Tag Archives: Health

Physical Fit: Dehydration, It’s not Just For Summertime

Dehydration concept.

Something has occurred to me recently… as in the last week because of some other incidents I have mentioned (i.e. nearly freezing to death in my own home). During the shivering and trying not to become a popsicle, I also realized that I managed to avoid drinking the recommended daily allowance of H2O. I am dehydrated.

Most people know that water is necessary for life. More necessary than food and less than breathing, and by that, I mean that you can go for a long time without food, less time without water, and we all know that depleting our bodies of oxygen for more than a few minutes will result in unpleasant consequences like unconsciousness, brain damage, organ failure, and death. That’s hardly earth shattering or genius level deduction. Most of us learned that in primary school to some extent.

Anyhow, not drinking sufficient water can lead to a lot of unpleasant things including skin issues, cracked lips, dental problems, halitosis, fatigue, muscle deterioration, headaches, digestive issues, and elimination difficulties (yes, I’m talking some potty problems). It is not a fun time, and of course, failure to hydrate properly can lead to the ultimate adverse effect… death.

dangers_of_dehydration

People do not realize that our bodies need water all the time. In fact, most people do not even know the actual amount that they need on a given day, and would most likely underestimate that amount. For example, based on my weight and age, I am supposed to consume 110 oz. of water every day. That is just with normal activity and average temperatures and humidity. That does not even take into account diet, medications, consuming alcohol and caffeine, activity levels, or extremes of weather.

On top of all of the negative impact of dehydration upon the body, lack of appropriate water intake can also negatively impact the fitness routine and weight loss goals. Dehydration can result in fatigue and general lack of productivity. Not drinking enough water can slow down your cardio and can even result in increased appetite due to the body’s attempts to boost energy. Staying hydrated can decrease overeating, and boost energy levels. Maintaining proper levels of hydration can also ensure that the body is using the food and nutrients consumed in the most efficient way.

For me, it is so much easier to stay hydrated in the summer. I know that is counterintuitive, but it is true. During the summer, I have no trouble consuming a cool refreshing beverage. I frequently keep a large container of water near at hand and sip on it continually through the day. In the colder weather, however, I find it less automatic to continually drink my water throughout the day, and in truly frigid temperatures, I find it almost impossible to make myself drink enough of the cool water that drops my core temperatures even lower.

It is, however, just as important to stay hydrated in winter. Keeping appropriate hydration allows the body better temperature regulation, and dehydration can contribute to hypothermia. Also, many heating systems tend to dry out the air inside homes and the moisture in the body as well, chapping the skin and drying nasal passages and mouth preventing the body from resisting environmental allergens and other contaminants.

I must remember to drink my daily allotment of water. I also need to remember that by the time that my brain registers that I am thirsty, I am already depleted in my fluids. I have been considering different ways I can get appropriate hydration during the chilly months. My beloved coffee will not suffice as caffeine acts as a diuretic on the system. Though I will do my best to drink water, I will admit that it is more difficult, and I want to mix things up a bit and include a warm alternative. Non-caffeinated hot teas can help with hydration and provide an alternative to cool water. I expect that awareness is probably the greatest asset to my efforts, but it is decidedly important for my continued health to stay hydrated. Contrary to commercials you may have seen, it’s probably not a good idea to “stay thirsty, my friends.”

Physical Fit: Back from the Dead

‘Tis the season, not of good will, but of cold and flu. Yes, it is true. Despite the best efforts to improve physical health, the athlete can be felled by organisms invisible to the naked eye.

Sadly, I am one of the victims. Not long ago, I found myself feeling a bit like death would be preferable to the sorry state in which I found myself. I survived the plague. At least that is the medical consensus. However, despite my alleged recovery from all the more active symptoms of illness, it seems my body and spirit requires more recovery time. I don’t bounce back from injuries and illnesses the way I used to do.

The truth is that I was angry; angry that illness had disrupted  routine that I have taken months to create, angry that the unscheduled break had potentially undone all the work on increasing endurance and speed. I was also worried. I know myself well enough that I was concerned that I would go back to some nasty old habits of any excuse to avoid a workout.

Prior to my attempt to reenter the world of workouts, I reached out to my support network. Yes, I have one of those. Not one of the places where we only go by first names or bare our souls to each other. These guys are the ones that give me ideas, help me modify various workouts to avoid injury to my no longer young joints. They are the ones that I went to when the plague was being insidious about derailing my new lifestyle of physical activity.

What was most valuable was that all of my friends told me to take it easy. I was going to have to learn to walk again before I started to fly. I needed to give myself a break and take things slow if I didn’t want to cause myself injuries or set backs. So, they told me:

  • Slow my run time
  • Decrease my run duration
  • Decrease my weights
  • Take it easy on the reps
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Rest days in between for a while

Well, in truth, I’ve stumbled a bit on my path back to the gym. I did manage to get my sorry self back to the gym. It is frustrating. Actually, it is a few mega-levels beyond frustrating. The part that makes it so maddening is that all of the difficulty and struggle and lack of elasticity in my physical bounce back is that it is one more fact in evidence that I am not so young as I used to be. Ooooh that stings.

Anyhow, my muscles ache again. My endurance officially sucks. My knees remind me that it’s been a while since I ran more than the few steps to the necessary room. However, I’m back at it. I have faith that my muscles and joints will eventually forgive me for my momentary lapse and will start responding in a more appropriate manner. For now, it seems, I am back from the dead.

