Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 4

IMG_6449-3426738454-1521520349392.jpg

Chapter 4: Balance is Important

Dear Reader:

You could say that I was “unbalanced” before I started working out. I’m not talking about the fact that walking, quite regularly, led to falling! I’m referring to “life balance”.

In the words of the incredibly bodacious Jennifer Lopez, “Beauty is only skin deep. I think what’s really important is finding a balance of mind, body and spirit.”

I’m a natural-born student. I love to learn and I love a challenge; my mind has always been a priority for me. I’m blessed to have a loving husband, an amazing daughter and generous friends. My outlook on life is positive and my faith is deep. Before I began training, I had two of Jennifer’s bases covered.

Since November, I’ve integrated the “body” component into my life. I’ve got a routine: Tuesday/Thursday for strength training, Monday/Wednesday/Saturday for cardio.  I have a more balanced life and it feels good. My newly acquired bit of wisdom …well, you’ve heard it before, but, here it is again:

 Exercise brings confidence and energy to your life!

Thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged me. I hear you: I’m sticking with it!

Michele

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 3

IMG_6283.jpg

Chapter 3: Cardio is Not a Walk in the Park

Dear Reader:

OMG, I knew so little the day I walked through the door at Zone Fitness! During my first meeting with my personal trainer, Jonathan, we discussed the importance of both cardio (fitness slang for cardiovascular activity) and weight training. I told him that I was intimidated by weights.

“But, I like cardio,” I offered. “In fact, I exercise four days a week and count my steps!”

I learned very quickly, though, that my idea of cardio was not the same as Jonathan’s. I discovered that I fell far short of meeting the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association and by extension my doctor. Intensity matters! It only counts as cardio when you elevate your heart rate into an aerobic zone, which is 55 to 85 percent of your maximum. Any movement is good, but I was really short-changing myself. I was not working or sweating enough to achieve my weight loss goals or maintain my health. 

Real cardio is hard. The machine I’m sitting on in the picture above is a Cybex arc. I’d never given one a go and, let’s just say, the first time was an experience. I felt like I was going to die after 5 minutes, but I needed to make friends with that machine because it’s designed to be easier on the joints than an elliptical and burn 16% more calories than a treadmill.

I’m proud to say that I can now burn 400 calories in a 35 minute workout on the arc. Getting there required me to trust my trainer. I’d constantly joke that I hoped picking me up after my heart attack was included in my dues. But, honestly, I was scared. I had to learn that I couldn’t/shouldn’t jump off the machine when my inner monologue changed from…you can do this, Michele to …this feels horrible, Tom will kill me if I die in the gym, I don’t know if I can continue, I hate this blanking machine!

Jonathan identified this highly unpleasant feeling:  metabolic pain. (I’ll let you google that for the scientific explanation.) I only needed to know that it wasn’t a sign that I was going to die, but instead a sign that I was getting a good work out. We monitored my heart rate and Jonathan checked in frequently to ensure that I was expending the correct amount of energy.

“How are you doing?” he’d ask me. In those moments, I wasn’t sure I liked him.  My inner monologue went something like this…Can’t you tell by the look on my face?, Didn’t you notice that drop of sweat that just fell to the floor by your foot? Can’t you think of a better question? I later learned that Jonathan was administering the “talk test.” (You should be working so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation, but easy enough that you can contribute short sentences.)

After the first week of cardio training, it did get easier for me to keep pushing. I know what to expect. I can sense what my heart rate is before I check my reading. In short, I know my body better. Cardio has become a three-day a week activity, but I’m not saying it’s easy. Just when I’ve got my workout nailed, my trainer tweaks the settings! That brings me to my third bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong:

You only improve your fitness when you challenge your body.

Michele

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 2

IMG_5969 2

Chapter 2: Look What I Can Do!

Dear Reader:

I’m a visual person and this seems to be how I decide what I want to invest my energy in. Last January I pictured myself blogging in my pink shed. By March, I was writing to you!

This year I pictured a stronger me; I never thought I’d say that. I’m lifting weights; I never thought I’d do that! And, I’m making progress!

When I hobbled in to meet my personal trainer, I was nine pounds heavier with a swollen, blue ankle. Jonathan was supportive and instructive. He was careful to reinforce the correct position for every exercise so that I would not experience a “gym injury” of any kind. After all, I confessed that I am an extremely experienced and talented klutz. My friends asked if I felt that he was pushing me to my max, and I had to respond negatively….until.

