Alive & Well in 2020

If one were to rate a man by his hair, my brother would get 5 stars. I admire my excellent bro from the kitchen bar – choreographed perfection; understated style; calculated ease. Today, an impeccable suit drapes his slim frame. The unhurried gate, the gravitas… damn! The silver fox is killin’ it. Life as an RMT in the Comox Valley has turned me quite casual. In contrast, I’m slouched over my coffee, still wearing my ‘Love whooo you are” orange owl T-shirt I got at Value Village 5 years ago. It’s my best pyjama shirt. I’m contemplating Christmas chocolate for breakfast. But back to the Man. I’m proud by association. I feel like my big problems shrink when I hang with him.

me and my brothers when we were little  

It hasn’t always been like that. When we were kids, we could be jerks and my mom cut our hair. You know the rest of THAT story. Aside from the fact that we navigated the 80’s – ohhh the leg warmers and Flash Dance shirts, the hammer pants and perms… We found our way through. Both of my brothers struggled at some point with their weight, I fell into the dark tunnel of eating disorders. It’s taken decades for us siblings to find a degree of balance in our bodies, a sense of personal style that states our cause. Well, my big brother has, anyway. I’m still working on mine. Honestly, some days I look in the mirror, not with adoration, but with a degree of criticism. I spend quite a lot of psychic and physical energy to stay slim. The pursuit does generate a degree of unrest, if I am to be completely honest. Still, I can murmur to the reflection in my mirror on most days, “Hey babe, you’re doin’ great. “

It’s hard, isn’t it? The physical balancing act as we get older seems to require constant vigilance – if a slim frame is the look of choice, that is. Slim, for most of us over 50, means consistent, quite vigorous exercise, and more importantly, a lean way of eating. It’s not for everyone. That is perfectly good, in my opinion. It’s simply a choice.

I used to teach a 12 week fitness program when I owned a personal training studio  – Alive and Well, sustainable wellness for peeps in midlife. Although it’s about 20 years old now, the principles still apply. I’m guessing some of you are on the “fit and trim for 2020” train. It is the start of a new decade, one with balance right in the numbers. I want to support you to do it in a way that you can sustain for life. If you don’t see yourself living without sourdough bread or pasta for the rest of your life, may I suggest not eliminating grains. Perhaps simply commit to not consuming any after 6pm. Or consume ½ of what you normally would consume. Something like that, you know?

I want to emphasize, that the following is meant for people who want to slim down. Slim is not necessarily better. Also, if you are post menopausal, you should have a little abdominal fat for better health. So if you were happy with your waist line at 40 weighing 140 lbs, at 55 years, you could be content with 145 lbs. Mind you, that depends on muscle mass and stuff.

So here are the ‘7 Keys to Wellness’, a snippet from Alive and Well

  1. Accept reality
  2. Plant seeds of ‘Booty Karma’
  3. Plan like Napoleon, be present like Buddha
  4. The 80/20 Rule
  5. If you have an outboard motor, don’t row
  6. Create positive rituals
  7. Focus on the good stuff


  1. Accept reality

“It isn’t fair. Judy naturally has hips like a boy and the metabolism of a Jack Russell Terrier. She does the occasional Yoga class, and look at her! The woman wears a size 6. I haven’t worn a size 6 since I was 12. I merely look at a doughnut and my butt expands. I come to a stop and thigh momentum continues to propel me forward. Everyone in my family is fat. It’s depressing…”

“I hate that I’m getting wrinkles around my mouth …” “Why can’t the kids stop creating so much laundry? …”

Kids are messy.  Aging is a fact of life. You can be grumpy, or embrace your face and move on to things you can actually change. Sometimes the denial is less obvious. For example, you may be overweight with a genetic predisposition, approaching mid-life and nursing a sore knee. These are definitely contributing factors to obesity. Do you complain, or worse yet, pretend you don’t have a problem, or can you accept the fact that you are fat, have some serious obstacles to deal with if you think you need to change that, and work on a game plan?

Much unhappiness and lack of success in our lives comes from an unwillingness to accept things as they are. You can’t change the genetics you have inherited. If your objective is to inhabit a slim-ish body, you may well need to expend more effort than Judy. If you are now 50-something, weight loss will not be as easy as it was when you were 20. Take an honest look in a full-length mirror. Step on the scale with your eyes open and say the number out loud, even to a trusted someone. Go to the local fitness centre and purchase a fitness assessment. Make a thorough and objective written account of your current state of health followed by a few things you will do to improve your situation. Body fat is only one factor in health. I know a few folks who are very slim, and also quite unhealthy. I know several people who are somewhat rotund, and are quite healthy and fit by comparison.

