I’m not going to try it – are you?

Not willing to dive in

“Cold plunging” for health benefits has been around for quite a while. It used to be that cold plunging was an athlete thing, but now it’s gone more mainstream. Celebrities from Kate Hudson to Lizzo to Harry Styles to Lady Gaga are sinking into ice baths for therapy or recovery. And whether it’s a cold shower, a cold bath, or a cold lake in winter, it seems like more regular people like us are joining the party.

I’m not convinced. The thought of sticking a toe into ice-cold water after a workout or lifting my face to a freezing spray of water first thing in the morning does not appeal. The benefits would really have to outweigh the fear to convince me.

Cold plunging health benefits

So, what are the cold plunging health benefits? A study not long ago showed that cold-water therapy can help reduce inflammation and perceived soreness after a tough workout. Hence, ice baths for athletes. But other health benefits of cold plunging include enhanced immune function; decreased levels of pain, stress, anxiety, and depression; and increased alertness and energy. Experts also say that sleep is improved with cold plunging.

I have to wonder how will it affect my healthy aging? Will the numbness extend my life or shorten it? Studies haven’t seemed to address this yet.

How it happens

Immersing yourself in cold water changes how the blood flows through your body. The cold water constricts your blood vessels. So when you climb out of the shower, bath or lake, you warm up and your blood starts to flow through the newly widened veins and arteries. Lalitha McSorley, PT, owner and lead physical therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy in Calgary, Canada, says “This can help improve overall circulation and oxygenation of the body.” 

Willing to take the plunge?

I'll exercise for the health benefits.

While all that sounds great, I think I’ll get my health benefits from exercise. Exercise lowers blood pressure and improves circulation. It also improves sleep. Exercise certainly boosts my mood and makes me a nicer person. 

So, I think I’ll keep my showers warm (OK, lukewarm when the weather is hot) and leave the cold plunging to others. Are you going to try it?

Exercise is not selfish

You may think that you’re being selfish when you exercise. After all, you’re the one who’s gleaning the benefits of all that sweat! You’re the one who’s burning calories, strengthening muscles and improving your bone density. You’re the one who’s sleeping better at night and remembering everything. But, think again. Exercise is not selfish.

If I didn’t exercise, I’d be dead

Exercise is not selfish

I’ve said before that exercise makes me a nicer person. If I didn’t exercise, my sister would probably have killed me by now. And no one would convict her in a court of law.

The endorphins produced during a great workout make you feel more optimistic and happier in that moment. And those endorphins can help to ease depression, with some physicians even prescribing exercise as an alternative to medication for some patients. I know that after I exercise I feel better. The powerful feeling lasts well beyond my workout, too. 

Exercise to be an example

Here’s another reason to exercise – Adrienne Bailon-Houghton, singer and entertainment magazine co-host, has recently refreshed her fitness goals. She turned 40 and wants to be an example to others, especially her son. She said, “”I think there’s something so empowering about having a son and turning 40 this year and just wanting to be a great example to him of what health and fitness looks like.” Bailon-Houghton has had health issues for most of her life, and having a son has given her a new reason to stay fit, and aware of all that means. Exercise is not selfish, and Bailon-Houghton is exercising to be a role model.

Exercise to be a role model

It’s not about the numbers. I was surprised a couple of weeks ago at my annual wellness visit that I had lost a couple of pounds. I never weigh myself at home, so I had no idea what my weight was. Feeling great and being healthy are my fitness goals. Many women my age are grandmothers, and even great-grandmothers. I like to think that it’s people like me – and you! – who reject the stereotypes of “little old ladies” who can be role models for younger generations. We can be strong and independent, and look at healthy aging as just part of everyday living. We eat right (most of the time) and exercise regularly just as part of our daily routine. Remember that exercise is not selfish – it’s good for everyone!

Exercise outside – but don’t kill yourself

Increase your balance in just a couple of minutes a day

Our doctors tell us to go outside and get some fresh air. (But be sure to slather on the sunscreen and insect repellent.) The experts tell us that being outside also helps our optimism and resilience. And, let’s face it, a deep breath outside is a whole lot different than one inside. But there are a million things that need doing, including getting our exercise in to satisfy the CDC recommendations. How do we fit it all in: meeting our goal of exercising for the recommended time, being outside, and getting everything else done? How can we effectively exercise outside, stay safe, and be kind to ourselves?

“Soft Hiking”

Two young women in the UK have introduced the notion of “soft hiking.” They’re outdoors in the natural environment, enjoying the scenery, and being active all at the same time. They exercise outside and document it on social media so others can join in their fun. They encourage others to explore their area of the world and be active in the outdoors. The notion of “soft hiking” makes exercise outside less intimidating, intense and frightening. Go at your own pace. Go off-trail to examine a unique tree or look at a historic plaque. Reconnect with nature. Be able to breathe deeply in the fresh air. And exercise outside without killing yourself.

Lower the intensity

The notion of “soft hiking” goes along with a movement I’ve seen lately to lower the intensity of pretty much everything, including exercise. Emotions have been so intense the last few years that we’re seeing a rebellion. So, let’s go along with that. Ramp the exercise intensity down, too. Even Michelle Obama has eased off on her exercise intensity. Lowering the intensity doesn’t mean that the exercise is less effective, though. It just means that we’re exercising smarter. 

