Sunday, June 6, 2021

Jim Kwik Speed Reading On Mobile Devices

In Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, I reported how I found the speed reading method that Kwik describes to be effective. That was for printed books, where the method involves running your finger along the lines as an eye-tracking target, physically in contact with the page.

I also like to read on my Android phone and Galaxy Tablet. I have the Kindle app installed on both. But because they use touch-screens, the finger-tracking is problematic. I wanted to find a way to deal with that.

Touch Screen Pointer

It turns out to be trivially easy. Modern screens use capacitive-touch technology, sensitive to skin capacitance (they are not pressure-sensitive as people might think). This is why gloves prevent touch screens from working: they insulate the finger contact from the screen.

So simply folding a piece of paper such as a tissue, napkin, or receipt into a "pointer" that you can hold loosely in your hand under your fingertip allows you to run your finger along the screen without affecting it. Then just tap the screen with your pinky or thumb to change the page.

A pen or pencil also works as a pointer, but makes an audible tap touching the screen. The paper pointer is silent.

Kindle Setup

I did a little quick research on speed reading with a Kindle. The Kindle app provides a word-runner speed-reading method, but I don't like it as much as Kwik's method. 

It turns out there are entire religious wars over the effectiveness of various speed reading techniques. The only thing I'll say with respect to that is I have zero comprehension and retention of things I haven't read. If this technique gives me even just 10% comprehension and retention of things I wouldn't have read otherwise, that's a win. And I expect it will be much higher, especially as I gain facility with the method.

I did find a nice article that talks about how screen layout affects speed and comprehension, based on an academic study and resultant paper. The article does say eliminating subvocalization is not effective, but I'll conveniently ignore that assertion for now.

The article is How To Speed Read On An Amazon Kindle (or any digital format), by Jon Brooks, and the paper it links to is How physical text layout affects reading from screen, by Mary C. Dyson.

I had found the physical page layout of the Limitless printed book to be easy to read, so I set up my phone's Kindle app to be as close as possible, with a similar number of characters per line.

Starting with locking screen orientation to landscape (i.e. turn the phone sideways to wide view), these are the settings I came up with.

For Font, this screen shot shows the settings and what they look like:

For Layout:

  • Margins: widest margins (narrowest text line).
  • Spacing: largest line spacing.
  • Columns: one column.
Under Themes, I saved the customized settings as new theme "Speed reading size".

Other devices with different screen sizes may require different settings to match that physical layout, and might also be usable in portrait orientation.

For instance, my tablet is large enough that I can use portrait, with the next-larger font, and the narrowest margins (widest text line). It also has an extra Alignment setting, that I set to right-justified (fixed line width).

Reading PDF's On Kindle

I read a lot of things in PDF format, such as e-books and Dyson's paper. It would be nice to read these in the Kindle app with these layout settings.

One thing I don't like about academic papers is the typical layout of densely-spaced, narrow two-column lines of text. I don't like that in hardcopy print, and even less in electronic form. 

It makes reading with a typical PDF-reader application annoying, complicating page navigation. The page doesn't match the screen layout at all, so requires various scrolling, zooming, and panning, very disruptive to the reading flow state.

The Kindle app also doesn't have a way to open PDF's.

There's a simple solution to both of these: Amazon provides a Send To Kindle service that both reformats a document to work with Kindle, and adds it to the device library.

I used that with Dyson's paper, and voila! The paper shows up on screen using all my speed reading settings, nicely spaced single-column layout that is easy to navigate. The screenshot above is from it.

That makes the paper much easier for me to read. As we geeks like to say, how meta and recursive!

The service doesn't work with all PDF's. I tried it with an e-book I was reviewing, and received an email indicating it couldn't be converted. I don't know what the specific issue was.

For such documents, I'll still need to use conventional PDF reader apps, which means I need to read them on the larger tablet rather than my phone. But at least I have the touch-screen management resolved.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik

In the Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, the narrator says that Gates reads 150 pages per hour.

I'm totally jealous of that. Other people may be jealous of his wealth, but I'm jealous of his ability to absorb and digest information that fast. That's a superpower. With it, anyone can be successful.

I'm now developing that superpower, thanks to Jim Kwik's 2020 book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life. What's amazing is how trivially simple and effective the method is. The book is fantastic, a very easy read.

I found the book this weekend at my parents' house while visiting them in West Virginia. They were reading it as part of maintaining mental fintess in their 80's, which is what makes it relevant here.

Looking over the table of contents, I saw that chapter 14 was "Speed Reading". I thought, yes, I can use that! I read somewhere between 30-40 pages per hour.

So I read chapter 14, then used the method to read the rest of the book cover to cover. It worked amazingly well.

One of Kwik's premises is that many of our basic learning skills are things we learned at a young age, and never learned to advance them.

My interpretation of that is it's like we learned to read early in elementary school using training wheels to help, but then no one ever removed the training wheels. As we grew older and matured, we naturally improved, got better and faster, but were eventually limited by those training wheels.

Kwik removes the training wheels.

The book follows the typical self-help formula, with the author's story (the hero's journey), anecdotes about the people he's helped, explanation of why you should pay attention to what he has to say, and the actual methods and advice.

His methods are full of practical, actionable techniques. They cover memory, studying, note taking, focus, and of course speed reading (which should have been chapter 1 or 2, not 14, since you need it for the rest of the book!).

He covers the Pomodoro method for time management and to allow your brain to rest and consolidate information.

Another of his premises is that the brain is like a muscle, and skills like these are things that can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest, just as muscles can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest.

