I used to be an athlete. When I was 17, I could swim 100 yards of freestyle in 47 seconds, and no one has ever swum 100 yards of butterfly at the West Side Swim Club in Madison Wisconsin as fast as I did one day in 1976.
But the exercise I do these days is noteworthy only in the quantity of sweat it produces and the number of times it makes me breathe in a minute — pant is a more accurate word. I’m 55 years old, so panting doesn’t surprise me, but sometimes it alarms me a little. And the sweat — 20 minutes of exertion on my Nordic Track usually requires 20 minutes of evaporation under my ceiling fan, even in winter. I drink a couple of seltzers, I play a few games of solitaire (next post: wheatgrass raises solitaire score to highest number ever!), and I wait for the breeze to dry me off, which usually takes about as long as it takes my lungs to resume their normal regimen of six to eight breaths per minute, rather than 30.
Last night I decided to see if the energy boost I’ve been getting from wheatgrass would change my exercise experience. I’ve read that wheat grass increases your blood’s capacity to carry oxygen, because the chlorophyl that makes wheatgrass juice intensely green has virtually the same molecular structure as hemoglobin. That argument doesn’t make sense to me, but this wheatgrass experiment is about seeing what happens, not so much about understanding why. So first it was down the hatch Cumberbatch, and then it was down to the exercise dungeon.
Usually I run for two songs at resistance level seven, and three songs at resistance level nine. I start at like 72 RPM, drop to maybe 67 RPM when I up the resistance, and then wind up at 63 or 64. For the last four minutes or so — pretty much the full duration of “Born to Run” — I’m blowing hard and sweating heavily. Well, under the influence of wheatgrass, my workout started at the same rate, 72 RPM at resistance level seven, and it dropped to 68 RPM when I shifted to resistance level nine, but the precipitous drop at minute 15 didn’t happen. I was able to hold a faster pace for a longer time, so performance improved.
But what really improved was recovery. I was blowing a lot of wind at the end of that set, as I always do, but by the time I had walked from the basement to the kitchen and had drunk a glass of water, I was breathing at my norman resting rate again, six to eight breaths per minute. And the sweat was dry before I opened the solitaire app.
Was all of that caused by a boost in my blood’s capacity to distribute oxygen to my muscles, or was it merely my mind exerting the power of expectation on my body? Why do I need to say ‘merely’?