Friday, April 4, 2014

Exercise In Pursuit Of Better Health

I'm born into a family with a long list of hereditary diseases ranging from cancer, diabetes, heart related complications and obesity, just to name a few. I sometimes suspect that there is also a trace of another curious unknown disease that can cause one to be convinced that he is always right, and it takes great efforts to learn to be open to other opinions; though I also realise that many people suffer from this common disease too. But I shall refrain from discussing this latter disease in this post.

As a little boy, I was obese, as were many of my family members, so much so that my grandparents nicknamed me King Kong—a nickname that remains to this day among close family members. In my late twenties, I went for a blood screening for the first time in my life and was fairly surprised to find that I had very high cholesterol levels. This was despite my active lifestyle of playing badminton up to 4 times a week. I spent several months on a very strict diet, but I soon discovered that no amount of diet could help much to mitigate my cholesterol issue. I have since been taking statins up to now.

I think I was in my early thirties when I had a nasty fall during a badminton game and I injured my knee. That was the end of my love story with the sport of badminton. In the few years that followed, I did weights at the gym; initially meant to be a physio for my injured knee, but I soon got carried away with it. After a few years, however, I gave that up too, and started running short distances of about 3km per session. But I sometimes found myself in the perfect mood to run a little bit more, thus up to 5km. I reckoned that I had to maintain an active lifestyle to prevent all those diseases, and even if I can't prevent them, it would be good if I could at least delay them for a few years.

It wasn't till the time when the first Borneo International Marathon was organised in my hometown that I embarked on a journey of madness in the sport of endurance running. That year I registered for the half marathon, a distance that seemed outrageous at the time. And once I conquered that 21km, I very quickly became addicted to running. The rest, as they say, is history; I have since gone on to run many full marathons, several ultra trail marathons up to 100km, duathlons and most recently the Ironman triathlon. The appetite for bigger challenges just kept growing. Friends have been suggesting several other endurance events, and the distances just kept getting longer and longer all the time.

All too often people have been telling me that exercise can keep me healthy. Well, there is a lot of truth in it. Since I started running, I've been feeling more energetic. I can actually feel the benefits of fitness and stamina. So far I've been able to put diabetes at bay too. Two of my siblings are diabetics. I have a bit of freedom to indulge in the so-called unhealthy food every now and then. All this sounds like nothing but good news.

But last year, while I was running the Sundown Ultra Marathon 100km in Singapore, I saw blood in my urine as early as 35km into the race. And during a long ride a few months ago, again another episode of peeing blood. When I was preparing for the recent Ironman race in New Zealand, I sometimes found myself exhausted, and it took several days to recover. My joints are also beginning to complain more regularly these days. Sometimes, I would limp for a few days after a tough workout. I somehow don't feel very healthy when that happens!

This lately, I've revisited the question once again: 

Am I really doing the right thing to keep my body healthy?

Of course we are not all the same physiologically. Some people can run faster, for longer, and can recover fast as well. But I'm not born an athlete. I have come to the conclusion that the principle of diminishing returns in economics is also applicable in exercise too. After all too much of the good things in life can result in bad outcomes too. Not only age is fast catching up, but in order to conquer longer distances, and climb higher hills and taller mountains, I would need to train much harder and longer; and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to do so.

I think I will still continue to run marathons and duathlons and triathlons; perhaps even swimathons for as long as I can, but I don't think I'm keen to venture into running 200km or 300km and the likes. Challenges will never end, and there will come a time when one can lose track of the whole idea of doing physical exercises. To some extent, I think I've achieved what I wanted to achieve. I have conquered many distances that seemed impossible in the past. Beyond this point, I don't believe that I can gain much more benefits in terms of health, if any. Instead, the opposite may be closer to the mark. I have reached my limits! Now let's see if I can refrain from doing more!

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