It's not that someone is inherently a fast or slow learner or reader and can never improve. It's that they simply need to be shown the methods and put them into practice, and they will improve.

I won't steal his thunder or his income by telling you the methods. The book does an excellent job of motivating and describing them, in an easy-to-follow form. I already use a few of them, so that was enough to convince me the others are worth trying.

The book is a worthwhile investment of your time and money. For the price of a lunch or two, you can use this information to truly advance your capabilities.

You might even change your life.

My return trip home consisted of two flights, an hour and twenty minutes for the first, an hour and fifteen for the second. I had brought two books by Dr. Herbert Benson to read over the trip, The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being, 2003, and Relaxation Revolution: The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, 2010. I had read his 1975 book The Relaxation Response a couple weeks before (how to call up on command a calming response to counteract our reflexive fight-or-flight response when you experience immediate or long-term stress).

At the start of the trip, I was up to page 182 of the first book. On the first flight, I read the remaining 106 pages. Given that flight time includes ground time and air time, with announcements and settling in, I spent roughly an hour of actual reading time. So I read roughly at the rate of 100 pages per hour.

That's somewhere between two and three times my prior reading rate. I felt my comprehension and retention were just as good.

Why was my previous rate so poor? I was a victim of two common habits that Kwik describes, subvocalization and regression (i.e. backtracking). Subvocalization means "reading out loud" in your mind, effectively limited to your speaking rate.

The problem with this is that because your brain is capable of so much more, it gets bored and distracted. Reading as fast as you can just isn't enough to fully engage your brain.

Then you find you can't remember the last sentence or paragraph you just read. So you backtrack, go over it again. That means your effective reading rate is even less than your speaking rate in order to get good comprehension and retention.

These are side effects of using elementary school reading techniques, the training wheel methods, with a fully-developed and much-more-capable adult brain.

For the second flight, I started the second book in the gate area. But first I downloaded the Brain Focus Pomodoro timer app to my Android phone. Why this one? It looked reasonable, so I gave it a try. I was very happy with it. I'm sure many of the others available are just as good, so you have lots to choose from.

I spent about 10 minutes reading while waiting for the flight, then during the flight, spent two and a half 25-minute Pomodoro work periods reading, with 5-minute break periods.

During the breaks, I used my slight variation of Benson's deep-breathing meditation for relaxation:

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Relax your body head to toe: relaxing face, forehead, and temple; unclenching jaw; releasing neck and shoulders; opening hands; easing your back, legs, and feet.
  • Breathe deeply and regularly.
  • Silently repeat the word "one" on each inhalation and exhalation.
This is basically counting to one over and over, so you can't lose count, you always know where to return if your thoughts drift, and the oxygenation and brainless repetition trigger the Relaxation Response.

I'm sure I must have looked pretty crazy to my seat-mates.

In that roughly 75 minutes of reading (85 if you add the breaks), I read 151 pages of the second book. So roughly 110-120 pages per hour, again with comparable comprehension and retention.

That's huge. That's enormous. This was a technique I'd learned 3 days before and had only practiced using for a few hours.

Imagine what it'll be like after I've practiced it and built up the brain muscle over weeks and months, a year from now. I expect to improve all three metrics, speed, comprehension, and retention. So not only will I be able to get through material faster, I'll know it better.

Think what it would mean for you to have that ability. Think what it would mean to give your kids that ability.

I can't wait to apply his other methods and advice.

Read the book, chapter 14 "Speed Reading" first, and then practice that method on the rest.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Physical Fitness Program 2021-05

It's been over a year since my last update.

This is my current weekly physical fitness program, following my Physical Fitness Principles:
  • Monday: Free weights and weight machine for strength.
  • Tuesday: Running for endurance.
  • Wednesday: Yoga for flexibility.
  • Thursday: Repeat Monday workout for strength.
  • Friday: Repeat Tuesday workout for endurance.
I've made a few tweaks from the previous version 2020-03:
  • I eliminated the Pilates for simplicity and time.
  • I reduced the strength sets from 3 to 2, but increased the weight a bit.
  • I separated repeated workouts by 3 days, including across weekends. That allows a little extra recovery time to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
  • I use running on the treadmill for all endurance workouts and warmups/cooldowns. This was the result of participating in the Massachusetts Virtual Endurance Challenge, running a 55-mile virtual course on the treadmill. I enjoyed adding up the miles on my main run days and the warmup and cooldown segments on other days.
  • I shortened the run interval cycle to 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how I'm feeling. Once again, this is part of keeping it at a manageable level.
I continue to use the full sport-specific stretch routines from Bob Anderson's Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition.
This has worked well. I haven't had any back twinges or persistent muscle or joint soreness, and my left shoulder is doing much better, so for now this seems to be a well-balanced program. But it does show I can vary the specific details of workouts as my whim sees fit.

The other big thing of course is that we're still in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, it seems to be winding down in the US. I've had my first vaccination shot and will be getting my second in a couple weeks, and have been working from home for the past 15 months. Unfortunately, there are parts of the world that are not doing as well, with many people suffering.

While no one in our extended family has suffered any direct health effects from it, one person lost their job due it, and the overall stress has definitely taken its toll. I've put on 10 pounds that I attribute directly to stress eating, despite the exercise and otherwise eating healthfully.

One thing I've done to manage the stress is use deep-breathing meditation more regularly. That includes daily practice sessions to be able to trigger the relaxation response described in Dr. Herbert Benson's 1975 book The Relaxation Response. I've also been reading Dr. Judson Brewer's 2021 book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind. I've found these to be genuinely helpful.

