Free Will and Exercise

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, January 28, 2018

I’ve always been doubtful about the concept of free will. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become a complete skeptic. If we had free will would anyone be fat? If we had free will would anyone be self-destructive? Maybe I lack free will and other people have it because some people always do the right thing. Or maybe, those people who succeed have other internal motivating factors pushing them. For example, it could be all those men and women who faithfully work out at the gym are compelled by relentless mating impulses and not free will.

I have found that pain is an effective but imperfect motivator. I have chronic back pain. I also have clogged arteries.  Both will nag me incessantly if I don’t eat and exercise properly. Chest pain and shortness of breath is a wonderful motivator, but I inconsistently obey its commands. Immobilizing back pain will also get my attention but I don’t always listen. In both cases, I do just enough to get those two nags off my case. Why don’t I do more?

The Thinker

If I truly had free will I’d exercise regularly and diet until I got down to a healthy weight. Intellectually I know making those choices could rid me of my pain burdens and even give me freedoms I haven’t had in years. So, why don’t I do what needs to be done? Obviously, a lack of free will.

Other folks might say its a lack of willpower, but I disagree. I say free will is where willpower should come from. Let me use an example.

I have spinal stenosis which causes numbness in my leg that can lead to back pain. I also have some bad discs in my lower spine that can cause dull back pain. And if I let both get out of hand I get tight muscles in my lower back that causes very sharp back pains. I can’t handle anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. If I eat a healthy diet I can keep my inflammation in check and reduce the numbness in my leg down. If I exercise and maintain a symmetrical posture for sitting and sleeping I can keep my discs happy. If I do both I don’t experience muscle pain. It’s like walking a tightrope.

My doctors have always told me my spinal stenosis would get worse but I’ve been able to keep it in check by faithfully following my diet, doing physical therapy exercises, and working out on my Bowflex machine. I’ve been doing this for years, and have kept the numbness and pain to a minimum. It never goes away completely, but I keep it at a level I consider okay.

Everyone once in a while I’ll rebel and skip a day or two of exercising. I just want to have a vacation from my routine. But it always costs me. If I vacation too long I pay severely where I’m laid up using heating pads and taking drugs that upset my stomach. Interrupting my routine starts a downward spiral and I have to fight hard to regain control.

Recently I took a vacation, lost control, and couldn’t get it back. I thought I’d finally reach the point where things would get worse like my doctors told me. That was depressing. I had to take drugs that totally tore up my stomach. At which point I had to stop taking the drugs. I figured I had to do something different. I remember I had started doing Miranda Esmonde-White exercises last year and they helped.

Here’s the thing. When I feel good I do less to help myself. If I had free will I would always know never to stop doing what’s good for me. I don’t decide to do right because of my willpower or free will, I do it because of pain. At least I respond to pain. I know people who don’t. They do nothing to help themselves and just suffer.

My current free will crisis is the knowledge that doing the Miranda Esmonde-White exercises is the best thing I’ve done for my back in years. In fact, for a few days, I felt no pain whatsoever. That was remarkable. Of course, the first thing I did when this happened was to start eating bad food and skipping my exercising. And the pain came back.

The Miranda Esmonde-White classical stretch exercises showed me that I had a lot of tight muscles I wasn’t stretching in my normal physical therapy exercises, and when I loosened them up my back felt wonderful. I could sit with my legs crossed. I could slouch while sitting. I could sit in chairs that usually hurt my back.

I’ve been doing episode 1003 (Season 10, third episode) “Spine Stretch for Posture” daily since January 1st – 28 days in a row. There are 29 other episodes in the Season 10 DVD set I bought. Intellectually, I know if I systematically did more Miranda Esmonde-White episodes I might get much better. Yet I can’t make myself try them. I’ve been faithfully doing episode 1003 every day because it keeps the pain at bay but I can’t push myself to do more. Why?

Free will is an iffy concept. But I think of it this way. I don’t believe in souls, but let’s use the concept of a soul as an illustration. Think of the body as an automobile and the soul as the driver. I would say free will is the ability of the soul to decide where to drive the car. I don’t believe in souls or free will because our conscious and unconscious minds are completely integrated into our bodies. They can’t be separated. My conscious mind is only a fraction of the whole. Evidently, my body and unconscious mind also want to drive.

