As September ends I can’t say I’m disappointed. It’s the beginning of fall and the end of the hurricane season. And even though some Septembers are calm, this was a year that Mother Nature lashed out with a fury.
Luckily for us here in Charleston, all we suffered was a lot of anxiety and only a little physical damage. But as my thoughts and prayers continue to go out for our friends in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, I began to reflect again on what I have left to do in my life for the remainder of 2017. What do I need to re- focus on? And I start thinking about what I want to accomplish next year …Are there things I need to be doing now to make it happen?
Even though we no longer seem to have four distinct seasons here anymore, we do have the remainder of our lives to look forward to with good health and happiness. Seasons allow us to enjoy a variety of clothes to wear and a bounty of healthy choices at farmer’s markets. They also heighten our appreciation of nature and allow us to savor what is given to us naturally.
We can flourish and blossom in any season if choose to do so. We understand the power of rest, paired with diligent and consistent effort to reach our goals. But what we know and understand to enhance our lives is not always what we do.
Many Americans don’t take annual vacations or even unwind with a long weekend even though they know that doing so is a healthy investment. Others choose the other extreme which is to ignore anything that looks or feels like “work” when it comes to improving their health and quality of life.
There are excellent ways to schedule your hectic and overscheduled lives that allow downtime to balance, unwind and improve your health. First set goals around what you what to achieve, make them measurable and timed. By taking the initiative and following through to your desired goal, it will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment crucial to living a good life.
Take an objective look at your life. Are you stuck in the same routine? Have you scheduled your vacation or even a long weekend getaway? What have you accomplished and enjoyed in the past 12 months? Did you take time to celebrate the things that you achieved?
Give yourself permission to ebb and flow with the seasons, and within each, you’ll find something to savor and enjoy. If you do, you’ll always have something good to look forward to no matter what time of the year.
Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk…
This past week I was invited to speak to the Mount Pleasant Rotary Club on any topic relating to health and wellness that I’d like. Having been an active Rotarian in the past, I knew it would be a tough assignment because my audience of intelligent, middle-aged men already knew the basics of staying healthy. What could I tell them that’s new?
I opened with a brief description of my own bout with breast cancer, how I won that battle and what I was doing to maintain both my physical and mental well-being. Obviously, I explained, my health wasn’t as great as I assumed it was 11 years ago. I got cancer even though I wasn’t overweight, did not smoke and exercised regularly. So, I had to get extremely honest with myself. What was I doing or not doing in my life that caused me to get cancer? I had to move past my fear, learn all that I could about the disease and make the necessary changes if I wanted to have quality in my later years.
What I learned was that preventive maintenance is by far the most important step to take to shield oneself against chronic ailments; in fact’s it’s 80% of it. Not genes, luck, or bad luck in this case, but how I chose to live my life day in and day out. This was something I could control and wanted to control through making healthy choices and doing away with some of my bad habits. My focus last week with the Rotarians was on how to do the latter.
Here are 5 tips I shared for breaking bad habits regarding health:
Tip #1: Notice When Your Habits Are Automatic: Most habits occur thoughtlessly. Our minds are pre-occupied with other things. Lighting up a cigarette, gobbling down a bag of chips, consuming too much alcohol and staying put on a comfortable couch rather than going out for a walk are all mindless habits.
Tip #2: Practice Mindful Awareness: A few of us can quit bad habits cold turkey. For everybody else, it requires a conscious awareness and an abundance of determination. Mindful awareness is the ability to take notice of when and what we are doing habitually without becoming upset when we realize it. The goal is awareness, not action. Be conscious that you are smoking a cigarette or eating a whole bag of chips or lying around for no good reason. Engaging in your bad habit with full awareness lessens the frequency and duration of unhealthy patterns. Know what you are doing but don’t beat yourself up. It’s counterproductive.
Tip #3: Identify Daily Triggers: Habits are often tied to things we do on a regular basis. Do you automatically grab a cigarette after a meal or when you get into your car? Do you eat more than you are aware while in conversation or standing up? Do you become a couch potato every evening after dinner and click on the television? Note your triggers and think about them.
Tip #4: Mind Your Emotions: In addition to habits being tied to everyday events, they are often tied to emotional situations. We eat when we’re sad, stressed, depressed, lonely or bored. We order another drink when we’re happy and having fun. You get the message.
Tip #5: Ride the Urge Wave: Being aware brings to light a worrisome urge to engage in a bad habit. Be aware of this. Understand the urge before it starts, and be prepared to ride the wave of discomfort when it comes. The mind seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It’s a survival mechanism. Problem is, the mind focuses on short-term pleasure but not the pain that comes in the long run. However, most urges last only from one to five minutes. So, learn to ride it out. And the more times you ride it out the less often and intense the urge will be when it repeats itself.
Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk…
We are social beings by nature, but nowadays there is less time to do all the things we need to get done and still have time to connect with families and friends on a serious level. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s easy to get on social media for a “quick fix” of updates, entertainment and “likes,” and receive a quick dopamine rush that tricks us into thinking we’re connected to people and events that really matter.
I am over 50 years old now. When I was at the College of Charleston I did not take the only computer course offered to business majors. The computer on campus was as big as a small classroom, and student seating was at a premium. It was an elective course, not a requirement to graduate. I enjoyed working, studying and socializing with my classmates and not necessarily in that order. To me the computer course was isolating and boring. Nor was it the cool thing to do…. communicate with a big, odd looking machine.
I didn’t get my first mobile phone until I was in my 30s, and it was the kind that was mounted on the floorboard of my little foreign car. Back then the only ways to seriously communicate with people was in person, by U.S. mail and telephone — all of which were pleasingly social.
Of course, things have changed a great deal since the early-1980s, but certainly not my desire to be “social.” I am not alone with this. But, as I’m sure many of you would agree, I have developed a worrisome love-hate relationship with today’s ubiquitous social media apps and devices.
Indeed, smart phones, tablets, texting, tweets, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat provide unending opportunity to connect with others, to learn and “to grow.” I’ve quoted the trite phrase “to grow” here because we should all know by now what happens to one’s derriere when one sits around on it day in and day out “socializing” instead of moving.
So, for health reasons if nothing else, it’s best to maintain your more traditional ways of social interaction — those that allow us to truly be with other people, to interact with them using our well-developed physical senses, and to reach out and hug someone if need be.
How do you balance your use of social media and face-to-face interaction with family and friends on a significant level? By “significant” I mean an interaction that brings actual joy, richness and quality to our lives through personal contact. Consider the following:
First, get yourself clear on why you use social media? Is it a work requirement? Is it how you keep up with current events? Do you use social media as your primary way to stay in touch with family and friends?
Now, carefully consider your answers to these questions because, if you don’t have a clear vision of why you’re using it, you will end up wasting hours upon hours of your valuable time day after day on nothing. Fact is, there are not enough hours in the day to be active on the plethora of online social platforms. So be very selective. Choose wisely and use it to suit immediate needs.
Be honest with yourself. How you feel when you look at various posts. Do you feel more informed or less? More joyful or less? Do you feel more socially isolated because you are not actually doing things other people are doing, and comparing your life to someone else you see and hear in a virtual reality realm?
Do yourself a favor. Use social media only at certain times of the day instead of logging in whenever you have a free minute or receive some sort of inane notification. Schedule social media use just as you would any other significant appointment. If you find joy from social media, then relax and treat yourself at the right time. It can be as fulfilling as reading a good book, having your nails done or getting a massage. But don’t allow it to consume you. That leads to stress and we all know what stress does to your health….need I say more?
In an earlier blog, I talked about the MIND diet (Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative delay) as it relates to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. This is one of several healthy “diets,” but the truth is any healthy diet can add years to your life, and life to your years. We all can start now and reap the benefits today of aging well from the food choices that we make. It’s all about quality of life, right?
To become a nationally board certified health coach, (I take my national exam in September) a candidate must have a general understanding of good nutrition and how it plays a part in weight loss, healthy aging and preventing specific chronic diseases.
The basics of understanding a healthy diet includes knowledge of what is unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods, lean protein, adequate fiber, healthy fats and the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. We understand the need for water intake, and the roles hunger and thirst play in maintaining weight balance.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) describe what healthy eating is all about for people over 50. These guidelines are flexible enough so you can choose a diet of nutritious foods that you like, are readily available and fit your budget.
They suggest people 50 and older choose these foods every day.
Fruit — 1½ to 2½ cups. What is the same as a half-cup of chopped fruit? A fresh two-inch-in- diameter peach or 16 grapes.
Vegetable — 2 to 3 1/2 cups. What is the same as a half-cup of chopped vegetables? Two cups of uncooked leafy vegetables.
Grains — 5 to 10 ounces. What is the same as an ounce of grains? A small bagel, a slice of whole grain bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal or a half-cup of cooked rice or pasta.
Protein foods — 5 to 7 ounces. What is the same as an ounce of meat, poultry or fish? One egg, one-quarter cup of cooked beans or tofu, a half-ounce of nuts or seeds or one tablespoon of peanut butter.
