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Tabletop gaming and your health

For a long time, I thought of excercising doesn't concern me and that I don't need to care too much about what I eat – until I went to see the doctor for a routine check and he showed me how wrong I was.

Do you take care of your health?

We all love sitting around the table with friends, spending time in our favourite way – playing tabletop games of various sorts. We enjoy stuffing ourself with chips, candies, chocolate, beer, whatever tickles our taste nerves. I may be greyhame, harbinger of bad news – but nobody can do this endlessly and without regrets.

As we are gathering years, results of sedentary lifestyle starts raising it's head like a big ugly dragon. Doctors may tells us that we should watch our cholesterol, blood sugar and/or blood pressure, and our backs start to ache as a result of countless hours of sitting. 

My background

I do my work at computer, a lot of my freetime and hobbies involve sitting, and I sit at TV on evenings or browsing the net if I'm too tired to do anything else after work. That's a lot of sitting, and research after another is telling how sitting is killing is slowly. I guess there are many of you who find this situation familiar.

Once I went to health tests a few years ago when starting a new job, I was in disbelief to hear my cholesterol and blood sugar levels being noticeably high. In addition, about once in a month, I got pains on my back/shoulders area and drew me to massageur. Several years ago things had gotten so bad that I got a slipped disc at my neck, and I rested nights on a couch for a month, unable to sleep much because of the pain. 

So, after seeing the doctor, I did some changes; I learned to eat a lot of vegetables and dropped some 15kg, and I felt better, but the tests weren't still good. I needed to do more. 

Starting to excercise

I had been cycling to work several days a week except for the winter, and had walks now and then in addition to that. But that didn't seem to be enough.

About two years ago I read about how getting some muscles helped suck glucose from blood and decided to get some. I've never been excited about pumping iron; I've started at gym a few times before, but always quit after a month or few. It just feels boring. I also had issues with my free-time.

Now I started to do some excercise when taking kids to the play parks. Small parks were often otherwise empty and I dared to do some climbing and other stuff with my own bodyweight, and it felt fun! I started to visit play parks and empty school yards with racks for pull ups, dips and other stuff while my kids were playing. I got some home excercise stuff and visit outdoor excercise parks by myself, and found out about Calisthenics, where people do some quite crazy stuff by just moving their body around – and I know what I wanted to do!

So, I started practicing Calisthenics. I found sports I felt enthusiastic about which keeps me going. But as I already have more than 40 years behind me, and suffer from insulin resistance, I find that mucles don't come that easy. I'm progressing, but sometimes it feels so slow... and then again I feel that I've advanced in something else than I've been trying to advance in.

Results of excercise

I've gained some muscle. Not bodybuilding -type but leaner, and that's what I prefer. I'd actually like to lose a few more kg for practical reasons; 3kg of fat on my body is 3kg more dead weight to swing over that bar! Too bad I'm succer for delicacies. For a two or so months after starting to do pull-ups, my back and shoulders were killing me, but after getting used to it, I could ignore my monthly visits to massageur. 

Other lifestyle changes

I started to reduce sweets and other unhealthy snacks – but didn't get rid of them completely. Later I started intermittent fasting (16h fast) few days a week, skipping breakfast and having a late lunch, usually composed of broccoli and some other vegetables and cottage cheese or oats. I've reduced my carbs intake but I'm not on keto – I eat moderate amount of good carbs (and fibers!) and use a good amount of olive oil. 

About part-time fasting I'll have to say that while it probably is most healthy to fast evenings and break the fast with breakfast (...), last time I tried that I didn't sleep at all that night. I just can't sleep with empty stomach. Maybe that could be used to, but it's HARD for me at least.

Any exercise is good – don't stress yourself!

Disclaimer: I'm no medical (or nutritional) expert: If you want professional guidance, go to doctor. If you get hurt or ill, I'm not responsible.

Having a break to do push-ups, few pull-ups, some planking, superman (on stomach, legs & arms straight and raised), squats and lunges are all excellent exercises. Exercising just eg. to get bigger biceps is just plain dumb. Make exercises that engage larger group of muscles and you save time, teach your body's muscles to work coordinated and improve your general health.

