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.

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.

Set goals – big and little

Are you retired? Still working? Working on not working? Regardless – it’s important to set goals for yourself. The way we grow is to set goals and challenge ourselves, in whatever area we choose. And, don’t limit yourself to one area. If you’re still working, great! Set goals – big and little – for yourself professionally, but also personally. 

I work for myself in a number of enterprises. I set goals for the business and for myself. One goal is to create a course relating to self-discipline that my readers (you!) will find useful in your fitness journey. My sister tells me that I have more discipline than anyone else she knows, so hopefully that expertise will help others. I’m writing my modules and hope to have a course by the end of the summer.

Another of my personal goals is to complete 10 regular pushups (from my toes). Pushups from my knees are no problem. And incline pushups are easy as well. I’m at about 4 or 5 regular ones now, so I’ll keep working at it.

To grow means that there’s work involved. Many people think the word “work” has a negative connotation. Meaning that work is bad. I don’t see it that way. Work is serious, yes, because my goals are serious to me. It’s hard. And work is challenging. But it can be fun. And the results: downright delightful.

I have fun when I work. I try to have fun all the time. Just because I’m trying to accomplish something doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun with it. Fun makes the work easier.

Big goals

When you have a BIG GOAL, it can seem intimidating and not at all fun. The secret to achieving that BIG GOAL is to chop it into smaller, more manageable goals and incorporate some fun into it if possible. And big goals can seem crushingly hard, unless you’re committed to its success. I wrote about that just a couple of weeks ago.

For example, if, as my sister and I did, you had to move all of your grandmother’s things into your house and then, after living with the clutter for a couple of years, decide to declutter – that’s an impossible goal to manage all at once. So we thought about the best way to tackle the job and came up with the strategy of: one room at a time, in fifteen to twenty minute chunks.

We started with a corner of one room, set up our three stations: throw away (for things that we could not see anyone having a use for, ever), donate (for things that we couldn’t see ourselves using) and keep (for things we couldn’t bear to give up). We worked for fifteen minutes every day, and in a matter of months the job was complete.

A side note: don’t ever feel badly about keeping something when you’re trying to declutter. You’re entitled to your feelings. Think about the item. Will you be sorry if you never see it again? You can always get rid of something but you can’t get it back.

And the goal of losing weight. If you have more than 3 pounds to lose, that’s a BIG GOAL. It’s hard and needs to be addressed as a true achievement. Intermediate goals should be set and addressed.

Little goals

I practice my balance every day by standing on one foot for a minute while I brush my teeth. That’s a total of two minutes, which is how long we’re supposed to brush our teeth. My little goal is to not put a toe down before the time is up. My reward if I’m successful? Well, in this case, just the knowledge that I’m growing stronger and my balance is improving. I’ve been doing this long enough that the exercise is a habit.

But your little goals can range from substituting a piece of fruit for the candy you usually eat in the afternoon, to focusing on work for an extra five minutes. And then reward yourself with a big stretch or an extra round of Spider Solitaire.

My goal of 10 regular pushups is a medium-sized goal. It’s big enough that it needs to get chopped up and intermediate goals set, but not big enough that it will take months. And when I reach that goal? I’ll think of another.

You’re not alone

I have to apologize to you. For some time now, I’ve been writing about what it takes to be healthy, eat right to lose weight, exercise regularly and it may have seemed like you have to do it in a vacuum. That’s just not true!

You’re not alone

You’re not alone. You shouldn’t be alone, especially not on this journey. The more you involve other people who support you the better! If your friends and family truly want what’s best for you then they can only support your path to fitness. 

After all, we humans are social beasts. When we’re around others who have the same set of beliefs, we thrive. We have meaningful discussions and make each other think. When we’re with others who support us, we’re growing our resilience, just as we’re helping others grow theirs. 

And these days, we’re able to physically see our friends and family more than in the past year. It’s a time for togetherness, happiness and optimism.

Get together!

Your journey to fitness should be an opportunity for togetherness! 

Friends can help in your fitness journey. You are not alone.

By all means, involve your friends and family in your fitness journey. Share healthy recipes. Or go to your favorite restaurant that offers options that are appealing to you with your modified – healthy – mindset. 

Be sure that those around you really are supportive. I don’t mean to sound negative, but you definitely only want people around you who really care about your best interests.

Just like you can sabotage your own efforts, others can, too. So my suggestion is to explain exactly what you’re doing and your reasons. Offer any research that you’ve done if questions are raised. 

It’s natural to resist change. And that can be true about personal change as well. Make sure that your friends and family know that you’re still you! You still have the same interests, hobbies (with maybe a few healthier ones added to the mix), taste in clothes and books, and love for chocolate. Don’t let those who are resisting your change, change your mind! You’re on the road to health and wellness. This can only benefit everyone around you.

And when your “tribe” knows that you haven’t actually joined a cult, and you’re on the fitness path for good reasons, they may even join you!

