Tag Archives: Health

Getting On With It! A 37 Year Retrospective of Life with HIV/AIDS (UPDATED)

The challenge of writing about 37 years of living with HIV/AIDS isn’t so much to write tomes about what actually was witnessed over that period. That is easy to do, and I could ramble on forever about it. The challenge lies in being objective and succinct, to tone down the schmaltz and sentimentality and cut to the chase. Not as easy as one may think, as these were the most challenging, relentlessly ruthless and heartbreaking years of my life. But if survival is the gauge of ones strength and tenacity, then I have come out at this end of it with flying colours. Indeed, the cup is half full!

The author at 65

So what was it really like in 1982 to be reading snippets in our local gay press about this mysterious illness in The States that seemed to be targeting gay men who frequented the saunas, and quickly killing them? Well, cynicism and disbelief to start with, and the surety that within a short period of time they would find an antibiotic to clear up yet another STD. Soon the snippets were to become columns, then pages as the mysterious and deadly illness leapt from the shores of America and found its way here.

Our response was mixed. The first recorded case of HIV at home was 1982, and the first death in 1983. We had our usual ratbags who yelled and screamed about God’s vengeance on the evil, sick and perverted gay lifestyle (obviously a different God to the compassionate, all-forgiving one that I had heard about), the advocates of hate who demanded quarantine for all infected persons, and those who either quietly or vocally wished that we would all die or just go away. Not that easy folks!

Thankfully, common sense prevailed and both the government and the grassroots gay community combined to put both AIDS Councils and NGO programs in place. Our quick response was instrumental in Australia always being at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care. Within 2 years every state had an AIDS Council under the national umbrella of NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), and the formation of support organisations such as The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (named after the first person to die from AIDS in Australia), Community Support Network (CSN) and Ankali. Without these organisations life would have been grim for those infected. In 1985 testing was introduced. It was a bit of a strange affair in the early days. Due to hysteria and discrimination no one wanted their personal details on a database, so you chose a name, and Albion Street Centre issued you with a number that then became your ID. You had a blood test, and waited for two weeks – talk about high anxiety – to get your result. I had a mystery illness in 1982, a flu-type illness that wasn’t the flu, and already suspected that I had sero-converted and was going to come up HIV+. I was right. Counseling? Oh yeah, we had a lot of that back then. “You’ve got about 2 years to live”. Shrug shoulders “Okay”. And off we went knowing the inevitable was rapidly approaching, and it was time to PARTY!!! What else could you do?

However there were horror stories. The disgusting treatment of young Eve Van Grafhorst is something for all Australians to be ashamed of. Born in 1982, she was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion. When she attempted to enrol in her Kincumber pre-school in 1985, parents threatened to withdraw their children due to the (supposed) risk of infection. The family was literally hunted out of town, and forced to leave the country and go to NZ. I will never forget the sight of this poor, frail girl on her way to the airport. I, like many others, was horrified that this could happen in Australia. Thankfully, her NZ experience was quite the opposite, and she lived a relatively normal life until her death in 1993 at 11 years of age. Her parents received a letter from Lady Di praising her courage.

Eve van Grafhorst was diagnosed with HIV and hounded out of Australia, but her legacy endures

Meanwhile, the Australian nightmare was well and truly hitting home. My first close friend, Andrew Todd, died in 1986. At that time there was no dedicated AIDS ward, and Andrew was shifted between wards as beds were needed for other cases. He died on Boxing Day in A&E (called St Christopher’s ward, due to people usually just “travelling” through it on their way to a dedicated ward) at St, Vincent’s Hospital In Darlinghurst. It is interesting to note here that the Sisters of Charity, who founded this hospital, put the hospital at the centre of HIV care very early in the epidemic, and also provided palliative dare through the attached a Sacred Heart Hospice. I had the sad duty of ringing all my friends at a party to tell them the sad news. Party pooper recognition acknowledged! Ward 17 at St Vincent’s eventually became the dedicated AIDS ward, and for the next 10 years was never empty. Other hospitals such as Westmead hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons; full contamination clothing for those working with HIV people, rooms not being cleaned, meals left outside doors. Even the poor old mosquito copped a hiding as a means of contamination, along with toothbrushes, glasses, cutlery and crockery. An advertising campaign featuring the Grim Reaper bowling down poor people created an apocalyptic vision of HIV that scared the life out of everyone. It was quickly withdrawn. In the interim, my 2 years became 4, which became 6 followed by 8. My life became a haze of alcohol and cigarettes, not shared alone.

In the 80’s I held a lot of parties with anywhere from 40- 60 friends attending. By 1996, if I had tried to hold a party I would have been lucky to have dug up 10 friends to attend. In the blink of an eye my social circle was effectively wiped off the face of the earth. Hospitals, hospices, funerals and wakes became the dreaded regular events. It was death on a relentless and unforgiving scale. The Quilt Project became the focus of our sorrow, and it’s regular unfoldings and name readings were tear-filled times of remembrance and reminiscence, along with the yearly Candlelight Rally. I attended until I became so empty that I could no longer bear it. I submitted my names but no longer attended. In the early 90’s four friends died close together – two from AIDS, one a heart attack and one cancer. This was a particularly heavy blow as two of these friends had been regular “gutter drag” partners, and that part of my life effectively ended. In a perverse way, it seemed strange that the Big A wasn’t the only thing stalking our lives.

Ready to do a quilt unfolding at the Government Pavilion, Sydney Showgrounds, around 1991. From left Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan Lambert, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman.

Despite its reputation for being human Ratsac (the Concorde Study in France named it such, after conducting an unethical trial; turns out they were correct!) I started taking AZT when my CD4 count started to take a dive. Hard work, long hours, heavy drinking, chain smoking, a shit diet and emotional turmoil didn’t help. Pub culture became lifestyle. Did several drug trials – D4T, which was sort of successful, though the same class of drug as AZT. Also p24 VLP (Very Light Protein) which proposed that stimulating the p24 antigen may help control HIV. Total waste of my time. It did nothing. We started alternating drugs – 6 months on AZT, 6 on D4T, 6 on DDI, 6 on DDC. Perversely it seemed to keep the wolf from the door. Dosage was huge. Everyone on it ended up with kidney problems and peripheral neuropathy. Prophylactics added to the drug burden. In the meantime there was no HIV dental service and our teeth rotted or fell out due to bouts of candida. I left work in 1993 after being seriously knocked around by viral pneumonia which should have killed me…but didn’t.

Like many, I went on every drug or alternative trial that came my way. There are those who have described us guinea pigs as brave, or “heroes”, but we certainly didn’t feel like that at the time, despite it being a very selfless act. The thinking at such a desperate time was that…well, if it works for me, the benefit will flow onto everyone else! But there were, in the early days at least, more failures than successes. D4T:FAILURE…caused anaemia; P24-VLP:FAILURE…was hoped it would boost the p24 antigen – it did nothing: Goat Serum:FAILURE…though I did get a very scary skin rash from it; Vitrasert Implants: FAILURE…though due more to HAART eradicating the scourge of CMV retinitis. Were intended to leach Ganciclovir into the eye over a 9 month period, thus eliminating the need to have it injected into the eye regularly. Two minor operations to insert them, with an initial estimate of a 4% chance of developing cataracts. Turned out to be a 100% chance, thus further operations to remove the cataracts. Fun, baby!

