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Running, Cake and Knees!
In a week that has seen so much awful, unspeakable news it would be easy to feel utter despair at the situation in our world. I’m not going to add my own opinions or commentary on recent events in what is an already crowded space, but it has got me thinking about how we live our lives as individuals. For me, it’s about living my best life, showing kindness, compassion and understanding to others, and recognising when I fall short but also about staying strong and healthy in mind and body. Watching my Mum becoming increasingly more frail has really brought this home to me lately and I have become quite passionate about have a good ‘healthspan’ as opposed to lifespan.
Therefore, this week, I want to share something that has literally transformed my life over the past year. I’m not a doctor or a health care practitioner so I’m not about to offer advice or to tell you what you should do, but I’m going to tell my story, and who knows it might help improve someone else’s quality of life too.
Let’s go back several years to the early 1980s… 29th March 1981. Like many others I watched the first London Marathon on TV and I was in awe. I just keep thinking how amazing it would be to be able to run that distance and be part of such a fantastic event. Despite never having run before nor ever having been particularly athletic, the thought wouldn’t go away and eventually seven years and two children later, I ran in my first London Marathon. I wasn’t very fast (5 hours) but I absolutely loved the whole experience right from the training through to the support of the crowds and fellow runners.
“You did it Mum!”
I continued to run several times a week, joining a local club and challenging myself by mostly running 10k races. Whilst I know it’s not for everyone, I loved it. I loved the freedom of just pulling on a pair of shoes and getting outside whatever the weather, the euphoria after a run and the fact I could eat as much cake as I liked!
Anyone for cake? I enjoyed baking and eating cake as much as I enjoyed running!
Ten years later at age 40, I ran the London Marathon again, this time despite having my arm in plaster (a roller skating accident – I know I should know better) and the fact it poured with rain for most of the race, I clocked up a time of 4 hours and 4 minutes, but it had taken over four minutes to get across the start line so I was happy to claim a sub four hour marathon. Running was what I did, it was a huge part of my life.
Very wet and bedraggled but euphoric! 3 hours and 64 minutes!
Then about fifteen years ago my knees began to hurt, especially after a run. I saw a doctor who gave the very unhelpful advice “Well, don’t run then.” Never was there any suggestion of investigating the root cause of the problem, it was assumed that running was what was giving me pain. To start with the pain would come and go. I tried excruciatingly painful sport massages, I bought expensive new shoes but gradually I stopped running when the pain became a constant feature in my life. There were inconclusive x rays (possible mild osteoarthritis) and a brief period of medication (Naproxen) which gave some respite but made me feel sick all the time. I preferred the pain to the nausea. For the past seven or eight years the pain in my knees has never gone. I could not climb stairs without using a handrail, sometimes literally pulling myself up or even crawling. I had to use my hands to push myself up out of chairs and I even had to stop doing Yoga and Pilates because so many poses or movements involved bending the knees which left me in agony.
Then last November I took part in a study with Zoe. I had used their app during Covid and along with thousands of others I was invited to take part in a study of time restricted eating. The principles were very simple, each day eat within a ten hour window and fast for fourteen hours, eight of which one would normally be asleep. Nothing else changed, I ate the same foods as always, drank the same wine but I made sure I finished eating by 7 pm each evening and then I didn’t have breakfast until 9 am. Between those hours we could drink water or black tea and coffee but nothing else. I have never really been someone who snacks all evening so aside from not having milk in my evening cuppa and switching to black coffee before breakfast everything was just the same as usual.
Still eating cake!
The study was looking at the impact of restricted eating on mood and energy levels, which in my case given that I’m reasonably high energy and pretty upbeat most of the time, didn’t really make much difference. I felt good and reported each day that mood and energy were high which wasn’t much different from the start of the study. Then about a week and a half in, it suddenly occurred to me that my knee pain had pretty much disappeared. After being such a constant in my life for so long I couldn’t quite believe it, but I was running upstairs and leaping out of chairs (well I did say my energy levels were high!) with no hands. I could kneel on the floor to play with my grandchildren, pain free. I’m still working on getting up from the floor with no hands but that’s another matter. I was very sceptical and couldn’t really believe it had anything to do with my eating pattern, but I stayed pain free throughout the eight weeks of the study.
During that time, I did some research to see if I could find an explanation and it appears not so far fetched that time restricted eating could indeed be the reason why I was now pain free. I’m not a scientist any more than I am a doctor, but it appears to have a lot to do with our gut biome. Put very simply, there are certain gut bacteria that get to work when there is food coming into the stomach but there are others that need periods of rest, when the body isn’t digesting food, to work efficiently. And when they are working efficiently, they release chemicals that reduce inflammation in the body. I have a mental image of these little bacteria getting to work with their microscopic picks and shovels cleaning out my gut, a bit like the numbskulls!
I realise that as a study of one person giving anecdotal data this is hardly conclusive scientific evidence, however it was enough to convince me. After the end of the official study, I have stuck to time restricted eating for about 85% of the time. I’m not evangelical about it and if we go out or see friends or even if I fancy a late-night cuppa, then I’ll break my fast. Last night I was giving a demo to my local arts society and I happily accepted a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit at 9 pm. But the rest of the time I stick to it, and it has become a way of life. And I’m still pain free and running upstairs. Back last January I did try running again which well for about three weeks and then one knee started to twinge. I didn’t want to risk it, so I stopped running but I’m tempted to try again. In a couple of weeks’ time I’m going tree climbing with a friend which would have been unimaginable a few years ago. (I’ll report back on that one!)
I know so many people who put up with chronic arthritic type pain that I think this is worth sharing. Because it’s not something dangerous to do*, it’s relatively easy, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. And if 14 hours of fasting feels too much apparently even 12-13 hours can be beneficial. I would be really interested to hear if anyone else tries this or maybe already has tried it and whether it works for them or not.
*Obviously if you have a history of eating disorders or are if you are diabetic then I would seek medical advice before attempting restricted eating. It is not necessarily good for everyone.
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Just a quick reminder should you have thought about it and forgotten, I have all my online courses open for enrolment at the moment. If you enrol now there will be complete access to all the class materials until next summer after which I will no longer be doing any online teaching, so this will be the last chance. And learning new skills is something else that helps keep our minds active and young … so why delay!