If we had free will we’d have complete say over our body and unconscious mind. At least that’s my theory. Sometimes I think my conscious mind can trick the other two.

My body and unconscious mind don’t like eating healthy or exercising. They constantly try to con me to quit being good and doing what they want. But I’ve learned that I can fool them by repetition and conditioning. I’ve been able to muster up enough free will and willpower to make myself do episode 1003 every day this month. Sometimes its a struggle. I’ve discovered it helps to do it first thing in the morning. I just tell myself I can’t do anything fun until I do my Miranda exercises.

At first, it was really hard. My muscles were tight, I lacked the stamina. And the exercises seems confusing to my uncoordinated ways. I can’t dance because I can never remember the steps. So following Miranda always feels clumsy. Even after doing this routine 28 times I still struggle to remember the order of the exercises. This is another revelation about my lousy memory. At first, I thought it might be another sign of aging, but then I remembered I’ve never been able to remember song lyrics or melodies, even to songs I’ve heard a thousand times.

I’m reminded of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. He started out with eight, but eventually added a ninth, but others have suggested even more mental abilities. Free will or lack of free will might be due to a combination of ability levels.

Types of multiple intelligences

My solution has been to relax and just go along with the DVD. Over 28 days I’ve gotten much better at following Miranda’s moves, and even learning routines I hated. And the routines I hated were always the ones I had the most trouble following. But persistence has paid off. I realize Miranda was right, stretching all my muscles helps do the routines and erases my chronic pains.

Now, you’d think learning this powerful lesson would allow my free will to decide to do the right thing every day. It doesn’t. It’s a constant struggle. I resent giving up those 23 minutes. My unconscious mind and body like total freedom to be lazy and wanton. They hate that my conscious mind is always wanting to do something that requires discipline. For my whole life, I’ve hated to put anything on my calendar. Even if it’s something fun and exciting like a great concert.

My conscious mind is trying to fight this though, to trick my unconscious mind and body. I keep thinking if I could only remember the Miranda Esmonde-White routines I could do them throughout the day during odd moments. They say sitting is this new smoking, so doing something every hour would be great for my overall health. And, I wouldn’t feel like I have to follow a set routine. The trouble is I can’t remember the routines. Oh, I can remember them in a haphazard way, but I really need to be organized and stretch every set of muscles through the day.

Part of the problem is I follow the routines visually and I have a very poor visual memory. I wish each routine had a name. I’ve thought about watching all 30 episodes and trying to create a total list of routines and give each a name to memorize. And then work to condition my unconscious mind and body to do a few routines each hour during the day. That might fool them I’m not having to dedicate myself to regular exercising period.

I’d love to give up having to exercise every morning before I can start my day. I hate losing an hour to a scheduled routine. I tell myself if I would stop once an hour and do a few minutes of stretching I’d end up exercising more and I might be able to give up the morning routine and even the Bowflex machine. Miranda claims her stretches is all the exercising an older person needs, and that might be true. I feel like I stand taller, have better posture, and have more strength in my arms.

Which brings us back to free will. If I had a choice this is what I want. (Well, what I really want is to eat anything I want, never exercise at all, and still be healthy.) If I had free will I should be able to say, “This is something that works and I’ve decided to do it.”

Getting old is a pain in the ass. Wearing out is a pain in the ass. I recognize I must work harder and harder to maintain my dwindling vitality and wellbeing is just how it’s going to be. I just wish I had the free will to do what I need to do without having to fight sloth and gluttony.

JWH

 

 

 

 

 

Consciousness and Aging

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 13, 2017

If you’re in your social security years, how do you tell the difference between an episode of poor health and getting old? What does getting old feel like? At what decade do we lose our vitality? Since I have no previous experience of being old it’s all guesswork on my part. Whenever I get sick now, I feel like I’ve gotten old because my drive disappears, but when I feel better, I think, “Oh, I was just sick.” When I was younger and got sick, I just felt possessed by ill health — it didn’t affect my mental attitude. Now it does.

There’s an old saying, “You’re only as old as you feel.” My doctors have been pushing statins on me for years, but I always have to quit them after several months because of the side-effects. After I quit and get them out of my system, I feel ten years younger. That’s an amazing sensation. Of course, my doctors insist I go back on the statins by taking a smaller dose. I’ve tried 40mg, 20mg, 10mg, and I’m now on 10mg twice a week, but three times I’ve experienced that premature aging affect. My conscious outlook on life is dramatically different when I’m off the statins. Unfortunately, many factors statistically demand I need to take them.