If possible, leave your car behind and take a walk. Take the stairs instead of elevator. Walk a few bus stops extra; I use bus tracker app to see if the bus is late so I can use the extra time for walking towards the next stop.

But before you excercise, try it carefully and warm yourself up before doing anything. Try to stretch your muscles every day (I know it's hard, I wish I could get to it every day!), Foam roller or some Yoga can be great ways to help with flexibility and sore muscles. 10 minutes of foam rolling or stretching at evening while watching TV is quite easily done, but you might want to put your phone a reminder for this. Youtube and the net are full of advice on stretching, warm-up and excercising in general.

Few words about nutrition

While nutrition might be the most controversial topic around where everybody has their own opinions, there's a few pretty much everyone agrees: 

  1. Eat a lot of vegetables. My favourite is broccoli, and I eat a good amount of beans, seeds & nuts (although there are those that think their phytates prevent absorption of some nutrients)
  2. Eat berries and some fruits too.
  3. Eat meat in moderation, if any. This limitation is good for your health, our planet and ethical reasons.
  4. Eat fish.
  5. Eat healthy oils, eg. Extra virgin olive oil. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats (at least industrial ones) to best of your ability.
  6. Avoid sugars and refined flours. Use full grain. Artificial sweeteners are generally also bad and hurt your gut microbia, which is extremely important; Try to learn to drink mineral water (or self-carbonated to avoid excess plastic) instead of sweet drinks. This was the easiest think for me to do!
  7. If you like alcohol, Red wine has a lot of very healthy components; Remember that it's still alcohol, which can cause health issues and has 'empty' calories.

Of course you can have pretty much whatever you want now and then, if you eat healthily most of time and keep yourself moving. Keep it in moderation though, and trans fats should still be avoided.

I've never been able to eat fish, which I'm not too happy about. But I eat fish oil, not capsules anymore. Capsules were giving me fish-tasting burps, and they might have gone bad without you noticing it; I was surprised to find out that the lemon-flavored fish oil I started to have a spoonful daily didn't taste like fish at all!

Gaming snacks

Most of my friends still eat a lot of candy, chips and other stuff while gaming. I might sometimes too, but usually if I want to have gaming snacks, I try to eat nuts, rye or oats chips, 70+% chocolate, perhaps carrots and banana, or some Ambronite. You can check nutritional info on the packets if unsure; go for unsaturated fats and fibers; If you're trying to gain some muscle, some protein is great too!

Other healthy habits

Try to get enough sleep. This is where I could improve a lot. It often takes time before our children fall asleep, there are usually some homework to do bills to pay or maybe postponed work to do after that, and I want my relaxation moment before getting to sleep. If I have some red wine, I need some time before I can brush my teeth, so it might be well near midnight when I get to bed. One of the kids often comes to our bed at night, which might wake me up for some time, so my night's sleep might often go below 7 hours, which is too little.

Sleep is important for muscle growth, stress, learning and general recovery, so having too little sleep is bad. If you can sleep well for 8 hours, that probably is really good.

When working at the desk, if possible, have a break now and then, walk a little, stretch, do those push-ups. You can download an app for that like Workrave (Windows) or Time Out (OSX). Try to sit part of the day on a saddle-chair, sit on a gym ball or at standing desk. Try to work or use mouse with your other hand too.

And the last hint – while relaxation is always good (and playing games are a great way to relax!), an especially good way to relax is to go to a forest or park, researchs are showing that being among the trees reduce stress. Try to avoid using phone, although I sometimes go to take a walk when planning a game session, and make some notes on my phone.

Bottom line

Shortly – move more, sit less. Take small walks whenever possible, get some muscle. Eat a lot of vegetables and some berries (and fruits) too, avoid trans (and limit saturated) fats, sugar and refined flours. Have enough rest. And earlier you start to take care of yourself, the less issues you will have; health problems tend to lead other health problems, eg. if your back hurts so bad you can't move much, it lowers your general health.

And while many things on this might feel difficult, many of them start to feel natural after a while. I don't enjoy much about drinking sweet drinks anymore and don't feel comfortable devouring handfuls of potato chips!

If there's interest in this, I might make another posts taking nutrition and excercise -topics further.

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