Your body is a mirror

You know that old saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, you can also say, “Your body mirrors your mind.” Your body really is a mirror of your mood and emotions.

Unexpected effects on your body

Your mood and emotions can affect your physical health in ways that you may not expect. You may experience pain, inflammation and even chronic illness as a result of continuing depression. Depression can deprive your body of its natural ability to fight off disease.

“Mental and physical health are linked. When the brain is out of balance, it can affect our body’s response to fight off illness,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, a psychologist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wis. When our mental health is compromised, it can lead to increased pain sensitivity, slower healing, weight gain or loss, increased inflammation, even a weakened immune system. When our immune system is compromised, it can lead to autoimmune diseases like arthritis or fibromyalgia. It can even cause abnormal cell growth which can lead to cancer. Your body is a mirror of the bad as well as the good.

Tips to fend off bad moods and depression

Some exercise can be fun - like crunches on the stability ball. If it's fun, and your body is a mirror of your emotions, then you'll be smiling inside and out.

Dr. Barakat recommends developing habits to fend off bad moods and depression, like physical exercise! I’ve written before about how that “exercise high” is more than a myth. After an intense workout, I know that I feel more optimistic and happier. Even when I don’t feel like exercising, I do it anyway, and then afterward I’m glad I did. It could be the increased oxygen. It could be the tingly muscles. I just know that I feel better and more optimistic after I exercise.

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is another great habit to start or continue. Research has shown that a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and complex carbohydrates has a positive effect on brain function and mood.

Relaxation techniques also calm your mind and body. Yoga and meditation are practices I follow. Hatha Yoga has the double (triple?) benefit of increasing your flexibility, exercising and stretching your muscles as well as calming your mind. You don’t have to be a yogi to benefit from a yoga practice. If you’re not able to do any particular pose, there are plenty of modifications and substitutes. If you take a class, mention to your instructor that you have certain limitations and more often than not, he or she will demonstrate terrific modifications. 

Meditation eases stress

Acording to Psychology Today, mental health does benefit from meditation. A study in Psychiatry Research revealed that people who meditated for 30 minutes a day experience stress less intensely than those who didn’t meditate. The study also showed that the part of the brains involved with empathy and compassion of people who meditated grew. People who meditate care more – and that’s a key component of growing your resilience.

So if your body is a mirror for your mood and emotions, and if you’re in a great mood more, your body will be in better shape. Not only will you be more fit, and more able to do the things you want to do, but you’ll be more resilient and better able to tackle the challenges of life. That’s my definition of “fitness.”

I feel like an elephant today

I feel bloated like an elephant today. If you do too, stick to your fitness plan.

Did you ever wake up and, after you do your usual morning stuff, say to yourself, “I feel like an elephant today?” Everything feels fat and bloated, even more than usual. Even my hands and feet feel bloated. Don’t get me wrong – I love elephants. I think elephants are among the cutest beings on the planet.

I don’t want to feel like an elephant

But I don’t want to feel like one. Elephants usually move slowly and deliberately. (Except for when your safari jeep gets between a mama and her calf. But that’s a story for another day.) That is not how I want to move. I want to feel light and energetic. I want to feel like I can move effortlessly. 

I’m pretty sure that you have this feeling sometimes too. I may have eaten too much salty food yesterday and I’m retaining water. Or I just plain ate too much. Or I didn’t get enough sleep. Any of these could lead to feelings of heaviness.

Stick to your fitness plan

First thing to do is not obsess about it. Feeling like you have to wear a giant muumuu to cover everything up can lead to feelings of depression. Don’t let it. Everyone feels this way at some point. And even if you feel it, it’s not visible. This article describes how I pull myself out of the dumps.

Next – drink more water. It may seem counter-intuitive to drink water if you’re retaining water, but it’s one step in the right direction. If you like to drink carbonated beverages, try to replace them with water. That carbonation can lead to excess gas not only in the beverage, but in your system.

It’s important to move!

