31 October 2009

Ten months, thirty-one days

It's Halowe'en 2009, October 31, and I've exercised at the gym for the entire month. In my own personal NaGoGymMo (National Go to the Gym Month) I've worked out every day at the local YMCA. To be honest, this would be impressive for me even ignoring the fact that I had my second kidney transplant just 10 months ago. I had never been the going-to-the-gym type; my favored exercises had always been running, swimming, and aerobics -- but, as you've all heard me complain, my joints haven't let me run or do aerobics in years. Going to the gym allows me to do two things that are critical to my future health: build muscle and exercise my heart.

Long-term kidney failure had done a number on my muscles and tendons. And not a cool number like 7 or 42, either. More like 13 or 4 or 11630. My muscles atrophied; my joints swelled; I developed bursitis in my knees and my right elbow. This was due to the metabolic changes associated with the kidneys: they regulate electrolytes and protein, and if they're outta whack, so will be your muscles and joints.

Going into October, I really had no idea what lay in store for my body. I'd exercised about twice a week since my surgery, but I had not been able to handle anything really strenuous. I believed that I needed a challenge in order to see what I was capable of.

So it began. I'm stubborn.

Some days were great, some days weren't. Overall, the days got better and better. I did 30-45 minutes of strict exercise time each day. I tried mornings, days, and evenings, and settled on evenings as the time that worked best for me -- I could come home, settle in, and then sleep the sleep of the sleeping dead. I saw myself get stronger, too; I moved the pins downward a couple slots on most machines. Both Monica and my doctor noted that I gained a lot of muscle; I'd estimate maybe 5 pounds of additional muscle weight, actually. No, really, it's muscle. Seriously. Really. Anyway.

Aerobic exercise saw the biggest change. Kidney failure is very bad for the cardiovascular system. People with kidney disease are most likely to die of heart disease, actually. I had discovered about a year ago that I have a small scar in my heart muscle; that is almost always a sign of a previous and probably unnoticed minor heart attack. I also have high blood pressure. So aerobic exercise is critical to my health. Eh, yeah, it's critical to your health too. But my problem had been that I hadn't been able to move my body hard enough or fast enough to get good results for my heart. Well, that changed this month.

I'm data-driven and fueled by music. I bought a snazzy new exercise heart monitor, filled up my snazzy old first-generation iPod mini. The iPod playlist is heavy with Gary Numan, B-52s, Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux, Afro-celt Sound System, Danny Elfman, Devo, The Fixx, Liz Phair, the Raconteurs, and Stevie Wonder right now. Around-the-neck/over-the-ear headphones. Turn it on. Turn it up. Hit the big black button on the heart monitor watch, and go go go.

There's a downside to NaGoGymMo, though. Even though I was careful to alternate activity types on different days, going daily didn't allow me time to rest. I also wasn't taking enough time to stretch. That, combined with my already screwy tendons, put some hurtin' on me. Right now I'm nursing a right lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow. I've also got a real fun case of plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Both of these are tendon-associated degenerative conditions, and in both cases the cure is rest and stretching.

But I figure after 31 days in a row I deserve a little rest, huh?

So the experiment is over. The results are better than I expected. I think that from a physical point of view I'm now just as mended as any other average forty-something male. I'm going to keep it up, of course, though not every single day. Well, maybe next October.  And, hey, I've got more things to do next month! Have you heard that I'm writing a novel starting tomorrow as part of National Novel Writing Month?  Not only that, but as an unemployed-American my official occupation is still 'looking for ways to make money'. So, yeah, I've got more challenges to keep me busy.

But like I said, I'm stubborn.

Thank you to the Central Ohio YMCA Hilliard/Ray Patch Branch, to Polar Electro, to Apple, to New Balance, and to the two wonderful ladies in my life, my mother and my wife, for their implicit and explicit support in this experiment.