Accepting life as it is without judgment is the only place to start. Life is full of challenges, “fair or not fair” have no relevance to your weight loss objectives. Rather than wait for a better time to start your fitness plan, see life as it is and make a realistic plan around these circumstances. The sooner we can accept our reality, the sooner we can get going.

  1. Plant seeds of ‘Booty Karma’

We of the west use the term karma rather flippantly… which is exactly what I am about to do. But despite the fun we can have with the concept of karma, the idea that what we do now, at this present moment, plants a seed for what comes back to us some time in the future is useful and appropriate in this context.

Your booty needs some serious good karma! Everything you eat, think and do affects your body in some way; maybe not today, but at some point in the future. If you habitually drink alcohol, snack on junk food, eat excess carbohydrates, and exercise sporadically, well, it will show. You must plant specific karmic seeds to reap the benefits of a fit, vital body. These seeds are mental, physical and spiritual. Planting is an action word. You will not achieve the body you desire without specific action.

Seed #1: keep the fire burning
Food is to your metabolism what wood is to a fire. You should never be absolutely famished and never full to the brim. This isn’t to say grazing all day is good. Feeling hungry is great. Temporary fasting is great for some.

The influence of our ancient ancestors causes our bodies to “hoard” calories when the body assumes it is preparing for famine. I’m referring to long term, excessive, food restriction. The metabolism slows down considerably when calories are over-restricted, inhibiting the body’s ability to shed fat. When we then allow ourselves to eat, the body efficiently holds on to the calories, again assuming it needs to store up for future shortage. Another possible consequence of prolonged calorie restriction coupled with exercise is the body’s production of stress hormones that slow down the metabolism, promote fat storage, and indirectly inhibit your body’s ability to build muscle. Finally, though you may have a will of steel, the temptation to eat inappropriately compounds when you are hungry. If your body is properly fuelled, the battle with the chips is less likely to occur. Just as one uses kindling, paper and logs for different purposes, so you should eat with a purpose. Eat to fuel upcoming activities, not to “reward” past activity. This is not to say one shouldn’t eat after a hard or long workout. You should.

Seed #2: work up a sweat
The current guidelines for cardiovascular exercise for a healthy heart is 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise.  For weight loss, the duration probably needs to increase. The following is a common scenario:

“I go for walks every day, and I still haven’t lost weight. I walk really hard! I’m sweating when I get home!”

Many who count on the calories burned during exercise to make a significant dent in their weight are disappointed. The duration and intensity at which they exercise is just not enough. As a general rule to lose one pound of fat a week, one must use 3500 calories more than consumed. This is a 500 calories deficit a day, 7 days a week. Burning that many calories a day in an exercise session for a sedentary person is not only a daunting feat, but may be contraindicative. However, the more calories you burn exercising, the less you will need to restrict calories consumed. Pushing your cardiovascular boundaries then is a good thing if done intelligently. To lose fat, you may have to push the guidelines a little. Here’s an article on  cardiovascular exercise guidelines.

May I suggest having no more than 2, really intense, lung barfing days of exercise a week. (I’m exaggerating. Poetic license and all). After every four weeks, take a week off where you do things like take walks, go for leisurely bike rides.

Added benefits of cardiovascular exercise:

  • improved sense of well-being … you will feel happier.
  • possible appetite loss
  • calorie expenditure
  • bone strength
  • improved endurance
  • raises metabolism for up to 24 hours

Seed #3: muscle up
Unless you are purposefully maintaining or building your muscles, from about the age of 25, approximately half a pound of this highly metabolic tissue is lost every year. That’s 3% – 5% of muscle mass lost per decade. This is one reason one’s metabolic rate decreases with age.

Just to give you an idea of how splendidly important muscle mass is to fat loss, when you are asleep, your skeletal muscles account for about 25% of total calorie expenditure. Aside from increasing metabolic rate, smart weight training can:

  • improve posture
  • improve cardiovascular endurance. More muscle — larger area for energy stores/capillary beds
  • improve body composition
  • improve function in daily life
  • slow down and/or reverse the onset of osteoporosis and osteopenia
  • improve balance and coordination
  • improve self confidence

By the way…
As we age, we produce less HGH or Human Growth Hormone which is sort of a “youth and anti-aging” hormone. Some studies suggest that people who consistently exercise at a high intensity level have higher levels of HGH. These people are said to feel and look years younger than their sedentary or low intensity exercise peers.

