Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving

The power of gratitude

Here in the US yesterday was Thanksgiving. A day that traditionally is spent with friends and family, eating lots of food, then lying practically comatose on the couch watching football. The last few years many have truly embraced the “thanks” part of the holiday, and that’s a wonderful thing. The power of gratitude is broad, creating physical and mental well-being.

Gratitude for resilience, healthy aging and happiness

The act of being grateful can go far in promoting healthy aging, happiness and optimism, but only if it’s more than one day a year. 

Every day I make a point of specifically stating things I’m grateful for. Some days it’s really easy, when all my chores are done and the dogs have been behaving themselves. On harder days, though, it’s more difficult. But those days are the days when even the smallest thing means the most. When the dogs have gotten into the garbage, when business has not been the best, when things break – those are the days that I need to list specific things I’m grateful for.

Things I’m grateful for

Like if my sick old dog hasn’t thrown up that day, then I have another quality day with him. When my sister and I have a productive discussion, our relationship has grown stronger. And the headache that’s been plaguing me for the better part of a week goes away. Sweet relief! 

Gratitude gives me warmth

Those are the times that my gratitude fills me with warmth. And that feeling makes me want to spread that warmth to others, so that they can feel what I’m feeling. That’s the power of gratitude. Then I feel able to take on the world. That anything is possible. Even on bad days.

When that power of gratitude fills me, it’s easy to resist my natural inclination to just sit and scroll through my news feed. I actually want to write a chapter in my book or an article. I’ll happily do the research, even though that’s not my favorite thing. Or I’ll pick up that cleaning rag and tackle a spot I happen to see, rather than just letting it sit – and with four dogs there are plenty of spots.

Gratitude can bring people together

When I’m feeling grateful, I want to bring others into my life, rather than caving to my natural hermit tendency. And being more social also tends to increase our happiness and optimism. It’s been proven that practicing gratitude actually makes people happier. In one study, people wrote and delivered thank you notes, and their happiness was subsequently measured. It turns out that this simple act increased people’s happiness for a month. Think what daily expressions of gratitude can do! Not all gratitude needs to be expressed publicly, though. Writing in a gratitude journal works too. 

So, find that little thing you’re thankful for. Be grateful for breathing, for feeling the breeze, for the beauty of bare branches. Those little things can bring much bigger ones. If we only let it, the power of gratitude can make every aspect of our lives better. 

The 3 Keys to Healthy Aging

I have an irrational distaste for going to the doctor. Of course, if I really have to go, then I will. (I’m not like my grandmother who absolutely loved going to her doctor’s appointments and all the attention she got there.) So I do everything I can for my healthy aging. It turns out that there are 3 keys to healthy aging that all work together.

Diet is first

The first of the keys to healthy aging is diet. Your nutrition, what you eat, affects everything you do. Your diet affects your brains, your bones, and muscles. Eating a healthy diet has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, among other health concerns. It also affects your mental health. Eating well can lessen your likelihood of developing depression or anxiety. If you eat a healthy diet, you’re more likely to keep to an exercise plan. And you’ll sleep better. What you eat can determine the amount and quality of your sleep.

Number 2: Exercise

Exercise is the second key to healthy aging. The benefits gained from exercise are for every age. From lower blood pressure to stronger bones to better mental clarity, exercise is essential. And every type of exercise can help to improve your sleep. Of course, exercising closer to bedtime could make it more difficult to fall asleep. I always have more energy after I exercise, so I don’t even try to take a nap after a workout.

Sleep is Last But Not Least

And sleep is the third key. Sleep gives your body and your brain time to recover from the day’s exertions. Without proper quality sleep, you have a higher risk of certain conditions like stroke, heart disease and diabetes. When you get enough sleep, you have better energy for all the activities you love doing during the day. 

