Category Archives: Healthy Aging

You’re Just Getting Started

We're never too old to begin something new.

We’re never too old to begin something new.

There are a lot of causes of unhappiness in adulthood. Clinical, depression, job loss, marriage troubles, health conditions, regret, worrying, weight issues, stagnation, comparison, envy, rigidity and grief to name just a few. I think there is a way we could increase the satisfaction and happiness we all feel in our lives as we age without too much trouble. We just have to not give up.

A lot of us have given up. And that sucks. Bear with me.

I think a lot of unhappiness in this world comes from people reaching a certain age (35, 45, 55 etc) and believing that they have reached their peak. They think they’ve done all that they’re going to do that’s significant and if they haven’t accomplished it by now, well they should just give up that dream and accept the fact that they squandered their years on earth and it’s time for them to just float into their twilight years as gracefully as they can. Why should we continue to work at something you’ve always loved if you haven’t made it by 35 or 45? And why begin anything new over 55? 65? There is an overwhelming pressure and even quiet acceptance that goal setting and creative pursuits are for the super young. I think our way out of misery is by not accepting that.

Our culture values youth more than almost anything else. We put pressures on young people to figure out what they want in life and actually go out and achieve it by 25. A small motivated and well supported (affluent) portion will do this – to some degree. Maybe they really don’t want to be in finance or be a doctor but it more than pays the bills and makes them look successful. The rest spend their 20’s feeling like they don’t fit in with their peers (who all seem to have it figured out – or are at least pretending to) and they wonder why everyone else has it figured out except for them? Where did I go wrong? Why can’t I have things figured out?

We hit our 30s and we do the same thing. We’re still young, although we know that we’re old enough that admitting that we never figured out our dreams or how to reach them is not something we’re willing to do – we don’t want to look like a slacker. Many of us have children and between work and kids, we don’t even have time to dedicate to spending on our dreams or creativity in our free time. We’re just psyched if we can get 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. By our 40s we settle into whatever careers we’ve already been working in for 20 years and feel that glimmer of “it’s way too late” to change now. By our 50’s we start thinking about when the company is going to want to lay us off for someone younger who they can pay less and get to work more hours. The thought of going after our dreams is so far in the past now, that it doesn’t even seem like it was ever something we wanted. That must have been someone else. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we stay employed until we’re eligible for retirement.

WTF? How can we not be unhappy with this path for most of us?

The average life expectancy of a woman in the US is 81 and of a man is 76. That means we have the potential to spend decades of our life giving up and believing we’re “done” long before it’s over.

How can that not cause people to feel awful?

Is this what you want? Me neither.

I had the same dialogue above in my head in my 20’s and early 30’s. I remember being 23 and considering applying to grad school – and already I felt I was too old (because I’d be what, a whole 2 years older than most of the other students??).  Even when I went back to school and quit my job in 2013 (well into my 30’s), I was panicking that it was a huge mistake and that I was too “old” to jump ship like that. I spent all of my adult years prior to now believing that the boat had passed and a new career, ambition or hobby that was fulfilling would be too time consuming and would take too long for me to be able to do well. I pretty much started off my adult years already believing I was “old”.

If we think our lives are essentially over, growth-wise by our 30s, 40s or 50s (and yes even your 60s) that is the real problem, not our age or perceived lack of accomplishments.

While our culture may not value our years the way it does the super young or beautiful, there is no rule, no law and no restrictions on when you can start something new. It’s all in our heads.

Is it difficult to make a career change at any age? Totally. And yes, most people can’t up and quit like I did. But I’m not just speaking of career changes. Those hobbies you had while you were young that you gave up or pushed aside because you couldn’t figure out how to make a career out of them or you just didn’t have the time anymore? If you love them, make the time. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, learn how to knit or take a surfing lesson. Why not now? Make the time. Maybe you used to love to roller skate or ride your bike. Why not do it now?

Put those roller skates back on. Get on your bike. Climb a mountain. Keep moving and growing.

Put those roller skates back on. Get on your bike. Climb a mountain. Keep moving and growing.

Our life’s work isn’t the series of jobs we work or what high title we earned at that job. It’s the cumulation of who we are and who we affected during our short time here on earth. That might be done at your job, but it might also be done with art, writing, serving, who and how you give your time and energy. The more we give of ourselves to pursuits that encourage the best of us, bring out our creativity and light us up, the more we will be able to contribute to this world, the more we will leave behind and the more joy and happiness we will get to enjoy while we are still here. Our imprint on the universe is not the result of where we earned a paycheck, it is where we put our energies for the whole of our time. What do you want that to be? Why stop forming that imprint when you are still in your youth with so many more years to go?