Physical Fit: Your Charts Do Not Define My Feelings

While the majority of my entries on this topic have been a collection of anecdotes and observations about a middle aged woman’s efforts to shed some undesired adipose tissue and maybe acquire a healthier lifestyle along the way, there is really more to all of this than exercise. And, no, I’m not talking about dietary changes either (though stay tuned, because that is coming… go ahead and groan). I’m actually talking about other parts of health and wellness that include healthcare professionals.

Yes, I’m going to talk about going to see your doctor. Before you start to close the browser window, just hear me out (or at least continue reading).

Healthcare in the USA is a bit of a trigger point for some emotionally charged political discussions. I am NOT going to be dealing with those issues here¸ other than to say the government is pushing for everyone to have some sort of healthcare coverage. Again, not going to talk about the merits of how they are doing this. The point being there are more people who are complying with the mandate to get insurance, though not enough are financially able to do so as it stands.

Most health plans (I won’t generalize to ALL) actually cover preventative care at 100% or at least at a higher percentage than “sick call”. Preventative care is your yearly check-ups, routine labwork, cholesterol and triglyceride checks, colonoscopies (at certain ages), gynecology checks, and mammograms (again at certain ages). Some even give you incentives to get these things done. Regardless, part of living a healthier life and pursuing any sort of physical fitness means being aware of these factors that impact health and taking the steps to stay healthy and catch anything that might be a sign that something is not right early enough to do something about it.

However, visiting the doctor is not without its “slings and arrows,” as I discovered when I was being appropriately health conscious and having a bit of a check in with my oncologist/hematologist (not all my medical interactions have been preventative, unfortunately). Part of these visits, aside from the vampiric portion of the program (that part where they take what seems to be all of my blood for their own purposes and then tell me that I’m anemic), is to weigh me. I will tell you, that while I am not the epitome of vanity, I dread those damned doctor scales every time.

Unlike the spring or digital version of the friendly (or not so friendly) bathroom scale, these monstrosities compound the insult with injurious placement of little weights at varying degrees to measure and using lever and fulcrum with little leaden weights to accurately determine the amount the body weighs in response to earth’s gravitational pull. Keep in mind; you are being weighed without the psychological benefit of removing shoes and clothing to ditch a few extra ounces. Yes, I know they are more accurate, but seriously? Watching the nurse wait to see if the indicator rises or falls below the midline and trying to imagine myself being light as a feather or holding my breath as if that would possibly make the numbers go in my favor… she reaches out and keeps adjusting… adding more and more weight and sliding those little bastards further towards the end to balance the leverage against my ponderous mass. It is a humiliating experience. Not merely just watching the numbers is agonizing but also because, in this particular case, the scales in question are in the high traffic area right next to the counter where the next appointments are scheduled and the “checking out” ritual occurs. So, everyone passes by and can view my shame… it is very unlikely that they give two rips about my weight, but it is just the perception, you know.

So, while I have not the svelte or willowy physique of a runway model, nor do I have claim to the hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe, I am a solid specimen and as I have been working out there are fewer bits that jiggle than there used to be. Since embarking on my fitness journey, I have shed a few pounds, but not any drastic offloading of weight, as the scales do attest. I am, however, what is considered tall for a female. I am about six feet of human female, and I have always tended to be more on the athletic, Amazon build than otherwise. I’ll even share with you the actual number that was on the aforementioned apparatus: 194. So, like I said… solid. I will not be blowing away in a good gale nor will I have any problems remaining firmly grounded upon the earth.

Anyhow, after the weighing in process was complete, I waited in my appointed examination room for the appearance of the doctor (or more likely one of his myriad of minions). Sure enough, in walked one of my medical staff with my chart in hand. All in all, the results were in my favor. My values were the best they have been in many years. I basked in the glow of all the positive praise of my good health when I happened to glance down at the chart and my eyes riveted on one diagnosis… OBESITY.

Yep, that is what it said. I will admit that from that moment, no other words or information permeated my brain. I was stuck. I had been labeled as obese. I couldn’t tell you what more was said before I took my little paper to the desk to schedule my next follow up. I mechanically responded to questions and took my appointment card. I wandered in a trance-like state to my vehicle in the parking lot and made my way back to the office. For the rest of the day, I ruminated on this term: Obese. I immediately saw it as a criticism, and I pondered what more I could do. I had changed my lifestyle and been working out. I was tracking every morsel of food that entered my body. My medical provider had labeled me with an unhealthy, primarily self-induced condition that could have devastating impact on the rest of my physical health. I work in the healthcare field. I see this term applied all the time. I know what it means technically, but while as a clinician I know the terms and criteria of the diagnosis, I also cannot rid myself of the emotional connotations of the term in our society.

Think about it. What do we think of when we hear “obese” or “obesity”? Immediately, we have the image in our minds of the lazy, couch potato with rolls of adipose tissue bursting from the straining fabrics and elastics of their clothing while they continue to absorb billions of empty calories and high fats from junk food and sodas. Admit it. That image is there.

Clinically, what that term means is that on a chart somewhere in a text book, on a wall, in a computer program, there is a BMI that corresponds to weight and height and some assigned level of normalcy or healthy. BMI stands for Body Mass Index and involves some mathematical gymnastics using weight and height to give a number by which some medical professional can determine your health risk due to carrying unnecessary poundage… or conversely have concern that the patient may be underweight and suffering from malnutrition due to starvation. There are tons of BMI calculators online. There are also a plethora of charts that show what constitutes a healthy BMI range. Strangely, not all the charts appear to be in agreement. However, while they do not all seem to agree with where I fit in precisely, they all appear to think I weigh more than I should.

