Archive for July, 2008

Overcoming inertia: tackling TV time

July 27, 2008

My friends used to think it was quirky but “very Jessica” that I didn’t own a TV in my apartment. I never had one in my dorm room in college, and couldn’t squeeze one into my small city apartment later on, so I’d grown accustomed to life without sitcoms and evening dramas [I suppose if I was really determined I could watch shows on the internet, but by now I’ve completely lost track of the new shows].   I suppose I could also have used YouTube as a handy substitute, but I’ll admit that I didn’t even have internet in my apartment until almost a year into my lease, and that concession came about from the necessity of internet access in the grad school application process.

Now that I’ve moved home with my parents TV has started to become part of my nighttime routine, especially since my parents are both addicted to a nightly Chinese-language soap opera.  This in turn has increased my appreciation for the amount of time TV can potentially consume. Before my days fell into the rhythm of:

7-9:30 run or craft, breakfast, shower, miscellaneous chores

10-6 work

7-10:30 dinner, call boyfriend, craft, catch up with friends household chores, miscellaneous things that need to be taken care of

With the reappearance of television in the landscape I accomplish much less in the evenings. Not that accomplishment for the sake of productivity was ever the ultimate goal, but I enjoy my hobbies. I love making things or writing to friends or reading a good book. And while television would seem a sad excuse not to do the things I enjoy, it is true that actively overcoming the inertia of constant, passive entertainment can take far longer than I’d care to admit. I know I’m not alone in this.  Again, this pervasive theme of overcoming inertia for your ultimate benefit.

I’m not against television per say, but I definitely need to find ways to work around its’ constant draw. I have some projects that require handwork that can be completed in front of the TV so that’s one temporary solution, but I’d like to find a more permanent one that limits the total hours I watch. When I head to school in the fall I won’t be furnishing my place with a TV, but I know that eventually I may get one, so it’s handy to start thinking up solutions now.

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Photography Friday: Upcycling

July 25, 2008

Upcycling: (verb) reusing old fabrics in new projects, thereby giving them a new use.

For example, in the photo above I took an ill-fitting duvet cover and transformed part of it into a skirt [with enough leftover for PJ pants, cloth napkins for my mom, and possibly the start of yet another quilt]. The mittens below are another example:

Take a wool sweater accidentally shrunken in the washing machine, trace around your hands, stitch and turn inside out to create mittens.

Given the durability of fabric and recent innovations in synthetic blends most fabrics will not wear out before we tire of them, whether it is clothing, bedding, tablecloths, etc. By upcycling, we keep perfectly usable goods from landfills and stretch our creativity in finding new uses for materials.

Good for the environment, good for stimulating creativity and resourcefulness, good for an evening’s entertainment. A second chance, a new lease on life for something whose time has not physically come, merely that we have grown tired of it and are forever wanting something new [and yes, I’m guilty of that more often than I’d care to admit!]

Greetings from the farm!

July 23, 2008

Just wanted to pop in and say hello from the farm, where I’m WWOOFing for 2 weeks with a friend.  We arrived Saturday and have been weeding, watering, planting, and picking blueberries to our heart’s content.  It’s beautiful out here and our kind hosts have had many travelers through the years, both international and domestic.  Town is a 45 minute drive away, and we’re situated on 250 acres of private property with a beautiful 2 mile loop in “the back” that winds through meadows and tall trees, by a creek and between young firs.

 

I’ve long felt the desire to learn more about farming, to feel a stronger connection to the land and the life that it sustains, and in exchange we are able to provide our kind hosts with some assistance around the property to help maintain a way of life and body of knowledge that is slowly slipping from the cultural landscape and national heritage.  And the quiet – oh, the quiet.  Cars are rarely heard on the main road, birds call out between the blueberry rows [and we bark or meow to try to scare them off, but they just hop a couple feet away from us and laugh at the silly WWOOFers who honestly believe that they could be scared off so easily!].  It’s quite peaceful and beautiful.  More soon!

