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.

Keep your exercise low impact

I’m crazy, and I know it. Don’t be like me on those two days a week that I consciously engage in something that I’m telling you not to do. I run two days a week, but I’m telling you to keep your exercise low impact. Save your knees, your back and your hips. Keep a foot on the floor when you exercise. 

First I’ll tell you why I do it.

Agility is not low impact. But I enjoy it.
Running Agility with Booker.

I run twice a week to increase my speed and my stamina so that I can run my dog in Agility and be where he needs me to be. My dog will always be faster than I am. I know that. But I can be in the right place to give him his cue for the next obstacle he has to do. So I need to be faster than I am now. And, perhaps more importantly, not run out of breath when I get there. This is why I keep getting on that treadmill, even though I don’t enjoy it. I’m building my speed with run / walk intervals, and going easy on my old knees. It’s taking a while, but I’m getting there. Some days are definitely easier than others, but the overall trend is faster.

High impact is not for everyone

Yes, you can burn more calories faster with a high impact workout, but low impact can be just as effective for your fitness and your healthy aging! Even though it’s easier on the joints, low impact exercise is not necessarily less stressful on the body. CITYROW founding instructor Annie Mulgrew says, “We want the body to be able to respond to stress effectively — that’s one reason why we exercise.”

Low impact exercise means that one foot is always on the floor during exercise – at least when you’re upright. Seated exercises and mat-work are different animals altogether, but they’re definitely low impact as well.

Low impact does not mean low intensity

For maximum benefit, we want our exercise to be high intensity – we’re challenging ourselves and raising our heart rate. Low impact, high intensity workouts can include speed walking with arm pumps, weight training, rowing, or cycling. 

So, put a little less stress on your joints but still make it tough for yourself with your workouts.

Challenge yourself to exercise

Has your exercise routine gotten kind of flat? Are you doing the moves but feel like you’re just going through the motions? Try a challenge to give your workouts a spark. That’s right: Challenge yourself to exercise.

You’ve probably seen groups, pages and influencers on Facebook run 5- or 7-day challenges to drink more water, or use your Instant Pot every week. It’s the same idea, but with this, you challenge yourself. You’ll change your mindset and look forward to exercise because you’re getting closer to the prize you will set for yourself. Set your challenge and a time limit – for example, exercise for 30 minutes every day for 30 days. And be sure to set a prize for succeeding in your challenge! Say, download Taylor Swift’s new album.

Kelly Froelich, an NASM- and ACE-certified trainer and cofounder of the digital fitness platform Balanced, finds that self-challenges are a great way to self-motivate. “Intrinsic motivation, such as an internal desire to do something, is great to stick to something in the long run, but sometimes you need a bit of extrinsic motivation, such as a prize, to start you off,” she says. So, make that prize something you really want. And don’t get it before you complete your Challenge! That’s cheating!

Challenge ideas

Try a Plank Challenge!
Try a Plank Challenge!

If you need ideas for your Challenge, or if you need a theme, try a step challenge for walking. Be sure to increase the number of steps you have to take each day, week-by-week. Or if you’re a runner, increase the miles you run! Or try a plank challenge. Increasing the time you’re in plank position. If the plank is old hat, then try a plank variation a day! To increase strength, do a weight challenge – but you might have to buy heavier weights by the end of your challenge time. Or try a Body-Weight Strength Challenge! This article describes some of your options for this.

Be mindful of the exercises you do

Exercise is great, but we must be mindful of the exercises we do every day and the toll they take on our bodies.

Yes, exercise makes us happier. And expending energy gives us more energy, as surprising as that sounds. Exercise is a natural way to fight depression, and it also helps us sleep better. Exercise has a zillion benefits. But we have to remember that our bodies need rest and recovery too. 

Build rest days into your challenge

I’m not advocating exercising at full impact and intensity every day. Especially if you’re doing a weight challenge, build lower intensity or non-lifting days into your challenge. Take a speed-walk a couple days a week and a stroll or a yoga practice on Sundays. Be sure to do the work to meet your challenge goals, but be mindful of what your body needs. Schedule your workouts, including the exercises you plan on so you don’t lose track of your intense days and your rest days.

Challenge yourself to exercise. Don’t forget that you’ll get two prizes at the end: your Challenge prize and the prize of being more fit!

Exercise to improve memory

Now, where did I put my …

Changing how you remember things is one exercise to improve memory.
Changing how you remember things is one exercise to improve memory

We all forget stuff. And most of the time there’s nothing to worry about. We probably didn’t pay attention when storing that information in our brains the first time. But, of course, as we get older, one of the biggest concerns most of us have is not being able to remember things. Here are exercises to improve our memories, as part of our healthy aging regimen.

