You matter

If you’re like me, you go through your days doing the same things you’ve always done. I get up at the same time every day, eat the same breakfast every day, go to work at the same time, take the same route, see the same people at training every week. Get take-out from the same restaurants. All this without even thinking.

I’m feeling introspective today, so I’m wondering, “Why?” Why are we here? Is it just to do the same things every day? How can I justify my existence if that’s it?

So perhaps I’ll strive to make a difference today. Maybe not to the whole world, but if I can make a difference to one person, that could be enough for today.

To make a difference, I think, you have to make someone’s life better, happier, more fulfilled.

So, I’m telling you today that you matter!

To your family, your friends, your coworkers, your pets. You matter! Their lives would be poorer without you.

The old James Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” recounts the story of George Bailey – who wished he’d never been born one Christmas Eve, and how the town he loved would have been dramatically different if he hadn’t existed. (Not for the better!) The film demonstrates that we’re each here for a reason – we’re here for the people we know and love.

The world today is hectic. We’re bombarded by outside influences all day every day – through multiple screens, speakers and neon signs. We’re caught up in the day’s headlines, our newsfeeds, Twitter feeds, Instagram posts. It’s easy to be nervous about the state of the country and the world. It’s hard to think about why we alone might matter to someone else. But you do! So, take a few minutes in a quiet place and think about that!

Just like you exercise your muscles, practice your skills

Use it or lose it!

They say, “Use it or lose it!” And that’s true of pretty much everything.

We exercise to improve our health. If we don’t exercise, our health tends to decline.

We exercise to improve our cognition. Yup, exercising our body helps our mind.

We exercise to get stronger. Use those muscles or they become weak.

We exercise to retain flexibility. Don’t stretch and our flexibility decreases.

We exercise aerobically to strengthen our heart and increase lung function. Don’t exercise for a few days and we’re out of breath faster.

Practice not only makes perfect…

The same holds true for other skills. If you played piano when you were younger, you know what I’m talking about! Don’t practice and you won’t even remember where the keys are.

We practice our balance to stay upright and prevent future falls. Falls, especially as we get older, can be dangerous, if not tragic. From slipping and falling on the ice to rolling an ankle on broken pavement, improved balance can help.

Download my “Week of Balance” booklet. A free .pdf file to help you get started retaining your balance.

In dog training it’s the same. Lots of skills are involved in training a dog to compete in obedience or agility. Don’t practice one of them and the behavior deteriorates. My agility instructor likens this theory to circus performers spinning plates on a long dowel. He’d get a row of plates spinning, and when the last one started the first one would start to slow down and topple. The performer would have to run back to the first one and start it spinning again.

Calm your mind

Being able to calm your mind is another skill that requires practice. There are so many distractions in the world that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to focus on a single thing. From our own devices – phones, tablets, laptops, TVs – to the world around us, there’s a lot to take in.

I find it imperative to be able to narrow my focus. I get more done when I’m not trying to do several things at once. We all have heard people extol the virtue of multi-tasking, but the only things that benefit from multi-tasking are computers.

We’re much more productive when we can focus on a single task and then move on to the next one.

Guided meditations can help calm the mind

But many find it hard to calm the mind at first. It just takes practice. And sometimes a little help. Check out my free short, guided meditations. Sometimes just a couple of minutes of a guided meditation helps clear your mind. And there are also lots of free smartphone meditation apps. (I find these to be a little long, but everyone’s different.)

Guided meditations:

Garden meditation

Ocean meditation

River meditation

Yet another study supports what we know …

Another study that supports what we already know: that those who exercise  are in better health than those who don’t.

Cycling and exercise for health

82-year-old Norman Lazarus, a professor emeritus at London’s Kings College, requested that a study be performed on the health of older active cyclists. King’s College and the University of Birmingham took him up on it. Researchers compared 125 amateur cyclists, ages 55 through 79, with a group of people ages 57 through 80 and with a younger group ages 20 through 36. All of the noncycling group were healthy but did not exercise regularly.

Lazarus had noted that he and his riding group were not experiencing many of the frailties, such as joint problems or chronic illness, that affect so many other people as they age. His group had been avid cyclists for most of their lives.

Less evidence of aging in cyclers

The researchers found that those who exercised – in this case cycled – regularly did not show evidence of the outward signs of aging.

The male cyclists in the study had to be able to ride 62 miles in 6½ hours, and females had to be able to ride 37 miles in 5½ hours, according to the study, published in the journal Aging Cell. I’m not a cyclist but seems like a fairly intense regimen.

