All posts by Shawn Wells

Exercise Is Exercise

I used to think that exercise meant running, aerobics, strength training, and all of those other high intensity activities. But now, at the age of 61, I have come to realize that exercise can involve so many other things. I have always been a walker(a brisk walker) and I still walk at least 3-4 days a week. I wanted to add another type of exercise that would help build my upper body strength. I have never had upper body strength. I remember that in high school we had to do the Presidential physical fitness test. I did really well on all of the tests that didn’t involve using my upper body. I couldn’t even do one push-up, I could only hang on the bar for three seconds, and trying to do a pull up was a joke.

I knew that I didn’t want to go to the gym and lift weights so I decided to join a women’s bowling league. Now for many of you I am positive you don’t associate bowling with a way to build upper body strength. After all, how much strength does it take to throw a bowling ball down the lane? For me it takes a lot. I can only use a  12 lb. ball and by the time I have bowled 3 games my arms are exhausted. I am finding that they are less tired now that I have been bowling for 8 months. I can actually throw the ball hard enough so that every once in a while(not often) I can actually get at least one strike. That’s not one strike in a game; that’s one strike in 3 games.

The nice thing about bowling in a league is that it is fun. Well, the game isn’t always fun but the women I bowl with make it fun. We laugh constantly about how bowling is a mystery game–you never know what’s going to happen.

I guess my point is that exercise is exercise. It comes in many forms and there are health benefits to each type of exercise. Do I get the same health benefits from bowling that I get from walking? No! But, I get the health benefit of building my upper arm strength, of laughing, and of spending time sharing with others. Bowling gets me out of the house and gets me moving. Isn’t that what exercise is supposed to do?

I am not a very good bowler but I am a better bowler than I was at the beginning of the season. How good I am doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I am exercising. Find an exercise that you enjoy doing. You don’t have to be good at it. If you enjoy the exercise you have chosen you will be more likely to stick with it.  What do you like to do that gets you moving? Horseshoes? Croquet? Badminton?  As they say, “Just Do It”.

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Take Care Of Yourself

imageToday I am sitting here in my living room reflecting back on the past 2 months. My goals this year are so different than they were last year. In January 2015 I was totally focused on improving my physical health. I walked 2015 miles in 2015. I walked in one 5k and 2 half marathons. I joined Weight Watchers and lost 32 lbs. I felt great and I was very proud of myself.

I am still focused on my physical well being. I plan to walk over a thousand miles this year and to lose the weight I gained back and lose about 10 lbs. more.

But this year I am focusing on some other parts of my life that contribute to my all around health. For one thing, I am focused on spending more time with family and friends. My mom lives 15 miles away and she is going to be 87 years old this year. My husband’s mom lives in the same town we live in and she will be 86 years old this year. It is important to me to spend time each week eating lunch with them, visiting them, going places together, and letting them know with my words and my actions how much I love them. I have other family members who have just moved up to Oregon. I have not lived anywhere near them since I graduated from college 38 years ago. We have lots of catching up to do and I plan on making memories with them that will last a lifetime. As I get older, I realize more and more how short life is.

I am also focusing on doing things I enjoy doing. I love being creative so I plan to do more photography this year and to continue experimenting with abstract digital photography. I have a Swedish weaving afghan I want to finish and I want to try my hand at new creative outlets.

There are things I am doing more of this year that focus on my mental and spiritual health. I am reading some classic books this year. A few summers ago I started reading only classics in the summer months. I haven’t done that for several years so I decided this would be a good year to cross some of those classic novels off of my “to read” list. I have a read through the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs in a year plan that I am doing as well as a Scripture memory program I work on each morning. I attend a weekly Bible study with a group of older men and women. I am 61 and I am the youngest in the group. The stories they share and the joy they find in life brightens my Wednesday afternoons.

So, even if you don’t walk or run as much as you would like to, you can still find things to do to take care of yourself. Health and fitness are words that cover many other things in your life including your physical health. Find some things you like to do that make you grow. Set new goals and be persistent. You will get there. You can reach them. Focus on your overall health and find joy in whatever you choose to do.

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You’ve Got To Do Whatever Works!!

This post is not about strengthening your core or about how to train. It isn’t about making a food plan or the benefits of recording what you eat. It isn’t about what kind of shoes, socks, or clothes to wear. It is just a funny story about something I do that helps me succeed.

Years ago my husband had weight loss surgery. It was the best thing he ever did for himself. He had tried every food program(diet) and nothing worked. After the surgery he lost 200 lbs. and because of the way they routed his digestive system he doesn’t absorb fat. Needless to say, he has to eat things that keep his cholesterol up. Soon after we were married I was put on medications for bipolar disorder which cause weight gain and hunger. You might say my husband and I switched places in the way we looked.

Last January I started walking and I joined Weight Watchers. I lost weight slowly but the hardest part for me was when 8:00 at night would roll around. We had both gotten into a habit of eating an evening snack every night. The snacks my husband bought for himself were things like Pretzel Crisps, Multigrain chips, Wheat Thins…..you get the drift. The snacks I bought for myself were apples, pears, clementines…..Guess which snacks I chose! You’re right!! I chose the chips and crackers. I knew the snacks I should be choosing but they didn’t look very appealing. Consequently, I started gaining back some of my weight. I had no problem eating a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and daytime snacks, but it was like I switched that “healthy light” off at 8 pm.

My husband and I came up with a solution. There are two snacks he absolutely loves(John Macy Cheese Crisps and Boudin Sourdough Crisps). I think both of them taste like cardboard. I have never eaten cardboard but I can imagine what it might taste like. So, we ordered him 6 bags of the cheese crisps and he buys the sourdough crisps at Costco. One problem solved! Now what about my snacks. Here’s my solution:

Besides fruit, I added some other healthy snacks and one not so healthy snacks. One of the healthy snacks is small bags of natural almonds(no other ingredients) that come in a 31 bag pack. The unhealthy snack is Jelly Bellies. I buy them at Costco and package them in very small ziplock bags(20 to a bag). You would be surprised at how many bags you can fill. I know what you are going to ask–what will stop me from eating several bags at a time. This is where the funny part comes in. In our bedroom we have a safe with a combination lock. All of my bipolar medications are in there(for a very good reason). Only my husband knows the combination to that safe. So, I put all of my bags of snacks in that safe and when I want one of those snacks at night I have to ask my husband to get one. I know that may seem a little bit drastic to some people, but it works for me. Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do!!

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Having a Walking Partner Can Make All the Difference!

In all of the years I have been walking, I have never had a walking buddy. Most of my friends worked full time, lived too far away, were taking care of kids or grandkids, or didn’t like to walk. That all changed two weeks ago. My best friend has always had a walking partner and the only time she and I could walk together after we both retired was on Monday afternoons. Two weeks ago her walking partner decided she didn’t want to walk anymore. So, now we walk 4 days a week. It is such a blessing to have someone to walk with. If you don’t have a walking, running, or workout buddy, find one. Both of you will benefit.

The benefits of having a walking partner are numerous. Check the list below for six reasons you and a friend should be walking together today.

Accountability
When the weather turns gloomy or wet you may choose to keep your head on the pillow and sit on the couch. A walking buddy rarely lets that happen. Making sure that both of you are accountable to each other for your fitness goals keeps you on track. You can even work in a reward and punishment system for if one of you gets lazy.

For Fun
After a long day at the office or a dreary night’s sleep your walk may not sound good. Little can be done to improve a mood other than the end goal in these situations. However, with a friend in tow you’re sure to be smiling soon. Whether you’re catching up on the day’s experiences or just enjoying seeing your friend. Plus, laughing increases your metabolism and burns calories.

Burn More Calories
Burning calories during exercise means creating an oxygen depletion in your body. This is a natural process of the body to use oxygen to drive aerobic activity. As your walks become more vigorous the more oxygen you’ll lose, thereby increasing the exercise’s efficiency. Talking with a buddy while you walk increases the oxygen deprivation, forcing your body to work harder and burn more calories. Keep the conversation as brisk as your steps and you’ll be tightening that belt another notch in no time.

