Archive | Health and Beauty

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

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things You Learn From Losing Your Voice

larynx

larynxI was invited to a brunch recently with a woman who happens to be a yoga teacher. In describing her practice, she noted that when she conducts retreats for families at her home in Notting Hill, she requires that everyone do a “silent breakfast” – one where you cannot speak. (Note to self: Family yoga retreat? Count me in!)

The silent breakfast is a real struggle, she said, for English people in particular, as the culture is so verbal and witty. But there is no talking whatsoever allowed during breakfast and ultimately, she says, everyone comes to appreciate it.

I’ve had my own version of the silent breakfast lately. I have nodules on my vocal cords – which means that I’ve basically had laryngitis since early November. It’s not a dangerous condition, but it does hamper one’s speech considerably. There was a point in mid-December when my doctor advised me not to speak. At all.

I’ll be having surgery later this month to correct this problem, which may come as more of a relief to some quarters than others (cough). In the meantime, I thought I would share five things I learned from losing my voice:

a. You listen more. Cultivating the art of good listening is thought to have all sorts of benefits for business, for teaching and for parenting. When you’re forced to stop talking for a couple of days, you also realize how much you interrupt, depriving others – especially children – of the ability to formulate their own thoughts. It also forces you to intervene less in family conflicts, which can only be a good thing. 

b. You invest in other forms of self-expression. As fate had it, the final performance for my improv acting class took place during one of the days when my voice was completely shot. So I had to go through an hour and a half of group exercises without saying a word. Boy, was that instructive! When you can’t speak, you have to rely much more strongly on gestures (including rude ones!) and to devise other techniques – like miming – for getting your point across. It’s a good reminder that speaking is only one of several ways to communicate. Indeed, deprived of the ability to speak, I am also pouring a lot more energy into writing my book.

c. You develop empathy. There’s a well-known journalist who anchors the BBC’s flagship morning radio show, The Today Programme, named Nick Robinson. Robinson is a veteran reporter, but a couple of years ago his vocal cords were severely damaged during surgery to remove a tumor from his lungs. When I first heard Robinson speak on the programme after he returned to work – still husky from months of voice therapy – I was a bit taken aback. However good a reporter he might have been, I was puzzled that the BBC would be willing to put someone with a voice impairment on the radio every day in such a prime slot. Fast forward two years and now I feel like a heartless fool. Not only is that *exactly* what the BBC should have done – in the spirit of fair and equal treatment of its employees – but Robinson is an inspiration. Whenever I hear him, I find myself thinking: “Well done, Nick! I’m so glad that you have a voice and are using it to make yourself heard!”

d. You take advantage of alone time. When you have a busy life – and especially if you have children – it can be really hard to carve out any time for yourself. And even when I do find that time, I always feel compelled to invite someone else along. But when you can’t talk to anyone, you figure, “What the heck?” I might as well go do something I enjoy by myself. When I was at the height of my self-imposed alone time, I saw two films and one play. All by myself. It was fantastic. Rather than feeling like I needed to “discuss them” afterwards, I just relished the feeling of assessing them on my own. Highly recommend.

d. You are reminded not to ignore physical pain. I have a tendency to avoid pain. That’s not always a good idea. In the case of my vocal nodules, the stress in my neck was such that it quickly spread to my upper back and before long, I could barely sit up. I’m now in physical therapy and things are improving rapidly, but this entire episode has reminded me why – when something goes wrong in your body – it’s important to deal with it quickly and thoroughly.

Homework: Pretend you can’t talk at your next family meal and let me know how you get on!

Image: File:Larynx normal2a via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Get A Makeover in Middle Age

eyeliner

eyelinerOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a girly girl. I hate shopping, I rarely purchase clothes and I only really began wearing make up regularly five years ago when I started my most recent job.

So when my 22 year-old niece recommended me for a free makeover/photo shoot, I was initially skeptical.

“It’s fun!” she insisted.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is, but you’re 22 and I’m…not,” I answered.

When the call from the salon initially came through, I politely declined. But when they later followed up with a text, I found myself wavering.

I’ve only had someone show me how to apply makeup once in my life, another freebie back when I was much younger and first out in the working world. Back then, someone told me that figuring out how to style yourself is all about seasons – and my coloring renders me “Winter” – but I never bothered to investigate what that really meant. More to the point, that was like 20 years ago and I felt like it might be time for a”refresher” course. It was.

Read the rest of this post over on Making Midlife Matter

Image: YSL Baby Doll eyeliner 11 Light Blue by Heidi Uusitorppa via Flickr.com

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Sibling Relationships Affect Your Development

SiblingsI was watching a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last month when I was suddenly overcome by a desire to leap out of my seat, jump on stage and start belting out “Any Dream Will Do” with the title character. 

And I suddenly thought: Who on this planet can possibly relate to this impulse to shed my middle aged composure and burst out in song?

And the answer was: my sister. She and I were raised on musical theater, have been to countless Broadway shows, and often communicate with one another via lyrics from our favorite show tunes. 

