Tag Archives: health

Fitness Goals Check-In

coach

On 19 June, I posted my goal of exercising for an hour a day. As a retired person with lots of free time at my disposal, there’s really no excuse for not spending an hour taking care of this body that I hope to inhabit for another thirty years or so, right? I imagine a stern coach exhorting me to get up and move, move, move. And besides, exercise always puts me in a good mood, which is good for my marriage and all my relationships. So, how’d I do?

So far, I’d give myself a B. From 19 June through 19 July I achieved my goal of a daily hour of exercise on twenty-three days. My activities included walking, running, spin class, Zumba class, weight training, belly dancing, yard work, and golf.

On the days when I didn’t meet my goal, I often had houseguests, family members I seldom get to see. Of course, I wanted to spend time with these visitors, and few of them wanted to (or were able to) devote an hour to walking. Then there were a few travel days, spent mostly in the car or in airports. There was the 4th of July, an important family day, and the Tacoma Blues Festival (also a houseguest day). There were also a few days spent preparing for travel or for houseguests.

On those days when I couldn’t/didn’t devote an hour to exercise, I did remember to put on my pedometer, and I did walk at least 15,000 steps over the course of the day. Does that count? Not really—I’d say that’s a day when I was active, but not exercising, since I never walked fast enough to require any heavy breathing. My goal is still to devote an hour of each day to moderate-to-strenuous exercise, not just walking around while shopping or cleaning.

Oh, I’m not giving up, but I’m a bit disappointed in how many days I’ve allowed myself to slide because of unusual demands on my time. And isn’t that always the case? We set goals, make good progress, and then along comes one of those unusually demanding days, and our new good habits are set aside. OK, sometimes we just have to cut ourselves some slack, but I suspect that I could do better at fitting in exercise on those difficult days. My inner coach doesn’t buy “I’m too busy” as an excuse. (For those of you who knew him, my inner coach is Denny Lemmon, who blows his whistle in my ear and exhorts, “Move your body!”)

It’s the old mama mode reflex: when I have houseguests, or entertain friends and family, or when a special occasion comes along, I slide into putting others’ needs and even preferences before my own. We mamas are conditioned that way, n’est-ce pas? But such conditioning is bad for our health. And when I give up my hour of exercise in order to prepare for a visit or celebration, I end up resentful of loved ones—a state they don’t deserve and I don’t want to inflict upon them. Better they do without me for a few hours while I go to the gym—then I’ll return in a happy mood and ready to enjoy their company.

So, back to the gym and my accountability calendar. Yesterday was my birthday, and I did not get that hour of exercise, though I had a great time with friends and family. Let’s see if I can make a solid week with no excuses. Gotta go—Coach is blowing his whistle.

The Power of Habit: a Daily Hour of Exercise

“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

— John Irving

Oh là là! The one-year anniversary of my retirement slipped by without my noticing it. I was busy celebrating my sister-in-law’s retirement, also from teaching, and entertaining house guests. Well then, it’s been a year now: a whole year of doing as I please (mostly), of cultivating my talents and passions (well, some of them), of sleeping in as late as I like (almost always)—a very good year indeed.

I started out this first year of retirement with two goals: to become a consistent, daily writer, and to become very physically fit. I had vague notions of becoming a fitness instructor and offering on-site exercise classes to teachers after school. Well…

The good news is that the writing is going swimmingly. Most days, I spend at least two hours at my computer, either writing or editing a draft. And while I could do much better with this blog (and I shall), I’m moving steadily toward my goal of becoming a professionally-published fiction author. What really gave me a boost was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last November. In order to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days, I had to write for at least two hours each day. And I did, thus establishing a writing habit that stuck.

The bad news is that a series of visitors, the holidays, a back injury, and more visitors—plus human nature and the siren song of the internet—have pulled me away from the gym. That is, I have allowed myself to be pulled away; there’s nothing to be gained by blaming others for one’s own faults, eh? My girth is expanding, and it’s high time to do something about that.

Here’s my plan: I shall henceforth exercise for an hour every day. That’s it. I mean, really—as a retired person, I have no excuse for not devoting at least an hour a day to moving around in this body I hope to inhabit for the next thirty years. Eight hours of sleep per night plus one hour of exercise still leaves me fifteen hours per day to do everything else. Unless I am ill, by which I mean feverish, I can certainly work in an hour’s activity each day. On a busy day, I can divide that hour up into smaller segments if need be.

And by exercise I mean a brisk walk, a run, an exercise DVD, a Zumba class, a spin class, weight training, golf, yoga, belly dancing, mowing the lawn…anything that’s somewhat strenuous. Yesterday’s Zumba class at the Y was quite strenuous, and this morning’s spin class kicked my plump behind—but in a good way. Anna, our wonderful cycling instructor, said today, “You’re only one workout away from a good mood.” Isn’t that the truth? I always walk out of the Y feeling a bit giddy and delightfully relaxed, no matter what the weather. And if I’m going to pay $40 per month for membership (a bargain, in my estimation), I really ought to go to the gym most days.