I made a quick trip over to see my daughter who is an active college student. Her routine includes Boot Camp in the Park every Sunday. How could I say no?! The trainer modified some of the activities to take into account my weak ankle, but I pulled my weight…figuratively and literally! I felt so proud of myself that I sent a photo to my trainer.

Oops! I returned home to an amped up routine.

“Ack, you don’t feel sorry for me anymore, do you?!” I asked Jonathan.

“Nope, think I saw you dragging a weighted tire through the park!” he answered.

When, way back when, I was in high school, kids divided themselves up into four groups: jocks, brains, socials and stoners. I fell into the “brains” group. I’ve always felt most comfortable pursuing intellectual goals. My recent foray into the gym has not been easy and so I feel that much more pride in my commitment and effort. I am getting stronger! I love that. This brings me to my second bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong:

We are capable of more than we think! 

Michele

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

It’s Time for my #MeToo Moment

171018-crocker-whats-next-after-metoo-hero_lba4gh

Dear Reader:

I’ve written about personal and painful subjects in these posts:  In Praise of Prozac and Mean Mothers and Happy Birthday, Brother. Yet, I have been hesitant to share my #Me Too moments with you. Even now, I’m not writing because I need to write, but instead, because I feel a responsibility to write. I must be part of this historical conversation.

I’m lucky to have never encountered a Weinstein in my life, but to this day, I’m affected by three experiences I had with doctors when I was much younger.

Doctor #1:  I visited your office because my father knew you through his work as a pharmaceutical salesman and thought you were a great guy. I was seventeen years old and I had a horrible sore throat. While my father was in the next room, your hands travelled from my throat down my body and it seemed you thought I’d feel complimented with your assessment of my shape.

Doctor #2:  My general practitioner recommended you highly. I was already uncomfortable as I waited for you on the exam table cloaked in paper; no woman looks forward to a gynecological exam. I can not say why you decided to recite adjectives to describe my body when you began the exam at my breasts, but I can remember the fear and disgust I felt as you finished my pelvic exam. No, dear reader, I did not have the presence of mind, at that time, to bolt from the table before enduring the final indignity.

Doctor #3:  You came as a surprise to me. It had been five years since I encountered Doctor #2. I’d come to work that day sicker than I knew I was and my boss insisted I see a doctor. A co-worker recommended the clinic just up the street where she’d seen a couple good doctors. Unfortunately, none of the doctors that were recommended were available,  so I saw you. You started with my throat and worked your way down just as Doctor #1 had done so many years before.

I’d had this experience already twice in my life and yet I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened. I returned to work in shock. Despite my inability to clearly articulate what had happened to me, my boss understood.

“Yes, it really happened,” she said to me.

I can still see her face and remember her kindness. She told me I could stay and work if I felt up to it. I spent the day at my desk with a never-ending cup of tea forcing myself to forget the doctor.

But, the next morning when I woke up, the first face I saw was Doctor #3 and I was ANGRY. A decade had passed since I’d encountered Doctor #1. I felt stronger. So, I filed a written complaint with the Medical Board of California. A couple of weeks later, a board representative visited me to discuss my claim. It was quite obvious that the gentleman did not believe me. I found myself declaring, with great certainty, that there must have been other complaints about this doctor.

“There are no other complaints,” he said. “And, this man has been in practice for many years. He’s close to retirement and this is unfortunate.”

By this, he clearly meant my complaint and not the doctor’s behavior.

“Well,” I said ,”don’t send your wife or daughter or mother to see him!”

None of my experiences rise to the level of what so many other unfortunate women have encountered, but it’s surprising to me how much anger I still feel as I write this post. To this day, my blood pressure literally rises whenever I encounter a new doctor. I feel great sympathy and admiration for the young women who have courageously told their stories and brought Dr. Larry Nassar down.

My husband’s reaction to the #Me Too movement must be common. He often looks at me as we watch the news of the day and expresses surprise at how prevalent sexual harassment and abuse are in our society. I’m not surprised, but then I’m a woman.

