and assume they’re good to go. But you need to consider full coverage of your bare skin in order for the sunblock to be truly effective. Remember that you may need to reapply more frequently if you are swimming or sweating profusely.

Here’s that Men’s Health article if you want a bit more information: https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19541357/how-much-sunscreen-do-you-need/

Sunblock is important to help with the prevention of certain types of skin cancer and can help you enjoy the hotter season without the perils of getting sunburned. Apply sunblock often, drink plenty of fluids (bearing in mind that caffeinated and alcoholic beverages will contribute to dehydration) and take added precautions by wearing some sun-blocking clothing. Remember, don’t get burned! ☯

If It Is Not Right, Do Not Do It…

The title is part of a quote by Marcus Aurelius, who was a respected Emperor of Rome but was also known as a Stoic philosopher. His book, Meditations, is a great read. I highly recommend it.

I’ve done martial arts long enough to see most students come and go. After all, it’s often been said (in martial arts circles) that only one student in ten thousand will stay with it long enough to achieve black belt. I think we all deal with this at some point; thinking or believing that we aren’t certain why we’re still doing it or if it serves any purpose. I had to deal with one such instance recently.

For the purposes of this post, I will call this student Jane. Jane has been studying the martial arts for a number of years. She’s what I would call an adequate student, meaning she trains hard and puts in her workout. The question becomes whether she practices and pushes herself OUTSIDE the confines of two classes that add up to about four hours within a one hundred and sixty eight hour week!

Green belt level in the mid 1990’s. The pressures of continuing on would reach me within the next few years of training…

What many students fail to comprehend is how much dedication the martial arts require. If one simply shows up to class (even every class without missing any), progression can be extremely slow and even nonexistent. There has to be a certain amount of practice outside of the dojo, at home and during your free time. Study and cross-training are necessary for a student to grow from basic and adequate to promotable.

Jane approached me after class one night and asked me if I felt that karate was worth pursuing for her. I agreed that indeed it was, but that it had to be right for her. When I asked her why she felt the need to question that, she explained that she had been sitting at the same belt rank for the past few years and felt she wasn’t progressing. She felt ignored and believed she wasn’t being given the level of attention she required in order to promote and train further.

We discussed this for a lengthy period of time but at the end, I explained that coming to karate had to be for her and her alone. If her only reasons for being in karate was to get a certain coloured belt around her waist, it may not be for her. That being said, every person feels the need to be acknowledged and have SOME advancement, regardless of what form it may take. She left that night after saying she would put some thought into it and make a decision.

That was last year. I haven’t seen Jane since. It’s quite sad, but it’s an old and typical story within the martial arts. Many students feel that if they aren’t promoting or advancing quickly enough that they are wasting their time. Most students forget that karate is like a fine wine; it must be aged and practiced until perfection is reached. And ultimately, if you think you’ve reached perfection it simply means that you haven’t.

Three generations of karate. Myself as a green belt, next is Sensei Guy Levesque (my instructor) Eva (another student of Sensei’s) and Sensei Bob Blaisdell on the far right (my Sensei’s Sensei)

In the late 1990’s, I experienced the same phenomenon as Jane did. I found myself struggling to get through class. My techniques didn’t feel as sharp or as fast as they used to be. I had reached the rank of brown belt by this point, but it almost felt as though life was grinding to a standstill. I found myself wondering if, considering I had healed and improved my health, there was any reason for me to continue training in karate. I didn’t care about rank; the colour of my belt meant far less to me than how well I could use my acquired skills.

The thought of not being able to do it anymore, or stopping my training created a heavy weight on my shoulders and sent me into a slump. I was lucky to have Sensei to talk me through it and make me understand the further benefits of continuing on.

But there have been times when I’ve had to stop. Sometimes several weeks, at most a couple of months, time away to reflect has often been a tool I’ve used to bring perspective to my training and help guide me back. And I always have gone back.

When I left New Brunswick in 2009 and moved out to Saskatchewan, I had to deal with the prospect of training once or twice a year when I went home to visit. I spent several years training on my own, which meant progress and belt advancements were no longer possible. It wasn’t until late 2016 when I found a local school in which I could train. I won’t lie, it’s good to be back in a dojo environment.

If you’re questioning why you’re doing it, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. If you step away for a little reflection and clarity, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t mean you have to quit. However, if you’ve had that time of reflection and don’t feel it’s for you, then it should likely be accepted as a sign that you should stop. And that applies to all forms of arts and sports, I think.

Be true to yourself. Nothing you do for yourself should be done because it is expected. It should be because you want to. Yes, I’m a firm advocate of pushing through and having the will to go one, but it also has to fit within your lifestyle and your personality. Taking that into consideration, we need to add to the title of today’s post. If it is not right FOR YOU, do not do it!

