Annual Review 2020: The Mulligan Year

The year 2020 started off on an epic high note for me but quickly devolved into the same insanity as everyone else. Between COVID-19 and the political upheaval in my country (the US) and around the world it was a very stressful time. I mostly got through it with good spirits but being a stress eater and not one to naturally enjoy exercise means that while I started off on the right foot things quickly devolved. To say there were extenuating circumstances is an understatement. It’s not a legitimate excuse but it is what happened. Like the rest of us I want to forget 2020 but the cummulative health effects on my body from this year happened whether I like it or not. Let’s explore how this year held up in terms of my grades and metrics on the health and longevity front.

I was on fire coming into 2020 from a health and wellness perspective. At the end of 2019 I had determined to run another half marathon, having signed up for a race series for April. I actually managed to stick with my training through the month of December. My diet wasn’t great but I did managed to get all of that dialed in and keep up with my fitness routine throughout the first two months of the year. I even did that through a series of business trips and a vacation cruise. So hats off to me. I hypothesized that what was keeping me focused was the training for the races. I fully believe that now because once the races were called off I quickly devolved. The culmination of my training was a virtual half marathon that I ran in the beginning of March. A month later would have been my real one, preceded by a 5K and a 10K. I suppose I could have found new virtual races but instead I started slacking off and stress eating. In several ways I managed to stick with my five goals better than the last several years I’ve been doing this. It just was nowhere near where I wanted it to be

Goal Accountability

For 2020 I continuned tracking of the five daily goals for myself.The idea behind that being that it would keep me more accountable to hitting five structured goals. These goals align with the Blue Zones lifestyle components to some extent. These are the exact same five goals that I started tracking in 2017 except for the first one with a diet goal now of 75/25 plant based ratio rather than 80/20. The goals are:

  • Goal 1: Dial in the diet to be ~75/25 rule plant based whole foods diet.  Think “Eat-to-Live” mainstream diet method with slightly more animal products.
  • Goal 2: Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Goal 3: Physical activity levels such that either get 10K or more steps in a day or burn more than 2800 calories. This translates into either moving more or working out or both.
  • Goal 4: Daily calisthenics or yoga in order to increase agility, muscle balance, and strength.
  • Goal 5: Meditation or yoga in order to increase mental acuity and relaxation

2019 was my worst performance to date and I was hoping that 2020 would be my redemption. While it was better in most ways it wasn’t where I wanted it to be at all.:

Per Phase Goal Grades
Figure 1: Accountability Grades Per 4-week Phase


What we have is the grade for each of the categories for each of the 4-week periods that make up a whole year (a total of 13). As I stated above I started off very strong. Even with all the travel and the cruise during the first two phases, so eight weeks, I kept up with my training, meditating, and sleep. I refuse to abstain from indulgences on vacations but I was still able to hold a good B average even on that front. Phase 3 was the period where COVID landed on us. While I did make a concerted effort initially to hold the line I just didn’t. First to go was my training. I finished my “virtual half marathon” thus hypothetically hitting my goal at the beginning of Phase 3 and then training went off. Then as time went on over the following weeks so too did my diet. You can see my mid-summer attempt to bounce back but current events in the political arena got the best of me starting in mid-August and everything collapsed around then. Being a bit too pudgy for my own sensibilities after Thanksgiving provided a little prodding to start trying to dial stuff in but I allowed myself to become exasperated by things and indulge in the holiday food indulgences as much as ever. Things aren’t all bad though. This is the most consistent I’ve been with calisthenics and meditating. As a consequence my daily grades are actually more stable than most years:

Daily Grades
Figure 2: Daily Goal Aggregated Grades


I still had a zero day and some really low grades in the last quarter of the year. Sadly the overall trendline is negative from beginning to end. This year there was no W-shaped pattern with a recovery at the end of the year. However I actually held things together better than in 2018 and 2019. I never cratered as much as I did in 2017 either. Looking at the aggregated grades for the year this wasn’t the best but a big improvement from 2019, even with the falling off throughout the crises:

2020 2019 2018 2017
Goal 1 (Diet) 2.49 (C+) 1.99 (C-) 3.05 (B) 2.94 (B-)
Goal 2 (Sleep) 3.75 (A-) 3.23 (B) 3.60 (B+) 3.58 (B+)
Goal 3 (Activity) 2.95 (B-) 3.13 (B) 2.98 (B-) 2.81 (B-)
Goal 4 (Training) 2.13 (C) 0.85 (D-) 1.63 (D+) 1.27 (D)
Goal 5 (Meditation) 2.19 (C) 1.08 (D) 1.79 (C-) 1.52 (D+)
Total GPA 2.70 (B-) 2.05 (C) 2.61 (C+) 2.42 (C+)