Take a walk. This can diminish that bloated feeling right away. And over time, if you move more, you won’t feel bloated so frequently. Yes, this is another reason to exercise regularly!

Gradually add more fiber and probiotics to your diet. This tip is not an instant cure. Adding additional fiber to your diet is a long-term improvement and will improve your digestion over time.

But right now?

No matter how you feel, you don’t look different. You’re still the same person inside and out. So if you’re self-conscious and want to wear baggy shirts and pants for a couple of days, that’s OK. When I’m feeling bloated, I have to remind myself that no one is looking at how tight (or not) my pants are. I’m still me – tight waistband or not.

Self-care is more than a tag line

“Fitness” is not just exercise

What comes to mind when you think “fitness?” I’ll bet one thing you don’t think of is self-care. But self-care is more than a tag line and it’s crucial for our fitness. I don’t mean dental floss or moisturizer, although they’re certainly important for our health and well-being.

The self-care I’m referring to is taking care of our mental health. Taking time to care for ourselves when the world is crazy around us is essential for keeping our equilibrium. 

Self-care can be as simple as closing your eyes

If you're feeling anxious and stressed, meditation could help. Meditation can be an integral part of your self-care.

Self-care can be as simple as just taking a few minutes away from others, screens, phones and other intrusions. Or just closing your eyes and breathing for a few seconds between phone calls or meetings can help to clear your mind.

A brief meditation session can also calm you. If you don’t usually practice meditation, then a guided meditation is helpful. You can download my complementary “Garden Walk” meditation now. Opening your eyes after meditating is like waking up from a restful snooze.

Reset your thoughts to focus

This brief interlude can reset your thoughts, making it easier for you to focus on the next task. Or it can help you to distance yourself a little from troublesome news and the ever-present clatter of today’s world.

And if you’ve had a really long awful, troublesome day filled with terrible news and cranky people, take a little longer to center yourself. Tell the family, “I need a while. I’ll be back in a half hour.” They should be able to respect your needs to give you the time you need, just as you would give them time.


“Self-care” is more than a fad. It’s an essential part of fitness.

This all qualifies as “self-care.” It’s more than a fad. Self-care is more than a tag line or slogan. It’s essential for staying sane in these crazy times.

Too often we’re met with people in bad moods these days. It’s important that we not follow their lead and let them turn our mood downward, easy as it is to do. I wrote of this before, and it’s still appropriate.) When we follow the harder path, of optimism and growth, by caring for ourselves a little more, we grow our optimism and our resilience.

Maintaining Your Motivation

You’ve been eating right and exercising for a few weeks now. Congratulations! It’s been going pretty well. You’re hanging in there. But every once in a while that muffin looks better than what you planned for breakfast. Or your co-workers are going to your favorite sandwich shop for lunch. And there’s that piece of cake left over from your significant other’s birthday. Maintaining your motivation through all the temptations is really hard.

And it doesn’t get easier.

Five Keys to Maintaining your Motivation

So, how do you maintain your motivation? How do you stick to the plan? These five methods help me maintain a healthy lifestyle every day.

1. Take Each Day as it Comes

One day at a time – Today is the only day that matters in your “healthier you” plan. Yesterday is gone. No matter how “good” you were yesterday (and congratulations for that!), it doesn’t matter today. Keep that date you set up for yourself today in your calendar. (You’re doing that, right? A few weeks ago we talked about forming healthy habits, and a key point was making that recurring appointment with yourself on every day you wanted to exercise.) Make every food decision count especially on days that eating right is a challenge. For every meal you prepare, ask yourself if it’s a good choice for you.

2. Just Get Going

The final stretch with my dog. Just do it, don't agonize over working out. That's maintaining your motivation.

Don’t think too much about your workout preparation – On days that you really don’t want to exercise, just do it. Shake yourself mentally and don’t think about the things you’d rather be doing (like watching TV, reading a book, lying on the couch). Just change into your workout gear and start to exercise. Promise yourself you’ll do 10 minutes of your workout. Before you know it, you’ll be cooling down and looking forward to that final stretch.