Less loss of strength

In a series of lab tests, researchers found cyclists did not lose muscle mass and strength like the noncyclists did. The cyclists also stopped the clock on increased body fat and cholesterol, and the men’s testosterone levels remained high.

Improved immune systems

One of the most surprising findings was that the cyclists’ immune systems were equivalent to those of healthy young people in the study, as measured by the presence of immune cells, known as T-cells. The cells are produced by the thymus gland and typically start to decrease as the thymus begins to shrink after age 20. Depleted immune systems are one of the greatest barriers to health in the elderly.

Intense exercise is the key

We know from other studies that cycling is not the important part of this – the intense exercise is.

The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes a week of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

The moral

The moral here – do something! It’s better than nothing. And even if you can’t do even moderately intense exercise now, you soon will be! So get moving!

Focus on the important stuff

Is frizz important?

There are a limited number of hours in a day. You’ve got to spend 7 or 8 of them sleeping. The rest are up for grabs! Lately I noticed how many products there are in the marketplace for frizzy hair. And lately I’ve noticed that with all the rain and humidity we’ve had my hair has gone totally frizz. Am I tempted by all these products that promise smooth silky hair without frizz? No. It’s not important to me. I notice that my hair is frizzy because I do look in the mirror to make sure I’m somewhat presentable (the public does come into my shop, after all), but I’ve got better things to think about than my hair.

Focus on more important things

I think about training my dogs – what do they need for us to succeed as a team in their sports? I think about my sister’s and my shop – what can I do to make Golly Gear more successful, and our customers happier? I think about what to make for dinner (meal planning sort of went out the window this week…). I think about my new balance exercises.

So, you can see that I try not to focus on stuff that is unimportant to me.

What really is important?

To focus on the important things, though, I have to decide what really is important. Of course, what’s important to you may be very different from what’s important to me. And no one can tell you what’s important – aside from the obvious, of course – family, friends, work, etc.

Prioritize

Once the important stuff is decided, then it’s a matter of prioritizing tasks.  Balancing the different aspects of my life. You would think this would be easy, but it may not be. I find that the best method of prioritizing is to get absolutely everything down on paper and then sort the tasks. It can be a monumental effort, but once it’s done, I get a great feeling of relief.

What’s not on that list of tasks? De-frizzing my hair. Making an appointment with my stylist is, though!

Guilt and eating “healthy”

Eating what makes you happy may not be eating the things that are “good”

In my ongoing chat about our feelings of guilt, a natural topic is that of eating “healthy.” Why the quotes? Because to me, eating healthy means eating what makes you happy and eating the things that are good for your body.

And that may produce guilt

Are those mutually exclusive? Sometimes, and that’s where the guilt comes in.

You might think that eating the things that make us happy involves vast quantities of chocolate, pizza, ice cream, chips, … and the list goes on.

And, yes, in the short-term, those things do make us happy. They taste incredible, the texture is amazing, and they lift our spirits.

But we know intellectually that these things are “bad” for us, and we feel guilty about eating them. We know that we “should” be eating more vegetables, more fruit, more whole grains.

Why eat things that aren’t good for us?

So why don’t we? Why do we eat the “bad” stuff and then feel guilty about it?

Perhaps we haven’t found the “good” stuff that we like as much as pizza. Or that satisfies our soul like spaghetti.

So, try foods that you’re not used to. Try different recipes. Try quinoa. Try kale. You might like it. Or not – and then you can try something else that you read about that’s supposed to be “healthy.”

It happens to everyone

And for those of us who do eat “healthy” most of the time, there are still times when nothing but a Snickers bar will do. Biting into that yummy chocolate and then getting your teeth stuck in the peanuts and caramel… Well, you get the idea. That happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was hungry late one Saturday afternoon and I wanted a Snickers bar. So I had a Snickers bar. True, it was a fun-sized one, but it satisfied me. I knew I’d have to do a few more minutes on the treadmill to work it off, but it was worth it.

Actions have consequences

See, that’s the thing. There are always consequences to our actions. If you think about your actions, and their repercussions, there’s no reason to feel guilty about taking the action.

But there’s no reason to feel guilty about them

“If I do x, then I’ll have to do y.” No big deal. No reason to feel guilty.

And that reasoning follows through all your actions, not just eating.