I left my oncologist’s office less focused on the positive aspects (namely my blood pressure being 98/60 and my blood values representing me as all but the perfect specimen of hematologic health) and instead, completely obsessed with the “obesity” word. In my mind this word had taken on a character and importance of a proclamation from heaven. It destroyed my whole day. It’s true. I had the pervasive emotional funk wrapped around me like the proverbial cloak, and I’m pretty certain that there was a black cloud hovering over my head that shot lightning bolts at passersby. True story. Ask my staff. Some are still recovering from their burns.

Eventually one brave soul actually asked me what was wrong, and to my extreme shame, I told him… “I am obese…”

This admission and declaration attracted the attention of another friend who stopped in his tracks and the two stood there staring at me as if I had grown a second head or possibly a second ass since my weight was the apparent issue. Their continued appraisal was beginning to make me uncomfortable when they both responded with “What?!?” I repeated the shameful statement, and to my amazement they just started laughing. I did not particularly appreciate the humor in this case, but then they started both talking at once to declare the complete inaccuracy of the diagnosis. I explained to them where I had seen it and how it had been determined. Both of these guys have some knowledge of the fitness realm, and finally they were able to tell me why what I had seen was ridiculous. It seems that these charts to which so many of our medical professions are adherent fail to take into account muscle mass and fat to muscle ratios. My friends recounted various individuals who were the epitome of fitness, weight trainers, and body builders who were by these charts considered obese because the chart compares weight to height… and nothing else.

Finally, they asked me how I felt. And I had to actually consider it. How did I feel if I ignored that word that was still indelibly burned into my temporal lobe (obese…ob-ese…o-b-e-s-e…)? I thought about it. I felt pretty good. I can run three miles without wanting to die or feeling that I am expiring. I go to the gym five or six times a week. I seem to have more energy. I’m eating better. I notice that some of my clothing fits differently than it formerly did. So… yeah, I’d have to say, I feel pretty good. Why did the numbers on a scale have that power over me?

And that… my friends, is the moral of the story. Those numbers and charts and scales are not always the best measure of overall health. Do I suggest you ignore them all together? No. But I do believe that there has been too much emphasis placed on how much a person weighs instead of body composition, muscle and bone density (especially as we get older), and the feeling of wellbeing and fitness. What matters to me is that I continue to run and do my strength training and feel healthier and keep my blood levels and vitals where they should be. Too much attention to the numbers on the scale can lead to eating disorders and vicious cycles of weight loss and gain that is unhealthier than trying to be more active and eat good things.

If you, like me, are struggling with the numbers on a weighing device, try taking a break from it. Try using other body measurements (yes, like with a tape measure). If you have access to body fat calipers, use them. Keep a log of your activities and truly assess how you feel when you are physically expending energy. Make that scale a once in a while thing instead of a daily or even weekly thing. Realize that we are all different in our composition and that the charts are designed based on the averages and sometimes are not even using the most updated best-evidence models of health. I personally still have some pounds to shed. My knees tell me this, not the scales or charts. I focus now primarily on my lifestyle not my weight. I have declared to all that the charts will not define how I feel.

Physical Fit: And on the 8th day she rested… or was it the 3rd day… maybe the 6th?

Lately, I have been investigating the various opinions and versions of the “rest day” or “skip day”. I shall endeavor to summarize and synthesize what I have gathered… and maybe by the end of it, I’ll have some clue about it myself.

I recently experienced a plateau that set me back and made me reconsider the wisdom of my fit of mad fitness. I started feeling fatigue and felt myself slowing down. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I should have been noticing changes and improvements and things getting easier. Instead, I saw the numbers on the scale not moving or changing in any way, and I felt that somehow things that were previously getting less arduous were starting to require more effort.

It was disheartening, to say the least. This prompted a good many conversations with people I considered more knowledgeable, especially with regards to the gym and fitness routine, than myself. Many, many helpful tips were given. Several plan suggestions were outlined. And one rather vehement admonishment was presented. This last bit, I will say, was the most difficult for me to actually appreciate or believe. It came upon the headwinds of an Autumn cold, and it went something like this:

Friend: You need to take it easy.

Me: I’m ok.

Friend: You want to stay that way… You need to take a break. You push too hard, and you are going to compromise your immune system.

Me: I’ll be fine. I just don’t want to lose my momentum…

Friend: Um… yeah, you will lose more ground if you make yourself sick.

Me: Ok, I’ll take it easy.

Friend: I don’t believe you…

Whereupon, I proceeded to ignore the sage advice (I didn’t want to lose my positive inertia). It wasn’t really that I discounted the advice as untrue or ill founded. It was that I had gotten myself into a panic that if I slowed down, even slightly, I would lose valuable ground… or worse, I would backslide into furniture-tuberness (yes, I made that up). I knew my own weaknesses and my tendency to come up with excuses to avoid the gym. I strongly suspected that given any opportunity, the devil on my shoulder would dig in and convince me to give up this whole silly idea of getting healthy and persuade me to embrace some old, bad habits. The point being is that my brain could not really grasp the idea that taking a break could, in any way, be beneficial towards improving my training.

And then, the elephant seal took up residence in my chest. How do I know it was an elephant seal? It barked… sometimes all night. I coughed, I hacked, and I certainly did not sleep. My immune system said “You didn’t listen? Fine, now see what we can do.” I suspect I was very lucky that it wasn’t worse. A few years ago, a compromised immune system resulted in a bout of the shingles that rivaled close communion with a blowtorch and made a burn unit look like a resort spa. At any rate, on this occasion I was forced to slow down by mere fact that I couldn’t expend much effort without being immobilized by a coughing fit that made complete strangers want to leave town and call the CDC.