1966-2016-Jim-Harris.jpg

For several weeks now I’ve been having trouble with my stomach. It leaves me feeling yucky, old feeling, and indifferent to doing the things I love. I’ve been experimenting to see which foods are upsetting my stomach, but some sixth sense tells me my gut bacteria are out of whack. There’s tons of promotional literature about the miracle of probiotics but I’m afraid of taking supplements since they are unregulated. I did find “11 Probiotic Foods That Are Super Healthy” and I started eating some of them. If anyone has experience with probiotics, let me know. But my gut is telling me I’ll feel much younger if I could get my bacterial house in order.

All this getting sick and getting better is teaching me something about consciousness. My various perceptions about living and doing are directly linked to physical well-being. But I’m feeling a distinct difference over time that might be aging. I’ve been retired four years now, and it seems like I’ve already gone through a number of psychological phases. They are subtle, and all of them are related to ambitions.

At my age, I no longer have big ambitions. I turn 66 this month, so I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to be when I grow up. My goals are about what I can do in a day. For example, writing this essay is typical of my ambitions. I have little projects and hobbies I want to do, and on average, each ambition takes hours of work and concentration. I no longer think about projects that take days.

When I’m feeling “old” I don’t even want to do something that takes hours to complete. If I’m feeling older, I tend to want to do things that are in the moment, like hanging out with friends, watching television, listening to music, or reading.

This makes me theorize that aging is related to the scope of our ambitions. It’s not a perfect idea. Some young people can dedicate themselves to a decade of work, like getting a Ph.D. or learning to play a musical instrument professionally. While others might only commit to months or weeks. I’ve never been able to commit myself to really big projects.

Last year my friend Mike and I spent months creating version 4.0 of the Classics of Science Fiction. That felt really good. I’ve wanted to find another project that size because it feels rewarding, and healthy, to get up every day and get a little more accomplished on a long-term project. However, I think I’ve aged because I don’t have what it takes to mentally do that now.

I keep thinking if I could get healthier I might. I try hard to eat right and exercise, but those old standbys aren’t paying off dividends like they used to. That’s why I’m starting to think aging is related to ambition. Health problems come and go, and if I could filter out their up and down effects, what’s left could be attributed to aging.

Knowing this makes me think I can apply mind over matter to counter aging. Mentally, I keep blowing a bugle sounding “Charge!” assuming I’ll jump to my feet and dash up some hill. But I don’t. I rationalize how comfy my chair is, how alluring the dark jazz I’m hearing on the stereo, how I’d rather just stay read or daydream instead.

Is aging the state of consciousness that compels us to do less?

I’ve always paid attention to old people because they are the trailblazers exploring a future I might see someday. Most of them are doing less. Sure, there are outliers who are more active in their eighties than I was in my twenties, but mostly I see them giving up their hobbies one by one. I’m evening seeing my friends who are in their sixties starting to give up some of their once cherished activities. Sometimes it’s just practical sanity, like giving up mountain biking. Other times it’s because of failing body parts, like giving up music because of growing deafness. And a lot of it is downsizing because of money, time, or jadedness.

For decades I was a programmer. I thought I’d continue to program in retirement, but I haven’t. I still think of myself as a “programmer” even though I haven’t programmed in four years. It’s a kind of letting go. I haven’t let go, but I should. I still want to program. I still read about programming. I still think of programming projects. I just don’t program.

Is aging the chasm that widens between doing and not doing?

JWH

How to Save Thousands of $$$

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An American Sickness by Elisabeth RosenthalThere are some books everybody should read. Often those books are on topics few people want to think about and the book I want everyone to read is about health care — a subject that will bore the will-to-live out of most readers. An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal is a book I read for my Two-Person Book Club, and we both found it riveting.

As long as you can stay out of a hospital, emergency room, or a doctor’s office that’s aligned with a hospital, you’re probably okay to skip reading this book. But don’t think having good health insurance will protect you from bankruptcy. Rosenthal’s book is about all the ways the American Medical Industrial Complex is finding to bill you beyond what your insurance will pay. If you have any kind of savings at all, they are at risk of being wiped out by playing Russian roulette with our current healthcare system.