Benson's premise is that stress is a direct contributing factor to medical conditions that can lead to death. While that was controversial back in the '70's, we've come to accept it these days. Therefore, actively managing stress and anxiety is an important part of long-term health.

I've largely stabilized my dietary changes to about a 50% reduction in animal-based foods. Where I used to have some kind of animal-based item at every meal, now many meals are entirely plant-based, or only a smaller amount of animal-based foods. That strikes a balance with my wife's more animal-based diet.

As before, I generally don't work out on weekends, and I try to make sure to have time available for each full daily workout. If I'm short of time, I can cut the number of reps or sets down, cut the time down, cut the rest periods by 15-30 seconds, or skip some yoga poses.



Monday: Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's weightlifting stretch routine.

Strength part: 25-30 minutes of free weights and weight machine following Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle. 2 sets of 8 reps for each of 11 separate exercises at slow, controlled pace, with 15-60 seconds rest after each set. I make sure the amount of weight I use doesn't cause any joint pain during or after completing all the sets.

The exercises and weights (pounds):
  • Squat, 85
  • Leg extension, 75
  • Leg curl, 25
  • Chest press, 75
  • Chest fly, 55
  • Seated row, 75
  • Shoulder press, 55
  • Lat pull-down, 75
  • Tricep push-down, 55
  • Bicep curl, 25
  • Ab flex, 65
These are mostly an increase of two 5- or 10-pound plates from the previous program, except for the squats, which is an increase of 45 pounds after my lower back recovered (which I did 10 pounds at a time each week for a month).

Since my weight machine doesn't have a leg press, I do squats with a barbell.

I don't like the bicep curl station on it, so I do those with either Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells, or the dumbbells that come with the barbell. I have a range of hex dumbbells from 10-30 lbs., which is convenient for doing a variety of free-weight exercises without having to change plates.

I use a Bicep Bomber for bicep and tricep isolation with both the free weights and the machine.

Weight machines generally isolate the targeted muscles and joints well, so all the effort is directed to them. While that's good for building just those areas, it also means higher force on them and higher risk of injury. I pay close attention to make sure I'm not overdoing it.

I built up from the previous level by adding weight every 6 weeks, cutting back to 6 reps for each set for two or three workouts, then increasing to the regular 8 reps.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.



Tuesday: Running For Endurance

This workout can be done almost anywhere outdoors, good for traveling. Also, many offices, hotels, and resorts have treadmills in their gyms. I do post-workout stretching to prevent tight or sore muscles the next day.

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's pre-run stretch routine.

Endurance: 30 minutes on treadmill in 4-minute intervals: 1 minute walking at 3 mph, 3 minutes running at 5 mph. If I'm feeling tired, I use 3-minute intervals.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Anderson's post-run stretch routine.



Wednesday: Yoga For Balance And Flexibility

This workout is very portable after memorizing the sequence of moves, good for traveling.

Because yoga workouts generally incorporate warm-up, stretching, and cool-down, I don't do those separately.

No matter what else I do during the week, if something disrupts my routine and I have to skip one or more workouts, I make sure to do this one, because of its general therapeutic and stress-reducing effects.

Balance and flexibility: 60 minutes of Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs by Rodney Yee. I cycle through the different programs on different weeks. They're all very similar, but with slightly different emphasis. I use a Yoga Mat, Block, and Strap Set. Sometimes it's convenient to have a second block. The 3rd program on that DVD shows best how to use the blocks and strap.

I also do some of the workouts on Yoga With Adriene for variety.

I'm not nearly as flexible as either of them, so I limit postures to only the degree I can do comfortably.

The postures, or asanas, not all of which appear in every program (most of the names from the book 50 Best Yoga Positions):
  • Tadasana, mountain pose
  • Adho mukha svanasana, downward-facing dog
  • sun salutation (this is actually a sequence moving through several poses, including mountain pose, lunge, plank, pushup, cobra, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, standing forward bend)
  • Biralasana, cat pose
  • Virabhadrasana I, warrior I
  • Virabhadrasana II, warrior II
  • Virabhadrasana III, warrior III
  • Trikonasana, triangle pose
  • Uttanasana, intense forward stretch/standing forward bend
  • Dandasana, staff pose
  • Navasana, boat pose
  • Balasana, child pose
  • Single-leg forward bend
  • Paschimottasana, double-leg forward bend
  • Upavista konasana, seated wide-angle forward pose sequence
  • Baddha konasana, cobbler's pose
  • Supta padangustasana, reclining big toe pose/raised leg stretch
  • Jathara parivartanasana, revolved abdomen pose
  • Marichyasana III, sage twist III
  • Garudasana, eagle twist
  • Kapotasana, pigeon pose
  • Anjaneyasana, crescent moon pose
  • Dhanaurasana, bow pose
  • Setu bandhasana, bridge pose
  • Purvottanasana, upward-facing plank
  • Urda dhanurasana, upward-facing bow pose
  • Virasana, hero pose
  • Utkatasana, chair pose/power pose
  • Prasarita padottanasana, wide leg stretch/wide leg forward bend
  • Savasana, corpse pose/relaxation pose
I built up to this level by using Yee's Power Yoga - Flexibility, 25 minutes. This is mostly the same set of asanas as the Power Yoga Collection, so it's both good training to learn them, and a shorter session if I have less time. It's also a good light flexibility workout any time I need it.