So, I took it easier. I stopped looking to set any new speed records for myself. I focused on just staying active, but I tried not to push very hard. About this same time, the other aspects of my life decided that the health crisis intervention was just not doing the trick and decided to hit me in some other particularly unpleasant ways. The upshot of it all was an unexpected, unplanned, and entirely unwanted break from what had become my rather comfortable routine and a trip out of town in order to put some things back in order. It was not a mere decrease in intensity of activity. It was a complete absence of any of my usual cardiovascular or strength training or even flexibility exercises. This is not the way I would suggest that any of you who are currently reading this be introduced to rest or skip days.

When I was finally given opportunity of getting back to the gym, I dreaded how my body would respond after the forced decrease in activity. True to form, the first day back, my mind started concocting all manner of excuses and reasons to postpone my return to the gym. However, I am happy to say I countered the internal arguments and pushed myself back through the doors to face what I was sure would be “starting over.” Much to my surprise, the first thing I did was break my own record to run 3.37 miles in 25 minutes, and I did it without keeling over. This was astonishing. I was genuinely dumbfounded that being away from my workout for several days had not completely undone all the good work of the previous months and set me back firmly in the realm of inactivity. And… so… I started considering (and reading about) the importance of rest, routine, and muscle confusion in any plan to improve health and well-being.

What my friend said is true. Over-exercising can negatively impact the immune system resulting in illness, and overworking certain muscle groups and body parts can result in fatigue and injury. However, fatiguing the muscles is part of the strength training process, and how is this related to rest days or staying on track with the formation of healthy habits? Well, I’ll tell you what I’ve found…

  • According to most sources it takes about three weeks for a behavior to become a habit. So, try to still with a consistent (no rest/skip days or weeks) routine for at least a 21-day cycle when starting.
  • Most health journals and online medical information sites indicate that exercise promotes good health, prevents illness, and wards off disease and depression.
  • Overtaxing the system, even with health-promoting fitness regimen, can impact the immune system in a negative way and overstrain muscles and connective tissues resulting in injury. Incorporation or recovery time is important to the overall efficacy of physical activity.
  • Most physical fitness recommendations are to engage in some sort of exercise at least three times per week, but it is also recommended that for good health, people should have some sort of physical activity (even just taking a walk) each day.
  • Many fitness programs recommend one or more day of rest per week… Not necessarily zero activity, but less intense activity.
  • Some training plans advocate for a rest week (again, not quality time with your couch cushions… but instead taking a break from your regular workout intensity or type). The recommended frequency depends on your routine and chosen focus, but no more than every other month.
  • Often a break now and then from the usual workout routine will give a kick start to training goals and can help get past a plateau.

The point to all of it is that pounding away at workouts non-stop is not always the best approach to a healthier lifestyle or to reaching physical goals. Additionally, taking a break (planned or not) doesn’t mean that you are slacking, that you have failed at physical fitness, or that you will lose hard-earned ground in the pursuit of better physique or better health. In fact, inserting a rest day or two into the workout plan can boost the efficacy of training. If nothing else, it is important to remember that a day or two away from the gym doesn’t have to result in a derailment of healthy lifestyle. Now that I have experienced it for myself, I can say with sincerity that my body responds better and benefits more when occasionally I remember to take time out to rest.

Physical Fit: Um… Can Someone Please show me the Plateau Exit?

Well, it was bound to happen. I’m no stranger to the weight loss/fitness battle, and plateaus are just part of every journey towards better health. Since I experienced my inaugural physical fit, I have experienced pretty consistent progress… until just in the past couple of weeks. Whether it is the autumnal allergies that seem to be depriving me of oxygen (with the elephant that has taken up residence on my chest) or the apparent lack of coordination resulting in a couple of embarrassing injuries (twisted ankle from falling off my shoe and a strained boob… yes, strained boob! Go ahead and laugh),  I found myself slowing down quite literally, with an inability to perform to the same levels as I had achieved, and I just plain hurt. And though weight loss was not the entire goal of my fitness journey, it was part of the original plan. That stopped as well; came to a screeching halt.  So, it seems that I find myself on this butte, hoping that I can find my way out of the sluggish lack of progress.

As usual, with this type of situation, there is no lack of helpful and and sometimes less than helpful advice available. Aside from the widely conflicting explanations available on the internet itself, there are friends and family members with a plethora of contributions to the mix. I have heard them all at this point.

You are eating too much.

You aren’t eating enough.

You need to do more strength training.

You need to do more cardio.

Drink lemon water.

Fast for a day.

Are you stressed?

You name it, I’ve read it or heard it. There are so many offered options for “LOSING WEIGHT FAST!!!” and “Meal Plans for Fat Burning,” the mind boggles. Often these little gems involve a price tag. The truth is that I have been desperately seeking any and all information that might provide an alternative to my own sinking suspicion that I am fighting a losing battle against an aging metabolism (not to mention reaping the benefits of fighting rollercoaster weight issues my whole life). Well-meaning friends have tried to be supportive and helpful, offering their variety of experiences and winning solutions that have worked for them. I am grateful. Truly, I am. However, my recent influx of contradictory advisement has created a maelstrom of info-overload that threatens to breach the boundaries of my cranium. The bad part is that the frustration was starting to work its evil magic upon my mind and whisper the sweet nothings that say “See, it didn’t work. You should just give up. Here, have some chocolate.”