Getting More Exercise 2: making it happen

July 22, 2008

Part 1 of this series explored ways to make time for exercise. Now that your schedule is set, how can you make sure it happens on a consistent basis?

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

-As I mentioned in my previous post, be specific in your plan. It’s a lot easier to wiggle out of “I have to exercise more!” than it is from “Thursday: thirty minutes on the stationery bike while watching the news.” Think through What, When, How Long.

-If you know you have a busy day or week coming up don’t just abandon your exercise plan. Modify it. Get a couple exercise DVDs with 15-minute routines for the days you can’t make it to the gym. Plan fun activities into your vacation that keep you moving. Come up with a Plan A and Plan B, and stick to them!

-Make your exercise environment as comfortable as possible. We need all the encouragement we can get to exercise, so if you stick the elliptical machine in the farthest corner of the coldest room in the house, who would want to wade through the cobwebs and piles of junk to exercise consistently? Clear out the mess, open the blinds, put up a poster or some photos. Make this your sanctuary, and you’ll want to exercise.

INCLUDE OTHERS IN YOUR SUCCESS

Getting others in on your plan increases your motivation, accountability, and makes the process more fun. Let others know about your plans to exercise more frequently, and tell them to check in with you! Or find someone else who wants to bump up their activity levels – you can keep each other motivated, share tips and ideas, or find an activity you both enjoy to keep one another going. Family members, friends, coworkers, online forums or support groups are all excellent places to turn.

TRACK YOUR MILESTONES TOWARDS SUCCESS

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Likewise, keep your expectations reasonable and break your progress down into a series of achievable milestones. If you’d like to exercise five days a week, it’s reasonable to start out at three and work up to five over the course of several months. If you want to lose 50 pounds, don’t let the large number deter you. Focus first on losing five pounds, or set up other, non weight-related milestones along the way.

Some tips:

-Set up concrete, tangible goals in a clearly defined time period. Just as a specific daily plan for exercise keeps you on track, specific weekly or monthly goals provide an overarching framework to guide your daily efforts.

For example, you wish to exercise 5 days/week by the end of 3 months. The first month you might start out at 3 days/week at the gym, the second month you add in a day of walking, the third month you add in an exercise DVD. Long-term goals focus your efforts despite short-term setbacks.

-Track your progress! Note down your goals and your progress towards them. Some people like notebooks, others prefer the visual encouragement of X’s on the calendar. Once you have a string of X’s on your wall, it creates additional motivation to continue the trend and not break the string.

-If you feel discouraged, look back to where you started. You’ll see more improvement than you realized.

-To kick start your efforts, some people like to create “one week” or “one month” challenges. For example: No snacking after 9PM for the month of April, or do some form of exercise daily for an entire week.

FIND THE WEAK LINK

We all have a part of the exercise plan where we are likely to drop off of a routine. For some it is a constant flow of unexpected lunch meetings, for others it is the temptation to hit snooze that prevents a morning workout. When reviewing your plan for the week, think back on the moments when you were less successful at achieving your exercise goals. Once you identify your “weak link” you can think through how to overcome it. Some common stumbling points:

Weak Link: Not feeling up for exercise when you get home.

Solution: Have your exercise shoes right next to the door; head straight for your exercise room and change there; find a class or facility on the way home from work and store your clothes in the car.

Weak Link: So many nighttime chores that it’s impossible to consistently exercise

Solution: Switch to mornings or daytime exercise; allot a specific time period for exercise; exercise consistently on weekends and once or twice during the week.

Weak Link: Snoozing the alarm in the morning

Solution: Move the alarm across the room so you have to get up and turn it off; shift your bedtime earlier; find a motivating picture of quote and stick it on your alarm clock.

Despite the best intentions it can be difficult to consistently exercise. To make exercise a long-term habit, it is helpful to have an exercise routine in place (see Part 1 for specifics on setting up an exercise routine) and strategies to overcome obstacles that may come up along the way.

