The good stress

When I think of “stress,” my brain starts whirring, my heart starts pounding, I start to sweat, and I’m not happy. Most people, I think, react the same way to most stress. In fact, the World Health Organization defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain.” And when this type of stress continues, it can become “distress” which leads to anxiety and overwhelm. But there is a “good” stress – called “eustress.” 

Stress can be beneficial

Eustress can be a beneficial emotion, leading to “positive emotional arousal, leading to activation and engagement” with the world around us, according to a paper in the National Library of Medicine. 

Exercise is stressful, but "good" stress.
Exercise is “good” stress

So, eustress is “manageable, acute, and short-term.” Think of exercise as an example. We’re placing stress on our bodies when we exercise. But exercise by definition is short-term, and the stress we put our bodies in is acute – we voluntarily raise our heart rates or work our muscles in a way that’s different from their normal state. And the reason that we exercise is to become more fit, release endorphins and improve our mental well-being.

Nurtures our well-being

“Eustress is the physical, mental, and/or emotional tension that is placed on the mind and body when we engage in activities that actually nurture our well-being and foster growth,” says Andra Brown, a NY-based licensed mental health counselor who specializes in anxiety, racial identity, and stress. Brown says that eustress can make us excited and motivated. When we feel eustress, we feel compelled to act in a positive manner. Our mindset improves when we’re under eustress. And when we act positively, our resilience grows.

If I get an idea for an article, and I know it’s a good one, I’m fired up. I open a new Google Document and write rapid-fire until that idea is down in black and white. 

Stress and exercise

I’m not excited to exercise, as you know. But, once I push “Play,” the music comes on and the instructor gives the first direction, I start moving and can forget about everything else. Good stress indeed!

Public speaking can even be eustressful

Brown emphasizes that eustress triggers can increase productivity. Think about the last time you spoke in front of a small group of friends about a subject you’re passionate about. Even though public speaking may usually terrify you, when it’s about a topic that’s near and dear to your heart, you probably spoke eloquently and far more succinctly than you believed you could.

As you’ve seen in previous articles, exercise generates energy. Even if I’m tired before a workout, I feel energized afterward! Exercise, therefore, is positive stress. It feeds our body and mind.

I try to combine distress and eustress

Listening to the news, on the other hand, is “distress.” It brings on feelings of anxiety and is practically debilitating. I do like to know what’s going on in the world, though, so I pair watching the national news every day with a calming Sudoku puzzle. On one hand, I’m anxious, but on the other, I’m solving a puzzle. I’m hoping that the eustress outweighs the distress. Indeed, Brown says that during moments of eustress, we are able to perceive certain challenges as less threatening.

So, there’s no need to fear stress – just do everything you can to make it good stress.

Invisible benefits of exercise

I agree with Khloe Kardashian

I’m not a Kardashian fan. I don’t follow any of them. But I read an article about how Khloe Kardashian loves the invisible benefits of exercise, and I have to agree with her. Kardashian turns to exercise for the “mental release” it gives her. Exercise gives her power over her life – it’s one thing she can actually control. And it’s true – you decide what kind of exercise you want to do. You decide when to do it. How hard to exercise, and how long your session should be. I choose to exercise at an intense level. I get the most out of the 30 minutes I’m willing to spend on exercise.

It’s not about the scale

It’s not about losing weight – Kardashian says she hasn’t stepped on a scale in ages. Because a scale is just numbers. If you’re happy with how you feel, how your clothes fit, and you’re healthy, then your weight shouldn’t matter so much. 

Exercise for confidence

An intense workout makes me happier.
An intense workout leaves me happier in a short amount of time

Kardashian also extols the confidence that exercise gives her. We’re powerful when we improve our heart, our muscles and our bones. Exercise not only improves our physical health, but our mental health too. The mental release is one of the invisible benefits Khloe Kardashian finds in exercise. I’ve often written that when I’m in a bad mood, my sister won’t talk to me until after my workout. I’m in a much better mood then. The endorphins released during an intense workout make me happier and makes everyone less depressed. After a good workout, we’re much more able to face any difficulties with the confidence boost we get.

Improve your mindset with exercise

Exercise is good for your mindset too. That’s another invisible benefit of exercise. Kardashian admits to previously having unrealistic goals, like cutting out all sugar or working out five days a week. But now, with her consistent fitness practice, Kardashian is all about seeing exercise as a tool for wellness. And that’s a very healthy outlook. I don’t exercise because I want to fit into Size 2 jeans. That’s never going to happen. I exercise because I want to remain strong and independent, and do the things I want to do. Exercise is part of my healthy aging routine.

3 tips to make working out easier

Make working out easier on yourself. This is not to say that you should make your workouts easy. Rather, make it easy to exercise and get the full benefit of that exercise, especially for our healthy aging.

Get the maximum benefits

You know that there are many benefits to exercise. I wrote about this ‘way back in 2015! From the physical benefits to your bones, muscles, heart, lungs – to mental benefits, like improved memory and cognition and improved sleep. So, we still have to get our workouts in. So, to make sure that we get the most out of our workouts, here are 3 tips to make working out easy:

Tip #1 – Know yourself

My workouts are more intense with an instructor calling the moves.
My workouts are more intense with an instructor calling the moves.

If you’re the kind of person who’s a go-getter and won’t slow down or take out lighter weights, good for you. But I know that I won’t work at maximum intensity if I did a workout on my own. My powered treadmill ensures I don’t slow down. I need an instructor to make sure I get in all my reps. So, I shove in an exercise DVD and follow the instructor. I know that I’m working and not easing off.

