Pick a new hobby for your health

Pick a new hobby for your health! One of mind: hang out with dogs!
Pick a new hobby for your health! One of mind: hang out with dogs!

It’s winter. It’s cold. I don’t want to go outside for any length of time. I don’t want to go anywhere because, well, it’s cold. But staying home is dull. What to do? Start something new. Pick a new hobby for your mental health! Dr. Eric Smiltneek, a family medicine and addiction medicine doctor at Aurora Behavioral Health, says that hobbies have “great value for our happiness and positivity.” In short, hobbies are good for our mental health. 

Do your research, but pick one!

There are so many things to choose among that could hold our interest. Do your research – think of hobbies that you could picture yourself doing, then find out if there is special equipment or knowledge that would be useful in pursuing that hobby. But according to Dr. Smiltneek, don’t spend too much time on that research. Pick a new hobby and start getting happy.

The macaron experiment

Last year I made French macarons. I … almost … perfected the piping technique. I got those perfect little “feet” on the pastry, the outer crunch and inner fudginess. The sizes of the macarons were kind of random, but the finished products were delicious. And while I was in macaron baking mode, the rest of the world slipped away. 

Hobbies lower stress and grow happiness

Hobbies are great for lowering stress, anxiety and blood pressure. People who enjoy hobbies are at lower risk for depression. Growing our optimism grows our happiness, and leads to greater resilience. And we all need resilience for our healthy aging.

And hobbies grow our resilience

And people who enjoy hobbies can do it either individually or in a group. One recommendation for growing our resilience is to make connections with others. Hobbies can help us do that. When we’re in a group enjoying a hobby, we automatically have something in common. It’s easier to talk to others about that thing we have in common. If I were to continue my macaron-baking hobby, I’d certainly join a class to improve my piping skills! 
For more on meeting every challenge and growing your own resilience, download the ebook today.

5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Self-Care

If your idea of “self-care” is a high-end spa, think again. We all need self-care. It’s not an indulgence. We’re all wired tightly these days, and anything we can do to improve our mindset, grow our resilience, and do what we need to do for our healthy aging is helpful. But when we think of “self-care,” we think of facials, massage, and one-to-one training. Here are some tips for budget-friendly self-care that will leave you feeling like a million bucks.

What is “self-care?”

First – what, exactly, is “self-care?” According to Dr. Jennette Berry, a family medicine physician, it’s “anything that helps you recharge and take care of yourself so, in turn, you’ll be well to take care of the people who count on you.”

Budget-friendly or free!

Exercise

Exercise. Get moving! You think I’m a fitness nut because I recommend exercise at every turn? Maybe so, but exercise not only helps with your weight loss goals, it also gives you energy. Exercise helps you fight disease and boosts your immunity. It helps you sleep at night. It aids in our healthy aging goals. And exercise puts you in a better mood! So, go outside for a brisk walk. Or check out popular YouTube fitness videos. Many gyms offer complementary first-classes. See if you like one of those before you make a longer-term commitment.

Meditate

Meditation is an extremely budget-griendly self-care process.
Meditating lets your brain go on vacation.

Check out for a few minutes. Sit comfortably and think of absolutely nothing. It’s like your brain going on vacation for a bit. If you can’t turn your mind off, do a guided meditation. Dr. Berry says that meditation helps lower stress, controls anxiety and improves sleep. Download my short guided Garden Walk meditation. Less than 5 minutes and you’ll feel more calm. 

Take a bath

Dr. Berry says that the hot water will help you sleep and is also beneficial for aches and pains. Why not try some aromatherapy with bath salts while you’re at it? Lavender is soothing and smells wonderful.

Journal

Writing in a journal daily can help track your moods and symptoms. It can also help track your triggers – the things that happen or people say that start your feelings of stress and anxiety. Journaling your gratitude can also improve your mindset and help you get happier. You can’t be unhappy if you’re grateful. And journaling about your day can also help your memory.

Read books

Exercise your mind. Books can take you on adventures you can’t even dream about. They help you learn about other people and other cultures. Public libraries now offer not only hard copies of books, but also digital and audio-books as well. Dr. Berry says that reading is not only relaxing, it can also slow the progression of dementia.

How many of these budget-friendly self-care steps do you do daily? Easy, soothing and painless – they all contribute to our resilience and healthy aging.