3. Reflection

Reflect on how far you’ve come. Just a couple of weeks ago you knew you should start an exercise program and healthy eating plan but were confused about how to start and what to do. And now you’re crushing it! A great way to keep going is to put these reflections in a journal. (Check out my Gratitude and Happiness Journal on Amazon.) Every day, think about what you’re happy you’ve accomplished and write it down. When you go back and read these reflections, you can’t help but feel motivated to carry on. (Writing these thoughts down will also give you a great sense of gratitude, and we know that happiness follows gratitude, and resilience follows happiness and optimism!)

4. Visualize

Visualize yourself maintaining your motivation. Picture yourself eating a plate of vibrant greens with your family and enjoying it! Better yet – you’re all eating that wonderful salad and loving it. Feel how you’d like to be, at the place you enjoy the most, with the people you love most. Picture yourself at a party, enjoying yourself, holding a glass (a champagne flute?) of sparkling water. I can’t tell you to picture yourself exercising and loving it, because I can’t do that myself. But I do it so that the other pictures can become realities.

5. Your “Why”

Your reason for sticking to your plan. Finally, and probably the easiest way of maintaining your motivation – remember your reason for starting in the first place. Whether your reason is for your family or for your own future, remember that. You’re eating right and exercising to lower your blood pressure, to improve your cardiac conditioning, to improve your cognition and memory. 

These five methods will keep you on the straight and narrow. Maintaining your motivation will be easy.

The other piece of the puzzle for weight loss

If you’re serious about wanting to lose weight, exercise is important. Exercise is more important for lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk of certain diseases. It’s also important for building strength and bone mass. What you eat is the more important piece of the puzzle for weight loss. 

The formula for losing weight is simple: consume fewer calories than you use. The number of calories that you use exercising can be large, but not nearly as large as it needs to be in order for you to lose pounds. Even the Mayo Clinic says that diet is more important than exercise when it comes to losing weight.

Diet is a 4-letter word

What you eat is most important in the weight loss puzzle

Yes, diet is a nasty word. But it’s also what we consume every day. Our diet is just that – what we eat. The word is neither good nor bad. It’s just a word. What can be good or bad are the foods that make up our diet. 

You’ve heard the “experts” promoting the “South Beach Diet,” the “Atkins Diet,” the “Mediterranean Diet,” “Keto,” gluten-free diet, Pescatarian diet, Intermittent Fasting – the list is endless. What works for one person may not work for you. 

What does work

Change your mindset: Stop thinking of “diet” as a bad thing. My own diet includes lots of really “healthy food,” but also ice cream, bread and donuts. None of these are bad themselves. What is “bad” is when you overload your diet with processed foods high in sugar and fat. My motto: (like Benjamin Franklin) “Everything in moderation.”

So, if you’re really serious about losing weight, do some research about food plans. What’s included, what’s not included, the long-term prospects of sticking with it. Figure out what appeals to you. Try it for a few weeks. See if it works, and if you can live with it. If you need to modify the plan – it’s your body. Do what’s right for you. Keep a food journal – write down every morsel of food that goes in your mouth. Be religious about this. You probably don’t realize everything you eat. And that can sabotage your results. 

Losing weight is hard, but the more you know about what it takes to lose weight and be healthy, the better your chances of success.

What happens after you start

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to start exercising. You’ve chosen the program you’re going to use. You have your workout gear and a spiffy new pair of sneakers. Now what? What happens after you start to exercise?

Commitment to your health

It’s been a few days. The initial exhilaration  of the newness of your exercise routine has worn off. You’re starting to realize that exercise may not get easier as time goes on. 

It never gets easier even after you start to exercise.

You’re right! And that’s the point. Exercise will not get easier. In order for you to get all the benefits of exercise (improved cognition, increase bone density, increase strength), you have to challenge yourself every day. Of course, the point is not to challenge yourself until you’re ready to drop, but at the end of a workout you should feel like you really can’t do any more without some recovery time. Your final cooldown and stretch should be absolute bliss. After a cardio workout you should be warm and sweating. And after a strength workout you should feel like you couldn’t do another push-up if your life depended on it – at least for a half hour or so.