Starting with the good news I have cracked the D-grade doldrums of training and meditation. It may “only” be a C but it was an improvement. I need to get more consistent with it though and ideally by doing so getting my training volume ramped up to something more reasonable. In the beginning of the year I had visions of hiring a personal trainer, taking up swimming, and trying for a triathlon as the follow up to my half marathon series in April. That didn’t happen. With COVID still with us it probably won’t happen in 2021 either. I can do a lot better still though. Sleep overall looks good although I actually have a huge drop off since the political crises which hopefully will be over soon. Shockingly in 2019 I did best on activity levels, driven in part by some vacations and spending more time in the theme parks when people visited. Latent exercise is the best but was hard to come by in 2020. I still pulled out a half decent grade. By fixing the D-doldroms on training and meditation and not totally sucking wind on the others I actually managed to have a total GPA of 2.7, or a B- finally. Considering the insanity of this year I’ll take it!

Nutrition

With 2019 being my worst diet year since I started running these summaries, although I have daily nutritional data going all the way back to the end of 2010, I had hoped to make 2020 a banner year, nutritionally. Things definitely improved substantially in many areas:

Nutrition
Figure 3: Annual Daily Average Nutrition


Lets delve into these numbers a bit. First the Good:

  • I’m getting almost all of my macro/micro nutrients (except just under on Vitamin D and Vitamin E) in my diet. Vitamin E is again just a hair under, so I wouldn’t be concerned anyway. I’m doing better on several of them and once I add the multivitamin I take every now and then plus a Vitamin D supplement I’m comfortably above the level for all.
  • I once again exceeded by Calcium and Potassium RDA levels unlike prior years
  • Nutrient ratios all look about where they’ve been and I got the alkalinity back on the alkaline side, although all of them could stand to be better.
  • For the first time my average daily caffeine intake levels were south of the 150 mg level which is about when caffeine addiction begins.
  • My fiber levels are back up to the levels I want and I just missed my target by two percentage points.
  • My average daily alcohol consumption is at the lowest it’s been of the past four years at 1.5 drinks per day. I think two drinks or less a day on average is ideal which I was just north of last year.

While there was more good than in 2019 there is still some bad to look at:

  • In 2019 I burned more calories than the year before but ate a lot more. This year I got my calorie consumption more in line but I actually burned even less, so it was at best a wash. Considering the increase in body fat over the year, see below, I’d say it was estimated balance was more spot on than in 2019. That also makes sense since I’ve never eaten so many of my meals at home where I can much more accurately estimate what is in my food and the weights/volumes of them.
  • Cholesterol levels were lower than in 2019 but still nowhere near where I’d like them to be according to the plan going into the year.
  • Sodium levels were steady which unfortunately means they are 3x higher than they should be
  • The last couple of years I’ve been unhappy about the fact that 20-30% of my diet was coming from junk food: pizza, alcohol, candy, chips, etc. This year I actually got that number down to 14%. I’m still not happy that much of the largest average contributors were junk food, but the ratios are getting better.

Body Composition

While I had some great success earlier in the year with leaning out and losing some weight, as the year progressed, exercised waned, and stress eating picked up the change in body composition was predictably bad:

Body Fat and Weight Graph
Figure 4: Annual Body Fat and Weight History


Net Calories Graph
Figure 5: Annual Net Calories History


In last year’s body composition assessment I wrote:

“Average weight, which started going down a bit (with good changes in body composition) in the beginning of the year, quickly started shooting up between in late February through April. It plateued again until August when it slowly started creeping up again through the end of the year to be ten pounds, or maybe more, higher than it was when I started the year. Body fat levels also creeped up over similar time periods until the the last month of the year when they started going down.”

The describes 2020 exactly, sadly. Although 2020 did not end with me dialing things in but leaving things pretty slack. I am not at my peak weight and body fat levels of previous years but they are still too high. There is no mystery how, especially when you look at the net calories over time.