Commitment is easy

I’ll use losing weight as an example, but the same truth holds for nearly every undertaking. They say that losing weight takes real commitment. So you hesitate because, well, commitment. But commitment is easy.

Where do you want to be?

When the path offered to you is the best way to get to where you want to be, it’s easy to stay committed to that path. When your reason for taking that path is so important to you that it keeps you up at night, has you researching solutions at all hours of the day, and distracts you so much that you find it difficult to focus on other things, commitment is easy.

If the vision you have for your life involves playing with kids, grandkids, dogs or even cats, commitment to your weight loss path is easy. If you want to work in your garden or even sit comfortably in a chair, if you have that focused picture in your brain, commitment to losing weight is easy.

Those triceps are not going to work themselves. When I realized that I really wanted my arms to be toned, commitment to that was easy.

My grandmother had triceps that I did not want. Really did not want. I realized that at an early age, when she was probably no older than I am now (65). I wanted toned arms, not wiggly jiggly arms. Commitment to that was easy. So most every workout I do now has a section that focuses on triceps (triceps kickback exercise pictured).

If your reason for undertaking that journey is so overwhelming that there is no other option than to take it, then there’s no question of your commitment.But if you think to yourself that it would just be “nice,” then you won’t be committed to that goal.

Do you have the reason to commit?

So, think about your reasons to undertake that journey. Are they all-consuming, or just “nice?” If they’re just nice, this is probably not the time for you to start. If you have questions, if you’re not certain, then certainly you’ll fail.

On the other hand, if your reason is so huge that it takes up most of your brain, it’s time to focus. Recognize that no one else will do this for you. (I wrote about this a while ago.) Time to plan. Start to think of a concrete method to get you to where you want to be. 

Once you have a reason and a plan, there’s no stopping you! It’s time to put that plan into action.

Next step: set goals. I find that it’s best to lay out my ultimate goal – what the final picture looks like. Then set intermediate goals. These goals must be challenging, but achievable. And they must be written down. If you see your goals in your own handwriting, they’re yours. You have an investment in them. 

Start brainstorming. What do you REALLY want?

Positive reinforcement works for me

In addition to writing articles about fitness and trying to inspire other (mostly) women over … a certain age …. to become more fit, I train my dogs using positive reinforcement. It occurred to me lately that positive reinforcement works for me, too. 

Booker is heeling at Fran's side: positive reinforcement works

In the dog training world, many trainers, including me, have moved to a place where we reward the dog for doing what we ask them to and ignore other behaviors (unless they do something really outrageously wrong). A big difference from about twenty years ago (maybe less than that), when it was a common practice for handlers to jerk the dog on a choke chain into place and hurl a jar filled with noisy pebbles at a dog. Fear was the common motivator in dog training. Now our dogs learn to think and make correct choices.

Now my dog walks at my side when I tell him to, looking up at me for his next “assignment.” I reward that behavior.

How does that positive reinforcement work for me?

I know that there are certain “behaviors” that I’m supposed to do. Eat well. Go to work. Be nice to other people. Exercise a few times a week. If I do all that, I give myself a reward. That reward could be something as insignificant as a shower after my workout. Maybe an extra piece of tomato on my sandwich. Why so minimal? Because these things have become habits for me. 

The newer a behavior is, when I’m trying to form a new habit, the bigger and better the reward. The same for dog training. If I’m just starting to teach my dog to walk close to my left side, I’ll give him a jackpot reward the first couple of times he finds that position on his own. That way he’ll be more likely to repeat the behavior! But after a period of time, say a few weeks, my dog has been walking in heel position on his own for all that time. So, a periodic reward will spark his enthusiasm and keep him there. In the same vein, after a particularly tough workout, I might reward myself with an extra long stretch. 

Positive reinforcement for the masses

Lately we’ve seen states and municipalities reward residents for getting COVID vaccines. They’re rewarding a behavior that people were either resistant to or saw no benefit in for themselves. That’s positive reinforcement working in a very big way. 

Positive reinforcement works for me, it’ll work for you. And it’s certainly a lot more palatable than punishing myself for something I didn’t do.

It’s (mostly) what you eat

Trying to lose weight? That seems to be the permanent state for many of us.There’s no instant cure, and it’s mostly what you eat. A sad statement, but true. Losing weight is hard. Really hard. Especially as we get older. And it seems to be even harder for us women. So many of my friends are struggling to lose the extra pounds the pandemic caused them to pack on. And it’s harder after menopause to maintain our current weight without gaining any.

Losing weight after menopause is not impossible

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s not impossible. Yes, hormonal changes tend to increase our appetite and change the way our bodies store fat. Unfortunately, it’s around our middles. And after menopause our activity levels tend to decrease which leads to loss of muscle mass. 

But we can change that. It is not a foregone conclusion that you can’t lose weight after menopause. 

The same methods that worked before menopause to lose weight work after. It just takes more discipline and thought on our part to make them work.

