Archive | Health and Beauty

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Keep Walking

walking autumn
Image: Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As we in the UK enter our second lockdown, I am revisiting some of the coping strategies I developed during the first lockdown. In addition to cooking more and doing micro workouts, I’ve returned to my daily walks with a vengeance.

Even if you’re not currently in lockdown, here are 5 reasons to keep walking as you age:

1.Walking spurs creativity. Research suggests a link between walking and creativity (There’s even a brainstorming technique called brainwalking. Can’t wait to try it!) But walking also teaches you how to be an observant student of other people. Writer and long-time public radio host Garrison Keillor once wrote that “A long walk also brings you into contact with the world…It isn’t about you and your feelings, so much as about what people wear and how they talk. The superficial is never to be overlooked.” Simply put, when you go outside you notice things. And, as the late, great Nora Ephron put it, “Everything is copy.”

2. Walking keeps your brain sharp. Walking also increases concentration and energy levels. One study suggested that walking three times a week over six months led to improved reaction times for those suffering from vascular dementia. Walking is also thought to have a positive effect on memory and problem-solving skills for children under 18.

3.Walking is good for your mental health. New research in the journal Emotion suggests that taking “awe walks” – i.e. walks that involve both physical vastness and novelty – can significantly boost positive emotions, especially among older adults. Participants in this study reported feeling more socially connected, more grateful, more compassionate, and more joyful. And this boost in “pro-social emotions” carried through into everyday life.

4. Walking lets you discover your neighborhood. My New Year’s Resolution to “walk without purpose” has borne fruit. During the first lockdown, I took long walks around parts of my neighborhood I’d never visited before. I discovered streets with names like “Malcolm X Way” and “Pablo Neruda Close.” I saw hand-made tributes to the British National Health Service (NHS) in people’s windows. I even found a new coffee joint and developed an adult crush on the 27 year old Russian-Canadian barista.

5. Walking gives you time for podcasts. As someone who came to podcasts belatedly, walking has been my friend. Because I don’t own a car – and because I’m not currently commuting – I now have more time than ever before to sample a range of podcasts. This is great for my newsletter – (I recommend one podcast a month) – and it’s great for me. I can stay across everything from US politics to new forms of storytelling to helpful writing tips. It’s been a huge boon to my life.

How about you? Do you walk more now? What does walking do for you?

Getting Toned in Your 50s

workout
workout

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

“You’re thin, but you’re flabby.”

So spoke my 16 year-old daughter when we went on a beach vacation this summer.

She was referring particularly to my arms. After years of running, my legs are decently toned. But even after I replaced running with swimming several years back, my arms still look like some sort of hastily improvised, white surrender flag: long sticks with loose marshmallow-like blobs of flesh swinging off them.

“You ought to do Chloe Ting,” she suggested.

“Who’s Chloe Ting?”

Her eyes widened. For those not in the know, Chloe Ting is an online workout sensation who rose to fame during lockdown for her short, digestible workouts designed to “shred” whatever it is that needs shredding – abs/thighs/arms.

When I first started doing Chloe Ting in the late summer, I had a lot of time on my hands. I like trying new things and thought: Why not?

Now that I’m a good deal busier, however I’m finding them a great way to sneak in a bit of exercise. Because here’s the thing about Chloe Ting. (Surely, I’m not the first person to come up with that line…). Her workouts are bite-sized. They last 10 to 15 minutes, max. Because they’re so short, I can sprinkle them into my day whenever I wish to take a break. Which is a great thing when you’re working mostly from home because – let’s face it. There are only so many times per day you can visit your area of refuge.

The other reason I like Chloe Ting is her personality. I find most fitness instructors repellant. They’re too intense and hardcore, especially for someone like me who is not naturally athletic. Chloe is jolly. She does these fun little dance moves at the end of each session. She exhorts us all to “smash that ‘Like’ button” if we appreciate her workouts. She also has a full, powerful, beautiful body and seems comfortable in her skin.

Most important of all, I feel stronger and healthier now that I’m doing these micro-workouts. I also have a lot more energy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Michelle Obama. I never will be and I don’t care. But who knows? One of these days I might even impress my daughter…

How To Dress for a Portfolio Career

scarves

scarvesOne of the joys of embracing a portfolio career later in life is that it provides an opportunity to integrate different strands of your professional identity. One challenge I didn’t foresee was how to assemble a wardrobe to complement those multiple selves.

But I’m learning as I go.

The Writer: Grad Student Redux

It’s easy for me to dress for the writer/editor part of my new career as a communications consultant. My default style – to the extent that I have one – tends to be fairly casual. Indeed, one of the things I enjoyed most about being a freelance writer back when my children were little was the ability to show up to the school run in some version of my pajamas.