Sure enough, the next day – as soon as I told her (via email) where I’d been the night before – she responded with a choice lyric from Joseph…to which I replied in kind. 

We all know that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave. Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50:

Image: Siblings via Wikimedia Commons

How Mindfulness Apps Energized My Morning Routine

mindfulness

mindfulnessThere are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.

For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” — both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive Global

Image: JohnHain via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Get A Makeover

eyeliner

eyelinerOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a girly girl. I hate shopping, I rarely purchase clothes and I only really began wearing make up regularly four years ago when I started my most recent job.

So when my 22 year-old niece recommended me for a free makeover/photo shoot, I was initially skeptical.

“It’s fun!” she insisted.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is, but you’re 22 and I’m…not,” I answered.

When the call from the salon initially came through, I politely declined. But when they later followed up with a text, I found myself wavering.

I’ve only had someone show me how to apply makeup once in my life, another freebie back when I was much younger and first out in the working world. Back then, someone told me that figuring out how to style yourself is all about seasons – and my coloring renders me “Winter” – but I never bothered to investigate what that really meant. More to the point, that was like 20 years ago and I felt like it might be time for a”refresher” course.

It was. Here are five reasons to get a makeover:

1. It’s efficient. I have no idea which makeup looks good on me. For awhile now, I’ve noticed that others were applying their makeup differently to me and better, but I didn’t know how to alter my daily regime and that’s not the sort of thing I’d be naturally good at figuring out. This time, the lady who did my makeover told me that my natural skin tone is yellow. This means that I should stick to “peach” tones. But because I have blue eyes, I can also work in some grey accents and pink is OK for lipstick. Best advice? Putting eye liner on the top eyelid, not the bottom.  Apparently it “opens the eyes.” (Yeah, I’m pretty late to that party, but at least I’m not alone.)

2. It’s a good excuse to declutter. Relatedly, there’s nothing quite like seeing professional photos of yourself to realize that the jeans you think look good, don’t; the color of shirt you think suits you, doesn’t, etc. etc. I’ve just finished reading a book about decluttering – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – whose essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” If we can get rid of all that excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed. In my own case, I know that I could easily do without at least two-thirds of the clothes I own because I only wear them once a year. It’s time to accept that they simply don’t “spark joy” and move on.

3. You can bond with your child. I took my 12 year-old daughter along with me to the makeover/photo shoot. They gave her a tiny bit of lip gloss and curled her hair. She loved it. I know that many would find this troubling: it encourages her to focus too much on her looks and to learn that her natural beauty is something that she needs to perfect endlessly. But I’m really confident that my daughter knows exactly who she is and also knows that looks aren’t everything. And as long as she’s still at that age (just) where I’m her best friend, I cherish any chance for us to spend “alone time” together.

4. It’s good to experiment. I’m currently reading a self-help book that encourages readers to try one new thing a month. The idea is that only by experimenting, can you discover your true passion in life (more on that another time…). I’ve written before on these pages about the value of experimentation in adulthood. In my own case, I’m trying really hard to fight the side of me that always responds to new opportunities with “You don’t have time,” “It’s too expensive” and/or the perennial, “Yes, but…” In the case of this makeover, my gut told me that I actually wanted to try this and I figured I had nothing to lose. I didn’t.

5. You get a decent photo of yourself. Yeah, I’m not above that…

What about you? Have you ever had a makeover? Did you like it? What did you learn?

Image: YSL Baby Doll Eyeliner 11 Light blue by Heidi Uusitorppa via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons to Start Swimming

swimming

swimmingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m rarely an evangelist for anything athletic. While my kids and my husband are all very sporty, I just wasn’t born with that particular gene. (My best “sports” are bowling, ping pong and pool, if that gives you any sense for my athletic prowess.)  But like so many things in middle age, you can find yourself doing things in your 40s and 50s that you never imagined even five years earlier.

I didn’t set out to become a swimmer. Sure, I’d taken the usual lessons at the local YMCA as a kid, where I learned enough of the basics to stay afloat. And think I even learned how to do a “back dive” at sleepaway camp a couple of years later. But that was all 30-odd plus years ago in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t enjoy swimming very much and I wasn’t particularly good at it. For me, swimming was sort of like learning how to boil water for pasta: a useful skill, but nothing you’d want to invest time or energy into perfecting.

Instead, as a grown up, I went running for my exercise. But after years and years of running, I finally made a decision last year to stop. My right leg had been aching on and off for ages – piriformis syndrome, for those who are counting (reciting obscure aches and pains being another tell-tale sign of middle age) – and after going to physical therapy for four months and seeing no improvement, I decided that running simply wasn’t in the cards for me any more.

“Why don’t you take up swimming?” My doctor suggested. “It’s much lower impact on your knees.”

“Swimming,” I thought? “But that’s so…cold…And wet…And cold.”

But given my leg problems – and the reality that “fast walking” sounded like something my mother might do – my choice was basically to start swimming or to give up exercise entirely. So I chose swimming. And now I’m here to convert all of you to the cause.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image: Swimmers via Pixabay.com