Photo Friday: Overcoming Indecision

July 18, 2008

“I’m off for a tramp in the park,” announced Phil, tossing her book aside. “I think when I am eighty I’ll be glad I went for a walk in the park tonight.”

“What do you mean?” asked Anne.

“I had made up my own mind for once and it was real easy, too,” [said Phil].

“Do you suppose you’ll be able to keep it up?”

“Making up my mind, you mean?  I don’t know, but Jo has given me a splendid rule.  He says, when I’m perplexed, just to do what i would wish I had done when I shall be eighty.”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

Getting More Exercise 1: fitting it into your life

July 18, 2008

If you could make one change to lose weight, lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, and prevent diabetes, would you do it? After all, heart disease and diabetes are two leading causes of death in America, and millions are on medications to manage these conditions. So what is this cure?

The answer isn’t an expensive drug but exercise.

That’s right. Exercise can accomplish all of the above, plus build muscle and tone your body, increase blood flow to your brain, strengthen your heart, and sometimes improve sleep quality and relieve stress. Despite this, most of us don’t get the recommended 30-60 minutes of low to moderate exercise 5 or more days per week.

If that sounds daunting, don’t feel intimidated. Chances are you already achieve some of that, and incremental increases towards the minimum have a positive cumulative effect. An extra 5 minutes per day adds up to an additional 30 hours of exercise each year. Think of the benefits over your lifetime!

Aim to get as close to the recommendations, and it’s OK to start slow and build up. It may take awhile to adjust to a new program, but you’ll start finding ways to add in ten minutes here or there.

Part 1 of this series focuses on ways to fit exercise into your daily life. Part 2 helps you keep it in your life with tips on making it happen consistently.

MAKE THE TIME

Ideally you’d be able to carve out a daily chunk of time for physical activity. Even if this is not feasible on a daily basis, a couple times a week still brings benefits!

Also, studies have shown that you get equivalent benefits from breaking exercise into smaller chunks – two 15-minute walks are just as effective as one 30-minute walk. Note this means you don’t have to head to the gym for an hour every day to get adequate exercise. In the effort for increased exercise, consistency is key. To find time, ask yourself:

-Where can I find 10-15 minutes daily?

-Do I have more flexibility in the mornings, daytime, or evenings?

-Are there 1-2 days during the week when my schedule is less full? How busy are my weekends? Can I commit to 30 minutes on these days?

-Are there natural breaks that already occur during the day? Lunch is a perfect example, but get creative! Maybe you have a solid morning routine at work and can build in a 15-minute break between tasks.

Once you’ve established a good time think through how you will fill it. Will you be at the gym, on a walk around the block, using your elliptical machine at home? Do you need special equipment or clothing, or to new carpool arrangements? The more you think through the specifics the better prepared you are to carry out your plan.

It may be that some days you manage half an hour of walking and household chores, punctuated by 1-2 days of focused exercise efforts. Others choose to start off the day with a 30-minute walk. Either way, the key is to just start.

HARNESS THE POWER OF MULTITASKING

Short of setting aside time solely devoted to exercise, some prefer to multitask their exercise. For example:

-Exercise while watching TV. This could mean using the bike while watching the news, or some free weights and crunches during commercials of your favorite show.

-Watching a sporting event? Climb up and down the bleachers a couple times during the course of a game. Stand up every time you cheer. Pace the length of a soccer field while watching your child play.

We all have tight schedules and a long list of obligations. Combining exercise with a regular item on your list increases your success in incorporating it into your life.

GET CREATIVE

We all have multiple demands on us, and sometimes exercise can help you manage those demands. Investigate all areas of your life to see if exercise can be part of the solution.

-Find stress building at work as the morning wears on? Step out for a brisk 10 minute stroll to remove yourself from the stress and clear your head.