They all work together. The 3 keys to healthy aging make you more resilient and able to tackle everything life throws at you. Sleep and a good diet gives you the energy to exercise. Exercise and sleep help you make good choices, both in your diet and in the rest of your life. And, of course, diet and exercise keep you healthy and happy.

Exercise for mental health – is it enough?

I’ve mentioned that exercise will boost your optimism, improve your memory and make you more resilient. Exercise is also important for healthy aging. All that’s still true. But is exercise for mental health enough? Perhaps. I’ve mentioned that I exercise to be a nicer person. I exercise to work out my frustrations and anger. But I also exercise so I can eat. And I run to make navigating an agility course with my dog a little easier.

I don’t want to plateau

I don’t enjoy exercise. And for me, exercising for my mental health would not be enough. So I push myself. But everyone is different, and if you exercise strictly for the mental health benefits, you’ll still sweat and get endorphin rush from aerobic activity. But if you don’t push yourself, do one more repetition, run an extra hundred yards, push the speed a little, or the incline, you’ll reach a plateau in your physical conditioning. That may not matter to you.

Progressive overload

But if hitting a plateau is not in your makeup, and you want more from your exercise, then you’re like me. You’ll push a little harder, run a little further, lift a bit more. The experts call this “progressive overload.” By gradually increasing the difficulty or intensity of your workouts, you become stronger, faster, and more fit. The term is usually applied to strength training, but it can be used for any kind of workout. And by gradually increasing the difficulty, you’re continually challenging yourself. 

Gradually increase your speed or reps

Trainer Chad Barribeau, CSCS, says, “A good rule of thumb is to increase your workout load (whether weight, reps, distance, or speed) by 10 percent or less each week. This can ensure you’re challenging yourself while controlling your risk of injury or burnout.” Slow and steady increases will produce gains in your physical fitness without the soreness we frequently experience from doing too much too soon. So, slow and steady really can win the race.

Me? I’m greedy. I want it all. I want the happiness and release of frustration that the endorphins produced by a good workout bring me. And I also want the speed and strength I get from conditioning my body.

Your fitness journey is yours alone

The instructor in one of my favorite fitness program videos says “Fitness is a journey, not a destination.” And that couldn’t be more right. You can never say, “I’m fit, so I don’t have to exercise or watch what I eat any more.” You’re never done. And your journey toward fitness is yours alone.

Your goals are different than mine

It’s different than mine, or your partner’s, or your sister’s. Your fitness goals are different than my goals. You may want washboard abs. I don’t think they’re necessary.Feeling better and being fit improves my resilience. I may have a fitness goal of being able to run 8 miles an hour. You probably don’t care about how fast you run. We’re all different. Each of our fitness journeys is correct and right for us. We have to change our mindset to accept and appreciate our uniqueness.

A break in the fitness journey

The fact that we’re never done with our journey to fitness hit home to me recently. If you’ve been exercising regularly for a while and stop for a week, you know that you’ll be sore all over again. I had Covid and just didn’t feel up to exercising for a few days. I started up again,but my muscles were sore, I wasn’t as strong, and I was winded more quickly than before I was sick. So I started my journey again. There’s no destination. My journey to fitness is ongoing. And yours probably is too. I consider myself “fit,” and I want to stay that way.

Being truly alive means staying fit

If we’re alive, don’t we want to be truly alive? Experience new things, taste new flavors, smell new aromas? All that means staying fit. We may want to share our journeys, but we don’t want to be dependent on our traveling companions. We want to be able to walk around new cities. Visit new shops and restaurants. And being fit means not slowing our traveling companions down. 

Everyone’s journey has similarities

Everyone’s fitness journey has similarities. We have to plan our workouts and nutrition. Everyone has to figure out how to vary the exercises we do so we don’t overuse muscles. And we each have to measure our progress against the goals we set for ourselves somehow.

So, enlist others to go on your fitness journey with you. Walk with a friend. Commiserate about a tough workout with a classmate. Bitch and moan about running with relatives. And remember they’re on their own fitness journey.