New Ideas About Old Age

What comes to mind when you think of aging? If you envision frailty and loss of function, that’s understandable if you have been looking around at people you know. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only 5% of adults over 65 are fit and highly active. 65% are functioning independently but are experiencing physical decline due to low levels of physical activity. The other 30% are frail and dependent on assistance for activities of daily living. No wonder most people are expecting to weaken and suffer as they age.

Yet in recent years more seniors are engaging in vigorous physical activity for recreation and competition. As more people continue to, or begin to be, active as they age, we are learning that we underestimated the limits of human performance.  With greater participation as well as improvements in training and recovery protocols, records and averages in performance among athletes in their 40’s to their 100’s are going up steadily.

There is much more to learn about why and how some seniors are able to remain strong and vital over the passing decades. Genetics surely plays a role, but not as big as some might think. Exercise seems to be the unavoidable conclusion that scientists keep returning to. We are learning that at any age, it is possible to increase strength, flexibility, and endurance and to stave off age related decline dramatically.

It turns out that when you think of aging as leading to frailty and disability, you may be confusing aging with low fitness.

Most people aren’t going to perform at the elite level. I, for one, don’t expect to be competing in Ironman triathlons like 85-year-old Iromu Inada or 88-year-old Madonna Buder. That’s a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. I don’t think I will be a track and field star in my 90’s, like Olga Kotelko. I run, but not like 71-year-old Gene Dykes who ran a 2:54 marathon, at the blistering pace of 6:39 minutes per mile. And I certainly hope I won’t have to knock out an intruder in my house like 82-year-old power lifter Willie Murphy.

However, if human potential allows some people to excel and to keep getting stronger late in life, like Robert Marchand who took up velodrome competitive cycling in his 100’s, it suggests that the rest of us can achieve more than we thought. Science seems to agree. Barring catastrophic illnesses and accidents, we should expect to be able to carry groceries, plant flowers, walk through a museum, or stroll on the beach, well into our advanced years. In addition, being fit provides benefits beyond being able to stand up from a chair without help or to get on the ground with the grandkids. Physical activity impacts quality of life on many levels because it has been shown to improve immunity, mood, digestion, and cognition.

One’s perception of his or her ability to change or to perform specific behaviors is called self-efficacy. It is a necessary component of success no matter what your goals are. If we want to be among those who age with vitality, let’s discard old notions of aging in favor of a new one where we can influence our life through our actions and continue to participate fully in the activities of our choosing.  If you think you are “just getting old” and accept decline as a given, why take action? You need to have a sense of what is possible in order to take the time and effort to be active. The astonishing performance of elite athletes is an inspiration and encouragement for the rest of us to discover our own potential.

In the next post, I will get into some specifics about how to stay strong and fit over the years. Being savvy about how to train and how to recover is key. Aston Kinetics® has much to offer in this quest by providing powerful tools to improve biomechanics and movement efficiency, release restrictions in our tissues, recover from injuries, and help with recovery at the cellular level.

Use The Force… Ground Reaction Force!

Ground Reaction Force (GRF) is the force opposite gravity. Learn how to use it and it will revolutionize how you move. You will have the opportunity to rediscover how strong, vital, and youthful you can be.

This skill is one of the gems that my mentor, master teacher Judith Aston, shared with seniors in the community who attended her classes in Austin, Texas, this spring. The community classes were in the context of an advanced training she offered Aston Kinetics® practitioners on the topic of Aston® Senior Fitness.

With footage I shot during the community classes, I have assembled an 8-minute mini class for you to experience some key concepts taught by Judith. Please practice the moves and discover how to use The Force… Ground Reaction Force!

5 habits to improve your nutrition that do not involve making tough choices about what to eat