-On that note, 5 minutes of stretching mid-afternoon fights off drowsiness and refocuses your efforts. After all, a 10-minute bout of productivity can accomplish more than half an hour of half-hearted attempts.

-To mix up the weekend routine suggest a hike with friends instead of the standard “catch up over a meal,” and save money to boot! Or go out dancing, try out the new ice skating rink, etc.

-If the nighttime munchies hit after dinner, take a 20-minute stroll immediately following the meal. Exercise is a moderate appetite suppressant, and staying busy distracts from cravings.

-If you have problems sleeping try ten minutes of relaxing yoga stretches before you sleep.

Is there another area of your life that you’ve wanted to work on? See if you can’t kill two birds with one stone!

MAKE THE MOST OF THE SMALL THINGS

Make your daily routine less sedentary. Take the stairs, park further away in the parking lot, use the furthest bathroom from your office. Wear a pedometer to track your efforts and experiment with new ways to fit in more steps. Housework and chores count too. Everything from gardening to washing windows gets you moving and active, so schedule that in regularly.

Finally, take a look what you’re already doing. Is there is a way to increase the activity level further? Use a push lawn mower or forego golf carts in favor of walking. Love to play fetch with your dog? Think about all that time you spend standing around – do squats or bench push ups while she chases, or start her off with a jog around the park, she’ll still get to run but you join in on the action.

Making time for exercise is less difficult than you think. Use any combination of the techniques above, and don’t be afraid to experiment to find the solution that works for you!

Recipe: Sun Tea

July 16, 2008

Sun tea harnesses the power of the sun to make a cup of tea. This method is particularly handy if you are not near a stove or want to make iced tea, since the tea will not be as hot as that made with boiling water.  In other words, great for conserving electricity!  And, as I discovered while working in the urban gardens, a handy way to make water more appealing to preteens and teenagers – working outside all day may not convince them to give up their sodas and juices, but if you offer no alternative but sun tea or regular water, you’d be surprised at just how much they’ll drink.

Sun tea can work with regular tea bags, but in this instance we took advantage of the bounty of the garden to furnish the tea.

Water

Sliced lemons

A great heaping variety of herbs.

Combine in a glass jar. Allow to steep in the sun [if you are indoors you may have to move the jar through the day]. Can steep for hours, depending on how thick you like your tea. In our case, we slowly sipped it through the day, but I can see this working beautifully at picnics and outdoor parties as well. As you can see no sugar is necessary, and the youth really did go back for seconds and thirds. Also handy if you grow an herb garden for cooking, and are looking for new ways to use up your herbs.

EDIT:  I’ve since read some reports that warn against letting sun tea “brew” for too long, as the water doesn’t get hot enough to kill off bacteria and can even encourage bacterial growth.  The general guidelines (found at this link) recommend 1) not letting the tea sit out for more than a couple hours (which we didn’t in the gardens, as the program was over by then), 2) refrigerate if you’d like it to last longer, 3) don’t drink if it gets thick and gooey.

Expanding comfort zones

July 15, 2008

What is it about leaving our comfortable cocoon that makes us so resistant to trying new things, even when we know we’ll ultimately benefit from or enjoy the experience?  Even for temporary change or changes that are relatively small, it can be difficult to find the motivation and discipline to go out and pursue them. This week I’m volunteering with a friend’s organization that introduces youth to urban gardening. I could list out all the advantages – a chance to work with youth again, a week in the garden, time with a good friend before I leave for the East Coast (she’s one of the staff in charge of the program).

And yet this past weekend as I was packing and preparing, all I could think about was how much I just wanted to laze about in my comfortable lifestyle. No new youth to meet and cajole and tease and prod into gardening, no energetic week of crafting and cooking and chatting with my friend, no long hours in the garden in sun and wind. So much energy required for new and fun experiences … I don’t want to! It takes too much effort to have fun, don’t make me (even though I’ll be so glad I did)!

