Right now my partner and I are half way through a month-long “wine fast.”
It’s also, coincidentally, the anniversary of when we also added twice a week strength training to our exercise regime a year ago under the guidance of an excellent personal trainer.
We’re what is called moderate drinkers, according to dietary guidelines, sticking exclusively to red wine.
A recent study conducted over two decades found that moderate drinkers were more than 40% less likely to die within that timeframe.
Drinking red wine doesn’t mean you will live longer -- nor does weight training or taking a daily brisk walk -- but the latter two may mean you may die a whole lot better.
Studies have shown though, that fasting from alcohol for even a month (we chose February for a reason that should be obvious) has health benefits such as lowering liver fat by as much as 20% as well as cholesteral and blood sugar by an average of 16.
Alcohol (and obesity) can cause your liver to process fat differently.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we cut back from two glasses to one at dinner in March even though my liver tested normal before this wine fast.
Either way, my doctor will probably be as happy when I have my annual physical in March, as he has been with the fact that exercise over the last several years has normalized my triglyceride levels.
For anyone who reads regularly, you’re probably wondering how I can be descended from five generations of Mormons, dating to back to that faith’s first 30 members and drink alcohol, or for that matter coffee.
For the last forty years I have mostly been Mormon in culture only. But you might be surprised to know that abstinence from alcohol or coffee or tea hasn’t always been associated with being a Mormon.
Living what is called the “Word of Wisdom” did not become a litmus test for members of that faith until the 1920s, nearly a hundred years from when it was first revealed during a time when similar dietary concerns were commonplace.
In fact, coffee and wine were provisions on the vanguard wagon train west in 1847, which included three off my ancestors. Others who followed over the next ten or so years even planted vineyards.
I’ve already written about the tobacco chewing prowess of one of my pioneer ancestors. One of my grandfathers on the other side, who was born in 1888, still drank coffee and beer while I was growing up.
He’s either smiling or shaking his head as I write that drinking coffee and red wine have now been found to actually have health properties.
With all due respect, the most prevalent dietary vice among Mormons is definitely sugar.
But I digress.
I average 3 miles a day of brisk walking now, and that includes at least a 2-miler even after weight training.
So what brought about this change regarding exercise? I grew up playing all kinds of sports but as an adult I was better known for a quarter-pounder a day with fries, often twice a day.
It isn’t the Fitbit I wear. I’ve had one since they came out but wearing it didn’t increase my exercise.
The first sign of a thin layer of film in one of the carotid arteries in my neck was a wakeup.
Having a partner who shifted gears with me has also been a major influence.
Unlike some in a recent study here in Durham, tracking activity on a wearable has not made it a chore. In fact, using a Fitbit to track various daily goals has made it fun and measurable.
Measurability is a key to motivation, at least for me.
It is also educational. I’ve never thought much about “active steps.”
It is now a proven metric by several sources and studies that getting at least 10,000 steps each day is good for you. The average American gets 5,100.
Just as important, or even more important for me, is the metric called “active minutes.”
The CDC recommends about 30 per day but defines them in increments of 10. So Fitbit awards active minutes after 10 minutes of continuous moderate-to-intense activity such as walking at a brisk pace.
Moseying or sauntering doesn’t count and I shoot for at least 100 a day, hoping to get my heart rate, during walks, up into the cardio or even peak zone for at least 30 minutes each day.
Some weeks now I average about 150 “active minues” a day.
Coupled with this was avoiding sugar as much as possible and using another app to zero in on and then maintain my caloric balance.
I’m a few months from turning 68. For people over the age of 65, the CDC recommends two and a half hours of moderate-intensity activity a week, about a two mile brisk walk at my pace.
Also recommended is strength training two or more days a week covering all of the major muscle groups.
So we’re doing more than okay by those standards.
Some people live their last 20, 30 or even 40 years sick, in poor health, with limited mobility and with a variety of ailments that impede their quality of life.
We’re hoping (and there is research to back it up) that by staying strong, active and healthy, although we may not live more years, we will be ale to add quality to all those years in front of us.
We’ll see. What started as an interest in losing weight, improving tests and toning some muscles has turned into a complete life style change.
And we couldn’t be happier.