The numbers that really matter
Generally speaking when most of us think about how we’re testing our fitness, especially in the realm of CrossFit, we’re talking max numbers like deadlift, cleans and squats as well as your Fran, Dianne and Elizabeth times. These are fine and well and do in fact show us a great picture of our fitness. Increasing our front squat 20 lbs over the course of 6 months shows that we have in fact increased our strength over a duration of time. Taking our Fran time from 6:00 to 4:50 over a year period between attempts shows that we’ve increased our workload capacity in that span. If we used to not be able to complete double unders but now can, we have gained a skill that we once were lacking. These numbers however only show part of the grand photo of your health. Like having the blinds halfway drawn on your window.
I recently (last week) got my first blood panel done. If you know anything about me you’ll know that I’ve put this off just about as long as I possibly could. So long that my first order for the panel expired and had to be sent back in by my doctor. It’s not so much the fear of needles as it is a complete inability to control the urge to pass out from just about anything medical. Fun story for context. I can distinctly remember getting a Hep-C booster at my pediatric doctor and going to the restroom after getting the shot. Felt fine after the shot, went to the restroom and woke up stuck between the wall and the toilet. I just passed out, a full 5 minutes later. Another antidote, I picked up a girlfriend from having shoulder surgery, yes, just picked her up from an outpatient center and had to lie on the ground. I turned green and was on the verge of passing out. Last one, then I promise I’ll get to the point, eventually… My nephew was born and in order to see him I had to get my TDAP shot. It’s about a 1” needle. Get the shot, walk down the hall, felt it coming, turned white and had to sit for a good 10 minutes for my blood pressure to build back up.
Doing some research and the best I can figure out is it’s vasovagal syncope. It “occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. The vasovagal syncope trigger causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly.”
Anyways, that is why I’ve been avoiding blood work like the plague. I finally got the test, and yes I had to lie on the floor, but I’m getting much better at cutting down the time between the trigger and feeling better. I looked at my results as soon as they came in and started to dive into what these numbers mean. I won’t go into all of the test, just focus on a few key numbers.
Remember the “big picture” we talked about earlier? Well taking your physical performance numbers into account with things like your blood work can give us a great view into what we can improve on and what we’re doing well. Are you one to hop from diet to diet? Have you gone from Paleo, to Keto, to Carnivore? Having quarterly or at least yearly blood work can give you insight to what each of these eating habits are doing to you from the inside out. Do you take supplements? Do you need to take supplements? Again, blood work can help us there as well.
The reality is that we’re trying to stave off the inevitable. It seems at times like we’re fighting and uphill battle against obesity, easily preventable diseases and the thought that exercise is just too hard. I recently reposted an article where Greg Glassman was discussing the beginnings of CrossFit. The thought used to be you lift one day and do cardiovascular movements another. He combined the two and since then over 15,000 CrossFit affiliates have created a worldwide health movement.
Just like the thought that we cannot separate lifting heavy and cardio movements. We cannot just eat healthy and be inactive, the same goes that we cannot eat poorly but try to be very active. The combination of the two is where we can do some serious good for our health and extend our lives for as long as possible and adding things like a regular blood panel is another tool we can use to address how our nutrition and training are going.
I’d like to share just a portion of my blood panel. Below is my lipid panel. It includes overall cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL cholesterol. Why am I showing you this, for starters I find it wildly interesting. Secondly, I believe having a better understanding on how things like this affect my health in the long term can only benefit me.
So what are we looking at here? Below is some information taken from Family Doctor.
Good (HDL) cholesterol: Your body needs good cholesterol to lower your risk of heart disease. This is one test where you want high numbers. Aim for a good cholesterol of 40 to 60 mg/dL. You can increase your good cholesterol through a healthy diet and exercise.
Bad (LDL) cholesterol: Your goal is to lower your number for your bad cholesterol. A reading of 100 mg/dL or less is considered normal. Between 100 and 129 mg/dL is near normal, 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high, and above 190 mg/dL is considered high. Results between 70 and 189 mg/dL are considered too high if you are between the ages of 40 and 75 and have diabetes, if you have diabetes and a high risk of heart disease, or if you have a medium to high risk of heart disease. Your doctor will prescribe a cholesterol medicine based on your results and health history.
Triglycerides: 150 md/dL or less is considered normal, between 150 and 199 mg/dL is considered borderline high, between 200 and 499 mg/dL is considered high, and anything higher than 500 mg/dL is considered very high. Things that affect your triglycerides include liver damage, a high carbohydrate/low protein diet, underactive thyroid, a kidney disorder called Nephrotic syndrome, some medicines (hormone replacement medicines), uncontrolled diabetes, and genetics. Treatment includes a combination of prescription medicine, a healthy diet and exercise. If your results are higher than 500 mg/dL, you may have an increased risk of pancreatitis. This is a chronic, acute disease of your pancreas.
What do you do now? Well some of you have most likely already have had one if not many blood panels done. Use them to your advantage, take them as benchmarks in your overall health. Just like we want to increase our deadlift, we want to increase our good cholesterol. Just like we want to reduce our Isabelle time, we want to reduce our triglycerides. Rounding things out, use this as a tool. Most of us have to get these regularly and they can be incredibly insightful to our health.