After a hard year we’re more resilient than ever

This flower makes me optimistic, as it opens every year and shows that we're more resilient than ever.

We’re starting to see more and more people around town, and in stores, without masks on. I have to assume that they’re fully vaccinated. And while it’s weird seeing people’s faces after more than a year, I like it! I’m glad that we’re coming out of the pandemic. Hopefully we’ve all learned something about ourselves and the world. But mostly I’m glad that we’re all optimistically embracing the future and are more resilient than ever. (http://fitness-over-50.com/2020/03/increase-optimism-grow-resilience/)

Even in the darkest months of the virus-spread, people were learning things, becoming educated and more able to cope with the changing world. It hasn’t been easy. 

Shortages

We’ve had to cope with shortages, and learn to work around them. Like soap. Toilet paper is an essential as it is – there’s nothing to substitute. You’ve either got it or you don’t. We had to scrounge for a package here, a package there. And we’ve had to learn to use a little less. That’s a hardship. But soap. Around the house we have a couple of foaming hand soap dispensers in the kitchen and bathrooms. And we use the large-scale refills rather than buying new dispensers every time. But near the beginning of the pandemic, there was not a single foaming hand soap refill to be had, there were no dispensers either. So I found out how to make foaming hand soap with regular hand soap refills. (It’s actually not hard – 1 part soap refill to 4 parts water.) It’s not something I ever thought about before, but absolutely crucial. Who knew that a soap shortage would make me more resilient than ever?

Work from home

And we’ve had to deal with more technology than we expected too. Many of us had our very first Zoom experience during the pandemic. It’s been interesting being on the other side of the screen from someone just learning. “Do I push this? Click this? How do I turn the microphone on? Can you see me now?” We all learned, and my sister and I have decided to keep doing Zoom calls as an easy way to stay in touch with friends and family who live too far away to meet with in person. 

New hobbies?

Many people have begun new hobbies. I know we’ve certainly been cooking more for ourselves. We’ve tried new recipes. I even made pretzels. They were really good, even if they were more like rolls. Which makes me want to make pretzel rolls for sandwiches but without the salt! 

Learn new things

And we’ve all learned new things. About ourselves, about each other and the world. There was some bad stuff there, yes, but mostly we learned that given a chance, most people are good and want the best for others.

Letting our vulnerabilities show

And we’ve learned that we’re all vulnerable. We’ve seen it time and again through the pandemic. Everyone at least knows someone who lost a loved one to the virus. Two friends lost a parent. And letting others see our own vulnerabilities can be a good thing. We’ve all been scared. Of our own mortality, of the future’s uncertainty. We’re all in the same boat, trying to come out on the other side. And talking to each other about our fears and uncertainties only draws us closer together, and makes us more resilient than ever.

Tone your abs even when you’re not using them

I’m kind of a fanatic about ab exercises. I make sure to include some every time I do a workout. The reason? I want to avoid back pain. Yes, you need to tone your abs to help your back. If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you never want to again. It’s teary-eyed painful. You can’t sit. You can’t lie down. You can’t walk. Stairs are impossible. You can’t bend down. You’re just in agony. All the time. And once you experience back pain like I have, you’ll do just about anything to not experience it ever again. So that means that I include abdominal exercises in workouts. I talked about this a couple of years ago, and I still focus on the core.

Some of what I do

Tone your abs even on a stability ball

I do crunches on the floor. Crunches on a stability ball. I plank and modify those planks. I do renegade rows – planks with weights. Side planks. Pilates and yoga. I do boat poses and V-sits. You name it, I do it.

The benefits of ab exercises

I’m not into getting a six-pack. I’m 65 – I don’t need to show it off. (And I’ve never liked beer, except at Wrigley Field.) BUT I do want to make sure my back is strong. I also want to improve my balance and my stability. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I emphasize balance. We lose it as we age, which leads to falls, and that’s frightening. As we get older there are lots of things we lose and our sense of balance is one. But this is one we can actually do something about. Check out my free downloadable .pdf for your “Week of Balance.”

So, if you tone your abs you get benefits other than a strong core.

Other ways to tone your abs

But you don’t have to do actual abdominal exercises to tone your abs. 

Just pulling in your stomach is a start. Anytime, anywhere. Even sitting in your chair or lying in bed.  Think about it, and suck it in. You probably won’t see a difference if you only do this without doing any other ab exercise, but your stomach will get stronger.

You can also think about bracing your core – like feeling a vest tightening around your middle. This may take a bit of practice to engage the muscles, but keep at it. Be sure to breathe while you’re pulling in your stomach and bracing your core.

Happy toning! Remember – don’t tone your abs for your stomach – it’s for your back and all the rest of you.