1. Fast overnight for at least 12 hours
  • This allows digestion to complete, which takes about 8 hours. Then your digestion can have a rest while your body has energy for other repair and maintenance processes.
  • Studies show a correlation between eating in a smaller window of time during the day and weight loss, without the need for conscious calorie restrictions.
  • It is possible to extend the time to more than 12 hours, depending on the size of your evening meal. Wait until you are hungry to eat in the morning rather than eating out of habit.
  • Don’t try to be a hero and wait too long to eat after you start being hungry. Some current books and blogs encourage really long fasts but it can backfire for some people because it becomes too much of a struggle.
2. Eat at predictable times
  • Even if your schedule changes from day to day, make sure there are predictable patterns to meal times. Your body, and even each individual organ, operates according to circadian rhythms. Constant shifts go against the optimal functioning of your physiology.
  • When we don’t know when and what we will eat, we tend to overeat as “insurance” against starving before the next meal.
  • Plan when and what you will eat before getting hungry. Making rational healthy nutrition decisions while hungry is nearly impossible for most people.
3. Hydrate between meals
  • Drinking a lot of fluid with meals dilutes digestive juices. Instead, drink most of your water between meals for improved digestion.
  • Drink water first thing upon waking in the morning. This is when you are the most in need of fluids after drinking little or no water overnight. This will start your digestion and encourage healthy elimination.
  • Being well hydrated in the morning will also help with #1, “Fasting for 12 hours,” because you will be less likely to feel hungry.
  • Drinking enough water between meals can make you feel full and limit the urge to snack. Sometimes we think we are hungry when we are in fact thirsty.
4. Eat meals rather than snacks.
  • While popular advice and food marketing is full of snacking suggestions, snacking is best kept to a minimum. Eating a well-balanced and nutritious meal that keeps you full for several hours is healthier for digestion. Eating too frequently can stress the digestive system.
  • Once we start eating, it can be hard to stop. A very small snack may be enough to fill you up so you are not famished before the next meal, but you are likely to eat much more than you need unless you are very vigilant about keeping track of how much you are eating. Extra calories can quickly add up.
  • See item #3, “Eating at predictable times”: when your meal schedule is regular, you know how much to eat at each meal so that snacking is not necessary. If you do need a snack, you also know through repeated experience how much is appropriate to make it to the next meal.
  • You should be hungry (not starved) when it is time for a meal. Excessive snacking obscures hunger cues. Being physically hungry (which is not the same as emotionally feeling like eating) tells you that your digestion is ready for food. Plus, you will enjoy your meal more. Not getting physically hungry before meals can be a predictor of weight gain.
5. Go to bed earlier
  • Going to bed earlier is one of the most reliable ways of getting more and better sleep. Lack of sleep causes stress. When we are stressed, we are likely to overeat and make poor food choices.
  • Studies show that sleep deprivation is associated with increased hunger, metabolic disorders, and weight gain due to hormonal changes. By going to bed earlier and sleeping better, you reduce your risk of experiencing these problems.
  • Going to bed early and getting a good night’s sleep also makes #1, “Fast overnight for 12 hours,” really easy, because you will be sleeping for much of that fast.
By adopting these 5 healthy habits, you will improve your digestion and nutrition. No dieting and deprivation needed!

Essential Oil Support for Cold and Flu Season

This is the time of year for colds and flus in the northern hemisphere. To fight back with a potent home remedy, turn to essential oils. Essential oils can help boost your immune system, kill airborne bacteria and viruses, and open up your sinuses.  They also smell great. A simple way to get the benefits of essential oils is by using a diffuser. Many affordable models are available. Follow the manufacturer’s instruction for the recommended amount of water and essential oil, plug in, and enjoy the therapeutic scented mist.

Here are two diffuser blend recipes I use all the time:

“No-one Gets Sick in This House”

•5 drops Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus)

•5 drops Tea Tree (Melaleuca Alternifolia)

•6 drops Orange (Citrus Sinensis)

“Everyone Gets a Good Night’s Sleep”

•6 drops Lavender (Lavandula Augustifolia)

•8 drops Frankincense (Boswellia Carterii)

•4 drops Orange (Citrus Sinensis)

Both recipes are decongestant, boost immunity, and kill bacteria, viruses and mold. The second recipe is also very calming.

I buy my essential oils at Aromatics International.

Recipes courtesy of Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute.

30 Years of Health & Fitness – Part 4

Welcome to part 4 of the Helpful Concepts Series: Avoiding Injuries

This series is an opportunity for me to share some nuggets of information you can use, based on observations over my 30 years in the health and fitness field. I select ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They are organized by theme. You can read the first episode, on Healthy Habits. Part 2 is about Embracing Movement and Exercise. Part 3 was about the Best-Kept Secret of Life-Long Active People. Today’s post includes 13 Helpful Concepts on Avoiding Injuries.

A common reason for dropping out of exercise is getting injured. Discussing specific injuries can get technical and highly individual. Fortunately there are some behaviors that apply to most people and that can reduce your risk of injury.