Change how you remember things

When you want to remember something, really focus on it. Here’s a brain exercise to improve your memory: focus on the environment – sounds, sights, smells surrounding the thing you want to remember. Remember those things as well as the thing itself. Don’t try to do more than remember this new thing while you’re doing the focus exercise.

Dr. Darren Gitelman, senior medical director of the Advocate Memory Center at Lutheran General Hospital, says, “It is thought that, in a way, you don’t remember the same memory over time, but rather, you remember the memory that is reinforced over time. If the context shifts what you recall, and this modified memory gets strengthened over time, then eventually, what you may recall may be a memory that has been shifted by the context, rather than the original memory itself.” So the context may shift and your memory can change. But if you remember everything surrounding the memory, these stronger context clues will help us remember the memory more accurately.

Connect new information to things you already know

Dr. Gitelman says that connecting new information to familiar images and thoughts will help you remember the new stuff. Say, for example, I learned something new about Boston Terriers. If I connect that information with a specific mental image of my Simon, it will help me remember it.

Rehearse new information

When I played piano years ago, I memorized each piece in multiple ways. From the beginning, of course, but also from the end. Phrase by phrase, or however it made sense. When you memorize and rehearse, new information becomes a memory.

Take care of your brain

Eat right, get enough sleep and exercise to improve your memory.
Eat right, get enough sleep and exercise to improve your memory.

Other ways you can improve your memory: Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep. Yes – exercise to improve your memory. Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, says that studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in volume in people who exercise than in people who don’t. “Even more exciting,” McGinnis says, “is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.” If you exercise, your brain can grow!

Exercise also can boost muscle memory. That complicated piece of choreography in an aerobics routine will get easier, not just because we practice it, but also because the fact that we’re exercising helps our memory.

We want that big brain for our memory! So, I’m going to keep on exercising.

No time to exercise?

Even short workouts can be effective.

You’ve heard the arguments about the benefits of exercise for your healthy aging. And you … sort of … believe them. But – who has the time? If you’re saying, “I have no time to exercise!” you owe it to yourself to squeeze in a short but effective workout.

Everyone has 22 minutes

150 minutes a week. That’s all the CDC recommends for exercise. So if you have 22 minutes to get your heart pumping while you climb some stairs, take the dog for a walk, ride the stationary bike, you’ve met the guidelines!

Short workouts will keep you on track

If I’ve only got a half hour, I can still get in my workout and have time to clean up. Because that clean-up is important. I don’t have to worry about being late to an appointment and I will still feel virtuous that I exercised. But you’re saying, “How can I choose a workout, do it and get cleaned up in a half hour? That’s ridiculous!” Planning. Plan a week’s worth of exercise in advance. If you have a calendar for your appointments and commitment, schedule your workouts on the same calendar. I use Google’s free calendar so that I can color code my different appointments. 

But are short workouts effective?

Now you’re probably saying, “I love the idea of short workouts, but will they work for me?” The short answer is, “Yes!” If those 22 minutes of your workout are intense and heart-pumping, it will get your blood and oxygen moving. You’ll get the memory-boosting benefits of a good workout, and you’ll release some endorphins and feel great after you towel off. So, never say you have no time to exercise. 

In fact, exercise physiologist Jenna Gillen at the University of Toronto, and her team showed in a study that just one minute of very intense exercise in a workout lasting 10 minutes total can improve fitness and health. Notice the words “very intense.” This is beyond maximum level – something I’m not really up for most days.

Plus, shorter, more energetic workouts can help you stay motivated to exercise. They’re done in no time, and you may actually look forward to your next workout. You won’t be bored with the workout, so won’t be tempted to procrastinate and then run out of the short amount of time you have to exercise.

I can’t do an intense, vigorous workout every time

I hear you. At my age, I just can’t face the treadmill and running for every workout. And that’s OK. Dr. Jennette Berry, family medicine physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, believes that fitting in movement throughout your day, no matter the length, is important for your health. “Exercise can help control your blood pressure and can help prevent future heart disease.” 

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I have no time to exercise,” remember that no matter how much time you give it, exercise is always good. 

The danger of overdoing exercise

Exercise is good but don’t overdo 

Exercise is good, but don't overdo it. Over-training can be just as harmful as not exercising at all.
Exercise is good, but don’t over do it.

I’ve been telling you about the benefits of exercise for a long time. The first time I listed some of the benefits of exercise was way back in 2015 in my article “Why Exercise?” Exercise burns calories so you can eat more (still my favorite reason!), it can combat some health conditions and diseases, it boosts your mood and gives you energy, and on and on. Exercise is good, but don’t overdo it. 