I’ve had this conversation often with many people, including my husband, about trying new things or going back to old things we’ve given up when we contemplate our “age”, preventing stagnation or where we are in our lives. He jokes that he always thought he’d be a rockstar by our age. I always tell him, “why not be one now?” and he used to look horrified. Every time I’ve suggested that he should start playing music again, I always throw in a factoid about someone else over the age of 35 who has started something new or accomplished something awesome. Now when the conversation happens, I see less horror in his face and more “maybe”. That’s good enough for me. I’m going to share with you some of those people that I share with him. Hopefully they inspire you too!

A few people who’ve accomplished awesome stuff over the age of 35:

  • Grandma Moses, a well known American Folk Artist began her painting career at the age of 78.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien was 45 when The Hobbit was published (and 17 and 18 years later his Lord of Rings books were published) – the guy wasn’t done yet!
  • Betty Jones, a 92 year old woman from South Yorkshire, England, lost 98 lbs last year by going to the gym 5 days a week and taking swimming lessons. She is also a student Barnsley College (studying tailoring, cake decorating and healthy eating). She also decided to learn how to drive for the first time last fall. About all her accomplishments in her 90s “A lot of people seem to use age as a reason to give up, but I hope I can show them that you are never too old and you can do anything at any age.
  • James Bernard Bowler of Illinois, was (and still is) the oldest known Freshman member of the US House of Representatives, elected to office for the first time at the age of 78 (and winning his first election I might add).
  • Julia Child was in her mid 30’s when she began learning about french cooking and 50 when s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published.
  • Susan Boyle was 48 when she was on Britain’s Got Talent and her debut album in 2009 became the UK’s best-selling debut album of all time. Prior to being discovered on Britain’s Got Talent, Susan’s only job had been as a trainee cook briefly in a college kitchen.
  • Leslie Jones at 47 years old is the oldest actor to ever join the cast of SNL.
  • Christopher Plummer won an Oscar at 82 years old (for Beginners). Jessica Tandy won at 80 years old (for Driving Miss Daisy).
  • Oscar Swahn of Sweden won a gold medal in the single shot events in the 1912 Olympics at 64 years of age (he is still the oldest person to ever win a gold medal).
  • Rodney Dangerfield didn’t make it big until he was on the Ed Sullivan show at 46 (and he was a last minute replacement for another performer).
  • Fred Hale Sr got his driver’s license for the first time at 104 years old.
  • Phyllis Diller started her stand up career at 37.
  • Toni Morrison published her first novel (The Bluest Eye) when she was 40.
  • John H Doc Ball was an American Surfer who was still surfing in Northern California until the end of his life at age 94.
  • Dr. Clarence Nicodemus, started medical school at 57, and graduated from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at 61 years old in 2004 and is still practicing today in Monterey, CA.
  • Manoel De Oliveira, a Portuguese filmmaker (who won awards at Cannes and Venice) was still an active filmmaker the year before he passed at 106 years old.
  • Vera Wang, yes that Vera Wang, didn’t start her line in the world of fashion design until she was 40 (before that she was a figure skater and journalist).
  • Andrea Bocelli was 36 when his first album came out. He previously had worked as a lawyer during the day and played in piano bars at night. Singing was always his passion.

There are many many more people like this – going after really cool things at any age – we just have to look for them.

Paint. Draw. Read. Write. Create. Love. Grow. Develop. Pursue. Build. Life.

Paint. Draw. Read. Write. Create. Love. Grow. Develop. Pursue. Build. Life.

You have not accomplished your best work yet.
You are just getting started.
You haven’t gone on your greatest trip yet.
You haven’t painted your best painting.
You have yet to learn the most profound lesson of your life.
And there is still time to learn a new skill, try a new sport, take up dancing, learn to paint, volunteer at the old people’s home (even if you are the old people).
You can have many careers during your lifetime.
You don’t have to ever stop learning, creating or dreaming because of your age.
Keep creating and growing. You have so much more to give to this world before you go.

Believe that you’re just getting started and that all doors are open to you and I bet you will feel just a tiny bit more happy. Look for more proof of people doing cool things around you and grow those good feelings.