I was shuffled onto the pension, and given rent subsidised housing by DOH (Department of Housing). The subsidy seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, weren’t we all eventually going to be killed by the Big H, so no one would be on it for that long? Famous last words! My alcohol consumption and chain smoking increased, if that was possible! Was losing weight at an alarming rate, and naturally no one noticed because I took to wearing baggy clothes to disguise it. Nothing quite like being delusional. Moved from Darlinghurst to Bondi. Nothing like moving away from the scene to help your health…not! Collapsed in the street, and admitted to St Vincent’s not with PCP as suspected but a collapsed lung. Two weeks later and a change of female GP’s saw me back in the doctor’s rooms while she read my hospital discharge report. Had they tested me for CMV retinitis? No! Was I having trouble with my vision? Yes, but I do wear glasses. Guess what? We’re sending you for a little holiday at Prince Henry Hospital (now closed). I was a little bit sick. Chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anemia, had 10 CD4 cells and weighed 48 kgs. Mmm, prognosis was not good. Well, it had been a good life. I was certainly joining a band of party people. But no! Life hadn’t finished with me yet. Protease Inhibitors had come along at an auspicious time, and within a fortnight I had been stolen from the arms of death. Mind you, that fortnight had been no picnic. Ganciclovir injections into the eye, Deca-Durabolin injections to help put weight back on, blood transfusions, and enough finger prick blood readings to last me the rest of my life. And the problems had just started for this return-to-lifer. Not dying when you are supposed to really fucks up your head space.

So started the next round of therapies. Peer Support groups; counselors; Caleo (Greek word which means “To Stick”, a treatment management group who help you maintain the impetus to take the billion pills a day (I was taking over 360 pills a week – anti-retrovirals, prophylactics, and pills to control side effects – at one stage) we were taking); clinics; dental care (now up and running); volunteer work (to keep one sane). What started out as volunteer work at the then PLWHA (NSW) Inc (now Positive Life) turned into paid employment as a research assistant. I started writing for “Talkabout” magazine, joined the Positive Speakers Bureau, and learnt to use a computer. A couple of stints back in full-time employment made me realise that big changes needed to be made with my life. By this time my health was pretty well back together. A couple of nights out pushed home just how few people I knew, however did lead to meeting my current (now ex) partner. A brief encounter with Indinivir sludge in my kidneys (which involved having a stent inserted then removed) also made me aware that for HIV+ people the unexpected can happen at any time. Yet another change of doctor. Self-empowerment had become an important issue, and I wanted a say in my health management, as distinct from being dictated to. Big changes were about to happen.

In 2000 David and I did a big (and expensive) holiday to the Red Centre. It was an amazing experience. Before leaving Sydney I had applied to the University of Technology in Sydney to do my degree in writing. Shortly after arriving back home I was informed that I had been accepted. Ah, the advantages of mature age AND disability. So spent three years doing my Graduate Certificate in Writing, was office- bearer for the Special Needs Collective…in fact I WAS the Special Needs Collective, and discovered I hated having to deal with the moronic “radicals” who called themselves the Student Association and did nothing except rant and rave, and waste student money. I was glad to leave uni. Towards the end of 2004 I decided to get my chef’s credentials from East Sydney TAFE, and crammed a 12-month course into 6 months. As much as I hated uni, I really loved TAFE and found it more grassroots and honest. David and I started Alderman Catering, a top-end catering business though it only lasted about 2 years as I found it very exhausting. I then sort of returned to my retail roots by opening a web site called Alderman Providore to sell Australian made gourmet grocery items. The site proved successful, and within 4 years I was opening my second site, this time specialising in tea, coffee and chocolate products. I got involved in a trial using Goat’s Serum to treat HIV, but again another waste of time. I did manage to get a skin rash from it, and managed to score a $1,000 for participating. In late 2009 the GFC hit, and online shopping took a major hit. After a disastrous Christmas that left me severely out if pocket, I decided to sell the business and put it behind me.

More eye problems followed, this time involving my blind eye. Back to the regular rounds at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and an injection of Avastin (a cancer drug that reduces blood flow) into the blind eye to stop it creating new blood supplies to an eye that couldn’t see. By this time, the interior of the bad eye was collapsing, and it took on an unnatural colour. Before this I hadn’t looked blind. Now I did! Scary how anyone you talk to can pick an anomaly – and stare at it while talking.

The next step, which sort of brings us up to date (this was 2011), was a major move. Plans to move north had been on the agenda for 10 years – in 2011 it finally happened, though we did jump the border which wasn’t in the original plan. No sooner were we there than my retina detached (I had been warned to eventually expect this, due to the amount of CMV scar tissue in the eye) in my one seeing eye…or rather was pushed off by all the scar tissue present from my original CMV infection. An emergency operation to scrape down the scar tissue, and replace the retina and fluid (called a vitrectomy) has seen my sight degenerate even further and I am now the proud owner of a white cane curtesy of Guide Dogs Queensland. It has become obvious that our two Jack Russell’s are not, despite their best of intentions, good seeing-eye dogs. I can see, though very poorly. A lot of life is a blur these days.

However, I am not going to complain. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this presents yet another one. I gave up smoking 23 years ago, and drink only lightly and socially these days. I adopted a healthy diet and exercise program 10 years ago when I started getting unattractively over-weight and inactive.I have turned my life around by adopting this course of action. In 2013 I attended Southbank Institute of Technology in Brisbane and obtained my Certificate III in Fitness. I hoped this would lead on to becoming a Personal Trainer for mature-age and disabled people both individually and in conjunction with my local gyms. I was almost 60 by the time I finished. Just in time for the next stage of my life.

In 2014 David and I called an end to our 16 year relationship. It had run its course, and with a 14-year age gap…I’m the older…we were both at different stages of our lives. It was amicable, and we are still friends. However, it was the start of a year from hell. A disastrous 60th birthday followed, them an attack of shingles that was the worst Royal Brisbane Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit had ever seen, leading to an infection in the blisters that landed me in hospital with blood poisoning, followed by two weeks with a portable drip through their Hospital In The Home initiative (Neuralgia and numbness from this are still a problem 5 years down the line). Then our first rescue dog, Ampy, died. I was also faced with some serious decisions. With the parting of our ways, I could no longer afford to live in the house we were in being on a pension, and of the options open to me, returning to Sydney to move in with an ex from the 80s was the only viable one. I also made a nerve-wracking decision to have my blind eye removed, and replaced with a prosthetic. After years of ongoing problems with it, was time it came to an end, and the operation occurred in early 2015 just prior to my other dog, Benji, and myself returning to Sydney.

I stayed in Sydney only for as long as I needed to be there. I hated it! A cold, over-populated, rude city. Within 12-months, we…I include my housemate, who also came with me…moved to the Central Coast, where life is quiet, and more civilised. Life goes on…I’ve lived long enough now to start seeing the truth finally being told about many aspects of HIV – the high toxicity and ongoing problems caused by AZT, exploitation by Big Pharma, misuse of funding, unresearched and often inaccurate advice on therapies and treatments, the rushing through of many treatments that proved detrimental to those who took them. It’s time to clear the air, and take the sentimentality out of an often rose-coloured glasses view of the epidemic.

37 years eh! OMG where have those years gone? Despite all the discrimination, stress, anxiety, illness, deaths, survivor guilt and despair, there have been moments of great introspection, illumination, strength and enlightenment. That over-used word “empowerment” springs to mind and that is perhaps the one word that sums all those years up. Victim? No way! Survivor? Not in my words! And I have never been one to wallow in self pity. You just need to grab life by the balls, and get on with it. I trust that is what I have done.