Dairy — 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk. What is the same as one cup of milk? One cup of plain yogurt or 1½ to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same a half-cup of milk.
Oils — 5 to 8 teaspoons. What is the same as oil added to cooking? Foods like olives, nuts and avocados have a lot of oil in them.
Keep fats solid at room temperature and added sugars and sodium small. If you eat too many foods containing these ingredients you will not have enough calories left in you daily allotment to get in the more nutritious foods you need.
So how much should you eat? It depends on how active you are. It’s calories in, calories out as determined by how active you are each day. If you eat more calories than you use, you will gain weight.
But don’t get obsessed with counting calories. Try to use your daily calories wisely and choose foods that have a lot of different nutrients but not a lot of calories. That way you can eat more food, and if you are like me, you love to eat.
Consider these foods as an example, which can be eaten together or separately: A medium banana, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and a glass of milk. The milk gives you more calcium than the peanut butter but the peanut butter gives you more protein. The banana gives you potassium. That’s why it is so important to eat a variety of healthy foods.
How many calories do people over 50 need each day?
A woman who is not physically active needs about 1,600 calories a day. One who is somewhat active needs about 1,800 calories. A woman with an active lifestyle needs 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day.
A man who is not physically active needs about 2,000 calories. One who is somewhat active needs 2,200 to 2,400. And a man with an active lifestyle needs 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day.
And one last tip: Aim for at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of physical activity each week.
I am a health coach, not a business coach, but in the process of working with people to help them achieve whole-person wellbeing, I’ve learned the importance of knowing clients’ personal and professional goals — especially at times of transition in their lives. Looking at work-life balance, financial goals and personal growth is an important part in helping people succeed in improving their health.
Most of them want success more than anything else in their life. And will work very hard to get it. However, once they achieve the goal, sustaining it usually is even more challenging. Why is this?
Oftentimes, once someone succeeds or has great privileges, their focus shifts. Rather than continuing to work on the goal, one indulges in the benefits. This, unfortunately, hinders further growth and continued happiness.
Take exercise for instance with a client. She typically can achieve an exercise program five times a week for few months, but then life gets busy and she quits. She can no longer find the time. That certainly is not the way to go about losing weight. And she is discouraged that brisk walking for 30 minutes burns only 100 calories. She decides the effort is not worth the gain on a long-term basis even though it initially increased her energy and helped make her feel better about herself. Or she may decide that the pressure she puts on herself to maintain success is too stressful. The effort seems to be more like punishment than enjoyment.
Lasting success comes from consistency. When you are consistently aware of your “why,” you will continue to be motivated to maintain then further your success. You will say “no” to all temptations and distractions no matter how enticing they may be. Your “life vision” becomes far more important than a short-lived gratification. It’s like eating ice cream even though you know it’s not good for you. Yet you eat it anyway because you think it will ease your stress or help you get over a tiring day at work. It’s a sad irony.
Success versus Achievement
There is a subtle difference between success and achievement. Success is a feeling you have about how you are doing at something and why you are doing it. Achievement is a positive, objective measure about what you have accomplished.
Success is more important than achievement. You can win an award and yet still not “feel” successful. I was a top producer as a real estate agent. I received all the trimmings for my success. But inwardly I did not feel successful. I lost the “why” regarding my life vision. Now I’m fulfilled in my work. And you can be too!
Another example: Your doctor says you must lose 15-25 pounds for your health. (Note: Obesity is the second largest contributor behind tobacco use to developing chronic diseases so prevalent today, including diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune deficiency). Your health-care provider might say it’s important to lose weight, but it really doesn’t sink in if you don’t understand why. So find your “why,” and allow it to help you work towards success. Once there, remember what it took to reach the goal and never back away.
Learning how to focus on what’s right for success in your health and well-being is easier than you think. Would you like to have a wellness breakthrough session with me? There you will learn the five things that may be getting in your way of achieving lasting success in your life, business and health.
So what is important to you in your life? Are you living in a way that fulfills your purpose? And what does this have to do with being happier and healthier? The answer may be as simple as understanding your spirituality and how it benefits your health.
For many people spirituality — which does not necessarily mean religious belief — is at the core of their being. It is the lens through which they experience life and see the world. Understanding spirituality in the context of optimal health is extremely important.
For many people spirituality gets at the heart of what is important to them. Some may want to be healthy for health’s sake or to feel more alive and happy. But for many people, achieving optimal health is important because it ties in to their deepest values and beliefs and it brings them overriding joy and happiness in the present moment and throughout their lives. Understanding this and refocusing on it daily often leads to sustaining healthy behaviors for a lifetime.
