I blog as an author, with occasional reference to my other professional world, where I'm an IT training consultant, these days specialising in intensive graduate programmes in the corporate world. One of the many joys of the latter is this: I get to enthuse and inform about deeply technical stuff (therefore combining show biz, applied psychology and computer science/software engineering) while staying on my feet all day long.

I leap around a lot. And drink coffee a lot. These facts may be related.

Then there are the months-long blocks of time when I'm working from home on a book (or doing computer research). Despite my modest back-garden dojo/gym and a lifelong exercise habit, I've not found that home-based lifestyle conducive to optimum health. Not at all.

If you can find it on YouTube or iPlayer, it's worth checking out Dr Michael Mosley's excellent science documentary called The Truth About Exercise (a Horizon episode) which tells you everything you need to know about exercise, especially if you're not an inveterate gym user. Since Dr Mosley made the documentary a few years ago, its message has become far more widely spread, so most of this won't be new to you.

There are two main recommendations.

First, sit as little as possible. Keep on your feet and keep moving. Like many people, I've been shifting more and more towards working in a standing position even when I'm at home. Right now, I'm using my laptop in the living-room, due to needing to keep an eye on the cat. (He's been wearing a buster collar (lampshade collar) to stop him licking inflamed areas, but I've given him a break from that, so I have to watch him.) Upstairs in my study/office, I've been raising the height of my laptops from time to time by propping them on boxes. Seriously, why fork out money for special furniture?

So a few minutes ago, thinking about how I could work standing while in the living-room, it occurred to me that there was already something in the house that allows for exactly the working position I desired.

The apparatus is known as an "ironing board".

I'm using it right now, and it seems perfect. (A proviso: whenever I mention some exercise or piece of training kit that I've found useful, I will have used it for at least two years. This has been a matter of minutes.)

Perhaps I should buy a few thousand of the things, paint them with go-faster stripes, add a motivating motto - WORK LIKE A WARRIOR - and sell them as the Next Best Thing for fitness. (BLOWTORCH THE FAT FROM YOUR BODY. AWAKEN YOUR PRIMAL SPIRIT.)

Or maybe I won't.

Dr Mosley's documentary showed the marvellous health benefits of being on your feet and walking, but he didn't stop there. He also explored the benefits of performing High-Intensity Interval Training on an exercise bike for only 3 minutes per week. (My fellow athletes will be familiar with the 4-minute Tabata protocol.) Combine the two approaches to exercise, and you have a winner. He also makes clear that my habit of sitting for long periods and then performing a hard daily workout is not enough for good health.

So, I was doing it wrong.

A detail about High-Intensity Interval Training: Dr Mosley, who is always willing to make himself the guinea pig for his documentaries, made vast improvements in his insulin/blood sugar response after only four weeks of HIIT (for a total of twelve minutes exercise), but zero improvement in his VO2 Max, the key measurement of aerobic fitness. This was as predicted by researchers who had performed the appropriate genetic analysis beforehand. Other exercisers would have shown a huge improvement, as much as if they'd performed long, traditional endurance sessions. That's in the genes.

But of course, the state of your DNA is not static. The sequence of base pairs is fixed, but control genes possess dynamic state. The reason that keeping on your feet is good for you is that a control gene is switched on simply by walking.

The state of my books isn't static either, but things move slowly in the summertime. Two completed books are out in the publishing marketplace, and I've a first draft awaiting work at some point in the future.

Okay, I'll come clean - the first draft is called TRISTOPOLIS REQUIEM.

You heard that here first, too.

There are no ironing boards in the book.


Blogger Al said...

I'm very interested in this interval work and any cardio related things that could work for me.

I was a powerlifter for several years and did kettlebells several days a week as part of it. My blood pressure and heart rate were never before or after as good as they were then (at age 42).

Three years ago, I damaged my L5/S1 disc lifting and, eventually, had to have minimally invasive surgery to remove damaged material because of ongoing sciatica and inflammation. Luckily for me, the surgery worked well and my sciatica is 90% gone but I still have a bad lumbar spine.

This is all a long lead up to the fact that I have a hard time doing traditional cardio because I have what is, effectively, a core injury. I am not allowed to run for cardio (too much jarring of the discs), leaning over a bike is very hard on my lumbar spine, kettlebells are banned because of the weighted and bent squat position that they use. I do 30 minutes of Pilates daily for core strength and do machine-based lifting (to avoid loading the damaged part of my spine) three days a week.

If you have suggestions on where to go for good resources on what I can do for cardio-based training with my existing limitations (or personal suggestions), I'd love to hear it. High blood pressure and heart attacks run in my family and I'm 45 next month so this is something I often think about. My blood pressure is on the high end of normal (135 or so over 84 to 88) but this is the one thing I haven't found a good solution for since my injury.

July 18, 2016 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger John Meaney said...

Hi Al!

Good for you for carrying on with the strength training. I like the Mark Rippetoe quote: "Strong people are harder to kill, and generally more useful." Also, according to a New Scientist report, strength training has a separate beneficial effect from cardio on health.

Anyway, I can't claim to be an authority personally, since I'm in the process of trying to reduce my own blood pressure from around the same values as you! We have similar goals, sir.

Still, Dr Michael Mosley clearly knows his stuff. Besides the documentary, he's also written some books.