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/

Be Bold – Be Optimistic

I’ve been writing about optimism quite a bit lately. Perhaps because the times we live in are so stressful, I feel the need to try to rise above the stress and bring others along with me. It’s natural to have down days as well as optimistic ones. And of course, things can happen throughout the day even if you start out optimistic to cause you to sit back and reflect, and possibly feel down. But that’s the easy route. Be bold – be optimistic. 

One chance

Be optimistic. Smile. Be grateful - you're alive.

The fact is, we only get one go-round in this life (that we know of). So I figure we might as well make the most of it. I’ve got enough wrinkles from my 65 years of living, I don’t have to manufacture more with frowning. When I feel down and recognize it, I try to bring myself out of the doldrums any way I can. Of course, sometimes I don’t recognize my bad moods and depressed thoughts, and it goes to others (mainly my sister) to figuratively slap me upside the head and take a look at myself and listen to what’s coming out of my mouth. Because when I’m feeling stressed, anxious and in a bad mood, I have the unfortunate tendency to take my bad mood out on others. Again, mainly my sister. For that, I sincerely apologize.

Smiles ahead

So how do you make a frown turn upside-down? Easy. Step one: just smile. Many times your thoughts go where your expression is. So if you’re feeling gloomy, put a huge smile on your face. Exaggerate it. Show lots of teeth. For five seconds. Not feeling so grouchy anymore, are you?

Move it

A great way to feel more optimistic is to move your body. This doesn’t have to be a full-fledged workout, although that is certain to do the trick, but if you get up and move to your favorite music, say, after a couple of tunes you’ll be on your way to optimism.

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. Read more about how exercise will benefit you: http://fitness-over-50.com/2018/04/more-reasons-to-exercise/

Another great way to feel more optimistic (but perhaps not immediately) is to improve your diet. Research has shown that a cleaner diet kind of cleans out your brain too. So, cut back on the processed foods and eat more fruits and veggies. But watch the fruit because there’s a lot of sugar there. So eat more veggies.

Don’t think

Meditation has been shown to be a mood lifter too. You don’t have to be a serious yogi to meditate. Just find a comfortable position and clear your brain for a while. If clearing your brain is hard, you might want to try a guided meditation. And it doesn’t have to be long, either. As short a period as 3 minutes can make a huge difference.

Gravitate to Gratitude

Lastly, a sure-fire path to optimism and happiness is gratitude. You can have no place for unhappiness when you’re feeling grateful. And feeling grateful for something – anything – will set you far along on your path to happiness. It may seem too simple, but it’s true. Just by saying, “I’m grateful for the sunshine” will make my unhappiness go away? Perhaps not so easily, but you’re looking at the sun shining, squinting your eyes, and smiling, aren’t you? And smiling is a definite step to happiness.

And when you write down the things that you’re grateful for, when you journal your feelings of gratitude, your happiness will grow. Just the act of writing something down solidifies it. (That’s one reason we all took notes in class at school!) Of course, you can journal your gratitude on anything, but sometimes nothing comes immediately to mind. It’s OK if you have to look for things to be grateful for. Sometimes days are like that. So it’s helpful to have journaling prompts. This Gratitude and Happiness Journal not only has prompts, but also inspirational quotes to start you thinking along an optimistic path. 

So, be bold. Be optimistic. You’ll stand out, and everyone will think, “Wow, she always seems so happy. I want to be like her!”

Stress caused me to …

Watching this play out on a live stream!

This has been a difficult time for many of us Americans. A sitting president urged his followers to riot at the Capitol. Through the miracle of technology we saw the events unfold in real time. Barricades fell. Legislators, in the midst of one of the most important jobs in months, were forced to evacuate to safe locations. Rioters overtook the chamber and congressional offices. They vandalized offices, stole equipment and perhaps sensitive documents. People were killed in the melee.

I did not get much work done this last Wednesday afternoon.

Stress takes over

Like many others, my stomach was churning, my head was spinning. I knew I had to do something to reduce my own stress. There was nothing I could do at that moment to alleviate the situation, all I could do was make sure that I did not take my stress out on my family, friends or dogs. I sometimes lash out when I’m feeling stress. It’s not fair to my sister or my friends. And the dogs certainly do not understand. They pick up on stress and tend to act emotionally too. Simon will race around, doing laps around the dining room table and leaping from the kitchen chair, over his brothers to run around. Booker will claw at us, insisting on our complete attention. 

Step aerobics at my age?!?

So I did the hardest step workout I own. Now, at age 65, I won’t do a whole lot of jumping and the step is only at about 6 inches. I modified many of the high impact moves, but still got my heart rate up. Even though I modified the routines and made it more low-impact, it was very high intensity. And 45 minutes of intense cardio on a step is guaranteed to produce a lot of endorphins. (Thank you, Gin Miller!)

A great workout eliminates stress.