Now, what dream, goal, activity, hobby or creative pursuit have you always wanted to spend more time doing? When will you begin making time for this? How can you fit it into your current life?

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Expressing Gratitude Can Increase Your Happiness

Practicing more of this can increase your health and happiness.

Practicing more of this can increase your health and happiness.

Last week I came across this article from the American Heart Association, that shows the relationship between negative emotions and stroke risk.  Negative emotions (such as stress, hostility or depression) increase the risk of stroke in middle aged and older adults. A quick internet search of these key words leads to many other studies showing similar results. Considering how stressed and depressed we are as a country, studies that show results like this are somewhat alarming.

However, I don’t think the idea that our emotions can affect our health is new news. I’m sure we’ve all seen the depiction on TV of the stressed businessman who explodes with rage and then drops on the floor clutching his chest. Or we’ve heard someone say “Calm down before you have a stroke!”

But I think seeing research confirm repeatedly that there is a direct link between our emotions and our health is good news, even if you are someone who finds themselves frequently feeling less than positive emotions? Why? Because you can do something about it. Knowledge is power.

While I’m not saying we can change our natural tendency towards pessimism or optimism (and obviously someone with clinical depression will need additional help), I absolutely think we change our overall experience on a daily basis.

How? For starters, a diet with a broad spectrum of nutrients supports our brains and our bodies, endorphin pumping exercise increases cardiovascular health and improves mood and self care work like massage, meditation, yoga and breathing exercises all dissipate stress when done regularly.

If all that seems like way too much to take on at once, I recommend starting with gratitude exercises.  Research on gratitude is relatively young but the studies that have been done are showing great promise that there is a connection between feeling grateful and our well being. Gratitude has been shown to reduce stress and boost the immune system. Positive emotions may even reduce the risk of sudden death from heart conditions like CHF and CAD. If you’re not convinced you should try some yet, here’s a great article that goes over several gratitude studies and the mental and physical health benefits participants received.

Gratitude exercises are something you can do every day and most take just a few minutes to do.

Here are some of the gratitude exercises I recommend to clients and have practiced myself:

1. Create a daily gratitude list. Keep a notebook by your bed and each night before bed, write a list of the things you are thankful for each day. It can be something that happened that day or something you are grateful for in general.  Try to come up with at least 3 items each night and do this for at least 3 weeks to create a habit. This exercise can even help you get better sleep.

2. Write a gratitude letter. Think of someone in your life who had a positive effect on you (big or small) and write them a letter telling them so. Explain what it was that they did/said and how thankful you are to them because of it. Mail it.

3. Meditate on gratitude. Spend 5 – 10 minutes each day meditating on some of the things you feel thankful for (perhaps it’s your health, your warm home, your children, the food on your table etc). Set a timer and sit comfortably in a quiet place with your eyes closed and begin to focus on your breath.  With every inhale, think to yourself “I offer gratitude for___________”. With every exhale, think  to yourself “Thank you” or “I am blessed.”

4. Start a gratitude journal. Once a week, sit down and write about all the things you are grateful for that week. Go in as much depth as you feel like. Let all the good things come out on paper. Squash the negative thoughts (at least in this journal). Some weeks you may find this hard if things aren’t going so well – but dig deep. You will find something.

5. Schedule a gratitude visit. Maybe you’re not the writing type. No worries! Instead of writing a gratitude letter as outlined in #2, schedule a visit, lunch or coffee with a person you’d like to express your gratitude to. It doesn’t need to be something major. The idea is that it will make you and them feel good (and that’s good – it’s infectious!).

6. Express gratitude before you get out of bed. If you can’t do anything else, before you even get out of bed in the morning, express gratitude out loud or even in your head. Thank you for waking up! Thank you for a good night’s sleep. Thank you for this sunny day. Thank you for the sleepy person laying next to me. You get the idea.

7. Say thank you in a conscious way. How often do we say please, thank you, you’re welcome etc in a robotic, routine way? It’s great that we are polite, it’s not so great that there often isn’t any feeling behind it. When you express gratitude thoughtfully and sincerely on a daily basis, it will have a greater impact on the person you are saying it to (and on you as well).  Continue to say thank you, you’re welcome etc but before you say it, pause and connect the thought of gratitude directly to the person you are saying it to. Thoughtful and conscious acts have an effect on our bodies and our minds.