What Rosenthal thoroughly proves is our plutocratic government will always take political donations from the greedy, which explains the escalating medical costs in America. Republicans are hell-bent to kill Obamacare because they want to cut taxes for themselves and their donors don’t want any laws that impede them from profiting on the misery of sick folks.

This is the second time I’ve written about this book. I’ve told all my friends about it, and none of them are interested. An American Sickness scares the bejeezus out of me. The only way we can avoid being ripped off is by collectively working together. Expecting Congress to solve this problem is insane unless there’s an overwhelming demand from voters.

Everyone wants to have a health insurance policy that covers all their medical bills and never worry what hospitals and doctors bill their insurance. That’s not going happen. One day you will receive a bill that your insurance won’t pay, whether it’s $600, $6,000, $60,000 or $600,000, and you’ll not be able to wish it away. Rosenthal had many stories of people going to an emergency room and ending up owing the price of a Mercedes or even a median-priced house because parts of their bill weren’t cover by their insurance.

I was just on the phone with a friend who got a $29,000 ER bill after he fell off his bike while on vacation and needed 13 stitches. He’s now wrangling with his Medicare Advantage plan over how much he has to pay for this out-of-network event. He also says he’s in the Medicare donut hole and paying $500 a month for insulin and $600 a month for his digestive enzymes. [Rosenthal relates a story of a mom taking her toddler to a pediatrician who referred her to a plastic surgeon that put in 3 stitches and was billed $50,000. So my friend got a bargain for 13.]

Rosenthal offers hope, but it depends on political change. And for political change to occur more people need to read this book. That means you.

Recommended Reading

JWH

 

Do I Have Diabetes?

Here are the symptoms from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) symptoms page:

  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss – even though you are eating more (type 1)
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)

I do pee a lot, but I thought it was because of my prostate was getting old. Now I wonder. The reason why I thought something might be wrong is I’m napping more, especially after meals. I was getting more and more tired. Then I thought maybe I wasn’t getting enough protein. I’ve been on this plant based diet for over a year, and it has little protein and fat. So, I started eating protein bars and even tuna, which is a big deal for me since I’ve been a vegetarian since 1969. That turned that problem around. But then I read protein helps with insulin processing. It’s amazing how many factors we have to consider maintaining our health.

HealthPro Easy-Touch

I figured a little science experiment was in order, one that I could make into a blog post. I bought a glucose testing kit, the kind diabetics use to test their sugar levels. I figured I’d test before and after meals for several days and keep a record. But I kept putting off starting my experiment. Then I told an old friend who has diabetes about my plans and he went after me like a drill sergeant badgering me to get on the bounce. I did. Thanks.

One reason I didn’t think I had diabetes is I get my blood work done very regularly because my doctor hounds me about my cholesterol levels. She’s always said my glucose levels were good. Here are my fasting glucose numbers from doctor’s office for the last few years: 101, 90, 83, 77, 81, 75, 87 mg/dL. The acceptable range from the lab is 79-115 mg/dL.

My home glucose meter gave me these readers for the last 7 days taken in the morning: 92, 95, 88, 84, 95, 93, 92. That suggests my meter is in the same ballpark as my lab work. However, I’ve read that home meters are only accurate to +/- 20 points. I once had what I thought was a high reading, and I retested immediately, and it dropped 18 points. This suggests I can’t trust single readings and must look at averages over time.

The ADA recommends the first-thing-in-morning reading should be in the 80-130 mg/dL range. The American Association for Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) recommends < 110 mg/dL. So, by both associations, I’m okay for fasting numbers.

But what happens when I eat something? Both the ADA and AACE have recommendations for glucose numbers for 2-hours after eating: ADA recommends < 180 mg/dL for nonpregnant adults, and AACE recommends 140 mg/dL. My home testing had these numbers when I checked at the 2-hour mark after eating: 123, 143, 124, 125, 131, 106, 99, 98, 115, 141, 112. On average, I’m fine by both ADA and AACE. But I twice went over the AACE guideline for individual readings. In both cases after I ate my breakfast cereal which has blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. My breakfast cereal is a health food cereal with 8g of sugar, but the almond milk has 16g.  So, if I eat a meal loaded with sugars I’m pushing the AACE limit. And those two examples might just be within the +/- 20 error. I’ll have to continue to monitor my sweeter meals to know for sure.

