Reaching 90th Percentile Resting Heart Rate [Fitness with Fitbit]

I have been using the Fitbit Surge for the past couple of months after receiving one as a gift from my sister. Overall, the product works reasonably well, but its step counter isn’t so good if you play basketball or do crunches – dribbling with your left hand and doing crunches will increase the step counter, resulting in wildly inaccurate distance and possibly calorie measures.

Regardless, I like the heart rate function, and I assume this is something that can be counted on even if the pedometer is wrong – despite recent lawsuits on Fitbit’s heart rate tracking accuracy, I trust this Consumer Reports article, Taking the Pulse of Fitbit’s Contested Heart Rate Monitors, from January. After the first few weeks, my heart rate went down from 68 to 56, where it has remained so for almost a month.

However, I wanted to know what this actually meant, and how this compared to other people.

Real information on resting heart rate is difficult to find. There are many articles, but few that have actual sourcing (this is true of most food / nutrition articles as well) on why we can trust the information. Thus, I began to look into percentiles, and I found the following data (it would be nice if Fitbit allowed its community to share this information in aggregate for public comparison) from the Canadian government:

Average resting heart rate, by age and sex, household population, Canada, 2009 to 2011

Resting Heart Rate Percentiles
Resting Heart Rate Percentiles – Statistics Canada

From this chart, I am at the 90th percentile (top 10% of all males my age group) in resting heart rate. I am not sure what this all means, but I am guessing that because my heart has to pump less on average, I have a combination of a stronger heart, more efficient lungs, and less excess fat that blood has to pump around.

Currently, I do not work out as much as I would like (my knees really swell up after basketball), but I do the following workouts per week, along with my lower carb diet. Ideally, I would like to add bicycling and swimming (once a week) for lower stress workouts later on.

  1. 2 basketball practice workouts (30 minutes dribbling, 1 hr shooting)
  2. 1 basketball playing session (2.5 hrs on average)
  3. 3 sessions, roughly 500 crunches (60 straight, 110 bicycle alternating x 3)

Another Look at Cholesterol Tests [Health Fallacies]

Having read and written about The Great Cholesterol Myth, it had actually been a while since I had taken a test and could understand my results.

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When I got this last week, I was of course worried. (H Flags denote issues) I had been on a (lower) carb diet since 2013, and in the process had dropped over 20 pounds. For the most part I do not eat rice, bread, potatoes, or drink soda or beer, though if I am being social or go out to eat, I consume more of all those. During the last year at Kellogg, I have not been the best at working out (during the Fall, I occasionally played basketball and swam, during the winter, I did nothing and broke my finger during basketball, during the Spring, I swam), but I wondered if I was just super stressed out (I feel reasonably fine) or if I was doomed for heart problems down the road. After a restless night, I remembered that the book argued that traditional cholesterol benchmarks were based on faulty research(read the book to see the extensive history of traditional cholesterol tests and disproving research), and I needed to check my findings with the book’s.

If, for example, your triglycerides are 150 mg/dL and your HDL is 50 mg/dL, you have a ratio of 3 (150:50). If your triglycerides are 100 mg/dL and your HDL is 50 mg/dL, you have a ratio of 2 (100:50). This ratio is a far better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol ever was. In one study out of Harvard published in Circulation, a journal published by the American Heart Association, those who had the highest triglyceride-to-HDL ratios had a whopping sixteen times the risk of developing heart disease as those with the lowest ratios.1 If you have a ratio of around 2, you should be happy, indeed, regardless of your cholesterol levels. (A ratio of 5, however, is problematic.)

My Triglycerides : HDL ratio is .84, well below the happy ratio of 2, where the lower ratio is best. WIN!

A cholesterol level of LDL 160 mg/dL or less has been linked to depression, aggression, cerebral hemorrhages, and loss of sex drive.

My LDL is 172. WIN! (The book explains that cholesterol drugs lower LDL, are actually inflammatory drugs, and that memory loss is a side effect of these drugs)

Triglyceride levels higher than 120 mg/dL and HDL levels below normal (less than 40 mg/dL in men and less than 50 mg/dL in women) are usually associated with the small, dense, atherogenic LDL particles you don’t want!

I am both well beyond these levels (Triglycerides is 63 < 120, HDL is 75 > 40). WIN!

Thus, now I can feel a lot better about things. The only thing I wish I had gotten was a LDL particle size test, which was not included in my physical results. If you need help interpreting your results or in better understanding cholesterol’s impact on health, definitely check out The Great Cholesterol Myth or my blog post about 10 Things to Learn from the book!

Discovering Your Six Pack and Losing 25 Pounds [Body]

Starting college, I was 140 pounds. However, after a couple years, I finally realized that eating a whole pizza and other things for dinner every day wasn’t quite in the recommended daily 2,000 calorie maximum for students when I noticed I had ballooned to 160 pounds. As a teenager, I used to eat super sized double quarter pounder meals at McDonald’s and think to myself, “that was a solid meal”. Not an insane meal, a solid one.

Knowing my friends, who were all pretty skinny at the time, this was what it was like to be American in the mid-1990’s.

A year ago, I was about 170 pounds. I am 5’6 (167 cm). I wore medium-sized shirts and size 33 pants.  I had given up on losing weight, I just wanted to be fit. I don’t think I was ever fat or obese – I just had a good body frame for holding (mostly down low) weight. Even when I was doing intense 2 hour basketball sessions in the Vietnamese heat multiple times per week, I never lost any weight.

After I read Timothy Ferriss’ Four Hour Body last year, I began to understand why. In general, Ferriss talks about how carbohydrates and not fat (from meat) are the key to storing fat in the body. Consuming no carbs meant your body could not store fat. Based on the advice in the book, I decided to change my diet to see what could happen. Essentially, it’s the load-up-on-meats-and-vegetables while avoiding-all-rice-and-bread diet, or the Atkins diet. I also avoid sauces and dressings whenever possible to avoid extra filler calories.