That is where the true negativity of plateaus get us. We are human. We like to be rewarded for our efforts and see that our hard work has achieved what we intended. When that doesn’t happen, it is very tempting to give up. The common sense philosophy would be, just power through it, and you should get right back on track. BUT… how long do you power through? What happens if nothing seems to jump start the process again?

My research and introspection have turned up the most likely culprits in my own situation:

1. Age – Whether I like it or not, I have reached an age where metabolism is not my friend.

2. Gender – Along with the age demographic, I’m female. Hearing me roar is all well and good, but as women, our bodies like to hold on to adipose tissue and our male counterparts on average have less resistance to offloading pounds.

3. Eating habits – Yes, I watch my caloric intake, but for increasing metabolism, I need to eat small meals more frequently. Therein is my problem. My work schedule sometimes results in forgetting to eat until it is time to go home in the evening. Not good. I’m starving my body and putting it into “starvation mode.” Not to mention that I am just starving and hangry and end up eating more than I should.

4. Stress – There has been a lot said about stress hormones, like cortisol. It is true, cortisol is increased when we are stressed. Cortisol is really helpful in stressful situations, allowing the body to break down glucose and activate it for use (fight or flight, you know). The problem is that when we maintain high levels of stress (and high levels of cortisol) over time, the hormone works against us and can break down muscle tissue and result in fat deposits (especially in the mid-section). We also end up craving a lot of simple carbohydrates and sugars. Bottom line? I’m stressed… for a number of different reasons, and it isn’t helping my little plateau issue.

5. Sleep – This goes with the stress issue. A recent discussion with a friend reminded me of some of the important functions of proper sleep. It isn’t just a matter of rest vs. fatigue. Sleep, or rather the deeper levels of said sleep, allow our brains and bodies to dump the excess cortisol and “reset” in order to start all over again for the next waking cycle. Lack of sufficient sleep or unhealthy sleep habits that disrupt the normal sleep cycle prevents the cortisol dump and we start out the next day at a higher cortisol level. Sleep is not my greatest skill either. I generally do not get enough of it (per recommended standards) and wake up several times per night.

So, those are my big five: The most likely reasons that I’m hitting the plateau, but I also wanted input from someone I consider very knowledgeable about fitness, because my plateau has not been solely about the scales. It has also been something I’m experiencing in my performance with cardiovascular training and strength training. My friend had some incredibly helpful ideas to contribute. First, he confirmed that not all beings are created equal, and that what works for some do not work for all… Thus, I need to pay attention to my own body. However, he did indicate that habit and getting into a regular pattern with our workouts is the enemy. He talked primarily about “muscle confusion” as the weapon to use on this enemy.

Our bodies are incredible machines. They adapt and learn. The human body is going for the most efficient use of the resources available. Engaging the same activities over and over provides just the opportunity for our body to adjust to save calories. So, we need to confuse the muscles. How do we do this? Change up the work out and don’t get into a rut of the same routine day after day. Using different types of activities helps, but focusing on different muscle systems on different days will keep the body guessing and prevent it from shutting down the metabolic systems for efficiency or developing a muscle memory that will limit the benefits of resistance/strength training.

So… thanks to helpful friends, review of high school biology, and a perusal of YouTube workout videos; I have my new strategy and game plan. I am going to check in with the fitness trainer at my gym to work on updating my initial plan. I am going to focus on muscle confusion by focusing on different muscle systems. I will be more consistent about my meditation practice and have at least 20 minutes per day, and I will attempt to get more consistent sleep (that may be the most difficult task). We’ll see how well it works and how faithfully I follow the plan. If any of you are feeling the plateau blues or experiencing lack of motivation for starting (or restarting) healthier habits, realize that we are not alone, and we can find the exit to get us off the plateau and back on track!

Physical Fit: Battling the Summer Vacation Doldrums

Summertime when I was younger was a time when I could get up early and enjoy long days of sunshine, swimming, climbing, running, playing, and generally expending an enormous amount of caloric energy while the adults around me chased me around trying to get me to sit still long enough to replenish said calories with something resembling nutrition. Yes, I was one of those kids that felt that eating was primarily just a waste of my time that could be better spent on other adventures or completing my chores in order to have more time to spend on other adventures.

I miss those days. Now, summertime is a time when I can sleep late (if I am on vacation… not that it ever happens, but it technically could happen), enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while I sit on my rather sizable back side and check the internet and social media to see what outside looks like from friends posting pictures, and eating goodies and treats not always available to my wallet or local eateries.

What the heck happened? When did I stop enjoying physical activity? When did lethargy and inactivity enter my unwilling spirit? Well, as you know, I have been making the effort to change my outlook, health, and general wellbeing through the deliberate expenditure of energy in what might be considered in a generous heart as physical exercise. Those of you who have been following my progress since my maniacal fit of madness will know that I am probably the most surprised by my perseverance. I am completely astounded that I have not argued away my own ardor for the gym and instruments of torture.

Does that mean that I have become a paragon of physical virtue and health? Um, I think the technical answer to that might be… Hell, no! There are absolutely days when I look at my workout bag and think to myself, “Oh my goddess, I do not want to do this today.” However, that particular epithet has presented itself less frequently than I might have expected. More than that, I am currently finding myself on vacation. This was possibly the greatest challenge to my new healthier habits. My general habit on vacation is to wake up naturally (meaning without an alarm) and lounge around drinking my favorite caffeinated beverage until I feel compelled to consume some food. Eventually I will wander down to the ocean to sit and read all day until the afternoon thunderstorm and/or sundown drives me back into shelter for refreshing beverages and more food. You see a theme here, right? The point being that I stood a significant chance of losing any possible advances I had made on healthy habits.

