No one is going to do it for you.

You have your family and a circle of friends. Your teachers and mentors are, of course, invaluable. You’ve got lots of acquaintances. And there are the influencers you follow every day on Instagram, Facebook, and any other social media platform you subscribe to. No one is going to do it for you. And you know that there are loads of reasons to exercise – including improving your memory and reverse mental decline!

None of these people are going to exercise for you.

You have only yourself to rely upon.

You read everything you can about weight loss. Intermittent fasting. Mediterranean diet. Paleo. Vegetarian. Pescatarian. Low carb. Yes, they all work. But no one is going to do it for you. You actually have to do the work yourself.

The nitty gritty

Once you really decide that it’s up to you to get off the couch and exercise, you really have to do your homework and figure out exactly what you’re going to do. As many exercise pros as there are out there – that’s how many programs there are. Chances are a lot of them are really good. But you have to figure out exactly what you’re going to commit to.

Commitment

No one is going to do it for you. Choose an exercise program you can live with and commit to.

Because it is a commitment. I can shout from the rooftops that exercise is absolutely necessary to avoid the most obvious signs of aging – weight gain, loss of muscle tone, loss of balance – you have to do the work. And no one is going to do it for you.

Yes, it’s work. I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you that it’s not work. Because I’d be lying. 

And you have to do it almost every day. I don’t exercise every day, so I can’t tell you to do something that I’m not willing to do. The CDC says that you need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity plus 2 days of total body strength work. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week of moderate aerobics plus muscle strengthening work on 2 days. I do more vigorous aerobics and combine that with weight work 5 days a week. Most days I do 30 minutes. 

If you’re new, don’t go all-out. Work up to it. You don’t want to wake up the day after you exercise and not be able to move. That completely defeats the purpose!

Choose something you can live with – for a long time

Choose a program you can live with for a long time, because you’re going to be doing it for a long time. Remember – no one is going to do it for you, so you’re going to be listening to that music and that instructor’s voice (if you’re going with a group class – either live, streaming or DVD) most days for a long time.

That’s not to say that you have to live with your first choice forever. If, after you’ve given the program a couple of weeks and find that you really can’t stand it – by all means change it.

And, it is a good idea to change up your routine every once in a while. I rotate the types of workouts I do every couple of months. Both for variety and to give my muscles a chance to experience new growth.

So – be happy with your exercise choice. Because you have to live with it and do it.

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.

How do I motivate myself to work out?

You know that I don’t like to work out. I’ve said it before and I’ll most likely say it again. If I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t. So how do I motivate myself to work out?

I’ve talked about getting motivated before, about losing motivation, about getting motivated to start exercising, but I’ve been at this a while. What does it take to get me off the couch?

There are 3 things I think about when I need to get myself motivated:

1. It’ll be over before I know it.

How do I motivate myself to exercise when I don't want to

Once I start, I know that it’ll be over. 45 minutes is nothing. Some workouts are just 30 minutes. Once I push “play,” I let the instructor take over my brain. I release all thought and simply focus on the moves.

Unless the dogs get into it. Then I push “pause” and deal with them. Then I push “play” again.

The exercise programs I choose usually have very upbeat music, so it’s easy for me to get lost in the music and the movements and just concentrate on holding my stomach in, keeping my back straight, using the proper muscles – the workout itself.

2. If I don’t workout, then I’ll have to …

I know that I’ll feel guilty if I don’t work out, so I tell myself that if I don’t work out, I’ll have to do something that I don’t want to do even more. Like cleaning out the pantry. Or my desk. Something even lower on my list of things I don’t like to do.

In this case, exercising is the lesser of 2 evils. So I exercise.

3. That shower is going to feel so good!

The third thing I say when I want to motivate myself to work out is to promise myself a reward. Yes, that steamy shower with the fragrant body wash is a reward. It’s the incentive I give myself for getting as sweaty as possible. Any reward will do, but it’s a reward I give myself almost every day so I can’t go too crazy!

And that’s how I motivate myself to do something I really don’t want to do. Easy.

No one is watching

No one is watching – so just do it.

Judging at the health club

In the olden days – pre-pandemic, when gyms and health clubs were open and we could go to restaurants without thinking twice about it – if we joined a yoga or an aerobics or step class we might be self-conscious about how we looked. We were eager to burn calories or figure out that pose, but didn’t want anyone watching us. Years ago (before I discovered the joys of working out at home), I went to a health club or yoga studio. But when I joined a class, I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious. I didn’t look as fit or as well put-together as the other women. So I shrank back, took a spot at the back of the room, and did everything I could so that no one would look at me. That was definitely not maximizing my workout time.