The Heat Is On!!!

Guess what, folks? Summer is here, and with it comes the intense heat that often makes me feel like I’m working out in the thirteenth circle of hell…

All jokes aside, summer heat can adversely affect your blood sugars in an extreme way. Exposure to summer heat can potentially lead to dehydration. First and foremost, dehydration will lead to reduced blood circulation and therefore less insulin absorption. This means your blood sugar levels will spike.

When you dehydrate, as your blood sugar rise, you will experience frequent urination, which leads to further consumption of water and further urination… It’s a brutal cycle.

Although it’s important to monitor what you’ve eaten and adjust your insulin dosage accordingly, it becomes even more important to remember that including physical activity in the mix will cause further issues. It would be important to either avoid physical activity during the hottest peak hours of the day, or work out in a properly air-conditioned environment.

Make sure to drink plenty of water, even if you aren’t thirsty. This will ensure you don’t get dehydrated. Avoid alcoholic drinks during extreme heat as they will contribute to dehydration. As much as it kills me to say so, caffeinated drinks should be avoided as well. Caffeine acts as a diuretic and will dry you out further.

The next issue is your Diabetes medications and equipment. They don’t do so well in the heat. In fact, leaving your insulin in the hot sun will effectively cause the medication portion of it to evaporate and will basically become expensive water! The same can be said of your glucometer. Extreme heat will result in malfunction of your electronics and improper calibration of the same items. Keep all your equipment and medications in a cool, shady location during peak hours of the day.

The summer heat is inevitable, especially in the Prairies where I live. But it is possible to take preventative steps to keep it from affecting your Diabetes. Drink plenty of water, test your blood sugar often and remember to adjust your work outs accordingly to prevent issues during the peak summer season. ☯

What Did You Think You Were Eating For?

One of the key reasons behind the consumption of food is to obtain carbohydrates for energy. The human body requires energy to carry on normal functions and, well… stay alive! But what else do we get from the food we eat?

A proper diet will also include a number of vitamins and minerals that we require to maintain proper health, growth and energy levels within the body. We’ve all heard about getting enough vitamins from a young age; I remember getting my Flintstones vitamin everyday as a kid.

But if you’re like most people, you’re likely wondering what these vitamins are for and what they do. My goal is to cover off the main ones here:

Vitamin A: This is an all-around vitamin that provides a number of functions including but not limited to the proper health of various bodily functions, tissues and helps to fight chronic disease and is known to be good for the eyes.

Vitamin B: This one is a bit complicated, as there is a large grouping of enzymes, vitamins and minerals that fall under the “B” category. In general, B-vitamins are used for energy production, immune function and absorbing iron. Some them include B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B9 (folate) and B12. There are a few more that I can’t recall, but B12 is considered amongst one of the most important of vitamins overall because it helps you turn food into energy.

Vitamin C: At some points, this one has been referred to as the sunshine vitamin. I’m thinking that’s mostly because people’s main source of Vitamin C is from citrus fruits. But this vitamin also helps with iron absorption, immune function and is a natural antioxidant that helps with the elimination of free radicals. Eating citrus fruits are also what sailors used to eat on long voyages to prevent scurvy.

Vitamin D: This vitamin helps with the strengthening of bones and teeth. Our bodies are designed to self-generate this vitamin naturally through exposure to sunlight, but obviously that needs to be done in small doses. Modern life has created an environment where more people spend their time indoors, away from the sun. So supplementation becomes important.

Vitamin E: A pretty straight forward vitamin, this one helps with proper blood circulation and clear skin.

Vitamin K: This vitamin is essential for blood-clotting. In order words, if you’re deficient in this vitamin, small cuts or injuries can cause excessive bleeding that can become dangerous.

Folic Acid: We hear people speak about this one as being necessary during pregnancy. And they would be correct! Folic Acid helps to prevent certain complications during childbirth but is important to everyone for proper cell renewal. This one is also known as Folate, or Vitamin B9 (as listed above).

Calcium: Most people should be familiar with this one. Teeth and bones, people! Teeth and bones! Good calcium levels are required to keep those body parts healthy.

Iron: This helps to build muscle tissue naturally and helps with proper health of the blood. As an interesting sidebar, it’s also what makes your blood red through the reflection of light!

Zinc: Immunity and Fertility. I’m a little unfamiliar with this one and haven’t had the opportunity to research it a great deal.

Chromium: This one is near and dear to my heart. Because it helps to control blood sugar levels. Chromium is what helps all the systems of your body to get the energy they need when they need it. Some traditional medicine practitioners will suggest Chromium supplements for Type 1 Diabetics who may have difficulty in maintaining proper levels.

