I’m going cold turkey on coffee for 30 days to see what happens!
Over the years, I’ve been a regular and high volume consumer of coffee. On an average day, I think I’d probably have 6-8 cups which is a mix of espresso and instant coffee. Despite the daily coffee intake, I can drink a coffee at 11pm and still get to sleep in just a couple minutes.
So, why stop drinking coffee? Three words – sleep, cortisol, blood pressure.
I don’t get a lot of sleep each night, I’ve always been a night owl. However, while I don’t get much sleep per night, I also don’t need much sleep either. Looking at my Garmin watch data, on average I get between five and six hours of sleep a night. That of course is at least two hours less than what is recommended and what most people require to function properly.
Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces when it is under any type of stress. It is produced by the adrenal system. Cortisol helps control the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates; suppresses inflammation; regulates blood pressure; increases blood sugar; can also decrease bone formation; and the cortisol hormone also controls the sleep/wake cycle.
As mentioned recently, I’ve been living with high blood pressure since 2015 when I was 35 years old. I never had high blood pressure before then, I don’t know what or why something in my body changed but it did.
It got me thinking though, maybe as I got a little older, my body’s needs changed and my night owl behaviour, general low amounts of sleep were no longer sufficient to allow my body to recover. Maybe I’ve been using coffee as a crutch for a long time to prop me up and keep me going. Maybe I can fall asleep after drinking coffee late at night, not only because I have developed intolerance to its effects but because my body is generally exhausted.
I always find it helpful to look for an extreme or outlier of some sort when doing research. I think a good example for this might be a professional athlete. Professional athletes have an incredible work load, they are up early in the morning, train multiple times per day, pay a lot of attention to post-workout recovery activities, they place a lot of emphasis on food to nourish their body to help it recover and they prioritize sleep aggressively. Why do they prioritize sleep so much, well it is when your body gets to work repairing itself, undoing all of the stress induced over the day.
My 30 day challenge is simple in nature – I’m going to stop drinking coffee, which will give me a new baseline for what ‘tired’ feels like. I’ll start going to bed earlier to help my body recover better and maybe my blood pressure will come down. Even if the latter doesn’t happen, getting more sleep is a good thing and maybe I’ll feel more alert, clearer in mind, better able to tackle the day.
In a previous post I alluded to the fact that I had some other health issues that I needed to deal with separately to addressing my weight, that other issue was my blood pressure.
It’s 1995, I’m 15 years old.
I first took my blood pressure as a teenager because a family friend had a personal electronic blood pressure device which I thought was pretty nifty. Each and every time I took it over the following 5-10 years, it was 120/80 like clockwork.
Fast forward to 2015, I’m 35 years old.
Historically, I’d have been the person that’d say that they’d never had a headache in their life but at this time I started periodically getting really severe headaches. To give you an idea of how severe:
my head would start to literally pound with my heart rate
participating in a conversation was very difficult
I couldn’t concentrate on anything work related
I’d see stars in my vision, which meant focusing on things became hard
I would need to leave work
Panadol didn’t help, it was like I was eating a lolly. The only thing I could find that’d help – laying down and sleeping for an hour or two. I’d wake up with the remnants of a bad headache but not what I now know was a migraine.
By the time I’d had two or three of these migraines, Claire had told me to go to the doctor. Of course, I didn’t do that and I waited for a few more to arrive and then eventually went because I’m an idiot. That doctor visit was interesting to say the least, it went something like this:
Doctor: Hi, how are you, what can I help you with?
Al: I'm getting bad headaches periodically.
Doctor: <starts taking my blood pressure>
// More chat-chat, back and forth questions and answers
Doctor: You have high blood pressure.
Al: Oh really, it is normally 120/80 - what is it now?
Doctor: It's 190/110, if it was any higher I'd call the ambulance.
It just got real.
The doctor was immediately uninterested in my headache and focused on addressing my high blood pressure. He prescribed me a short prescription of Valsartan 100mg. After about a week, it wasn’t having any impact so it was increased to Valsartan 250mg. After several more days, it’d come down a small amount but not enough so it was changed again to a composite drug of Valsartan 100mg/5mg Amlodopine and just like that my blood pressure started to come back down to a normal level. Over those weeks I visited several specialists to have my eyes tested (not for vision but other issues), had heart checks done, kidney checks done, several different blood tests and they all came back clear.
Fast forward to 2020, I’m 40 years old.
I’ve been living in the USA for a few years, my medication has changed from a combination of Valsartan/Amlodopine to Losartan/Amlodipine as the former isn’t available but it’s still working as expected.
In speaking with my doctor, I’d said I wanted to try and reduce or go off the medication as I never used to have high blood pressure. The doctor was amenable to trying since I’m 15kg lighter than when I first moved to the US, fitter than when I was 20, don’t eat any material salt in my diet and my blood tests are clear.
