Yes, you need more sleep

True confession time: I’ll start. I haven’t been sleeping well lately. How about you? If you’re like most Americans you haven’t been getting the prescribed 7 to 9 hours nightly either. (ref: Centers for Disease Control) And, chances are if you are sleeping for 7 hours it may not be good quality. I know when I wake up, the sheets are all twisted and the pillows are often on the floor. (Although that might be from my dog’s wiggling around.) We need good quality sleep for our health and well-being. Back in the early days of the pandemic I wrote that sleep difficulties were common. Things haven’t changed a whole lot in the last couple of years.

What happens when you don’t get enough?

If we don’t get enough zzzz’s, we run the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Sleeping better and for a longer time can help in regulating blood sugar, which is an indicator of diabetes. 

Not getting enough zzz’s has also been linked to obesity. This can have had its roots in childhood – it’s linked to brain development in children and insufficient sleep can adversely affect the hypothalamus which regulates appetite and the expenditure of energy. However, studies have revealed an association between short sleep and excess weight in all ages. So, we’re not exempt from this. If we’re overweight as adults, don’t use the old “I’m too tired to eat right and exercise” excuse!

It’s been suggested that insufficient duration and sleep disorders contribute to depression. The CDC reports that rest disturbance has been a notable symptom of depression, but it could be that other symptoms of depression decrease with better sleep.

No one is exempt

No one is exempt from the need for 7 to 9 hours. Jennifer Lopez related the story of the panic attack she had in the early days of her career brought on by lack of sleep. Now JLo makes sleep a priority. In fact, it’s an important part of her healthy aging routine.

How to sleep better

Exercise during the day can lead to better sleep at night.
Exercise during the day can lead to better sleep at night.

Here are some recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on how to get enough, and better quality rest:

  • Be like JLo and prioritize your sleep. Plan on a bedtime that will give you those 7 to 9 hours. Go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time – even on the weekends.
  • Make sure the environment is conducive to sleep. Your room should be comfortable, dark and a good temperature. Most people have better rest when it’s a little cool.
  • If you can’t bear to take electronics out of the bedroom, turn them off a half hour before bed.
  • Don’t eat large meals or drink alcohol just before bed.
  • Exercise: physical activity during the day can help you sleep better.

Even though you may not have known all the implications, this is really nothing very new. Eat right, exercise, and get your 7 to 9 hours a night for healthy aging.

Turn your rough day around

Lately it seems I’ve been having a series of rough days. Days when hardly anything goes right. I’ve learned that you can’t change the outside world, so when important banking software crashes, you really can’t do anything about it. When it’s pouring and you have to make 5 stops after work, put your raincoat on. What you can change, though, is your mindset to turn your rough day around.

Change what you can for the positive

The first thing is to figure out if you can change anything that you previously thought you couldn’t. Can you postpone any of your errands to a day when it’s not raining? If your banking task is crucial, can you do it in person? If you can’t change things, give a mental sigh, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “Oh well. I’d better get changed, then.” If it were me having to run errands on a sopping wet day, I’d reward myself with a refreshing beverage. 

Change your immediate mindset

If, when you get home, things are still so rough that you’re having a hard time concentrating, it may be time to close your eyes for a few minutes and clear your mind. Listen to a short guided meditation or just let your brain clear out. This is what Dr. Donna Williams, a family medicine physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, recommends. Or if you’re feeling antsy, take a brief walk.

More long-term change for your mindset

Exercise - and my dog - turn my rough day around. Releasing endorphins and a dose of instant happiness.
Exercise – and my dog – turn my rough day around.

When I go to bed in a bad mood, I have trouble sleeping, so I try to change my mood before bedtime. Most days I exercise in the late afternoon which makes me feel more positive about my world. Dr. Kiran Bojedla, a family medicine physician at Advocate Christ Medical Center, agrees. “On days I feel tired or overworked, I often find the endorphin release from a run or short workout made my day better. It doesn’t have to be much – even a short 20-minute walk around your neighborhood can give you a feeling of accomplishment and boost your mood.”

On days when I don’t feel like exercising (most days), but do it anyway, I feel completely virtuous after a workout and the world certainly looks better. And that endorphin release that Dr. Bojedla mentions lasts for hours.

You’ll increase your resilience too

Consciously improving your mindset will make you happier. Happiness increases optimism, which increases your resilience. Improve your mindset, get happy and more resilient. You know that there will be tough days in the future. It happens that way for everyone. With increased resilience you’ll be able to face those tough days with more equanimity.