So, what’s the plan?

In order for you to lose weight, the formula is very simple. You have to burn more calories than you consume. Simple, right? It’s mostly what you eat: specifically it matters how much you eat. No matter what you read anywhere else, the combinations don’t matter. Where your food comes from doesn’t matter. What matters are the numbers.

After that it’s a head game. 

It's mostly what you eat: you can eat a lot of salad or a little ice cream for the same calories.
You can eat a lot of salad or a little ice cream for the same calorie count.

Your body will trick you to eat more. A calorie of ice cream looks a lot different than a calorie of kale. Your mind wants more ice cream. Or cheese puffs. Sometimes it’s really hard to say no to that. And that’s the hard part. It’s hard sticking to the plan when the numbers on the scale don’t move.

For long-term success, it works best to lose weight at a slower rate. If you slash your calorie intake, you’re going to be hungry. Your body will tell you that it’s starving. And even if you lose a ton of weight quickly, you’ll gain most if not all – or even more – of it back within six months. Plus, you won’t be taking in the quality nutrients you need to maintain your muscle and bone mass.

To maintain our weight, experts say that most women need about 1,400 to 1,800 calories a day to maintain their weight. Taller women and those who weigh more to start are at the higher end of the range and those of us (like me) who are smaller need less. That has never seemed fair to me, being “height-challenged.” But, anyway …

So it stands to reason that eating less than 1,400 calories a day will put you on the road to weight loss. Experts say that cutting 200 – 300 calories a day makes sense for weight-loss of about a pound a week. Four pounds a month sounds pretty good for a sustained weight-loss plan. 

And this is a plan that you can stick to. You’ll be able to take in the nutrients your body needs and lose the weight that you need to.

But, wait. You always write about exercise being important

Yes, yes I do always write about exercise. Exercise lets me burn even more calories so that I can eat more. And exercise has other benefits beyond weight-loss that I’ve written about.

But today it’s about the head games your body plays with your diet.

Those hormones that I referred to at the top of this article will trick you into snacking. They’ll trick you into eating more mashed potatoes. And those extra calories will go to your belly.

So you have to play more serious head games with yourself to stay on the straight and narrow path. 

No, you don’t want that cookie. Water sounds delightful. I’ll take a walk instead of eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer. In the coming weeks I’ll talk more about my tips and tricks for sticking with the plan. 

For now, please know that it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. But you’re fierce and able to do it.

How to truly focus

Exercise is another area where it helps to know how to truly focus. Focus on the muscles the exercise is targeting and on your form.
To get the most out of an exercise, you must truly focus on the muscles you’re targeting and your form.

I write about focus about once a month. But I don’t think I’ve written about how to truly focus. Focus is an integral part of getting anything done. To single-mindedly work on a task to completion. To work only on that task and not grasp at shiny objects for as long as it takes to complete that task.  For some tasks your focus can be narrowed to just seconds. But for others, if a task requires many steps, your focus must last and last…

For example, if I’m writing a blog post (like this one!) I must gather my thoughts, decide on how I want to approach a topic, form an outline with the progression of thoughts, actually write the article and make sure it’s in some semblance of grammatically correct English. Writing an article can take up to an hour, which is a long time to focus.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult to focus. Our phones are always nearby – the most attractive productivity-busters around. The news is always on and it’s hardly ever good. Noise is everywhere. 

So, how can we get things done?

  1. Decide what you want to get done
  2. Break it down into manageable chunks
  3. Remove distractions
  4. Clear your mind
  5. Do it.
  6. Reward!

Decide what you want to get done

For example – me writing that article. Or, it could be cleaning out a closet. Making dinner. Decide on the task.

Break it down

Some tasks don’t really require dividing up. Like making dinner. 

Others will lend themselves to tackling in pieces. Like writing that article: Decide on a topic; Create an outline; Write notes on outline items; Write the article – section by section; Proofread and edit; Publish.

Or organizing a closet: Divide up that closet and go at it one section at a time. 

Remove Distractions

This can be wrenching for some people because it requires turning off notifications and not looking at your phone. If that’s hard for you, turn off your phone. If you can’t do that, put it in a different room while you get your task done.

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s not forever. That’s why we break tasks down into manageable pieces. 

Now put the dogs in another room too, or in crates if you use them. Because you’ll be tempted to play with them. 

Clear your mind

For some tasks, this may not be necessary. If you’re trying to create, you will want to start with a clear mind. So close your eyes for a few seconds and think “nothing.” If that’s not possible, try a short Guided Meditation (like the Garden walk). Open your eyes and …

Do it

Get that task done. Or the section you’re working on. Remember that this is not a prolonged period of time that you’ll be without your Insta notifications or your playmate (dog). Just as long as it takes to get that section of your larger task done.

Also remember that the more you practice this sequence and remind yourself how to truly focus, the easier it will become.

Reward

Go play with your dog.