Wellness

Checking In: Let's Talk Fitness Again

Last year, when things felt settled and plans were more reliable (y'know . . . in the Before Times), I talked a lot about fitness and wellness here. And I especially focused on the importance of building our strength and fitness levels as we, (well . . . ) age. I harped on talked about the benefits of regular movement and strength training. I posted sample workouts and fitness tips and inspirational stories. I even got some of my fitness pals to share their stories and workout strategies!

Now that we're deep into . . . a whole new way of living . . . I thought it might be fun to check back in with my fitness pals again -- a year (and a lifetime) later. Y'know . . . to see how they're doing, what's changed for them fitness-wise, and to see if they have any tips or words of encouragement for working out during a pandemic.

Let's kick things off by checking in with . . . Claudia.

(Here's a link to last year's fitness post featuring Claudia. In case you want to refresh yourself before moving on.)

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Kym: So, Claudia. How are you doing, generally, during these pandemic times? What’s happening for you? Are you working at home? Going to the office? 
 
Claudia: As a well-resourced White person with the privilege to quarantine in a comfortable suburban home, I am doing great as compared to many, many others.  I and my family are (so far) healthy, and that's the most important thing to me.
 
Kym: What hasn't changed?
 
Claudia: I worked from home even before the pandemic hit and I work at home now.  What has changed?  I don't go anywhere.  My gray roots are un-dyed, and groceries and all other shopping is curbside-only or delivered.  I hauled out my long-neglected sewing machine and have sewed lots of masks to give away to under-resourced people.  I am doing the uncomfortable work to be anti-racist and an effective ally to Black people.  It feels like every moment of every day is taken up with something.  A pandemic bright spot:  I can now bake decent sourdough bread.
 
Kym: What's happening for you fitness-wise? Are you able to work out in the same ways you used to, pre-pandemic? Have you added anything? Modified your routine? Stopped working out altogether?
 
Claudia: Being that I don't go anywhere, that includes the gym where I used to do my weight-training and go to spin class.  Early on in this pandemic, my husband and I purchased some additional dumbbells, a stability ball and a TRX trainer to add to the home fitness equipment we already had.  But other than the change of location to a home-gym, my fitness routine isn't significantly different.  I continue to do alot of bodyweight exercises.  I do chin-ups on my doorway chin-up bar; rows, presses, fall-outs, squats and lunges with the TRX; and basic exercises like pushups, Turkish-Get-Ups and stability ball roll-outs
 
What saves my sanity from the afore-mentioned not-going-anywhere and the stress and anxiety of our current pandemic/racial injustice/economic collapse situation, is the frequent, long tandem bicycle rides that my husband and I take every week.  Urban, suburban and rural.  Mountain biking and road biking.  The fresh air, change of scenery and exercise is the difference between going nuts and keeping my s**t together.

Kym: Do you have any advice for others who may be struggling or trying to figure out how to add fitness into their lives?
 
Claudia: If I'm honest, and well....why not be....if it weren't for my workout buddy a/k/a Husband, I would be much less motivated to do my at-home workouts.  When he is motivated and I'm feeling tired or just not enthusiastic, I'll start a workout even when I just really didn't wanna.  And you know what?  I've never regretted a work out once I've started.  So even in this time of social-distancing, I'd suggest trying to get or keep up with a fitness buddy.  Can you get someone with whom you live to join you in a yoga or weightlifting routine, or a daily walk or bike ride?  Can you set a walking or bike-riding date (masks and appropriately distanced) with a friend, with the prize being some social interaction along with your dose of exercise?
 
Being fit during a pandemic can literally be life-saving.  If obesity is a risk factor for a bad COVID-19 outcome, then doing something about the situation takes on a whole new urgency.
 
Kym: What helps you cope with life in the time of pandemic?
 
Claudia: Meditation.  As daily as I can make it.  I recommend the Ten Percent Happier app, and in particular my favorite teacher, Joseph Goldstein.
 
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Claudia's commitment to her strength and fitness - like my own - remains as solid as ever. The big difference for both Claudia and for me? Switching from an outside gym to a home gym for our workouts. It takes some "figuring out" to make that work, but it's certainly doable. And worth the effort!

I would also like to echo Claudia's words about the importance of a workout buddy. Like Claudia, I'm fortunate to live with a committed "worker-outer," so I can get an easy (but effective!)  kick-in-the-butt whenever I don't really feeeeeel like working out. (Because face it, folks. Thinking about starting a workout is usually draining in itself. Worth it -- because you feel better as soon as those endorphins kick in. But motivation to get started is always tough.) (That's normal, by the way.) Anyway. Find yourself a workout buddy. If it's not someone in your household, find a friend -- even a long distance friend -- that you can whine to . . . AND that you can rely on to tell you "Do it anyway!"

So.

How about YOU? How has your fitness-life changed in the past year? Let me know. Let's get this fitness conversation started again!

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NOTE: If you try to leave a comment on this post, but are unable to, would you mind sending me an email (link to the left in the sidebar) to let me know. I've had reports of a problem, and need more data to report the situation. Thank you.

 


Workin' On Her Fitness: February Update

It’s hard to believe that we’re already here . . . at the tail-end of February!  It’s time to check in with Kim again – to see how she’s been doing with her fitness and self-care program this month.

(In case you missed the first post in this series last month, you can read all about it here.)

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Kym:  Hi Kim!  Let's start with an update:  How is your fitness program going this month?  How are you feeling?