Guilt about money

Guilt in spending on yourself

Do you feel guilty about spending money on yourself? I’m not talking about spending money on frivolous things, like a costume jewelry bracelet. (Really, who needs a costume jewelry bracelet? Unless, of course, your business is researching costume jewelry.)

I’m talking about an exercise program. Or a pair of leggings. Or a pair of running shoes. Or fresh greens.

Yes, funds are limited. But after all the vital stuff is taken care of – mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance – the rest is discretionary.

Guilt about groceries

We all have to eat, and food is a major part of the budget. But after the staples, like milk, eggs, toilet paper, paper towels, you’ve got to figure out where your food budget does the most good. You might as well get the healthiest food you can with your limited dollars. (I’m not talking about organic food – it has not been proven that organic is substantially healthier than non-organic food. I wash my fruit and vegetable carefully – I don’t usually buy organic produce.) It has been proven that fresh fruits and veggies are good for you.

Produce is also cheaper when it’s in season. It’s June now, so grapes and other soft fruit is getting cheaper. Tomatoes are cheaper now, and so are some greens. In-season produce is also tastier!

So, it pays to buy fresh – you’ll be healthier! And so will your family. Another guilt factor – do you feel guilty about feeding your family your “rabbit food?” It’s natural to feed your family the food that you’re cooking for yourself. You wouldn’t be eating it if it wasn’t tasty, well-balanced and well-seasoned. Ask them how they feel about the meals you’re serving. Chances are they’re enjoying the freshness as well. Don’t be surprised if you need to see your doctor less. You’re getting healthier.

Guilt about personal items

So, after you’ve spent on the necessities, you feel guilty about spending money on personal items? Get over it. You’ve budgeted for your family. Now it’s time to take care of you. Your workout shoes are worn? Time for a new pair. They’re less expensive than a trip to the emergency room after you’ve injured yourself.

You feel guilty about spending on a new pair of leggings? By now you’ve trained yourself not to reward yourself with food. So after a few successful months of working out and eating right – you deserve those new leggings (or T-shirt, or yoga mat).

Guilt is not helpful. A budget is.

A first look at guilt

Guilt and exercise / or not exercising

I’ve been thinking about guilt lately, specifically how it relates to exercise.

Are you torn between your guilt about exercising and not exercising. Spending time working out or with family? Do feel like your brain is on the treadmill even when you’re not?

Have you felt guilty about not exercising?

Or guilty about exercising when you could be doing something for your family?

I’m here to tell you to get over it!

If you’re doing something productive –

If you feel guilty about not exercising – are you doing something else that’s worthwhile? Are you working? Earning a living? Helping your family with something? If you’re engaged in an activity that’s productive, then you can work out another time. Schedule it! Put it in your calendar! (One that you actually refer to on a regular basis.)

If you’re not doing something else worthwhile, then you should feel guilty, so get up and move!

Seriously, though, you’re probably spending more time and energy feeling guilty than you would if you’d stick in a DVD and did a workout. You’ll feel terrific afterward – virtuous and healthy!

Are you exercising when you should be doing something else?

Are there really important things that you should be doing when you’re working out? Or are they just things to get to … some time?

If they’re the really important things, go do that and, again, schedule a workout.

Now, only you can determine if those things you’re thinking about are “really important things” that should be done now, or if they can wait.

The key, it seems, is to prioritize tasks. And then use your calendar so you’re sure not to forget the specific tasks that you need to get done.

But don’t leave out exercise!

If you’re feeling guilty about spending time on yourself when you could be doing other things for family, friends, or work, then don’t.

By spending a little time (as little as 30 minutes a day 4-5 times a week) on yourself exercising, you’ll be gaining a healthier you. A you that will be around longer for your family. A you that can spend the quality time with your family that they deserve. And a you that will be more productive at work.

So stop feeling guilty. Write down and prioritize the things you need to do.

Why would we want to prevent pain?

“It’s easier to prevent pain than to squelch pain. Literally and figuratively. “

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, posited this as a rule for life that happy people know. It’s true. I’ve thought about it a lot on the physical side – how to prevent injury, and how to deal with an injury.

And, if at all possible, it’s a whole lot easier to prevent an injury. Make sure you stretch properly. Drink plenty of water. Warm up slowly. Challenge yourself, but don’t push when you shouldn’t be pushing! And take the time to do a proper cooldown.