Intense physical exercise is a sure-fire way to release stress, burn a whole lot of calories, and leave me more even-tempered. I was much more able to face the rest of the world after that workout!

If you’re interested in step aerobics, check out some videos on YouTube before you invest in a step. For this type of exercise, you definitely need a step designed for it. Also, for those of us over 50, we may have knee and hip issues as well as other conditions, so check with your doctor before you start exercise, especially high impact and high intensity exercise.

And then calm…

And after that high-energy step workout, I did a short guided meditation to calm down. If you’ve heard of meditation and think that is something you’d like to try, there’s really no special equipment or background you need. Just sit comfortably and close your eyes. And then think of nothing. Clear your mind. If you have a hard time doing that, then a guided meditation can help.

I’m taking Nike’s slogan

Everyone recognizes Nike’s trademarked slogan, “Just do it!” But it has real meaning for me.

Lots of things I DON’T want to do

There are many things none of us wants to do on any given day. But in order to live with ourselves, we recognize that we just have to buckle down and “do it.” I don’t want to get up, but I have to take the dogs out or I’ll have a wet bed. So I do it. I don’t want to tackle the mess on my desk, but I have to or I won’t be able to find anything. So I’ll do it. I don’t want to face the crowds at the fruit market this afternoon in a mask, but we need stuff so I’ll just do it.

Cook?

I don’t want to actually cook meals, but they’re so much better, healthier and more affordable than anything out of a box or delivered, so I’ll do it. I made a dynamite soup on Saturday with sweet potatoes, chicken and swiss chard (that I should have taken pictures of ) that warmed us up on a raw, miserable day. And it was worth it.

So I remember those things as I stare at the piles on my desk as I write this. Now where’s that receipt from …

Working out

The same applies to working out.

I don’t like to work out. But I do it.

It’s become a habit. 

Samuel Johnson, the famous 18th century literary figure said, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

What does that mean? 

Just do it! That applies to exercise.

We do something and do the same thing, and do it over and over again. That thing becomes a habit. And then when we decide to not do it, it’s practically impossible. Not doing that thing creates a hole in ourselves that we are compelled to fill with that thing. Not doing it will leave you with the feeling that something is missing for the rest of the day. 

It takes conscious effort to break a habit. And it’s not easy. It may be easier to develop a habit than to break one. (Not that you’d want to break the habit of exercising.)

So, exercising is a habit. It’s just something I do. Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. It doesn’t matter what I do during my workout. I just do it on those days. Even if I just have 20 minutes to devote to my workout. I make those the best 20 minutes of exercise that I can. But I do it.

Here are 4 ways that exercise can become a habit: http://fitness-over-50.com/2017/05/4-things-to-make-exercise-a-habit/

Everything in moderation

Everything - yes, even red velvet cake - is OK in moderation.

It’s been another tough week in a series of tough weeks. And you’ve been (mostly) good about your diet.

And then, out of nowhere, you have an incredible craving for red velvet cake.

It’s OK

Try to resist if you can. Take a walk. Drink a glass of water. Do some gardening. Read a chapter in the book you have on your night table.

But if you’re still craving that cake, have a little bit. It’s OK. That little bit won’t hurt you.

In fact, you’ll probably have fewer calories if you have a little bit of exactly what you want rather than a substitute. If you have a little cookie to try to satisfy your craving, chances are you won’t have just one cookie, you’ll have ten. And those ten will have more calories than the small piece of cake you would have had. And it won’t taste as good.

Have that small piece of cake. Don’t deprive yourself. My watchword is, “Everything in moderation.” Don’t go overboard, but don’t cut yourself off from the small pleasures.

I’ve talked about it before – even a little bit of chocolate really is OK: http://fitness-over-50.com/2018/07/chocolate-and-a-healthy-lifestyle/

Watch every bite

If, as I have, you’ve struggled with your weight for your whole life, you know the importance of paying attention to every morsel that passes your lips – every taste, every single square of yummy dark chocolate, every forkful of deep-dish Chicago style pizza, every spoonful of ice cream.

So when we have an irresistible craving, we watch that going into our mouths as well. And feel absolutely no guilt. Because we plan for it.

If I’m going to have that chocolate, I give up something else. Or I do a more intense workout. Or I run a few more minutes on the treadmill. Because I still have to pay attention to the calorie limit I set for myself.

If the worst happens

But, if you can’t resist that craving and you go completely overboard – you can’t stop eating that cake, that pizza, that chocolate, that ice cream – and you think to yourself, “Well, that’s done it. Why stop now. I’ve eaten almost everything in sight, might as well finish it up. I’ve completely forgotten that diet. I’ll never lose weight” –

Hang in there!

One day is not going to ruin everything. You may have a little ground to make up, but all is really not lost. Get back on the straight and narrow. You’ll be fine.

Creaky on rainy days?