Michele 

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 1

 

IMG_6076

Chapter 1: Fear is an Excellent Motivator

 

Dear Reader:

The day I met my personal trainer, my ankle was still swollen and blue from the fall I’d taken the week before. I wore work-out clothing and furry slippers. My husband chauffeured me to my appointment as I hadn’t driven since my mishap. Indeed, I had barely left the couch.

We pulled up to a small office building where the first thing I noticed was the stairs leading to the upper floor. Thankfully, the gym is tucked behind the stairs on the ground floor. I hobbled in and Jonathan greeted me with energy and enthusiasm (two things I lacked).

“We’re lucky you’re on the bottom floor,” I said. “And, by the way, I’m so nervous that I need a drink!

He laughed and offered me something to drink. I declined feeling sure that he meant to bring me nothing more potent than a glass of water. And, of course, it was a joke (sort of)! I had come ready to talk about getting in shape. We began by discussing my goals. They were as follows:

  1. Fall less often
  2. Fall less often and
  3. Fall less often

I told him, what only those really close to me know, that I fall with some regularity. My last meeting with the pavement really scared me. I explained that fear was my primary motivation:  fear of injury, fear of doctors and hospitals and fear of aging badly. I was anxious to know if my goal was doable and he assured me that it was.

“Balance is strength,” he said, and “strength is balance.”

To prove his point, he asked me to attempt the 1-legged standing balance test. I passed! I was even able to balance on my still recovering right ankle! He explained that strength would determine my ability to respond to challenges to my balance. I could offset my inherent klutziness and my tendency to spend too much time dreaming, plotting and planning rather than observing my surroundings.  I was elated… for a brief moment.

Then it was time for me to be weighed, pinched and measured.  I turned away when Jonathan checked my reading on the scale. I did not peak at my measurements as he listed them on my chart. And I displayed no curiosity about my fat to muscle ratio. I just submitted to the process. I was focused on getting stronger. I’d worry about getting thinner later. That brings me to my first bit of newly acquired wisdom on my Journey to Strong:

Wriggle into your black leggings and check your vanity at the gym door!  

Just do it!

Michele

Creativity, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Eternal Motion

IMG_5671

Dear Reader:

A poem for you inspired by my last visit to Maui:

listening to the crash of the waves and the crackle of the wind in the palms 

i feel an

overwhelming sense of gratitude and wonder 

so many cares lost in the rhythm of life

the waves break again and again and wash the past from the present

 

the young woman looks to the sea impressed by the force of nature 

the mature woman finds peace in the continuity

 

one can not only see eternal motion

one can feel it

the water advances then repeats

an ever-changing whole of blue possibility

Where do find your inner poet?

Michele

Creativity, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Tutto e Possibile!

A look inside from the pink shed
“I Dreamed I Could Fly” by Los Gatos artist Maralyn Miller.

Dear Reader:

The first thing I see when I enter the pink shed is the image of a young girl, dressed in pink, flying over her suburban neighborhood.  I purchased it fifteen years ago to hang in my six-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Natalie, who turned 21 a few weeks ago, re-gifted it to me as she felt it would be perfect in my writer’s shed.

I know that flying is common in dreams, however I never fly. Actually, I fall in my nightmares. (I believe this is related to my severe acrophobia!) But, the painting was a simply lovely artistic representation of the hopes I had, and still have, for my daughter.

I imagine the young girl in the painting feels strong, free, capable, gifted, independent and joyful. When I was young, my Italian grandmother, Nonnie, was my cheer-leader. “Tutto e possibile,” she’d enthuse. I’ve tried to carry on that tradition with Natalie.

We all need someone to remind us that “anything is possible,”especially as we begin a new year!

May 2018 bring you success and contentment.

Michele

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older, Quotations

We’ve Been Married Forever

 

IMG_3236
A tiny chocolate bar to share!

 

“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

Rita Rudner

Dear Reader:

Well, the chocolate wrapper and Rita both said it well. But, I’ll add my voice to the chorus.

Thank you, dear sweet husband for:

  • picking me up when I fall, literally
  • racing to the store to buy me Motrin and forcing me to ice my ankle
  • understanding when I want to throw a rock through the tv screen
  • remembering the details of my life sometimes better than I do myself
  • eating at my favorite restaurants over and over again
  • helping me when I have a technology glitch
  • picking me up when I fall, figuratively

During this month when I reflect upon all of my blessings, I begin with you.