  1. Increasing exercise intensity too quickly is one of the main reasons injuries happen. A general rule of thumb is to increase intensity no more than 10% per week, and not every single week.
    1. If you have a deadline for your training, such as a race, give yourself more time than you think you need. In my opinion, most race programs for beginners are too aggressive in their schedule. I see injuries happen about 3 months into the training.
    2. You can’t make up for lost time. If you have been away from your fitness program, you can get started again but you can’t “hurry” it. Building fitness will take the time it takes. Trying extra hard increases your risk of injury.
    3. If you attend a group fitness or “boot camp” class, be your own boss regarding the proper intensity for you in spite of cues to work as hard as you possibly can.
    4. Before you are ready for the sport or group class of your choice, you may need to build a foundation of strength and flexibility in ways that are specific to your body’s needs.
  2. Get a support team. Develop a relationship with a massage therapist, trainer, osteopath, chiropractor, or acupuncturist. They can help you with information as well as training and recovery techniques so you can recover from an injury or avoid one altogether.
  3. Develop good form and proper alignment in your activities. This is critical for promoting movement efficiency and reducing stress points that are prone to injury.
  4. Warm up. Start your exercise routine with gentle movements that mimic what you will do in the main part of your workout. Once you begin your main activity, do it at a lower intensity before ramping up power and speed. Stretching is not usually indicated as part of a warm up.
  5. Stretch and loosen. Neutralize the tension patterns of the exercise by stretching and loosening after the activity.
  6. Don’t stretch too hard. Stretching should feel pleasant and relaxing. You should be able to breathe smoothly while performing any stretch. Stretching too hard can cause an injury. I don’t recommend allowing an instructor to push you into a stretch, especially in a group setting such as a Yoga class. This is a common cause of injury by overstretching.
  7. If you notice discomfort developing in response to your exercise, don’t push through the pain. In the next workout, go back to the previous amount of exercise that caused no discomfort and build back up from there. If any amount still causes discomfort, avoid that particular movement for a few days and try again at a lower intensity. Consult your support team, preferably while the problem is still minor.
  8. Varied movement reduces the risk of injury by varying the stress on one particular body part or system. Include multiple types of activities in your routine. This is known as cross training.
  9. Support your body’s recovery by eating healthy food, hydrating properly, and getting enough sleep.
  10. Get regular massage to enhance recovery. This is a wonderful performance and wellness enhancing practice, even if you are not injured.
  11. Allow adequate time for recovery. When you engage in activities that are harder than you are used to, your body needs time to recover and adapt. One or two hard workouts per week interspersed with activities that are within your usual intensity level might be a good basic formula, but there is no hard and fast rule. Pay attention to how you feel. Taking a day off each week is a good idea. Sometimes you need a recovery week when you do only moderate intensity activities. If you notice a drop off in performance when you would expect to be getting stronger, take it easy and see if you get renewed energy after a few days. This need for recovery applies to when you are pushing yourself to a new level. You do not need time off from activities of daily living and gentle movement.
  12. If you do get injured, don’t give up on being active. Think about what movements are still available to you while you heal. For example, if a sore knee makes your usual walk or run difficult, see if you can lift weights for your upper body, do floor exercises, or swim instead.
  13. Avoid inactivity. While there is a risk of injury associated with exercise, there is even more risk associated with being inactive. I often see chronic pain resulting from insufficient activity level. The body needs a certain amount of myofascial tone (muscle + connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments) to maintain joint space, support posture, and allow strain-free daily movements. Being active is associated with improved functioning in every area of physical and even mental function. 

I can help you customize these concepts. Aston Kinetics excels at assisting individuals in the following areas:

  • Finding optimal alignment
  • Creating muscle balance through a customized strength and flexibility program
  • Releasing holding patterns in the fascia through advanced massage techniques
  • Discovering hidden causes of strain on particular joints, tendons or muscles
  • Speeding up the recovery process after an injury with appropriate exercises and massage

30 Years of Health and Fitness – Part 3

This series is an opportunity for me to share some nuggets of information you can use, based on observations over my 30 years in the health and fitness field. I select ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They are organized by theme. You can read the first episode, on “Healthy Habits,” here. Part 2 is about “Embracing Movement and Exercise,” and is available here.

