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24 April 2018 @ 09:53 am

Some time ago, at daiskmeliadorn's suggestion,  I listened to a podcast of Professor Belinda Beck talking about bone health in athletes (and ordinary people). She suggested jumping down stairs as an ideal exercise to enhance bone density and strength.

I had been diagnosed as having osteoporosis of the lumbar spine in 2016, and I didn't want to take alendronate (aka Fosamax) to  fix the problem. I wasn't too keen on the possible side effect of osteonecrosis of the jaw, no matter how remote the likelihood. So I decided to try:

  • weight gain of ~10%

  • 1200 mg / day calcium supplement (plus 1000 units Vitamin D)

  • Stair-jumping, as suggested by Belinda

Here is the result. My 2016 and 2018 BMD scores are shown by the black square:

My age-weight-sex related BMD score was 2.3 Standard Deviations below the mean in 2016, but I'm now only 1.7 SDs below the mean.

Thanks for the tip Belinda!

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17 April 2018 @ 06:57 am

"I have never seen Vegemite spread so thickly", said my American work colleague, staring at my lunch of wholemeal sourdough toast with a thick black covering.

Although it was actually Marmite, not the American-owned Vegemite, the point was taken nonetheless. I grew up in a Marmite-loving family, and seem to have
passed on that trait to at least one of my offspring.

I did cut down my Marmite consumption a few years ago after an episode of gout. But I discovered that the gout story is rather complex, and despite purine's role in uric acid production, the medical evidence indicates: "There is very little scientific proof that avoiding the purine-rich foods (such as Marmite) can successfully reduce gout attacks."

So I intend to continue this particular habit until I die. Indeed, the time when I stop looking forward to a dose of Marmite is probably an indicator that death won't be far away.

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09 March 2018 @ 07:58 am
I am currently reading a brilliant book - A Line Made By Walking, by Sara Baume.

In the book a young woman, Frankie, retreats to her (dead) grandmother's bungalow to reflect on life and death, and a lot more besides. One of Frankie's memories of her childhood is of her mother telling her she could ask a banana to answer a question. You slice the banana and the remaining stump has a pattern that could be a "Y" or some other character or perhaps just an indecipherable smudge.

Yesterday I saw my cancer surgeon and asked him about my future prospects. My observation is that doctors don't like to bear bad news and they tend to emphasize the most positive perspective, even if it only has a small chance of being the outcome. My doctor was no exception to this rule. He didn't want to talk about the dark possibilities of widespread metastases.

When I got home I decided to follow Frankie's example and I asked a banana if my cancer was going to kill me. Here's what it said:


I ate the banana before it had a chance to shed any more light on my future. It was good.

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25 January 2018 @ 02:58 pm



I walk along this road every morning about 03:30. Can you see those white blobs in the upper branches of this tree?

They're ibis, known more commonly as bin-chickens for their Darwinian(!) adaptation to urban life.

They're always grouped together in this tree and a couple of other trees along this road.

Last year in the vote for Bird of the Year they came second, just being edged out by the magpie, and two places ahead of my friends, the tawny frogmouth:

This popular vote was a huge social media battle ground in Australia and no doubt many ibis have their noses out of joint as a result of their rejection. The ibis roost at night in large groups, sitting quite still until around sunrise. They're usually very quiet, and you might not notice them as you walk past, except every few minutes there's a loud splat as the digestion of yesterday's bin-pickings is completed and the remnants hit the road below, exacting sweet revenge non-ibis voters (such as me) who would dare to walk underneath.
I've seen cars parked under this tree overnight become almost undrivable from the ibis excrement caking the windscreen. Our local council places signs under Bunya Pine trees to warn of falling pine cones. Maybe it's time they did the same for falling ibis shit.