I practice this all the time, both with my workout DVD programs, and when I run on the treadmill. Even though my DVDs have warmup periods, I try to do a little before I even turn on the machine – I’m old… I need more of a warmup. And for the most part I’ve been successful at avoiding injury. Sure, I feel my muscles if I try something new and sore muscles are part of the fitness journey. But that’s not an injury. It won’t cause long-lasting effects.

But how about emotional pain?

Do we want to prevent emotional pain? Do we lock ourselves away so that we prevent the pain of someone letting us down, or of separation? I don’t think so.

Emotional pain is part of being human.

You know that old saying, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” I think that’s true. If you don’t put yourself out there to be loved and to love someone, that’s quite a lonely existence.

We need each other! That’s part of being human too. Sure, we have to be smart about which relationships we pour ourselves into – don’t fall for a married guy… Or a gay guy… But, we need human interactions. Form friendships wherever you can. Do nice things for people. Put yourself out there. That’s how you feel human and engaged, and fulfilled.

Meditate? ME?!?

Meditation can make you healthier!

Are you saying, “Nah! It’s for gurus in India!” No! It’s for everyone!

When you think of meditation, do you think of people in long robes seated cross-legged on the floor with their hands on their knees, palms up and chanting? I used to, as well.

I’m summarizing here – One of Webster’s definitions of meditation is to engage your mental awareness to try to achieve a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Another definition is to focus your thoughts.

For me, that just means to clear my head. I close my eyes and breathe for a few minutes, thinking of absolutely nothing. When my head is clear, I’m calmer and ready to tackle difficult (and not-so-difficult) tasks. If my mind starts to wander, I can recognize this and shut down those intrusive thoughts.

Clear mind = calmness

The nice thing about meditation this way is that I can do it anywhere (except when I’m driving!). If I’m at work and I’ve been bombarded with customer requests, I can just sit at my desk, close my eyes and meditate for a few minutes.

And productivity!

I’m more productive when my mind isn’t scattered. I can focus on one task and complete it. And when I’m productive, I’m happier. And when I’m happier, I tend to eat healthier, exercise for a longer time and with more intensity.

The last couple of weeks have been difficult for me – read the last few posts  – and meditation has helped me over some of the worst hip and back pain. I recognize the pain, close my eyes, try to think of nothing, breathe, and after a few minutes the pain has subsided a bit.

Meditation is for everyone! A beginner’s guide:

Even if you’ve never meditated before, you can try it. Right now: just sit back. (Read this paragraph first…) You can set a timer for 5 minutes if you like – if you’re afraid you’ll take too long with your eyes closed and might miss something. Put your phone down. Put your hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Think of nothing. If a stray thought enters your mind, accept it and get rid of it. Picture it like a cloud – just floating away. And just breathe.

Now open your eyes. Feel refreshed? I thought so!

Guided meditations:

If you had trouble getting rid of your thoughts, sometimes a guided meditation works better. Just descriptions of peaceful places. Here are 3 free .mp3 downloads: Each is just a couple of minutes to get you started:

Garden meditation

Ocean meditation

River meditation

 

Stay in your rut!

We love routine! I think we’re all happiest when we have a schedule that we can stick with. I know I am.

Get up at (pretty much) the same time everyday.

Eat meals at (pretty much) the same time.

Go to (pretty much) the same place every day.

Exercise at (pretty much) the same time every day, or as my schedule dictates.

Go to bed at the same time every day.

Until something happens to disrupt the schedule.

Like an injury.

Then it’s a major obstacle to do regular things. Even getting out of bed can be a chore.

Making meals for myself and the dogs takes twice as long as it should.

Walking to and getting in the car? Agony.

That’s what happened to me the last few days. Yes, things were not easy. Routine things took twice as long as usual – or longer.

But, the closer I came to sticking with my regular schedule, the happier I felt. The closer I felt to being on track.

Of course, the workouts were not my usual workouts, because I physically could not do the exercises I wanted to.

But I made sure that I did a workout.

Meals? It was more important than ever to eat right. Eating healthy is one of the best ways to stay on the fitness track.

And getting up to get water kept me moving. To the water jug (and the bathroom). If you can, and if it’s in alignment with your doctor’s or your PT’s orders, keep moving. As I said earlier in the week, movement will get you back to normal quicker than sitting on the couch will.

And the more in line with my regular schedule I was, the closer I was to feeling more normal.

So, stay in your rut as much as you can. If something throws a monkey wrench into the works, work around it.

So, after an injury – Eat right. Drink plenty of water. And move!