Kim:  It took me a few tries to find things that work for my back, but I have finally settled into a routine that is working well for me.  Every day I work out to either Kathy Smith’s “Fit over Forty” doing her circuit with weight training or one of Leslie Sansone’s walk workouts on YouTube -- sometimes with weights or resistance bands.  (You can see the Kathy Smith circuit videos here and the Leslie Sansone walking videos here.)

I’m also going to Tai Chi twice a week, and we do try to snow shoe one day on the weekend.  I have found out just how tight my hip flexors are! 

Kym:  Last month when we “chatted”, you were planning to get outside for exercise, you were going to do fitness workouts using Beach Body On Demand, and you had just ordered some weights.  Are those plans working for you?  Any changes to report?

Kim:   It’s been very challenging to get outside except on the weekends because of the weather and the lack of morning light before work, but when I can, I do get out -- and love it!  Instead of Beach Body on Demand, I am working with the videos I mentioned earlier and I’m really enjoying them.   I like being able to work out at home.  I have moved from my 3-pound weights up to the 5-pounders, so that's a bonus.  My muscles are definitely feeling the workout, but it’s a good pain. :)

Kym:  Can you tell me more about your self-care group?  How did you find the group — and what’s involved?   How is it helping? 

Kim:  I am working with a group that meets online called SCI (Self Care Initiative) founded by a man named Jason Seib.  I found his book "Body Beliefs” (which is a free download) through Facebook, and decided to join his group after watching a video he had up.  (Here’s a link to the video Kim watched; you need to register for access.)

He opens up the group to new people every now and then.  There is a $30.00 monthly charge, but you get a lot for the little it costs.  He does a weekly podcast, puts up a weekly focus video, and has a very active FB group where he is always there to help.  He also offers a one on one program for with people (it’s called SCI Accountability).  It’s more expensive, but when he opens that up again I will probably sign up.  

You know we “Obligers” do better when we are held accountable . . . ha!  I know doing this monthly blog check-in with you has made me commit to working out every. single. day.

Anyway, the group focuses a lot on looking at your thoughts and how they affect the way you react to situations.  One of the key questions he has us ask ourselves . . .  is how a thought that is “self deprecating” (for example) is really about self care; how it impacts the way we care for ourselves.

He also helps us look at stress and stressors in our lives, and explains that by taking out the emotion and by keeping focused on the facts, we’re usually able to deal with our stressors much better.  When faced with stress, he encourages us to ask ourselves a series of questions -- and by the time we’ve really examined it all, it’s easier to remove the stress by focusing our work on the stressor.  

This has really helped me!  In the past I would often have sat ruminating about something over and over in my head.  Now, instead, I’m applying a non-emotional way to confront the situation and resolve it with no bad feelings on either side.  It feels like a gift to be able to communicate more effectively.

It’s hard to describe, but I have found this group VERY helpful, because the focus is always on “Self Care” right down to the food we put in our mouths.  I’m sure that there are a lot of self-care methods out there that are equally as helpful.  Anything that helps us to value ourselves more is something we should all be practicing don’t you think?

Kym:  It sounds like you’ve found a program that is really changing the way you think and respond, Kim.  You’re so right – anything that helps us value ourselves more is something we should all be practicing!  I’m so happy you’ve found this group – and that it’s working for you.

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This is Kim's tai chi t-shirt, along with a book she's currently reading.

Kym:  I know it’s hard to go back to work full time — AND manage the rest of your busy life!  How are you fitting fitness activities into your days?  Is it harder than you expected?  What are the barriers you’re encountering?  And - any tips at working past those barriers?

Kim:  Well, I have cut way back on my yarn business, which has gone a long way towards reducing my stress.  I’ve changed from doing "dyed to order", to having "dyed inventory in my shop.”  I will be making a lot of decisions this year concerning how much longer I will continue with my yarn business.  Working full time really does make things so much more challenging – especially because I still want to find time to have a fulfilling life outside my work.

In order to get a workout in before I leave in the morning, I really have to prioritize my time so I can get out of the house.  Having 5 older dogs that need attention, putting a healthy lunch together, squeezing in a little meditation time, then a workout, a shower, etc. usually has me running out the door in a flash . . . ha!  I am fortunate in my new job that I work 3 days alone in the office, so I am able to slow my pace down a bit on those days once I am there.

I find the more I can try to get ready the night before (such as making my next day lunch if I can, getting my clothes ready, etc.) really helps the next morning go a little smoother.

Kym:  You mentioned to me earlier that you’re learning ways to work out so you don’t aggravate your back issues.  What kind of advice do you have for other people trying to work out after prior injuries or surgery?  What do you find to be the best strategy for figuring out what you can and can’t do regarding fitness activities? 

Kim:  I found out very quickly that there is no way I can do any type of stomach crunches unless I do them supported on a ball!   I have found that you can work on your core muscles and abs when you are standing with little modifications.   It’s important to figure out what kind of exercises work for you with any physical limitations or injuries.   

The videos I’m using have been good for me.  Kathy Smith’s ab workouts don’t work for me with my back issues, so on those days I use Leslie’s videos instead.  What I like about Leslie’s videos is she has options within each video so you can tailor it to your needs, but they are all based around walking.  Sometimes the people in the video with Leslier are a bit corny, but the workouts are good – and effective!  I do work up a sweat, and it starts my day off so much better.  

I’m sure as the year progresses and I gain strength, I will eventually join one of the gyms up here.  It’s sad that our big local gym closed.

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Kim's tai chi studio (can you spot Kim???)

Kym:  How are you dealing with the tedium and fatigue of a long, New Hampshire winter?  How do you keep your energy up at this time of year?

