Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for June, 2010

Activity Plus Rest = Successful Vacation Formula

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

People often wonder what type of vacation I prefer – extreme sports activities like cycling tours through hilly terrain?  Strenuous hiking up steep mountains?  Boot camp at a basic training facility?  No, no, nothing so intense.  For me, the perfect balance is active touring with plenty of time for naps and a good night's sleep.

In past years, my husband and I have traveled together as far as Africa and as close to home as the Jersey shore.  We are continually drawn to western Europe, particularly to France and Italy.  We've hiked the goat trails of Cinque Terre, climbed the steep steps of Positano and toured the ancient ruins of Pompeii and Paestum.  We're especially fond of the ancient medieval villages of Tuscany and the south of France.   

This year we are returning to a favorite town in Provence where we'll stay in a perched village, high atop a hill.  Our accommodations are right under the chateau, so we know that our legs will get a good workout every day as we climb to our quarters. 

There is a pristine river nearby which provides a refreshing way to cool off in the most amazing natural setting.  You begin walking in ankle deep water on smooth round stones, but as you progress downstream, the water gets deeper and the stones become giant boulders that you need to scramble up and leap over.  You swim through whirl pools and under water falls. There are no set paths so you have to scope it out to figure out the best way to proceed.  It's every man for himself and truly a delicious, challenging workout.

We like to shop in the gorgeous outdoor markets and prepare most of our meals from fresh, local ingredients.  We load up on fruits, salads, and veggies and, of course, the cheeses and breads.  We're game to try various types of seafood and unusual cuts of meat. Then there's the wine:  Staying in the midst of the vast Cotes de Rhone vineyards, we make sure to sample the specialties of the region.

For me it's important to maintain the balance of activity and rest, of calories in and calories out.  I keep a mind-body tally of how I'm doing so that I'm not in shock when I return to reality.  With that said, I'll be back at the end of July to let you know how I fared.

Self-Care: A Role Model for Wellness

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

My mother is visiting me in New York City this weekend.  At 92 years of age with a youthful spirit, she always wants to go, go, go, despite limitations in her walking ability.  Over a recent period of several years, she had both knees and both hips replaced and is grateful for her present level of mobility. Taking care of oneself begins with a positive attitude and the desire to embrace life for all it's worth, no matter what the limitations.  

Sometimes healthy habits do require considerable sacrifice.  My mother has a remarkable appetite, but her dietary restrictions have eliminated quite a few of her favorite foods.  She knows that her body functions better without them.  She loves to exercise and does her own home-based routine religiously, as well as taking classes in yoga and balance.  She can't really participate in the balance class because of problems with her equilibrium, but she attends, hoping to pick up some tips.  

On a daily basis, she makes it a point to stay well-hydrated, checking to make sure that her urine runs clear, which indicates that the body has plenty of fluid.  She's immaculate in her personal hygiene, whether it's flossing her teeth or abstaining from coffee to keep her breath sweet.  She is very diligent about keeping her routine doctor appointments and following up on their suggestions to keep herself in the best possible shape. 

By definition, wellness is self-directed well-being.  My mother is a role model in countless ways, beginning with her outlook on life and her practice of self-care.  By her example, I see clearly how your mental constitution can affect your physical well-being and make all the difference in whether you thrive in life or just survive the journey.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H it Out!

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

For most of my young life, I felt I was too tall – too tall for boys, too tall for heels, too tall to ever be called cute.  I was always in the back row of class photos and could never be inconspicuous. My posture suffered as I tried in vain to shrink down and blend in, which of course only made me more conspicuous.  A pronounced slump is clearly not attractive!

When my self-image finally "grew" into my height, I straightened up to claim my full 5'10 ½ inches.  Now at the age when loss of height can be an issue, I am conscious of maintaining my height and look forward to being measured at my annual physical.  While there is nothing we can do to stop the aging process, there are a number of things we can do to stay tall, including working on posture and alignment, ensuring the health of our skeleton, and of course, stretching out our muscles.

Stretching is one third of a well-rounded workout (the other two being aerobic exercise and strength training).  After you've been contracting the muscles repeatedly in your aerobic workout – walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc. – it's important to lengthen them out by stretching.  The same principle applies to strength training:  after the muscles have been contracting against resistance, they need to be stretched out to their full length.  Short, bunchy muscles will never give you a long, lean line.

Your workout is not over until after you've finished stretching!  I always allow five or ten minutes after my run to do a full-body stretch.  Although running primarily involves the legs, the upper body and core are also integral to the movement.  I perform the stretches as part of my cool-down in the park or outside my building, knowing that if I come back inside I may get distracted and skip them.

It's advisable to stretch every day, even on days you don't exercise.  Take a lesson from your pet dog or cat and notice that they stretch periodically throughout the day.  You can move your joints to help wake up in the morning and get your circulation going.  Or take a few minutes in the evening in order to counteract the demands of your daily activities and discharge tension from the muscles. 

And definitely make it a point to conclude every workout with appropriate stretches for the muscles you used.  Lengthening the muscles will help keep you tall and straight.  Being flexible makes you agile and keeps your movements fluid and youthful.

Whole Body Movement: Cross Training Workouts

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

I spent this past week in Florida, with a lovely outdoor swimming pool two steps from my front door.  Since it was too hot to run and such a good opportunity to do a little cross-training, I took the plunge every morning.  As I was swimming laps, alternating front crawl and breast stroke, I thought about how satisfying it is to create balance in training, doing different kinds of exercise for whole body movement. 

Running and swimming are a perfect combination.  Running is primarily a lower body exercise, while swimming engages more upper body muscles along with the legs.   Running is high impact, benefiting the bones and burning calories, but pounding the body with each stride.  Swimming is easy on the joints, non-impact and weight-supported.  The buoyancy of the water allows a restful glide and stretch in between each stroke.

Alternating front crawl and breast stroke engages two opposing muscle groups of the upper body:  front crawl using the large muscle of the back, the latissimus dorsi; breast stroke using the large muscles of the chest, the pectorals.  The flutter kick is primarily a linear movement of the legs, while the frog kick works muscles in the horizontal plane.  Again, a good balance.

When you do resistance exercises, using body weight, free weights or machines, pay attention to working opposing muscle groups: abdominals and spinal extensors, quads/hamstrings and inner/outer thighs; chest and back; front shoulder/rear shoulder; biceps/triceps.  And try to move the body in different planes of motion:  forward and back, side to side and on a diagonal.

As you think about your exercise routine, ask yourself if you've created a good balance in your choice of activities for whole body workouts.  If you've been stuck in a routine, doing the same exercises over and over, find a way to introduce new movement patterns to create a more holistic approach.