Engage your core for (pretty much) everything

My sister and I have been moving furniture lately – reorganizing the house. And some of that furniture was heavy. I wasn’t worried about being sore the next day, though. It’s not that I’m strong – I’m not. But I know how to lift things, and I also know that to do practically anything without pain you have to engage your core.

If you’ve ever taken a Pilates class, you’ve probably heard the instructor tell you to do that. Much of Pilates movement focuses on the core and in order to get any benefit, you have to engage the muscle you’re working.

What is the core?

Feel it when you engage your core
Feel your core muscles

Your core combines all of the stabilizing muscles surrounding your spine and pelvis. That’s basically everything from your rib cage down to your legs. Your transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of muscle. It wraps around your waist like a girdle, connecting the rib cage to the pelvis. Next are the internal and external obliques which criss-cross your abdomen. These muscles help with twisting and bending. Finally is the rectus abdominis, or what we recognize as a “six-pack.” This also helps with bending and control of the pelvis. As you can see, there’s a lot in your core.

Why engage your core?

Having a strong core helps keep us upright and without a curved spine.It also helps us breathe.

As I’ve described – engaging your core helps prevent pain and injury and is crucial for your healthy aging. I’m prone to lower back pain, as many people my age are. Making sure my core is engaged prevents that “twang!” that I used to be all too familiar with in my back. Feeling that extra control in my core gives me a sense of security. It’s like that big belt weight-lifters and professional movers wear on the outside of their clothes. But I take mine everywhere, and I can use it any time.

How do you engage your core?

Robin Long, Pilates instructor, suggests you start to feel your core by lying on your back on a mat. If you can, bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Your transverse abdominis automatically engages when you exhale. So put your hands on your abdomen and feel the muscles as you breathe. Feel it more as you pull your abdomen toward your spine. Try to feel it tighten all the way around your waist. Try not to suck it in. Breathe normally. This will pull your stomach in a bit and you’ll sit taller. As you’re pulling in your transverse abdominis, try pulling your pelvic floor up and in. You’ve got core muscles there, too!

When you’ve got the feeling of a tight core on your back, try it on all fours.

And work on feeling your core during other exercises and your everyday life! The balance exercises we do in the Facebook Group Balance for Fitness Balance for Life also focus on the core. (And you can get that download today!)

You’ll be able to lift furniture without fear of pain when your core is engaged. But don’t unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Mix it up for less pain

Mix up your workouts for less pain
Mix up your workouts for less pain

Your doctor and your friends have all told you that you need to exercise. So, you’ve decided to start an exercise program for your healthy aging. But now what? What to do? You have pain in your hips and you don’t want to make it worse. Here’s a simple solution: mix it up for less pain! Fitness pros call it cross training. I call it the key. 

Benefits of cross training

When you mix it up and cross train, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, you’ll work practically every muscle in your body. You’ll work your muscles in different ways too, reducing the risk of overuse injuries also helping you to adapt to new activities. And since you’re doing different exercises on different days, you won’t get bored. When you’re not bored, you’ll look forward to your workouts. An extra added bit of motivation! 

Less pain when you mix several types of exercise

Dr. Sarkis Bedikian, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Trinity Hospital, says that if we’re not careful, our repetitive exercise routines and everyday behaviors could cause long-term damage to our hips and increase our risk of needing joint replacement surgeries later in life. Dr. Bedikian says to minimize wear and tear from repetitive motion by mixing several types of exercise into your routine. 

What is cross training?

Cross training combines different aspects of exercise. You’ll do cardio conditioning, strength training and flexibility work all in one week. For example, you’ll do 3 days of aerobics (cardio conditioning – get your heart rate up), 2 days of strength training (for muscle and bone strength) and 1 day of flexibility work in a single week.

Get that heart rate up!

If you love music and you like to dance, here’s a 30 minute aerobics routine from YouTube that’s great for all levels. You may have to practice some of the moves a few times to get the choreography – I sure did. But it’s lively and fun and gets you moving. For your cardio work, you can also walk / run – make sure it’s intense enough for your fitness level. 

Strength training

I’ve written before about the importance of adding strength training to your exercise regimen. Remember that you don’t need weights for your strength training – your body weight can be put to good use. Plank variations and push-ups can be incredibly intense too. It’s amazing how much sweat drips off of me when I’m holding a plank!

Flexibility

So that I can easily stand up and sit down, lean over and pet my dogs, I do a flexibility workout once a week (usually Pilates). I also incorporate some into every other routine during the week. It seems to keep my joints lubricated, important for my healthy aging. 