Kim:  Winters up here are just so blessed long!  I find that by the beginning of March, I am really looking forward to spring  - and playing in the dirt again.  I love to read, so I tend to immerse myself in reading stories I can get lost in (and forget about winter).  I usually do a lot of knitting and sewing in the winter, as well.  This year I have been trying to clean out “stuff” from our old house.  We are hoping to move closer to the ocean when we finish renovating this house, so re-homing things that we don’t use any longer will go a long way to making the move easier.  It also is freeing up space in my brain!  

I always try to learn something new in the winter, as well, and lately I’ve been playing with the app Procreate on my iPad.  It’s a fun program that is stretching my brain a little bit.

Kym:  Thanks so much for taking the time to check in again this month, Kim!  I’m really excited to be following your progress – and I’m happy to offer some “accountability” for your Obliger-self!  Maybe by next month - when we catch up again – we’ll be seeing signs of spring!  (Fingers crossed.)

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Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

 


Workin' on Her Fitness: Part 1 In What Will Be a Yearlong Series

Last year, I devoted several blog posts to fitness-related topics.  I shared information about why fitness (and specifically weight training) is especially important for us as we age.  I included links to a few workout options to get you started -- I provided some tips for equipping your own home gym . . . and some for finding a gym.  I also shared stories about women who have made a commitment to their own fitness.

And, generally, y’all seemed to respond well to these posts. 
(So look for more in 2020!)

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This year, I've also cooked up something else to inspire you to get fit!  I’d like to introduce you to a special blog friend who has made a major life commitment to getting herself in better shape.  I thought it might be interesting, fun, and inspirational for you all to hear about what she’s doing this year -- with regular check-ups each month to see how things are going for her.

So . . . Meet Kim!

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Many of you likely know Kim already, from her blog . . . or because of her luscious and beautiful hand-dyed yarns.

Kim lives in the beautiful mountains of New Hampshire with her husband, Ken.  She has 5 kids – all grown and “launched” now (she raised a nurse, a restaurant manager, a teacher, a brewer, and a marketer), and 7 amazing grandchildren.  After working in the “dog world” for over 25 years (as a dog breeder and exhibitor, with a dog club, and for a veterinary hospital), Kim has recently switched careers to work in a hearing aid shop.  She is, of course, also an independent yarn dyer and owner of The Woolen Rabbit.  (Kim started her yarn business 15 years ago – in those early, pre-Ravelry days of knitting-on-the-internet, launching her business via blog posts.)

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After Kim blogged about her goals related to fitness earlier this month, I contacted her with an idea . . . and we started a conversation about sharing her story and experiences more broadly.  Kim generously agreed to allow me to interview her for my blog – not just this month - but once each month for the rest of the year!  Here’s our first conversation – the start of an exciting new fitness chapter (for Kim AND for my blog)!

Kym:  So, Kim.  Tell me about your fitness goals for 2020.

Kim:  My goals going into this new year – and new decade – are to take responsibility for my physical heath and personal self-care.  For me, that translates into building on my love for walking, snowshoeing, and kayaking (things I already do) with added weight training/weight lifting to make my body healthier and stronger.  I am also going to give meditation a try.  I’m working with a self-care group, and the coach stresses the importance of recognizing our thoughts about ourselves through meditation.

I LOVE to walk!  I am so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place here in the mountains of New Hampshire.  I love to toss on my walking shoes, put my ear buds in, and enjoy the tunes along with the beauty of my environment.  It’s when I do my best thinking!  I’ve decided that despite my overloaded schedule, I AM going to take an hour lunch break on the 3 days a week that I can get away from the office – and I’m going to use that time to work on my fitness or self-care.

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Kym:  Those sound like terrific goals, Kim!  What prompted you to choose them?

Kim:   Well, I'm 61 -- which means I’ve just entered the 7th decade of my life.  I know that NOW is the time to look at my choices and make changes before it’s too late.  I know it’s never really too late to take care of yourself – but it gets harder to stave things off as you get older if you don’t pay attention to your health.  (Yikes!  How did I get to be this old already!) (Ha.)

Kym:  Looking ahead, what do you anticipate will be your biggest barriers to success?

Kim:   Myself!  I have a busy schedule now that I am back to working in the 9-5 world, along with dyeing, so I can usually find a reason to excuse myself from doing the work that I need to do.  I can be a BOSS at procrastinating the things that would help me the most!

Kym:  Oh, I can imagine many people can relate to THAT struggle!  How is your plan for building strength and fitness this year different from things you’ve tried in the past?

Kim:  As I mentioned, I’m working with a self-care group that has a focus on changing our thoughts about weight loss and fitness.  The process is more about learning how to value your worth, and not act in self-deprecating ways.  It’s been an eye opener for me!  In addition to being part of this group, I’m signing up for the Beach Body On Demand videos, so I can do training here at home when I can’t get outside.  Our local gym recently closed, so right now I would have to travel too far to go to another gym.  With my work schedule, it would be too easy for me to put it off -- and I know I'd never get there.  A set of weights is on its way here right now!

Kym:  It sounds like you’re off to a great start!  You’ve identified the outdoor activities you love doing, and you’re planning ahead for busy days or bad weather with an indoor fitness back-up plan.  Plus the weights!  And it sounds like your self-care group will give you the support to make real change.

Kym:  Here’s something I always ask people when I’m talking to them about their fitness plans (because I do think there is something very “real” about our tendencies and how they play out in our fitness habits):  Have you taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz?  And if you have, do you mind sharing your tendency?

Kim:  Yes.  I’m an Obliger!  My self-care group is a perfect way for me to build accountability into my fitness goals, and will be the right place for me to increase my self esteem and self worth.