Today’s post is about the best-kept secret of life-long active people. It is that they have figured out how to enjoy their exercise and fitness. They make it fun so they want to keep doing it. I believe this is possible for everyone because the human body (and brain) thrive on movement. Here are my top 10 helpful concepts to help you reconnect with that primal aspect of yourself that loves to be active for a lifetime.

1. The secret of people who make movement a regular part of their life is that they discover what activities they enjoy. They make it fun! If you struggle with a fitness routine that you have to force yourself to get through, the routine is probably not right for you and you are not going to do it for long. So keep making modifications (see suggestions below) until you finally think, “Wow, that was enjoyable and the time went by quickly!” Only then do you have a fighting chance of adopting an active lifestyle that is sustainable.

2. Here are examples of questions you may want to ask yourself to discover what activities you will love and continue over time:

  • What kind of movement sounds fun to me?
  • Do I enjoy being alone or in a social environment?
  • Do I enjoy being outside or inside?
  • Do I enjoy artistic movement such as dance, or more straightforward activities such as jogging or cycling?
  • Do I enjoy refining a skill set over time or do I prefer something different everyday?
  • Do I enjoy being told what to do or do I prefer playing and discovering things for myself?
  • Do I prefer a more competitive or a more nurturing environment?

3. If you have not been very active up to this point, the process of discovering what works for you may take some time. You may have to experiment and try a number of different activities or routines. Don’t give up!

4. When trying out a new activity, I recommend doing it at least three times before deciding whether it is right for you. There is often discomfort in doing something new and it takes some repetition to get past that initial feeling.

5. Find the right intensity for you. The same activity may be enjoyable when the pace is right and unpleasant when it is too hard, or boring when it is too easy.

6. If you want to participate in exercise classes or work with a trainer, you may want to try various instructors or coaches because the experience can be completely different from one to the next even within the same discipline.

7. If someone has a very low level of fitness, it may be more difficult to find joy in movement at first. Start with extremely gentle activity performed frequently but in small amounts. Trust that the body will respond in time and your options will increase.

8. Active vacations promote an active lifestyle at home. If you have a goal that you find really motivating, you will be more likely to do some of the less fun add-ons that may be needed to prepare for it. For example, if you look forward to a cycling vacation in an exotic destination, you will be more likely to go to spin class or lift weights than if you didn’t have that goal. Or if you are planning a hiking trip, you will be more motivated to take the stairs instead of the elevator at work every day.

9. What you are excited about may change over time. Do something new when you notice boredom setting in.

10. I notice that advanced exercisers often make it look easy. For example, a group of extremely fast runners may zoom down the trail looking smooth, chatting together, and generally at ease. Conversely, an obvious newbie will often look red in the face, scowl, and seem uncomfortable. If you are a newbie, why not adopt the ease from day one and be patient with the fitness part, which takes time? That usually means adjusting three things:

  • Your mental attitude: Be more relaxed, self-accepting, and casual. That’s how the fast runners look. Start today.
  • Your exercise intensity: Adjust to a pace that allows you to be at ease in your body. That’s what the fast runners do. They just have been at it longer than you.
  • Your expectation: Know that fitness happens over time, not because you are whipping yourself, but because you keep showing up. I see those same fast runners on the trail day after day, year after year. Do that too, and results will happen!

Stay tuned for the next installment. I will discuss how to sustain this fun activity you have discovered by avoiding injuries and developing strategies to stay on the wagon.