The Challenge
A little healthy competition never hurt anyone. Especially, when the competition is for improved health. Set goals for each other and force yourselves to stick with them. Create a reward system for the friend that is able to increase their pace or walked the most miles. It’s a great way to stay motivated during the week.

Support
Sometimes after an injury or a bad day the thought of going for a walk seems uninspiring. On these days, when you’re hurting, a buddy is the perfect companion. Slow down the pace and take a second to talk about what’s going on in your life. Relieving all of that stress may actually help you lose weight. At the end of your time together you may actually find that you feel good in several ways, including fitting in time with a friend.

Location, Location, Location
Taking the same path every time you go for a walk can be the fastest path to boredom. Mixing it up makes the experience exciting and worth a few more extra miles on the walk. Coming up with new places early in the morning can be a chore. It’s always easier to do the same thing everyday. With a partner you’ve got double the imagination to help you come up with new paths.
This partnership can be the key to your fitness success. The motivation, care, and focus a partner brings to your walk will help you stay on track. You’ll need all of the luck in the world to keep you in bed when your partner wants to walk. There’s no choice friend, you’ve got a walking buddy. Time to hit the streets.

 

 

 

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Maintaining a Neutral Spine

Ok, so you’ve mastered diaphragmatic breathing and you’re ready to progress to the next stage. This stage is all about maintaining spinal neutral while you move. To see how good you are at using your core muscles, try this test. You will need a piece of string tied around your waist. Tie this string along the line of your belly button. Have the tension so when you are relaxed, it gently digs into your belly, but when you draw your belly button in, it becomes loose. If you forced your tummy out, it would get really tight.

Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. There should be just enough arch so you can slide your hand under your lower back, but no more. This is spinal neutral. You should feel relaxed here.

Draw your belly button into your spine and gently apply pressure onto your hand. The string around your waist should remain loose. If it gets tight, you have recruited your six pack muscles. This is a no-no. Stop, relax and try again. The muscles you are wanting to recruit are located like a corset around your abdomen, the transverse abdominal (tva). You may be able to feel a ridge and inch either side of your belly button.

Try it now, while you are sitting here. Draw your belly button in and feel for that ridge. Don’t worry if you can’t feel it, you soon will! If it’s hidden under a doona of body fat, read my 5 tips for losing body fat.Now you are ready to move. The aim is to remain in this spinal neutral while lifting one leg up at a time. Start with your right leg and slowly lift it off the floor. Observe your stomach and lower back. Does it arch, flatten, twist or tilt? Does the string stay loose or get tight. Everything should stay still.

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How The Way You Breathe Can Strengthen Your Core

Core stability exercises are one of the best ways to strengthen and retrain the body’s postural muscles to work effectively. They are excellent when you progress at the right speed, and bad for you if performed incorrectly. There is a fine line between these exercises helping or hurting your back. There are about 5 stages, and the key is to progress only when you have mastered one stage, no matter how long it takes to learn.

Stage #1: Diaphragmatic Breathing Test

This is the hardest stage to master! While you are reading this begin to observe your breathing style. Don’t change anything, just observe. Place one hand on your sternum, in the middle of your chest. Place the other hand over your belly button. Now look down (or go stand in front of the mirror) and observe which hand moves more when you breathe in, top or bottom hand?

If you answered bottom hand, good work, you are a diaphragm breather and can progress to stage #2. Just make sure it’s not because you took some deep breaths, it’s all about your everyday breathing style.

If your top hand moved more, you are like most of the population, a shallow breather. This means when you breathe in, instead of using your deep intra abdominals to lower your diaphragm, the muscles of your upper rib cage, neck and shoulders lift your heavy rib cage to make room for your lungs (no wonder your neck and shoulders are tight!). Not only is it an extremely inefficient, laborious way of breathing, but it also means the deep muscles of lower abdominals get a free ride. These muscles are also the core stability muscles we need to strengthen. If they can’t even help your lungs to breathe, what chance have we got of getting them to stabilize your back! So we need to get these guys doing what they were designed to do: help you breathe through your diaphragm.

