Fighting Mental and Physical Atrophy

We’ve gone a little soft during our travels.  Without the challenges of a job and the need to stay physically fit to handle such challenges, I feel like my mind is turning to mush and my body to flab.  In short, the discipline that kept me sharp and in shape has not accompanied us on our travels.

I noticed the physical changes only a few months into our trip.  We have been eating a lot — hey that’s the point of travel right?  Instead of cooking for ourselves, we’ve been eating out.  At one point, I was also drinking a beer with dinner every night, which I did not do back home.  With these new bad habits, I noticed an almost immediate metabolic change.  I gained about 20 pounds in the last year going from borderline underweight 150 to 155 lbs to 170 to 175 lbs.  Not terrible for my height at six feet, but still not a good trajectory.  Plus, most of the weight gain is fat, not muscle.

Plus, we were no longer going to the gym consistently, and our original plan to do Fitness Blender workouts while traveling went bust.  We went to the gym less than 10 times and did a total of 3 Fitness Blender workouts in the past 5 months.  Part of our excuse has been weather (hard to run outside in 100 degree humid heat in SE Asia) and part of it has been cost (a gym in Tokyo asked for $100 per person for a five-day pass).

Now that we’re coming out of hot weather and really expensive areas, we’re going to make more of an effort to exercise and eat better.  I stopped drinking a while ago and try to eat light meals that include vegetables.  Still have a long way to go.

On the mental side, I feel like I’m getting a little dumber.  Writing helps and I’ve been trying to meditate more.  I do a few crossword puzzles a week and try to watch thought provoking YouTube videos.  But I no longer have to solve problems that really test the limits of my brain.

To help avoid mental decay, we’ve decided to set aside at least an hour each day to do something to exercise our brains.  Today I’m writing this blog post and meditating for 30 minutes.  Pretty easy, but have to start somewhere.  

14 thoughts on “Fighting Mental and Physical Atrophy

  1. I think you miss the working life. Travel gets old quickly. Too surface shallow and repetitive, rather than growing deep roots and relationships with community. I am in the opposite situation, feeling a bit worn down from work stress.

      • On another thought, there is an incredible disconnect betwent your situation and the experience of over 90% of recent law graduates. Most would give their eye teeth to have a chance to work at Big Law with a big salary but only the privileged few have that as an option. And most begin a family, buy a home, and carry on the onward and upward struggle on the treadmill and cannot realistically consider quitting work entirely or taking lots of time off to travel and then to return only part time. Most can’t get even that part time job with Big Law in the first place. Many are trying to pay off their student loans via doc review project work. For many in that situation, reading your blogs must make them incredibly jealous. I think a person generally earns their own luck though, and it is to your credit, by presumably getting into a good school, doing well, and working hard and smart after you got your job. Final thought, ironically life must be challenging for a guy like you with so many options, and a desire to make the most of your options. For people stuck with only one option, life decision-making is easy. Just hang onto that job for as long as you can because you might not get another one. Anyway, best of luck, your story is a fascinating one. No doubt over time it will lead to something you can consider your true calling, after twists and turns.

      • Thanks for the comment. No doubt I have been fortunate — even among my peers who have worked in Biglaw. It’s a little like hedonic adaptation where you just get used to where you are. Good to get perspective.

        We were wandering around Sapporo tonight trying to sort through the thousands of restaurant options. I was getting hangry after walking around so much and being unable to decide on a place to eat. It would have been easier if there was only one option like a cafeteria. We gave up and ate at a KFC after being turned away from a few places that were either full or couldn’t deal with foreigners. Good to have options, but having too many can make things more difficult and you still might not end up on the best path.

  2. For what it’s worth, my (unsolicited) advice is to walk more. Especially since you’re traveling slow-ishly–as in, you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. I track my mileage with a Fitbit, and when I travel for fun, I typically walk 10-15 miles a day because I’m so excited to see everything and to be out and doing things instead of chained to my desk. If it’s feasible to walk somewhere instead of take a taxi, then walk–even if it takes an extra hour or two, you’ll probably see cool things on the way.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Meg! We’ve been trying to walk more in this latest leg of our trip. Japan is definitely a place where you have to walk a lot! In the first few days of Tokyo we were easily doing 10 to 15 miles even taking the train everywhere. You can walk a kilometer in the tunnels just to get to your train!