Recently, I had achieved a goal I never expected. I broke the 10 minute mile that I could barely even finish when I started. I not only broke it, I shattered it into pieces and went so far as to run my mile in 8 minutes and 43 seconds. What?!? Me? The woman who always said, “If you see me running, try to keep up because whatever is chasing us is bound to be bad”? Yep, that woman. I recklessly set a goal for myself for vacation. I wanted to run a mile on the beach.

I know this does not seem like much of a goal, but to someone who resembles some sort of vegetation during vacation, this is a pretty steep hill to climb. I packed a pair of running shoes and clothes that would be appropriate for a morning run. I still was not entirely certain that my inner slug would not surface with the usual excuses and rationalizations to remain on my generous posterior instead of getting up and moving about.

It didn’t happen. I actually ran a mile on the beach. Granted, I did not set in land speed records (running on sand is very different). My body protested and whined the whole time, but I did it. I ran on the beach. I ran a mile on the beach. I did it for two days in a row. Like I said, I am as surprised as you are. So, what was the difference? What changed my habit?

I blame it on the fit of madness. I blame it on a stubbornness that did not want to lose ground from what I had accomplished. I blame it on something that feels like… dare I say it? Pride. I actually am proud of myself for not giving up. Not that I have been transformed bodily into a picture of middle age sexiness… That definitely has not happened, but I do feel healthier and stronger. That is what is important (so, I’ve been told).

For those of you who may also be struggling with new healthy habits, I will make a few suggestions:

Keep a log of your journey – This can be something on paper or typing a journal (include pictures when possible to remind yourself of the before, the after, and the journey), but there are also a number of applications available out there that help (I like LoseIt and Runtastic, but there are a lot of others out there, too).

Reward yourself – It is ok to have a treat now and again. All things in moderation, but it is actually ok to reward yourself with things that you enjoy. In fact, restricting yourself from things that you love is one thing that can derail a plan faster than anything. Your new healthy living should be enjoyable, not a punishment. So, you really need to keep some of the things in your life that you enjoy (while adding new things you enjoy).

Share your progress with your support network – What? Support network? Yeah, those people who like and love you, who want you to be healthy and happy, who make you laugh and keep your spirits up, and who cheer you on. Tell them about your successes. Heck, tell them when you trip and stumble. The point is that they will help you celebrate the wins, they will hold you accountable, and they will remind you that you can try again tomorrow when you fall. Everyone needs a cheering squad.

Anyhow, this entry is a bit different than my usual tone for these pieces, but I know I’m not the only person who struggles to stay positive and making good choices all the time. If anyone else reads this, consider me part of your support network. I’ll tell you that I have definitely been there, and no one can be gung ho all the time. Every day I overcome the doldrums is a win. Now, to reward myself with a tasty beverage and the beach.

Mirror, Mirror…

http://www.wordsoverpixels.com/warning-reflections-in-this-mirror-may-be-distorte/17226193f6cedc90e1bb046a369a0004.html

So… this entry started out with one inspiration, and got hit by another…

What is wrong with our self-esteem? And by us, I am talking primarily to my own gender, but guys, you are also impacted by external judgment on your physical appearance and actions in a way that can plummet your self-concept into the whirling abyss of self-loathing. It just seems that women are the most frequent and common victims in the rape of our pride in self.

I actually got into a discussion today with a friend about this very issue. He had posted an image on his Facebook timeline that illustrated the way society has changed in the image of female beauty, and I liked, commented, and shared. Yes, I did. What sparked the conversation was my comment, which was “Guilty as charged…” or something along those lines. My friend was baffled by my comment and incredulous to the verity and instant messaged me to say so. What transpired was as follows…

He never understood how I could possibly not see myself as attractive. I remember his frustrations from years before when he would give me a compliment, and I, in the traditional female fashion, would brush it aside with a “No, I’m not.” It wasn’t a fishing-for-more-compliments situation. I actually never saw myself as pretty, beautiful, attractive, or any of the other typical adjectives used to describe the female form and face. I have never had any false vanity about my appearance. Neither was I a proponent of false modesty. I am not Quasimodo, but I do not particularly fit the modern mold of the beautiful woman. For decades (I will not reveal how many), I have been aware that my best attributes would not be found by visual assessment. I knew this as well from years of observation and witnessing the females found to be irresistible by the males of my acquaintance. I looked nothing like them, and I certainly did not have to beat suitors off with a stick. Casting aside the theories of charisma and pheromones, the bottom line is that I am as susceptible as the next woman to the brainwashing of the popular media.

This is not a terribly new phenomenon. The popular conception of attractiveness and beauty has changed and evolved more than our actual DNA through the ages. What we, in the modern world, consider to be attractive and beautiful qualities would have been seen in earlier times when having a little meat on the bones meant you had the money to actually buy food to sustain yourself to be unattractive and too skinny, a truly poor choice of mate, and it might even have been assumed that the individual in question carried disease or was in some other way unhealthy. In truth, even today there are cultures that do not find the thin supermodel physique to be feminine or beautiful and prefer healthy or even Rubenesque form to be more attractive. However the popular Western concept of the ideal female comes closer to resembling Barbie than any form found in nature. Definitely not attractive qualities. That being said, there were a host of other fashion dictates in previous centuries that were not terribly healthy, including using arsenic to whiten the skin and the evils of the various corsets that could, with enough use, actually derange the organs into unnatural positions. And as for unnatural, the fact that there are people out there addicted to plastic surgery should be telling us something about the negative impact of externalized conceptions of esthetic acceptableness in physical appearance. Beauty has never really been left up to nature. However, the further we have strayed from the concept of “natural health = beauty” the more we have embraced the ideal qualities of beauty that some people give up their health to attain.

