Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for August, 2013

Resilience: Bouncing Back with Spirit

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

How do you handle set-backs in life?  When adversity strikes, how easily do you rebound?  Are you confident that you can survive life's challenges and carry on? Resilience arms you to fight back against catastrophe and to believe in your ability to cope in the future. It is a measure of psychological fitness.

New research on resilience highlights intriguing findings*:

  • Psychological fitness boosts physical fitness.  A study at Florida State University showed that poor resilience affects aerobic capacity. On a treadmill stress test the least resilient performed as if they were 10 years older than their peers.
  • Poor resilience can also affect your health by weakening the immune system, heart health and brain function.
  • Your own stress response can be more damaging than the stressor itself.  The more you stress over a situation, the more you activate the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which over time can create health problems.
  • While partially innate, resilience can be learned.  Based on 20 years of research from the Penn Resiliency Project at the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army recently implemented a training program instructing soldiers how to build their resilience, a "boot camp for the brain."
  • At Loughborough University in England, Olympic champions said they wouldn't have won their gold medals if not for overcoming hardships during their training, such as serious illness, career-threatening injuries and their parents' divorce.

I have been thinking about the importance of resilience in the aging process as I watch my 95-year old mother cope with one challenge after another. Despite the many physical restrictions that limit her capacity for life, her buoyant psychological outlook keeps her thriving, moving forward and growing.

For other blog posts on this topic, please see:

A Fighting Spirit at 93

Mental Muscle:  Strength Training for the Mind

How Can Exercise Build Resilience to Stress

*As reported in the September issue of Fitness magazine, "Find Your Backbone" by Dana Hudepohl

The Seven Minute Workout: Fitness in a Flash for the Whole Family

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

It's all the rage:  twelve exercises in a seven minute workout using only bodyweight, a chair and a wall. According to the American College of Sports Medicine Human Performance Institute, this total body workout delivers all the benefits of prolonged endurance exercise in an interval training format.

Interval training combines high intensity effort interspersed with brief periods of recovery. The twelve exercises - alternating upper body, lower body and core muscles – must be done in rapid succession, in the order given.  Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, resting for 10 seconds in between. Work at 80% of your maximum capacity, i.e. at level 8 on a scale of 1-10 perceived exertion.

The exercises are:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Wall sit
  • Push-up
  • Abdominal crunch
  • Step-up onto chair
  • Squat
  • Triceps dip on chair
  • Plank
  • High-knees running in place
  • Lunge
  • Push-up and rotation (side plank)
  • Side plank

This is something the whole family can do at home. Several people have told me that their kids are into it. One woman told me that her son does it with her while her daughter times them and her husband demonstrates proper form for push-ups!

Working the Weekend: 6 Steps of Wellness

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

I knew I would be at my desk all weekend, reviewing material both for my new book (due out in January) and new website (soon to launch!) So, how to make it a well-weekend in spite of the workload?

This is definitely a time to employ a philosophy of wellness; this is how I did it.

#1 Sleep in:  after all, it is the weekend and I don't have to get up at 5:30 or 6 am, normal wake-up time during the work week.

#2 Shop at the neighborhood farmers market and provision fresh, local ingredients for a couple of delicious dinners (reward at the end of each day!)

#3 Go for a run:  30 minutes in the sunshine, running along the East River, water sparkling in the flowing current.

#4 Conclude run with a full-body stretch and a cool shower.

#5 Eat breakfast:  Fresh berries, yogurt and home-made granola, with a large glass of ice water with lemon.

#6  Sit down at my desk, ready for work!  And feeling not so very deprived at having to work all summer's weekend.

For more about devising a philosophy of wellness, see previous blog posts

Capsized in Lake Malawi!

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

I spent the month of July traveling in Africa, a mind-expanding adventure in so many ways. My husband James and I had a first hand experience of the kindness of the people and the harsh reality of their lives. We witnessed the efficiency of Mother Nature as she rules the wild kingdom and had an eye-opening jolt of how sacred the environment is to her realm.

But what I want to share with you is a personal experience of overcoming unexpected physical challenges. Lake Malawi, Africa's third largest lake, is considered an inland sea, in other words the waters can get as rough as the ocean. We were staying on a remote island camp and one afternoon we decided to take a kayak around the small island.

On the leeward side, we could see brilliant fish just below the surface of the clear waters. We were enjoying the scenery of the giant boulders all along the shore line and the fish eagles soaring overhead. As we paddled around to the windward side, however, the wind picked up and the water became very choppy. Shortly thereafter, we couldn't steady the kayak in the rough waters and capsized.

It took us a few minutes treading water to recover from the shock and gather our thoughts. After several attempts, we were finally able to get on top of a submerged boulder and right the kayak. Then we angled it into a crevice in the rocks and climbed back in. The ride back was challenging as the wind and waves got worse, but we finally paddled safely back to camp.

If I had not been in good shape, I might have failed this unexpected test of strength and stamina. I'm often reminded of the definition of physical fitness, which is: "The ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and to meet unforeseen emergencies."

This is a recurring theme for me! For other blog posts along this line, please see: