Take a look around you

All too often we live on autopilot. We wake up at the same time every morning, have the same routine as we get ready for our day, eat the same thing for breakfast (mostly), go to the same places every day and we don’t pay attention to the world around us.

We listen to the same news on the radio, the same songs, drive the same route.

Our minds are always busy. Busy with lists of things we have to do, chores we have to do, tasks we have to accomplish, groceries we have to buy. Busy with thoughts of work, politics, the weather, the latest news stories, the latest text from your spouse or kid.

As we drive, do we really pay attention to what’s around us? Quick, now – what’s the color of the building on the next block?

I thought so…

All too often we’re so inside our thoughts that we don’t pay attention to the world. Yes, there are problems out there and some not-nice people, but over all the world is a beautiful place.

I’m happier when I stop a couple times a day and just look at the sky. Or the plants (in the winter, the shapes the bare branches make, or the snow on them). And if I can, sometimes I’ll just talk to a person about nothing in particular to find out what they’re thinking. (Not very often, though, because I’m an introvert – working on that!)

Be mindful of what you’re doing. Pay attention to where you put your keys, how your fold your clothes, the colors in your closet or drawers. Look at the world around you. There are beautiful things out there. Even a sunrise or sunset through the electric wires can be pretty. A bird flying overhead.

You’ll feel calmer, more at peace, and better able to handle the chaos of modern life.

 

Hate to exercise?

Having fun during 21 Day FixDo you hate to exercise? I’m not a fan either, but I do it because I like to do other stuff, as you know. But if that isn’t enough of a motivation, and you know that you need to exercise, start small.

Just walk for 15 minutes. Or 5 minutes. If it’s a nice day, just tell yourself that you’re going outside and breathe for a few minutes. Pretty soon you’ll be taking a few steps and you’re around the block.

Starting small leads to big things! Tell yourself you’ll do 15 jumping jacks, and pretty soon it’s 30 because 15 is easy.

Tell yourself you’ll jump for 2 minutes. Just up and down – maybe not even leaving the ground. And pretty soon it’s 5 minutes. Full squats and everything.

Tell yourself you’re just taking the dog for a walk. You’re snapping on his leash and pretty soon you’re both walking for 20 minutes. It’s good for both of you! (Just don’t forget pick-up material!)

It’s finally starting to feel like spring here, and the garden needs work. Tell yourself that you’re going outside for 5 minutes to pull weeds. Pretty soon you’ll find that you’ve been outside working for a half hour. A few weeds turns into raking and cutting back, and who knows what else!

Just don’t overdo it! If you haven’t exercised in a while, and those 5 minutes of walking feels too easy, just do 6 and see how you feel the next day. The goal is consistency – if you’re too sore to get up the next day, you’re not going to exercise and then you’ll forget all about it for the future. And that’s bad.

So it’s okay to start really small and build up. 5 minutes today, 10 minutes tomorrow. Then maybe add in a little jog for a few seconds and see how you go from there. Remember, there’s no deadline!

Better than a crunch

Whatever my workout of the day is, I always make sure that it includes abdominal work. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. I want to minimize my middle! If there’s one thing I really dislike, it’s my midriff hanging over my waistband. To me, it’s sloppy. And, to me, it’s uncomfortable.
  2. More importantly, I want my core to be as strong as possible to support my back. Back pain is debilitating, and I don’t want to experience it again! Having back pain makes everything harder. Even work done while sitting is harder! Sitting is painful, and while lying down might be easy, you’ve got to get up sometime!

So, I always incorporate ab work into my workouts. If it’s not part of a video I’m doing, I’ll do some on my own.

Crunches are effective, done the right way, but they can be tedious. And form must be spot-on! So I try to look for variations in ab exercises.

The plank is a great all-around exercise. It targets the core, the arms, and the legs. And there are a zillion variations that you can do.

I also try to practice my balance every day. (Have you gotten my free download yet? A Week of Balance! – get yours up and to the right!)

So, here’s a plank variation combining abs and balance. Just lift your opposite arm and leg and hold. Make sure your stomach is in, your back is flat, your hand is directly under your shoulder and you have equal weight on your hand and foot.

If that’s hard, start on your knees.  You can also start by just lifting your leg or your arm, not both. As before, make sure your stomach is in, your back is flat and your hand directly under your shoulder. (And, of course, it always helps when your dog helps! That’s Booker’s rear end in the photo.)

 

More reasons to exercise!

I hate working out. I do not like to exercise. You know that – I’ve told you often enough. But I like to do active things. I like to eat. So I exercise. And here are some more reasons why we need to exercise:

Exercise reduces bad moods and depression. That “exercise high” is not a myth! Regular exercise helps the brain produce a protein that seems to fortify parts of the hippocampus susceptible to depression, neuroscience has revealed. And Swedish researchers have found that exercise helps to keep your brain safe from harmful substances (one is called kynurenine) that build up during stress. Exercise produce changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of kynurenine before it has a chance to cause the brain inflammation that is linked to depression. Some doctors have even begun prescribing exercise to their patients!

Exercise also helps your muscle memory stick! Try that new skill then do some aerobic exercise for 15 minutes right afterward. A test at the University of Copenhagen showed that people who exercised right after practicing a new skill did better the following week than those who did not exercise. That same brain protein (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF) improves muscle memory as well!

Aerobic exercise also increases memory power! A six-month study at the University of British Columbia showed that older women who power-walked twice a week for 40-minutes each had better recall than those who just lifted weights or did not exercise. The power walking raised the study subjects’ heart rates to 70 – 80% of their target heart rates.

