We can no longer skip blithely through life

As we age, it seems like everything requires a concerted effort. When we’re young, (or perhaps just in retrospect), we skip blithely through life. But now, no more skipping. If we’re concerned with healthy aging, we have to focus on our actions. 

The world is crazy

The world is a crazy place right now. The global pandemic is going strong. Global warming has caused famine in one part of the world, yet some do not believe that people have caused it. Many world economies are in trouble. There are supply chain issues and shortages all over. As a result, prices are skyrocketing. Media keeps blasting at us from every direction. To keep from going crazy ourselves, we must focus on our actions and on how we want to direct our lives.

Our metabolism isn’t the same as it used to be

My metabolism never allowed me to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight. I was a fat kid, started out a fat teenager but then really focused and lost weight. It’s been said that some people can actually eat anything up until the age of 40 or thereabouts, and then their body caught up. In order to stay at a healthy weight, even those lucky skinny youngsters had to watch their diet as middle aged adults. (Poetic justice?)

Focus on our actions for healthy aging

For healthy aging, we strive to preserve what we've got and improve what we can if we focus on our actions.
Preserve what we’ve got…

Part of healthy aging means that we have to preserve what we’ve got and improve what we can. Nature takes some things away from us as we age, like our hearing and eyesight. It also takes away muscle mass, bone density and our sense of balance. We can intentionally improve our muscle mass and bone density by doing weight-bearing and strength exercises. And we can improve our sense of balance by actively working at it. We can even improve our balance with just a couple of minutes of exercise a day. 

We all strive for healthy aging. If we focus on our actions, we can achieve it. So we may not be able to skip blithely through life, but we can still skip toward a better future.

Get excited about exercise

Last week was about food. I’m always excited to try new cuisines. No matter the recipe it’s usually possible to make it healthy – cut out excess fats and sugars, substitute another vegetable for a starch. This week is about exercise. It’s time to get excited about exercise!

I’m not a fan of exercise

I get excited about exercise because I can exercise.
I get excited about exercise because I can exercise.

If you’ve read any of my posts about exercise, you know I’m not a fan. I exercise for the benefits I derive from it, like reducing bad moods and depression. (More reasons to exercise!) It also improves memory and cognition, and increases endurance. Those are definitely reasons to get excited about exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control says that physical activity is essential for healthy aging – but how much exercise is recommended? If you’re up to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, then 75 minutes a week or more should do it or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. A couple of days of strength work should always be added too – for our muscles and bones!

But I am able to do it

The fact that I’m able to actually move my body to exercise vigorously is a reason to celebrate. I’m not a professional fitness trainer. I was never in the fitness field, in any capacity other than a cheerleader or motivator. My background is in accounting. But, I’ve exercised regularly for years and as a result am able to do the activities I want to do. And that is a reason to get excited about exercise.

So get excited about exercise!

I want everyone out there to be able to take a walk with the dog or the grandkids when they want to (weather permitting, of course). To walk around the mall. When you can’t find a parking spot close to a building, walking from a remote corner should not prevent you from carrying out your errand. Yes, the knees might creak, and it may take a few seconds to unkink the back, but once you do, there should be no stopping you.

And that’s a reason to get excited about exercise.

Get excited about fitness

Get excited about fitness. Try new things.
Get excited about fitness!

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “She’s nuts. Excited about fitness? That’s the most boring thing ever.”

But you should be excited about fitness. You’re doing something for you when you actively work to improve your fitness. While eating right can be less than exciting, it can be the greatest opportunity to explore the world and try new things. 

Get out of your eating rut

We get in a rut with our eating. Same old proteins, veggies and flavorings. But thinking about eating healthier can be an introduction to new herbs and spices that we have never tried before. I don’t really know a lot about Indian (from India) food – or Native American food for that matter. It’s easy to do a search for nutritious ethnic foods, and experiment in the kitchen. Print out a couple of recipes you’d like to try and make your shopping list from those recipes. 

The produce store I go to frequently has many vegetables that I’ve never tried and don’t know how to prepare. Things with exotic names, from exotic countries. The next time I go there I’ll take a picture of some of these and explore preparation tips and recipes for them.

Class trip to Spain not for the food

I took a class trip to Spain when I was in high school (a very long time ago). The meals were definitely Americanized for us – high school kids were not adventurous eaters. Some of my classmates even searched out McDonalds for some meals. Others refused to eat anything but the bread served at mealtime. (It was good bread, but not that good!)

Explore new cuisines

I will do more research on Spanish dishes but in the meantime I found this recipe for Pisto (Spanish version of Ratatouille) which I might make sometime soon! If you ever took a trip and perhaps were not as courageous as you might have been with your meals, now might be a great time to take a look back and discover some new taste sensations.