You’ll not only have less pain when you mix up your exercise routine, you’ll feel better, be stronger and more flexible.

Start with kindness

I started the New Year with kindness to myself and ignored the calendar.
I started the New Year with kindness to myself and ignored the calendar.

The New Year started for me with an unwelcome guest: food poisoning. I think it was from a bag of organic spring mix. It looked beautiful, tasted great, and we used it well before the “best by” date, but… You never know. New Year’s Day is usually a day for planning, goal-setting, scheduling with different colored pens. It makes my want-to-be-organized soul happy to see my little planner book all marked up. But that didn’t happen this year. I just didn’t have the energy. Instead of feeling guilty about not doing what I normally would do, I actively decided to start with kindness. Kindness to myself.

Sense of freedom

And by not going crazy with my colored pens, I felt a sense of freedom, despite feeling physically terrible. Obviously there were still things that had to get done, like caring for the dogs, but aside from that, I just relaxed, read my book, and drank water and ginger ale. 

Starting the year with kindness, making that conscious effort to be kind, has done wonders for my mindset. More peace, looking both outward and inward. And knowing that everything that has to get done will get done. I’ll make time for important things and try to let go of other, less crucial items.

Healthy aging depends on a positive mindset.

Generally happier people live longer than unhappy people or those who look on the negative side of things. Happy people have greater resilience and are more able to bounce back from hardship. So, perhaps, my conscious decision to start with kindness this year will increase my resilience!

Get the important stuff done

Starting with kindness, though, does not mean that important activities will be left undone, though. Exercise is important to my physical and mental well-being, and makes me a better person to be with, so my regular workouts will certainly continue. I’ll still prepare my lessons and craft my articles with care. 

By starting with kindness, perhaps I’ll be less focused on getting things done and be happier on the journey.

4 steps to improve your confidence

Many struggle with New Year’s Resolutions. To make some and then have them fall by the wayside is disappointing. I don’t make resolutions for just that reason. How about not making resolutions but taking action on improving something we all could use more of? Here are 4 steps to improve your confidence in the new year.

Grow and expand your mindset

Confident people are always learning. Learning new ways to do things, learning more about the world. Also, they’re learning more about themselves. Confident people are curious about pretty much everything, so want to learn. By learning more about the world, we open ourselves to different cultures and different values. People in other parts of the world do commonplace things differently than we do. And this can be completely unexpected – things that, once we’re exposed to them, we think that it makes perfect sense. 

Take time to exercise and meditate to fuel your mind and your body.
Exercise (friend optional) fuels your mind and your body. It also improves your self-worth and confidence.

Angeli Gianchandani, professor of marketing at the University of New Haven says that confident people are “avid readers and focus on self-care, making time to meditate and exercise to fuel their minds,” she says. “It is the power of their ideas and imagination to think beyond the ordinary that sets them apart.”

And confident people are unafraid of trying new things. They’re not afraid to fail. Confident people see projects that don’t go quite right as experiments. Try again and succeed! “Those who invite discomfort are able to achieve more, take more significant risks and break through barriers, and are open to facing new challenges,” says Gianchandani. “Discomfort is a form of self-growth, pushing yourself mentally to overcome fear.”

Accepting discomfort helps to eliminate the “what-if” mindset. All those bad case scenarios we’re so used to running through in our heads.

Be vulnerable

The next step to improve your confidence is to ask for advice and admit that you’re wrong (when you are!) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all make mistakes. You’re only human, after all.

“Having courage means forgetting about being perfect,” says Jonathan Alpert, author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. “So often people don’t pursue things because they feel it has to be just right. They ruminate over how to approach things, conduct themselves, or say something to the point of getting filled with anxiety and either not taking any action at all or doing so in a way that lacks confidence.”

Don’t be so afraid of making a mistake or worry about doing something wrong that you’re paralyzed into inaction.

Be kind to yourself

Another step to improve your self-confidence is to just be kind to yourself. No negative talk! “Recent research has shown self-compassion was associated with self-worth,” says Michele Patterson Ford, Ph.D., a psychologist and senior lecturer in psychology at Dickinson College.. “Knowing your value is an important component of feeling confident in oneself. Self-compassion, however, may actually provide the benefits of high self-esteem without the potential problems associated with high self-esteem, like being egotistical. The compassionate side tames the potential to be self-absorbed.” 

You know you’re worth it, but you don’t rub it in others’ faces! We know that compassionate resilience is the way to healthy aging and happiness in the future. 

Speak up!