Know your body

The key is to know what your body can do. High intensity exercise for you may not be as high for someone else. I always say that the way to grow is to challenge ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we have to push to the point of passing out. The key is to be kind to yourself. If the notion of “soft hiking” intrigues you, lace up your sneakers, grab your water bottle, and go find a trail nearby. Examine interesting plant life (but don’t touch it unless you know it won’t give you a rash). Read historic plaques. Find a new route to wander. Go exercise outside.

OK, exercise! Boost my mood!

By exercising, I'll boost my mood!

I’ve written before about the many benefits of exercise, including brain health benefits. One of the main reasons that I exercise is to boost my mood. I have a tendency to be a gloomy person. If there’s a dark side to a situation, I’ll find it. Likewise, I hardly ever expect things to go well – any things. It’s always a pleasant surprise when things go right, or the way they’re supposed to. I exercise to counter my natural inclination.

I’m a natural pessimist

Here’s one example. I recently received a notice from the IRS that my business had filed its tax return late and was being assessed a hefty penalty. Of course, the return was not filed late and I had documents to prove it. But I did not expect to be able to reverse the penalty. I called to speak to an agent, of course and had to wait an hour for the call back. I was on tenterhooks the whole time I was waiting. Distracting myself with menial tasks helped somewhat, but I was still sweating when my phone rang.

Even though I did not expect a good outcome, I was pleasant to the agent and figured out how to fax (yes, FAX! – who has a fax machine these days?) copies of the documentation to her while I was on the phone. To my complete surprise, she agreed that the penalty should not have been assessed and removed it. Talk about things going right! 

But in the normal course of things, I expect that clients will cancel their appointments. And that their checks will bounce. That hasn’t happened yet, thank goodness.

My mood remains upbeat – exercise does that!

My mood, though, remains upbeat. Even when I expect things to go wrong, I try to have a smile on my face. And I attribute my ability to maintain a positive attitude to exercise. The Cleveland Clinic has shown that exercise causes elevated levels of endorphins, those hormones that improve your sense of well-being to be released in your body when it’s under stress.

A lower rate of depression and anxiety is attributed to exercise. Also, in the long term, people who exercise tend to have more low-key responses to stressful events. I’m firmly convinced that exercise helps keep me in a happier state and, therefore, more resilient. 

Exercise helps reduce depression

Another study showed that being active can help with depression specifically. The effects of a combined meditation and exercise routine were studied as the program related to depression: Twice a week, people with severe depression took part in 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise over the course of eight weeks.

The result? Improved mood and decreased depression. (They tried this same method on patients who weren’t depressed, and they felt better, too.) Notably, the participants experienced neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) — something that’s typically inhibited when someone has depression. Specifically, the growth of new neural cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and mood) plays an integral part in how your mind fights depression and controls mood — and aerobic exercise can greatly increase the number of cells produced there.

So, I’ll keep on exercising. It will boost my mood and my family will like having me around more.

I changed the time I run – What happened?

Changing the time I ran really made a difference.

I’ve written before that no matter what time of day you exercise, you’ll still get benefits. The important thing is that you exercise! And that’s true. My preference is to exercise early in the day because I feel so energized afterward. I’ve had to adjust to working out in the late afternoon, after work, though. But I had to switch my schedule last week on a running day to go into work later. I thought it would be interesting to see the effect of changing the time I ran. I usually run twice a week on the treadmill, because I think running outside is even worse than running on the treadmill. The only thing that makes running even tolerable is listening to a fast-moving action novel. No self-help or memoir for the treadmill. If I’m engrossed in the story, then I’m not ticking away the seconds on the treadmill timer.

Why run if it’s so hard?

Why do I run at all if it’s so hard for me? I like to play sports with my dogs – and running agility is just that – running. So I run for endurance and to try to be in the right place to give my dog the cues he needs.

Changing the time I ran made a big difference

My afternoon runs had been getting steadily faster and the intervals longer. The total time remained the same, but in those 20 minutes, the time I took to slow down between fast intervals was less. What a shocker, then, when I ran in the morning last Thursday! Changing the time I ran made a big difference in how I felt. 

Running early was so much harder than I thought it would be. My legs felt like lead pipes. My lungs were burning inside of 5 minutes. I couldn’t go as fast as I could just a few days before. The incline was excruciating. So I backed off. I ran more slowly. I shortened the fast interval. I decreased the incline. And I made arrangements to run early every Thursday, because the higher levels of Agility are run early in the day. If I’m going to be able to compete, I have to be able to run early. So I’ll train for it. I’m changing the time I run to get ready for competition.

Time of day actually does matter

As it turns out, though, the time of day does seem to matter in the actual results you might see. A recent study by researchers at Skidmore College showed that women who exercised in the morning had greater fat loss. Women who trained later in the evening gained more upper body strength and power. There was little difference in performance improvement in men.

All exercise will give you benefits for our healthy aging such as heart health, better sleep and improvements in your mood. But if you ladies want to lose more fat, try working out early!