No matter how intelligent we become or believe ourselves to be, bombardment through every sense with the popular images and descriptions of the day will have an impact. I know that the advertisers of the world are just doing their jobs to make various products desirable to the market. However, it is important to remember that their consistent appeals to our vanity and self-esteem to be slimmer, prettier, sexier, and in all other ways more appealing are merely marketing strategies to make the public feel that they cannot be a whole being without purchasing the product touted as the miracle, without which you will be a pariah among your fellow humans. The problem is that subliminally, we all absorb the underlying message rather than merely what they are saying. Not so much that we have to purchase the product in question but that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, and in short… just not enough to live happily or to attain humanity’s programmed directive of being fruitful and multiplying.

Sadly, no amount of CIA-level programming can undo the years and years of impact that the media has played upon our cerebral cortexes to embed the message that we are fat, ugly, and stupid. It seems that there are individuals in the world that are immune to such things. These enviable few are sometimes looked upon negatively by their peers because they truly believe they are the hottest thing since the sun rose, but this reaction to those happy few is probably envy, envy that they have the confidence and attributes that allow them to like themselves as they are. In truth, sometimes the cause is sufficient for their self-approbation. However, at other times, it is not entirely obvious as to why these bastions of self-esteem have not succumbed to the same negative propaganda that the rest of us have failed to repel. If I could figure out the trick and bottle it, I could retire wealthier than all the producers of the products spawning the unrealistic media image of the perfect human. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have any perceivable direct cause for the positive self-image that provides immunity to the inferiority complex plaguing the rest of us.

On the other side of the argument is that women who have confidence in their physical appearance and character are often misinterpreted, poorly understood, and generally labeled with unflattering titles and damaging assumptions. What is wrong with people?!? And why does it seem to be the desire of much of the world to control the image and aspects of feminine body, spirit… oh, and reproductive functions (can’t forget those). Are we really that scary? (The males in my family are not allowed to answer that). If we don’t follow the fashion and body image trends of the current societal expectations, we are somehow inferior. However, if we do… we are vain, immoral, and ask for unwanted attention. How confusing is that? It is no wonder that women in the world today cannot get a solid grasp of self-esteem and hold onto it. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I am not saying that all people are judgmental asses with no sense of empathy or beauty in all forms, but… ok, yeah, I am probably saying that there are a greater number of people that fall into that category than otherwise, and that is a sad statement. Women (and men, too) should be able to appreciate and fulfill what is healthy for them. They should be able to enjoy their style and express it as long as it is not negatively impacting others who have the same rights. A woman should be able to be healthy, happy, and feel beautiful without having to conform to identical shapes of some adolescent, exaggerated fantasy of sexy. Additionally, we should be able to feel sexy and good about our appearances without the unwelcome assumptions that we are open to any sexual advance. Is that a double standard and confusing? Perhaps, and now you know how we feel trying to make sure that we look good enough without looking too good, and failing on both counts. Wow, did I write myself into a corner! I know that there have been some efforts in promoting healthy images for female and male ideals, but we still seem to be a long way from truly representing healthy human beauty in all the forms it takes.

As the years have progressed, I find that I am less subject to the media-fueled misrepresentations of beauty. Part of this is possibly that my brain has accepted that I am no longer part of the “breeder” group and no longer am I fighting to obtain and retain a mate. However, I prefer to see it as a maturity that eventually comes to most of us: If I am healthy and making choices that allow me to feel good and participate in the activities I enjoy, then screw a bunch of other people with their expectations of how I should look while doing so…! I wish I were really that confident. In actuality, I find that while for the majority of the time I don’t really think about my appearance or compare it to the other examples of feminine grace around me; I am on occasion still a victim of the mirror. I still want to feel pretty and look, if not appealing at least inoffensive to the rest of the humanity around me. I am more apt to find the flaws of age and nature than perhaps someone less familiar with the image I see every day while brushing my teeth. Familiarity breeds contempt, and never is that more true than when you are looking at yourself in the mirror trying to get ready for work and hoping to appear to your best advantage before peers, employers, employees, customers, or even that social acquaintance that caught your eye. I think that I will start practicing more acceptance in my own self-esteem regimen. Baby-steps… I’ll start looking for the things that I like about myself instead of looking for the flaws. Perhaps I can even give myself a little “Not too shabby” affirmation on occasion. Who knows? I might see some of what my friend always tried to tell me.

Instead of tearing down those around you who might appear to your eye to have what you do not in order to make yourself feel better, try appreciating the positives and differences between individuals to recognize that uniqueness makes the world much more interesting than a multitude of carbon copies. We aren’t all of a pattern. So, no one should try forcing us into the same molds, not even we ourselves.

Title image retrieved from http://www.wordsoverpixels.com/warning-reflections-in-this-mirror-may-be-distorte/17226193f6cedc90e1bb046a369a0004.html

Too Much Attention or Not Enough…

Most, if not all of us have heard the phrase “even bad attention is still attention.” This has been used to explain the delinquent behavior of youngsters possibly since the first humanoids started walking bipedally.  “Mog act bad… Mother of child not give proper attention… Must give attention with club.”

Actually, it is more likely to have been attributed much later in the nature vs nurture argument by other patriarchal types, like Freud, who like any good Victorian, blamed all things wrong with a child on the mother. It seemed like a reasonable explanation at the time. Fast forward to modern day. It seems that every single report of criminal behavior at some point focuses the microscope on the childrearing behaviors of the perpetrator’s parental authorities (be they the actual biological parents or not).