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I think it sounds like Kim is off to a great start with her fitness and self-care plans for 2020!  I hope you are inspired, too, and that you’ll look forward to hearing more of Kim’s story as the year unfolds.  Be sure to join us next month!

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Have a great weekend -- and I'll see you Monday!


It's That Time of Year

. . . when we start saying things like: 

Yeah, I'm slacking off right now but . . .
. . . I'll get myself back on track after the holidays.
. . . I'll have more time to work out after the holidays.
. . . I'll start a new fitness program after the holidays.
. . . I'll look into joining a gym after the holidays.

About that last one?

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Let's talk!

Now I know that joining a gym or fitness center isn't for everyone.  But for a lot of us . . . gyms are instrumental in helping us achieve and maintain our fitness goals. If it weren't for my gym, I'd never work out as hard or as long or as often as I do!  

Gyms are actually a great fitness option.  And maybe you're thinking about it right now.  (You know.  For after the holidays.)  So I thought . . . NOW. . .  might be a good time for a blog post full of tips for finding the RIGHT gym for YOU. 

First, let's talk about the benefits of gyms as a fitness option.

  • There's the accountability factor.  You pay for it, so you might as well use it!  Yep.  Once you go through the trouble and hassle and financial outlay to join a gym, there's some motivation there . . . to get your money's worth.
  • There's the energy factor.  Energy . . . is contagious.  You see other people working hard, YOU can work hard.  Seriously - you can "catch" other people's energy when you're working out at the gym.  (I work out much harder - and do things I don't think I can even do - when I'm at the gym.)
  • There's the equipment factor.  Sure.  You can work out at home.  But you probably don't have the equipment options that you have at a gym.  Treadmills and ellipticals and rowing machines and stair climbers (which are the work of the devil, I swear) and pools and free weights and TRX and spinning bikes and weight racks and racquetball courts (etc).
  • There's the class factor.  Kickboxing and spinning and yoga and Pilates and barre and Zumba and water aerobics and . . . well, yeah.  All those class options.  A fun way to get your workout in, for sure.
  • There's the personal trainer option.  Maybe you don't want one.  But if you do . . . the gym is the place to find them!

Next, let's talk about some of the things to consider when you're looking for a gym.

First and foremost, be clear about what YOU are looking for in a gym.  Because this is a very individual thing!  Are you wanting a place with lots of options so you're never bored?  Are you looking for community and support in your fitness efforts?  Do you want someone to help you tailor a workout just for you?  Do you need a kick in the pants?  Variety?  A pool?  Heavier weights?  Spin bikes?  Figure out what YOU want for yourself before you even start looking at gyms.

Next . . . proximity and convenience.  You want to find a gym that is conveniently located -- either to your home or to your work.  Because if it's too far out of the way, you won't go.  So try to find a gym that's . . . on your way.  Home from work.  Or on your way to work.  Or within a distance from home that you'll get there.  Regularly.  

Now . . . do they have what you want?  Hours that work with your schedule.  Equipment you're interested in using (on the regular).  Classes you want to take at times that work for you.  A nice locker room with a shower.  Options to hire a personal trainer.  Make sure the gym will meet your needs.

Then . . . visit the gym during the time you'll most likely be using it.  Check out the vibe.  What's the culture there?  Is there plenty of room to work out?  Are people waiting to use the equipment you're most interested in?  Are there too many grunting meatheads?  Make sure you can see yourself fitting in - comfortably - at the gym.

Other things to check out . . . Hours. Rules. Cleanliness. Amenities. Class schedules. Class cancellation policies. 

And, of course, there's cost . . . A gym membership is an investment in your fitness, and paying to use a gym is a powerful incentive for lots of people.  Just make sure you understand the fee structure and any contract requirements.  Find out exactly what's included in the fee.  Read the fine print.  And know that a cheaper gym that doesn't have exactly what you want OR is not conveniently located for your life is probably not really cheaper.

Final tips . . . Try it out before you decide.  Most gyms offer test-drive deals (my gym, for example, has a 5-day trial membership for potential members).  There are often membership/sign-up deals in September and January.  On the flip side, gyms are most crowded in the fall and early winter.  The numbers drop significantly by mid-February.  (So if you join in January, keep in mind that the gym will be at peak-crowd just then.  It won't last long.)

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I hope this information is helpful for you if you're considering joining a gym in 2020.  

  • If you already belong to a gym, what benefits or tips might you add to my list?  
  • And if you haven't had a good experience at a gym, what barriers did you encounter?

As for me?  Well . . . I'm off to the gym!

 


Walking in a Winter Wonderland

It's warmed up again here.  I mean . . . it's a relative thing now, at this time of year.  But it's not THAT cold.  And all the snow has finally melted.  (I may even try throwing my bulbs in the ground later this week.  Because what have I got to lose???)  Slightly warmer temperatures and no snow/ice on the ground makes for easier outdoor walking, that's for sure!

Which got me thinking.  I know a lot of you walk outside as your primary fitness activity.  And it's hard(er) to get out there and do it in the winter, when it's cold and there's snow on the ground.  But it's not impossible!  (Just ask my sister, who walks every day -- even in Cheyenne's brutal wind and "sideways snow!")  I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips for winter walking - to keep us all moving -- and moving safely.

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So.  Here we go.  My tips for winter walking:

Stretch a little before you get out there.  When it's cold outside, your muscles take a bit longer to warm up.  Help them out with a few quick stretches before you begin.  Get that blood flowing before you leave the house.