Have you ever practiced gratitude on a regular basis? Do you think it can be helpful for changing our outlook on life? Share in the comments.
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If you think health is only about diet and exercise, you’re missing something that may be critical

You’ve finally got this exercise thing down. You know how much better you feel when you get some form of exercise most days and you’re loving the changes in how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror.

You’ve really made some amazing changes in your diet too. You’re eating more vegetables than ever before, cooking at home more often and eating far less processed food. Your digestion is better and you have more energy.

You feel pretty good about all the changes you’ve made in the last year and you’re less worried about your long-term health now that you’re doing all the right things.

But there’s something really important that you haven’t given much thought to in regards to your health. Stress. Sure, you wish you had less of it and know you should probably find ways to manage it better, but if you’re eating well and exercising, it doesn’t really matter, right? Nope. It does matter and it matters more than you think.

Increases Risk of Disease and Complications
Both long term chronic stress and shorter term stressful events increases the risk of cardiac events, high blood pressure, stroke, makes blood sugar harder to control for diabetics, and so much more.  People with stressful lives more times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Chronic stress interferes with the speed at which wounds heal. A quick internet search will give you study after study that confirms the links between stress and health issues.  There’s no doubt that our stressful lives are adding the skyrocketing costs of health care in this country (though that’s a topic for another day and time).

Mental Health Issues
Chronic stress not only leads to the health problems mentioned above, but it also can cause anxiety, depression and sleep issues, all of which can increase our perceived feelings of stress and cause health problems of their own.

Poor Digestion
Being stressed can even interfere with digestion so even if you are eating better, your body won’t be able to utilize all of the good nutrition you put into it. Stress can reduce gut motility, gastric juice production, is a risk factor for diseases like IBD and GERD and can even increase permeability of the gut.  In the short term, immediate stress can cause bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea as anyone who has tried to eat a meal when feeling stressed can confirm.

It ages both our DNA & our outward appearance
Chronic stress can age us too! Researchers have found that stress can shorten telomeres (a structure on the ends of our chromosomes that affects how quickly our cells age). Telomere length is important because each time a cell divides the telomeres shorten and when they get to a certain length, the cell dies. Anything that shortens telomeres, increases the speed at which cells die, which is associated with aging and a shorter life. Here’s an easy to understand description of what telomeres are (if you’d like more details that I’m giving here).    Another reason stress may age us is because when we are stressed, we are more likely to take part in activities that can show visible signs of aging (as well as increase health risks), like smoking, drinking, not exercising or eating poorly. Or we may find it difficult to sleep and a lack of sleep absolutely makes us look tired and older.

Making changes in my own life
I’ve been neglecting this area in my own life. I exercise 5 or 6 days a week, eat whole organic foods from nature for about 90% of my diet (much of it fruits and vegetables) and yet I know I don’t spend nearly enough time managing stress. It’s ironic, as I spend my days helping my clients make goals around taking better care of themselves, including reducing their stress levels. I find that many of the women I work with are resistant to doing the recommendations we come up with that are designed to reduce stress.  When asked why, it’s usually “I’m too busy”, “I just didn’t have time.”  or “Something else was more important.”  Perhaps my clients are able to read my mind because I find myself sometimes thinking the same things.  For several months now, I’ve just been chalking that up to “This is how business owners feel” and figured I need to get used to it.  But I know that doesn’t have to be true and it’s certainly not something that I want to be true, especially since I work in a field where taking care of the whole person is the goal.

The worst part of me ignoring my stress levels is that I’m a health coach who has high blood pressure.  I’ve had it forever. I was diagnosed many many years ago and my dietary changes, supplement additions and even major weight loss (90 lbs at one time) have never resulted in lower readings. In my case, it’s caused by my genes – BUT I know better than anyone how much worse stress can make blood pressure issues no matter the cause.  It’s essential that I make reducing stress as important as my diet.

In 2015, I’m making a commitment to myself to do more to reduce my stress.  I haven’t worked out the specific details of when and how yet, but I’m committing to:
1. More quality meditation
2. More cups of herbal tea, hot water with lemon and apple cider vinegar
3. More regular dry brushing and time in the bath (with a good book).
4. Cutting back on my internet time when I’m not working (no more phones in bed!)
5. More breathing exercises
6.  Eating slower.  (on my busy days I find I’m wolfing meals in between tasks too fast)
7. Be more selective about how much “news” I allow in my life. It’s not that I want to be uninformed, but it’s not healthy to hear about nothing but bombings, kidnappings and hostage situations on a daily basis.