My hypothesis is that by working in an hour of exercise—Every. Single. Day.—I should be able to lose this extra bit of writer’s padding I’ve acquired, even if I continue my nightly glass of wine and other foodie indulgences. I do eat a healthy diet overall, but the occasional cup of clam chowder does cross my lips. So, I’ll check back in a month from now, and will do my very best to avoid humiliation by sticking to the plan. Does anyone care to join me in the an-hour-a-day pledge?

Wonder Woman Versus the Sproing!

wonder-woman-clipart

Sproing! It happens to every athlete, young and old – but I’ve never been much of an athlete, and up until now I’ve been feeling pretty smug. Seated on the mat, folded over at the hips like a closed book, I had succeeded in comfortably resting my forehead on my knee during my post-workout stretch. I’d done this several times now, a happy result of my seven-month steady gym habit. Look at me! I’m Wonder Woman – defying the limits of middle age. Watch me fly! Watch me – OW!

But I felt better after two weeks of avoiding the lower-back press machine and extreme forward bends, so I tried a “beginners’” yoga class – and forgot, once again, that I am not Wonder Woman. A few days later I found myself in the emergency room, paralyzed with agonizing back spasms. Have you had these? If not, I pray that you never do. It goes like this: your lower back seizes your entire body and mind, as if you’ve just been grabbed down there with a giant staple remover. You know, that metal claw-like thing in your desk drawer? It grabs you with a sharp pain that takes your breath away and hisses into your ear, “Don’t. Move.” But you have to move, right? You have to summon help somehow. So you try a tiny step, only to be clamped again in a vice of blinding pain. Ladies, it’s not unlike strong labor pains, but centered in your lower back. And deep breaths don’t help – in fact, it’s hard to breathe. After two fuzzy days on Vicodin and muscle relaxers, I had to figure out how to fix this.

One of the things I’d been looking forward to doing in retirement was getting into really good shape. Oh, I wasn’t a complete slug during my working years; I’d hit the gym once or twice a week and take long walks when weather permitted, but it was always difficult to force myself to exercise after a long day of teaching high school and then coaching after-school activities. And to those chirpy morning types who tell me to get up an hour early to exercise, to them I say – well, I can’t use such language here. As it was, I had to get up at 5:30 A.M. in order to have time for breakfast, perform my ablutions, prepare my lunch, and gather my work things, including workout clothes. And I hated that alarm clock with a passion; every day I cursed that nasty, insistent beep, beep, beep that wrenched me from my dreams and into another cold, dark morning. One of the most delightful aspects of retirement is the ability to get out of bed when I’m damned good and ready.

But I digress. Now I’m free to fit in exercise more frequently, at a civilized hour, and I have been doing so. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, and we read how important it is for older women to perform resistance exercise in order to stave off the otherwise inevitable wasting of muscle tissue that comes with age, and the ensuing bone brittleness. According to Dr. Pamela Peeke, a physician and expert in women’s fitness, women lose about ½ pound of muscle per year after age 40 if they do not engage in regular resistance training. (I recommend her book Body for Life for Women, in which she presents a do-able, gimmick-free fitness program that includes weight training.) Less muscle mass equals a slower metabolism equals a plump, sluggish body and less joie de vivre. And how much fun is it to look in the mirror and see toned, firm arms and shoulders after 50!

Our local YMCA is a wonderful place to exercise. Unlike many commercial gyms, it’s truly a community center, and the clientele ranges from tiny children (in the pool – so cute!) to very old folks maintaining their strength, balance, and flexibility. I feel very comfortable and welcome there. Spin class is very challenging, and I merrily ignore the urgings of the younger instructors to crank it up to gear 15. I challenge myself, keep an eye on my heart monitor, and enjoy the group energy and the great music. Zumba class is an absolute hoot! I love a dance-y workout, and have zero interest in any fitness class that resembles combat – but hey, chacun a son gout. About 60 of us shake it twice a week, led by two young instructors through a series of heart-pumping hip-hop and Latin dance moves. I’m inspired by a woman I see at every class who’s 80 if she’s a day, and who does all the moves – modifying for her range of motion, of course. She’s having so much fun!

A problem with the fitness industry is that most instructors are young and very fit (of course!), and they lack experience in modifying workouts for older exercisers, for larger exercisers, or for people who have limitations due to injuries. “Of course everyone can bend like this,” they say. “Just try a little harder!” Our Y is blessed with some excellent older instructors who never neglect to mention modifications. But the computer is another matter.

Why, oh why, did I listen to that computer? The program is called ActivTrax, and it spits out a weight-training workout, based upon an initial strength test. Well, this computer was impressed with my progress, and told me to set the lower-back press for 110 pounds. And I listened – what kind of fool am I? I’d also been doing some very challenging (for me) ab exercises, heaving myself up on a slant board, waving my legs in the air like semaphore flags, and other foolishness. I’ve since read that an imbalance in the abdominal and back muscles can result from these very-targeted exercises, which can lead to lower-back pain. It’s better for people with back problems to train the whole core with exercises like planks, rather than to zero in on upper abs, lower abs, etc. Now I know.