Watch your step.  Mind where you go when it's snowy or icy.  Keep to a moderate (or even a slow and careful) pace when there is ice or snow on the road.  If possible, walk on trails or the sidewalk or less traveled streets.  Watch out for those piles of plowed snow!  Seriously, take it easy -- because you don't want to fall.

Take smaller strides.  The longer your stride, the more likely you are to fall on an icy road.

Dress in layers.  Even though it's cold, a brisk walk can get your heart rate up and make you sweat.  If you're overdressed, you'll be uncomfortably warm, and that's no fun.  (When that happens to me, I usually take off my gloves for a while and unzip the top of my jacket.  I can always pop the gloves back on, or zip back up again if I get chilly.)  But . . . don't layer your socks!  You can better avoid blisters by wearing only single socks.

Wool!  (I don't need to tell the knitters out there about the benefits of wearing wool.)  Wool is your best layer.  Leave the cotton stuff at home!  (Really.  Cotton absorbs moisture -- which never works well when you're exercising.)

Pay attention to your visibility.  Wear something bright -- and something reflective if you're walking in the dark.  If it's dark, put on a flashing clip light.  Carry a little flashlight so you can mind your footing.  Or, better yet, go ahead and get yourself a headlamp.

Try some studded boots or "traction cleats" for your shoes.  When the roads are icy or snow-covered, I pull on my YakTrax.  They provide an amazing amount of stability and make walking outside possible for me in the winter.  My sister has some sort of studded boots that she wears for winter walking (I'll ask her for more information if you're interested).

And then, of course, when you get back home from your winter walk be sure to do a bit more stretching and drink plenty of water!

How about you?  Do you have some tips to share for . . . walking in a winter wonderland?

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Please join us for our Week 3 Read With Us discussion of Just Mercy.  Carole's hosting us for Friday Tuesday Night Snacks -- and you don't want to miss that!


Checking In

It's been a while since I've written a post about fitness and wellness.  (Like with exercise itself, sometimes we get off track, y'know?)  So as I head out this morning for an early spin class and probably some weight work (I don't really feel like it right now, but I really ought do it anyway. . . ), I thought this would be a good time to check in with you.

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How are you doing with your fitness these days?  
What's working for you?  
Or . . . what's not working for you?
Do you have any progress or new goals you want to share?

Let's . . . check in!

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And . . . head over to Bonny's today for more Read With Us.  This week, Bonny is hosting our continuing discussion of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  (I hear she has pastries . . . )

 

 


Shifting Gears . . . But Just a Little

Over the summer, I've been writing quite a few posts about the importance of strength training.  I've tried to convince y'all to include strength training in your regular workouts.  I've suggested a few workouts you can try at home, and I've described some tools and equipment you might want to have on hand to help with your strength training workouts.

Today, I'm going to shift gears a little.  Just a little.  Oh, I still think strength training is vital -- and especially as we prepare ourselves for more graceful and active aging.  But today I want to talk about . . . functional fitness.

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(Such a lovely shot . . . but . . . I notice the benefits of functional fitness most when I'm working in the garden.)

Functional fitness . . . is, basically, exercise that helps your muscles move together to improve daily living.  It's about training your body to handle the things you do every day (bending over to tie your shoe, lifting grocery bags out of the car, reaching up for something on a high shelf, pushing a wheelbarrow, lifting a child, getting out of a chair) or to prepare you to react well in unexpected life situations (getting up off the ground after a fall, preventing a trip on the stairs).

Most of us don't injure ourselves when we're just working out at the gym -- focusing on a specific muscle group or working in a more controlled environment.  Nope . . . we injure ourselves when we're doing everyday things  . . . working in the garden or shoveling snow or moving furniture or painting the ceiling.  We twist in the wrong way or we trip over a hose or we miss a step or we lift with our back instead of our legs.

Functional fitness exercises can help make everyday movement easier. . . by mirroring the things we do in our daily activities.  These kinds of exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time, and get you crossing planes (side to side or front to back movement) and working on different levels -- just like you do in everyday activities.

Most fitness classes at the gym incorporate functional fitness work.  Trainers, too, emphasize functional fitness exercises.  Here are several exercises you can do at home as part of your workout.  (Here's another workout, in case you're looking for even more ideas.)  (And here's a list of 7 functional exercises to do every day from SilverSneakers -- the folks who specialize in fitness for the senior set.)

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Functional fitness makes living an "everyday life" easier.  We can work more efficiently with less effort -- AND with less likelihood of injury -- when we prep our bodies to do the work!

So.  What do you think?  Do you incorporate functional fitness exercises into your workouts?

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Be sure to visit Bonny today for our first Read With Us post about this quarter's book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  I hope you'll read along with us and join the discussion next month!


Get Strong

I've been harping on about getting fit(ter) for several months now.  I hope that I'm beginning to convince you that adding some fitness to your life would be a Really Great Thing.  And, further, I hope that I'm convincing you that strength training should REALLY be Something You Want To Do.  Because being strong and fit will serve us all well as we age.

So let's . . .

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shall we???

Okay.  So many of you have let me know that . . . yeah, yeah.  You're interested.  
But you don't want to go to a gym.  
And you don't have the time.  (See my quote from yesterday.) (Just sayin.)  
And you don't know where to start.
And can you do this at home?  Without any equipment? 

Starting today, I'm going to take those comments on!

Let's begin here:  What, exactly, IS strength training???

Well.  Strength training can be explained by two things:

  1. Movement of any weight . . . including your own body weight.  Turns out that doing ANY exercise that pushes your muscles outside their comfort zone will force them to rebuild stronger.  Y'know . . . to prepare them for their next challenge!
  2. Progressive overload . . . exerting just a little more effort than last time - consistently.  That means lifting heavier weight or doing more repetitions.  You need to make your muscles adapt constantly -- rebuilding themselves to get stronger.