Still not convinced? Exercise can also reverse the mental decline – the effect of a long-term fatty diet. Now this shouldn’t be a license to go crazy and eat spaghetti and pizza like crazy, but there is hope! At least in rats – a University of Minnesota study found that when rats on the equivalent of a burger-stuffed-pizza diet exercised daily, their mental deterioration reversed itself after four months. At four months, these fat-fed mice who ran had better memory function than non-exercisers on a low-fat diet. And if you like the occasional adult beverage, exercise can help you there too! A new study published in Alcoholism showed that drinkers who worked out had far more white matter than their sedentary peers.

So, I guess I’ll be working out regularly for the foreseeable future. How about you?

We need fat!

Healthy fat, that is!

We’ve believed that a diet extremely low in fat must be good for us – the lower the fat, the healthier the food and the lower in calories, so we’ll lose more weight, right?

Not so fast …

While we should limit the amount of some fats, like trans-fats that are unhealthy, other fats are actually good for us. You’re thinking, “I know – omega-3 fatty acids like in some fish.”

Well, yes, but there are others too!

Poly – and mono-unsaturated fats are also good. These, along with omega-3 fatty acids can keep you feeling fuller longer, and can even make your metabolism work harder in order to break them down in your system. Some healthy fats have even been known to improve cognitive function, lessen belly fat and improve heart health.

So, where can I find these?

Egg yolks contain healthy fats as well as vitamin A, some B vitamins, choline, vitamin D and antioxidants. The picture above is one I took of my breakfast not long ago – a whole hard-boiled egg, wilted spinach and quinoa. Delicious and filling!

Cocoa butter is sweet tasting, and is also high in antioxidants and omega-9 fatty acids. Added it coffee drinks (no more high-fat lattes!), smoothies and even homemade fiber/power bars.

Avocado is high in omega-9 fats as well as high in fiber. Avocado is great for healthy skin and digestion. Avocados can also be good for post-workout recovery, since they contain electrolytes.

Dark chocolate is high in the same fats as cocoa butter, as long as the dark chocolate is all natural. Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants and is good for the heart. Yay!

Flax and chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids. They are an easy additive to any smoothie or bowl of oatmeal.

Eat more fat! Just make sure it’s the right kind of fat!

How you could be making your back pain worse!

Does your back hurt? Sometimes mine does. And if you do any of these things, you could be hurting your back even more –

1. Do you carry a heavy shoulder bag? Is your purse dragging you down on one side? Do you have so much in your bag that you grunt every time you pick it up? It may be time to clean it out…

Or switch sides. If you alternate sides, it changes the strain on your spine. I can’t switch sides, though. Carrying stuff on my right shoulder just feels wrong. How about you?

Or switch to a backpack. There are some cute ones out there!

Performing other repetitive physical activities the same way can also make your back pain worse.

2. Do you bend over and pick up a heavy load? Don’t do that! It puts pressure on your spine and may push out disks in your lower back.

Instead, squat with your back straight and your chest up to pick something up. Let your legs do the work! Now, I’ll grant you – picking a dog up this way is a little tough. That’s one of the reasons I taught my Tango to jump up so that I can catch him!

3. Do you sit for long periods of time without a break? Or stand in the same position? And then when you move your back feels stiff?

Get up and move around! Take a little walk! Change positions and move at least once an hour!

4. Do you think crunches are the only ab or core exercise worth doing and you hate them?

Think again – there are lots of core exercises that will help your back as well as your abs!

Don’t neglect your core. Your back will thank you!

I’ll give you some great core strengtheners a little later, but to start, try the plank. It’s a great core booster. Start on your hands and knees – hands directly under the shoulders. Now walk your feet back so that your body is in a perfectly straight line. Your rear isn’t sticking up or sagging down. Pull in your stomach and tighten your butt. And hold. Don’t go crazy here. If you can hold plank for a minute, that’s great!

5. Do you feel a twinge when you twist or move funny? If, when you move, anything feels wrong – STOP! Don’t do that! Don’t go any further. Come back slowly to where you started. If anything feels funny, it probably is. If you’re trying to lift or move something big or heavy, get help!

You know your back best. Don’t do anything that feels funny or weird.

Pay attention!

Fitness and mindfulness go hand in hand.

I saw so many examples the other day. I was at an agility trial where hundreds of people and their dogs compete. There’s a lot of down time at agility trials, so it’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends and people you see frequently at trials.

It was before 8:00 in the morning and people were pouring coffee and grabbing pastries, cake, and cookies without thinking about what they were doing. Many had gotten up before 5, and already had breakfast. It was like they were on automatic pilot. When I talk to my agility friends I eat pastries.

And that made me think about other friends.

If snacks are out, they’ll eat them. Cookies, nuts, cheese. It doesn’t matter. If munchies are laid out, they go in the face.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love cake and nuts and cheese as much as the next person.

But, do I really need it?

It’s easy to get caught up in mindlessness. You see others engaging in mindless behavior – whether it’s eating junk food, staring at a screen or engaging in gossip.

Let’s start being mindful!

No, I do not need that piece of cake at 9:00 in the morning. I do not need to be scrolling my Facebook newsfeed for hours on end. I can do better.

Now, that’s not to say that every second of every day must be productive. We all need down time.

But pay attention to what you’re doing. Make a decision. It’s OK to say “For the next 15 minutes I’m going to play a stupid game,” as long as you’re aware of what you’re doing!

And about that cake … I do love cake. I do eat dessert. But, I’m not going to waste calories on a white cake when I don’t love it. If it were chocolate, though…