Keeping track of everything is impossible

Keeping track of everything is impossible. Stuff that you think you should know, like the size and brand of your favorite pair of jeans, you just can’t pull out of your brain. Or the title of the next book in the series you’re reading. And the albums you already own by your favorite music group (is that a thing with streaming any more???) What was the name of that new Thai restaurant you want to try? The web sites you want to check out. 

Keeping track of everything is impossible. Eliminate the mental clutter to focus on more important things.
Eliminate the mental clutter to focus on more important things.

And yet we all try to hold this stuff in our heads. The mental clutter just increases our anxiety, plays havoc with our peace of mind and with our health. All the random thoughts running through our brains distract us from the things we should be focusing on. So, if we get rid of all that mental junk, we’ll be able to focus on those more important things. Like improving our mindset and our physical health. When we’re able to focus on these important facets of our life, we’re happier too.

I tried to put all of this stuff on pieces of paper, but, needless to say, I couldn’t find the one I wanted when I needed it, and I had little pieces of paper all over the place, contributing to the masses of paper clutter.

A low-tech solution

One way I’ve found to keep all this on hand is on paper, yes, but in a notebook. In one of those multi-ringed binders or notebooks with the card-sized inserts. One card per item so that when you don’t need the reminder any longer, or if your size or preferences change, you can discard the old card and insert the new one.

Productivity expert Laura Stack advocates the use of “category lists” in a small binder: “’It’s not like you’re constantly reviewing these lists,’ she says, but they need to be with you (in a small binder, maybe) so that when you do unexpectedly find 15 minutes to run into a bookstore or pop into the hardware store, you’re ready.”

This will help in keeping track of everything, but it can take time to record everything and to find the pertinent item. So, I don’t believe that this is an ideal solution.

Digital solution

I use Google Keep – a free list tool. It’s pretty basic, but it’s searchable. So it’s perfect to keep track of random things. If I have to run to the store to pick up a few items. I make a new Keep list and open it when I’m at the store. I can check on the books I haven’t read by my favorite authors when I’m at a used bookshop. And I can check and see if any of the books I want to read are at that used bookshop.

Another nice thing about Google Keep is that my lists are synchronized among my devices. And when I no longer need one of these lists, I can simply delete or archive it. That keeps my head clear and my desk (relatively) clear too. So while I can’t keep track of everything, I can keep track of the things that are important to me – with a little help.

Too close to home

It happened here

Everyone always says, “It can’t happen here.” Well, it happened here – or just a few miles down the road. The shooting at the Highland Park, IL Independence Day parade, just a few days ago, just a few miles away took our collective breath away. Nowhere is safe. Expect it anywhere, anytime. So, how do you shift your mindset to a place of peace following tragedy?

Dealing with tragic news

Even if a tragedy like a mass shooting incident does not involve you directly, when it’s physically close to home it hits people hard. I first learned of the shooting from a post by a friend and my brain just stopped working. I was with my sister and we turned on the TV. Of course all the local stations were covering the story but it was too early to learn any details – just that it happened. 

Our friends in Highland Park

By then we’re thinking of all our friends who live in Highland Park. And of course it’s a natural thing to go to the parade on the 4th of July. Immediately we texted and messaged those friends to make sure they were OK. But we were in shock. My mindset was spiraling down, and I could feel the anxiety start.

Our friends were fine – a couple had started to head to the parade, but they were late and the roads were already closed. Knowing that our friends were not involved did not make the anxiety go away. This happened, and it was bad. It’s natural to ask, “How will I ever be safe again?”

Methods for coping

The first step in processing a tragedy like this is just to accept that it happened. You can’t lie to yourself and make it go away. But obsessing over the news coverage is also not helping to shift your mindset.

Stick to your normal routine

Sticking to your routine will help shift your mindset away from anxiety and get you back to "normal" sooner
Sticking to your routine will help shift your mindset away from anxiety and get you back to “normal” sooner.

Keeping to your normal routine is an important way to process a tragedy, according to Dr. Munther Barakat, Director of Behavioral Therapy at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wis. By maintaining our regular schedule, we can shift our mindset back to our normal happier one in less time. It’s important not to neglect basic self-care – keep to your normal sleep routine, eat healthy meals, schedule your workouts as usual. Maintaining your regular routines will strengthen your resilience and make you more able to face the future.

Exercise works

Exercise helps me cope with my anxiety. I have to focus on what I’m doing so I don’t trip over my own feet or kick the dogs, so exercise helps shift my mindset. And that shift lasts after the workout as well.

Walk in nature

If you don’t feel up to an intense workout, just taking a walk helps to improve your mindset as well. Fifteen to twenty minutes or so of deep breathing and looking at trees helps enormously. Of course, if these coping techniques aren’t working for you – if your anxiety grows, if you’re losing sleep and productivity at work, you may want to talk to a professional about it.