Maintaining your motivation when you embark on a healthy eating program can be tough. I talked about this before when I gave 5 tips for sticking to your plan. But exploring new cuisines is another way to make it easy to stick to your plan.

Even if you’ve decided to eat healthier, be bold. Search out new tastes and flavors. Travel the world from your kitchen. Get excited about fitness – at least the eating part for now.

An ending is a time for reflection

An ending is a time for reflection, and the end of the year is no exception. I don’t much like to look backward, but the year-end is a natural time to do it.

No looking backward

I don’t like to look backward because the past is done. If it didn’t go well, there’s nothing I can do to change it. If it did, well, that’s great, but you can’t live in the past. But if you’re going to look back, the end of the year is the time to do it.

No resolutions

I also don’t like to make resolutions. “I resolve …” has a negative connotation. More often than not, the sentence continues, “… to not eat sugar.” Or “ … to work out every day.” But, really, how realistic is that? I don’t believe in absolutes – I believe in moderation. Everything is a possibility in moderation. Chocolate? Definitely. Financial stability? Working on it. A little bit at a time, and everything will get done.

But an ending is a time for reflection. Take a look back. Look at the good, the lessons learned, the things we wish we’d done differently. 

And if there’s an ending, it follows that a beginning follows. I like the idea of a fresh start. Clean slate. 

Be smart and plan

An ending is a time for reflection - and highlighters are tools for the next step - looking forward.
Highlighters are great tools for categorizing my brain dump.

But to ensure that my year starts the way I want it to, I have to be smart and plan for what I want to achieve. So I start with a brain dump. This can take me a while, because I have many, many thoughts flitting around my brain. They’re the ones that keep me up at night. Get everything I have to do, want to do, or think I might need to do, down on paper. I find that actual paper and pen (or pencil) is most useful for this exercise. Sometimes taking a walk around the house can spark a reminder. There are no filters with this – get everything down so there are no stray thoughts in your brain. Now I classify everything. Business-related, personal, dogs, or anything else. Colored highlighters are helpful with this.

Now for every classification, prioritize. Things that are urgent, necessary at some point, and the “It would be nice” priorities.

Look at the big picture

Take a couple of days for this. Make sure you take into consideration the things that you really want to accomplish in the coming year, or quarter, or month. Because you can do this exercise whenever you need to. Any given Wednesday is fine, or at the end of a semester, or the start of a week. It could be that you decide to take a different route in your business or things happen in your life that change your direction. No matter – you’re not tied to a specific date.

An endings is a time for reflection, and a time to look forward.

Have fun this holiday season

Have fun this holiday season! Have a snowball fight with your siblings!
Have a snowball fight with your siblings! Have fun this holiday season.

Have fun this holiday season! Loads of fun! Never, ever moderate your fun. That’s what the season is about – fun and family. Cherish your time with loved ones. Enjoy every moment you have together. Watch that cheesy old movie. If you have snow, go out and build a snowman with your siblings – you’re never too old to build snow people. Or have a snowball fight – no rocks, though.

Watch the whipped cream…

And then when your toes are all cold, go inside and enjoy a hot beverage. Warm up from the inside – tea warms me up the fastest. Hot chocolate cools down too quickly – especially with cold whipped cream. (It does sound good to me, though…)

For people like me who’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, I keep a calorie count in my head of what I’m consuming. Hot chocolate with whipped cream has more than I’m willing to spend. I’d rather save those calories for something else.

Never, ever deny yourself!

I always say, “Moderation in everything” and I never deny myself anything I really want. But I have to really want that something if it’s super-high in fat and / or calories. Much of the time when I think I might want something, I do something else for a few minutes and after that I don’t want it so much anymore. In the hot chocolate example – what’s for dessert? If that’s something I’d rather have – like chocolate cake, I’ll skip the hot chocolate or the whipped cream and save those calories for dessert.

Don’t rely on food for happiness

I’ve learned that most of the time food is not the thing that makes me happy. Sure – I’m happy when I’m eating our Pasta Bolognese or pizza from my favorite pizzeria, but I don’t need food to be happy.

If one of your goals is to be fit, an essential part of fitness is eating right. And chocolate – anything – in large quantities cannot be considered eating right! Once in a while a major chocolate indulgence is great (and a little chocolate every day is a necessity!), but if you’re trying to get fit, a daily sundae is out.

Happiness must come from things other than food for us to become fit, healthy and happy. In fact Deepak Chopra told Oprah Winfrey that true happiness comes from within – aiming for internal fulfillment rather than external fulfillment, giving to others, and appreciation for natural beauty, among other things.

Have fun this holiday season – be happy with your family and other loved ones. Gain fulfillment from your surroundings – go outside for walks. Enjoy the world.