30 Years of Health and Fitness – Part 2

I would like to share with you some nuggets of information you can use, based on observations over my 30 years in the health and fitness field. I selected ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They are loosely organized by theme. The first episode, on “healthy habits,” is available here. Today’s post is about “embracing movement and exercise.”
Embracing Movement and Exercise
Movement is essential to optimal health. The main challenge for many people, especially Americans, is that it is possible in our culture to be completely sedentary. Therefore you have to go out of your way to create opportunities for movement. Here are a few ideas to overcome some of the common barriers to enjoying an active lifestyle:
Understand the importance of being active
  • The human body wants to move. Yours, too. Everyday.
  • Movement isn’t only about muscles and heart health. When we move we support all processes: digestion, immunity, detoxification, and even cognition and psychological health.
  • Movement for health includes what most people think of as exercise, such as jogging or cycling. But it also means everyday movements such as housekeeping, playing with kids, gardening, etc.
High intensity exercise is not required 
  • Low to moderate intensity activities have a powerful and measurable impact on health and longevity. However, they do not result in a sculpted athletic body, which many people equate with results.
  • Many people know that they need to move more, but because they think it requires intense huffing and puffing to do any good, they don’t do anything and they miss out on an essential component of wellness.
  • Give yourself permission to not be an athlete if that’s not your thing.
  • Advanced exercisers need to push past their comfort zone to achieve new performance gains. New exercisers need to discover their comfort zone.
Use the power of habit, not willpower
  • When it comes to healthy behavior such as exercise, relying on willpower has been shown to be a poor strategy. Instead, use the power of habits. Set up a routine that is a good fit for your needs and decide ahead of time what movement or exercise you will do, when, and where. Repeat.
  • If you want to do anything on a regular basis, make it convenient. Choose a gym near your house or work, for example, rather than one that has great amenities but is out of your way.
  • Activity intensity can be increased or decreased depending on what is appropriate at any given time of life, without abandoning the focus on healthy movement.
  • When you avoid an active task in order to save time, such as using a leaf blower instead of a broom, or driving instead of walking, consider that you are outsourcing movement, not just saving time.
Don’t be too ambitious in the beginning but ramp up over time
  • When someone who has been previously inactive tells me they have joined a gym and have gone everyday for two weeks already, I don’t rain on their parade but I know they will soon give up because it is too much. Their previous lifestyle will reassert itself. Instead, if someone says they are going to a class twice a week and walking with their new dog another time or two, I think they have a good chance of keeping it up. They have accountability, variety, and the time demand is not overwhelming.
  • Movement habits need to be established first. Fitness can then be built on that foundation. Many people make the mistake of alternating between inactivity that is unhealthy, and excessively intense exercise that is unpleasant and injurious. They swing between neglect and abuse of their body. Instead, move gently as a default lifestyle, and build up fitness gradually if desired.
Embrace your active lifestyle starting today! Keep an eye out for the next installment of the Helpful Concepts series, where I will address how to sustain this health giving habit for a lifetime.

30 Years of Health & Fitness – Part 1

Thirty years ago, my journey as a health and fitness professional began with a part-time job at a small women’s gym in south Austin. It was the 80’s and the gym was filled with weight machines upholstered in purple plastic flecked with gold. Outfitted in a leotard and leg warmers, I taught fitness classes, demonstrated the use of the equipment, sold memberships and cleaned the facilities (the first two tasks with more enthusiasm than the last two). I had a lot to learn but I already had a strong conviction that a healthy and active lifestyle was an essential component of feeling vibrant and alive.

The desire to discover the best way to support optimal wellness through fitness and lifestyle propelled me to spend the next decades learning as much as I could. I focused on exercise, therapeutic massage, nutrition, and mind-body disciplines. I studied with master teachers, most notably with movement and bodywork pioneer Judith Aston, Qigong master and world-class martial arts coach Li Junfeng, Yoga teacher Charles Macinerney, and fascia dissection explorer Gil Hedley. I have read countless specialized books and journals, attended many courses, and learned much through trial and error. I have become skilled at sorting the fads from the breakthroughs. I am still learning every day.

I now specialize in helping clients with highly individualized programs to reduce pain and overcome injuries as well as develop healthy exercise habits. Although each person is unique, there are some aspects of a wellness-focused lifestyle that apply to many people. Over the next few blog posts, I would like to share with you some nuggets of information you can use, based on my observations over the past 30 years. I selected ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They will be loosely organized by theme. First “healthy habits,” then “movement and exercise,” “food and nutrition,” and finally “pain free living and aging.”

9 Helpful Concepts to Develop and Maintain Healthy Habits

1. Self-awareness is essential. It is only through self-awareness that a customized, sustainable, and joyful way to live can be discovered. Try various lifestyle choices. Notice the difference. When do you love life? When do you wilt?

2. Self-judgment is a hindrance. It is a form of self-abuse, which is at odds with the goal of thriving in life. Negative self-talk gets in the way of making clear-headed decisions in the moment.

3. Many people find it difficult to notice the messages sent by the body in response to various daily lifestyle choices. Non-verbal cues such as fatigue or energy, pain or ease of movement, hunger or satiety, can be vague if one is not used to paying them any attention. However, this is similar to the skills needed by anyone who has ever cared for pets, plants, or babies. Just like our bodies and psyche, they need nurturing but can’t use words to express their needs.