Love,

Michele

P.S. Not really forever, but 32 years is a long time!

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older, Politics

One foot (ouch!) in Front of the Other (ouch!)

IMG_5604

Dear Reader:

This is the third day in a row that I’ve spent on the couch! Despite my recent Lazy Post, this is not like me.

Last week on November 8, I tried to forget what happened last year on the same day. But, it was time to acknowledge that I’d coped with a difficult year by agreeing to a second glass of wine and a decadent dessert a few too many times! And, I have 5 pounds to show for it. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I am in good company as both Stephen Colbert and Barbara Streisand have both blamed their weight gain on the POTUS.

Anniversaries can bring about reflection, and it came to me that we’ve (most likely) got another three years of this administration to suffer through. I may be able to accept a five-pound weight gain, but I’m not about to accept a twenty pound gain. So, I decided it was time to re-commit myself to my exercise routine …and to stop buying ice cream.

Next day,  I hit the gym. I hit the stair-climber; that was a mistake. I overdid it and spent Tuesday on the couch icing my overworked, arthritic left knee.

During my down-time, I took the opportunity to finally call the personal trainer my friend recommended many months ago. My goal is to improve myself, after all, not incapacitate myself!

“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “there are many things we can do without further straining your knee. I’ll meet you at the gym tomorrow.”

Next day, I woke feeling exhilarated with the Rocky theme song playing in my mind.  My knee was better after my day of rest and ice and elevation. I felt lighter and healthier, as a result, of simply making the right decision. I’d see the trainer in the afternoon and resolve to do better.

I began the day with a few errands and it was in the parking lot at the grocery store that I tripped and came crashing down. Hard. I had twisted my right ankle and scraped my left knee. I was lucky my husband was there to pick me up and get me home.  We applied an ice pack and I called the personal trainer to reschedule. And so I spent another day on the couch.

When I woke this morning, there were no theme songs playing in my mind. I knew I’d be spending the day on the couch…again. The dogs were happy enough, though. They spent the day draped all over me.

As they say though…one day at a time! And, one foot (ouch!) in front of the other (ouch)! I’ll let you know how it goes at the gym next week.

Michele 

Grief and Loss, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older, Politics

One Veteran’s Story

IMG_5386
Mike enjoying the view from the porch

Dear Reader:

My husband and I had just finished watching Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War the week before I visited the Avila Valley Barn with my daughter and her college friends. I passed a man in a baseball cap that read: Vietnam Veteran as I entered the property.

I looked at him and said, “Nice cap,” and gave him a thumbs up. It was, I suppose, a rather awkward way of acknowledging his service, but he responded with an open smile.

After I shopped for fresh produce, sampled apple pie and selected pumpkins for my seasonal table, I felt compelled to join the veteran on the porch. I sat down in the rocking chair next to him and said hello. Mike and I began an easy conversation about the fine weather and pleasures of Avila Beach.

Then I began the conversation that I really wanted to have with him by asking if he’d seen the Burns’ documentary. He had not, but he readily shared his story with me. He had just entered high school when the war began, but he said he somehow knew that he would end up in Vietnam.

After graduation, he received a scholarship and attended The Boston Conservatory of Music. Mike was an opera singer for two years… until he was drafted. He was discharged a year later after he witnessed the death of two others standing very near to him. His injuries, both physical and emotional, remain with him. It seems the after effects of Agent Orange have been the most troublesome to his well-being.

“The folks at the VA keep telling me I’m not long for this world,” he told me. “But, I don’t put a lot of stock into what the government says.”

His distrust seems justified.

“My wife and I just settled into the home of our dreams,” he continued. “It’s a small house with a huge garden that my wife loves. And, I’ve finally found some peace.”

I asked what had become of his musical career and he answered that it was another “casualty of war.” After many years of struggling with life on a daily basis, Mike discovered that he had the patience and skill needed to work with disabled children.

“I’d have never known I could help so many kids if I hadn’t served,” he concluded.

I left the barn that day with tears spilling from beneath my sunglasses. My thoughts turned to Mike again this weekend as we celebrated Veteran’s Day. I certainly hope the VA doctors are wrong; I hope Mike has many years to enjoy life in his new home and garden.

Michele