Tim Alderman 2019

Dripping In Chocolate Pt.II

In part one of this article I gave you a run down on the basic causes for an unhealthy life through bad nutrition, and the need to turn that lifestyle and thinking around.

You don’t have to turn vegetarian or vegan to eat nutritiously, though it can help and with the plethora of products and the amount of recipes now devoted to these areas of food it is certainly a more pleasant diet now than it was in the 70’s and 80’s with its slabs of eggplant and grilled vegetables slavered in some sort of boring tomato-based sauce. I have to confess to only being a “partial” vegetarian as I love poultry and bacon way too much to totally forgo them. However, my partner and I found we slipped into a predominantly vegetarian diet without really intending to. We have always eaten a lot of salads, and by taking out a lot of the red meat and substituting it wih cheeses, grains, legumes and pulses…yes, and tofu which isn’t nearly as bad as everyone likes to make out…we found we had nutritious, filling meals that more than satisfied us. Portion control is an important part of a good diet. Many of us have spent most of our lives eating a lot more food than we really need to. No wonder we are getting so fat as a nation. The fact that it is a dinner plate doesn’t mean it has to be filled to the edges! To stop doing this, use smaller plates, or move to deep bowls.

When you shop, as much as possible avoid the areas of temptation in the supermarket…oh how they love to trap you! Steer your trolley quickly through the cake, biscuit, prepared sauces, and lolly sections. Try filling it with fresh fruit and vegetables, lean cuts of meat and poultry, oil-free dressings (there is a huge range now), Weight Watchers products (buy their cookbooks from the newsagents. They are very creative and easy to prepare meals that you would be proud to entertain with), nuts and dried fruits, cereals that aren’t full of sugar, wholemeal flours, sugar substitutes (though Demerara and raw sugars are okay), whole grain breads, low-fat yoghurts, canned lentils, chickpeas and white beans (rinse well before using), tinned tomatoes, low-salt stocks and table sauces…all this will give you a good start. Make your own desserts and cakes using basic recipes and substituting bran oil or grape seed oil for butter, and using natural yoghurt instead of milk, apple purée or honey as a sweetener. There are heaps of recipes around if you don’t want to experiment yourself. Oh, and shout yourself some good quality tea, and dark chocolate as both are full of antioxidants. Doesn’t mean you can eat a whole block in one sitting…but be generous with yourself. Also, contrary to popular belief (but something I have always believed) current research encourages us to eat more dairy in our daily diet, and shows that it actually aids in weight loss. As a cheese lover, I am eternally thankful (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6413146/Eating-more-cheese-can-help-fat-people-lose-weight-study-claims.html). Eat fresh fruit or process it in smoothies in preference to drinking fruit juices. They are full of sugar, and because they are separated from the flesh you miss the benefits of the natural fibre.

Now, to the question of supplements. Dietitians recommend that fish or krill oil capsules, along with a multivitamin capsule be taken every day. The fish oil is great for Omega-3, coronary and brain health, along with aiding the reduction of cholesterol, and is important for joint health if you have a rigorous exercise program. A blood test at your doctors will indicate if you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals. It is useless taking these supplements if you don’t need them, as you will just piss them away.

Some hints;
You DON’T have to drink 8 glasses of water a day. There is absolutely no research to back this up, and in fact it seems that someone somewhere (possibly a bottled water salesman) decuded thatbthisvsounded likeva great thing to tell people to do, and presto, that is what everyone believes? The amount of liquids you need depends on what you are doing, and you need to look at what liquid you get from tea, coffee, milk, fruit and vegetables etc. it is as bad for you to imbibe too much water as to drink too little. The best way to judge it…if you are thirsty, drink!
It is best to eat meals after exercise and not before, but it depends on what time you do it. If early in the day, eat some carbs and protein (like a bacon and egg sandwich on wholegrain) when you have finished to stop you hitting the wall.
Don’t overload yourself with carbs at night; if eating potatoes, rice or pasta keep the portions small. Use kumera (sweet potato) as a potato and pumpkin substitute as it has less carbs. And remember not to eat more calories than you burn.
Don’t like eating fruit? Process it with some honey and top up with skim milk or organic apple juice to make a smoothie. Add a banana and you have lunch.
Sprinkle LSA (Ground Lindseed, Sunflower, and Almonds, available health food section of supermarket for about $3.00 for 250g) on your cereal, or add to smoothies or baked goods.
Eat berries including chia and goji. They are some of natures super foods; other foods that fall into the Superfood category are pomegranate juice (expensive and just sublime), Brazil nuts, walnuts, broccoli, oysters, eggs, salmon, red capsicum, soy and linseed bread, oats to name a few.
You don’t have to stop eating desserts or cakes. Make them yourself using low-fat recipes.
The best cheeses for healthy eating are Parmesan, Fetta, Goat’s cheese, Haloumi, Paneer, light ricotta, cream cheese, Quark and Pecorino.
Change to skim milk, light yoghurt, butter and cream, and use buttermilk in baking; Use Demerara, raw or muscovado sugar instead of white; Use wholemeal flour, brown rice, cous cous, pearl barley, polenta, faro, freekeh and quinoa.
Eat wholegrain, seeded or rye breads and rolls. “Burgen” bread is at the dearer end of the scale, but the breads are both delicious and healthy. Even my mother-in-law liked it. Also, check out artisan bakeries in your area for really great breads.
Change how you snack. Instead of chips, cakes, biscuits and sweets have fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, low fat/sugar health bars, low-fat yoghurts etc. If junk food is not to hand then you can’t reach for it when you want to snack. By stocking up on healthier options you will eat them instead. If you are already vegetarian, you should eat some nuts and seeds daily.
If you want to count calories (and if you are overweight it is a good idea to) you can download both iPhone and iPad apps to help you. CalorieKing is an Aussie app that means the foods are relevant to here, including fast-foods. It will connect you to their web site where you can join Calorie King for free, and by entering up a few details they will work out daily food plans for you. The only problem I have with sites like this is that it is time consuming to enter up your daily food intake and exercise (though if you do enter it all it will track whether you are under or over with your calorie intake). On the upside, you can save regularly eaten foods as favourites which makes the entry process faster.
Ensure you get 20-30 minutes of sun every day to promote the production of vitamin D in the body. Because sunlight is free, nobody who makes money from vitamin and sunscreen sales is going to promote exposure. It is an important vitamin to help prevent osteoporosis, depression, prostate cancer and breast cancer. To read more go to http://www.naturalnews.com/003069.html. This amount of exposure every day without sunscreen is not going to harm you.
I am always banging on about Weight Watchers recipe books, and for good reason…they are fantastic. WW learnt long ago that if you want people to eat healthy food, it needs to be creative, tasty and easy to make. Their cookbooks fulfil all these criteria, and are a good way to learn portion control. They are heavily vegetable orientated, but in a good way. If there are two or three vegetables in a main dish, the accompaniment to the meal will always add another two or three. Some of their recipes are now amongst my favourites, including their Cheesey Cauliflower with Pancetta; Ricotta Gnocci with Fresh Tomato Sauce; Sweet and Sour Chicken; Lemongrass Prawns with Lime & Chilli Salt; Roasted Tomato Soup etc. get the message! They bring out new books regularly and are available from Newsagents. We use them to eat healthy low-fat, low-sugar portion controlled meals every day. My partner has shed kilo’s since adopting them. Use their Points System if you like, but it is not essential.