Today, one year later, I am 65kg (143 pounds). This is what I looked like a couple of years ago versus now:

I never thought I could have a 6 pack, but today’s it’s pretty much there. I’m no Ryan Reynolds, but I almost feel like we have a common bond (other than an initial love but now dislike for Scarlett Johansson). I am down to a size 30.5 waist, size small shirt, and a big need to make money to buy new clothes.

I highly suggest reading the Four Hour Body to learn more (or can just research online) – Ferriss does a good job of answering detailed questions and complaints that people may think of against doing this. As a side note, Ferris  also recommends loading up on green tea extract and a number of compounds that is now called the PAGG stack. While both may help in overall health, they are also fairly expensive. I don’t think they are necessary for the weight loss (I tried the PAGG stack for a couple of months and I don’t feel the results were different).

The major changes in my diet, massive reductions in the following:

  1. Drinks: no juices, no soda, nothing with sugar. The only things I drink normally are teas (preferably green tea), plain water, and vegetable juices (with no added sugar). I do have the occasional beer and wine should be ok. Beer is not that high in carbs (generally 12G per can) with 150 calories, especially compared to soda (35G carbs, 200 calories), but if you drink a lot of beer, it really adds up – each beer makes up roughly 8% of your daily caloric intake. I do not drink diet sodas either – this somewhat relates to consuming “real food”, discussed more below. Besides, there is research that suggests drinking diet sodas gives people the false security that they can eat more, so these people actually end up being worse off than drinking normal soda.
  2. Processed Grains: rice, bread, cookies, cake, etc. If I do eat these, I try to get wheat bread when possible. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, no cereals.
  3. Manufactured Foods: I avoid these almost completely, including frozen foods (even vegetables) and boxed foods. I am against these types of foods (though they are amazingly delicious) for long term health (I believe in eating real food over stored or processed food to avoid long term health issues).

Vegetables: I really like Spinach and Broccoli, as I find them easy to eat and they are highly nutritious. Eat a ton of these or whatever vegetables you can handle.

Meats: Load up! For overall health, eat organic when possible. In Vietnam, however, organic meats were not easy to come by.

Snacks / Junk Food / Fast Food can usually be grouped in one of the three things above. Nuts, while healthy for you, are incredibly energy and carb-dense. I avoid fruit as well, though I am not really sure fruit is a problem. Fruit contains high amounts of glucose (sugar), but when is the last time you saw someone become fat because they ate too much fruit? As I understand, fructose (almost always in manufactured foods) is the real issue in fat building (it’s also an issue in cholesterol, according to The Great Cholesterol Myth)

To make what might seem like big changes in your diet, I suggest take things slowly. First, don’t expect to lose a ton of weight quickly. Be patient, give it a few months. Don’t scale yourself constantly. I didn’t weigh myself for 8 months. As my friend Jimmy recommends, do look at yourself in the mirror – as you begin to lose weight, you will want that positive reinforcement of seeing your body shape change.

Start with just one of the diet changes and reduce. If you drink one soda per day for example, just drink one per week. The other times, drink water. If you eat two bowls of rice per day, begin to maximize yourself to one. If 3 beers a night, first reduce to 2 for one month, then reduce to one afterwards. You don’t need to take extreme measures – if you do something you cannot maintain or enjoy, you will only give up later. As you get used to scaling back, try to scale a little further. If you scaled back your beer consumption successfully for a month, now also eat less bread and rice, for example.

Log what you change in your diet and mark each time you do it. For example, if you only want to drink one soda per week, note each time you drink a soda. I made an Excel sheet with a cell for every day. In that day, I write everything I eat or drink. If I eat something bad, I highlight it. I update and review the list every day, so that if in a particular week I have been highlighting too many items, it helps reinforce that I cannot break my rules again.

This may seem silly, but it really does help – you will have that reminder in the back of your mind to lay off, especially as you see yourself change in the mirror.

In case you feel you will sacrificing (what, no ice cream cake!?) too much, Ferriss’ schedule does prescribe a cheat day, in which you can eat whatever you want all day one time a week. In general, however, I still eat rice and other things I love from time to time, I just cut back and keep track so that I don’t fall into bad habits.

If you find yourself getting hungry, you just need to eat more. More meat! Eat baby carrots in between meals!

In addition to diet changes, I still work out, and my suggestion is to pick something you can do at least 5 times per week. Even if it’s just walking the dog for 20 minutes, stick to what you know you can do rather than overpromising yourself. Anything beyond that is a bonus. For example, I hate lifting weights, so I don’t bother vowing to do it. I absolutely hate running. If you live in a city in which you walk a lot already, perhaps add seven minutes of circuit training five days per week.

My workout, each of these done 5 times per week:

  • 50 pushups (I cannot do these straight, I usually do 30-15-15 getting a few minutes rest between each set. It’s a bit lazy, I know)
  • 50 squats (done straight)
  • 1.2 KM Swimming (about .7 miles, I feel I swim at a fairly fast pace, but definitely not a sprinting pace. This is 30 laps in a standard 20 meter lap pool)
  • 8 Minute Abs (see YouTube for the video).

The swimming is done for overall fitness rather than weight loss. I have heard many people say that losing weight is all about diet, and it’s true. I have not been swimming much this year due to travel, and I am still able to retain my weight and body shape as long my diet stays intact. I don’t play basketball anymore, but would like to pick it up again later this spring.

Based on my experience, losing weight is not as much a sacrifice as people often imagine. You can do it too! Best of luck!