Adrienne also offers a number of shorter videos, as well sessions targeting different body areas or situations.



Thursday: Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

This is an exact repeat of Monday's workout.



Friday: Running For Endurance

This is an exact repeat of Tuesday's workout.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Physical Fitness Program 2020-03

This is my current weekly physical fitness program, following my Physical Fitness Principles:
  • Monday: Pilates/free weights and weight machine for strength.
  • Tuesday: Running for endurance.
  • Wednesday: Yoga for flexibility.
  • Thursday: Ski machine for endurance.
  • Friday: Repeat Monday workout for strength.
Over the past 3 months, I've made a few tweaks from the previous version 2019-12:
  • I replaced the Monday TRX with weights and machine, making it the same as Friday. The TRX was great, because it gently rehabilitated my shoulder and helped build the base for more strength work with increased weight. This poses more risk of injury, but has been working well.
  • I swapped the days for running and yoga, in order to split the endurance days.
  • I tried increasing my running pace, but returned to the previous pace and even ended up splitting it into 5-minute intervals. This is definitely part of keeping it at a manageable level; I'll build it up over the longer term.
  • I replaced swimming with the ski machine to save the cost of pool membership and simplify the logistics (no need to drive to the pool).
  • I increased the stretching times to about 10 minutes, using the full sport-specific stretch routines from Bob Anderson's Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition.
I occasionally have a random sore muscle or joint, a calf, knee, or ankle, so I spend a little extra time stretching it, and adjust the workout as necessary. That's usually sufficient to take care of it.

The one thing that's been a little more persistent has been lower back twinges during the day. In addition to a little more back stretching, I've reduced the weight I use for squats. That seems to have managed it.

My back is definitely something I want to protect. I can limp around for a day with a sore leg and get over it quickly, but back issues can turn into serious problems with long term consequences.

It's also worth noting that we're currently in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, so staying healthy is paramount. Being cautious and conservative, maintaining my workouts within my limits, is more important than pushing those limits and risking injury.

The medical system is already at risk of being overburdened, access to non-emergency care is getting more difficult, and being full-body healthy gives me the best chance of riding it out. And really, that's the goal of all this. Not peak physical performance, but peak longevity.

But I can tell I'm firming up my muscles and have definitely improved my endurance since starting out. I'm not aiming for muscle mass, just for good solid general fitness.

I generally don't work out on weekends, since those are when I do other activities, often including some kind of physical outdoor recreational activity.

I try to make sure to have time available for each full daily workout, but if I'm short of time, I can cut the number of reps, sets, or laps down, cut the time down, cut the rest periods by 15-30 seconds, or skip some yoga poses.



Monday: Pilates/Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

Warm-up: 5 minutes on rowing machine or elliptical.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's weightlifting stretch routine.

Strength part 1: 15-25 minutes of Pilates mat work.

Strength part 2: 25-30 minutes of free weights and weight machine following Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle. 3 sets of 8 reps for each of 11 separate exercises at slow, controlled pace, with 15-60 seconds rest after each set. I make sure the amount of weight I use doesn't cause any joint pain during or after completing all the sets.

The exercises and weights (pounds):
  • Squat, 40
  • Leg extension, 55
  • Leg curl, 25
  • Chest press, 55
  • Chest fly, 35
  • Seated row, 55
  • Shoulder press, 35
  • Lat pull-down, 55
  • Tricep push-down, 45
  • Bicep curl, 25
  • Ab flex, 55
These are mostly an increase of two 5- or 10-pound plates from the previous program, except for the squats, which is a reduction of 30 pounds to reduce the strain on my lower back.

Since my weight machine doesn't have a leg press, I do squats with a barbell.

I don't like the bicep curl station on it, so I do those with either Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells, or the dumbbells that come with the barbell. I have a range of hex dumbbells from 10-30 lbs., which is convenient for doing a variety of free-weight exercises without having to change plates.

I use a Bicep Bomber for bicep and tricep isolation with both the free weights and the machine.

Weight machines generally isolate the targeted muscles and joints well, so all the effort is directed to them. While that's good for building just those areas, it also means higher force on them and higher risk of injury. I pay close attention to make sure I'm not overdoing it.

I built up from the previous level by adding weight every 6 weeks, cutting back to 6 reps for each set for two or three workouts, then increasing to the regular 8 reps.

Cool-down: 3-5 minutes on elliptical.



Tuesday: Pilates/Running For Endurance

This workout can be done almost anywhere outdoors, good for traveling. Also, many offices, hotels, and resorts have treadmills in their gyms. I do post-workout stretching to prevent tight or sore muscles the next day.

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's pre-run stretch routine.

Endurance: 30 minutes on treadmill in 5-minute intervals: 1 minute walking at 3 mph, 4 minutes running at 5 mph.

My goal is still to work up to the USMC Timed Run requirement, which is 3 miles in 28 minutes or less (6.4 mph continuous running), but I realized it's going to take me longer to get there.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Anderson's post-run stretch routine.



Wednesday: Yoga For Balance And Flexibility

This workout is very portable after memorizing the sequence of moves, good for traveling.

Because yoga workouts generally incorporate warm-up, stretching, and cool-down, I don't do those separately.

No matter what else I do during the week, if something disrupts my routine and I have to skip one or more workouts, I make sure to do this one, because of its general therapeutic and stress-reducing effects.

Balance and flexibility: 60 minutes of Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs by Rodney Yee. I cycle through the different programs on different weeks. They're all very similar, but with slightly different emphasis. I use a Yoga Mat, Block, and Strap Set. Sometimes it's convenient to have a second block. The 3rd program on that DVD shows best how to use the blocks and strap.