How to breathe through your diaphragm:

While sitting in your chair, place your hands back in the above position, one on sternum and one on belly button.
Breathe all the air out of your lungs, when you go to breathe in, don’t move your rib cage, instead, allow your tummy to relax and poke out.
When you breathe out, draw your belly button through to your spine, like you were squeezing all the air out.
Focus only on your bottom hand on your stomach, it should move out when you breathe in, and move in towards your spine when you breathe out.
If you are struggling. Try doing it lying on your back, it’s easier.
You must not progress to stage #2 until you are breathing this way unconsciously. This can take weeks. The more you focus on it, the faster your body adjusts. Make sure you can do it while you are exercising.
What type of breather are you, shallow or diaphragm? I believe this is the hardest stage to master, and until someone can breathe correctly, they will never be able to stabilize their backs properly.

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Getting Back On Track

imageI am going to be perfectly honest and tell you that for the past two months I haven’t done any walking at all. When I reached my goal of walking 2015 miles in 2015 I had no ambition or energy to walk. Every day since 1/1/16 I have told myself that this was the day I was going to start walking again and at the end of each day I hadn’t walked a single mile. I kept making excuses: “I’m too tired”. “I’m too busy”. “It’s too cold”. “It’s raining”. I finally decided yesterday that “enough is enough”. I asked a friend of mine if she would e-mail or message me every Monday afternoon so that I could be accountable to someone about the miles I had walked. Since I wasn’t doing the 2016 miles in 2016, I needed something or someone to keep me on track. So, on a cold, winter morning(2/1/16), I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door wearing lots of layers. I took one walk by myself in the morning, one walk with a friend in the afternoon, and one walk in the evening with my dog for a total of 5 miles.

Besides getting back on track with my walking I also needed to be prepared to get back on track with my eating so that I could lose some more weight, stay fit, and have more energy throughout the day. I made a batch and a half of steel cut oats and divided them up in 2/3 cup containers to go in the refrigerator. This way I could grab a container out of the fridge, heat it up, and have a healthy breakfast ready to eat(I ate one serving and put 6 servings in the fridge.) I poured unsweetened applesauce in 1/2 cup containers, added some cinnamon, and put those in the fridge. I then thawed a bowl of frozen triple berry blend, a bowl of frozen strawberries, and a bowl of frozen blueberries. I added 2 cups of yogurt to each bowl and put it all in 1/2 cup containers. I put some in the fridge for snacks and froze the other 16 containers. I also got healthy cold cereals, small bags of microwave popcorn, and a few other things. If I don’t have things prepared I tend to grab unhealthy snacks and I tend to overeat. I am thankful I got so much done and I feel confident that I will continue my fitness journey, lose weight and reach my goals by January 2017.

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In A Funk

A few weeks ago I finished my goal of walking 2015 miles in 2015. Immediately, I fell into a funk. It was almost like I didn’t know what goal to set next and I felt “lost”. I had devoted a whole year to my goal and I was thrilled that I had reached it, but I was left without a new goal. I had decided I wasn’t going to write on this blog anymore for several reasons. First, I would not be doing 2016 miles in 2016. Second, I had become discouraged with writing for the blog without getting very much feedback. It felt so impersonal. Third, I felt that since I was not going to be training for half marathons or marathons that I had nothing to say that would be worthwhile to those in the running/walking community.

But, I decided that I did have some important things to share. I am sure that all of us experience being in a funk. I know we have all reached goals and have struggled with setting a new goal. I will be focusing on just walking an average of 3 miles a day and adding lap swimming to my exercise routine.

I am still on my journey to fitness. I am more fit than I was last January and I know that I will be more fit next January. I realized that the journey to fitness never ends. It may change and it may take a different path, but it is still a journey.