Some information on vegetarian diets. If you are considering becoming a vegetarian don’t be nervous about taking meat out of your diet. The vitamins and protein available from meat can also be obtained from dairy and vegetables (depending on whether you are a ovo-lacto vegetarian (no eggs or dairy), a vegan or a straight out vegetarian). It is no longer the 70’s and 80’s with totally uninspired vegetarian fare. Today, vegetarian recipes are creative, inspired and totally enjoyable. You’d be surprised what you can serve up to friends with no inkling, and no questions asked. Like all lifestyle changes, ensure that you read up about it or ask your doctor, nutritionist or dietician. The social stigma around vegetarianism has all but died, with more and more people opting for this healthy way to eat than ever before. The following links will provide you with some basic information that will help you realise that becoming vegetarian is not the hard work you think it is. http://www.fitwatch.com/nutrition/how-to-make-a-vegetarian-diet-well-balanced-and-healthy-125.html and http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/vegetarian_eating. There are a lot of recipe books out now for vegetarians, standard recipe book often contain vegetarian sections, and cafes and restaurants offer vegetarian options in their menu’s. My partner and I have not totally committed to the lifestyle but are probably about 80% vegetarian. We still enjoy the occasional hamburger, egg and bacon roll, and we still eat cold- cuts, fish and some poultry. How far you go with it is entirely up to you.

Remember, to be fit and healthy you need…healthy eating and exercise. It isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense. The keywords to kick start your new life are EXERCISE, LOW-FAT/LOW-SUGAR and PORTION CONTROL…and NO SMOKING.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2014

IMG_9587.JPG

Dripping In Chocolate Pt.I

Sucked in!

Here you are thinking I’ve written an article on my love of chocolate and the sexually deviant things you can do with it, when in fact it is an article on nutrition. That is not to say that chocolate is not good for you in moderation, though a jar of chocolate body paint can cause all sorts of …outcomes, the least being weight gain.

Diet and exercise, diet and exercise! Don’t people like me love to bang on about it! Hardly a day goes by where at some stage you are not going to run into those three words. They are becoming a modern day dictum, and with the increase in morbid obesity (well, obesity in general really!) in modern society, expect to hear a lot more. It’s all well and good to roll your eyes, let your belt out another hole or two and start buying your clothes from the Big Men’s department in “Target”, but sooner or later you are going to have to pay the devil. If you are slim, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will stay that way forever. Gravity will eventually have its wicked way, and it’s not going to be pretty!

A lot of the blame for our current move towards junk and fast food fixes is media and advertising driven. They keep telling us how time-poor we are, how busy our lives have become, and how we need to make things easier for ourselves. Fast food chains upsize deals and give you more and more junk for your buck (look for the healthy alternatives if you find yourself in one of these establishments.Everyone has them now). Cooking programs tell us that to be good in the kitchen we need a degree in Frnch cooking, every kitchen appliance that has ever been made, three hours to prepare a simple dinner, and a cuisine vocabulary that would befuddle the best of us. I’m a qualified chef and I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) be bothered with a lot of the kitchen antics that we are subjected to on television. Quite simply, the pure joy of food and cooking is being taken away from us.

And we can’t overlook the obvious…our food culture is tied into tradition, and our families. One is left feeling that the advent of “meat and three veg” as a basis for our meals arrived with the convicts, and hasn’t changed a lot since. Fortunately as a counter-balance our love affair with Asian food ever increases, and it is perhaps here we will find our way to a healthier diet.

For those contemplating a healthier lifestyle, especially losing weight, are unfortunately going to find that it is useless to exercise without changing your dietary habits, and vice versa. There is NO easy fix, so the desire to move forward and improve your lifestyle must first and foremost be a positive drive and desire on your part. Diets are, at their best, a short term solution to weight loss and at their worst are capable of actually damaging your health. They are alsounsustainable in the long term. The whole key to healthy eating is very simple…common sense, and not depriving yourself of the things you enjoy but eating them in smaller quantities at longer intervals. You may not believe me now, but eventually you will lose the desire to eat a lot of these things at all. Good, healthy eating is about variety, what you cook, what you put in it, how you cook it and how much you serve. Recent advise suggests that we are better off eating 5-6 small meals a day instead f the three large meals we currently eat. And don ‘t forget; breakfast IS the most important meal of the day!

HIV people face a number of problems as far as nutrition goes, and like the condition itself varies from person to person. We are beginning to understand that long term dosing with our medications can potentially have serious health implications. You dan’t take the number of pills we are prescribed over a long period of time (for many of us it is going to be a period of 40+ years) and not expect some problems, especially coronary, renal, mental, and the possibility of cancers. It worries me, so I’m sure it worries you! I have made a lot of drastic changes to my life, albeit at this late stage when I’m approaching 60. It is no longer good enough to shovel in the meds, put on heaps if weight, eat unhealthy food, sit around doing nothing and expect everything to tick along nicely forever. You simply can’t live from blood test to blood test, and expect things to get better if you don’t take the actions to help improve the situation.

So as an ageing HIV demographic, what are the things we need to concern ourselves with, and keep an eye on? Well, the sme old culprits that we have all been trying to pretend aren’t the problem. High cholesterol (the bad type); too much fat, sugar and salt in our diet; too much processed food especially in the form of quick-fix meals, canned and bottled pantry items; way too much fast food of the unhealthy kind; and a tendency to see cooking, especially just for yourself, as a chore. Few people stop to think that it takes about 15-30 minutes to heat a ready-made meal. You can make a healthy salad with grilled or pached chicken and oil-free dressing, or a stir fry in the same time…and be a lot healthier for it. I know from personal experience in the past that a daily intake of cigarettes, alcohol and shit food is not going to give me the nutrition to lead an active, fulfilling life…yet still we do it – or at least USED to do it. So I’m her to give you some strategies for change, simple effective ways to shed the kilo’s, and get those blood test results scoring an A+…and it ain’t gonna hurt a bit. Well, maybe a little bit!

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2014

IMG_9586.JPG

Reclaimations

Getting older is one of those things that seems to have caught up with me very quickly. One minute I was 40, then 50 and now at 57 rapidly approaching 60. I’m not complaining. I’ve survived AIDS (with a couple of disabilities but nothing to hold me back), and when all is said and done I am really enjoying the experience of getting older, the quietening down of life and the intuitiveness that seems to come with it. HIV is no longer something I feel concerned about – in fact, it is very much a backwater in my life. Everything is under control, and has been for a long time, so as far as I am concerned it is no longer an issue. It is just something that is, and is so integrated into my life that it is not a seperate issue.

However, there are aspects of ageing that I have not liked. I may be approaching 60 but there is much about the contemporary world that I love – like the latest music (and I still collect dance music) and technology and all the wonders it brings for starteres. I still like to dress well (though I try to avoid the mutton dressed as lamb scenario), I still groom myself well and like the fact that despite my age I can still look pretty good when I hit the streets. However, 12 months ago I started to notice things about my body that were in stark contrast to what I liked to think and feel about myself. Having been blessed with good genes that have allowed me to keep all my hair (most of it in its original black shade) and for most of my life a slim profile I was disconcerted to find that gravity was finally having its wicked way and changing – for the worst – my body shape. I was becoming flabby with a very discernable spare tire waistline, flabby tits, mishapen arse and bad posture. I was actually starting to look so “old” that it was starting to depress me and really knocked my self-esteem around. It also didn’t fit in with how I dressed and groomed myself and I was really aware of the fact that I wouldn’t go out in anything that clung to me, or in anyway showed off my body shape. To make matters worse, I started to go up in clothing sizes (from SM to M in shirts, and from 32” trousers and shorts to 34”. I wasn’t happy! Other nasty things that were happening were finding myself sitting on the edge of the bed to put on trousers and shorts, having my partner comment on how bad my posture was getting (that was a real “shit – is it” moment), and the doctor had started me on cholesterol meds, which was an additional pill that I really wasn’t happy about having to take.