To test things, I ate my standard breakfast at different times, and the results were the same. However, on some days I exercised before the 2-hour mark and the scores came down. That could be the exercise, or it could be those high figures were within the error margin. I don’t know. I’ll keep testing. By the way, they emphasize handwashing before using the test strips because food on the fingers will alter the reading.

I tend to go on junk food benders. I was tempted to eat a bunch of junk food (meaning sweets for me) and see what it did to my numbers. However, I’ve been eating healthier for weeks and I don’t want to start another bender. Once I start eating sweets I can’t stop.

Overall, I think I don’t have diabetes, but that I need to watch out. By the lab work numbers, I don’t even fall into the pre-diabetes range. However, doing my own testing shows I’m okay by the ADA, but iffy by the AACE when I fill up on meals with more sugar in them. Some of my healthier meals let me get back to the morning fasting range within 2 hours, and well within the 2-hour after eating ranges.

I believe this little experiment showed me that eating right and exercising does have a physical impact on my body, at least my glucose levels. Tracking my numbers might help me lose weight. Because I’m overweight, I’ve worried about diabetes. I have friends with diabetes or pre-diabetic. It’s scary. It will be interesting to see if I do lose weight if my ability to stabilize after eating a sweet meal happens quicker. Of course, as I work hard to control my weight and cholesterol I automatically eat what diabetics should eat.

Too bad they don’t have a FitBit that constantly reads out glucose levels. Such tech might provide biofeedback to eat healthier and lose weight. This little glucose testing kit has proved to be very useful and revealing. I’m going to report my findings to my doctor and ask for an A1C test, which is supposed to be more accurate than the tests I’m doing now.

JWH

Confessing My Anxieties

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, April 14, 2017

There’s nothing that sets off my anxiety more than having an event in the future to worry about. Next week I’m scheduled for jury duty and I’m worried I’ll be sequestered. I have no idea how many people are like me. We never know how other people think, do we? So I thought I’d just tell you about my quirky anxieties and figured you might tell me about yours.

the future 

The tendency is to believe everyone thinks in the same way, but I don’t know if that’s true. First, we can divide the world up into the anxious and the anxiety free. Of the people I know who confess their anxieties, it appears our symptoms come in all varieties, with many variations of physical and mental properties.

I have no idea how common my type of anxieties are among other people. If I studied psychology I could analyze the data and statistics, but I think I’ll take different path. I’m just going to confess my anxieties and ask my friends to confess theirs. Confession is great for the soul, or so they say.

I’m not sure how honest I should be. I don’t want to come across as psychically naked. But on the other hand, this experiment is based on revealing what’s behind my barriers. The act of writing down my problems is therapeutic. That implies a certain degree of honesty is required for effective results.

My main source of anxiety comes from thinking about the future. That can be planning my grocery shopping trip or worrying about climate change in the year 2100. I’ve always thought this was a particularly good trait for someone who wants to writes science fiction – an ambition I’ve had since age 12. Unfortunately, even though I imagine hundreds of scenarios every day, I’ve yet to learn how to dramatize them into fiction.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered this trait is a handicap. It has a number of downsides. It’s especially paralyzing for social activities. Future worry has led me to create a very comfortable now. I am my own siren. On the other hand, any disruption to my routine causes anxiety. Most of the time, it is very minor anxiety. I am happiest when I have nothing scheduled. I have friends that schedule their lives weeks in advance – what a nightmare.

My second anxiety, and I believe it’s caused by the first anxiety, is I hate to leave home. When I was young I always wondered why older folks were so homebound. Now I know. Home is security. Controlling my future is easiest done from home. Leaving the house increases the variables involved in imagining the future. When I was young I could go out and play all day, ranging over neighborhoods, countryside, and woods. It never even occurred to me to plan my future. After I retired I had nearly complete control over my time. It was only when I have to be somewhere else do I lose that control.

My agoraphobia is not extreme, but it is growing. I have not always been this way. Even after I grew up and out on my own, I could leave home with abandon, worry free. Before I got married, the longest I had lived in any one house was eighteen months. I’ve lived in my present house about ten years, and I think that long comfortable stay has affected me.

However, I believe my agoraphobia started when I developed a heart arrhythmia in my forties. My fear of having an episode in public made me want to always stay home. Even after I had surgery to fix my heart a bit of that anxiety remained. I began going out again, but never like before. Because this event was concurrent with getting older and living longer in the same house, I’m not sure which was the primary cause.

