Blood pressure

Blood pressure monitor

Blood pressure, who pays any attention to that? I never did, over the decades when I thought my fitness, secured through persistent jogging, guaranteed basic health. Well, now that I’m classified as having mild non-obstructive coronary artery disease, and can see that recent assessments mention “mild hypertension,” I need to get a handle on the old blood pressure thingy.

So I bought a thingy, a Blood Pressure Monitor. My Big Year challenge on Wednesday was to learn how to use it. Turns out, it’s a simple process, exactly like what happens at the doctor’s. On Thursday, I forgot to take a measurement, but yesterday and today I remembered, hopefully locking in daily data additions.

So far my three measurements have been 130/90, 132/96, and 149/92. What do those numbers mean? At first glance, yes, I’m a little high, even for my age, but I’ll take a closer look.

Can one reduce blood pressure through healthy living? Again, I don’t know. Yet.

Week 1

Finders Keepers cafe

The first week of the Publication Big Year has been a roller coaster. On the plus side, I have been emotionally committed to the end goal over each of the seven days, even on September 1 and 2, travel days. Over four workdays (including a rapidly disappearing today) I’ll get in about 20 hours of drafting, only two-thirds of my goal. I’ve been disciplined in the mornings, wayward after lunch. In my defence, I’ve had three club meetings (including one I hosted, requiring housecleaning and cake baking); have seen my cardiologist, therapist, and physio; and have joyously introduced myself to a new grandson.

But I am disappointed. I’m mired in one chapter and terrified of rejoining another chapter that is mostly drafted but mostly badly drafted.

Okay. Time to regroup. I’ll focus this afternoon on a new week-by-week publication plan, then on diving into the shit chapter. Then Saturday (tomorrow is a grandparenting day) … back in the full swing of a productive day.

Bikman on insulin resistance

Bikman book re insulin resistance

Daily more-than-usual attention to something called “health” is not straightforward, at least not to me. Two days ago, I set myself, on my second Health Big Year day, a basic task of volition, calling it “salad.” Yesterday, a day of travel, didn’t offer anything as easy, so instead I turned to another Big Year activity, that of self-education. If I can’t make an actual impact today, let me reach for half an hour (no more, we don’t have time for more!) of reading about the mysteries of health.
And mysteries abound in spite of the confidence of most people about “how to be healthy.” It’s easy to see that such confidence is nonsensical because “most people” disagree with each other.
So let’s start with Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease – and How to Fight It by Benjamin Bikman, a metabolic scientist and author. First off, it’s clear Bikman has a unifying theory on modern human morbidity.
In my allotted half-hour, here’s what I think he’s saying: we eat way too much processed carbs (in particular sugars); our insulin levels spike too often; cells that need insulin to deliver energy start to resist so much insulin; the body produces more insulin to compensate, setting off a bad cycle: and (here’s the theory) all those affected cells break down or do unhealthy things; at the same time, too much insulin floats around in our blood and causes damage.
And the consequence is described by Jason Fung (a kidney specialist and author of clearly related titles like The Obesity Code, The Diabetes Code, and The Cancer Code): “The top two causes of death, as well as five of the top seven causes (heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes), are related to chronic metabolic diseases. … You’re about to learn that a lot of it comes down to one root cause: insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia (meaning too much insulin in the blood).”
My health scare related to heart disease, so that’s why I’m vitally interested in Bikman’s theory. But also if insulin resistance leaves me vulnerable to cancers, stroke, or Alzheimer’s, what can be more important than sorting this out intellectually (and then via action)?

Hiking versus writing

Notebook and boots

Yesterday was the final day of a week of writing in Margaret River. What makes it stand out for me is that my seven days of deskwork occurred at the same time as Pam’s 130-kilometer Cape to Cape pack carry hike. She’s doing exactly what I used to relish, a tough physical adventure away from society, and she’s had a river crossing drama that in the past would have been part of my life’s narrative.

Why am I not hiking? When asked, I say I’m lazy or not sufficiently walk-fit (this is valid but not a sufficient excuse, I’ve hiked when tender of foot before), but the truth is, I decided writing was more important to me.

So I’ll end up having nothing to talk about on my return home, having foregone a narrative of at least moderate interest to many. Do I now have regrets? A few, mostly around questions of pride: am I not strong enough, brave enough? But at another private level, the writing week I had was as much of a struggle as the Cape to Cape would have been, and I had thrilling moments equal to any I’d have experienced on a clifftop or beach or night-black campsite.