Like others that I know, when I lived in the Eastern Suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s, I made a decision (despite the fashion for toned bodies at the time) to avoid going to the gym. They were places full of gay guys who were there not to get fit but to mould themselves into an image of what it was preceived that gay men looked like. They posed, preened, plucked, depilated and fake-tanned, and when they went oiut to the bars, only ever hung around with, and picked up, guys who looked like themselves. I made sure I hung around with the scrawny brigade so as not to feel out of place. It was a form of body fascism that I disliked then, and still do. However, a move to the outer edges of the Inner West brought about a change in my thinking and perceptions. With the body rapidly getting out of shape, with my self-esteem taking a beating, and with the prospect of 60 looming (and a potentially rickity ride into an unhealthy mature years) it was time to do something about it, so it was off to the gym in Marrickville. The fact that I added the word ‘gym’ to my vocabulary was a good start.

I loved – and still do – the gym, which sort of came as a bit oif a shock to me. From the word go I was made to feel comfortable, and a lot of the fallacies that I attributed to going to the gym were dispelled. To start with, no one else cares about what you are doing, and nobody is actually watching and assessing you (except yourself). Everyone else is too busy doing their own thing, and are too much in their own world to care about what you are up to. I had an initial assessment with a personal trainer who in no way criticised how I
looked, but she did help me to set some goals – the major ones being that I wanted to get fit, I wanted to loose excess fat, generally tighten my whole body up, fix my posture and inprove my general health. I wanted to reclaim my hips and arse, both of which had long ago disappeared. In other words, I had a determination to transform myself. And at 72kg, I wanted to do all this without losing weight, as weight wasn’t the problem. The other encouraging thing I found about just going to a local gym was the number of other mature aged men and women who were there, and really working hard and doing their best to get fit and healthy. There is now a few older role models around to encourage us to do something about being fit and older. Actors like Rob Lowe (God, how hot is that man), Rick Springfield (who despite his demons looks fabulous for someone in his 60’s), and dare I say it – Tony Abbott (hate his politics but admire him for his committment to fitness) – have given us a new way of looking at ourselves as we get older.

So, having set goals, and having been given a regime to follow, it was off to the beginners studio for a 10 week starters program. The first week…I suffered. Every muscle ached, and I looked at the piss-weak weights I was starting with, and wondering if I was ever going to be able to do things at the heavier end. And don’t think it doesn’t get tedious! Doing the same routines over and over again can get very boring. I started to vary things myself, made a lot of changes to what had been set out for me and found that helped me to get through the boredom barrier. I started going three days a week, for 1 hour each visit. And I bloody worked hard! Nothing was going to deter me from my goals. Within 7 weeks of starting, the miracles began. I was using a lot of resistance equipment, and found that the weights started to increase. The spare tire didn’t just reduce – it disappeared. I noticed my pecs tightening up and starting to show a firm profile, muscles appeared in my arms. My energy levels also increased, as did my flexibilty. My self-esteem started to go through the roof, and in turn this promted me to work harder, to really start to challenge myself. At the end of the 10 weeks, I looked fantastic. I couldn’t believe just how different I looked and felt. It was noticeable at the gym how regular I was and how hard I worked, and the gym staff gave me a lot of encouragement.

So, after the 10 weeks in the beginners studio it was time for another assessment, and a harder program of work, starting in what I jokingly called “the big boys room” where all the weights and serious resistence equipment are. I continued to flog myself three days a week (still for a total of three hours a week), and the changes continued. I was still having some problems getting a flat stomach (I wasn’t after a six-pack…I could probably get one but at my age it would be a constant battle to maintain it) so the tweaking of our diet at home started. Now, I’m sure everyone knows from my last column that I cook, so doing a diet tweak wasn’t a big issue as I knew that I had the recipes to over-ride any chance of blandness or boredom. I should point out that I don’t approve of diets, especially fad ones, but I do believe that you can create a healthy diet for yourself without going to extremes, without adding supplements, and without cutting out carbs and proteins. Your body needs these things to function properly – it is all a matter of proportion and balance. We cut out a lot of fatty foods, a lot of sugar (I have a terrible sweet tooth so this wasn’t easy), and increased the amount of raw vegetables, fish and poultry in our diet. This helped a lot, as well as a lot of repititions on the Ultimate Abdominal machine at the gym, and a lot of suspension work (whereby you suspend yourself, and lift your legs as high as you can for as long as you can, or hold your legs out at a 90° angle – you can really feel the pull on your abs). So I pulled, and pushed and strained and grunted through the main weight floor of the gym for the next 3 months.

By this stage, I have to say that I was starting to find it harder and harder to get myself to the gym to go through the routines. I realised that I needed to add some sort of variety to my program, so at New Years weekend this year I decided to do my first class. I looked at all the alternatives, and assessed what I thought I could do, and couldn’t do. I have done yoga before (and enjoyed it) but felt that it wasn’t dynamic enough to maintain the body profile I was aiming for. I still haven’t tried pilates, but it is on my list. Anything that involved balance was out (I have peripheral neuopathy…the numb type, not the painful. This means I have no feeling in my feet and ankles), anything involving too much co-ordination was out (I’m unco-ordinated at the best of times), and anything done in dark rooms – such as Spin – was out, as I’m partially blind and have night-blindness. So, this left me with Body Pump, a class that involves work with weights, and is very dynamic and very muscle and cardio-orientated. You really push your heart rate up doing these classes. I found I really loved Pump, and have stuck with it right through to now. I avoid lunges (for balance reasons), and do squats instead, which means a double session of squats every class, which can really push you to your limits, especially when you have 25- 28 kgs of weight sitting on your upper back to add to the challenge. The routine (all Les Mills classes are done in most gyms these days, so it doesn’t matter where you go, you will always know what to expect from a class) changes every three months, so just as you are getting bored with it, it changes. So, I started doing two morning classes a week (on Monday and Friday, and usually the token male in the class at that time of day), and did one day a week in the weight room to work whatever muscles didn’t get worked in the class. Having just moved from Sydney to Brisbane, I found the break in routine, and to a new gym and environment a bit unsettling.I have just got back into my two Pump classes, and will probably get back to my resistence work sometime in the next couple of weeks.

So, what has the end result of all this been. To be honest, the result has been staggering. I still look in the mirror and think to myself “Is that really you?”. I have my hips and arse back big time, and can walk around in a singlet without feeling embarrassed. I have pecs, I have muscled arms and legs. My posture has improved, as has my energy levels and my flexibility. I have gone off my cholesterol meds. My self esteem has gone through the roof, and I can honestly say that I feel absolutely fantastic, and that is reflected in how I look and dress. I have come to realise that there is more to me than I ever thought there was – I can set goals and challenges and achieve them, I can push myself beyond my limits when I have a reason to, and that I can establish routines and stick to them when I have an end objective. I now feel that I can go into my elder years truly fit and healthy, and that in many ways that is going to help cut back the risks that I would have faced without going through this metamorphisis. I can move forward knowing that I am still flexible, that high blood pressure and cholesterol aren’t going to plague me, and that problems that result from being over-weight have pretty well been eliminated.