4. Create the support you need based on who you are, not who you think you should be.

5. When adopting new health and fitness behaviors, such as beginning an exercise program or improving one’s diet, people often expect too much in the beginning and not enough in the long term. In a few months you can begin to learn new skills, introduce new habits, build a little fitness, and lose a little weight. In 10 years, almost anything you set your mind to is possible.

6. Self-care doesn’t prevent all health issues but in times of difficulty, having a care routine will support you. During times of crisis, it is challenging to try new things. Having healthful practices and a support network in place can be enormously helpful.

7. Research indicates that if we want to adopt a desirable habit, such as exercising regularly, we need to focus on reducing any obstacles rather than create incentives. Ask yourself, why am I not doing what I think I should be doing already? What is standing in my way? Identify and remove those obstacles to achieve the desired behavior change.

8. Don’t set goals you don’t care about. It will undermine your sense of competency when you set goals you do care about. When you think about setting a new goal, project yourself in the future and imagine what it would be like to be working toward this goal. Picture it in detail. Is it thrilling? Even the parts that might require hard work? If not, if there is no spark, let it go. Don’t create a history of failure in your life, which sows doubt and keeps you from forging ahead when it really matters in the future.

9. One of the mostly helpful and underappreciated health skills is to learn how to restart a stalled health plan quickly. Everyone experiences interruptions in their nutrition and exercise routine: travel, holiday meals, a cold, a muscle pull, a sick child, overtime work, etc. There are 4 helpful aspects to getting back on track:

• Assume that normal healthy habits should resume the moment it is possible to do so, not at some vague moment in the future when everything is completely under control.

• Be flexible. If one activity is not available because of travel or injury, switch to another form of exercise rather than be completely inactive.

• Don’t be a perfectionist. If you “messed up,” don’t make it a big deal and use it as an excuse to give up completely on healthy habits. Get back on the wagon the moment you can.

• Anticipate and plan for change. In many cases, such as travel, seasonal changes, a new baby, or a move, we get advance warning. Don’t wait. Make arrangements ahead of time to accommodate the new situation.

Please contact me if you would like to know more about how to adapt healthy habits to your individual needs. And stay tuned for part 2, which will focus on exercise and movement.

Movement for Health and Joy

Movement is an essential component of health. Movement supports every function of our body, such as digestion, immunity, and circulation. It supports brain health and cognitive function. It also influences our mood and emotional health for the better.

Yet American culture is firmly rooted in sedentary behavior (other nations are not immune) despite the efforts of public health, medical, and fitness professionals. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), fewer than 50% of Americans meet the minimal recommended amount of 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise.  Of adults 65 and older, only 16% get that much exercise.

Being sedentary has become the default way to live. Most people are unaware that this is an ingrained cultural habit. Someone who chooses to be active, for example walking to a destination when they have they option to drive, or using a rake when they can afford a leaf blower, may be seen as unusual. Being sedentary is normal. Movement is seen mostly in limited ways: as a beautification program, to prevent heart disease, or as a competitive hobby, such as running a marathon. Yet it is much more fundamental and necessary.

It hasn’t helped that the health and fitness community has emphasized exercise rather than natural movement, intensity over fun, and fear of disease over joyful enthusiasm. Here are a few suggestions for restoring movement to its rightful place in your life. 