These days, there is no school run. But when I work at home, I still revert to full-on graduate student mode. The other day, I was clad in a pair of baggy Adidas sweat pants, a college sweatshirt and a baseball cap. All that was needed to complete the picture was a bottle of Diet Coke, a package of Oreos and a half-eaten Stouffer’s “Classic” French Bread bread pizza. (Remember those? Bliss…)

The Teacher: Wanna Be Parisienne

On days when I teach or coach writing at a university, that’s also pretty manageable. I’ve got enough basics to easily anchor a five-day rotation. I simply accessorize like crazy.

I’m all about scarves. I used to just loop them around my neck haphazardly until my husband – (who in another life might double as Yves Saint Laurent) –  came back from a trip to France and sent me a video entitled “How to Tie Your Scarf like a Parisian.” Ever since, and taking a page from Margaret, I’ve been experimenting. (The scarf-as-necklace was a complete eye-opener to me…)

Speaking of necklaces, I’ve also got a decent assortment of those – which, like scarves – can add a bit of Je Ne Sais Quoi to the same old, same old. My next move is to invest in some vintage costume jewelry.

Going Corporate: No More Foxhunting

Where I struggle a bit is when I venture into the private sector for a meeting. There – sartorially, at least – I’m a bit out of my depth.

The first problem is that my only suit was purchased in the late 1990’s, back when people were still dancing the Macarena. It’s a decent brand, and I thought it looked all right, until my daughter asked to borrow the jacket to play a “huntsman” in her high school play. Seeing her on stage killed it for me. Sure, I live in England. But I’m not exactly trying to channel Lady Mary from Downtown Abbey on a fox hunt.

My second problem is that because my new business is not yet a year old, I don’t yet have the wallet to afford a suitable corporate wardrobe.

Thank goodness for friends. One of my friends’ daughters works in the corporate headquarters of a high-end retail chain in the UK. This company doesn’t pay its junior staff all that well, but it does reward them with – wait for it – a 65% discount on all items in the store. Guess who just got the keys to the kingdom?

So if you happen to see me wandering around the streets of London’s financial district looking like I own Paris, you’ll know my secret.

Dress for the Part(s)

Whether you’re embarking upon a new position within the same organization or in an entirely new field, starting a new job often requires a new wardrobe. Back-office admin does not require the same look as a front-office sales position. You need to adjust your wardrobe accordingly.

The same holds for a portfolio career. You just need to be a bit creative in your sartorial assemblage, while you wait for your income to catch up with your chosen métiers. (If I may work the French metaphor to death.)

Advice gratefully accepted. Merci.

Image: Scarf Cloth Colorful Towels via Pixabay

I Fixed My Back Thanks to Alternative Medicine

acupuncture needle

acupuncture needleIt all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the United States a few years back. As I resumed my normal routine of running in the mornings before going to work, something didn’t feel quite right. Specifically, there was a throbbing pain on the left side of my bum.

I’d had recurring trouble with my piriformis muscle before, so I began doing some stretches that I’d learned during my last round of physiotherapy. But after things got so excruciating that I began popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility.

The pain didn’t go away. Instead, it migrated to different parts of my back over the next few months. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines – which had grown in intensity over the previous decade – were getting progressively more frequent.

Enter Pilates…

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Acupuncture needle by Acid Pix via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Confront Pain as we Age

back pain

back painOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist recently. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your /primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Low back pain via Wikimedia Commons

Giving Up Your Addictions in Middle Age

iphone

iphoneI’ve stopped using my cell phone for the last several weeks. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. What I’ve really done is to stop checking my phone incessantly.

I didn’t do this voluntarily. My house was burgled a few weeks back and they took all of our phones save one. Which means that for the past several weeks – because we’re still waiting for the insurance claim – I’ve been sharing my phone with my two teenaged children.

Sharing your telephone with two adolescents is worthy of a blog post of its own. If not ten. But that’s not what captured my attention most during this period. What’s really struck me is how amazingly freeing it is to not be tethered to your phone all the time, because someone else is using it.

This shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve read Andrew Sullivan’s amazing account of what it was like when he cut himself off from technology for a year, including a stint meditating in the wilderness. I’m familiar with all the studies detailing why digital addiction is a real thing and exactly how it works. Just this morning, I heard a report on the BBC about the fact that the average British adult checks his or her smartphone every 12 minutes.