You know that old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” The same applies to exercise. Exercise is tough – you’re tougher. You’re exercising to reap those health benefits I mentioned above. And know that you’re not alone. Exercise is hard every day for me. It should be hard every day for everyone.

Make it a habit

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about habits. It takes about 3 weeks for anything to become a habit. If you do the same thing at pretty much the same time every day (or almost every day) for 3 weeks, the better the chances that it will become a habit. The same for exercise. I work out in the late afternoon 4 or 5 times a week. I get home, walk the dogs, check on the bearded dragon, get the mail, change my clothes and exercise. That’s my routine. We humans love routine. Exercise is a part of mine. A few weeks after you start to exercise, it will be part of your routine too. But before exercise becomes a routine, you must put thought and deliberation into it.

I’ve emphasized the use of a calendar or planner in the past. If you’re serious about making that commitment to your health, make appointments with yourself to exercise. (Here is Zapier’s ranking of the best calendar apps for 2021.) Four days a week for the next three weeks – just write it in or make a repeating event on your digital calendar. And keep that date with yourself. You’ll find that in a few weeks, you’ll start your workout routine as a matter of course. Remember that you’re doing this not only for you, but for those who depend on you. Like an oxygen mask on an airplane – when they drop, put yours on first so that you can take care of others.

How do you start to exercise

You know you should start to exercise. (Why Exercise? – an article I wrote several years ago.) As we get older, everyone keeps telling us to keep moving. It’s good for our bones, our backs, our joints. But there’s so much out there – it’s information overload! Where do you start? How can you start something that you don’t know how to do?

Your friends say you should do Pilates. And yoga looks interesting. Your best friend does Tai Chi. Walking is good. Your grandkids tell you to do kick-boxing. The “experts” on TV tell you to do something else. 

And so you do nothing. I get it. You know your couch – it’s comfy and it’s safe. You don’t have to risk anything sitting on your couch.

I’ve told you to get ideas on YouTube. And there are loads of free workouts there. But how do you start to exercise?

Assess your abilities

A chair workout is great for those with limited mobility.

A good way to start is to first figure out what you CAN do. Can you walk for any distance? If you can – great. If you get out of breath after half a block, you may want to start with chair exercises. That’s a great way to start to exercise if you’ve never done it. Chair exercise programs can be just the place to start for people with limited mobility. You can begin to increase your strength and stamina sitting down.

If your mobility is good, and your physician has given you the OK to start an exercise program, then decide what you like.

Look to the future

Exercise is not something that you start and then finish. Once you’ve decided to start to exercise, you’re in it for life. So the exercise you choose to do should be something that you can see yourself doing in six months, a year, two years in the future. Keep in mind that you’ll be exercising a few times a week – the CDC recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, plus additional strength work 2 days a week.

If you already walk with friends but you’re looking for something a little more intense, perhaps try some dance workouts. If you like country music, look for a country music workout program – same for jazz or rock. Go for a structured workout with simple choreography to start. Instructors can increase the complexity as you progress. There are even ballet workouts for those of us who don’t want to perform, but love the movements.

If dance isn’t your thing, perhaps you’d like to try Pilates or Yoga. These will increase flexibility and strength. These programs can also provide cardio benefits.

Then what?

How do you start to exercise - make sure there's somewhere to progress as you improve.

When you’ve poked around YouTube and decided on the kind of exercise you’d like to start with, find an instructor you ”click” with. You understand their cuing of the moves, you like the music, they’re personable and you don’t mind the sound of their voice. Make sure that they have different levels of programs – when the beginner workout becomes too easy, you’ll want to move on. You always want to challenge yourself – that’s how you grow.

If you want to stick to your walking regimen – great! But on days that are not conducive to walking outside, know that there are exercise programs that simulate walking – indoors. 