I'm not nearly as flexible as Yee, so I limit postures to only the degree I can do comfortably.

The postures, or asanas, not all of which appear in every program (most of the names from the book 50 Best Yoga Positions):
  • Tadasana, mountain pose
  • Adho mukha svanasana, downward-facing dog
  • sun salutation (this is actually a sequence moving through several poses, including mountain pose, lunge, plank, pushup, cobra, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, standing forward bend)
  • Biralasana, cat pose
  • Virabhadrasana I, warrior I
  • Virabhadrasana II, warrior II
  • Virabhadrasana III, warrior III
  • Trikonasana, triangle pose
  • Uttanasana, intense forward stretch/standing forward bend
  • Dandasana, staff pose
  • Navasana, boat pose
  • Balasana, child pose
  • Single-leg forward bend
  • Paschimottasana, double-leg forward bend
  • Upavista konasana, seated wide-angle forward pose sequence
  • Baddha konasana, cobbler's pose
  • Supta padangustasana, reclining big toe pose/raised leg stretch
  • Jathara parivartanasana, revolved abdomen pose
  • Marichyasana III, sage twist III
  • Garudasana, eagle twist
  • Kapotasana, pigeon pose
  • Anjaneyasana, crescent moon pose
  • Dhanaurasana, bow pose
  • Setu bandhasana, bridge pose
  • Purvottanasana, upward-facing plank
  • Urda dhanurasana, upward-facing bow pose
  • Virasana, hero pose
  • Utkatasana, chair pose/power pose
  • Prasarita padottanasana, wide leg stretch/wide leg forward bend
  • Savasana, corpse pose/relaxation pose
I built up to this level by using Yee's Power Yoga - Flexibility, 25 minutes. This is mostly the same set of asanas as the Power Yoga Collection, so it's both good training to learn them, and a shorter session if I have less time. It's also a good light flexibility workout any time I need it.



Thursday: Ski Machine For Endurance

Warm-up: 5 minutes on ski machine at low to middle incline, and light but increasing resistance and pace.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's cross-country skiing stretch routine.

Endurance: 30 minutes on ski machine at middle to high incline, at middle resistance, doing intervals of 2 minutes at fast pace, 1 minute at slow pace.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on ski machine at middle to low incline, at reducing resistance and pace.



Friday: Pilates/Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

This is an exact repeat of Monday's workout.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Some Vegetarian Restaurants

One of the challenges in eating a plant-based diet is eating out, since most American-style restaurants cater to the primarily animal-based US diet. My wife and I both enjoy eating out as one of our main activities together.

But now that I'm paying attention, I'm seeing more restaurants that cater to vegetarians. Their menus tend to be very creative and flavorful. Eating at them gives us all kinds of ideas about dishes and substitutions to try at home. That really opens up the options for eating a delicious and satisfying vegetarian diet. It's way beyond simple green salad rabbit food.

Some restaurants specialize in vegan recreations of meat dishes, challenging your ability to tell the difference. These are great for taking people who feel they could never enjoy food that doesn't taste like what they're used to.

Others throw convention completely to the wind and make no attempt to recreate animal-based dishes. They show that a whole new range of flavors and textures are just as good.

Some are very careful and explicit about what is vegan (strictly no animal-based product used in any way) and what is vegetarian (sauces, broths, oils, sides, or some other aspect may include a small amount of animal-based product). It never hurts to ask, since some dishes listed as vegetarian are in fact strictly vegan, and others may have an unexpected animal-based ingredient.



The Hidden Vegetarian Restaurants

I have to remind myself that vegetarian dishes are prominent in many international cuisines.

Virtually any Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese restaurant lists tofu as one of the protein options for many dishes, so these can automatically be considered vegetarian. Tofu is a great replacement for meat, taking on the flavors of the sauces and spices.

Similarly, Indian and Ethiopian restaurants will have a number of vegetarian dishes, as will many other Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean restaurants. Some places will have separate meat and vegetarian buffets.

Broadening to ovo-lacto-vegetarian (adding eggs and dairy) opens the choices even more. For instance, many Italian restaurants offer meatless dishes that include cheese, in addition to the pasta dishes with purely vegetarian sauces like marinara or puttanesca. And of course good old pizza in its many vegetarian varieties.



The Restaurants

This is a list of restaurants in the greater Boston area that cater to vegetarians. Some are totally vegan, "except for the little half-and-half containers for the coffee" as they told us at one. Some are old favorites, and some are new discoveries.

This is only a tiny sampling, the ones we've tried so far. There are many more out there, so I'll be updating this on a random basis.

For each listing, the name links to the restaurant's website, and the location links to Google Maps.

Asmara Restaurant, Cambridge, MA: Eritrean and Ethiopean food eaten in traditional style, scooped up by hand with injera bread from a communal platter. We've been going here some 25 years, a family favorite. Our kids started requesting it regularly as their birthday meal once they grew past the Chuck E Cheese stage. It has both vegetarian and meat dishes. We always just order the meat sampler and vegetarian sampler to keep it simple and get a variety. I call this shoveling food, because it's so good you just shovel it in your mouth as fast as you can, until you suddenly realize it's all gone. The secret is the spices. Some are hot, but all are amazingly flavorful.

Life Alive Organic Cafe, Lowell, Boston, BrooklineCambridge, and Salem, MA: A variety of creative flavorful dishes that make no pretense of recreating traditional fare. The Lowell location is one of our favorites. The Cambridge location is just around the corner from Asmara.