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06 December 2017 @ 12:31 pm
I woke about 20 minutes before my alarm this morning. There's no point trying to get back to sleep in that situation - I'll just lie there thinking "my alarm is about to go off", until it does. So I got up, and was pleased to note that the weather bureau had been overly pessimistic (80% chance of rain, they had predicted) and in fact the rain radar was pretty clear. Because of my hamstring tendon problem I'm not walking much these days, but I was up early so I decided to walk slowly as far as I could go along the route of the Night Ride bus and get on the bus at a stop further along the route than the stop where I normally catch it. After I'd been walking about 30 minutes the algorithm in my Polar activity tracking watch clearly decided that I was not going back to bed, and it vibrated and flashed this message

I guess I knew it was less sleep than preferred, but the device did also give more data about the continuity of my sleep. Only five disturbances:

And the heart rate variations during that time:

Just before midnight I got up to go to the toilet, but this didn't seem too disruptive to my sleep and my heart rate continued its slowing trajectory to reach the lowest level in the day (55) just before I got up. That's the good thing about being really tired - my 'sleep time' is nearly always efficient.

I've only recently started wearing this Polar device, which monitors heart rate as well as movements. The thought has occurred to me that if my heart trouble worsens and I have a fatal heart attack, my Polar device might record the last moments of my life. I'd like to see that!

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22 November 2017 @ 09:39 am
Months ago my daughter told me how much she enjoyed listening to Brad Beer's podcast, The Physical Performance Show.  I listened to a couple of episodes, but I guess I wasn't sufficiently performance oriented at the time to keep it up. I mostly chose classical music instead to accompany my running. Actually, I haven't been doing much running at all, largely due to sustaining a couple of vertebral osteoporotic fractures in late 2016.  I was surprised that I had osteoporosis. After all, I'd been active my whole life  and consumed a lot of calcium when I was younger.  Anyway,  now I am a vegan I thought I'd better start calcium and vitamin D supplements, and hope that maybe that would help restore my vertebral bone strength. I also decided to put on some weight (I heard once that obesity offers the best protection against bone loss).

When I started to become more active and begin running again this year, my proximal hamstring tendinopathy returned and I had to do stair climbing as my mode of exercise. To relieve the boredom of going up and down 11 flights of stairs, I listen to podcasts. My daughter, who knows about my osteoporosis (and is probably sick of hearing about my health woes), told me that her old friend Brad Beer had recently  hosted a podcast episode featuring bone scientist Professor Belinda Beck. Not expecting too much, I decided to see what Professor Beck had to say on the topic.

Wow! I was really surprised at what a good interviewee she is. For me, anyway, she pitched her message at just the right level.  She obviously has great expertise, but also a wonderful ability to summarise the current research literature on bone health to a message relevant to Physical Performance Show listeners. Interestingly for me, she spoke about how a chronic energy deficit (e.g. from  running a lot and not eating enough to make up the energy loss) can lead to osteoporosis in even the most active person. I think this has been my problem.

Right at the end of the show, as I climbed the building for the last time, Brad Beer asked Prof Beck to follow his usual practice and set a challenge to listeners. In one sentence, what should listeners do to implement her research findings in their daily lives? "Take the stairs!" said Professor Belinda Beck, as I climbed up the last flight up to level 13! "Yes!", I gloated, "I'm doing that right now." But Belinda followed up "And when you're going down stairs, jump, landing on both feet."

OK, Belinda, I'm up for it. Not sure how high I should be jumping, but I decided to jump down the last two stairs of every flight from now on. Not just in my morning half hour of stair climbing exercise, but every time I go down every set of stairs I encounter. Starting now.


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16 November 2017 @ 12:04 pm
Back in November 2015 I was doing a lot of running and I developed a painful condition affecting the connecting point between my left hamstrings and my pelvis: Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy (PHT). I had to stop running altogether (and even stop walking any distance) and it took around 9 months until I could start running again (June 2016). Unfortunately, it wasn't long after I started running that I sustained osteoporotic fractures of two vertebrae, then found I had cancer, and a heart condition. Eventually, after surgery then recovery, I got back to doing some running, but then had another lower hamstring injury and knee problems that forced me back to walking and even catching the bus. While walking I re-developed left hip pain. I thought this was 'just' arthritis, but I now believe it's the PHT back again.