The last step to improve your confidence is to speak up. This is the hardest thing for us introverts. Know that what you say is right and can help others. Jonathan Alpert says there will always be people who doubt you, but don’t let that stop you from speaking up, taking a chance, and doing what you believe in. “Criticism just means you got people thinking,” he says. “Many who have taken confident and bold steps have faced resistance. Stay focused on what you believe in and forge ahead.” No one can take your beliefs away from you. If you’re firm in them, stick with them going forward.

Exercise reduces severe COVID risk

Another reason to exercise

We already have lots of reasons to exercise – improve our strength, our cardio ability, strengthen our bones, decrease depression, improve our moods, help us sleep better … (whew!) So here’s another big one to motivate us: exercise reduces severe COVID risk

I'm reducing my severe COVID risk
I’m reducing my severe COVID risk

Yup – we’ve all been so worried over the last couple of years about severe COVID – the kind that puts us in the hospital or even kills us. But we exercisers have had a secret weapon all along. Since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors have said that exercising reduces the risk of severe COVID outcomes, but there hadn’t been data to support how much exercise is actually needed. 

How much exercise do we need?

Do you have to work out like a maniac for an hour every day? Is a stroll after dinner enough? Or somewhere in between, for exercise to reduce the severe COVID risk? A study released just last week studied almost 200,000 adult patients at Kaiser Permanente in California who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between early 2020 and mid-2021. Participants were asked to evaluate their own level of activity prior to their COVID diagnosis. Increments ranged from always inactive (10 minutes or less exercise per week) to always active (300 minutes of exercise per week). We want to do everything we can for our healthy aging, and the CDC’s recommendation is 150 minutes per week.

Researchers found that the more active a patient was before infection, the less their risk of hospitalization or death within 90 days of their diagnosis. “Always inactive patients were 191 percent more likely to be hospitalized and 391 percent more likely to die than those who were always active.”

The more exercise, the lower the risk

The risk of serious infection was reduced for every increment of activity. People who were “consistently active” – 150 minutes or more per week –  were 125 percent more likely to be hospitalized and 155 percent more likely to die than the “always active” group. That is a huge decrease from the “always inactive” group!

Everyone benefits from exercise

The researchers also found that the results were consistent across all demographics. No matter the age, gender or ethnic group, people who were more active were less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID. In fact, researchers even supported the notion that exercise should be promoted as a way to avoid severe COVID. 

One thing to note – this research does not make the distinction between people who were vaccinated or not. But, I always want to boost my chances of a good outcome. So I’m going to keep exercising. 

3 Morning rituals to start your day positively

Have a day filled with wonder!

I woke up yesterday and could not remember what day it was… The day before was unremarkable. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. And all the days are running together. But then I thought of something special I had planned for later in the day which lit a spark. (I planned to design a cover for my new fitness journal that’s in the works.) And suddenly the day filled with wonder. I did the 3 things to start my day positively, and the rest of the day was bright and happy and full of purpose.

It stands to reason – if your day starts well, it will progress the same way. So, let’s consider the start to the day. Everyone has morning rituals. Are yours positive? Do they inspire you to find light in your day? 

Wake up

Paul Valery, a French poet and essayist, said “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” He recognized he wouldn’t get anything done by lying around in bed all day. You need to wake up and get moving to make things happen. So, start your day positively by actually getting out of bed when your alarm goes off rather than hitting the snooze button and turning over. I have it easy – if I don’t get up when my alarm goes off my dogs will step on me…

One positive thought

“Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.” The Dalai Lama knows a great deal about having the right mindset. To create positive energy which will follow you throughout the day, start with a positive thought from the moment you wake up. So even if you don’t have something special planned for the day, think of something positive and that will create positive energy for your day. You’ll grow your resilience with your optimism and create that uplifting mindset. Most days I choose happiness! Whatever else I have going on, happiness makes the day brighter.

Today is my future

“My future starts when I wake up every morning.” Jazz Musician, Miles Davis, realized the value of a fresh and positive start to every day. Embrace this attitude by reminding yourself from the moment you wake up just what you’re striving for and why this is important. Reach forward toward your goals. Davis also was famously frustrated by fellow musicians retreating – going backward rather than forward: “Instead of going forward he was going backwards. I told him not to lose what he brought from Chicago, but some guys just go backwards, man.” (about Darryl Jones, bassist) 

Every day: wake up and stretch. Have a positive thought while brushing your teeth. And remember that today is your future: it’s going to be great!