Veggie Galaxy, Cambridge, MA: Conversely, this offers traditional diner comfort food, but all in vegetarian versions (with options for 100% vegan), and includes a vegan bakery. The meat substitutes we've had have been delicious and utterly convincing. This is the one with the half-and-half. Also just down the street from Asmara (Central Square Cambridge is full of interesting restaurants).

Pho Pasteur, Boston and Quincy, MA: A variety of Vietnamese dishes.

My Thai Vegan Cafe, Boston, MA: Upstairs above Pho Pasteur, vegan versions of Thai dishes.

Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro And Bar (Portland website), Portsmouth, NH, and Portland, ME: Vegetarian versions of several Asian cuisines, with spectacular flavors.

Mr. India Restaurant, Newburyport, MA: A wide range of delicious vegetarian dishes, including Nepali and Himalayan cuisine.

Mayuri Indian Cuisine, Acton, MA: Simple strip mall restaurant with amazing variety and flavors.

Dawat Authentic Hyerabadi Biryani Place, Nashua, NH: Another very simple strip mall restaurant with fantastic flavors.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Changing My Diet To Plant-Based

I'm in the process of changing my diet from significantly animal-based to significantly plant-based.



Motivation

The first inkling that I might need to change my diet came when I saw the Bodyworlds exhibition I mentioned in Welcome And Policies. In the section on centenarians, which is what inspired this whole venture, it mentioned that they ate primarily plant-based diets.

At the time, I was eating a modified keto diet, primarily animal-based foods with a significant plant-based component. Once I decided I wanted to become a centenarian, that information about plant-based diets concerned me.

My best chances for reaching my goal are to follow the examples of those who have already done it. My animal-based diet failed to do that. But the concept was still pretty abstract, so I didn't do anything about it.

Then I watched the Netflix documentary The Game Changers (which I'll refer to as TGC). This was consistent with information I had seen in other sources, and convinced me it was worth changing.
TGC discusses multiple factors that influenced my decision:
  • It presents multiple athletes who compete at world-class levels on plant-based diets.
  • It describes the negative effects of animal-based diets.
  • Dr. Ornish and others describe how plant-based diets can reverse those negative effects, and are typically the diets associated with long, healthy lives (Buettner's book The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People is prominently visible on Ornish's bookshelf).
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger and other athletes talk about how to go about changing from an animal-based diet to plant-based, and how it doesn't have to be all or nothing, it can be a step at a time.
  • Chef Charity Morgan cooks up some delicious-looking plant-based recipes for her husband, Derek Morgan, and his Tennessee Titans teammates.
  • It says meat production uses 83% of the world's farmland while providing only 18% of the calories we eat, and that animals consume 6 times more protein than they supply.
  • It says meat production results in overuse of fresh water, resulting in shortages for other uses, and that one hamburger has 2400 liters of embedded water in producing it.
  • It says that farm animals in the US produce 50 times more waste than the human population, and that the livestock sector is responsible for 15% of global manmade emissions, the same as all the forms of transport in all the world.
  • It says that agriculture can provide the solution, by shifting to plant-based food production, which globally would free up an area of land the size of Africa.
  • Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University of London, sums it up succinctly when he says, "The message is overwhelming both for public health and environmental reasons. The more plants you can eat, and the less meat and dairy you can consume, the better."
So it's good for me, and it's good for the planet. I have my personal reasons for changing my diet that affect me directly, and my altruistic reasons.

If that's too tree-hugger for you, consider this: It's not purely altruistic. There's also self-interest: to achieve my goal of a sustainable life, I need a sustainable planet. I'd like to live to my 100's in a world that's not wracked by climate change, resource exhaustion, and suffering populations. Read Harry Harrison's MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! for that vision.



Logistics

For now, I'm trying to split up my meals and snacks as follows as I adjust my habits and work down the animal-based foods we have in the house (the meat, eggs, and cheese we have in the refrigerator):
  • 50% vegan (no animal-based foods at all)
  • 25% vegetarian, with a small amount of animal-based foods on the sides
  • 25% with animal-based main dish
I had been planning to work through the whey and casein protein powders I have in the pantry, but after finally watching the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives (which features several of the same people who appear in TGC, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and his son Rip Esselstyn, and Dr. Terry Mason), I'll give them to someone at work.

I'll replace them with pea and soy protein powders. For those who are concerned that soy contains estrogen, TGC says it is phytoestrogen, not estrogen, and that it blocks estrogen reception. As bodybuilder Nimai Delgado points out in the film, he has no lack of testosterone.

Once I've completed the shift and tried it for a while, I'll decide how to proceed. On the one hand, while my wife enjoys the vegetarian dishes, she also likes to have animal-based foods at all meals, either as main dish or sides. That determines both what we eat at home, and what restaurants we go to.

On the other hand, the reported negative effects of even a single animal-based food serving make a pretty compelling argument for me to avoid them entirely.

Realistically, I think it's reasonable to expect that I'll have animal-based foods as main or side dish at 1 or 2 meals a week. That seems like a reasonable and doable compromise, where my body can tolerate any negative effects. That's pretty consistent with the Oldways Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American, and African Heritage diet pyramids.



Making The Change

While in the past my wife and I found the changes to a plant-based diet to be too much at once, over the years we've actually been eating more and more of these foods. We've already come to treat many of them as major components of our meals and snacks.

My modification to the typical keto diet (where I had already cut out highly refined carbs and replaced dairy milk with almond milk) was to add more vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.