The test was to halve the medication and see how my body responded over the course of a few weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t respond as I’d hoped and my blood pressure went up to around 135/90 initially but didn’t come back down as my body normalized with the lower drug volume.
systolic: less than 120 mm Hg diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
systolic: 120–129 mm Hg diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
High blood pressure (Hypertension)
systolic: 130 mm Hg or higher diastolic: 80 mm Hg or higher
The above reference is according to The American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults (2017 Guideline) via cdc.gov.
In speaking to my doctor about that, he said it could be hereditary and you’re just out of luck. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear, but I guess you win some, you lose some.
Thankfully, living with high blood pressure has mostly been an inconvenience to be fair. I take medication each night, check my blood pressure pretty regularly to make sure everything is on the straight and narrow then see my doctor a couple times a year.
One piece of advice, check your blood pressure even if you don’t think you need to as you often can’t feel high blood pressure. In my initial doctors interaction above, he asked me how I felt at the time and I felt completely fine when in fact I was far from it. The risks of high blood pressure are real, it can lead to severe complications in brain, eye, heart and kidney organs but for most people it can be easily managed.
I’ve always considered myself a fairly active person, certainly throughout high school I couldn’t sit still and was always doing activities whether it was riding my BMX, mountain bike, motorcross bike, swimming, running, tennis or martial arts. At that time I was very lean and weighed in at a fairly svelte 89kg.
Fast forward to university and it look a clear downward trajectory, a whole lot less activity, limited structured sport, poor food choices and the addition of alcohol. I think everyone would agree, not a great combination. Between 1998 and 2004, I was going to the gym regularly and put on a lot of muscle but my overall health wasn’t in a good place with my weight ballooning to about 115-125kg at my heaviest.
Once leaving university, over the next 10 years it came down a little and plateaued at 110kg but I had some other health issues (more on that in another post) to contend with.
When I moved to Seattle at the beginning of 2018, I’d committed to myself that I was going to get my general health in order. Since I wanted this to be a forever change, I was going to make small, incremental adjustments that I felt I could sustain long term.
With that in mind, I used the most basic of plans:
Remove or dramatically reduce obviously bad food from my diet
Start moving again
For the first point, that meant I was going to remove things like soft drink – I’d been regularly consuming Coke for as long as I could remember but it just needed to go. For the second point, consistency was my main initial goal – I picked running because you can do it any time, you don’t need a partner or team and you don’t need to get in a car to go somewhere to do it.
That basic plan got me from 108kg when I moved to Seattle down to 93kg. I certainly feel a lot healthier than I did was I was 108kg or worst yet 115-125kg that is for certain. Despite removing some obviously bad things from my diet, don’t for a second let me convince you that my diet is clean because it isn’t – I still eat a lot of food that I probably shouldn’t such as pizza, burgers, Thai or Indian.
Good progress but there is more to do, so will keep experimenting to see what works for me.
I haven’t written anything on this blog since the end of 2017. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure why I stopped writing at the time, but now feels like as good a time as any to start things rolling again.
Earlier in the year, Claire, Hugo, Evie and I visited Singapore for a family holiday and were blown away but what a great family destination it is. From outdoor adventures to interactive museums, here are five of the top activities that I’d recommend, as a father, for your Singapore holiday.
Kidzania is located on Sentosa Island and is basically a gigantic indoor theme park built exclusively for kids. Unlike other parks, adults can’t participate in the activities at all – the idea is to empower your children to be independent. The world is scaled down kid size, has its own multi-story buildings, cars driving on roads, its own money and about 70 different careers for your children to experience firsthand.
You’re probably wondering how can your kids experience a business – well that’s the wonder of KidZania, your children get to work in the businesses to understand what those types of careers might be like when they get older!
To give you a taste for what sort of job experiences are available at KidZania:
Qatar Airways pilots
Maybank security guards
Crime scene investigators
Hospitals including emergency surgery
Imaging studio for photography
Much much more!
I mentioned earlier that KidZania comes with it’s own money, well for good reason; kids earn different amounts of KidZone dollars for completing different jobs – just like the real world. They have to pay KidZone dollars to learn new skills. After finishing up at KidZania, your kids can take their cash and withdraw any in their “chequing account” via an ATM and spend some or all of their money at a KidZania shop, sound familiar?
What I loved about KidZania was the variety of different careers, from window washers all the way up to complex professional industries like a doctor. I’d assumed that certain careers at KidZania would be overwhelmingly popular, however there were children spread out evenly across the entire theme park and it rang true for my children as well, Hugo liked being a pilot, Evie loved cooking pizza and they both loved washing windows – a new weekend pocket money opportunity there for sure!
The ArtScience Museum is located in the Marina Bay Sands precinct, so if you’re in the area you need to put the ArtScience Museum on your list. Like the spectacular Marina Bay Sands hotel, the ArtScience Museum building is an architectural marvel, with a unique lotus flower design whose giant curved petals spread out before you.
When we visited the ArtScience Museum, we explored an incredible, interactive exhibit called Into The Wild: An Immersive Virtual Adventure. To give you an idea of the scale of this art installation, it was a joint project between ArtScience Museum, Google using their Tango technology, Lenovo and WWF (World Wildlife Federation) in association with Panasonic and Qualcomm – say that five times fast! The exhibit spans multiple levels of the ArtScience Museum and over 1000 sq. meters, truly amazing.