Of course, now that I’m here I absolutely love it. When else could I watch middle school students milk a goat for the first time, and go from “Ew! No way!” to slowly inching their way closer and closer to the udder, eventually sitting down and squeezing out great streams of milk with pleased hands and delighted eyes.

Something in their reactions struck a chord. I recognize that pattern. The same reluctance eventually overcome, in their case by curiosity and in mine partly because of personal obligations to my friend (it’s horrible but true! Establishing that personal relationship is a great way to push people into action) And ultimately novelty is good for us. It stimulates. It expands our comfort zone and challenges us to acquire new skills and experiences. Of course, the difficulty is overcoming the initial inertia caused by fear, uncertainty and yes, sheer laziness as well, but it is a skill well worth learning. I hope to explore some ways to overcome inertia in the weeks to come, particularly as they relate to wellness activities but also for life in general.  After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to miss out on so many wonderful opportunities?

Why Wellness?

July 7, 2008

When you think “Wellness,” what comes to mind?  For better or worse, that phrase gets dragged into all sorts of ventures nowadays, ranging from alternative medicine to spas to corporate programs designed to cut rising employer health care costs.  Wellness is a hot new field, and everybody wants a piece of the pie.

Which runs the risk of diluting the meaning of the word into nothing but jargon and buzzword, a way of co-opting the latest hot phrase into myriad causes that results only in the complete butchering of the intended meaning of the word “wellness” and rendering it meaningless.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for increasing the well-being of humans all over the world, and for moving beyond the idea that if we just bandaid over individual and societal ills, we’re somehow living in a good place.  I just think we need to be sure we’re all talking about the same thing, and to not stretch words until they no longer hold any meaning whatsoever.

Health is not just the absence of disease.  For me, health is more than that.  It means achieving a basic standard of living, expressed through physical, mental, emotional and often spiritual means.  The concept of wellness helps pull the idea of health beyond the concept of deficit of pathology, and into the arena of enhancing the positive forces that strengthen and enrich our lives.

Thus wellness might be contentment.  The ability to pursue passion and knowledge, to be inspired and to be creative.  A sense of communion with family.  Friends.  Community.  Your environment.  Wellness as peace of mind.  Wellness as an intentional way of life.

So for me, wellness spans all aspects of life.  The physical: nutrition, exercise.  The mental: stress management, financial management, personal development and personal productivity.  The emotional: developing and strengthening important relationships in your life, increasing a sense of community, taking care of the environment, seeking and following through on inspiration, creativity as a means of self-expression.  The ways these are interrelated and their subtle [and not so subtle] effects on our lives.

The idea is to both create a solid foundation on which to ensure a basic level of health and well being, and then to grow and develop from that foundation into the best possible version of ourselves.  Think of wellness as a springboard to inspire improvements in all aspects of life, and through multiple venues as well.  We live in an age of overwhelming volume of information that it’s hard to sort fact from fiction, plan priorities and pack it all into the 24 hours we are given in each day.  But wellness doesn’t have to be difficult to fit into daily life, and I hope to explore these themes in the coming posts.  Not to neglect any of the areas mentioned above, this blog covers a wide range of topics. Feel free to pick and choose the ones that are relevant to you. Of course, as you start down the road towards a well you, you may develop a budding interest in an increased number of interests, and that is what this blog is here for as well.

As a former health coach, I have a lot of experience with a lot of these topics, particularly nutrition, exercise, weight management, and stress management.  On a personal level, I have a longstanding interest in food, creativity and making things, being outdoors, the environment, personal finance and personal productivity.  I’ll be starting grad school in the Fall to learn more about the systems and institutions that affect and serve our health and wellness needs, the latest research and methods to proactively deal with them.  I hope for this blog to be a meeting point between all these areas, and an ongoing conversation with the world at large.

Wellness as honoring yourself: honoring your basic needs, and honoring your fullest potential.