Another mood-lifter

Fran, pre-haircut. I'm smiling, but feeling down.

I’ve told you many ways to lift your mood. Down in the dumps? Put some music on and get moving. Take a walk. Play with the dog. Cook one of your favorite dishes. All those are great ways to improve your mood. Another one? Get a haircut.

I’ve been growing my hair and growing out the color. But it’s been more than five months since my last haircut. My hair is out of control.

True, most of the summer it’s been up in a clip or in a ponytail to keep me cooler, but the bangs are in my eyes and the ends are in pretty bad shape.

So, I’m excited that I’m getting a cut tomorrow. I don’t know what it’ll look like when Jan is done, but it will be better. I’ve been seeing Jan for over 30 years! We’ve grown up together. I’ve seen her kids grow up, seen the joy and heartache. So it will be good to see Jan – masks and all.

Why is getting a haircut such a mood-lifter? I’ll still look pretty much the same. My appearance won’t have improved drastically. My hair will be in better shape, it’s true. But I won’t look that different.

Perhaps it’s just the act of doing something nice for myself. Sure – basic skin care, exercise and eating right are all things that we do for ourselves. But actually going somewhere and having things done for you is that extra layer of pampering.

These days, during the time of COVID-19 social distancing and mask-wearing, we all seem to be sucked into a whirlpool. We don’t know which end is up, what’s right, what’s wrong, what we should do about filling our empty shelves when there are shortages. I know many days I’m feeling lost at sea. So it’s a taste of normalcy to go out and do something that I used to do more regularly. To do something nice for myself, for a change.

Use these lazy days of summer to your advantage

The days may be warm, but you've got things to do

Yup – me too. Dog days of summer perhaps? Especially theses days, we see on the calendar an unending stretch of similar days. Not even the weather changes much. The last few weeks have been hot and humid. Not much precipitation. One after another.

Feel that sense of urgency?

You know you should be doing things. You just know that you’ll be sorry in three months that you let this stretch of days with no appointments, no urgency, no places to be end with nothing to show for it. So use these lazy days of summer to your advantage!

Set a goal!

How to snap out of it? Well, think of what you would like to see accomplished at the end of those three months. That’s a quarter of a year. Would you like to perfect a new dish? In 13 weeks you can prepare that dish at least 6 times without getting bored yawns from the family.

Want to lose weight?

Or would you like to lose 5 pounds? Completely doable. Figure out your eating plan for the next few weeks and exercise schedule. You’ve got it covered.

Would you like to learn how to crochet? You can order a few different size crochet hooks, some yarn and a beginner’s pattern or two, have them arrive and try it out after watching a few YouTube instructional videos a few times during this quarter year.

Want to be a writer? I did too. Now I have a published book.

Or how about writing a story? Completely possible. Write your ideas, organize the plot and start writing. It won’t take long if you devote just a half hour or so a day. For me, writing a non-fiction book about my training journey with my reactive dog Tango was both cathartic and rewarding. And I got it done in about 4 months. Tango: Transforming My Hellhound.

The point: anything is possible

The point is that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. The first step is to set a goal.

Next is to break that goal down into smaller chunks. And smaller. And smaller – until you’ve got about an hour a day of “work.” But it won’t seem like work because it’s something you really want to do, and an hour out of 24 is nothing. Writing your goals down, and then scheduling your tasks on a planner or calendar really help keep you honest.

In a rotten mood?

Serenity for your bad mood

How often are you in a bad mood? A really bad, mean, rotten mood? The kind of mood when you just want to smack somebody? But you don’t because, well, non-aggressive. But you really feel like it?

If you frequently feel that way, perhaps it’s time to seriously change a constant in your life. It could be that you’re not getting an important nutrient – study your diet. Or you’re not being stimulated mentally. Or you’re dissatisfied at work. Or your relationships need work. Or the human connections you have require too much from you. Or you’re not getting enough fresh air. Or exercise.

The point is, if you’re in a bad mood all the time – it’s not the world, it’s you. Time to figure it out. I can’t help with that. No one can but you.

Yes, I figured it was time for a kick-in-the-pants post. A big part of fitness is the mental side – the whole mind-body connection. Get your head working right and the rest will follow as long as you’re working on it.

There’s no question about it, and we hear about this constantly from every media outlet – these are difficult times. We’re all trying to figure it out together. Some people seem to have a better handle on it than others, though.

So, what’s their secret?

I don’t think there is a secret. I think the people you see who seem to be handling these “difficult times” the best fall into two categories – those who are hiding their true feelings and those who are working on making things be OK.

Hiding your true feelings can be as bad as lashing out, but the person you’re hurting the most there is yourself.

But working on making the best of things seems to be a healthy road to take. Work actively on the relationships that are important to you – your family, your friends, your coworkers. Maintain a healthy diet. Get moving – exercise has been proven to be a mood-lifter. (I wrote about that a while back.) Do fun things frequently. Play with your dog. Dance to your favorite music. Watch old episodes of your favorite sit-coms.

These will help you get out of the doldrums.

Fix these 5 mistakes to help your back pain

Even a modified plank works the core, which will help your back.
Even a modified plank works the core, which will help your back.

As we age, we seem to be more susceptible to certain kinds of pain. For me, it’s my back. I’m sure that some of you are experiencing more back pain too. I’m working away, then get up from my desk to check on stock and … POW!!! … that unmistakable twinge in my lower back that tells me that I’m going to have pain for the next few days.

I try to sit properly – not hunched, both feet on the floor, not twisted. I don’t know why I’m prone to back pain. It was never an issue when I was younger. But I am now and have to deal with it.

In my research, I found 5 mistakes to fix to try to alleviate or eliminate back pain. I’m not sure that all of these apply to me, but some do. And they may apply to your situation.

  1. Performing repetitive physical activities the same way every time. Take a different approach when doing things you do often. For example, if you frequently carry a heavy bag on one shoulder, try switching sides regularly to change the load on your spine.
  2. Don’t bend from the hips and lift. I’m certainly guilty of this. I frequently just bend at the hips to pick up something. When I empty the dishwasher, I frequently just bend over to get to the bottom rack. Experts recommend that you squat with your back straight and chest up to take pressure off the spine and not push out the disks in your lower back.
  3. Don’t sit or stand all the time. I try to get up frequently, but sometimes get caught up. Experts say you should move around or take a walk at least once an hour. This will boost your productivity as well. Give you a change of scenery and spark creativity.
  4. Don’t neglect your core. I’ve said it before – a strong core promotes a strong back. I’d hate to think what my back would be like if I did neglect my core. Experts say we should strengthen the key muscles that support the back – the multifidus which runs along the spine, and the transversus abdominis which wraps around the abdomen. Planks have gotten some bad press, but they’re great for the core.
  5. Don’t move in ways that feel wrong. Avoid twisting and lifting at the same time. I’m guilty of this at times. That old dishwasher – I bend to stack the plates and then pick them up, twisting to get to the cabinet. Note to self: be more conscious of this! And ask for help with heavy or awkward objects.

And, in general – listen to your body. You know it best, so if something strikes you as wrong, go with that instinct. Otherwise you may pay for your bad judgement later. 

Do what makes you happy

Do what makes you happy. Put a smile on your face.

At least once a day, do what makes you happy. Do something that will put a smile on your face.

Yes, these are hard times. We’re physically isolated from others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be happy.

Happiness increases optimism. Optimism increases resilience. Only with resilience will we be able to survive this bleak period in our existence. With resilience we’ll be able to undertake new challenges. We’ll be able to resume pastimes that we can’t enjoy now. We’ll be able to go to restaurants, to movie theaters, to parks, to the mall.

So, how can we embrace happiness? For one thing, turn off the news. Take a break from social media.

Have a virtual conversation with a friend. We all have wonderful devices with built-in ways to make this happen. Even just call a friend on the phone. To hear a friend’s voice can be joyous.

Watch a favorite video. Or, go on a virtual tour of a museum or art gallery. There are plenty of those.

Catch a live stream from a facility that’s closed now. Lots of zoos are offering live streams. There’s a “Donate” button on many, but it’s not mandatory. On the other hand, if you can afford it, those facilities could use your donations. They’re not getting the admission fees or concession sales now that they were used to. A reduced staff has to be there, to care for the animals, but there are no actual visitors.

My favorite is the daily live stream from Dolphin Research Center on Facebook. Every day at noon my time (1 pm Eastern Time), they’ll go live with a session with dolphins or sea lions. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

Or, as I’ve said before, put on some favorite music and start to dance. There’s no one to watch you, so get crazy. You’ll enjoy the music, get some moves on and be happier.

So, for just a little while every day, do something that makes you happy.

Increase optimism, grow resilience

Yoga helped me regain my balance and increase my optimism today. That will help to grow my resilience.

In these uncertain times, we’re scared, we feel lost. The only way we’re going to get through this is to grow our resilience. One sure way to do that is to increase our optimism.

Most of the country is sheltering in place now, to try to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 virus. There’s no cure, it spreads like wildfire, and it’s dangerous to many who catch it.

The economy has come to a standstill, since many businesses are closed. Restaurants and theaters are closed. People aren’t buying anything (except, perhaps toilet paper and hand sanitizer). We’re told to maintain “social distancing” – stay at least 6 feet away from others.

It’s scary and we don’t know when it will end.

But it will end. One day, hopefully soon. And to get beyond this time with anything approaching normalcy, it’s crucial to grow our resilience. To come out stronger and happier.

How do we grow our resilience? One sure-fire way is to increase our optimism. When we’re optimistic, we feel happier and more able to look forward.

So, how do we increase our optimism? One sure-fire way is to exercise. The endorphins that are released help, and the increased oxygen and blood-flow are supporters too. I know, personally, that I always feel better after a workout.

Today I did a Yoga practice. Nothing too strenuous because it had been a while since I did Yoga, and I didn’t want to feel it for days afterward. But it sure felt great today.

Another way to feel happier and more optimistic is to put on some favorite tunes and move. Just get moving. The music and the movement all contribute to feelings of optimism and well-being.

Go for a walk. Pet your dog. Read a good book. Make your favorite meal (not too calorie-laden, though!). You’ll feel better.

And every time you do, you’ll increase your optimism that much more and grow your resilience.

Is Stress Good for Us?

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but short-term stress may be good for us.

Is stress good for us? There’s a difference between long-term and short-term stress, and our reactions are different.

Long-term stress = not good

We all know that long-term stress is bad for your health. Stress can increase blood pressure and heart rate. Stress can prevent you from sleeping well. Stress can impact your eating and exercise habits. Stress can even have a negative impact on your skin. So, we can safely conclude that it’s best to avoid long-term stress.

But, short-term stress is another story.

Short-term stress can get your blood pumping, charge you up for the challenge ahead.

Studies have shown that stress in short duration can actually help the brain improve. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that after rats were place in a short-term stressful situation (they were immobilized in their cage for a few hours), new brain cell growth doubled. The rodents also did better on a memory test later on. “We think the same thing happens in people—manageable stress increases alertness and performance,” study author Daniela Kaufer, PhD, a professor of integrative biology, told Berkeley Wellness. “Moderate and short-lived stress—like an upcoming exam or preparing to deliver a speech in public—improves cognitive performance.” So be assured that the next time you have to speak before a group of people, your brain will grow!

It makes sense that short-term stress helps your memory too. If you’re being chased, you’ll be forced to remember your path rather than just meandering down random streets or alleys.

And a positive short-term stressor will increase our energy. Situations that challenge us, or are exciting and stimulating, place stress on our mind and body—but the experience doesn’t necessarily cause discomfort. Rather, this kind of stress can motivate us, sharpen our senses, and help us solve problems. Good stress actually creates new neural pathways and stimulates healthful endorphins.

The short-term stress you experience when you exercise is great for your body. (But it’s important not to overdo, especially if you’re not used to intense exercise. The short-term stress you’ll experience on a brisk walk may be all that you need to calm your mind enough to be able to focus.)

In fact, this short-term “good” stress can actually boost your immune system. Another study with rats showed that rats who were stressed briefly had a surge of immune cell response. There’s no reason to believe that we are different.

So, get stressed a little! Lace up your walking shoes or take the dog for a walk.

Grow your resilience

The tree pictured has resilience. It is growing off of a ledge. Learn how to grow your resilience with my new ebook.

Fitness is more than eating right and exercise. I believe that fitness is holistic – that is, body and mind. Keep the body healthy, keep the mind healthy and you’ve got fitness nailed. But what happens when you encounter hardships? Can you bounce back? It helps to know how to grow your resilience in cases like this so that you can come back from those hardships better and stronger than ever!

So how can you grow your resilience? Contrary to what some people may think (those who wallow in their misfortune and say, “Woe is me,” or words to that effect) you can actually grow and improve your resilience. It is a skill that can be improved with effort.

Learn from misfortune

It’s important to look at what happened objectively and learn from the experience. Learn from your reaction to the experience. Were you reactive or proactive? Could you have been proactive to get a better outcome?

Choose your reaction

Whatever happens, take a moment and breathe. You don’t have to react immediately. Run through your options in your brain. “If I do {this}, then {that} will happen.” I know – sometimes it’s hard not to react to circumstances right away. But, it’s almost always to your benefit to wait a moment to react. That nanosecond may be just enough time to rethink a reaction that would not be appropriate. (Or to think of a better reaction even if your first inclination was not inappropriate.)

The point is that you almost always have time to think before you react or offer a comment.

Other ways to grow your resilience

There are other ways to grow your resilience. One is to be happier. Optimistic people can almost always bounce back quickly from one of life’s misfortunes. They seem to have the coping skills that are needed.

Want more ways to improve your resilience? Click here or the button on the right and get my new ebook, “How do you bounce back?”

The Satiation Diet

Eat foods to satisfy you longer

Chicken being prepared for roasting: a lean protein which satisfies us longer.

Ever hear of the “Satiation Diet?” me neither, until today. It makes perfect sense, though. The idea is to eat foods that satisfy you for longer. And by increasing the protein in your diet to 20 – 25% of calories, along with the fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains you’ll feel more satisfied for longer, eat less between meals and reduce your total calorie intake. You’ll lose weight and keep it off.

A well-rounded diet is key

We already know that the best way to lose weight is to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. And the carbs we eat should be complex carbohydrates, like whole grains. And protein is essential in our nutrition. (And, of course, to move more!) 

But, to be really successful at losing weight, we need a “diet” or eating plan we can stick to. We have to reduce calories to lose weight, but that won’t happen if we find that our eating plan leaves us hungry. We’re only human, and when we’re hungry, we eat. (Or get cranky – like me.) And eating without planning means grabbing whatever we can get our hands on the fastest, and that’s not usually the healthiest option.

Reduce snacking

That means if our healthy planned meals leave us satisfied for longer, the tendency to snack between meals is reduced. And eating a little more protein with our meals will leave us feeling more satisfied. So, even if the total calories is a little higher, our total calories for the day will be less because we won’t be eating between meals. That protein should, of course, be lean protein like chicken or fish. I will admit to the occasional burger too! There are plenty of non-animal protein choices too, so there’s no excuse not to increase your protein intake. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should decrease the fresh vegetables in your diet. These have other nutrients that your body needs.

The conclusion:

So, eat more protein!

Yoga Day

Happy International Yoga Day!

Crescent pose for International Yoga DayThere are millions of yogis around the world celebrating International Yoga Day today. Are you one of them?

I am. I’m not a consistent practitioner, but from time to time I enjoy an hour of yoga. Chances are, I’d creak less if I practiced more, but I have to admit I prefer other workouts most of the time.

Why so many?

So, why do so many people practice yoga? For some, it just makes them feel better. They say it centers them and are more present and in tune with their body.

A few health benefits of yoga

Others appreciate the health benefits without delving deeply into the mind-body connection. With a consistent practice, yoga will improve your flexibility, strength and posture. Every pose emphasizes these. A focus on breathing is instrumental in improving all-around fitness.


Practicing yoga – just the Sun Salutation for just 15 minutes a few times a week will improve flexibility. And you’ll be breathing deeply, increasing your energy level.

And you don’t have to be flexible to start with. Every pose has modifications. No one is perfect. Everyone is improving.


A Flow practice improves cardiovascular health too. My favorite yoga instructor taught an incredible Flow class – different every week – that left us breathless and flopped on the floor like a rag doll after the final Shavasana.

Stress reducer

Many yoga poses are designed to reduce stress and increase calm. It’s been shown that a regular yoga practice can reduce stress and even promote better sleep.

Increase energy

On the flip side, many yoga poses, especially when combined, increase energy and leave you raring to move more. Even without caffeine, that Flow class left me energized and ready to tackle chores.

I’m convinced

I think tomorrow I’ll practice yoga instead of do a cardio workout. I’ve convinced myself!