Then in my early sixties I had to have a stent put in my heart because of clogged arteries. Around the same time I developed spinal stenosis which has caused a number of physical limitations. I have a Catch-22 situation. If I exercise more to help my heart, my legs go numb, and I have back problems. If I exercise less the numbness decreases and the pain goes away, and my heart feels worse. I have to walk a razor’s edge to stay feeling reasonably well. I’ve also worked out a rather severe diet that helps both conditions. Eating out makes it very difficult to follow that diet. All of this conditions me like Palov’s dog to stay close to home.

Many of my retired friends are trying to do more outside the house, especially travel. Travel scares the crap out of me. First, I’d have to leave home. Second, I’d have to give up most control. Third, I’d have to eat at restaurants. Fourth, I wouldn’t have my custom exercise equipment. Fifth, I might have to sleep in a bed, which freezes up my back. (I’ve been sleeping in a recliner for years.)

Are my anxieties just in my head? Or has my body dictated them? If I worked hard I might discover how to eat healthy on the go, how to exercise anywhere with no equipment or portable elastic bands, how to sleep comfortably by improvising back friendly nests with available furniture at hand. Theoretically, all that’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine. To get a good night sleep I need a certain kind of recliner adapted with four kinds of pillows.

Now I know why old crotchety folks I met in my youth were so set in their ways. Aging means adapting to your bodily demands. If I eat just right, exercise just right, and sleep just right, I can avoid pain. Have my anxieties evolved through pain avoidance? Or am I just being a pussy? Should I just get over them?

My wife thinks I give in too easily. She might be right. She loves to be on the go, to travel, to be active. She has aches and pains – but just ignores them. I know a number of people our age who eat whatever they want, never exercise, and lead happy active lives. Then I know other people who are adapting their life to deal with ailments, conditions, pains, disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

Is anxiety mental or physical? Like I said, there many kinds of anxieties. I think some are mostly mental. I think mine are related to the physical, but I could be fooling myself. If I changed a mental condition with drugs or conditioning, is it really mental?

Most people associate anxiety with depression. As long as I can pursue my hobbies at home I’m extremely happy. I don’t feel crippled by anxiety. I guess I would if I wanted to travel. Maybe I’m happy because I accept my limitations. If I wanted more, I might be unhappy. Even this might be age related. If I was young and felt this way, I’d feel resentful, even imprisoned.

Does getting old allow us to accept what we can’t change? Or does getting old mean we stop trying to change.

Is everything I’ve written here a rationalization that allows me to avoid living life to the fullest? I have a feeling going to jury next week will teach me a lot. I’m not to try to get out of the duty, but it provokes all the fears I mention above. I’m having far more anxiety than before my heart procedures. I’ll write an update to this piece and confess what I learned after I’ve faced those fears.

JWH

How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D.

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, July 10, 2016

You will never understand the need for health until you have chronic health issues. I wrote a review of How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D, over at Book Riot. It got 4 shares. I had made the mistake of not targeting my audience. Book Riot readers are mostly young, so most of them don’t have health issues – yet.

I believe How Not To Die is an essential book for anyone who craves health, but your willingness to read it will be proportional to had bad you feel. It’s a shame we don’t eat healthy our whole life, rather than waiting until we see the shadow of the Grim Reaper to start. If you suffer poor health for a variety of reasons, you should read this book. To be specific, if you have:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pains due to inflammation
  • Mystery ailments and autoimmune diseases
  • Getting old and tired

Then this book is for you. You can get a feeling for why you should buy this book by visiting NutritionFacts.org and watching several of the videos. Dr. Greger is a medical journal reading monster. He analyzes all the data we hear about on the news, that’s always so contradictory and confusing, and then rephrases it so it makes sense. The book is a summary of all this knowledge, broken down into different health problems.

Since I have clogged arteries, and have already had one stent put in, I know what it’s like to hunger for health. I also have spinal stenosis, and know about chronic pain. And I’m overweight. I have learned to control my conditions and lose weight with diet and exercise. I don’t take daily pain pills or anti-inflammation drugs.

esselstyn5Years ago I discovered that physical therapy and exercise would controlled my back and leg pains, and my neuropathy. But I didn’t eat healthy and weighed 240 pounds. Just before I retired, I was having trouble breathing, with dwindling stamina. I had to have a stent put in. That’s when I read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyne, Jr., M.D., and saw the documentary Forks Over Knives. Both prescribed a plant-based diet for improved health.  Even though I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, my version of vegetarianism wasn’t healthy.