The only exercise I can do which doesn't seem to exacerbate the PHT is stair-climbing. So I catch the Night Ride bus to work, then spend half an hour walking up and down the stairs between level 2 and level 13.

The most depressing aspect of this health reversal is that the PHT re-developed when I was doing not much exercise at all. My mother is in a wheelchair due to joint and muscle issues - I wonder what my future holds.

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01 November 2017 @ 10:59 am
The arthritis in my left hip joint has stopped me from doing any running for the past 4 weeks.  I have no idea why it chose October 2017 to get significantly worse.

Yesterday, when I was walking to work, I tripped, and although I thought nothing of it at the time, it was apparent in the evening that I had traumatized my big toe - perhaps the metacaro-phalangeal joint?

Looks very bruised so there's obviously been bleeding internally somewhere, but it's not painful.

Despite not doing any running for the past month, my arthritis symptoms have shown very little improvement. Today I decided, however, that I was not prepared to give up running quite yet. I decided to run the last 1 km of my pre-breakfast walk, finishing along The Goods Line:

So far, (now 5 hours later) neither my toe nor my hip are complaining too much. Maybe I'll try the same thing tomorrow?

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18 September 2017 @ 12:07 pm
Back in autumn I had a vision, sparked by memories from my childhood. I recalled that my parents used to grow sweet peas and we'd often have a vase of sweet peas in the house during spring. I have have retained a great fondness for them since that time. I had the idea that I would re-create that fond memory and grow a batch of sweet peas myself. I imagined a vase of brightly coloured sweet peas on my mother's old dining table, which now lives at our place.

I also remembered that my mother used to have a kitchen garden, where she always had a good crop of mint, chives and perhaps parsley. If a recipe called for mint we'd just pick what we needed from the garden, rather than paying $2 for a bunch of mint from the greengrocer and throwing 3/4 of it away.

So I set up a chicken wire trellis and planted the sweet pea seeds, and I bought a nice healthy pot of mint and planted it outside the back door.

I now realise that project was doomed from the start. It's now well into spring and this is what the thirteen sweet pea seeds have become:
Pathetic, isn't it? And the once-healthy mint has been eaten and doesn't look like it will provide enough leaf for my dinner plate for a long time, if ever. I suspect that my mother's garden productivity was actually due to lots of continuous work, done quietly by my father.

So I ripped out the sweet peas and mint and tore down the chicken wire trellis, so I wouldn't be constantly reminded of my foolishness.

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31 August 2017 @ 12:48 pm
I ran the whole 10 km distance to work on Monday. It felt OK. The knee pain I thought might be osteoarthritis, or could be coming from the medial meniscus, was under control with paracetamol and didn't seem to be worsened by the run. I'm now regretting that run.

Today I caught the Night Ride bus to the north end of town and walked the remaining distance down to Rat City in the south end of Sydney.

I am now quite convinced that my knee pain is not osteoarthritis (which may benefit from activity, and even pushing through the pain), but is actually a damaged, degenerated meniscus - with an initial period of rest being perhaps the best treatment approach at this stage. My right knee is OK, but the left is quite sore with only a moderate level of use, and is even sore at rest sometimes.

More significantly, on Monday afternoon the slight intermittent heel pain I had felt over the weekend, turned into a consistent troubling pain, which seems to originate from the point of attachment of the fibres of the Achilles tendon. I have had Achilles tendon troubles in the past and I am very wary of doing anything that might exacerbate the condition.

So between  the left knee and the right Achilles I really need to keep my activity to a low level to allow some recovery and (hopefully) healing and pain reduction to occur. I will try keeping up small amounts of gentle walking, but I think I'll be using the Night Ride bus quite a lot in the next few weeks.

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