What would I recommend to other guys my age? If you smoke…STOP! If you have a bad diet…FIX IT – it’s not rocket science. Don’t think that walking the dog is all you need to do – if you are over-weight, do something about it. Look at the long-term, not the short. It is not about having the body beautiful (though it helps) it is about being fit and healthy, and prolonging your prospects for good health and wellbeing as you progress through the years. Don’t think (like I did) that looking fit and healthy is just for the young. The flow-on affects of a good exercise routine are endless, both in your public and private life. Look good and feel good – you’ll thank yourself for it.

Tim Alderman.
Copyright 2010

  

Eat To Your Health

In my last column I talked about starting out at the gym as a way to start getting your fitness on-track, and since that was written there have been several articles out in HIV journals stating that diet and exercise are important for guys (and girls) in an ageing HIV population to promote a longer and healthier road to old age, and as a way of fighting off problems associated with obesity and bad diet. As a population in general, obesity is a big problem, especially as we get older, and lazier. One of the things that prompted me to get off my arse and start doing something about my health was observing people around me who were my age or older, and telling myself “that is NOT how I want to end up” as an older person. I don’t want to be fat, and wear my trousers up around my nipples; I don’t want to be stooped and crippled, relying on Zimmer frames and mobility scooters; I don’t want to have to rely on others to help me get about and just get through my everyday life; and I don’t want to be shuffling around and taking all day to move from one place to another. I saw a LOT of this in elderly people, and for me…it’s just not on!

Okay, so hopefully we have prompted some of you to start looking after your weight and mobillity. I brushed over diet in the last article, but in reality exercise and diet go hand-in-hand, even more so as you get older. It is such an easy matter to tweak your diet from unhealthy to healthy that I often wonder why people think it is so hard. There is very little that you have to give up in a balanced diet, though the emphasis does change from one of ‘oh, that is too much trouble’ to one of ‘okay, I’ll give that a go’ if you know you will achieve positive results.

I would like to think that we had all moved on from the diet we were presented with as we grew up, especially those of us brought up with the “meat and three veg” mentality of the 50’s and 60’s, though I do know of guys my age who still stick to that prescription, and have NEVER ventured outside the box. The move from ‘bad’ eating to healthier eating for me occurred with the discovery of Asian cuisine.The entire Asian approach to cooking (despite being a bit preparation – intensive, though fast to cook) with using all the proteins, plus fresh herbs and vegetables and sauces that were both tasty and healthy appealed to me from the very beginning. It is strange how my foods have changed over time, from a heavily red meat orientated style of cooking to a more poultry, fish and almost, on accasions, vegetarian styled cuisine. This was never intentional, it just seemed to happen, especially enhanced by the new exercise regimes I was putting myself through. As I mentioned in my last piece, I have a severe sweet tooth. I am one of those people who reads the dessert menu first in a restuarant, then decide what else to order from there. I have a weakness for potato chips, donuts, finger buns, cheese, chocolate and little cakey things from cafe’s. Have I given all this up in the rush for a better diet? Not on your life, though I do eat them in moderation these days. I have had finger buns twice this year – quite a severe deprivation for me, though I can’t say the same for chocolate. Full of antioxidants (I love really dark, bitter chocolate) is my excuse. So, what have I done to improve my diet? Nothing terribly radical, I have to say. To start with, I have never really followed diets, though did give the CSIRO diet a good bash, though I found it a bit too heavy with protein for my evolving tastes. I have to say it did work, and both myself & my partner lost weight while on it. I am currently personally promoting the Weight-Watchers recipe books, which are available from most newsagents. They started putting recipe books out about 10 years ago (originally only available through the WW organisation), and even then I was impressed with the variety and range of their recipes. I don’t follow their points system, though you can if you like – I just like theirrecipes, and they cover everything from breakfasts, to light meals, to main meals, desserts and snacks. They are one organisation that has moved with the times. There is a heavy emphasis on vegetables in their recipes which I personally like. So, what else can you do to help improve your eating habits? Eat a lot of fresh, raw leafy vegetables. With summer coming on, our diet will shortly go almost totally salad. It isn’t boring – there are many recipe books around now that just concentrate on healthy and interesing salads. Cut down on the amount of sugar and fats that you use for cooking. Use “Splenda” if you require a sweetener (it can be used for baking): substitute wholemeal plain & SR flour in baking: swap over to other oils for cooking such as Azalea, rice bran or grapeseed oils; use yoghurt and oil as substitutes for milk or cream in cooking; don’t overcook vegetables – vege cooking is one area where microwave ovens are great. Vege’s should still be a bit crisp when served; dry fry where possible, or grill; gives things like tofu a go – ignore the bad press, and make decisions for yourself (though I still hate soy milk). Cut back on coffee and drink tea instead. Limit alcohol consumption without going ‘dry’. All this will not cause miracles, but will be a good start and will give you the impetus to trial things yourself. A good, well-balanced diet will mean that you shouldn’t have to take supplements, though it seems to be very fashionable to do so. It is true that some ARV’s do cause depletion of certain vitamins and minerals in the body, though discuss this with a doctor or dietician before starting up on any supplement regimes. Don’t do things just because your friends do!

Now, for the big question! Do I believe in Superfoods? The short answer is…yes! The term “Superfoods” is used to denote foods that are packed full of nutrient and cover the gammit from exotic to mundane. The latest list includes Acai and Goji berries (it is well-reported that ALL berries are good for you and jam-packed full of goodies to help your skin, brain and heart, as wel, as helping to lower cholesterol; Coconut water which doesn’t taste half bad, and comes with some yummy additives these days – considered fashionable, especially amongt gym junkies; Probiotic cheese though I’d rather stick to a good sharp cheddar or a gooey brie myself; Omega-3-rich milk though there are other ways to get Omega-3, such as fish or fish oil capsules. If you do go to gym regularly, taking these fish oil capsules can help with your heart health as well as joint protection (not to mention assisting memory); Maitake mushrooms (yes, you read that right), though mushrooms in general are very good for you; Vine-ripened tomatoes, though the health benefits of tomato-rich diets are well known now – and how can you hate tomatoes!; Blue-Green Algae (Spirulina) is one I’ll pass on, thanks!; Yerba Mate (a South American tea) is something I’ve tried, but haven’t developed a taste for. There is quite a ritual involved in preparing it; Pomergranate juice expensive but oh so gorgeous and addictive it;s worth going into credit card debt for; and brazil nuts, which fortunately for me come in blocks of chocolate, so yeah, I eat them. I highly recommend you doing some internet research on superfoods, then pick out the ones you enjoy and include them in your diet.