So I was already pretty far along. Tipping over to replacing all the animal-based foods is proving to be easier than I expected. Meanwhile, TGC is very clear about taking it at whatever pace I'm comfortable with.

Knowing how to choose and prepare a variety of flavorful foods has been a big help. Part of the key is keeping it enjoyable, because eating is truly one of our sensuous pleasures. I don't want to feel deprived for the next five decades, I want to enjoy great food.

We've recently gotten some cookbooks that look very helpful:

Physical Fitness Program 2019-12

This is my current weekly physical fitness program, following my Physical Fitness Principles:
  • Monday: Pilates/TRX for strength.
  • Tuesday: Yoga for flexibility.
  • Wednesday: Pilates/running for endurance.
  • Thursday: Swimming for endurance.
  • Friday: Pilates/free weights and weight machine for strength.
I generally don't work out on weekends, since those are when I do other activities, often including some kind of physical outdoor recreational activity.

I try to make sure to have time available for each full daily workout, but if I'm short of time, I can cut the number of reps, sets, or laps down, cut the time down, cut the rest periods by 15-30 seconds, or skip some yoga poses.



Monday: Pilates/TRX For Strength

This workout is very portable, good for traveling.

Warm-up: 3-5 minutes on rowing machine, ski machine, or elliptical.

Stretching: 2-3 minutes of general stretching and twisting.

Strength part 1: 15-25 minutes of Pilates mat work from Anatomy of Fitness Pilates, by Isabel Eisen. 1 set of 5-8 reps for each of the 25 separate exercises, moving at slow, controlled pace. I use a Tune Up Fitness Coregeous Ball for the ball exercises, but any medium-size inflatable ball or a throw pillow would also work.

The exercises:
  • Pointing Dog
  • Wide-legged plie
  • Standing leg extension
  • Monkey walk
  • Push-up
  • Breast stroke
  • Back burner
  • Triceps dip
  • Side leg series
  • Waistline warrior
  • Pilates ball roll-up
  • Rollover
  • Single leg drop
  • Corkscrew
  • Pilates ball heel tap
  • Pilates ball double leg stretch
  • Pilates ball hundred
  • Pilates ball side-lying inner thigh
  • Double dip
  • Low-to-high plank
  • Pilates ball tabletop-bridge
  • Bicycle twists
  • Teaser prep and teaser
  • Frog
  • Single-leg gluteal lift
This is excellent core body strength training using just body weight. It looks deceptively easy, so I make sure not to overdo it.

I built up to this level by doing 3 reps for the first few times.

Strength part 2: 25-30 minutes of TRX Go Suspension Training. 2 sets of 45 seconds for each of the 13 unique exercise from the "Burn Calories" and "Build Strength" workouts on the included instructional poster, moving at slow, controlled pace, with 45 seconds rest after each set. For single-leg exercises, I treat each leg as one set.

The exercises:
  • TRX hamstring curl
  • TRX low row
  • TRX crossing balance lunge
  • TRX chest press
  • TRX squat
  • TRX Y-deltoid fly
  • TRX lunge
  • TRX biceps curl
  • TRX atomic pike
  • TRX triceps press
  • TRX single leg squat
  • TRX hip press
  • TRX spiderman push up
This is excellent overall strength training using just body weight. The dynamic suspension straps mean that it incorporates many muscles at once, not just the primary ones targeted in an exercise, often including core strength.

That also means the effort is less focused on the targeted muscles and joints than with a weight machine, reducing the risk of injury. I found this to be a good way to restore my shoulder, which suffers from rotator cuff difficulty.

Because it depends on body position and angle relative to the straps, it's infinitely adjustable. If I need to increase or decrease intensity, I just step forward or back an inch or two.

I built up to this level by doing 1 set of 15 seconds for each exercise with 15 seconds rest, then increased by 5 seconds each week until I was at 30 seconds. Then I switched to 2 sets, resetting to 15 seconds, and increased by 5 seconds again each week.

Cool-down: 3-5 minutes on elliptical.



Tuesday: Yoga For Balance And Flexibility

This workout is very portable after memorizing the sequence of moves, good for traveling.

Because yoga workouts generally incorporate warm-up, stretching, and cool-down, I don't do those separately.

No matter what else I do during the week, if something disrupts my routine and I have to skip one or more workouts, I make sure to do this one, because of its general therapeutic and stress-reducing effects.

Balance and flexibility: 60 minutes of Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs by Rodney Yee. I cycle through the different programs on different weeks. They're all very similar, but with slightly different emphasis. I use a Yoga Mat, Block, and Strap Set. Sometimes it's convenient to have a second block. The 3rd program on that DVD shows best how to use the blocks and strap.

I'm not nearly as flexible as Yee, so I limit postures to only the degree I can do comfortably.