Do workouts you enjoy

For fitness contributor Elizabeth Enochs, sticking with workouts she actually enjoys is the key to staying motivated to exercise on a regular basis. “I used to work out nearly daily, spending hours in the gym each week. I looked forward to intense cardio and strength training — but for the last couple of years, I’ve only been interested in exercising outdoors and stretching in my house. Hikes, long walks, bike rides, and kayaking trips are my workouts of choice these days. Currently, I’m working out less than I did for most of my 20s and my workouts are easier, but I wouldn’t be exercising at all if I only allowed myself to do HIIT.”

A struggle to stay motivated

Such great advice. It’s a struggle to stay motivated to exercise, day in and day out. I’ve written that it’s not one and done. I wish it were, but you can’t exercise once and say, “I’m good for life. Never have to do that again.” Nope. as one of my workout instructors says, “Fitness is a journey, not a destination.” And especially now, as we get older, exercise is crucial for our healthy aging.

In it for the long haul

I enjoy the books I listen to while running.
I enjoy the books I listen to while running.

We’re in it for the long haul, so you have to stick with workouts you actually enjoy. Because if you don’t enjoy your workout, you’re not going to do it again. As simple as that. I don’t enjoy the act of running, but I do it a couple of times a week. Why do I do it if I don’t enjoy it? Because I enjoy the books I listen to. I see the benefits of running in my improved stamina and endurance, but I wouldn’t keep at it if it weren’t for the audiobooks I listen to on the treadmill.

CDC recommendations

Of course, the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week for adults, so I need more than the 40 minutes of running I do a week. On Tuesdays I usually do Pilates to give my knees a rest. Why Pilates? I enjoy the muscle-lengthening feeling I get, plus it’s a terrific core workout. That half hour goes by quickly. 

And a couple of other days every week I do combined aerobics and strength training workouts. I have a library of workout DVDs that I … kind of … enjoy. Combining the aerobics with weights gives me a double bang for my buck.

Do workouts YOU enjoy

But that’s what I do. You have to do the workouts that you enjoy … or sort of enjoy … or don’t mind doing … otherwise you won’t do it at all. So, go for hikes or bike rides. Or dance up a storm and get your heart rate up and the sweat running down your face (and other parts). Do yoga or pilates and get flexible. Because if you don’t exercise, you don’t get the benefits. And you can’t eat that extra half-serving of pasta.

Make it painful to not exercise

Exercise shouldn't hurt, but if the reward for doing it isn't motivating, make it hurt not to.
The exercise shouldn’t hurt, but not exercising should have consequences.

Cue the finger wag! I’ve suggested some ways to help motivate yourself to exercise, including a reward for a good sweat-soaked session. But when you really, really don’t feel like putting down the remote and getting off the nice comfy couch, and changing into your workout gear, something more drastic may be what’s needed. Sometimes you have to make it painful to not exercise.

Reward yourself to exercise

Promise yourself a real, tangible reward for getting in that exercise session today. (I’m a big fan of rewards!) Like a yummy strawberry smoothie with maybe a couple of shavings of dark chocolate, or a quiet place to read a chapter in the book you’re into, or an episode of that series you’re streaming on Netflix. Every day that you exercise, that reward will kick in. It’s OK to do nice things for yourself. Be mindful of that smoothie, though. Be sure that it fits into your eating program for the day. Remember that a smoothie is not a milkshake, although sometimes it can taste like one! 

Over time, with enough rewards, you’ll actually look forward to exercising. Exercising becomes a habit, and one that you would miss if you don’t do it. And exercising is such a great habit for our healthy aging. Your brain actually equates the act of exercising with the ensuing reward – and over time you don’t even need the reward. Things become easy when they’re habits.

When the reward isn’t motivation enough

But some days, not even those tempting treats will prompt you to get up. On days like that, you need the other part of the equation.

If I don’t do X, then I have to Y

Here’s where it becomes painful to not exercise. Not physical pain, of course. How about pain in the pocketbook. Make a contract with yourself. For every day you don’t exercise and there’s no good excuse, you have to pay your favorite charity $20. These days, that’s real pain. Or, if you’ve told your friends and family that you’ve started an exercise program, then you have to tell them that you didn’t exercise. That embarrassment is also real pain.

Make it hurt in your wallet or hurt your pride. Even if you don’t actually tell your friends that you haven’t exercised, you’ll feel the guilt. That hurts too.

Make it painful not to exercise. So go do it.