Magnesium: This one helps your body to absorb all the other vitamins and minerals. It also acts as something of a relaxant to muscle tissue and play a role in proper muscle contraction.

Potassium: This mineral helps with the proper hydration of your body and helps to control blood pressure.

There are many others of course, but I’ve tried to cover off the main vitamins and minerals required for a proper diet. For more information and possible food sources for these vitamins and minerals, I’ve found the following two online articles that provide a lot of good information:

https://www.comvita.com/blog-article/10-essential-vitamins-your-body-needs/4100544

https://www.goodnet.org/articles/11-essential-vitamins-minerals-your-body-needs

We get most of what we need by eating regularly and including a variety of healthy foods. A lot of people take a daily multi-vitamin, which is fine. But unless you are experiencing symptoms or unexplained illnesses, there shouldn’t be a need to actively try and take added amounts of anything. Your medical practitioner should be able to advise you if further supplementation is required. For example, patients who are recommended to take Folic Acid and Iron during pregnancy.

Obviously, all of this is extremely important; not only for proper health and fitness, which is important to me, but to help with Type 1 Diabetes as well. A big shout out to my wife, Laura, who provided me with this blog post idea by asking about B12 yesterday. ☯

Be Your Own Hero…

Things can get pretty rough sometimes. Life tends to throw a lot at you, and if you aren’t willing to push through and give yourself the effort you may not overcome it all. They say time heals all wounds, but the scars can sometimes be as bad as the wound itself.

How strong is your will? How much strength of will do you have? If push came to shove, and you or a loved one needed it, how far would you be willing to go in order to overcome the obstacle that you’re facing?

Everyone wants a hero; someone to come along and just fix things and make them all better. How often in your life can you look back and say that this has genuinely happened? I’m not saying it CAN’T happen… Some of us have been blessed to have influential people in our lives that have made a difference. But think back to those situations and take an objective look. Can you honestly say those problems were solved by those outside people? Or were you simply guided and encouraged by these people into accomplishing those goals on your own?

Humanity’s will to survive is amazing. Even when a person is in their last moments of life, the human body will have a number of systems in place biologically designed to try and keep that person alive for as long as naturally possible. YOU try and help yourself without even knowing it. That’s why it’s important to be your OWN hero.

In the late 1980’s, doctors told me I would die from insulin resistance and wouldn’t make my teens. I had to take it upon myself to work on my health and well being in order to restore myself and ensure my continued survival. I had the help of some very important people, but my will to survive is what got me there. I celebrated my fortieth birthday last September.

When I joined the martial arts, my doctors and my family told me that it wasn’t an appropriate “hobby” for someone with Type 1 Diabetes. I was told I would get hurt, my blood sugars would be adversely affected and that I would never make black belt. In March of 2002, I proved all those people wrong by achieving my 1st degree black belt in Okinawa karate.

When I set out to get the career of my dreams, they told me that their health policies at the time didn’t allow for type 1 Diabetics. Even when that policy got rescinded, the candidate application process that would usually take between 6 to 12 months took me 2 years! The increased battery of medical tests and examinations would have caused many to simply drop out of the process. But I stuck with it.

Due to a number of Diabetes-related health complications, it was believed I would never have children. That didn’t matter a great deal when I was younger, but it was life-altering when I became an adult. As many would agree, it can be the sort of thing that can define relationships and futures. But despite all that, my son Nathan will be five years old this year!

I guess my point behind all of this (besides making it look like I’m bragging) is that the strength of will to achieve your goals comes from within you. That isn’t always easy, but it’s what will ultimately get you to where you’re going. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish once you stand up and trust that you can do it. ☯

The Doctor Will See You Now… Or Later… Or After That…

In Canada, making a doctor’s appointment and having it be convenient is something of a challenge. Modern trends within medical offices have changed somewhat over the past twenty years, and not all of it has been in favour of the patient.

The days of seeing your family doctor on the day and time of your choosing are long dead, and an unknown receptionist at the end of a phone line will usually respond to your objections by saying “this is the only availability the doctor has at the moment.”

As a diabetic, I have often been faced with the dilemma of scheduling necessary appointments based on my availability. The safe bet is that I usually have to take a day off from work in order to accommodate and accept an appointment to see my doctor.

Once at the appointment, safe money says you won’t be getting beyond the reception desk at the time you were allotted. In fact, you’ll likely wait anywhere from forty to sixty minutes to get in to your “scheduled” appointment. And a common practice to medical offices these days is to restrict the patient to “one problem”. This means that you may have a few issues to bring up to your doctor, but in the interest of getting you in and out as fast as possible your doctor will likely require you to make a subsequent appointment for any added issues you wish to bring up.