The postures, or asanas, not all of which appear in every program (most of the names from the book 50 Best Yoga Positions):
  • Tadasana, mountain pose
  • Adho mukha svanasana, downward-facing dog
  • sun salutation (this is actually a sequence moving through several poses, including mountain pose, lunge, plank, pushup, cobra, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, standing forward bend)
  • Biralasana, cat pose
  • Virabhadrasana I, warrior I
  • Virabhadrasana II, warrior II
  • Virabhadrasana III, warrior III
  • Trikonasana, triangle pose
  • Uttanasana, intense forward stretch/standing forward bend
  • Dandasana, staff pose
  • Navasana, boat pose
  • Balasana, child pose
  • Single-leg forward bend
  • Paschimottasana, double-leg forward bend
  • Upavista konasana, seated wide-angle forward pose sequence
  • Baddha konasana, cobbler's pose
  • Supta padangustasana, reclining big toe pose/raised leg stretch
  • Jathara parivartanasana, revolved abdomen pose
  • Marichyasana III, sage twist III
  • Garudasana, eagle twist
  • Kapotasana, pigeon pose
  • Anjaneyasana, crescent moon pose
  • Dhanaurasana, bow pose
  • Setu bandhasana, bridge pose
  • Purvottanasana, upward-facing plank
  • Urda dhanurasana, upward-facing bow pose
  • Virasana, hero pose
  • Utkatasana, chair pose/power pose
  • Prasarita padottanasana, wide leg stretch/wide leg forward bend
  • Savasana, corpse pose/relaxation pose
I built up to this level by using Yee's Power Yoga - Flexibility, 25 minutes. This is mostly the same set of asanas as the Power Yoga Collection, so it's both good training to learn them, and a shorter session if I have less time. It's also a good light flexibility workout any time I need it.



Wednesday: Pilates/Running For Endurance

This workout can be done almost anywhere outdoors, good for traveling. Also, many offices, hotels, and resorts have treadmills in their gyms. I do extra stretching to prevent tight or sore muscles the next day.

Warm-up: 3-5 minutes on rowing machine, ski machine, or elliptical.

Stretching: 2-3 minutes of leg stretching.

Strength: 15-25 minutes of Pilates mat work.

Endurance: 30 minutes on treadmill at 5 mph (2.5 miles in 30 minutes).

My goal is to work up to the USMC Timed Run requirement, which is 3 miles in 28 minutes or less (6.4 mph).

I built up to this level by doing interval training, starting at 1 minute running with 1 minute walking, increasing the running time by 1 minute each week until I was up to 9 minutes of running with 1 minute of walking.

Cool-down: 3-5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 2-3 minutes of leg stretching.



Thursday: Swimming For Endurance


This is limited to health clubs with lap pools. I buy a 10-swim card at my pool, which is more economical than a monthly membership.

Stretching: 2-3 minutes of general stretching and twisting.

Warm-up: 2-4 lengths of freestyle at relaxed pace, 2 minutes per 50 (2 lengths of 25-yard pool).

Endurance: 32-36 lengths at workout pace, 1-2 minutes per 50, for total of 40 laps including the warm-up and cool-down. I break things up into groups of 5 50's: 2 50's of freestyle, 1 50 of kickboard, 1 50 of breast stroke, and 1 50 of freestyle. Sometimes I combine the 2 50's into a 100.

I built up to this level by starting with 5 50's, 2 minutes per 50, increasing by 5 50's every 2 weeks.

Cool-down: 2-4 lengths of freestyle at relaxed pace, 2 minutes per 50.



Thursday Alternative: Ski Machine Or Elliptical For Endurance


Occasionally I can't make it to the pool. The ski machine and elliptical are both good alternatives, since like swimming they're full-body, low-impact aerobic exercises (as opposed to running, which is a lower-body, high-impact aerobic exercise).

Warm-up:
 3-5 minutes on rowing machine, ski machine, or elliptical.

Stretching: 2-3 minutes of general stretching and twisting.

Endurance: 30 minutes on machine at middle to high incline, at middle resistance, doing intervals of 1 minute at fast pace, 1 minute at slow pace.

I built up to this level by doing the same intervals, but with no incline and light resistance.

Cool-down: 3-5 minutes on elliptical.



Friday: Pilates/Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

Many offices, hotels, and resorts have some kind of weight setup in their gyms.

Warm-up: 3-5 minutes on rowing machine, ski machine, or elliptical.

Stretching: 2-3 minutes of general stretching and twisting.

Strength part 1: 15-25 minutes of Pilates mat work.

Strength part 2: 25-30 minutes of free weights and weight machine following Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle. 3 sets of 8 reps for each of 11 separate exercises at slow, controlled pace, with 15-60 seconds rest after each set. I make sure the amount of weight I use doesn't cause any joint pain during or after completing all the sets.

The exercises and weights (pounds):
  • Squat, 70
  • Leg extension, 35
  • Leg curl, 15
  • Chest press, 35
  • Chest fly, 25
  • Seated row, 45
  • Shoulder press, 25
  • Lat pull-down, 35
  • Tricep push-down, 30
  • Bicep curl, 15
  • Ab flex, 35
My goal is to at least double these weights, up to triple for some.

Since my weight machine doesn't have a leg press, I do squats with a barbell.

I don't like the bicep curl station on it, so I do those with either Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells, or the dumbbells that come with the barbell. I have a range of hex dumbbells from 10-30 lbs., which is convenient for doing a variety of free-weight exercises without having to change plates.

I use a Bicep Bomber for bicep and tricep isolation with both the free weights and the machine.

Weight machines generally isolate the targeted muscles and joints well, so all the effort is directed to them. While that's good for building just those areas, it also means higher force on them and higher risk of injury. I pay close attention to make sure I'm not overdoing it.

I built up to this level by doing 1 set of 8 reps for each exercise at light weight with 15 seconds rest after each set, then increased the weight by 1 setting each week for the next 2 weeks. Then I switched to 2 sets, resetting to light weight, and increased by 1 setting again each week. Then I switched to 3 sets and went through the weight settings again.

This was a fairly long progression, but it allowed me to build up gradually without joint or muscle injury.

Cool-down: 3-5 minutes on elliptical.