I remember years ago when I used to go to a gym there were women on treadmills and stationary bikes for hours and they wondered why they kept getting sick or weren’t losing any weight. In all probability, these people were overtraining. 

Cortisol and “fight or flight”

Cortisol is a hormone your body produces when it’s under stress, or when your body thinks it’s under attack. If you’re walking along and a big dog jumps at you from behind a fence and starts barking, you’re still going to jump. Your heart is going to beat faster, even though you know that it can’t get to you from behind the fence. Your body is designed to automatically protect you from threats. It produces adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline speeds up your heart and makes you hyper-aware of threats.

When you realize that you’re safe and the threat is gone, your heart rate goes back to normal and your breathing slows down. According to the Mayo Clinic, cortisol “curbs functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear.” 

Cortisol and exercise

So, when you overdo exercise, your system thinks it’s under attack and produces cortisol. And keeps producing it. So your body retains elevated levels of cortisol. It can interfere with the way your body works normally and even slow down your metabolism, according to Louis Cohn, a physical therapist at Aurora Sports Health. Cohn says, “When starting out, aerobic sessions should be kept between 30 and 45 minutes. You are then able to obtain the positive effects of cardiovascular training without the negative effects of over-training.” So it turns out that over-exercising can be just as bad as not exercising at all.

Moderation in everything

My workouts are 30 to 45 minutes 3 or 5 days a week. On days when I don’t have anything pressing, I’ll do a 50-minute workout. This works for both aerobic and weight training. And remember to rest the muscle group you worked the day after that strength program. 

So, like chocolate, exercise is good, but don’t overdo. Be sure to listen to your body. If you’re tired or if your body is aching in ways that are weird, you may be overdoing exercise. Take a break. Do something less stressful for yourself. A gentle yoga or pilates practice might be a good “rest day” activity. And be sure to eat well to fuel your body.

6 Ways to fight depression naturally

Mental illness is no joke. It affects many people every year. There’s no age limit, and it affects people of every ethnic group and wage bracket. If you’ve tried everything but nothing seems to work, it could be time to seek professional help. But if you’re feeling down and are starting to think that maybe you should address the issue, there are ways to fight depression naturally without drugs or a psychiatrist. Here are 6 of them:

Exercise is one way to fight depression naturally.
Exercise fights depression naturally.
  1. Exercise to ease the jitters of anxiety. There are lots of other benefits of exercising too: Remember that the “runner’s high” is not just from running. Whenever you exercise, your brain produces those valuable endorphins. Not only that, but studies also suggest that exercise promotes the production of dopamine, which plays a role in how we feel pleasure.
  2. Start a new hobby or spend time with a favorite one for distraction. No negative thoughts when you’re painting your next masterpiece. Or when you’re trying to fit together a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
  3. Take 15 minutes a day just for you. Take a walk and enjoy nature. Or dive into a novel – you can’t worry about the world when you’re deep into fighting the Civil War with the hero in the historical novel you’re reading.
  4. Listen to your favorite tune. That’s sure to brighten your day. In fact, there are scientific studies that prove it:
  5. Spend time with friends and family. Take your mind off of the world and put it into helping your network. Your friends and family are your support, and you are theirs.
  6. Meditate – it really does reduce stress and will minimize negative thoughts. Meditation is not just for yogis or sitting in the lotus position. And meditation does not have to take long. A short guided meditation ( also will work to clear your mind and lead you to more productive thinking. Meditation also assists in maintaining your positivity.

We all feel “down” on occasion. It’s natural. And, unfortunately as we age it becomes more common. So, as part of your healthy aging, the next time you feel blue try the exercise route first to help your mindset. It’s a quick fix, and one that usually works for me.

Manage stress to boost your immunity

A big part of healthy aging has to be managing stress. As we get older, our immune system doesn’t work as well as it used to. Along with our senses of balance, hearing and eyesight. It turns out that stress plays a big part in compromising our immunity. We don’t need added pressures on our immune system, so it’s even more important to manage our stress as we get older. And it stands to reason that if we can manage our stress, we boost our immunity.

Stress affects immune system aging

Recently, a large study researched how stress affects the premature aging of the immune system. Almost 6 thousand people age 50 and up were surveyed about stress in their lives – the questions involved family, job, finances and social discrimination issues. Scientists also measure their T-cell levels. T-cells, or lymphocytes, protect against bacteria, viruses, cancer and other harmful cells that promote age-related harmful conditions (like osteoporosis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease).