  • Become aware of the bias against movement. Noticing how much being sedentary is the default behavior will give you more control over the options you consider and the decisions you make. You won’t be as likely to go on auto-pilot and make unconscious choices based on the movement-averse cultural model.
  • Start by choosing activities that you enjoy. Is running on a treadmill at the gym really your number one choice? Think outside the box. This is actually a really tough one, because you can’t look this up on the internet or in a book, or ask a fitness guru. What do you like to do? Only you know. It may be tennis or tai chi, tango or tree planting, swimming or soccer, walking meditation or walking with friends. Maybe it is house and garden projects and playing with the kids. Consider what is possible and look inward for guidance. What ideas give you that tingle of possibility? You may have to experiment before you discover what brings you joy and makes you feel alive.
  • Take it easy. Going from a sedentary lifestyle to an epic workout is likely to result in soreness and injury. Swinging from neglect to abuse of the body is not a recipe for health and joy. Do what feels easy. If you stick with it your body will strengthen and you will be able to do more later, if that’s your goal. In my experience, most people who say they don’t like to move actually don’t like to do activities that are too intense for their fitness level, rightfully so. 
  • Include movement that goes beyond formal exercise. Make it fit into your life, not around it. Plan active fun with your loved ones so you combine your social, family, and love life with your active lifestyle. It can be as simple as walking to a café with a friend instead of each person driving to the destination. Or play in the park with the kids and the dog. Walk in instead of taking the drive-through. 
  • Set up your environment so that day to day active choices are easy.Some decisions are big, such as choosing to live in a neighborhood where you have the option to walk or cycle to destinations you frequent. But there are plenty of simple actions you can take right away: Make sure your house has options for movement other than sitting in chairs. Can you keep a space free of clutter so you can get down on a mat and stretch? Wear clothing and shoes that allow you to breathe, walk, and move freely. Keep equipment in good repair, such as bicycles and baby strollers, so you can head out anytime you want. 
  • Help the next generation. Some kids have a lot of energy, which is often seen as excessive rather than healthy from the viewpoint of our movement-averse society. The tendency is to encourage kids to be still for long periods of time, to learn the sedentary norm as early as possible. Yet focus and learning are not synonymous with not moving. Studies even show that cognitive tasks are enhanced if performed while moving versus sitting still. It is much easier to adopt healthy habits early in life than to change your ways later on. So give kids the opportunity to move as much as possible in fun and varied ways, and join them when appropriate so you can reap the benefits too. They will have a chance to adopt a movement-rich lifestyle that will support them their whole life.
  • Get political. Data shows that communities that have access to walking and cycling trails, pedestrian areas, and parks, are much more active than their counterparts that lack such amenities. This increased physical activity influences the citizens’ health as much as if they quit smoking or started eating vegetables. So get involved at the local level so your community will benefit from becoming more movement friendly. 
  • Be kind to yourself. If you have been inactive, your body may not feel wonderful when you start to pay attention to it. There may be fits and starts. Strive toward your values while accepting imperfection. It will be a journey of persistence rather than instant gratification. Take a patient and loving attitude toward yourself. 
  • Get support from experts.  Professionals such as movement coaches, massage therapists, acupuncturists, life coaches, or fitness trainers can be a big help. They can provide information and guidance, help you problem solve, and provide healing modalities to overcome injuries and faulty movement patterns. 

So embrace movement and discover the health and vitality that is your potential as you live your life to the fullest. 

Rest and Recovery: 3 foolproof ways to feel renewed

Work, exercise, learning, travel, family and social connections are elements of a successful and happy life. In order to sustain our ability to thrive in all these areas, we must make room for an often overlooked necessity: Rest! Here are my recommendations for physical, mental, and emotional renewal and recovery.

1. Get a massage: The Aston® massage techniques I use in my sessions are highly suited to promote recovery of the body’s tissues. They avoid compression or bruising even while working very deeply.  Tension is released, inflammation is reduced, while the free flow of blood and lymph is encouraged. It is the perfect way to recover from a strenuous workout or a weekend of gardening. Please email me to schedule your next session.

2. Spend time in nature: Some surprising research points to the fact that we derive great benefits from spending time in a natural setting. The Japanese even have a beautiful word for it: Shinrin-Yoku, or “Forest Bathing.” Our mindset benefits and our immune system can see measurable improvements. Even if you can’t often take a vacation in nature, even a city park will do. For more information, read the article “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.”

3. Sleep: As the nights get longer here in the Northern Hemisphere, we should take our cue from the natural world and give ourselves the gift of a good night’s sleep.  Recent scientific studies point to the importance of sleep in vital functions:

In this culture, where high productivity is a virtue, people sometimes brag about getting by on very little sleep. This makes as much sense as bragging that we get by without vitamins or that we only breathe half as much as other people. Unfortunately, one of the results of getting too little sleep is that we misjudge how well we are doing cognitively and we are deluded that we are fine. The first step is to recognize the importance of sleep and to prioritize it.

Here are some tips for more and better sleep:

  • The most simple and under-appreciated bit of advice is: Go to bed early!
  • eat lightly in the evening
  • exercise regularly
  • limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • keep your bedroom dark and quiet
  • keep a regular sleep schedule