He wrote one called Fast Exercise (the Amazon UK link is here. I've only just bought it, and definitely haven't followed its advice yet... But an interesting part is that some of the HIIT research was done on people who have already suffered heart attacks! If it's beneficial for them, it's got to be good for the rest of us.

I think what Mosley initially did personally was to ride an exercise bike absolutely flat out for 3 minutes, once per week. But there's more in the book, which I've not read yet. (But I'm about to!) He personally is not a gym rat, but he deliberately co-wrote the book with someone who is, to cover all bases.

The Tabata protocol that I mentioned, which I've used occasionally, was developed originally by the Japanese Olympic coach for speed skaters. The general idea is to pick any aerobic exercise that can be performed flat out, and to do it for 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds and repeat for a total of 8 intervals.

I've used an exercise bike for this. Maybe a reclining bike would take the pressure off your lumbar spine?

What Fast Exercise and Primal (Mark Sissons) have in common is a recommendation of mostly low intensity cardio - Fast Exercise mentions just walking - with some HIIT (plus strength training and flexibility).

This might be all wrong for you, but I find that when I do Hindu squats, my heart rate goes to 120, which is my target for low intensity cardio. The movement is a little like a two-handed kettlebell swing (so there is a bent squat position) but it's unloaded in terms of extra weight. (The other difference is your weight transfers to the balls of your feet at the lower part of the movement.)

The other thing I'm looking at is diet (I'm carrying too much fat). Mosley's written about intermittent fasting (in Fast Diet, which I've not read) and specifically in reducing blood sugar to prevent and cure diabetes and pre-diabetes (The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet) which I have read and is interesting. One departure from traditional medical advice - the research surprised Mosley - is that rapid weight loss is actually beneficial, but on the strict proviso that it's on a diet of low-glycemic vegetables, protein and fat. Got to keep that muscle tissue intact...

Good luck with achieving your goals, Al. Keep up the good work!

July 19, 2016 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Al said...

Thanks, John.

I do, actually, do a bit of slow cardio. I'm a tech worker (security for Firefox) and I work from home so I tend to spend at least three hours of my working day at a standing desk with a treadmill underneath, walking at 2.3 to 2.5 miles per hour. As a result, I walk about 8 miles a day or so (a bit over 17,000 steps on average). I find that alternating sitting for an hour with walking for an hour tends to help break up my day well and I can still work on my laptop.

I think Hindu Squats are out (I've looked at them) because even unloaded, bending like that repeatedly puts too much stress on my L5/S1 disc. All of my pilates work there is very slow and controlled for that reason.

Thank you for the book suggestions. Diet is, indeed, one of the next things I need to look into.

By the way, I've been reading your work for probably two decades now, since I was a much younger man, so it is nice to finally interact with you. (Fan boy moment!)

July 19, 2016 at 5:18 PM  
Blogger John Meaney said...

Cheers! You've been reading my stuff since I was a much younger writer! Good to interact at last.

July 19, 2016 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Spectral Entity said...

I've waited years for this news, and a little gut feeling led me to your blog to skim for hopes of another outing in Tristopolis!

Will we see Donal exhumed or pick up a new thread in the sprawling gothic city?

After all of these years, and many various novels, there is something very alluring about the alternate universe you created with Tristopolis, and the other cities residing on that Earth.

Still hoping to see a visual adaptation at some point, be it graphic novel, or film (can't believe Syfy or a similar network hasn't happened across this world yet!).

Looking forward to picking this up the day it drops!


July 22, 2016 at 2:35 AM  
Blogger John Meaney said...

Cheers, Rob!

Donal will return...

Two major movie production companies showed some interest when Bone Song appeared, but nothing came of it. The graphic novel option is something my agent and I talked about but never pushed. Hmm. Thanks for the reminder!

July 22, 2016 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Al said...

BTW, a great study about cardio and interval training:

August 1, 2016 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I really enjoyed Bone Song (in fact, my neighbor, who is an inveterate escapist/scifi lover like myself, and I are regularly mentioning "necroflux reactors". Unfortunately he absolutely refuses to read an ebook and was unable to locate a hard copy so hasn't had the true pleasure). At any rate, I would love to be able to read the sequel, but I haven't been able to find any access, electronic or otherwise. And naturally I'm thrilled to hear it'll soon be a trilogy.

An ironing board seems a bit low for typing standing up - at least the ones I'm familiar with are just about normal desk height ;-). I don't have much to say about the fitness notes, other than that they made me vaguely guilty -- I injured my knee horribly and will be in a lot of pain walking or standing for quite some time (after a couple years already!) and I can't even bend it enough for a bicycle; so it just reminded me of my incapacity. Oh well - thank goodness there are so many other ways to enjoy life and stay fit(ish). If you can share anything about how to acquire copies of your other books (especially Black Blood, but Paradox and others too); please share - or email me.

September 7, 2016 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger NineMirrors said...

How it is going with Tristopolis Requiem? I just finished 'Black Blood' after re-discovering Bone Song. I really want the conclusion (I guess?) of the series!

August 2, 2017 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger John Meaney said...

I'm sorry to report that I ground to a halt on that. I'd dashed off a first draft during a spare couple of months back in 2013, and when I revisited it earlier this years, I realised it didn't work at all. It needs a complete overhaul and major rework, or else to be abandoned...

I need to get some new publishing deals in place this year before I can even think of going back to it, if I ever do. Not the news you wanted to hear... Sorry again!

August 3, 2017 at 3:51 PM  

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