Because I felt bad, I was willing to give up my favorite foods, and go on the plant-based diet. I lost 30 pounds, and felt great. My LDL cholesterol went down to 91. Then I started cheating on the plant based diet. I gain several pounds, and began feeling bad again. My LDL went up. I’ve since become more strict with myself, started losing weight again, and felt better. I know the plant-based diet works because every time I cheat for a week, all my health indicators go negative.

The reason why How Not To Die is such an important book is because Dr. Greger explains the science behind eating a plant-based diet, and why eating what I love is bad. The plant-based diet is not fun. I don’t go hungry, but it’s hard to follow. The main drawback is learning how to cook. The next biggest obstacle is learning to eat different. Plus, I’m troubled because the plant-based diet seems counter to what we’ve been taught about nutrition. I eat little protein and even less fat. Dr. Greger shows overwhelming scientific evidence that following this diet is healthy. And that’s why his book is worth reading. Nutrition science is confusing, and overwhelming. His book and videos carefully shows how in study after study, science is learning that a plant-based diet is healthier, and can reverse the damage done by a lifetime of poor eating. All I can say is the book is convincing, because when I apply it, I feel the results.

The sad thing about all of this is I know how to help myself, but I keep fighting that knowledge. I want to eat foods that hurt me. I know they hurt me because of trial and error. I have more stamina, energy and sense of well-being when I’m on the diet. When I return to eating peanut butter, eggs, cheese and butter, I can feel my arteries clogging. Yet, I crave those foods in an insane way. For the most part I’ve already given up on candy, pop, desserts and other obvious junk foods. When I eat junk food I feel much worse almost immediately. When I give into my sweet tooth, my writing discipline disappears, and I start skipping exercise. I become a couch potato. But with cheese, peanut butter and eggs, its more subtle. I feel happier, but I start slowly gaining weight again, and eventually begin noticing shortness of breath. That’s when I jump back on the diet. But after a couple months, I’ll cheat again.

The title, How Not To Die, is very literal with this book. I doubt many will read it – unless they are suffering. If you are, you might want to give it a try.

JWH

Best Links About Medicare

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 13, 2016

I have many friends like me who were born in 1951, and we’re all needing to sign up for Medicare this year. I’ve promised several of them I’d search the web for the best advice. Medicare is amazingly complicated, and can still be quite costly. Make the wrong decision, and you’ll pay. I provide these links with no warranty of accuracy. This page was created to help my friends and I find out more about Medicare, but if they’re helpful to you too, then great.

General Information

Of course, the first place to visit is Medicare.gov, but you actually sign up through Social Security. I’ve got to say, this site is information overload. They also publish Medicare & You 2016 as a pdf booklet. Plus Medicare.gov offers a whole series of publications, some in ebook format. And Medicare even offers a blog. Here is Medicare’s intro video:

 

My Medicare Matters from the National Council on Aging is a friendlier introduction to Medicare, but still intimidating.

Of course, everyone wants to know what Consumer Reports says.

This video gives a simple intro that’s the first step on a long journey.

 

This information came from UnitedHealthcare, so I don’t know what their vested interests are, but they have a site Medicare Made Clear, and a series of additional videos that explain more about Medicare on YouTube.

FAQs

Medicare B & D vs. Medicare C (Medicare Advantage)

One thing that came up in the intro videos was the concept of Medicare Advantage. It seems very tempting because it combines several options into one plan. However, after watching this video I assumed it wasn’t for me. I don’t like insurance programs that limit choice of doctors and hospitals, but then I watched the second video.

 

Now I’m even more confused. “Medigap Vs. Medicare Advantage: Which is Better?” helps some. Probably if you live in a retirement community near good in-network support, and you don’t travel, Medicare Advantage might be a good deal. My fear is something catastrophic would happen to me, and I’d end up with monster medical bills I couldn’t pay without emptying my retirement savings.

It appears that Medicare Advantage often promotes preventative healthcare practices, and they will make sure you stay on top of your medical problems. That might outweigh the problems of working within a network.