Mood

I record many daily metrics that I don’t report here. I often don’t even do any analysis for myself on them. I hope to one day maybe do something with the data so I keep track of it but that’s the extent of it. However 2020 was a horrible year in terms of COVID and political turmoil. Stress ages especially when not dealt with. It’s the excuse I have made repeatedly for not exercising and my diet going out of whack. So for the first time I am graphing and analysing three daily metrics that capture that: happiness, angriness, and stress. Each day I mark down on a scale of 1 to 5 on average how the day was, where 1 is the worst number and 5 is the best. So a very stressful day that I wasn’t especially happy and was prone to be pissy to people would score all 1’s and 2’s. A wonderful day off without a care in the world where even someone cutting in front of me in line wouldn’t take the smile off my face would be all 5’s. With that in mind let’s look at these levels and see how I dealt with the events of 2020 over the year:

Happiness graph
Figure 6: Daily happiness measure


Angriness graph
Figure 6: Daily angriness measure


Stress graph
Figure 6: Daily stress measure


I liked to think that I was dealing with the COVID and whole pandemic shutdown thing pretty well. I was fortunate enough to not have to worry about not being able to make it to a job site to be able to keep up paying my bills. I am not a frontline worker having to deal with that first hand. It is really born out in the data though. I did have increased stress in the mid-March timeframe and a bit more in early May but overall my moods were pretty stable. It was really the events around our political upheaval that really weighed on me. There is almost a sinusoidal oscillation down from late-June on. It was really in the last weeks of the election and all the mishegas in November that I really felt weighed down. The end of that came with the third certification of the legitimate vote in Georgia and the other states. It lines up almost exactly with my increased stress eating, which isn’t exactly surprising but at least it’s consistent. While COVID will be with us for some time, since I am apparently coping with it not too badly I more look forward to the ending political upheaval soon. If It doesn’t I foresee lots of unnecessary negative emotion impacts in my upcoming year. Which brings me to the look forward into 2021

Looking Forward to 2021

In some ways 2020 will be with me more than any year I’ve lived through yet. I don’t relish that fact. I don’t want to dwell on this dumpster fire of a year either. The extra wear and tear of not eating as well as I should, not exercising as consistently as I should, and overall being slack with mental exercises thankfully hasn’t manifested in tests or measurements yet. But why tempt fate each year, right? Looking at an artificial clean break with 2021 I’m hoping once again to try to get things more on track. What does that look like?

First, signing up for races is really what drove my earlier fitness successess. My long term desire to live to be a healthy 100+ years old doesn’t do it. The incremental more fit I feel doesn’t do it. Having those events do. This is not the year that I’ll be signing up for in person events unless it is perhaps in the second half of the year when we are on the other side of the vaccination plan. I can try to find some virtual groups doing the same though, and that’s one thing I plan on doing. I’m going to be tweaking my diet a bit as well.

I still want to shoot for many of my prior objectives: caffein intake at 150 mg or less, all levels within normal parameters, and to eat a plant dominated diet with lots of whole foods. I have previously measured the “plantiness” of the diet by looking at the alkalinity ratios, fiber level, and the cholesterol level. For this next year the cholesterol level is going out the window. I’m eating a lot more eggs and fish. Both of these, especially shellfish, have very high levels of cholesterol. If I were eating these as part of pastries it’s one thing. As a component of a low inflammation diet with lots of plants however I think they are a net positive. I’m therefore not going to be targeting cholesterol this year and instead will look at the alkalinity and fiber only. If all other ratios stay in line while those look good I’ll consider the diet “plantiness” enough. Diet wise everything else is status quo.

My five goals are also mostly status quo. These are very much founded in elements of the Blue Zones lifestyles. Reinforcing them for longevity purposes is key. Again my diet is slightly tweaked a bit. I would not call my eating style “eat to live”-like any longer, but then that was never the Blue Zones(ish) diet compositions either. So the wording of Goal #1 is to eat more Blue Zones plant dominant diet. Goals #2 (sleep), #3 (physical activity), and #4 (calisthenics/yoga) are all identical. Goal #5 in previous years has strictly been meditation. That was really targeting brain health. I am expanding Goal #5 to include other brain health exercises. Meditation for at least 15 minutes a day is one way to hit that metric. Other ways include playing Lumosity, learning to write with my non-dominant hand, relearning to play the violin/viola, learning a foreign language, and learning to draw/paint/illustrate. The point is to spend at least some time each day working my brain in ways it isn’t normally exercised.

  • Goal 1: Eat a Blue Zones inspired plant dominant diet
  • Goal 2: Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Goal 3: Physical activity levels such that either get 10K or more steps in a day or burn more than 2800 calories. This translates into either moving more or working out or both.
  • Goal 4: Daily calisthenics or yoga in order to increase agility, muscle balance, and strength.
  • Goal 5: Brain exercises one or more of:
    • 15 minutes meditation
    • 10-15 minutes lumosity + one other exercise
    • 10-15 minutes non-dominant hand handwriting exercises + one other exercise
    • 30+ minutes musical instrument
    • 30+ minutes foreign language learning
    • 30+ minutes graphic arts learning

With that I look forward to 2021 with optimism on making more improvements over 2020 in my personal life and hopefully in a world that is getting less insane as the year unfolds.



Picture of Me (Hank)

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