Tip #2 – You’ll do it if you like it

Do a workout you like – or at least, don’t mind doing. If I look at my calendar and see that a workout I don’t care for is on today’s schedule, I might just find something else that needs to get done. Like cleaning out my sock drawer. Even though running is not my favorite exercise, I like the audiobook I’m listening to. And my time on the treadmill is the only time I listen. So I run. 

Tip #3 – Clear motivation

Know why you’re exercising. And it’s probably not for the physical and mental benefits. It’s to make sure that you can keep up with the grandkids. You exercise because you want to travel and walk around the cities you visit. Or you just want to take long walks with your significant other. For me – I want to run my dog in Agility. And I want to eat chocolate.

When you know what it takes to get the maximum benefit from your workout, when you know the kind of workout you like doing, and when you know why you’re exercising, you’re making your workouts easier on yourself. You know that you’ll get the maximum impact from the minimum time you spend on exercising.

Best motivation to exercise

What's the best motivation to exercise - and keep on exercising?
I need motivation to keep exercising

Most of us don’t exercise just because we feel like it. And it’s not for a general thing like, “Exercise is good for our healthy aging.” I know that doesn’t work for me… I need a specific reason to exercise – motivation, in psychology terms. My motivation to exercise comes from inside and outside myself. I know the health reasons to exercise are many, and I also know that if I exercise I’ll burn calories and I can eat more. I also know that if I exercise I’ll fit into my pants – and I’m vain enough to not buy a larger size. We all feel internal and external (intrinsic and extrinsic) motivation for pretty much everything we do. So what’s the best motivation to exercise?

First – what is intrinsic motivation? 

Have you ever been curious about something and took it upon yourself to find out more about it? Do some in-depth research just for your own gratification? For example, years ago I was curious about the best conditions for raising a particular species of orchid. So I did some research and found that the eastern-facing windows in our little sunroom had the perfect light for this species. So I got little hangers for the orchids and they just went crazy, growing and blooming every year. That’s intrinsic motivation. I was motivated by my own curiosity to find out more. There was no reward, other than the information I gleaned.

Extrinsic motivation

By contrast, then, extrinsic motivation implies that a reward will be conveyed when the task is completed. Completing a job for payment is extrinsic motivation.

What kind of motivation will keep us exercising?

To keep on exercising, it’s best to have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The only way we’re going to keep doing something that’s hard, that makes us sweat and our muscles shake, is if we get something more out of it than a future potential benefit. Just because I lose a pants size 3 months from now (the reward) is not going to get me on the treadmill this afternoon. But, what will get me on the treadmill? The satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing something good for my body. Also, the fact that I know I’ll be in a much better mood when I’m done will get me pushing up the speed and the incline.

So, the best motivation to exercise is both internal and external. Think about your own reasons for exercising. Are they important? Do you feel or see a reward every time you exercise? Or is it just the knowledge that your future self will benefit? If that’s the case, try to think closer to the present. You may need to adjust your goals. You’ll keep at it longer.

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!


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.

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. 

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.

Exercise intensity after menopause

Exercise is for everyone.
Exercise is for everyone

Here’s something we can all agree on: no one is getting younger. It’s also a fact that women go through menopause at some time mid-life. The CDC has emphasized the importance of exercise for everyone, at every age. So, even though women’s bodies are changing, does that mean that our exercise should change? If we’re used to intense exercise, can we continue with that intensity? Or, if we need to start doing something, what’s the right intensity level? What’s the proper exercise intensity after menopause?

The short answer

Everyone is different. You know your own body, so do what feels right.You still should challenge yourself, but you might want to be creative about the challenge. 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama is quite open about her menopause experience. If you recall, when she lived in the White House she famously led “fitness boot camps” for friends and came to be known as the “Drillmaster.” Everyone wanted Michelle Obama’s beautifully toned arms. Mrs. Obama still exercises, but she admits that she’s toned down the intensity. She has found that she cannot push herself as hard as she used to. Obama and her friends turn more to flexibility rather than cardio workouts. Not only that, Obama no longer leads all the workouts, but her group of friends keeps everyone fit and healthy.

The answer for me

As you know, if you’ve been reading my articles, I work out regularly. I’ve challenged myself and as a consequence can run faster now than I ever could before – because I committed to it. I still don’t enjoy it and probably never will, but that’s not why I run. 

The answer for everyone

Listen to your body. If you’re feeling good, perhaps push yourself a little harder. If an exercise is especially tough, ease up. Perhaps focus a little more on lower intensity moves or work in an extra Yoga or Pilates program.

Watch the “slow weight creep”

Mrs. Obama admitted to the “slow weight creep” of menopause. As she wasn’t able to maintain the intensity, she wasn’t burning the calories that she used to. And so had to be mindful of her intake. “I have to be more mindful, not obsessive, but more mindful,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic agrees with Michelle Obama’s assessment: “Women tend to lose muscle mass and gain abdominal fat around menopause. Regular physical activity can help prevent weight gain.”

Now’s the time to improve your balance too

The Mayo Clinic also recommends working on your balance to improve stability and prevent falls. “Try simple exercises, such as standing on one leg while brushing your teeth. Activities such as tai chi also can be helpful.” Please note, though, that while tai chi improves balance over time, the improvement is cumulative. Tai Chi practice over a period of time will help your balance. The simple exercises found in the Week of Core-Centered Balance Moves can start helping you in just a couple of minutes a day.

Never stop

I’ve known many people who view retirement and aging as an excuse to quit their exercise programs. But, now is the time to get fit and strong and live our best lives – actually do the things we worked for, for all those years. Listen to your body. If you’re feeling good and things don’t hurt, your exercise intensity after menopause does not have to decrease. Take the time your body needs to recover, but don’t stop.