My wonderful GP doctor, her physician’s assistant, and my equally wonderful physical therapist have taught me a great deal about how to exercise my abs without straining my back. My GP, who is young, slim and fit, also has back problems and will not even do any sort of forward-bending stretches of the type I was abusing when the sproing hit me. Well then! Obviously, I have a lot to learn about a subject, weight training, that I thought I was already pretty well-informed about. And I must face the fact that, at my age, I must take a more cautious approach to exercise. Not that I plan to “slow down,” nor do I plan to restrict myself to swimming – which is what so many advise old folks to do. No, you’ll find me in weight room again, but I’ll be planning my own workouts, rather than following the dictates of a computer program. And I’ll be listening much more carefully to my body.

But I would like a pair of those WW red boots!

Lavish Praise for the Fast Diet

It started with a colonoscopy. “TMI!” I hear you scream. Well, dears, I’m over fifty, and when one is fifty, one must have the nasty procedure. Better 24 hours of nasty than colon cancer. So I booked an appointment with our excellent local gastroenterologist, picked up my packets of poop-o-matic, and – being the research nut that I am – proceeded to Google all the advice I could find on preparing for this nasty procedure.

            And did I ever find advice! God bless all the generous people who share such advice on the internet. So I followed the advice of those who had gone before me and consumed nothing but clear liquids for two days before the test. I dreaded the discomfort of fasting, but much less than I dreaded the night of a thousand waterfalls. 

            Well, imagine my surprise when two days of white grape juice (so tasty!), green tea and veggie broth turned out to be not so bad. I was uncomfortable, but just a bit, and tired, but not too tired to function at work. Hmm – I’d always thought that when I went without food for any length of time, I’d feel cranky, headachy, and miserable. Not this time. And – after having recovered from the anesthesia – I got to thinking. I remembered having read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and Dr. Will Clower’s The Fat Fallacy, both of which remind us greedy, snack-grazing Americans that the French do not snack between meals. Hmm. But don’t our fitness magazines tell us to eat several small snacks a day to avoid dips in our – what, insulin levels? energy levels? weight? pants size?

            And then, in one of those God-thunks-you-on- the-head weekends, I ran across several mentions of intermittent fasting, both online and in magazines. Didn’t Dr. Andrew Weil, that wise and jolly health guru, also advocate a once-a-week fast for health benefits? And mightn’t my angry belly benefit from an occasional rest? I was intrigued – not enough to book a week-long Fasten Kur (supervised fast) at a German spa, but enough to download Dr. Michael Mosely’s The Fast Diet on my Kindle. Well!

            The Fast Diet is a quick and easy read. I won’t bore you with a lengthy review – there are plenty of good reviews online, such as here: http://foodwatch.com.au/reviews/item/the-fast-diet.html. Basically, Dr. Mosely says that by consuming only 500 calories (600 for men) on two non-consecutive days each week and eating normally on the other five days, one can lose weight steadily and reap other health benefits. I was intrigued. I liked the idea of exercising strict control, but not all the time – and I really liked the idea of once again being able to wear those size 10 pants I’d stashed away in the attic.

            Now ten weeks into the routine of Monday and Thursday “fasts,” really more like mini-famines, I feel dandy and have dropped thirteen pounds. Wow! And that includes a month of visiting friends and family in the U.S., during which I managed only five fast days. A typical fast day looks like this for me:

  • No breakfast, just black coffee with Splenda. I’d never been a breakfast-skipper, but I find that I really don’t miss it that much and feel pretty good until lunchtime.
  • For lunch, a salad with tuna, lots of greens, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, green onions, dressed with lemon juice and lots of spicy seasoning. Not the best salad I’ve ever eaten, but filling and tasty-ish.
  • For dinner, lots more veg., either roasted, grilled, or “stir-fried” in cooking spray and some broth, along with a bit of boiled chicken breast, boiled shrimp, or a small portion of broiled tofu or fish. No alcohol, no starches, no sweets. Not gourmet fare, but not bad!

             My body seems to like this routine; I sleep great on fast nights, and my twice-weekly fast days fit well into my work routine. Do I pig out on non-fast days? Not at all! If anything, this new (for me) way of eating has sharpened my awareness of calorie counts, of real hunger v. eating out of boredom or habit, and I seem to crave starchy foods less often – I, the former pasta junkie and slave to crackers! Sweets were never really my thing, but salty crunchies? I was helpless before them. Having lost the weight feels so good that I don’t want to screw it up by over-indulging.

            But the most important benefit of this experience is that I’ve lost my fear of hunger. I used to be convinced that if I allowed myself to get really hungry, I’d …what? Feel really awful? Bite someone’s head off? Lose my mind? Curl up and bawl like a baby? Actually, none of that happens. So far, there are moments during “fast” days when I feel a little tired, a little unfocused, but those feelings pass pretty quickly. If I acknowledge the hunger, remind myself that I can eat a little this evening and I can eat whatever I want tomorrow, this much-feared discomfort goes away, and I get on with my day. This is a revelation! It’s a type of freedom. And I’ve shrunk back into so many cute outfits that I couldn’t zip up two dress sizes ago. Who’da thunk it was so simple? Thank you, Dr. Mosely!