Nothing to see here

Do you feel the same way? “There’s nothing to see here. Just a middle-aged schlub getting a sweat on. Don’t look.” I was making sure that no one was looking at me rather than paying attention to the instructor and trying to improve my form or get the choreography right.

All in my head

Of course, no one was looking at me. Everyone else was probably feeling the same way, no matter how I perceived them. And yet it seemed that all the perfect bodies in front of me were eyeing me sidelong and judging. 

I knew I couldn’t be seen as confident or self-assured. No matter what I wore to the health club – whether it was shorts and a T-shirt or leggings and a yoga top – I was sure I looked frumpy and out of place.

Home workouts for me

No one was watching so I was able to focus and finally do the side plank star in my home workout area

Finally I realized that I wasn’t getting anything out of my health club membership and searched out ways of becoming fit at home. I set up a very small space for my workout area , bought a cheap set of free weights and invested in workout tapes. (Yes, VHS tapes at that time. I’ve moved on to DVDs now and pretty soon it will all be streaming.)

And I worked out in the basement. For the first time, no one else was around to criticize or judge. I could pay attention solely to what I was doing, and make sure that my form matched the instructor’s on the tape. I could focus on pushing myself while being safe. And being able to focus gave me the freedom to really get stronger and finally able to do the Side Plank Star (above).

And sometimes I put music on – really loud – and just move. No one else is around to see or make fun of my dopey dance moves. So I just move how I feel. And sing along. No one can hear just how bad I am.

Really focus!

At home no one else is watching (except for the dogs and they’re good at not judging), so I can really get the most out of my workouts. I can dress in a torn T-shirt and baggy shorts if I want to. Most importantly, though – I can really focus on what I’m doing.

Be a trickster and get it done

Your usual motivation is not working

It’s not easy doing things you’re supposed to do all the time. Being a goody-two-shoes is not fun. “Adulting” is not fun. And your usual motivating speech to yourself is just not working. Sometimes you just want to break free. Take your shoes off and run barefoot. Break out of the mold and be a free spirit. Run in circles on a mountain top with your arms spread wide, breathing in the clean air.

But you’re an adult…

But then reality sets in. You’re nowhere near a mountain. There are a million things waiting for you to do and no one else is going to do them. 

So you look at that never-ending list of tasks and think to yourself, “I really don’t feel like doing any of this. I wish I was somewhere else. I wish I was someone else.”

But talking like that – even to yourself – is not productive. And talking like that to yourself can do more harm than good. Bringing yourself down is one step down into the abyss of depression.

So – how do you lift yourself up and actually be happy to get stuff done?

Trick yourself

Picture your favorite place and trick yourself that you're there. And go do the task at hand.
Yup – that’s the place…

So – be a trickster. Start by picturing your favorite place. If you like the beach, picture your favorite beach. Now picture yourself in your favorite place. Take a few seconds to enjoy that. For me, it’s sitting by the water with my feet up, my dog right there, and sipping an adult beverage. Feel the breeze. Smell the ocean. Taste the drops of bliss. Now picture the task of the moment that needs to get done. Don’t let yourself think about that.

Open your eyes and dive in. You’re still sitting on the beach, but you’re getting something accomplished. Of course, you know that you’re not on the beach. You’re sitting at your desk or couch, but you’re feeling the sensations of being at the beach. And those positive sensations will linger as you take on the task of the moment. Whether it’s writing a report or clearing the clutter. Your job will be that much more pleasant for picturing your sunny spot.

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.

Cold, cold, cold …

Outdoor exercise is possible when it's cold.

Here in the Chicago area it’s cold today. Really cold. The high temperature today will not reach 20 degrees F. That’s cold. If you like to exercise outside, do you quit in the winter? Or do you grudgingly move indoors? No need to do either, according to experts. In fact, exercising outside can help you avoid a Vitamin D deficiency by exposure to the sun’s rays (wearing sunscreen, of course, to avoid the harmful effects!).

Don’t stop exercising

You still need to exercise in the cold months. That requirement does not go away when the weather is bad or you don’t feel like going outside. Your lungs, your heart, your bones, your muscles still need the work. To help strengthen the lungs, if your usual running route is snow-packed, then skiing or snowshoeing are good alternatives.

And the old myth that inhaling cold air will damage the lungs is not true, according to Dr. Olugusen Apata, a pulmonologist, critical care physician and sleep specialist with Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. He says that because the air is dryer in winter months, some people may experience coughs, but the air is warmed sufficiently before it gets to the lungs.

