Fun? Yes! It balances all the hard work you do!

Add fun to your hard work for balance!

Add some fun to your routine! Yes – fun! We work hard every day – work, family obligations, chores, shopping. It’s important to balance all that hard work with fun. I work out so that I can have fun my way!

This is a terrible picture! Both Tango (my Brussels Griffon) and I are out of focus because we’re moving. But I think you can see that Tango is looking up at me and having a good time. I train my dogs not just because a trained dog is a happy dog, but because I enjoy it. The ribbons that we get and the titles that we earn are just a reflection of the enjoyment we both get out of the experience.

I’ve said it before – I work out 4 or 5 times a week, and a couple of those times are running. I hate running, but I do it so that I can have the endurance I need to run Booker (my other dog – a Boston Terrier) in agility – which I do love to do. I don’t work out for the sake of working out. I do it because I want to do other things.

I want to have fun on my terms. Yes, sometimes that fun is reading on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Or napping… But more often that fun is training my dogs. Whatever puts a smile on your face.

I wasn’t going to train my dogs this morning since we have a house guest (and her three dogs) and things are a little crazy, but Booker insisted. And I’m glad I took the time because no matter how stressful the rest of my day is, I had fun before work!

What’s your fun? Walking in the park with a loved one? Running around in the back yard with your dog? Reading a good book? Taking a cooking class?

Whatever your fun is, make sure to incorporate it into your day! Every day! It makes you happier. And that leads to better focus and productivity in other areas of your life!

Quinoa? Why?

I love quinoa. It’s nutty, it’s easy and it goes with practically everything. It picks up the flavor of whatever you’re mixing it with and doesn’t impose its own flavor.

I recently made a batch and had it over several days for breakfast. You see a picture here, mixed with fresh spinach and a hard-boiled egg. Just a touch of seasoning and – delish! I mixed the spinach when the quinoa was still warm, so the greens wilted just a little.

I made the quinoa according to package directions – 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water, let it come to a boil and then simmer for about 18 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and it’s done. But if you use chicken, beef or vegetable stock instead of water, that adds its own flavor and is particularly yummy. If you use stock, lessen the amount of seasoning you add.

Have quinoa for any meal! If we have any left over, sometimes I’ll bring it for lunch mixed with leftover chicken or turkey and lettuce or other greens. It has staying power and will keep me until dinner. You know I hate being hungry. (I’m not a nice person when I’m hungry.) But I also hate taking time to eat something in the middle of the afternoon when I’m busy doing other things.

Aside from the flavor, why do I love quinoa so much? It’s gluten-free (not a big selling point for me, since I also love bread…), and it’s also high in protein. Quinoa also has about twice as much fiber as just about any other grain. It’s also high in Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and manganese. It’s rich in magnesium and also contains lysine, iron, Vitamin E and all 9 essential amino acids!

So quinoa is more than a fad. I think it’s here to stay! I know there will be a place for it in my pantry.

Hydration – good for everything!

Drink water! Lots of water. It’s too easy to put your head down and do what you need to do without coming up for air. But, we all need to drink water during the day. Not the 64 ounces that we were once told, but a substantial amount!

It’s good for your skin, good for your digestion, good for your brain!

When I don’t drink enough water during the day, I find that my thoughts become fuzzy. Sometimes I even become disoriented. (And that’s not an easy thing to do, since I’ve lived in the same house for lots and lots of years…) That’s a sure sign of dehydration. And it’s easy enough to fix, provided that you don’t let it go for too long. Just take a drink of water.

I keep a thermos at work and bring it with me if I know I’ll be out for a couple of hours or more during the day. And we have a big jug of drinking water at the shop so that I can refill my thermos. (The tap water is not the greatest, and a big jug is better than many small plastic bottles.)

And if I’m really into a project and know that I’ll be engrossed in it, I don’t hesitate to set a timer for 20 minutes so that I can get up, walk around and get a drink of water.

And to brighten the taste, sometimes I’ll add a drop of lemon essential oil. It’s got that great fresh lemon taste without the acid of actual lemon juice!

Don’t abandon strength work!

One legged weighted squat. Don't stop moving!I’ve emphasized the importance of exercise for years. Exercise, along with watching your calories, will help you to lose weight. Many have focused on cardio work since no equipment is needed to get a great workout. I’ve even talked about how much I despise the two days of running I do every week.

But the other days I exercise I focus on building strength. You don’t need free weights or barbells. You don’t need a medicine ball or a kettle ball. You can get a great strength workout with your own body weight. Think of planks and pushups. Yoga and Pilates also use body weight to build strength.

Building muscle mass is great for your metabolism – the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Women – don’t worry! You won’t bulk up!