Steve Vernon from CBS Money Watch writes, “Should you buy Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan?” Vernon offers additional links and essays on this topic, but I’m still just as confused and undecided. It seems your choice is between choosing parts B & D and spending around $150 a month, and choosing part C and paying lower monthly fees but with co-pays. Some plans have no monthly fees at all. Medicare Advantage sometimes includes dental and prescription drugs all rolled into one plan, but you’re restricted to which doctors and hospitals you can use.

Consumer Reports also has a page about “Medigap vs. Medicare Advantage.” It offers a nice comparison chart.

I then checked the entry on Wikipedia for Medicare Advantage. Evidently it’s a political issue to allow folks to find alternatives to Medicare. Medicare Advantage are private plans that are required to offer the same benefits as Medicare. By law, you can’t buy both. Medicare Advantage plans are more like HMOs or PPOs. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage program, it collects money from the government’s Medicare program. Which explains why going to an out-of-network healthcare provider might cost you 100%. I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia entry several times. This statement is telling:

There is some evidence that sicker people and people with higher medical expenditures are more likely to disenroll from Medicare Advantage plans and go into Original Medicare instead,[6] which could be due to the more restricted networks of health providers or to the benefit design of the plans. The federal government makes risk adjusted payments to private plans to avoid this, but it is unclear how effective that policy is.

In other words, if you’re healthy, don’t go to doctors often, and have good in-network support, Medicare Advantage might save you a good deal on monthly costs. Which explains why the advisor in the first video picked it for her father.

 

Medicare Part D

Part D is drug coverage. You can buy Part D from a private insurance program in regular Medicare, or you can get drug coverage in a Medicare Advantage plan. Consumer Reports offers “How to find the best Medicare drug plan.” There are penalties for not signing up right away, but they are low enough to consider delaying participation – see the skepticism section below.

 

 

 

 

Supplemental Skepticism

What makes things really confusing are supplemental plans. These are insurance plans to cover costs Medicare doesn’t, including the infamous “donut hole.” More on the donut hole can be found at Wikipedia.

David Belk claims paying for supplemental insurance is basically giving your money away. He says supplement insurance doesn’t cover what a lot of people think it does. However, I’m skeptical of his skepticism.

 

This just adds to my decision agony. I want to avoid any chance of being stuck with a gigantic medical bill. I hear about that in the news more and more. Belk claims insurance companies are playing into that fear. Belk says insurance companies are mostly insuring against minor costs, not major ones. And they don’t cover what Medicare won’t cover. David Belk is a MD that maintains the website True Cost of Health-Care. He even claims that opting out of Part D might be a good option if you buy low-cost generic drugs out-of-pocket. Check GoodRx.com for drug pricing.

I was all ready to load up on supplemental insurance plans until I saw this video. Now I’m not so sure. However, there are penalties for delaying joining Part B & D. So for those folks who are willing to bet they will always be healthy, they can delay buying Part B & D, but they need to know about the penalties.

Mistakes to Avoid

The penalty for not signing up for Part B on time is stiff – one that lasts the rest of your life.

The penalties for not signing up for Part B & D can be add up to a lot. But there are exceptions. It appears if you are still working and have good insurance coverage you’ll be excepted. Watch out though, how long you go between ending private insurance and starting Medicare is important.

My guess is people trying to keep their monthly costs down will pick a low-cost Medicare Advantage plan, which is a Medicare approved alternative to signing up for Part B & D. These folks will have to go to network doctors, but they may get better preventative medical care. And if Wikipedia is right, these people will eventually switch to traditional Medicare when they get older and sicker, because traditional Medicare covers more.

I thought my monthly bill for health insurance would go down when I joined Medicare, but that won’t be true. The insurance I now get through work is an extremely good retirement perk. If I spring for Medigap insurance, I could end up doubling my existing monthly healthcare bill. However, I have friends that buy their own health insurance and they will save a lot of money.

It’s critical for people to sign up for Medicare promptly. Delay will cause penalties that could continue for the rest of their life. Life would be far simpler if we had a single-payer system. The freedom of options requires both extensive study and risk. There are many private companies offering a variety of options to avoid potential medical expenses. If you have a very small fixed income, you’ll have to navigate these waters very carefully. However, it also appears you can easily overpay searching for peace of mind. None of us know how long we will live, or what kind of healthcare burdens we will face. If we make a mistake in these decisions we could end up spending more each month from our fixed budget, or incur risks to our shrinking nest eggs.

JWH