Walk like a penguin?

You remember that old (1986!) song by the Bangles – “Walk Like An Egyptian.” The video showed performers doing fun, light steps, with straight legs at first, then a deep bend in the knee. Well, don’t do that in the winter. Instead, walk like a penguin to prevent falls! That’s the best way to keep your balance on slippery surfaces.

Freezing and melting and refreezing

This winter has been rough. Here in Chicagoland, February has been extremely cold and snowy – we’ve had about 30 inches of snow this month. But the last few days have been warmer, so there has been melting and refreezing. And those refrozen pavements are extremely slick. The last thing we want is to fall on the ice.

Penguins have it right

In winter time, walk like a penguin to prevent falls.

Think about a penguin’s anatomy – they have a very low center of gravity and their legs are short. When penguins walk they hold their wings out to the side. And they hardly ever slip on the ice and snow they live on. So, the best way to stay upright on slippery surfaces is to walk like a penguin:

  • Think “heavy.” We can’t do anything about where our actual center of gravity is, but focus your weight in your hips.
  • Keep your center of gravity directly over your feet. Don’t lean forward or back.
  • Don’t bend your knees much when you walk.
  • Take short steps.
  • Point your feet out a little bit.
  • Don’t transfer all of your weight to your front foot at once.
  • Go slow.
  • Hold your arms to the side.
  • Waddle – shift your weight side to side with the foot that that moves.

The Mayo Clinic even wrote that walking like a penguin is the best way to stay safe on ice: http://www.winmedical.org/press_room_article/walk-like-penguin-avoid-wintertime-slips-falls/

Every year the “memes” make the rounds of social media. But that’s because it’s good advice. So pay attention to those fun diagrams. And for more tips on preventing falls, see: http://fitness-over-50.com/2017/07/prevent-falls-my-interview-with-kathleen-cameron/

Dead battery

I had to replace my car’s battery last week. It was old, hadn’t been used much in the pandemic, and was close to dying.

Pre-COVID, I was on the move several times every week. Classes, practices. Occasionally a road trip to a dog competition or even a major road trip for a working vacation. But after the lockdown, I didn’t go anywhere more than 2 miles away, or do anything.

My car is about 9 years old, and it was still on its first battery. It had regular maintenance, and it had been used to travel many miles every week. But the travelling stopped. The battery didn’t get much use and was dying.

A metaphor

We can use my car’s battery as a metaphor for our bodies. With proper maintenance and a great deal of good use, we’ll thrive for years. With maintenance but lack of use, we’ll fade away.

We’ll see our doctors regularly, have all the prescribed tests. We’ll get the healthiest, freshest foods. We’ll listen to the top podcasts and improve our minds. But without the use, our bodies will wither.

Use it or lose it

That old maxim is true. We’ve got to use our muscles or they’ll lose strength. We’ve got to use our bones or they’ll crumble away. We’ve got to use our heart or it will be subject to decay.

Move it

Don't let your body be like my dead battery. Use it or lose it.

Exercise is like a road trip for the body. Back in the good old days on a road trip I would drive for 8 hours a day, making pit stops every couple of hours. Exercise is not quite like that, as we only really need a few hours a week.

But exercise is crucial for a body that will last and get us through everything we need it to. 

We need strength work for our muscles and bones, and cardio for our heart and lungs. 

And it’s all good for the brain. Exercise has been shown to improve memory and focus. It helps us sleep better at night. Read more: http://fitness-over-50.com/2018/04/more-reasons-to-exercise/

So, don’t be like my car’s battery. Use your body or you risk losing it.

Sleep much?

Me neither. And we’re not alone. Insomnia is not uncommon, and the pandemic has made it worse.

Sleeplessness is not uncommon. Destress with this sunset.
Natural light can help sleep.

Our lives have been disrupted. If you worked at an office, chances are you’ve been working from home more. If you care for children, chances are they’ve been doing quite a bit of learning remotely. If you used to go to a gym or health club, chances are they’ve been closed. Restaurants have been closed too, so you may be cooking more. You have a different schedule than you used to. Being stuck inside could mean that you haven’t been exposed to as much natural light as you used to. You may be napping more, which also disrupts your natural circadian rhythm.