And when you build strength, you’re doing your bones a favor too. In fact, a study showed that when post-menopausal women participated in a strength training program for a year, their bone density in the hips and spine increased significantly!

In a subject close to my heart, strength training also helps maintain balance and coordination, which helps to prevent falls!

I do have a set of free weights – ranging from 2 pounds to 15. I use the smaller ones for exercises that target the smaller muscles, or when I’m doing lots of repetitions, or for faster exercises. The larger ones I use for bigger muscle groups – like holding for deadlifts or bicep curls. Instead of combining two smaller weights for French curls (to work the tricep muscle), I use a 15-pound weight. You know that I use videos to exercise with (they keep me on track), and the programs that I like the best are the ones that combine cardio and strength work.

Comment below if you’d like to see my favorite strength training exercises.

Effortless movement

Play with your dog to relieve stress!Is effortless movement a goal for you? Do remember fondly when you were able to go from here to there without even thinking about it? Do you want to get back down on the floor and play with your dog or the grandkids?

What’s holding you back? Are your joints bothering you? Your back hurting? Knees? If a doctor hasn’t told you to limit your movement, then chances are you should start moving!

It used to be that when you hurt your back, bed rest was prescribed. Now the medical community is in favor or movement!

And the last thing I wanted to do when my knees hurt was get up and walk.

And when my back and hips were in spasms, I could barely get out of a chair without a heating pad.

But I hung onto a table and stood up, holding that heating pad on my back, and took a couple of steps. Then I put the heating pad down and took a couple more steps. Hunched over, leaning onto my thighs at first. And then I sat down again on that heating pad. But an hour later I made myself do it again. And then next day the pain wasn’t quite as bad. So I moved some more. And the day after that I could go a little further. And a couple days later I didn’t need the heating pad.

You get the idea. That old adage, “use it or lose it” applies! The more you move, the easier it is to move.

I’ve told you that I started running on the treadmill a couple days a week to increase my speed and endurance for agility competition? I still hate it, but I’m getting better at it. And I am getting a little faster. And my knees don’t hurt.

I also learned to strengthen my core and improve my balance to strengthen my back. And I haven’t had spasm (knock on wood!) in a couple of years. If you’d like to improve your balance and strength, a great first step is doing the Week of Balance. Click on the box to the right for your free, downloadable .pdf for your copy.

Crazy, busy life? Some tips for that …

Google calendar to set my mind at easeEveryone I know is always on the go. Working awful hours, running all over town for meetings, markets, other chores, off to dog training, family obligations, and on weekends to competitions to see how all that dog training is paying off.

Some things have got to give. Sleep should not be one of them.

Here are some tips to help you get through a typical crazy, busy day and keep a smile on your face.

1. Organization. Write everything down in a planner. Sometimes pen and paper is better than a smartphone, but be sure to use what choose! I like Google Calender because all my appointments are on my phone or my desktop, and the devices synch when something changes. And I can get my Agility Class updates on it too – our instructor updates the ever-changing schedule for us. (And lets us know if a classmate is bringing treats to celebrate!) You can get a holiday calender on Google Calender too – any number of event calenders are available to synch to your account. But, when you make appointments be sure to update whatever calender you use!

2. Relieve stress. It’s bound to happen. A meeting goes badly at work. The kids are in mutiny. The dogs are misbehaving. Customers are being ridiculous. That’s life, and you need a way to release that stress. Exercise is a good way to do that. Physical activity can clear your head, and you can pretend that you’re stomping those unreasonable people into the ground!

3. Eat healthy! Plan ahead for the week, and it doesn’t take any longer than the drive-thru. And eating nutritious meals will keep you energized for the things you have to do.

4. Prioritize. We all have a million things that need to get done. But there are probably only 3 or 4 things that ABSOLUTELY have to get done today. Do those first and you’ll feel great about it, and eager to get other stuff done. You’ll be more productive throughout your day if you get rid of the big chores first.

Your One Non-Renewable Resource

It’s time. You can spend it, invest it, and waste it. You can never get it back.

There are a finite number of minutes in every day, and it’s up to us to decide how to use them. We can decide to be productive at work. We can decide to plan a healthy menu for the week. We can decide to spend it with friends and family.

I decide to spend lots of time training my dogs and playing with them.

And we can fritter time away. We open Facebook and see a cute video opened right on top. And then we scroll a little bit, and there’s another.

If a thought pops into your mind, you can Google the answer. But, wait – there’s a site that looks interesting. And this doesn’t really answer my question, but it’s cool.

Too frequently, these applications just suck the time away. Before you know it an hour has gone by. And then another.

How many of us have had that happen? Or we turn on the TV for company and get sucked into a program that we really don’t have an interest in?

If you have time to waste, that’s OK. But most people don’t have unlimited free time.