I’ve always smugly considered myself to be above that fray. When I write, for example, I keep the phone in another room. I can go hours without checking it. When my family goes to bed, none of us brings a phone upstairs. (Hence, the robbery…cough. They didn’t even need to leave our living room to make off with plenty of bounty).

But still, it’s been instructive to realize just how often I check my phone and how much happier – and relaxed I am – when I’m not on it.

Which got me thinking about what else I might usefully abandon – or at least curtail – in the interest of personal wellness.

Alcohol is a definite candidate. I’m a very poor sleeper. And I have noticed that I sleep even less well after I’ve had a drink or two. I did once give up drinking for about a month to see if it would reduce my headaches. It didn’t. So I resumed drinking. But to be honest, I drink so little these days that I’m not really sure that would be teaching me very much. (Not to mention the fact that the  *other* report I heard on the BBC this morning said that people who give up alcohol in middle age are 45 % more likely to suffer dementia in later life.) Reaches for a beer…

I also once gave up reading for a week. Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t do this because I thought I was reading too much. Reading has been a huge part of my personal and professional reinvention over the past 12 months. I did it because one of my gurus – Julia Cameron – advocates a week of what she calls “reading deprivation” as part of her course on creative recovery.

It’s not that Cameron thinks reading is bad for you. It’s that she wants you to see that when you stop reading anything for a week – newspapers, magazines, novels – you free up an enormous time to take on other creative projects. (Personally, I think giving up television or the internet would be a better task to set most people to achieve the same objective. But I loved reading deprivation week. I did get a lot done. It also reminded me how much I love reading.)

My current target is sugar. I love dessert, as I think I’ve broadcast fairly regularly on this blog. And I’m not on a diet. But I have read all that stuff about the evils of sugar and so I’m curious:  would I feel less tired and get fewer colds and if I stopped eating sugar? Some of my friends swear by it. It couldn’t hurt to try.

Have you ever given something up permanently…or just for a little while? What did you learn?

Image: Iphone Apple cellphone by kroppek_pl by via Pixabay

An Exercise Jingle for Chronic Pain in Middle Age

pilates

pilatesThere’s a popular children’s song meant to inspire kids to exercise. It’s called Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. If you’ve ever had children, grandchildren, step-children or just spent time with little kids, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that they should create a grown up version of that song, one that captures that time of life when you become acutely aware that your body is slowing down. You know that phase: After a lifetime of perfect vision, you’re suddenly wearing glasses. Long after your own children have long graduated from orthodontia, your dentist has informed you that you, too, need braces…again! 

Aches in New Places

In my case, I’d already been battling something called piriformis syndrome for years. Piriformis syndrome – for those not in the know – is, quite literally, a “pain in the ass.” It comes about due to over-use of the piriformis muscle, which connects the base of your spine to your hip. In many people, the piriformis also surrounds the sciatic nerve that runs up and down your leg. such that – when strained – you might feel pain anywhere from your bum right down to your toes. Ouch.

I could handle that. I’d been doing stretches to help manage that pain for a while now. But then around the turn of the new year, a few new pains emerged to complement my ongoing sore hip.

First, I had surgery on my vocal cords and lost my voice completely. Since January,  I have been working with assorted speech and physio-therapists to retrain myself how to speak and breathe.

Next, my eyes started stinging. It also felt like there was something inside them all the time. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with blepharitis. My husband has had this condition for years. I wasn’t sympathetic and used to mock him for endlessly telling anyone who would listen about his “dry eyes.” Now that person doing the endless complaining is me. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

And then, finally, my jaw started to ache whenever I chewed anything (TMJ). The diagnosis for that particular condition was stress. I briefly consulted with a dental psychologist (yes, that’s a profession!), who basically told me that I needed to relax.

“Yup! Working on that,” I told her.

Grrrr.

Do we all turn into our mothers?

All of these conditions are likely to remain with me, to some degree or another, for the rest of my time on earth. And I know that I’m not alone. 70% of those who experience chronic pain are women. Women also perceive pain more intensely than men do.

In order to manage these assorted medical problems without ending up back in the hospital, I now spend a good 45 minutes a day stretching, putting a warm cloth on my eyes, doing vocal warm-ups and practicing my breathing.

Which, among other things, makes me feel like my mother. I have this theory that by the time we hit middle age, we all end up turning into our mothers. When I was a kid, it seemed like my mother was forever lying on the bedroom floor “wogging” her back. I used to think that was nuts.

Now I do it all the time.

At first, I was really frustrated that I was losing so much of my day to a “non-essential” activity.

Over time, I’ve tried to change my framing of my ablutions. I try to view this “lost” time that as time gained:  I’m listening to more podcasts. Stretching also makes me feel stronger.