Health Big Year

Health Big Year

At the end of last month, I got in to see a cardiologist, I guess because my “calcium score” on a CT-CA scan (my GP wanted to persuade me to take statins) was 600, with 400+ being “extreme.” My brother had just had a quadruple bypass and our father had had angina for years before dying of a heart attack. The cardiologist told me to expect the worst and organised me for an angiogram a few days later.
Fronting up, nervous, I listened to his pre-procedure briefing. Again, he warned me. An angiogram is an amazing procedure, shimmying up through a tiny hole in an arm, giving the cardiologist intimate access to the arteries around the heart, all done with a general anaesthetic. I drifted off. When the cardio, sweaty with hard labour, briefed me a little time later, at first I could not comprehend. Apparently, only one artery is partly blocked but not consequentially, and no action need be taken. I have a clean bill of health, can jog to my heart’s content, can hike up steep mountains.
That was my “health scare” that ended up with “good news.”
But I’m not satisfied. Why the giddy calcium score? Am I low risk now for a heart attack? If so, why am I taking statins? Do statins work? What are my morbidity/mortality risks? Was my previous diet/exercise regime (fashioned with some thought) adequate or, better still, optimal? What about other “older person” risks such as cancer and Alzheimer’s? Should my “health scare” prompt relaxation or should I change up how I eat and how I exercise?
All these questions and many more not even formulated prompt me to start this Healthy Big Year, which I’ll actually run for sixteen months (since a Big Year best fits a calendar year but I want to start now). As with all Big Years, I commit to a daily task. In this case, each day I shall either do something positive for health and longevity or I’ll spend half an hour researching what I should be doing.
I sigh, aware that this Healthy Big Year may well prove to dull as dull can be. So be it. By putting focus where I should, surely at the end of 2023 I’ll have resolved all my many questions? Surely?

Publication Big Year

Publication Big Year

My nuclear history book has crushed the patience of all those around me. Well over a decade on one book … you’ve got to be kidding, right? But I can tell you, it has more than crushed my patience, it has come close to devastating me, to the extent of threatening the vary basis of the meaning I ascribe to life. Luckily, family and friends have buoyed me, and my first foray into therapy has, to my surprise, rejuvenated my stock of existential meaning, at the same time that a “health scare” that was not a “health event” has widened my window of opportunity.

Hence this latest Big Year, a “Publication Big Year.” It won’t have any physical drama, nor any fascinating “bucket list” events, nor any revelatory investigations. It’s a grifting, grafting, grinding big year. I have a publication plan (which, right now, needs amending), I have as clean a slate of distractions as I can recall, and I have a honed “method” of daily work.

I’ll leave it at that for now. All this big year requires is daily work on the book (with hopefully few days off over the next fifteen months). All that I’ll blog about is the daily battle and the progress against plan.

For some reason, I’m as juiced up by this boring big year as I was over the more dramatic big years in the 2015-2020 period. What a thrill, starting tomorrow!

Traction at last

Drift Cafe

In theory it’s simple to work wherever and whenever, and depending on the type of writing I’m at, usually I’m effective. This week Pam is hiking the long Cape to Cape Trail in Western Australia. I pulled out (laziness? unfitness? new priorities?) and am living by myself in Margaret River. The situation is work-idyllic: zero distractions, wonderful Drift Cafe, fine accommodation. But the first four days proved to be only a half-successful effort. There was the moving from one place to another, there was something I ate, etc., etc. There was also, I now realize, the wrench of moving from a wonderful birding vacation to work mode.

No matter. Day five of seven, and I’m wired and on, on, on. A pile of research notes, the Ulysses writing app on the iPad, a pen, coffee (of course) in Drift. Yes!

I can look at flowers


Birds are my conduit to nature. I think many city geeks, brought up with no natural connection with the real world, appreciate such a conduit. I rarely view plants as anything more than “pretty” or ”wow,” but on the recent eleven-day tour around southwest WA, I noticed this flower. I noticed it. I photographed it. I think my mental health perked up.


Big Years are back

Turning 67 today, I’ve decided to pivot again with my blogs.

I like to blog as a transparent conversation with myself. I keep a journal but it’s an info dump, unfocused and all-encompassing. A blog has underlying purpose, something that is (hopefully) designed to enhance the way one lives.

Two years ago, I reevaluated the blog I’d run for five years, called Big Decade. The Big Decade blog, as it was conceived on my 60th birthday, was designed to challenge me by harnessing my natural obsessiveness. Under the Big Decade logic, each calendar year I would choose a daily challenge or activity, and commit to tackling it for each of the 365 days of the year. I tackled writing, tough hikes, jogging, meditating, music listening, learning about self-publishing, etc., etc. Big Decade worked well for five years, until … until it didn’t. Suddenly I was tired of push, push, push. I was older.

So, two years ago, I began to blog on a new site, called cryptically Slow Glow to 70. The idea was to calm the f___ down, to be steady and calm, to glow rather than burn.

Slow Glow to 70 worked well for two years and then … and then it didn’t. I need an extra push (a health scare helped, I can tell you!). So I’m going back to complete the full ten years of Big Decade.

This time the annual challenges of Big Decade will less physical, more cognitive or emotional or (dare I say it) spiritual. But the new Big Years won’t be any less onerous for being cerebral rather than body-punishing. They’ll be tough. And I can hardly wait.

Tomorrow … my first new Big Year. (As I did back on my 60th birthday, I’ll run the first Big Year for over a year, from my birthday to the end of the next calendar year.)