Don’t overthink it

It's easy to think and think and never act on a great idea. Don't overthink it!
Fran’s twirling an idea in her head…

It’s easy to do – we’ve all done it. Twirl an idea around in your head and not act on it. I’ve done it more times than I care to admit. You think about it, approach an idea from all different angles and sort out the “What if’s …?” and not do anything. It’s called “analysis paralysis” – when you think about something for so long that nothing gets done. Here’s some advice: Don’t overthink it.

So you think you have a great idea. It doesn’t matter what context it’s in. You have this idea and start thinking about all the eventualities and then you decide it’s not so great after all.

But what if it is and you just over thought yourself right out of acting on your idea? You’ve spent so much time thinking about it that it’s impossible for you to act on it. And then you feel guilty about spending time on nothing.

You’re never not going to have ideas

So – here’s the plan. You’re never not going to have ideas. We’re people. We think. That’s a good thing. But a while ago you set goals for yourself: Set goals – big and little. So you don’t overthink this idea – ask yourself first if this idea fits into your overall plan. Will it help you achieve a goal you set for yourself? If not, then move on. Unless the idea is so attractive to you that you can’t put it aside.

Don’t overthink it – don’t think

If your new idea is still appealing, let your mind go blank for a little while. Just forget about it for a few minutes. Then come back to it and think about how to go about this idea. If a really great plan comes to mind – revise your goals and go for it!

Give it a time limit

If you keep cogitating about this new idea and whether or not you should go for it, give yourself a strict time limit: “I’ll decide whether or not to go for this by noon on Thursday.” You’ve given yourself a deadline. Act on it.

Go for the gut feeling

And when all else fails – write down your options on small pieces of paper. Fold them up and shuffle them around. Pick one. How do you feel about it? If your gut clenches, it’s the wrong decision.

Now, don’t overthink it. Go do it. Plan for it. Embrace it – whatever that “it” is.

Timing doesn’t matter when it comes to exercise

Timing doesn't matter when it comes to exercise - the important thing is that you do it.
Timing doesn’t matter when it comes to exercise – I do it in the afternoon!

Do you think that you have to work out in the morning? Or afternoon? Here’s a hint: the timing doesn’t matter. The important thing is to work out when you can!

I work out in the afternoon – it works for me. Most days I exercise at pretty much the same time. I don’t have to think about it – exercise has become a habit for me.

Trainers get real

And the trainers agree.

 Morgan Rees, an ACE-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and health coach in Los Angeles says, “Some people work out in the morning because their schedule only allows that time to work out. Others work out in the morning because they genuinely love being active in the morning. I have always enjoyed working out in the evening because I have the most energy in the afternoon and early evening.”

And Sarah Pelc Graca, an NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Strong With Sarah, agreed that there is no ideal time for working out. “The number of calories burned from the exact same workout will remain the same whether you work out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m.,” Pelc Graca said.

Morning people have one advantage

But some research has shown that if you like to work out in the morning you may have made exercise part of your regular routine and developed the habit of working out. In addition, if you exercise early in the day, your body will continue to burn active calories during the day, and you’ll be fueling your body as well to build muscles. 

On the other hand, working out in the evening gives your body recovery time overnight, and can also give your muscles the opportunity to build. It can even improve your sleep, since exercise can reduce the stress that you’ve built up during the day.

The bottom line

So, it really doesn’t matter when you exercise. The important thing is that you do it.

If exercise hasn’t yet become a habit for you, make a date with yourself – schedule your workout in your calendar. Since long-term consistency is key, try working out in the morning some days and in the afternoon or evening on others. See what works best for you. When in your schedule are you most likely to keep your date? That’s what you should stick with. Of course, everyone has days that mornings don’t work or afternoons are booked – I know I do. I try to think ahead and figure out alternatives. Because if you’re skipping a workout with only a time excuse – the only one you’re cheating is yourself.

Take a step back and things will get done

Feeling blah but overwhelmed?

Exercise helps me release stress.
If I’m going to tackle my to-do list, I need a workout.

Are you you feeling blah but still have a multitude of things on your list that have to get done? Then take a step back. If your to-do list has gotten out of control, it’s time to take a step back to reassess. Figure out if everything on there is really necessary. If you’ve just been adding to your list without evaluating the items on it, it’s probably time for a to-do list overhaul.

If you’re feeling stressed about everything you have to do, perhaps the first thing is to release some stress with an intense workout. I always find that I’m better able to focus after I’ve exercised.

Lists are good

I’m a firm advocate of lists. The more lists I have, the happier I am. My Google Keep screen is my happy place. That’s where I store all my notes and lists. If something is on a list, I don’t have to remember it. As I’m getting older, I find that every little bit helps. Every few days, though, I revisit the lists and see if I can delete anything – if my priorities have shifted or if I’ve done things without crossing them off my list.