  3. I didn’t expect our life stories to intersect but I was always fascinated with your alternative approach to living life. That is, alternative to making the most money you can, achieving the most prestige you can. But without being some “loser” or some extreme hippie or activist of some fringe ideology. Very fascinating. Where our life stories kind of intersect is that I am American but grew up in Sapporo (first grade through ninth grade at Hokkaido International School in Sapporo) as a missionary kid. And now live and work in Tokyo. (Have spent 43 of my 56 years in Japan, the rest in Minnesota, New York and Seattle.) Sapporo is a wonderful city. Although changed from when I grew up there. It was all around a young, growing, developing city of rising prosperity when I grew up there. Now it is tourist-chic around Sapporo station/Odori Station with hotels and boutiques, and a bit run-down and shabby, less prosperous as you get away from the center. I think the “family restaurants” in Japan are wonderful (like Jonathans) for both Western and Japanese food. Also, the restaurant floor of dept. stores (like Mitsukoshi, Marui, Parco) have lots of restaurants on one floor including often a cafeteria style place. My approach to life for some reason has been just to try to survive. Try to survive socially and academically in America in college and law school. Try to get a first job. Try to survive at the job. I have my moments of fun, and have been blessed with a family with three healthy kids, but I have never felt the confidence or freedom to take a leap and thrive in a way that is superior to what conventional life offers. I never took for granted that I could hold onto a good job even though I went to a pretty good law school (Columbia) and am just happy that I have been able to keep working and saving money and supporting a family. But I have always had this yearning for “something more.” Like Benjamin in “The Graduate” when asked what he wants to do with his life, replied, “I don’t know…something…different.” In a way living overseas from America as an American expat doing “international” legal work is something “different” but also very conventional and old school, like a 1950’s organizational man. Sorry to ramble, but I am fascinated with your pursuit. Keep following your heart, and shifting goals and dreams as your heart tells you, and you will live a good life, since you have talent and drive and know how to take advantage of opportunity, and still smell the roses too.

    • Wow such a small world, huh? Would have been great to experience Sapporo before it got more touristy. We had a great time walking around the city today, exploring all the shops and eating our way around town. Took a break from the usual Japanese food and went to an Indian place for dinner. They had the best naan I’ve had anywhere in the US and even London. Thanks for the recommendations — we’ll check them out.

      You have a really interesting life story growing up outside of the US and must have a unique perspective. Sounds like you have everything in order and I hope you can to answer the swan song of “something more” in the future if you feel strongly enough about it. Thanks again for the support!

  4. We definitely went through both of these atrophies when we were teaching English in China the year before we went to law school (me) and dental school (hubby). Its easy to get caught up in the traveling aspect and neglect those little things. After about 6 months of letting ourselves be lazy, we started working out every day (even if it was just 30 min a day) and I started doing LSAT games while hubby looked up dental things– just to keep our minds fresh and working. Hope you guys start feeling more like yourselves again! Traveling is amazing but gotta keep up with the little things for yourself too.

    • We are in China right now! Definitely a very different experience even compared to other parts of Asia. We are seven months in and have about two months left in our trip. I was pretty good about allocating an hour a day to exercise the brain, but got lazy after a while. We’ve been doing some tough hikes, which hopefully is helping keep us in shape. Sounds like you guys did a good job staying sharp. LSAT games are a good idea. Maybe I will look some of those up for old times sake 🙂

      • What are your impressions of China? I spent 4 years of early retirement there. Some people hate it, some people love it, but either way it’s a very different experience from Europe or Japan.

      • Mostly positive so far!!! Also we’ve had different opinions on different areas. In Beijing people were really well mannered, but in smaller areas like Sichuan, the behavior was appalling in some cases. People are genuinely warm and interested and the food is amazing. Also can’t complain about the cost of living. Interesting to see the real China without Western bias.

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