And what does that mean?

Well.  If you do 10 wall push-ups and 10 squats right now . . . you've just done a strength training workout!  (Right there, right now . . . without a gym or a trainer or anything.)

The trick?  Do it on the regular a few times.  And then . . . you need to up your game!  Maybe 11 (or 12) wall push-ups and 11 (or 12) squats.  Or add more days.  Or do them twice with a little rest in between.

Why?

Well.  You need to push your muscles outside their comfort zone.  Regularly.  When you do this . . . pushing your muscles like that . . . you're actually "breaking them down." Kind of "tearing" them (just a little bit) during your workout.  And then, as you rest and recover . . . they build up again.  Stronger and more resilient.  (Rinse.  Repeat.)

What about soreness after you work out?

Yep.  That's going to happen.  Because you're working specific muscles you probably haven't worked in a while -- hard enough to make them "tear" a teeny bit.  This soreness actually has a name:  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS (which usually peaks on the 2nd day after your workout).   And the best "cure" for DOMS?  Movement.  Getting the blood flowing to those sore muscles.  (I know.  Counterintuitive and NOT what you want to do.  But true.)  So.  You need to work through the muscle soreness (not to be confused with an injury, which is different thing altogether).

So.  Here are my strength training beginning basics for you:

  • Intentional, regular workouts
  • Progressive overload
  • Work through the soreness

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Now.  What about a workout to get you started?

First, I'm just going to say this:  Personally, I think it is best if you can get to a gym and take a strength class (many of them are designed specifically for women or for the "over 50" set) or - if you can swing it - work with a trainer for a while.  Proper form is important, and sometimes it's hard to figure out if you're doing your exercises properly on your own, at home.  (Plus, it is nice to have a personal cheerleader.)  BUT . . . don't let that stop you from beginning!  If you absolutely can't (or don't want to) do the gym thing, doing it on your own is better than not doing it at all!

The best way to get started at home . . . is to begin with bodyweight training -- "lifting" the weight of your own body.  No equipment needed!  You can do it anywhere!  And it really works to build strength.

Here is a great beginner-do-at-home-strength training workout for you to try (20 min).  It's from NerdFitness and includes a video.  (You'll have to scroll down to the middle of the article to the headline Beginner Body Weight Workout Video & Exercises.  They also promote their online coaching services, etc. so you'll have to scroll past all that to find the workout.)  NerdFitness does a great job making fitness accessible for people who aren't "athletic."  I really like their attitude and approach, and if I were beginning at home with strength training, this is where I would begin.

You can also do what Carolyn does . . . and find YouTube videos featuring beginning body weight workouts.  I just tried a YouTube search using the terms "beginner body weight workouts" and a BUNCH of options appeared, so that's a great source of at-home workouts.  (The top video in my search?  The NerdFitness workout referenced above!)

And if you've already doing some at-home workouts and would like suggestions of other body weight exercises to mix things up, here is an "encyclopedia" (pretty much) of 53 different body weight exercises to try.  It takes a while to load because it includes a lot of photos and videos of people doing the 53 different body weight exercises.

And if you have access to the New York Times online, they have a great at-home strength workout option that includes detailed instructions and videos.  There is even a chart of the workout you can click on to save to your computer or print out so you don't have to load the whole article each time you want to do it.  (You need to scroll down to the "Time to Train" headline, and then to the "At Home Workout" headline.)

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Okay.  I imagine that's probably total overload.  But certainly a place to begin!  Please let me know what you think -- and especially let me know if you try any of these workouts.  And if you're already working out at home, please add your suggestions or tips.  I'll be sure to share them in future posts.

(Next up:  Adding equipment for your at-home strength training workouts.)


So. Why Weight?

Last week, I introduced you to Claudia . . . who made a compelling case for adding weight training to your fitness activities -- and especially as we age.  I thought I'd piggyback on that post today, with a story and some facts about strength training.

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First, a story.

I've been a workout-freak for a very, very long time.  Cardio fitness activities have long been part of my repertoire - jumping, dancing, running, swimming, kicking.  And I did yoga and Pilates to build core strength, flexibility, and balance.  But I was completely uninterested in strength training or lifting weights.  Because . . . boring.  And I didn't want to get "big muscles." And it didn't actually feel like working out to me . . . because you don't really even sweat.  (And I like to sweat when I work out.)

So I ignored the whole strength thing.

And then . . . in December 2011 . . . my mom fell off a counter stool at my house and broke her ankle.  Badly.  She stayed with me at my house for her recovery, and I saw first hand what happens when you age . . . and didn't work on your strength training when you were younger!  My mom had to keep all weight off her injured foot -- which meant using a walker . . . and "hopping."  She couldn't do it!  She didn't have the upper body strength to use the walker to "hop."  (She couldn't hop either, but that's an issue for another day.)

It was a miserable time.  My mom was frustrated and depressed.  Her early physical therapy efforts were completely focused on building her arm muscles so she could use the walker.  It was hard work, and discouraging for her.  Especially because she was in pretty good shape for a woman in her late 70s!  She walked every day and went to the gym regularly, where she swam and took "Zumba Gold" classes.  

She did not, though, do any strength training.

Watching my mom struggle with her lack of strength had me re-assessing my own workout routine.  I decided I needed to work on my strength . . . now . . . before I became that "woman in her late 70s" who was in "pretty good shape."  (And that's when I contacted Claudia.  Because she was the only woman I knew at the time who WAS working on her strength in a serious way.)