Be conscious of how you spend your time. If you decide to spend 10 minutes scrolling your Facebook feed, that’s fine – but set a timer so that it’s not more than that! Consciously decide to stop drifting from one website to another.

Make a list of productive or fun things you can do in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 or 30 minutes. Keep it handy – perhaps on your phone. And when you find yourself with a few minutes between chores or appointments, refer to your list and choose a better way to spend those minutes.

We all have a limited amount of time. Don’t waste it!

No home gym!

I’ve talked quite a bit about the fact that I exercise at home. No commute time. No one cares how my hair looks. No makeup. A tatty t-shirt and shorts. And the dogs help.

I live in a tiny little house in a Chicago suburb. Where do I exercise in my tiny house? In the basement. It is finished, and that’s a plus. It’s not mandatory – you can work out anywhere, but finished walls are nice. But my little exercise space doesn’t even have a full ceiling – we had to take out some tiles when work was being done. No overhead lighting – a lamp suffices.

We did put in some kids’ play mats on the floor, and that’s helped my bad knees immeasurably! The exercise space is about 10 feet square. It could even be a little smaller.

That’s really all you need to workout – a free space, good floor and enough light that you don’t feel like you’re in a cave. All the rest is luxury. What is essential, though, are good shoes for working out. Using shoes that don’t support your feet properly can be uncomfortable, make your feet tired, or worse, cause an injury.

I like to work out using DVDs, so I have a TV and DVD player in my space. I’ve mentioned that I lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of strength with 21 Day Fix Extreme. Equipment needed for that is a set of light and medium or heavy free weights and a resistance band. Cheap enough, and easy to come by.  PiYo (Pilates / Yoga plus movement to music – another exercise program I use) really only uses a yoga mat. Some of the workouts use free weights, but they’re not strictly necessary.

And when I’m done, I just go upstairs, strip off my exercise clothes and hop in my own shower. And that’s the best!

“Best Exercise for Aging Muscles”

I saw that headline and sat back. Yeah, I guess that’s me! Aging muscles… Sounds kind of rude. Accurate but rude!

As we get older, it’s true, cells deteriorate. So what can we do to slow that progression down or even stop it?

Use it or lose it!

There are lots of studies out there that prove this. I’m not going to bore you with statistics. But, you know – if your knees get stiff you’ve got to get up and walk around. If you’ve pulled something in your back, you know your doctor told you not to rest – get up and move! It’s harder to lose weight too as we age. Yes, eating less is imperative, but so is movement!

As I’m writing this I feel myself slumping. I wrote about this last week – every few minutes I have to think about sitting up straight and pulling in my stomach. Once an hour it’s helpful to get up, walk around, drink some water. It’s good to get your body moving and it’s good to hydrate!

And, if you really want to help your muscles and your mind – because lots of studies have also shown that exercise helps keep your brain young – do a focused period of exercise. Intense exercise is better than leisurely, but any exercise is better than nothing!

An exercise program that you like – or at least find interesting – is better than one you don’t like. You’ll stick with it and get better results from the program. My running is the exception – I run a couple of times a week on the treadmill to improve my speed and endurance for dog agility. I still hate it. But I do it because I know it does help. And I’m starting to get better at it. I do enjoy the audio books I listen to while I run, and that certainly helps keep me motivated to run.

Exercising in an hour? Have a cup of coffee!

It’s not just for breakfast any more! Coffee can improve your workout, researchers have shown. Researchers conducted a study in which a sample of inactive men were monitored biking with and without caffeine. While the men said they put forth the same amount of energy whether or not they had consumed caffeine, the results revealed faster cycling rates after caffeine consumption. Another set of researchers conducted a study and found participants who had caffeine before a workout had an easier time holding back cravings. In fact, those who had caffeine ate 72 calories less after the workout than those who hadn’t consumed the stimulant.

I don’t think it’s surprising. The caffeine in a cup of coffee will boost your energy and help you stay awake, so it’ll give your workout a boost too. You don’t even realize that you’re working harder. If you’re not sleepy, then you can pedal (or run) faster. The caffeine also boosts your stamina – letting you work longer, getting in that extra mile (or half-mile for me!)

Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist, also says that coffee also increases the release of dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. So you can work past what you might otherwise perceive as pain or weakness. The benefit of coffee to your workout starts about an hour after you drink it.

Now, don’t go crazy! Putting in lots of cream and sugar or other calorie-laden additions might taste really good, but the extra calories will outweigh any benefits the caffeine will give you. A little milk is good though – the protein and carbohydrates it adds will help kick-start your brain!

And remember to drink water while you’re exercising. It’s important to stay hydrated, and coffee alone won’t do that! Get a good night’s sleep, and drink plenty of water and you’ll get the most benefit from your workout.