For others, spirituality provides a sense of strength and healing during times of adversity, illness or death. Through the healing process people often draw on their spirituality to make more sense of the adversity.
There has been a great deal of interest in recent decades in understanding the impact spiritualty has on one’s health. Research has shown the positive relationship between health and religious practice as well as meditation, an understanding of humanism and living according to tenets of a well-defined morality.
It is unquestionable now that when people live their lives with a sense of meaning and higher purpose, their health improves. They have lower inflammation and increased immunity and therefore less heart disease, strokes and other complications from chronic diseases. Which by the way, has now been determined to be the No. 1 killer in society today.
Having a good sense of purpose makes you more resilient and better able to deal with the stress and demands of life. Living with a sense of purpose and meaning doesn’t merely help you get through an adverse time, but also improves your health.
So how does one determine what his or her purpose in life is? It can come from knowing you are helping others, serving a greater purpose or excelling at a skill or craft that is meaningful to you. So regularly ask yourself these questions to explore the role of spiritually in your vision of obtaining optimal health.
- What does it look like when I am spirituality centered and devoting my time and energy to the things that reflect my deepest values?
- What would need to happen for me to feel “successful”?
- Am I cultivating a daily practice of present awareness so I live my life in a more spiritually focused way?
- Once you define your sense of purpose and have cultivated an awareness of that purpose on a regular basis, you need to sustain that awareness so it further impacts your life and health. Do you believe and trust in yourself to be able to reach these goals over the long haul?
Of course you can with the proper attitude and accountability. You can bring yourself joy, live longer and be happier in the process.
We are in an exciting time in life. Just as we had the beginning of the digital revolution at the end of the last century, we are now experiencing a personal transformation revolution. It’s about becoming healthier, happier and living your own life with purpose. But better health and positive change won’t come unless you know what you’re doing.
Here are five steps to help you begin your own journey on the road to personal development:
- Set goals: The first step to living the way you want is to set goals for each part of your life. Those would be your health, career, finances, spirituality and family, but not necessary in that order. Setting separate goals in each area of your life allows you to prioritize what you want to achieve so you can increase your chances of doing so.
However, if you are like most people, you set goals but fail to achieve them because they are too vague. When I work with my health coaching clients, one of the things we work on is setting SMART goals. So what is a SMART goal?
S — Specific: If you want to lose weight, for example, you need to specify how much.
M — Measurable: The easier it is to track your progress, the better your chance of attaining it. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” said Lord Kelvin. Tracking your food intake is one way to do this and makes it less difficult to determine if extra efforts are in order in case you experience a setback or come up short on the progress you desire.
A — Achievable: Although you should aim high, make sure your goals are still achievable and action-oriented.
R — Realistic: While some goals are achievable, they might not be realistic for this moment in time. An example might be you have decided to do a marathon but you have not even run a mile yet. Running is realistic, but you might want to start by building up to running a marathon by completing a 5k (3.1 miles) or a 10k (6.2 miles) race first.
T — Time-based: Setting a deadline will help you remain focused and ensure you stay on track. Using the same example above, you might say, “starting June 1 I will begin jogging and complete a 5k race by Sept. 1, 2017.”
- Create an action plan: Once you’ve set your goals and have written them down, create an action plan on how to achieve them. What activities do you need to do to achieve your goals? If you have a long-term goal, break it down into small steps to make it manageable. Don’t forget to track your progress so you can look back and pat yourself on the back every time you move one step closer to your goal.
- Make time for growth activities: Even though life is very busy, it’s vital that you make time for yourself and your own personal growth. Take 15 minutes to read, learn, or listen to a podcast. Wake up 15 minutes earlier to read or write in your journal. If mornings are tough for you, block out 15 minutes during the day or before you go to bed at night. Whenever you chose is up to you but make sure to try and do it daily.
- Adopt a positive mindset: Optimists are more likely to enjoy and succeed in life than people who always see the negative in a situation. Fill your head with positive information and people. Before long you too will have a sunnier disposition and all the health benefits that come with it.
- Keep a journal: Journaling allows you to keep a record of your progress. It helps you learn from the challenges you face and your triumphs and everything in between. I personally like to have two journals going at all times, a gratitude and goal journal. Writing everything down gives me a chance to reflect on my journey, embrace the challenges and savor the joyful moments along the way to the destination.
If you have already set your goals and accomplished them you are in good shape. Give yourself a pat on the back. Even though there is no special prize, if you have managed to do it by yourself, you’ve learned it takes longer and with more mistakes.