Ever since my mom's broken ankle experience, my motivation has been . . . to NOT have that happen to me!

Now, why weight?  (A few facts about muscles and weight training.)

  • As we age, our muscles begin to melt away.  Muscles begin to deteriorate in our 30s.  When we hit 40, we lose an average of 8% of our muscle mass every decade -- and this continues to accelerate even faster after age 60.  Loss of muscle limits mobility, speeds the onset of some diseases, and is linked to premature death.
  • Loss of muscle also has an impact on your bones.  In fact, the factors that help us maintain muscle are the same factors that keep our bones strong and dense.  As we lose muscle with age, our bones become brittle -- leading to osteoporosis, arthritis, fractures, frailty.
  • Most of us just accept that the loss of muscle and bone density just happens as part of aging.  BUT studies show that you can slow and delay these processes by years - even decades - with muscle strengthening programs that work your entire body.  In fact, studies show that adding 2 resistance-training sessions to your workout each week can reverse age-related cellular damage that causes muscle loss and functional impairment.  (Here's a link to the study if you want to get technical.)

And the benefits?

  • Studies are showing that muscle mass is linked to longevity.  There's something called a "muscle index" (muscle mass divided by height squared), and this muscle index is turning out to be a more important predictor of premature mortality than obesity.
  • Resistance training (strength training) improves your cardiovascular health by increasing your blood flow.
  • Skeletal muscle helps regulate and dispose of blood sugar.
  • Muscle acts like a coat of armor against diabetes.  (Something to do with insulin and absorbing glucose, which is too complicated for me to go into here - because I don't understand it to begin with - but if you're interested, let me know and I can send you a link.)
  • Regular strength training - in combination with cardio exercise and eating a healthy diet - can help burn more fat than just cardio and a healthy diet alone.

So.  Strength training twice a week . . . can help you get stronger, live longer, feel better, and burn more fat.
What are you "weighting" for?

(Seriously.  I want to know.  What are your barriers to strength training?)

 


A Strong Advocate

Back in April, I started a "conversation" here about wellness -- specifically about fitness, and especially as we age.  Based on your comments, I'd say we all pretty much fall into one of two camps:  

(1) those of us who have discovered strategies to make fitness a part of our lives, and 
(2) those of us who would like to.

I thought it might be helpful to have some of the folks in the first camp . . . share their fitness and workout strategies with those in the second camp.  First, I shared my sister Diane’s story– about developing a walking routine for the long term.  Next, I shared Carolyn’s story – about mastering a self-directed fitness/video routine.  Then I shared Patty’s story – about developing a fitness/support community to stay active for the long haul.

Today, I’m happy to bring you another personal fitness story.  This time, I’m going to introduce you to Claudia. . . a true advocate for women’s fitness, and one of my personal fitness role models.  Claudia has been active since meeting her husband – and as you’ll read, has upped her game as she ages.  I used to focus my own workouts entirely on cardio activities – running, swimming, kickboxing, dance, spin classes, etc. – but Claudia helped me realize how important strength training is . . . and challenged me to get stronger!  I’m hoping her story will help you think about your own strength, and inspire you to make fitness a priority in your life.

Claudia at Mt Israel Summit

Claudia, a knitter and former blogger, is 54 years old and married with no kids.  She’s a self-employed lawyer who mostly works out of her home office – which gives her lots of flexibility in her daily schedule as to when she can work and when she can play.  She points out that her life experience probably won’t resonate with busy moms trying to juggle working for a boss and parenting, but she can certainly speak to women at her stage/age and older who objectively can find the time to work on themselves (if they choose to do so).

I asked Claudia why she “bothers” with fitness, and what she gets out of it.  Here’s what she told me:

“Let me start with a story.  I have been actively riding a tandem bicycle with my husband for close to 30 years. So I always thought of myself as 'in shape.'  But when my husband broke his ankle a little over 10 years ago and couldn’t do his usual chore of taking out the garbage, I got quite a shock.  I was too weak to lift up that barrel!  What?!?!  How did this happen?

It turns out, after age 30 people start losing muscle mass at about 3-5% per decade and muscle loss speeds up in your 60’s.  The only way to prevent this situation is strength training.  Bicycling, walking, gardening or doing daily activities that make us feel like we are 'active' won’t cut it.  Without strength training, we are destined to become weak.  That means me, and that means you too.  Unless you do something about it starting now. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience to mine, seeing my elderly mother struggle to use her weak arms to pull herself up in bed.  That is not going to be me if I can help it.

After realizing that I was way weaker than I thought, I bought a book to learn about weightlifting (it was the New Rules of Weightlifting for Women by Lou Schuler), joined my local Y and briefly got some instruction from a trainer.  I started lifting weights and, with a short break for back surgery and recovery, haven’t stopped for 11 years. 

Fitness, further defined as being strong, is important to me because I don’t want to be 'that old lady' who has to ask a big strong man to put her carry-on in the overhead bin. Besides busting patriarchal expectations that older women are weak (which is fun, I’ll admit) being strong makes my everyday life easier. 

Like many women, I spent much of my twenties and thirties thinking that my goal with fitness was to make myself smaller, so as to fit into cute clothes and meet societal expectations of beauty.  Now in middle age, my goal with fitness is to make myself bigger.  Not in the physical sense necessarily (although there is nothing wrong with females building big muscles) but in the sense of feeling powerful and strong.”