What can you commit to doing to reduce your stress? 

Some of you may feel it’s not something you need to work on because you don’t think you have a right to be stressed. Maybe you have a cushy job, maybe you have lot of free time, maybe finances aren’t something you have to worry about. Stress doesn’t just affect those who are at their wits end.  On the outside, it may look like you have the perfect life, but you might be perceiving serious stress or anxiety anyhow.  Some of us make our own stress (natural worrier? perfectionist?), some of us are sensitive and feel stress from the pressures other’s put on us and some have physical or situational stressors happening. It doesn’t matter where your stress is coming from or whether or not you think you have a “right” to feel the way you do, if you perceive stress and it’s affecting how you feel or perform, you can bet it’s affecting your health. I tend to make some of my own stress by putting pressures on myself. In some ways, that’s great because it helps me reach goals, but sometimes it can be stifling and silly to feel like I have to do something just because I set a goal. Sometimes goals can be chucked out the window if they no longer fit your needs, especially if the only reason you’re trying to meet it is because of a need to be perfect.  So, I’m a work in progress just like you.

I want to be able to help you relieve stress too so I’m working on some exciting stress relief related programs that will be released in the coming months, including a workshop, group programs and even an online meditation program that you can do from the comfort of home! I’m super excited about them. I’m absolutely not veering away from my focus on healthy cooking and the relationship we have with our bodies, mind and food but this is an important area that needs some attention, not just in my life, but in all of our lives.

If you want to be among the first to be notified when my these programs go live, make sure to get on my email list if you’re not already.  You can sign up in the green box at the bottom of this blog post (you’ll also get a download of my free eBook as a bonus). You can also become an active member of my Facebook community. I say “active” because Facebook only shows posts to those who comment/like on posts on a regular basis.

Let’s have a calmer, less stressed 2015 together.  xx

Do it Because You Can

Move because you can.

Do it because you can, even if you don’t want to because someone else can’t.

Some mornings, I’m more likely to hit the snooze button than get out of bed to go work out.  Though I have to say I usually only do that now on days when I know I can get my exercise in later in the day.  If I have a packed day ahead of me and my only opportunity to exercise is first thing, well you can bet I’m getting up.  I’m squeezing myself into a sports bra, pulling my hair into some sort of attempt at a ponytail, grabbing a smoothie out of the fridge and on my way in less than 10 minutes from when I hop out of bed.  Sometimes I just want to go crawl back in bed but I don’t, for a few reasons, but one that stands out to me more and more the older I get is:  Because I can.

I walk because I can.
I run (sometimes!) because I can.
I bust my butt at Booty Barre because I can.
I ride my bike outside in the summer and my indoor spin bike in the winter, because I can.
I lift weights in my living room because I can.
I do yoga at home, outdoors and in a studio because I can.
I do push ups & crunches because I can.
I go swimming because I can.

I do these things even though I don’t always want to. Sometimes I’d much rather just lay on the couch and watch TV. Sometimes it would be way more fun to go out for a cocktail.  And sometimes when I’m in a grumpy mood, even though I know working out will make me feel better, I just straight up want to stay my grumpy self. Most of the time, I do what my body feels capable of each day – even if it is just something small (and yes I do allow for rest when it’s needed). And I push forward because I can.

Why am I repeating myself? What’s the significance of “because I can”?  Well I have 3 people whose experiences I can thank for it.

The College Roomie’s Mother
In college, we walked all over campus, all of the time. Over time, as some of my friends brought their cars on to campus (parking was always a pain), the idea that we wouldn’t have to hoof it from one end of campus to another on foot was pretty appealing! One friend insisted we still walk everywhere even when her car was parked directly outside of our apartment. Me and our other friends would complain and tease her, saying “Ug, you make us walk everywhere!”  One day, as we were walking across T-hall lawn, she turned to us and said “You want to know why I walk everywhere? Well some days my Mom can’t. Some days her legs don’t work, so as long as mine do, I’m going to walk everywhere I can.”

Her mother had MS, which all of us knew, but we didn’t really know enough about the day to day goings of someone dealing with it.  We were young, the general public was less informed about it than they are today and this friend didn’t talk about this stuff with us very often. While it helped me understand my friend better and what her family was going through, I don’t think it had a huge impact on me personally then, but a seed was definitely planted in my mind.