But, actually, how do you start to exercise?

You’ve made the plunge – you’ve subscribed to your workout program – then what? 

Cue it up on your laptop or TV! Change into comfortable exercise gear (including well-fitting shoes made for the activity you’ve chosen). Make sure the furniture and dogs are out of the way. 

And push “play.”

Remember, any time you start a new activity, you may not be very good at it. The moves may seem awkward. That’s OK. Keep practicing. It will get easier. And be careful. If anything doesn’t feel good, stop. The last thing you want is to injure yourself. 

Also be aware that you may experience muscle soreness in 24 hours. That’s completely natural. But, you don’t want it to be debilitating, so don’t push yourself too hard your first couple of workouts.

And have fun.

It’s easy when it becomes a habit

How do you do it? That’s the question I get. Have the mindset to work out almost every day, eat right and not just go crazy? The answer: It’s easy when it becomes a habit.

There has been lots written about habits and tracking habits lately (like James Clear’s Atomic Habits) – but none from the perspective of a 65-year-old woman with gray hair who runs her dogs in Agility. So, for all you young-at-heart old ladies out there who may or may not run their dogs in Agility, this is for you. 

3 weeks to a habit

Generally speaking, it takes about 3 weeks of doing something for it to become a habit. Like flossing your teeth. Every night. Set an alarm on your phone for five minutes before the time you usually brush your teeth at night – when you look at your phone.

Or like using a new kind of calendar or daily planner. In order for a tool like this to work for you, you have to use it regularly. Enter your appointments, meetings and reminders when you make that appointment or think of something you need to be reminded of in the future. But then you have to remember to check your calendar regularly so that you don’t miss anything. So a cheat may be necessary – like a post-it note on your monitor to check your calendar. Or an alarm on your phone set to not-quite first thing in the morning. These “cheats” make it easier to remember what you want to remember to do – before these activities become real habits.

The exercise habit was not easy

Having exercise become a habit was not easy for me. I was a fat kid. I was bullied unmercifully through junior high school. Home economics was a requirement for girls my freshman year of high school. I was so proud of my little chocolate pudding tart that I took home on the bus so my mom and sister could enjoy it with me … Until a boy teased me, saying that a “fattie like me didn’t need that pie,” and tossed the tart onto my shirt. Chocolate and whipped cream was everywhere. That was the day I vowed to lose weight. 

jumping rope helped me lose weight and start an exercise habit.

So after school all that year, I jumped rope on our patio – a concrete slab behind the house. I lost the weight and have (mostly) kept it off. I guess I should try to remember who that kid was and thank him. (Probably not going to happen…) Jumping rope was the easiest way I could think of to exercise. Cheap, and burned a lot of calories. 

That was an easy habit to keep. I was motivated. 

But now it’s easy when it becomes a habit

A habit should not be a convenience. A habit is something you do without fail. No matter what. I wrote about this a while ago – Life happens. It’s not an excuse. A habit – and if you’re consciously making a habit, then it’s important – is something you make time for.

I make time several times a week for exercise. Exercise has become a habit. So, changing clothes, shifting the dogs to their comfy downstairs beds and pushing “play” is just what I do – many days without thinking. It’s easy when it becomes a habit.

And planning the next week’s meals and shopping lists is a habit now. It’s just something that needs to get done, so I don’t whine about it. I don’t look for other things to do instead of the task. I just do it.

Exercise with an injury?

I did something not very bright yesterday. I slammed my little toe into something very hard. It may or may not be broken, but it’s turning vivid colors. Even if it is broken, there’s not a whole lot that can be done for little toes, so I’m just going to leave it alone. But the question is, can I exercise with an injury?

And the answer is simple: if it hurts when I’m doing the exercise, then, no.

But – there are lots of things that I can do without using my foot or my toe.

No running for me!

Obviously, running is out, as is a step aerobics class. But, if I want to get my heart rate up, cycling is a great option. That kind of exercise with an injury would be fantastic. It burns a lot of calories, and as long as the pedal placement is good, a bike ride is a good choice.