Have you experienced this? Let’s say that you have a persistent cough, intestinal distress and your left knee is swollen and painful. Your doctor may only allow you to bring up one of those ailments for diagnosis and require you to return for the others.

Now, let’s be clear on something: doctors are overworked! Don’t believe me? Here’s the reality: In general, becoming a doctor in Canada takes approximately ten years. This includes obtaining an undergraduate’s degree, going to medical school and doing some form of residency. And that doesn’t include the additional time required for specialization.

Once all those steps have been achieved, doctors need to stay current on recent advancements and developments, study and familiarize themselves with all their patient files, write reports and referral letters as well as attend conferences, sit on various boards and committees and spend time in hospital. This is all AFTER spending full days within their medical practice, seeing the patients who complain that they had to wait the added thirty minutes.

Pretty brutal, right? Would you want to do that much work? The average resident works between 70 to 100 hours a week! And it doesn’t get much better once they complete their residency.

Most people see doctors and think “Oh, they make a wonderful salary. I’d love to make as much money as a doctor!” Although most doctors average a little more than $225,000 a year before taxes, the amount of debt and student loans amassed while getting to the finish line of their “MD” can easily match that, and it can take decades to pay back.

The face of medicine has certainly changed since I was a child. I remember walking into a doctor’s office and getting in within minutes of arriving. That still happens on occasion, but it’s become a rare occurrence. And there are good reasons for that. Most times, even while in clinic, doctors can get called away for emergent situations or to deal with an ongoing issue with one of their patients at their local hospital.

I guess my point is that patience is required when dealing with your medical practitioners. Although it would seem that you shouldn’t need to, it’s important to remember that your doctors are people too! And like everyone else, they’re fighting battles you know nothing about! ☯

If Stress Built Muscles, I’d be Mr. Universe…

I’ve written about stress before, but it remains a predominant aspect of daily life for most people. In general, one could easily write about stress indefinitely, given the number of effects it has on the human body and life.

Stress isn’t inherently bad! Although we tend to view it in a negative way, stress is simply your body’s way of dealing with changes within one’s environment. How we adjust to these changes is what defines the response.

Picture this scenario, if you will…

You arrive at the office at 8 am on a Monday morning. You’ve had a reasonably restful weekend and you walk up to your desk in a relaxed manner. Nothing bothers you, no one is disturbing you and although you have some tasks on your desk awaiting completion, you’re not particularly rushed. Then it happens: your supervisor walks in. Within minutes, your supervisor discusses these tasks with you, imposes timelines and completion dates, and advises you of the additional tasks that will be assigned to you once you complete the current ones…

Sound familiar? If we follow the definition of stress in the literal sense, the supervisor is a the change in the environment that requires you to adjust and adapt, creating stress. But what would have happened if you’d been left to your own devices? I’m not trying to call anyone lazy, but one needs to admit that a person’s productivity tends to increase significantly when stressors are introduced.

When produced in small doses, stress can help you cope with daily life, meet goals and achieve deadlines. Believe it or not, if not for stress you likely wouldn’t be here. Since stress is part of your body’s early-warning system, it can often help produce the “fight or flight” reaction required for proper survival. This is something that, from an evolutionary standpoint, is pretty interesting.

But before I start going off on a tangent, let’s refocus on the stress aspect. Some studies have shown that small amounts of stress in the proper environments can actually help boost your immune system and help your body’s defences against infections and the like.

From a Diabetes standpoint, I can safely say that stress plays a major role in the proper control of one’s blood glucose levels. Since every person is different, the after effect will also differ. Stress tends to make my blood sugar spike; for someone else, it may drop.

I’m making a pretty good case in support of stress, but it can obviously be detrimental as well. Sustained stress over long periods of time can lead to many health complications, such as high blood pressure, anxiety and mental health issues.

There are certain signs that will allow you to recognize if your particular level of stress is too much for you. If you can’t seem to sleep properly, if your appetite, mood or weight begins to fluctuate and your immune system seems pooched to the point where you catch every little bug that floats by, it may be time to address the issue.

The mood aspect will have several different colourful sides as well. If you start being angry or irritated (more so than usual) in such a way that interferes with your daily life, there may be a problem.

Although stress is a part of life and there is no eliminating it, it’s important to recognize your limits and deal with stress in a healthy manner. Here’s where I get to suggest my usual dose of exercise, sleep and meditation. Those are a big help, but don’t be afraid to speak to a medical practitioner if you suddenly feel as though it may be getting out of your control. ☯