“The researchers concluded that chronic stress, stressful life events and higher lifetime exposure to social stressors may contribute to accelerating immune aging.” 

Molly Ireland, nurse practitioner at Aurora Health Center, says that while everyone experiences stress, the ways that we manage it can reduce its negative effects. I identified ways to reduce stress some time ago, and some are recapped here.

Manage stress to boost your immunity

So, how can we manage stress to boost our immunity?

Exercise plays a big part in how I manage stress.
You know how I manage stress – exercise plays a big part.

First off – make sure you prioritize you. Eat well and get plenty of sleep. And when you “eat well,” make sure you get plenty of vegetables and fruit, cut down on processed carbohydrates and sugars, and eat as much protein as you need. Eat more fiber and less fat, according to Ireland.

If your doctor wants you to lose weight, take this recommendation to heart. Being at a healthy weight will boost your immune system too. 

Exercise. Yes. Your doctor thinks it’s a great idea, too. Here’s how to start:

Take time for you. Pursue hobbies you love. Sometimes, just being alone can help you manage your stress. But see friends and family too, because social interaction is important.

Break goals down into smaller, more manageable chunks so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Get help when you need it.

Don’t compare yourself to others

If you follow fitness “gurus” on social media, you’ll likely see the phrases, “Go for the burn,” or “Give it your all,” or “Don’t save anything.” And you’ll probably see people on videos doing running so much faster than you can, or doing insane things with their bodies. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is at a different point in their fitness journey. No one else’s body is like yours. You have different experiences than everyone else. 

It’s normal to compare ourselves to our peers. Psychologists call it “social comparison theory.” It’s an attempt to understand ourselves and our place in society. Juliana Breines Ph.D. says that social comparisons can be helpful when “we remember that even the most successful people struggle in some ways and are just as human and fallible as we are—and that, for all our foibles and shortcomings, we are just as capable of greatness.”

But it’s easy to fall into the trap of coming down hard on ourselves when we compare ourselves to others. “I’m not as good.” Or, “I’ll never be able to do that.”

Be reasonable

On the treadmill, I run for me and do not compare myself to others.
On the treadmill

I used to see videos of people running, sweating buckets, going faster than I thought any human had a right to go just to exercise. I thought, “They’re crazy. Running is for the birds.” Years ago I could never see myself running for exercise. And then I took up agility with my dogs. In order to succeed, most handlers need to be fit and able to run. Now, no person can run as fast as most dogs can run, but an agility handler has to be in the proper position to give their dog direction. In class, I was out of breath in no time. So I thought that I should put the treadmill in the basement to use and work on my stamina. I began to use the treadmill for 20 minutes twice a week. At first I couldn’t run for longer than 15 seconds at a time at a very low speed, walking between running intervals. I had to motivate myself to run because it was hard at first and I had no really good reason to do it otherwise.

But I persisted and built up the time and speed. I still can’t run for more than a minute at a time, but that’s OK. An agility run is usually less than a minute. And now my speed is over 7 miles an hour at my fastest. I’m not where I need to be yet, but that’s OK. I know that running on an agility course is much different than on a treadmill, but it’s a start.

It doesn’t matter how fast the other person is going

It doesn’t matter how fast that instructor is running. You’re you. You may be older than that person. And you may need to work on your endurance. Your body should get used to the movements before you intensify them. If you’re just starting, it would be a very bad idea to go all out at first. You’d end up injuring yourself and unable to do it again in a couple of days. If you’re serious about that goal, like I am about running, consistency is key. You don’t want to start over again next week.

The point is, be kind to yourself. Start at a reasonable level for you. And challenge yourself. In your quest for healthy aging, have a goal. Push yourself – not crazily, but enough that you’re able to see consistent improvements. Your goal should not be easy to achieve, but it should be achievable.

I do different things with my exercise routines. I try different yoga poses. Sometimes I fall on my face (but I practice on a nice thick mat). I try to achieve that Side Plank Star periodically, just to see if I still can. All part of my quest for healthy aging. You may think that’s weird. And that’s OK.

Your goal is yours

Your goal should not be mine. Running fast shouldn’t be your goal. (Unless, of course, you really want to run fast.) But it’s mine. Don’t compare yourself to others. If you want to be able to do five push-ups and you feel embarrassed that you can’t even do one, don’t be. You’re you. Your arms and shoulders are put on differently than the person whose video you saw online who could crank out fifteen and not break a sweat. Your core may not be as strong. But you can work at it and, if you’re persistent, and that’s what you really want, you’ll do it. You’ll modify moves at first and persist. Don’t compare yourself to others. Because everyone is different.