John Otander


Not too long ago I passed the 30 year-old threshold and hit a low point in my life physically.

I’d always been an extremely active person, especially in college. At least two hours of every day was filled with strenuous physical exercise (running, climbing, backcountry skiing, soccer) in addition to long bike commutes and walking everywhere.

It was what I cared about most. Being outside, getting that “runner’s high”, and doing fun shit like climbing up mountains and skiing way too fast down them.

I was fit. 💪

Then other aspects of my life began to take priority. Mostly work. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It’s sort of like a small loan you take out each day against your time for exercise.

  • I’ll take a shorter loop today so I can finish this project
  • I’ll make it up tomorrow with a longer run
  • I’ll do more next week

I began using exercise windows in my calendar as flex time for getting more work done. But, I never made payments back on this loan. Ever. This was a problem and it compounded for years.

Before I knew it I wasn’t going on runs, I was barely exercising at all. Over a decade my exercise time simply became work time.

I still kept “slightly” active. I played on a soccer team so I exercised ~15 times a year. To be honest, I probably only kept this up because it was also a social event for me. During the season it was my “me time” to hang with my friends on a Sunday morning which also came along with a side of endorphins and friendly competition. Aside from that and skiing a handful of times a year, I was sedentary (except when I chased a toddler around the yard).

From no exercise comes poor health

I began losing weight. I wasn’t bouldering every other day any longer. My muscles began to atrophy. I noticed my body changing but always thought, “I’ll start climbing again soon”. “I’ll go for a run tomorrow”.

I went from ~195lb to ~175lbs over about a year and a half.

Then, I began gaining weight. 175 turned to 180, 180 to 190. I could feel the changes in my body. They were whispers at first. My muscles felt tight, I was often dehydrated. I felt pudgy in the midsection. Soon, my clothes no longer fit and I had to buy new pants and underwear.

A bit later I went to the doctor for a flu shot and saw my “numbers” for the first time in a while. I was 210lbs. My heart rate and blood pressure were elevated. I wasn’t sick, it was all within the realm of normal (though on the high end). But I was definitely unwell. It was a weird realization for me.

How did this happen?

There were plenty of warning signs along the way. I’d need to take subs during soccer games. I’d show up tired from staying up too late working. I ignored it all since I was “hustling”.

I was more worried about getting ahead right away than my own well-being. At first there were productivity gains. I got projects with unrealistic deadlines done on time. I shipped new apps and open-source projects. But it was never going to be sustainable.

I was feeling burnt out and my body simply felt shitty. Most of the time.

The turning point

After that doctor visit I began to consciously eat healthier, drink more water, and get out of the house to exercise. I figured it wouldn’t take much to “snap” back into gear considering my history of exercise and activity.

But things were different this time. I was older and had been mostly sedentary for the last three years.

I was making small improvements in my health and fitness, but I was kind of half-assing it.

Back pain

Then, I pulled my back.

I’d become so weak that I pulled my back going to sit down in my office chair. No joke. I suffered sciatic pain for three weeks and felt sort of helpless. I couldn’t play as actively with my kids. I couldn’t sleep very well. There wasn’t much I could do but wait for it to recover (with a bit of ice and Ibuprofen).

It forced me to think

I realized that I need to upend this negative feedback loop while I still can. Health isn’t a given and it’s something I have to work for now. It’s something I will always have to work for now. I’m not 22 anymore.

Fixing it

It’s a long road ahead to get back to feeling healthy, but it’s now become a priority. I’m focusing on small changes that I can repeat. I don’t need to boil the ocean. I need to slowly work in time for exercise and form new habits to improve my health and fitness.

When it’s my turn to watch my toddler I’m taking her for runs with the stroller. Sometimes we explore the trails by our house. Rather than rushing back to work after dinner, I’m going on walks with my family.

I work less now. I schedule time in my calendar to do push ups, sit ups, and lunges. I go for runs in the middle of the day.

I work better now. When I’m healthier, I’m happier. When I’m happier, I’m more creative. Not to mention, stepping away from work is sometimes when I finally figure out a solution to something I’ve been stuck on.

I sleep more.

I’m learning how to use tech to help ensure I’m working in the right direction. I got an Apple Watch and turned the Activity app into a game (I’m competitive). I’ve set modest goals that I’m hoping to maintain for the next three months:

  • Running twice a week for 2+ miles
  • Walking four times a week
  • 50 sit ups, 25 push ups, 10 pull ups, and 50 lunges four times a week
  • Stretching three times a week
  • Spending half a day offline and outside each week

Normally, I’m one to reach for the stars, setting unrealistic goals and expectations (did I mention I’m competitive). I’m trying to show more restraint this time around and focus on forming a solid foundation from which to build.

Here’s to becoming healthy again.

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