My Mother
Many of you know that my mother passed away just after I graduated college, and her passing has heavily influenced my lifestyle decisions since.  But even before she passed, my mind was often on her health. She was a smoker, had asthma (and more lung issues but we didn’t know it yet) and I remember coming home for a holiday break and hearing her having coughing fits in the middle of the night, so bad, that I got up to check on her.  She was up doing a nebulizer treatment (a common sight in our house – most of our family had asthma) for the second time in an hour – which was not like her.  Coughing fits were the norm, having the nebulizer not help the first time wasn’t. In fact, her cough was so distinct (at least to us kids) that when I was in the Catholic school choir and the school attended a monthly mass together, my sisters and I always knew when our Mom was able to make it, without even seeing her, because we would hear her cough and recognize she was in the building. My mother quit smoking not too long after the two nebulizer night but her lungs only got worse.

Regular breathing was such a struggle, that without her saying anything, I learned to recognize the signs – shoulders up high and lips pursed, it would take up a ton of her energy to just breathe.  But she continued doing things normally as much as she could.  Going to the grocery store, I’d offer to push the carriage but she wouldn’t give it up.  I realized later that it wasn’t because she wanted to be tough, it was because she literally needed it to hold her up, because she was exhausting herself just trying to breathe, something that most of us take for granted.

My father gave her a hard time about needing to exercise – he (and my sisters & I) thought, that if only she exercised, her lungs would get stronger and her “asthma” wouldn’t be so bad.  Her “asthma” at this point was really end stage COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) but none of us knew this, and if she did, she kept it from us.  Her exercise goal was just to walk to and from the mailbox a few times a day. She said she would be proud of herself if she could do that. Our mailbox was not very far from our house. I have no clue what the length of our driveway was, but if you parked 5 cars back to back from our doorstep to the mailbox you would probably reach the mailbox before the last car was even squeezed in.  Covering that tiny distance took everything she had.  And she’d have to stop and catch her breath when she came back in the house.

Looking back, the biggest sign of how sick my mother was and how limited her physical mobility was, came my junior year in college. I was living at the “Gables”, UNH’s on-campus apartments and my mother was coming to pick me up so I could work for the weekend.  She hadn’t see my apartment yet and I was excited for her to see it and meet my new roommates.  When she arrived, she called me on her “emergency” cell phone.  Back then, no one used cell phones for anything but emergencies but my mother wanted to let me know she was there but didn’t want to come up. I gave her a hard time.  I really wanted her to come see my place! The building we were in had a little cul de sac out directly in front of the doors, you weren’t supposed to park there but we all did if we were just going to be a minute (the parking lot was really far away otherwise), then you walked down a short hallway into an elevator, rode it to the 6th floor and my apartment door was right in front of you.  She would not have had to walk very far at all – probably no farther than the distance to the mailbox.  I was a bratty know it all 20 year old and acted ridiculous about her not wanting to come up.  I couldn’t comprehend how she wasn’t fit enough to come inside. Even though she told me she just didn’t have the energy to come up, I saw it as her being “lazy” but what it really was was her cells being completely starved of oxygen because of the COPD.  She was in tears (and I probably was too) by the time I got down to the car.  She rarely let us see her upset so I knew she had to be hurting.  Still, I didn’t quite get the message until later.

My Aunt
My mother had one sister, Denise.  She was “Aunt Ninny” to my sisters and I.  She never married and had no children.  She chose a life of freedom & adventures with her friend’s John, Rosie and Linda, instead of settling down with a family. She enjoyed wine, cheesecake and her dog when she wasn’t hitting the casino or visiting a new city.  She was one of the most giving and hilarious people I’ve ever known.

She also was a smoker and had asthma.  She spent many years on corticosteroid inhalers to control the asthma and that medication caused osteoporosis. One day, she had a coughing fit and coughed so hard that she fractured her T4 and T5 vertebrae. When brought to the hospital she was still able to walk so no one thought it was that serious, but within a day or two she mentioned being unable to feel her legs and then after that she lost all movement and sensation.  She ended up being paralyzed from the waist down and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, which sadly was only a few years. She spent many months in the hospital and in rehab and then many more months in a nursing home while her home was renovated to be wheelchair friendly. Doing basic tasks for herself became impossible. Things we all take for granted – cooking, going to the bathroom, showering, walking the dog, reaching for a cup on a shelf – were all out of reach.  Her vibrant life was whittled down to days spent waiting for others to come visit or assist her with everything, and though she tried to put on a brave face when we came to visit, you could see in her eyes just how painful her new reality was.