Instead of remaining in a funk, I decided to get off my butt and get back out there. When I am in my 80’s I want to still be walking, swimming, or whatever exercise I want to do. I have 19 years to go before I turn 80. Can you imagine how fit I will be by then? Can you imagine how fit you will be in 19 more years on your journey to fitness?? Get out there today and make your goal a reality. “It isn’t the distance that matters, it’s taking that first step that matters.”

Take that first step with me and enjoy the ride!!

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Switch It Up

imageFor the past month I have been stuck at a certain weight and in fact I have gained about 5 lbs. I was getting very discouraged and didn’t know what to do. I decided to reach out to a friend for help. My friend is a health coach and we used to meet on a regular basis to discuss how I was doing on my journey to fitness. We would talk about making healthy food choices, about what kind of exercise I enjoyed, and about how things in my life were affecting my physical and mental health. I don’t remember the reasons why we quit meeting. I do remember how much she had helped me in the past. I called her to see if we could start meeting again. She was very happy to get together and offer me whatever help she could. We met this week and she talked to me about switching up either my exercise or my eating. I asked her how changing my exercise routine could help me start losing weight again. She told me that when you start an exercise routine you will start shedding pounds but after a few months, you may start to stagnate at the same weight, even if you do the same amount of exercise and you stick to your dietary restrictions. The reason for this is simple: with the repetition of the same type of workout, your body will get used to the exercise routine and will consume less energy. If you change up the exercise routine, your body will be continually challenged and it will burn more calories, resulting in a more successful weight loss. In addition, you can avoid repetition and boredom. Many people will quit their workout routine due to boredom or lack of results. The change can be made in the intensity of the workout or in the type of workout. You may also increase the time spent working out. I saw how this had happened to me. When I first began walking an average of 5-6 miles a day I did lose weight for the first 9 months, but the weight loss gradually starting slowly down to the point where I was no longer losing weight(in fact, I was gaining weight). I wasn’t bored with my routine; my body was just used to walking everyday and I was burning less energy/calories. In the same way your body can get used to what you have been eating. My friend said that if you have been eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, then for one week you should eat foods high on the glycemic index. Then go back to the way you were eating. This way you will shock your system and jump start your weight loss again. We decided to try switching up my exercise routine first. So, I am now walking one day, doing something else the next day(a kettle-ball workout, boxing with a heavyweight bag, dancing to Richard Simmons’ “Sweatin’ to the Oldies”, etc), then walking the next day, and so on. I hope this will shock my system and I will start losing again. One thing I know for sure is that I am not going to stop meeting with my health coach this time.

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Nearing The End

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At the beginning of 2015 I set a goal to walk 2015 miles by December 31st. Well, the end is on sight(I have 53 miles left to walk) and I am feeling a mixture of emotions. I am excited that I am about to complete a challenge that 11 months ago I wasn’t sure was possible given the shape I was in back then. I am relieved that the end is in sight. Yes, I have walked a lot of miles, but my body and mind are tired. It has been a struggle at times to go out in all kinds of weather and walk by myself. Pushing myself to average 5.5 miles day after day has been a difficult task. I am filled with joy by all of the beauty I have seen while doing this challenge. I have walked in the amazing backdrop of Wallowa Lake. I have walked among the grandeur of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the sights and sounds of Paris. I have walked around the breathtaking waters of Chateau du Lac in Genval, Belgium. My feet have trod the trails around Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and the Mississippi River. I marvel at all that I would have missed if not for this challenge. Finally, I am filled with a little sadness. My goal is almost met, my challenge will soon be over, and another goal will take its place. As they say, “All good things must come to an end”. However, when one thing comes to an end, something new begins. I am looking forward to what the New Year brings to my journey towards being more fit and healthy each and every year. I do know that I will keep walking(but not 2016 miles in 2016), I will enter some more half marathons and aim for a new personal record, and I will add another physical activity. I am think about kettleball or boxing using a heavyweight bag. A new adventure is about to begin and I am ready to start another incredible journey.

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