Visitors use a smartphone device to explore the ArtScience Museum. As you pan around the museum, everywhere you look through the handheld device shows the real museum, overlaid with a spectacular virtual rainforest for you to explore! There are animals running across the floor, climbing in the trees and creeping through the undergrowth! You can stop at any time on something interesting, tap your smartphone screen to get additional information about it and then continue on to the next part of your journey before ultimately completing your objective!
To guarantee that you have enough devices, reserve your smartphone device in advance on the ArtScience Museum website. Make sure you’ve got your passport with you as you’ll need to provide it as security on the device, you’ll get it back when you return your device.
I love the ArtScience Museum first and foremost because it was a science museum, I could spend hours on hours in there and not get bored. I enjoy taking Hugo and Evie to these types of activities because it broadens their knowledge and gives them another perspective, much like travel does. Each time we visit a science museum, both Hugo and Evie have an fantastic time, are energised and ask about 250 questions about all different aspects of the exhibits they experienced.
Everything about the National Gallery in Singapore makes it a must visit. From the history of the former Supreme Court and City Hall which comprise the National Gallery, to the amazing architecture and of course spectacular South-east Asian art and culture, it’s a one of a kind experience!
Claire, Hugo, Evie and I spent several hours inside and it wasn’t nearly enough, so give yourself plenty of time. The National Gallery has a massive floor space and we spent about half our time in each building, reading just some of the history of Singapore, visiting judges chambers, viewing traditional paintings and more.
When our attention moved to the art side, the breadth of art was incredible, covering everything from paintings in various mediums, sculpture, 3D abstract installations, it was an absolute delight. One particular exhibit that both Hugo and Evie thought was very clever was a wooden chair that had been disassembled, cut into various pieces and ‘rebuilt’ over several meters. Of course, as you walk around the exhibit you can see what it is made of, but it doesn’t make sense entirely until you reach the viewing position and your perspective suddenly brings all of the individual pieces together to look like a perfectly normal chair.
What I love about venues like the National Gallery in Singapore is the variety. As you walk through the gallery, your kids are looking at everything as well – make no mistake. They’ll pick up on different pieces of art or aspects of a specific piece of art that takes their interest and I think this is the beauty of it. Just like a science museum, an art gallery expands their minds to understand how art comes in many shapes and forms, not just the traditional that they might be more used to seeing. They come to understand that someone was passionate about that particular piece and poured countless amounts of time into producing it.
East Coast Park
East Coast Park is a 15 kilometer stretch of greenbelt with accompanying beach on the southern side of Singapore. It covers an impressive 185 hectares built entirely on reclaimed land. East Coast Park provides a huge variety of outdoor activities for the whole family to enjoy, from beach volleyball parks, BBQ pits, bike and rollerblading paths, skateboarding parks, water activities like swimming or cable skiing and much more.
When we arrived at East Coast Park we grabbed a cold drink at a nearby McDonalds before setting off on our adventure for a few hours. We didn’t need to go far before we found a gigantic play area for the kids with climbing frames and huge slippery-dips.
From there we continued along and came across bicycle rental. This was incredible if only for the simple fact that I’ve literally, never in my entire life, seen so many push bikes in a single place – there had to be over a thousand! We rented four bikes, different sizes and styles and set off on our merry way – hilarious because for a moment we tested the old expression it’s like riding a bike; but we got going and had a fantastic time riding around for the next hour or two.
What I loved about this activity was we could all do it together, it wasn’t just Hugo and Evie or Claire and I, but everyone together. Anything outside is always a big plus in my book as well since everyone’s kids these days get too much screen time and reminding them that there is a big wide world outside that is fun to explore is great.
Far East Organisation Children’s Garden
Gardens by the Bay is an amazing venue built on 101 hectares of reclaimed land. If you don’t know about Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and the Supertree Grove yet, you certainly will once you start doing your research for your holiday to Singapore.
What might not immediately capture your attention however is the Far East Organisation Children’s Garden, which is located near Cloud Forest. Within the Children’s Garden, you’ll find trampolines, balancing beams, hanging bridges and more. Importantly though, you should bring your kids togs along with you as they have an amazing water play area with jets of water squirting high into the air. All you’ll hear are the squeals, laughter and giggles from children from around the world having an absolute blast – best yet it is totally free!
I loved that it was an outdoor activity and it was great to break up other sightseeing for some pure fun. Hugo and Evie ran around together in the giant jets of water, swinging around the poles and just having a riot of a time. Coincidentally, it was good timing from a weather standpoint, Singapore can be quite hot and humid so getting the kids into the water was an easy ask!
When you’re planning your next Singapore holiday with kids, I hope you include a few of the activities above in your itinerary. While a destination like the National Gallery mightn’t normally make it onto everyone’s holiday activity list, I can assure you that you’re kids will thoroughly enjoy it and the world is there to explore – be adventurous, do something different and revel in something new!
A revised version of this first appeared on the Expedia blog.