The best way to exercise in cold weather

If you want to brave the cold to exercise, be sure to dress warmly and in layers. Layers will trap the air close to your body and warm it, keeping you warm in the middle. Be sure to wear appropriate shoes or boots that are comfortable for the sport you engage in but keep you safe from slipping on unseen hazards, like black ice. And warm gloves or mittens will keep your hands toasty and safe from frostbite. (I personally exercise indoors year-round. I’m no fan of running but when I do it for exercise, it’s on a treadmill. This post explains how I stay warm inside, at my desk at work, where the heater is not the best…)

Hydrate!

And you still need to drink plenty of water. You may not sweat as much when it’s cold, but you’re still burning calories and need to hydrate!

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.

Focus on what you’re doing

I hate running. But if I focus on my form, I get the maximum benefit in the least amount of time.

I’ve said it before – I don’t like to work out. I hate exercising. I hate getting out of breath and sweaty. I hate running. I hate working my joints when they don’t want to get worked.

But I do it. 

The benefits

I do it because of the benefits I know I’m receiving from exercise. Exercise helps my aging brain hold onto memories, as well as learn new stuff. Exercise helps my bones and muscles stay strong. Exercise helps my endurance. Exercise helps me sleep better.

So I do it. But I don’t have to like it.

Maximize my focus, minimize my time

So when I exercise, I want to make sure that I’m maximizing my time and not work any longer than I have to. So I focus on what I’m doing to make sure that I’m really targeting what I’m supposed to be targeting. 

Years ago, when I went to a health club to exercise I saw women (it was an all-women health club) lift one-pound weights with no attention to form. I saw women mosey on the treadmill while looking at their phones. And I saw women in group classes just going through the motions.

Time to kill? Not me!

I wondered about those women. They must have had so much time on their hands, they could afford to be at the health club for hours at a time and burn fewer calories than I did in my half hour or 40 minutes. (How rude were those women – not giving their all to that instructor? She was giving her all to them! The least  they could do was reciprocate.) But I had to get back to work! I was on a deadline! I had to put my time in on the stair machine or treadmill or rowing machine or free weights, clean up and get back to work. 

And now – I work out at home and I still hate it. But I give my all. If I’m going to devote that much time to something I dislike doing, I’m going to do it well and not feel guilty about it. Going through the motions doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m exercising for a reason so I’ll do it right! 

The secret to success

The secret is to just pay attention. Focus on what you’re doing. If you can’t do a move properly, modify that move to give you maximum benefit now and help you get stronger or more flexible so you are able to do that move the right way at some point in the future. Get the maximum benefit from every exercise you do. From your warmup through the workout to your cool-down.

Sharpen your focus

Everyone exercises for different reasons. Sure, some of them may be similar – like staying fit, losing weight, strengthening muscles. But exercise also helps you in other ways: it helps your brain.

Exercise equals food for the brain

Your focus will improve after you exercise.

As we age, it seems like everything deteriorates. It’s the old “use it or lose it” adage. If we don’t exercise, our muscles become weak and may even atrophy. If we don’t do weight-bearing exercises, our bones become brittle and may break.

Exercise provides oxygen for the brain, but even more, exercise helps our brain in other ways.

A recent study of athletes’ brains showed that they were better at ignoring distracting background noise and better at focusing on the sounds that really mattered to them. The study tested athletes and other participants by attaching electrodes to their scalps and studying the electricity their brains produced when different sounds were introduced. 

Dr. Kate Essad, Lead of Sports Neurology, Director of Concussion Management at Aurora Health Center in Milwaukee, says that “by doing activities like sports, which require habituation of reaction time and integrating many different sensory systems, your brain can function faster and it can perform tasks faster – and probably better.”

“Most neurological conditions, migraine, dementia – all of them are benefitted by regular exercise because the brain requires fresh blood flow and cardiovascular conditioning,” she says. “And all of these conditions are reduced by stimulating your brain. It’s the most important thing for dementia and cognitive decline – things people get when they age.”

Take a focus break

So, if you’re sitting at your desk and have been working away for a couple of hours and your mind starts to wander – you’re losing focus – take a break. Get up and walk for ten minutes. When you get back and start work again, chances are you’ll be able to concentrate better and be much more productive.

Dr. Essad also points out that there are other ways to help your brain too, like reading and writing, learning a new language, or playing a musical instrument.

Everyday things to help your brain

And everyday there are things we can do to make sure our brains age as well as the rest of us:

Get plenty of exercise, practice mindfulness or meditation and make healthy food choices.

Read about how I clear my mind so that it’s able to focus on important stuff.