Pilates using a resistance band is  a good way to exercise with an injury to my toe.

Pilates is also a good choice – it may not be as intense as an aerobic activity, but a good mat Pilates class with resistance bands (and I do have a great one) that is done with sneakers on, is great for toning and strengthening – especially the core.

I will probably not choose yoga today for my exercise. While there’s no impact, many standing poses in yoga bend the toes at acute angles. That even sounds like it hurts.

Exercise with an injury to my shoulder

In the past, I’ve also exercised with an injury to my shoulder (very painful dislocation). As long as I avoided exercises that aggravated the injury, it was great. And there’s a lot more to your body that you can exercise than the injured part! While my shoulder was healing, I did a lot of aerobics.

The first day or so after a traumatic injury I would certainly not exercise. Let the body rest and recover. And, here’s the most important advice: if it hurts, don’t do it.

Should you exercise with an injury?

Even if you can, another question is, should you exercise with an injury? For me, and this particular injury – yes. This injury is so minor and is such a small portion of me, that I would feel incredibly guilty using my poor, little blue toe as an excuse to not exercise. (Guilt is one of the ways that I motivate myself to work out.) So I will work out today. I will take precautions to make sure that I don’t make it worse, but I am certainly planning on working out. For other injuries – it depends. For major injuries – maybe not. But if it’s easy to exercise other portions of the body, certainly.

Be mindful and aware

Be mindful of how you’re feeling – the injured portion, as well as the rest of you. If you’re just using your injury as an excuse – get over it. A broken toe is no excuse for stuffing my face and lying around.

But always follow your doctor’s orders.

Get energized and exercise

We’re all suffering from sleep deprivation, and it would be really easy to just yawn and say, “I’ll work out tomorrow…” and take a nap. But we need to get energized and exercise! 

That reminds me of the saying, “Rise and shine!” and one of my favorite movie lines. In one scene in “The Great Race” (which has THE BEST pie fight scene ever!), Natalie Wood chirps to Jack Lemmon, playing the mustachio-twirling villain, “Rise and shine!” To which Jack Lemmon snarls, “You rise and you shine!”  

But in all seriousness, it is possible to fill yourself with energy and the get-up-and-go to, well, get up and go exercise. And not with calorie-laden caffeine drinks or sugar-filled candy.

So, how can you get energized and exercise if all you want to do is lie down and sleep?

Decide

Get energized and exercise. Breathe deeply and get more oxygen flowing.

Decide that you’re going to change your clothes into your workout gear, turn on your exercise program if you do a stream or DVD, or get stretched out for your run. Just decide. And go change.

Then stretch, shake your arms out, do a few marching steps, take a deep breath and exercise.

Not that easy

Sure, sure – it’s easy for me to say that. And yes – I have lived it. Ever raise a puppy? They have to go outside every couple of hours to maintain their housebreaking training. If it’s your responsibility to see to the puppy, you’re sleep-deprived. Or have a newborn baby? Same goes. Chronic sleep deprivation.

But, you have to take it as a given that certain things are worth going without sleep. Like a well-trained puppy. Or a happy baby. 

So you accept the fact that you’re not going to be sleeping much. And decide that certain things must be accomplished. Like exercise – because the benefits of exercise are many. Plus, just the act of exercise replenishes energy. It doesn’t make sense, does it – expend energy to replenish energy. 

Expend energy to replenish energy

But, think about it – when you exercise you’re breathing more deeply. You’re getting more oxygen and it’s making its way into your lungs, through your bloodstream and into your brain, providing more energy. Same thing with meditation – you’re focusing on your breathing and getting more oxygen.

Self-care is important

While you’re losing sleep, it’s important to take special care of yourself in other ways. Hydration is important every day, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water – good old H20 – and eating right. Be sure to eat lots of veggies and fruit, whole grains and lean protein. Grab a nap when you can, and you’re not supposed to be exercising! And you’ll be more inclined to get energized and exercise.