Now, I am not saying that the responsibility of molding of our young breed does not actually start with the parental figures. If you believe in tabula rasa (which I do not, entirely), humans enter this world as a blank slate with boundless potential and opportunity for the adults in their life to completely screw up. Yep, I said it. However, as I previously insinuated, I might not buy into all that. Aside from biology and genetics, of which I do not think even the under-rock dwellers can completely discount at this point in scientific discovery; there is the whole “village raising the children” philosophy (thank you Hilary for plagiarizing an African proverb and removing responsibility from satellite families and giving them someone else to blame). The point being that there are a good many adults that have influence over any one child. There are parents, extended family, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and a plethora of other individuals who come in contact with and have some impact on the experiences of the child. As we all know, we are, at least in part, a sum of our experiences. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even a family member or caretaker that has the most significant influence upon the child. Sometimes it is someone they do not even know, but through the power of the media or the synchronicity of some other exposure to that child’s fertile mind, perfect strangers, fictional characters, and professional athletes and entertainers can have easily as much influence over the development of our young as the parents or guardians who raise them.

So, about this attention thing; I heard it again this morning in some news story or other, probably on a true crime story in the wee hours (thank you insomnia). The most amusing part of the story was the irony that the reporter or writer or narrator never once saw in what they were saying. The tale was one of a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde”. Both of them were ruthless, party-obsessed, and addicted to drugs and each other. I heard the announcer say that the girl was neglected and abandoned as a child, and she found in the boy a willing supplicant who would care for her and meet every whim and wish. The boy, well, this is where I wonder that the writers did not see what they were saying. He was a well-loved child, raised by his mother with excellent opportunities and upbringing. He wanted for nothing growing up.

Ok. We’ve got “Bonnie” who had a crappy childhood, and “Clyde” who didn’t, and they both ended up being horrible human beings cooking, selling, and using meth and stabbing a friend to death with a kitchen knife. Let’s see now… was it too much attention or not enough. Is there some magical correct amount of attention that results in a well-balanced, honest, and successful human? If I could figure that out, I would not nearly be as concerned about paying my bills for a while. What is this mystical, magical calculation of what constitutes “just enough” attention to give a child?

I’ve heard all the old school comments and conjectures about sparing the rod and about how when women stayed at home and were mothers. Don’t even start with me. Seriously, who, in this day and age can afford to be a stay-at-home parent full time? It isn’t even a matter of the excesses or luxuries that make it completely infeasible. Feeding and clothing is only part of the job. What about development and socialization? Then, there is the medical side. The cost of raising a child to adulthood at this time is approximately $241,080. That does not include college, if you desire your offspring to flourish with higher education and future occupational compensation. Also, this is a healthy child with no illnesses or unexpected injuries, and you can just forget about braces or birthday and holiday presents. Besides, it is attention that matters, right? Not the stuff? Even so, what does this mean for the average family? If you consider that the median income of your average American family is around $45,000 per year, that makes one wonder (at least it makes me wonder) how anyone has one child much less more than one child and manages to pay for them, and then expecting a parent to stay home to well… parent? Then, of course, there is the whole single parent situation. In that case, there really is not a choice, unless that parent is independently wealthy or receiving a more than realistic subsidy from state or federal funds.

Now that I have rambled sufficiently long to write myself into a corner, what conclusion can I bring this pondering to? Human beings are a mish-mosh of biological and sociological factors contributing to the best survival of the individual and their genetic make-up to be passed on to another generation. The human organism is indolent by nature. It wants the biggest bang for the least buck, so to speak. How can the least amount of energy result in needs met comfortably and adherence to the maxim “be fruitful and multiply”? What that boils down to is that cute tiny organism that comes into the lives of the individuals who fulfilled their biological directive will probably be mostly well balanced if provided with their basic needs (also providing that the genetic materials contributed were in pretty good shape). As the child grows, as far as I can deduce, the object is to arrange circumstances so far as to make the right choice less painful than making the wrong one. This is where parenting becomes less intuitive that you might suspect for all that the biological drives and instincts are supposedly programmed into all of us. The beauty of a society made up of individuals is that each person is unique in how their chemical and sociological combinations have created their preferences and abhorrences different than many others.

Sorry mums and dads, that means you can’t use one blueprint for all diaspora of your loins. Sucks for you. The ATTENTION required is that you need to know your kid. Know what they like and what they don’t. Know what motivates them and what keeps them from pursuing their best goals, and sadly, know what might be a deterrent from making a choice that would result to their own harm or harm to another. The hardest part is that once you have gotten through the proving ground of instilling some of these notions of what is ideally right or not so much, it is time to take off the training wheels and let them go to make some mistakes, fall and scrape their knees, and learn that the world has a few rough edges that they may bump against occasionally. Preferably, this should initially be practiced when the scrapes and bruises will not result in permanent damage, but will result in some permanent knowledge. A lot of times, this is where parents have the most difficulty. They hang on too long. They fail to give the child a sense of independence resulting in fear of making their own decisions or a lack of responsibility for doing so. It’s not that any parent wants to instill this sense in a child, but it remains too difficult to allow a beloved one to suffer pain, even if less than what they will suffer in future. As hard as it is, parents owe it to these individuals they wrought to provide them the best opportunity for success. The best opportunity, it seems is to pay enough attention to know the child. Spend enough time to make your company as much or more enjoyable than the TV, videogame system, or media stars that might otherwise be their primary interactions. And remember, parents, these are the people who may be choosing your assisted living center!