3 ways to ease your aching joints

Even without arthritis (thank goodness), I’m noticing that I get creakier on rainy, damp days than I used to. If I’m sitting for even a half hour and get up, my knees and hips let me know that they exist and are not happy with the current state of affairs. Even my shoulders are stiffer. The first couple of shuffling steps involve gradual straightening and shoulder-rolling. A hand to the lower back is also sometimes required to straighten up. The next couple of steps are better, and before I’m halfway across the room everything is back to normal. All this is probably normal, but it still gives me a knock on the head that I’m getting older.

Now, before you suggest moving to the desert where it’s hot and dry, there are things we can do to keep our aging selves limber.

Stay hydrated

Stretch!

I know it sounds weird – recommending water to alleviate stiffness. But, a paper from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard says that drinking enough water each day is crucial to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood. So, drinking water keeps us moving in more ways than one!

Get up!

You know Newton’s First Law? A body at rest stays at rest. And atrophies. It’s a good idea to get up and move around periodically to keep the lubricants in our joints swirling around. If you tend to get involved in activities and lose track of time, set a timer for every hour to remind you to get up and move around.

Stretch

Another great way to feel less joint stiffness is to do some stretching. Stretching increases joint flexibility and can reduce stiffness. Another benefit is that some stretching exercises will also increase your balance and coordination, preventing falls.

Multitasking can be dangerous

We’ve already established that as we get older, our balance diminishes unless we actively do something about it. But what does that mean in real life?

Walking and talking

Walking and scrolling may be dangerous

If we’re taking a walk outside when the weather is nice, we may be looking at the trees or noticing the flowers. If we add something to the mix, like talking on our phone – we may not notice the uneven pavement. Talking with friends is great, but we get so involved in the conversation – agreeing with or arguing about a topic with the friend – that we get distracted. If we’re distracted, we’re not paying attention to where we’re going. While we probably won’t run into the walker ahead of us, we may not notice the huge crack until it’s too late. So we may want to wait until we get home to call our friends. Listening to a podcast or an audiobook is different. We’re not actively engaged in that second pursuit, so we can focus on our steps. If you’re in a safe area, by all means, plug in those earphones (or airphones, whichever…)

Overload!

Carrying the groceries into the house from the car can be another dangerous pursuit. Don’t overload. And don’t try to carry too much at one time. If you overload the bags, they may be too heavy for you. Don’t hurt yourself by trying to lift too much weight. And if you try to take too many bags at once, you won’t be able to see the ground in front of you and could trip over something in your way that you don’t see.

Multitasking – dangerous for your health

Cooking while watching TV and scrolling your newsfeed or checking your email? You may want to cut one of those activities. I know – you have to put dinner on the table and that’s not the most exciting thing. By all means listen to the news on TV or on your phone, but don’t watch an adorable cat video at the same time. You don’t want anything to get burned – especially your dinner.

And multitasking could reduce your productivity – read more.

The moral? Pay attention. Multitasking can be dangerous.

Add aerobics and improve your balance

I frequently stress the importance of improving balance, especially as we age. The aging process naturally diminishes our balance since our senses tend to deteriorate. Vision and depth perception diminish, as well as the vestibular system of the inner ear. Even our sense of touch, especially the ability to feel the floor when our foot touches down, tends to diminish as we get older. All of these contribute to decreasing our balance. Strength, coordination and reaction time also diminish as we age, contributing to loss of balance. Pretty depressing, but it’s better than the alternative.

Adding aerobics to your balance exercises can increase stamina and endurance.

In addition to the balance exercises that I include in the Week of Balance download, aerobic exercise can improve your balance. Of course, movement of any kind can help with balance, but it’s very easy to just sit down and not think about moving. So a planned exercise session most days is an easy way to get our movement in if there’s nothing else on the schedule.

Increasing stamina and endurance

Personal trainer Sabrena Jo who is certified in working with seniors and is the American Council of Exercise director of research content says, “one reason people tend to trip or fall is that they have low stamina or endurance.” By adding aerobic activity we increase both cardiovascular stamina and endurance. Plus, it’s usually done to music which enhances our optimism. An added bonus is that an aerobics class can burn a lot of calories!

Aerobics also burns fat and calories

Aerobics has always been a favorite to burn fat and calories. It reduces the risk of heart disease, can help lower blood pressure, stroke and certain types of cancer. It can also improve cognition. And aerobics is a weight-bearing exercises so it can lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Of course, if you’re going to add aerobics to your exercise regimen, be sure to check with your doctor. And choose your aerobics wisely. If you have bad knees, take that into consideration.

One final note: be sure to add an aerobics exercise that you will do regularly. Once and done will do absolutely nothing for your balance, your heart, your weight or your bones. Choose an aerobic activity that you’ll look forward to doing.