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What does Claudia's workout routine look like?  Claudia goes to the gym twice during an average week.  She does a mixture of bodyweight exercises -- pull-ups, push-ups and the like -- and weight training using dumbbells, barbells, and machines.  In the winter, she goes to a spin class at the gym twice a week, with perhaps a ski or trail run or a hike in addition to that.  When the weather is nice, she rides the tandem bicycle outside on the road or in the woods (Yes!  Claudia says tandem mountain bikes are A Thing!) as many days/evenings as possible, given her and her husband’s work schedules.  This works for Claudia – because it’s a good mix of strength training and cardio/endorphin therapy (which helps her deal with job stress).

When I asked Claudia how she “fits fitness into her life” she gave me the absolute BEST answer . . .

Rather than making my fitness routine fit into my life, I make my life fit into my fitness routine.  Why?  Because I’ve realized that the most important thing to me in my life is waking up every morning and feeling well.  There is nothing, and I really mean nothing, more important to me than my health.  I can’t help my family, my clients or anyone else if I’m feeling unwell.  And there is no 'healthy' without being fit.”

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(I told you.)
(Advocate.)
(Role model.)

A lot of us struggle with “getting back” to fitness.  I know when I had a too-long bout with tendinitis in my ankle a few years ago I struggled with not being able to work out the way I really wanted to work out.  It was hard for me to even imagine ever feeling like I’d be able to move without pain again.  And I know there are many of you who have been away from fitness for so long that you’re having a hard time getting back to regular exercise.

Well.  Claudia has been there!  A few years ago, she had back surgery and was not able to exercise for about a year. Here’s her story:

“In June 2014 I had back surgery to repair a disc in my back that had gone wonky and resulted in nerve pain down my leg.  I was on the couch, unable to exercise in any way for about a year.  It was during this period of time that I came to understand how important a healthy, fully-functional body really is.   I resolved then that if I was ever so lucky as to be able to return to my fitness activities, that I would be grateful and never take my health for granted.  So far, I’ve kept this promise to myself.

When I recovered from the surgery, I returned to exercise very slowly.  Over time, I walked halfway down my street, then all the way, then around the block.  I tried a tiny bit of weight on one machine, then a tiny bit more, then another machine and every week, bit by bit, worked my way back.  I had setbacks when I over-did, which were mentally tough to handle. There was crying and bitching, but eventually I could manage the strength to dial it back and re-try.

I would say the most helpful thing I did to avoid going down the rabbit-hole of self-pity and the mindset of 'why bother' was to keep a journal.  Being able to see my progress over time, even if it was super slow, helped motivate me to continue.”

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I asked Claudia if she ever gets bored with her workouts.  Her reply?  “Sure I get bored.  Sure, some nights I’m super tired and don’t want to get off my butt and head to the gym. Or I’d rather spend my time doing something else.” 

So what does she do when she’s feeling . . . unmotivated?

  1. I work out with my husband. If I’m unmotivated, likely he isn’t having that problem and peer pressure pushes me out the door.  Vice versa, of course.  If you can recruit your partner or a friend to be a workout buddy, fitness gets a lot easier.
  2. I keep records of my strength workouts. I used to actually write down the exercises I did, the weight and the repetitions in a paper notebook.  Now I use the free app Fitnotes (for Android and Apple).  These records keep me accountable to myself for how often I show up at the gym.

Claudia also points out that “once you have gained some strength you don’t want to lose it.  Were I to stop going to the gym, I’d lose the ability to do the number of pullups and pushups that I’m proud to be able to do. So even if on a particular day I’m not feeling it, the knowledge that regaining strength is harder than keeping it up in the first instance, motivates me.”

I asked Claudia what advice she has for others who are trying to add more fitness to their lives.  I’m hoping her reply will help motivate you to take a hard look at what changes you can make in your own lives.

“Before the 'how' of specific exercises or strategies, comes the 'why' -- the will to do it. Let me try to speak to that.

Listen to your self-talk. 'Oh I would never have the patience for that.' 'I have to try that....one day.' 'I don’t have the time/money/energy.'  'God I hate exercise!!'  All these words really mean the same thing: you aren’t willing to prioritize your health.

Next, you might consider asking yourself why this is true.  Deep down, do you think that the consequences of not being fit will never actually come back to bite you?  Do you have so much to worry about today, that you can’t worry about what happens tomorrow?  Do you feel guilty about spending time on yourself?  Unpacking and dealing with the 'why' of not prioritizing health might be the most important step to make fitness a real and lasting part of your life.

The likely reality is that you find the time/energy/money to do lots of things that aren’t work or feeding yourself and your family or sleeping.  Consider taking some of that time you might spend knitting (!), watching your favorite TV show or a movie or reading a book, and use it to improve your health.”

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I hope that Claudia’s words will challenge you to think about your own fitness habits – whether you already work out regularly or not. 

Several years ago, when I started talking to Claudia about strength training, I had never really considered adding weight training to my regular workout routine.  I can tell you now . . . it has been an absolute game-changer for me!  I’m stronger now -- maybe stronger than I've ever been in my life.  And that feels really good.  After all, that’s my goal – to be strong all the way to the end of my life.

How about you?  Are you ready to make fitness a priority in your life?  Are you ready to be a “strong old lady” with Claudia (and me)?

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PS – I asked Claudia if she’d ever taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz, and how she falls on that “spectrum.”  So . . . she took the quiz, and ended up scoring as an Upholder.   Claudia went on to say, though, that she thought it was a “pretty superficial assessment tool,” commenting that although she’s very diligent about keeping her commitments, she’s “extremely stingy” about making them in the first place.  Claudia says she “cares about few things” but that she “cares deeply about that small number” – and that she isn’t sure that sort of behavior was accounted for in the quiz.  Based on that . . . I’m going to guess that Claudia is really a Questioner!  ;-)