Bad people are still out there

Bad people will always be in the world. But we don’t have to dwell on their existence. Shift your mindset. Be happier with yourself and your corner of the world.

A strong core leads to life without limits

Get a strong core for healthy aging.
Get a strong core for healthy aging.

I include some core exercises every time I work out. It’s not that I particularly enjoy them (I don’t). Or that they feel good (they don’t). But a strong core means that my back doesn’t hurt as much – or at all. And a strong core means that I’m less apt to fall. A strong core means a happier me. Consequently, this means that improving core strength is crucial for healthy aging.

A few years ago I fell on an uneven sidewalk, triggering incredibly painful hip bursitis and sciatica. I couldn’t move normally for weeks, and needed physical therapy to get back to some activities I enjoy. As a result, while I was sidelined, I researched ways to prevent falls. I discovered that falling is a common problem with the elderly – fully 25% of people over 65 in the US fall and require medical assistance. With a little more research, I discovered that having a strong core is the solution to many ailments that prevent seniors from living a full and active life.

What is the core?

Your core is much more than your abdominal muscles – your “6-pack.” Sure, your core includes that, as well as everything else in your torso and further down, including your hips, lower back and backside. Stabilizing your pelvis and spine, helping your body maintain posture as well as keeping us mobile are just a part of what your core is used for. 35 different muscles in your core “keep you upright and strong.”

Your core helps balance

You know that I emphasize balance. (Get your Week of Balance for tips on improving your balance.) Your core helps to keep you upright and stable, which maintains your balance. And your core will help you navigate uneven surfaces. If your core is too weak, you won’t have a chance of adjusting your pace or posture.

Your core helps your posture

I see many older people with rounded spines who walk with canes. I want to walk upright. My core helps with that – it includes all the muscles that wrap around my spine. If those muscles are strong, they can hold me upright, even when I’m sitting. If I’m upright, my head is held high and my self-confidence grows. Likewise, if I’m upright, I’m breathing better. Try this: sit in a chair, pull in your stomach and sit up straight. And breathe normally for 10 seconds. Now slump – the way you usually do – and breathe. Harder, isn’t it?

Strong core for a strong back

Ever have sciatica? It hurts. A lot. Shooting pain from your lower back down your leg. And how’s your lower back? When you get up from a chair do you hang onto your back because it’s so painful? Strengthening your core will help you back. Just sucking in your stomach (practice this – it may take you a little while to get the hang of it) when you’re standing up really helps too. Try it: when you’re sitting in a chair and are getting ready to stand up – even if you’re using the chair arms or a table to hang onto for support – suck in your stomach, plant your feet and push off. Better, right?

Everyday activities

So, your core holds you up and it helps you get up. It stands to reason that a strong core will help you in all your daily activities. Getting into and out of a car, walking around a grocery store, bending to put groceries in your car and take them out. 

Strong core for healthy aging

Are you convinced that your core is the key to living a normal life without having to worry about falling? Without worrying about how to stand up from a chair? And without planning how to get in and out of your car? If I’m three rooms away and discover that I left my water glass in the kitchen – after I sat down, I just stand up and get it. Not thinking about how to do everyday things should not be a luxury. A strong core really does lead to life without limits. 

How to get one

So – how do you strengthen your core? You’re convinced that you need a strong core, but don’t know how to start? Good news – crunches are not mandatory, and neither are planks. These are two very effective exercises for strengthening your core muscles, but they’re certainly not the only ones. 

And if your doctor has told you that you should lose some weight – don’t wait to start strengthening your core. You do have muscles under there, so start working them.

Suck it in

Start with sitting in a chair and pulling in your stomach muscles. Hold it … for 15 seconds, release and do it again. And one more time.

Leg lift

Still sitting, with your stomach pulled in and not holding on if you don’t have to, raise one leg with the knee bent. Moderate speed, then put it down carefully. And the other leg. 12 times. 

If you can do this exercise with your leg straight, go for it.

Leg circle

Sitting or standing with your stomach sucked in, draw a half-circle on the floor with your toe, leg extended. If you’re standing, you can hang onto the back of a chair or the wall for balance. 8 each side.

Knee pull

Standing – you can hang onto the back of a chair or the wall for this – while your stomach is still sucked in, pull your knee up to your chest and put it down.

Balance exercises

All of the balance exercises in the Week of Balance utilize your core without your realizing it – take advantage of the benefits of these exercises.

That’s just a start – there are so many more core strengthening exercises. All to help your balance, posture, breathing, health. Get a strong core for your healthy aging.