Stress also can cause sleeplessness

During normal times we have stress in our lives. And now, even a year after the pandemic began, stress is still with us. We still don’t know exactly what causes the infection, why it affects some people more than others. And while vaccines have been approved, they are  not available for much of the population yet. So we’re stressed about catching the coronavirus and spreading it to others. We’re worried about that. We’re worried about the economy. And we toss and turn and lose sleep.

Isolation

Without contact with our friends, family and coworkers, we feel isolated and alone, leading to depression and sleeplessness again. Virtual conferencing is great and better than no contact, but it’s not the same as being in the same room.

Blue light

And we’re probably on our screens more. We’re home, perhaps bored, so we scroll. The blue light from the screens also disrupts production of melatonin, which regulates normal sleep patterns.

Sleep is still important

Even though we may not be going out of the house and seeing people, we still need a good night’s sleep. We think better with seven or eight hours of sleep. Our bodies function better when we sleep. Sleep can reduce the effects of certain mental health conditions like anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

How to get a good night’s sleep

So, how do we get that full complement of sleep?

First, maintain a schedule for your day. Humans love routine. It’s comforting to us. So set your routine and stick to it. The same bedtime and awakening time is helpful. Eating meals at the same time every day can also set your biological clock.

Use your bed for sleep. Don’t read in bed and don’t watch TV in bed. Certainly don’t scroll social media in bed. In fact, experts recommend that you shut your screens down an hour before bedtime. And make your bed as appealing as possible. Fresh linens regularly creates an inviting place for sleep. A cool bedroom also is helpful for sleep.

If you’re sensitive to extraneous noises, a fan or white noise machine is also helpful. I have tinnitus and use both.

Spend some time outside in the light and in fresh air. Getting as much natural light helps your body’s natural rhythm. And moving your body during the day is important for overall health, including good sleep. Good nutrition also will benefit your health and promote better sleep. 

If you’re tempted to take a nap during the day, try to limit it to 20 minutes or so. Any more than that may disrupt your nighttime sleep.

While it may not seem that it would do much for your sleep pattern, being kind and generous may counter your feelings of anxiety and help you to sleep. Other relaxation techniques like meditation can help too. If you’d like to try meditation but don’t know where to start, short guided meditations are great starting places. Sign up for a guided Garden Meditation here.

So, know that you’re not alone in your sleeplessness. Also know that there are things you can do to improve it. Get some natural light, move your body, turn on your fan, turn off your screens and perhaps go for a brief but peaceful virtual walk in a garden.

It’s time to congratulate yourself

For whatever you’ve been up to. If you’ve accomplished anything – anything at all – it’s time to congratulate yourself! 

So often we get caught up in life, in the everyday things, in the endless list of chores and errands, that we forget to stop for a moment, look back and say, “I did a good job!” But it needs to be done.

Congratulate yourself! Full plank with bird dog balance!
I did it! Full plank with bird dog balance!

Isolation

The better part of the last year, we’ve each been quite isolated and without a great deal of personal contact with others. It’s easy to wrap ourselves in that cocoon to protect ourselves and continue as we’ve been going. The coronavirus pandemic has been so widespread and so deadly that it’s become almost second nature to fear outside contact. So we hibernate at home. Working and visiting friends remotely, through a little screen. No hugs, no handshakes, no high fives. And no dressing up to meet friends for dinner. No church or any other place of worship. No classes for the kids or for us. I train my dogs at home, in the basement. Not because there are any trials that I would feel safe entering, but because the dogs don’t understand that we can’t go to training class and still need both the exercising and the interaction with us.

So we’ve been at home, working, learning, cooking, entertaining ourselves, ordering from online sources, doing jigsaw puzzles, binging Netflix, organizing closets.

If you broke through – accomplished anything – Yay!

And if you did any of that – if you learned a new skill, started a new hobby, learned to cook new dishes or cleaned out a closet – Yay! Good for you! Congratulations! Well done!

You’ve tried to make the most of a very difficult situation. You didn’t feel sorry for yourself, but actually did something positive. No matter how big or small, just the fact that you thought about something other than the depressing world we live in is a positive step toward growing your resiliency! And for that, you should feel wonderful. That’s one certain way that you’ll come out of this better than you were before.

Here’s more about resilience: http://fitness-over-50.com/2019/07/grow-your-resilience/