A New Exercise Jingle

All of which is to say that if you soon hear a jingle aimed at we middle-aged folk that goes something like this: “Throat, jaw, hip and eyes. Hip and eyes! Throat, jaw, hip and eyes…,” you’ll know who penned it.

Come to think of it, I think I better trademark that now.

What are your middle-aged ailments? By all means, feel free to moan!

Image: Pilates by alexcdcarts via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: Five Unconventional Tips For Healthy Living

fitness
fitness
On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.
At first blush, I’m probably the last person to tell other people how to live more healthily.
I’m not a fitness freak. Nor am I naturally athletic. My best sports are pool and ping-pong, often played with a beer in one hand.

I never diet and I’m not even remotely neurotic about food. (It may be one of the few things I’m not neurotic about!)

And yet, despite all this, I lead what most people would term a fairly health lifestyle.

Here’s how I do it, and how you can too:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50….

Image: Kettlebell Fitness Crossfit by Sifusergej via Pixabay

What is Atul Gawande’s Book, Being Mortal, Really About?

elderly care

elderly careIf, like me, you are a veteran of several book clubs, you will know two things:

1. The best books to discuss are the ones that provoke heated disagreement and

2. The best book groups are the ones where people come from different walks of life.

And so I was not disappointed when a group of inter-disciplinary scholars at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing  – where I am currently a visiting fellow – sat down to discuss Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End.

For those who’ve not read Gawande’s best-seller, Being Mortal is a book about how people age – and die – in 21st century America. Gawande comes to this topic as a surgeon who treats people with terminal illness, a journalist chronicling the nature of elderly care the the United States, and the son of a father who died of cancer and had to help manage his father’s end-of life care. (You can read his impressive and multi-faceted bio here. Among other things, he delivered BBC Radio 4’s  prestigious Reith Lectures on the future of medicine in 2014 here in the UK.)

What surprised me most about our discussion was that none of us could agree on what this book was really about.

Read the rest of this post over at the Oxford Institute for Population Ageing

Image: Checking in with a Patient by Myfuture.com via Flickr

 

Why Losing My Voice Made Me Feel Like a 5 Year-Old

children's scisssors

children's scisssorsInside Voice.” “Listening Ears.”

These are terms I’d not thought about in a decade since my daughter – now 14 – was in reception (kindergarten) at primary school.

But in the aftermath of a recent surgery on my vocal cords, they are now flooding back. I was unable to speak at all for a full three days last week and must rest my voice for the next two weeks. So I am now, at the tender age of …well, never mind, a pre-school teacher’s dream student.

As a consummate extrovert – someone who can frequently be found talking to herself when no one else will listen – not speaking is hard for me. But it’s all the harder when I am forced to feel like I still ought to be drinking out of a sippy cup.

A case in point. The first night back from surgery, I was watching my favorite French cop show, Spiral, with my husband. Despite being an otherwise rather intelligent man, my husband has difficulty absorbing plot twists rapidly. So every few minutes he would hit “pause” and then I would have to furiously scribble down my explanation for whatever was going on in the show on a piece of paper.

Unfortunately – and this hasn’t shifted very much since I was five – my handwriting is quite poor. So my husband could not decipher my graffiti and (silent) conflict would then ensue.

It got worse from there. With my two teenagers, I was unable to interrupt/scold/micro-manage/cajole/pick your poison with my usual alacrity. This resulted in me resorting to a variety of hand gestures that were definitely NSFW. I know, I know. Bad parenting. But it’s so much more efficient to deploy the odd chin flick when they fail to do the dishes, than to actually try and express my annoyance longhand.

This week, I am thankfully allowed to talk (more) but I am now doing speech therapy. Turns out, the main thing I need to work on is my breathing. When I breathe, far too much of the activity comes from my shoulders and neck, rather than from my diaphragm. It’s actually possible that the stress built up from a lifetime of incorrect breathing caused my voice problem in the first place. To rectify that, I now spend about half of my day blowing bubbles into a glass of water while humming notes and doing scales. Here’s what it sounds like.

I know that a month ago – the last time I was told not to speak – I found the experience to be an important source of life lessons concerning things like empathy and the value of alone time. On some level, I’m sure that losing my voice has also been good for reflecting on how I want to redefine myself professionally right now. (Inside the Crysalis, no one can hear you scream…)

More on that another time.

But this week, all I can say is that I do feel like I belong back in kindergarten. All I’m missing is the art smock and a set of those colorful scissors.

I know I talk a lot about being young at heart on this blog, but this is really pushing it…

Image: Colorful Scissors by Natural Pastels via Pixabay