My Motivation
The conversation with my college friend happened around 1997 or 1998, my Mother passed in 2001 and Ninny died in 2005.  By the time Ninny became paralyzed I had fully heard the message – do what you can, while you can.

Nothing is guaranteed.  You could say that both my mother and aunt ended up the way they did because of smoking, so if you just don’t smoke, you’ll be ok, but that’s not true.  People who don’t smoke get Emphysema and COPD, get paralyzed and develop MS. And there are countless other conditions or unfortunate situations that arise suddenly and can take away one’s ability to do the things they love or do the things that keep us physically fit.

Exercise keeps me sane.  It gives me an outlet for nervous energy, helps give me focus and clarity.  It helps lower my blood pressure, reduces my chances of getting sick and gives me energy to get through each day.  It keeps me strong enough to pick up my 70lb niece like a sack of potatoes and climb 5 flights of stairs to get to a class.  Being able to move when I want to and because I want to is currently a choice, but if it was suddenly taken away from me, whether through my own fault or not, I would be devastated.  So, I will continue to move when I can and how I can, not just because of the benefits I outlined above, but because I CAN.

I keep my friend’s mom, my mom, and my aunt in the back of my mind when I’m thinking about skipping my workouts.  I know not everyone feels the same love & need for exercise that I do and I understand that.  But if you enjoy your physical ability to do anything you want, I hope you honor it by indulging your body and moving it the way it was meant to be moved, even if “movement” for you means going apple picking with the kids, visiting a new city on foot with friends or just getting your feet wet at the pool.

What’s your motivation for exercise or for pushing forward when you don’t want to? How do you honor your body?

Would a Zombie want to eat your Brains?

Seriously. I know Zombies don’t exactly have the most discriminating of palates but I like to think at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse when there is a surplus of human brains for them to feast on they’re going to be a little choosy.

“Ug, dementia riddled brains again, mom? Can’t we have young fresh healthy brains?”

Unfortunately, after listening to a talk recently by Dr. Daniel Amen on keeping our brains young I’m thinking that choosy zombies are going to be shit out of luck at the end of days. Some of the facts Dr. Amen mentioned about Alzheimer’s were absolutely staggering (and terrifying) and I thought it was important to do a quick post on it (but not for the benefit of the zombies).  We hear about people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s all the time but do we ever really stop to think about why it’s happening or what we can do about it?

Every 68 seconds an American develops Alzheimer’s Disease.  By 2050, an American will develop the disease every 33 seconds.  Yikes.

A couple of doozies Dr. Amen mentioned:

  • The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple by 2050
  • At age 85, you have a 50% chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Brain deterioration starts 30 years before symptoms even start to show.

There’s still a bit of debate about what the specific causes of Alzheimer’s are but one can see drastic differences between a healthy brain vs. one with Alzheimer’s just by looking.  If symptoms take 30 years to show up that means our brains start to develop the disease in our 30’s and 40’s and that means there might be time for some of us to change our fate.

We know that an Alzheimer’s brain is one that is deteriorating.  It is essentially accelerated brain aging.  So what makes your brain age?  Lots of things but primarily anything that reduces blood flow to the brain:  toxins & conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and depression. Also sedentary lifestyles, smoking and drug and alcohol use.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s and so far no proven method of preventing it.  But we do know that people who develop certain conditions (like those named above) have an increased risk of the disease so at the moment your best defense is a lifestyle that prevents you from developing those diseases and change your lifestyle if you already have any of them!

Decrease your Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night
  • Eat a clean mediterranean based diet that includes omega 3 fatty acids
  • Drastically limit added sugar in your diet
  • Exercise regularly and move more in general
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Drink green tea in moderation
  • Continue to learn new things as you age.  Challenge yourself!
  • Manage stress (yoga, meditation, massage, breathwork, time with friends etc)

If looking better, feeling better and living longer aren’t enough reasons for you to take better care of yourself, I hope reducing the risk of not remembering your grandchildren (or children, or husband etc) someday is.

If you take all these steps to reduce your risk, luckily for you, there is currently no way for the zombies to know ahead of time that you have young healthy brains. Green tea in hand and lacing up my sneakers now!  There’s probably a lot of running in the apocalypse.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba  / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net