So, the rules for good healthy eating are:
• Keep it fresh – fresh vegetables are not expensive, so stock up and learn to be creative. USE RECIPE BOOKS, don’t just steam and boil things…boring!
• Don’t deprive yourself of treats, just cut back on how often you have them. Keep health bars or trail mix in the cupboard for when you get those junk cravings – it works.
• If you get that ‘do I have to eat that’ thought when you are cooking a meal, then don’t cook it. If you don’t enjoy it you are not going to want to eat it. Nothing worste than making meals a chore.
• Cut back on fats and sugar – don’t cut them out, just rethink them. Remember that fruit juices are not always a healthy, sugar-free option.
• Don’t overcook foods like proteins and vegetables – you cook all the nourishment out of them by overcooking.
• Shout yourself a take-away occasionally – even I go to Hungry Jacks 2-3 times a year.
• Don’t cut out carbs and proteins from your diet – your body really needs them to function properly. If like me you go to gym early in the day, have a bacon and egg toastie after, and don’t feel guilty about it. Without the carb & protein hit you will go home and hit the wall. You burn a LOT of calories when you exercise.
• Eat as many raw vegetables as you like – they are so good for you.
• Don’t knock frozen and canned vegetables and pulses. Most vege’s are snap-frozen, and are often healthier than cooking them yourself. If you buy tinned beans and lentils, rinse them thoroughly before eating.
• Look at vegetarian options – you may be surprised. It is no longer the 70’s and 80’s, and slabs of eggplant with a melange of bland steamed vegetables.
• Buy wholegrain bread instead of white. Your body needs to work to get through all those seeds, so you feel full for longer. Also, rye breads and malted breads.
• I still like my full-cream milk, but there are plenty of options now. Don’t get caught up with all the trendy additives etc in milk now – these are things that are present in a balanced diet, and they really shouldn’t be in milk

Whatever you do, enjoy your food. It is one of life’s pure pleasures. But, like sex, think before you put it in your mouth!

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2014

  

Body Work

image

According to the 2013 report from the Bureau of Statistics, 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. An estimated 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study) showed that 1.7 million Australians have diabetes but that up to half of the cases of type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed. By 2031 it is estimated that 3.3 million Australians will have type 2 diabetes (Vos et al., 2004) – stats from Diabetes Australia. Throw an ageing population into the mix, and you have a nightmare. These statistics are nothing short of frightening. Every day we are inundated with conflicting impressions – both in reality and in the media – of body image. On the one hand we have a population becoming so obese it is bordering on terrifying. If the trend is not halted, the cost of health care is going to spiral up at a frightening rate. On the other hand, we are also inundated with images of sculpted 6 and 8 packs, biceps and pecs that are almost impossible for us to obtain, let alone maintain. They fill my newsfeed with promos from gyms, supplement companies, models, celebrities, health and fitness magazines, clothing and underwear companies. What seems to be missing is a healthy norm. And gay and HIV+ people we are not exempt from the fat/thin dialectic. And some of it seems to be based in history. There is some research into the problem that indicates that for many long-term survivors the problem is a flow-on from the dismal days of the 80s and 90s, when emaciated bodies were a common sight. To them, over-weight means healthy. It appears that the longer people are healthy, the more common it becomes to end up over-weight or obese. This trend signals a need for doctors to change their approach to caring for HIV positive people. It’s time to shift the focus to the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure and weight gain. The problems of being at both extremes affects us as a population in general, and I think it heeds to be tackled from as many angles as possible.

Getting older is one of those things that seems to have crept up on me very quickly. One day I was 40, then 50 and now at 59 rapidly approaching 60. I’m not complaining. I’ve survived AIDS – with a couple of disabilities but nothing to hold me back – and when all is said and done I’m actually enjoying the experience of getting older, that quietening down of life and the intuitiveness that seems to come with it. HIV is no longer something I am concerned about – in fact, it is very much a backwater in my life. My health is under control, and has been for a long time, so as far as I am concerned it is not even an issue. Some things, even disabilities, become so integrated into your life that you just carry on regardless.

However, there are aspects of ageing that I have not liked. I may be approaching 60 but I live very much in the contemporary world. There is a lot about it I love, like the latest music – I still collect dance music; technology and all the wonders it brings; the sheer quantity of goods available for sale, and I am unashamedly a consumer. I still like to dress well, though I try to avoid the mutton-dressed-as-lamb scenario. No skinny jeans for this boy! i still groom myself well, look after my skin, and like the fact that despite my age I can still look pretty good when I hit the streets. However, 4 years ago I started to notice things about my body that were in stark contrast to what I liked to think and feel about myself. Having been blessed with good genes that have allowed me to keep all my hair – and still all black – and for most of my life a slim profile I was disconcerted to find that gravity was finally having its wicked way and changing – for the worst – my body shape. I was flabby with a very discernible spare tire waistline, flabby tits, mishapen arse and bad posture. I was actually starting to look so “old” that it was beginning to depress me and really knocked my self-esteem around. It also didn’t fit in with how I dressed and groomed myself and I was really aware of the fact that I wouldn’t go out in anything that clung to me, or in anyway showed off my body shape. To make matters worse, I started to go up in clothing sizes, from SM to M in shirts, and from 32” trousers and shorts to 34”. I wasn’t happy! Other nasty things that were happening were finding myself sitting on the edge of the bed to put on trousers and shorts, having my partner comment on how bad my posture was getting – that was a real “shit – is it” moment. The doctor starting me on cholesterol meds, which was an additional pill on top of what I was already taking, was a real eye-opener.

When I lived in the Eastern Suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s, I made a decision – despite the fashion for toned bodies at the time – to avoid going to the gym. They were places full of gay guys who were there not to get fit but to mould themselves into an image of what it was perceived that gay men should look like. They posed, preened, plucked, depilated and fake-tanned, and when they went out to the bars, only ever hung around with, and picked up, guys who were mirror images of themselves. To ensure I never felt out-of-place I hung with the scrawny brigade. I viewed the gym bunnies as body fascists, and in some respects still do. However, a move to the outer edges of the Inner West brought about a change in my thinking and perceptions. Then I had my “mirror” moment! Stepping out of the shower one morning, I caught sight if myself in the mirror, and the first thing that crossed my mind was…who is the tubby old man in the bathroom. That was a provocative moment, and the impetus for change. Burdened with the prospect of the body rapidly getting out of shape, with my self-esteem taking a beating, along with the prospect of 60 looming, with a potentially rickety ride into unhealthy mature years imminent, it was time to do something about it. The word “gym” entered my vocabulary.

I loved – and still do – the gym, which sort of came as a bit oif a shock to me. From the word go I felt comfortable, and a lot of the fallacies that I attributed to going to the gym were dispelled. For starters, no one gives a fuck about what you are doing, and nobody is actually watching and assessing you – except yourself. Everyone there is too much in their own world to care about what you are up to. An initial assessment with a Personal Trainer helped me to set some goals – the major ones being to get fit. I also wanted to loose excess fat, generally tighten my whole body up, fix my posture and improve my general health. I aspired to reclaim my hips and arse, both of which had long ago disappeared. In other words, I had a determination to transform myself. And at 72kg, I wanted to do all this without losing too much weight, as weight wasn’t the problem. The other noticeable thing was the number of other mature aged men and women who were there, really working hard and doing their best to get fit and healthy. There is now a few older role models around to encourage us to do something about being fit and older. Actors like Rob Lowe (God, how hot is that man), Rick Springfield (who despite his demons looks fabulous for someone in his 60’s), and Robson Green, who looked so hot in “Being Human” he almost gecame a masturbation fantasy.