Although crossing things off a list is one of the best feelings in the world. Plus, the act of crossing items off your to-do list is a stress reducer too.

To-do list overload? Take a step back to reassess

If your to-do list is overwhelming, take 15 – 20 minutes and redo it. Take a step back and go through your to-do list to make it more manageable. Take a look at your existing list and copy to your new list the things that are still important to you to get done. If your situation has changed, don’t hesitate to leave things off your new list. Once you’ve finished copying old items, put them in priority order. (Crucial, Important, Nice and Can Wait.) Then add any new items with their priorities noted. Put your new “Crucial” items at the top of yet another new list, and follow with your other items. If you’ve copied “Crucial” items from your old list, time to reassess: chances are they’re not that “crucial” after all.

Now, every day identify 3 or 4 crucial items to get done and perhaps a couple more things you’d like to see off your list.

So, to move forward toward your goals, take a step back to reassess the things on your to-do list. Make sure that the items on your list actually move you closer to your goals.

When you really, really want something

When you really, really want something - like the stuffing - don't deprive yourself.
When you really, really want something – like the stuffing (or dressing) – don’t deprive yourself.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the US. Happy Thanksgiving to my readers! I am truly thankful for you! Traditionally it’s a day of football, eating until you’re too stuffed to eat any more, and then collapsing in a turkey coma on the couch. As I wrote last week, Thanksgiving for me is truly a day of gratitude for family and friends, and food. Ours was a very small celebration yesterday – just two of us. But we had all of our Thanksgiving favorites – turkey, dressing (it’s dressing not stuffing because we don’t stuff the bird!), cranberry relish and brussels sprouts (yes, we love our sprouts!). And dessert. And I had everything. Because when you really, really want something, it’s perfectly OK to have it.

Everything in moderation

I’ve written about my “everything in moderation” philosophy. I never deprive myself. If I really, really want something, I have it. Perhaps just a little bit of it, but enough to satisfy the craving.

I love our stuffing – or dressing. It’s really a savory bread pudding with minimal herbs and spices. We salt and saute a few pounds of onions and a whole head of celery in vegetable oil until they’re nicely browned and caramelized (this takes a while). We mash a loaf of stale (or lightly toasted) egg bread with a few eggs and a quart of warm milk. Add a little more salt, mix everything together, turn it into a casserole sprayed generously with cooking spray and bake it for a few hours, stirring to get the maximum amount of crustiness every half hour or so. I’m making myself hungry writing about it.

I don’t skimp

When dinner time comes around, I give myself a regular sized portion. When I finish that, if I really, really want more, I give myself another spoon. It’s Thanksgiving, after all. 

I don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t second guess myself. I know there are lots of calories in it. But it’s worth it to me to work out extra the next few days.

Because if I didn’t have exactly what I wanted, I’d think about it. I’d mope about it. I’d overeat in another way. I’m doing myself a favor in eating exactly what I want.

Food, family and gratitude

Next week is Thanksgiving here in the US. It’s one of my favorite holidays of the year, because it’s all about food, family, and gratitude.

Finally in person

Food, family and gratitude all lead to greater optimism and resilience.
Family gives me the warm fuzzies.

During the pandemic isolation we’ve tried to keep in touch with loved ones, but there’s nothing like seeing the people we love in person. After a long 18 months, my sister and I were able to get together with cousins last month for a wonderful afternoon. Being able to give a vaccinated-safe hug was probably the best feeling I’ve had in a long while. A cousin flew into town from the East coast and she probably won’t be able to make it for Thanksgiving, so that October afternoon get-together was our Thanksgiving. 

We shared laughter and recipes. And we commiserated with our cousin’s little boy who got sick from too many sweets (given by his doting Grandma in the morning). We talked about old family stories, and shared some new ones. It was a relatively small gathering, but my sister and I were overjoyed to be with any family.

Warm, fuzzy feelings

The food was great, but that afternoon its importance was diminished by the warm feeling of being surrounded by family. We don’t live very close to family any more – the closest is an hour or more from us. So the opportunity to get together in person on a Sunday afternoon was not to be missed.

Both my sister and I were unspeakably happy to see family. And we were grateful to be able to do so safely. We definitely had warm fuzzy feelings that day. And remembering that sunny afternoon continues to bring happiness and gratitude.

Gratitude => Happiness => Optimism => Resilience

And when we’re happy and grateful for what we have, optimism naturally follows. When we’re optimistic, we look to the future rather than the past. And being able to look optimistically to the future builds our resilience. With resilience comes motivation to meet our goals.

With food, family and gratitude, we can accomplish anything.