However, have you tried to succeed alone and failed? Health coaching can help you dive a little deeper. I know the reason that people lose weight but never seem to keep it off. People THINK that the reason they give up exercise is that they’re lazy but there’s a surprising reason they don’t stick with it. Meditation is something one can use to relieve stress; I know what it takes to cultivate a daily practice with little effort. People feel they should be restricting calories and avoiding certain foods to eat a healthy diet and are shocked when that’s not the case. Would you like to have a wellness breakthrough session with me? You’ll discover the top 5 things that can get in the way of your health goals, and the #1 thing you need to move forward.
Lately I have not been getting enough sleep, which is worrisome because sleep deprivation leaves your body in a state of unhealthy stress. So I re-visited those things that promote quality sleep and soon got back into a proper routine. Quality sleep is critical to maintaining good health and performing optimally in our daily activities
A lack of sleep is associated with impaired learning, driving and work performance, faster aging of the brain and body, overeating, obesity, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased risk of diabetes and hypertension.
There is also evidence that poor sleep can impair your immune system and increase inflammation in your body. When you get enough sleep you can shorten the duration of a cold or other such illnesses and increase the number of cells that naturally kill mutant or deviant ones. Darkness, which is one of the things needed to get good sleep, produces the hormone melatonin, and melatonin is an antioxidant and inhibitor of cancer cell growth.
Let’s face it, a lack of sleep affects our physical appearance and emotional state. Our brain works best when well rested. It keeps us more alert and energized, and sleep improves our memory too.
But how much sleep is needed varies from person to person. The rule of thumb is 7-9 hours. The best way to tell if you have gotten enough sleep is determined by your alarm clock. If you need one to wake up daily, you probably are not getting enough sleep.
What are the strategies to getting a better night’s sleep?
- Minimize your use of a television, smart phone, tablet or laptop at night, and by all means do not go to sleep while using such devices. All of them emit light, typically blue in color, which suppresses melatonin production, so using them at or close to bedtime is disruptive. This is what caused my recent problem. I love to research things, read blogs and return less urgent emails at night after dinner. Now, instead of using such devices, I’ve gone back to reading a book at night. NOTE: I’ve heard you can get various apps that turn the blue light to yellow, but that hasn’t worked for me.
- Cut off lights. The natural rhythm of light and dark keep us alert during the day and promotes sleep at night by shifting how much melatonin our bodies produce. Clocks, phones, night and outside lights can disrupt this natural rhythm. And did you know that light exposure before bed can increase your risk of cancer? Any exposure to light before bed or during your sleep reduces the depth and quality of sleep. Even a low-level light through closed eyelids can reduce melatonin production. A sleep mask makes a lot of sense if you are bothered by excess light, although I’ve yet to use mine.
- Maintain a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up. Once you get into a good routine, you’ll no longer need an alarm clock. By waking naturally, you allow your body to go through its final sleep cycle, where the hormones shift, melatonin decreases and cortisol increases so you become alert.
- Your body temperature should drop naturally at night so make sure you keep your bedroom cool. Ideal sleep temperature is 68 degrees. By lowering the thermostat, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and minimizing noise, you give your body the best chance of a good night’s sleep.
- No surprise here but eating right and exercising are also important for sleep. One of the many benefits of exercise is it helps to physically tire your body so you are ready to get a good night’s sleep. Also, remember to eat your vegetables daily. Otherwise, your sleep may suffer.
I continue to read more and more about the side effects of the various prescription sleep aids on the market today. Relying on a sleep medication generally isn’t the best long-term solution for insomnia. Medications can mask an underlying problem that needs treatment, and they have side effects.
For example, some people who take Zolpidem (Ambien) or similar medications, such as Eszopiclone (Lunesta), do things while asleep that they don’t remember — such as driving, sleepwalking and preparing and eating food. Because you’re not awake, these obviously are dangerous behaviors.
Also, after taking sleep drugs, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that you avoid driving or doing activities that require full mental alertness the next day. This is especially important if you take extended-release varieties.
Sleep medications can be useful in the short term but don’t make them a habit. The best approach is to address whatever is causing your sleep problems in the first place. Remedies include many of the things I have talked about in this blog. In addition, counseling for anxiety or using stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, can be helpful.
Boy, did I get a surprise last week. My doctor’s office called to say my blood work came back fine except for my A1C test — the one that provides information about a person’s average level of blood glucose (blood sugar) over the past three months. It is the primary test used to determine if you are pre-diabetic or have diabetes itself.
I recently read an article by designer Tory Burch about how growing up playing sports, in particular tennis, helped her develop her successful fashion career. As an entrepreneur myself, I appreciated her analogy since I too grew up playing tennis, swimming and running.