So, goals set, and with a regime to follow, it was off to the beginners studio for a 10 week starters program. The first week…I suffered. Every muscle ached, and I looked at the piss-weak weights I was using, wondering if I was ever going to be able to do things at the heavier end. And don’t think it doesn’t get tedious! Doing the same routines over and over gets very boring. I started to vary things myself, made a lot of changes to what had been set out for me and found that helped me to get through the boredom barrier. I started going three days a week, for 1 hour each visit. And I bloody worked hard! Nothing was going to deter me from the goals. Within 7 weeks of starting, the miracles began. I was using a lot of resistance equipment, and found that the weights started to increase. The spare tire didn’t just reduce – it disappeared. My pecs tightened up and I started to show a firm profile. Muscles even appeared in my arms. My energy levels also increased, as did my flexibility. My self-esteem started to go through the roof, and in turn this prompted me to work harder, to really start to challenge myself. At the end of the 10 weeks, I looked fantastic. I couldn’t believe just how different I looked and felt. I started getting encouragement from others, and that really started me pushing the limits.

So, after the 10 weeks in the beginners studio it was time for another assessment, and a harder program, starting in what I jokingly called “the big boys room” where all the weights and serious resistance equipment was. I continued to flog myself three days a week, still for a total of three hours a week, and the changes continued. I was still having some problems getting a flat stomach – I wasn’t after a six-pack…I could probably get one but at my age it would be a constant battle to maintain it – so the tweaking of our diet at home started. Thankfully I love cooking, so doing a diet tweak wasn’t a big issue as I knew that I had the recipes to over-ride any chance of blandness or boredom. I should point out that I don’t approve of diets, especially fad ones, but I do believe that you can create a healthy diet for yourself without going to extremes, and without cutting out carbs and proteins. Your body needs these things to function properly – it is all a matter of proportion and balance. We cut out a lot of fatty foods, a lot of sugar – have a terrible sweet tooth so this wasn’t easy – and increased the amount of raw vegetables, fish and poultry in our diet. This helped a lot, as well as a lot of repetitions on the Ultimate Abdominal machine at the gym, and a lot of time in the suspension frame. So I pulled, and pushed and strained and grunted through the main weight floor of the gym for the next 3 months.

By this stage, I have to say that I was starting to find it harder and harder to get myself to the gym to go through the routines. I realised that I needed to add some sort of variety to
my program, so at the New Years weekend I decided to do my first class. I looked at all the alternatives, and assessed what I thought I could do, and couldn’t do. I have done yoga before, and enjoyed it, but felt that it wasn’t dynamic enough to maintain the body profile I was aiming for. I still haven’t tried Pilates, but it is on my list. Anything that involved balance was out due to peripheral neuropathy in the feet…the numb type, not the painful. This means I have no feeling in my feet and ankles. Anything involving too much co-ordination was out as I’m unco-ordinated at the best of times, and anything done in dark rooms – such as Spin – was out, as I’m partially blind and have night-blindness. So, this left me with Body Pump, a class that involves dynamic work with weights, and is very muscle and cardio-orientated. You really push your heart rate up doing these classes. I found I really loved Pump, and have stuck with it right through to recently. I avoid lunges for balance reasons, and do squats instead, which means a double session of squats every class, which can really push you to your limits, especially when you have 25- 28 kgs of weight sitting on your upper back to add to the challenge. So, I started doing two morning classes a week on Monday and Friday, and usually the token male in the class at that time of day, and did one day a week in the weight room to work whatever muscles didn’t get worked in the class.

Having just moved from Sydney to Brisbane, I found the break in routine disconcerting, and it took time to get back into the rhythm. But a deal from our local Goodlife gym got me back into the groove, and I returned to my Body Pump class. Having done this weights class for four years now it has its disadvantages. Because of the pace of the class, you don’t really have the opportunity to challenge yourself, as you don’t have the time to swap and change weights. It had reached the stage where I was really using the class for its cardio benefit, and boy don’t you get a cardio workout! I have had three different resistance workout programs on the main floor, including a isometric/fitness ball/body weight program which I derived a lot of benefit from.. However, we have moved on again.

I have now gotten so tied up in the fitness and health lifestyle that this year I decided to get my Certificate III in Fitness at Southbank Institute of Technology. This has had an incredible influence on how I now view fitness in general, and exercise. A dispute with my Goodlife gym when they ripped me off when canceling my membership – DO NOT USE GYMS THAT TIE YOU INTO CONTRACTS – has meant I have moved on to a new gym and now use my local Jetts’. So, no group fitness classes any more, but with my new knowledge I’ve also moved on from that style of exercise. Having used gyms now for four years to just get fit and maintain it, it’s time to up the ante. There is nothing wrong with just staying fit, but without a real challenge it can be demotivating. Personal Trainers are affordable through Jetts. If you can workout unsupervised, you pay them a monthly “retainer”, and once a month they do your body fat and muscle mass measurements, do a fitness test and set you up with a new program. I am now moving on from general fitness, into the world of hypertrophy – building up muscle strength and mass. This really is starting to push my limits, and is really inspiring me to challenge myself. Six weeks in and big changes are happening already. I am slowly starting to bulk up, and my strength has increased considerably. I’m starting to pump weights that really surprise me, and every time I think to myself “I’ll never get through more than one set at this weight”…I get up to three sets. Limitations really are in your mind. I am also now doing what I said I would never do – supplements. I use a pre and post workout amino acid supplement, and mid-workout boost supplement. Why…well, I’ve been researching, and the consensus seems to be that they are beneficial. And they really do give you a boost, aid the prevention of muscle fatigue during my workout, and help with muscle recovery after. They only seem to last for the period of my workout, so no lingering affects. However, I had stipulations; they couldn’t overtax my system, had to have some ongoing body fat burning benefit – called thermogenesis – and no side effects. I have around 8% body fat that I shouldn’t have, and it is sitting around my stomach and hips – typical male – and just will not go. Time to get the big guns out! My goal for this summer is to appear at the pool in Speedos, and not feel self-conscious. I don’t feel the need to have a six or eight-pack abs, but I would like a “V” shape, and a flat stomach. I feel that goal is within reach at this time.

So at this point in time, where do we sit? Our diet continues, but no longer to lose weight. It is now being used to maintain it. We have lived low fat/low sugar/portion-controlled for a couple of years now, and it has been very successful, and easy to maintain. With my new routine there will be some changes as I need to increase my calorie intake to about 2000 kilojoules a day so the body gets enough energy for the now tougher workouts, and I need to add in more fruit – I have never been a big fruit eater – so have started adding bananas and berries into my diet. I look great. I’m trim, have full flexibility, heaps of energy, and some body definition now. The cholesterol meds have gone bye-bye, one of the great benefits of being fit and healthy. I am now hopefully looking forward to a progressive ageing that will see me avoiding most, if not all, of the illnesses and crippling conditions currently associated with getting older. No walking sticks, Zimmer frames or mobility carts for this boy! I intend to be still pumping out sets of squats when i’m 80 – just watch me!

What would I recommend to other guys my age? If you smoke…STOP! If you have a bad diet…FIX IT – it’s not rocket science. Don’t think that walking the dog is all you need to do. You need to exert some energy! you need to sweat! If you are over-weight, do something about it! Look at the long-term, not the short. It is not about having the body beautiful, though it helps. It is about being fit and healthy, and prolonging your prospects for good health and wellbeing as you progress through the years. Don’t think, like I did, that looking fit and healthy is just for the young. The flow-on affects of a good exercise routine and good diet are endless, both in your public and private life. Look good and feel good – you’ll thank yourself for it

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2013

IMG_3365