On the other hand, stress causes inflammation, inflammation the enemy of youthful tissue. So always balance yes? Life is but a Buddhist koan.

Seed #4: chug-a-lug!
Water is an essential nutrient, the medium in which all energy reactions take place. Water is the best fluid for the renewal, cleansing and function of your body. Water helps to regulate body temperature during exercise. Without water your body overheats. If your kidneys experience a water shortage, they will call on the liver for help. The liver is your fat mobilizing organ. If it has to help the kidneys, it will be taken away from one of its main jobs, burning fat.

Water helps take the edge off of hunger. In fact, when you think you are hungry, it is likely you are thirsty. Water is the ultimate detoxifier. When you drink lots of it, it helps to dilute toxins, facilitating a speedier exit from your body. Your muscles need water to move. “A water deficit of just 2 to 4 percent of your body weight can cut your strength training workout by as much as21 percent if you are dehydrated — and your aerobic power by a whopping 48 percent.”

Some studies report that low water intake can be linked to cancer risk. Enough reason to drink water? I hope so. Initially if you are unaccustomed to drinking water, the quantity prescribed

will be difficult to consume. Increase the volume gradually. Also, it is easy to forget until it becomes a positive habit or ritual. Carry a litre bottle of water with you wherever you go. Have extras in the fridge. Leave yourself reminder notes. Just remember to drink water! See calculation below for how much you should drink daily.  You know, there actually aren’t any studies validating the notion that we should drink 8 cups of water a day. I don’t know. I suppose it’s a good guideline?

  1. Divide your current weight by 3. This is the number of ounces you should drink every day.

“I weigh 140lbs. 140 ÷ 3 = 46.67. I should drink about 47 ounces of water …” (That’s nearly 6 cups.)

  1. Add at least another 8 ounces for every hour of exercise, and every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage you consume.

“Today I played tennis for 1.5 hours and had a beer … 47 + 12 + 8 =75 ounces. I will drink at least 75 oz of water today, or over 9 glasses of water.” (That’s nearly 9 cups).

On hot summer days, increase fluid intake. Use common sense.

  1. Plan like Napoleon, be present like Buddha

When you choose the thought, you choose the physiology. Imagine yourself holding a wedge of lemon. Put it in your mouth. Bite down, press your tongue toward the roof of your mouth as you suck and swallow the juice. Can you feel your jaws ache? Is your saliva flowing? Your fitness goal needs to feel this real. You need to experience being at your goal now. This requires specificity. You may need photographs and collages that demonstrate your success. Do whatever it takes to make the experience vivid. Keep your goals in the present tense. Write them down and read them aloud every morning to keep them in the forefront of your mind. This is not new age methodology. It is merely a way of keeping your purpose in the moment so the decisions you make throughout the day come from this place. When you’d rather go home after a long day of work than go to the gym, you will take yourself to the gym, put on your exercise gear, get on the treadmill and turn it on before you decide you are too tired.

Imagine yourself 20 lbs. lighter, lean and fit. How does it feel to jog up the stairs? What does it feel like to bend over to tie your shoes? How does a fit person carry on through their day? What do they purchase at the grocery store? Would they be sitting on the couch right now, or taking a brisk walk? Create present and future intent. Visualize and script your purpose. You may visualize success, but you need daily action to get there. First, have clarity about what you desire to achieve. You must know exactly where you are now, and then get specific about where you are going. Are you truly over-fat, or do you just not fit into a media influenced image? Are there health risks to your current lifestyle? Do you want to “get more toned?” or “have more energy?” What exactly does that mean for you? Find a way to measure your success. How will you know when you “have more energy?” Perhaps you would like to be able to jog at 5 mph for 30 minutes without stopping, or take the garbage out to the curb without feeling strain, or carry your clubs around the entire golf course. What does it mean to you to be toned? A body builder is toned. Many bathing suit models look toned due to minimal body fat, but are not necessarily healthy. A specific purpose gives clarity to the action necessary for achievement.

There is no neutral position on the path to achieving any goal. You are either walking toward or away from it. This is difficult to do if you are unclear about what exactly is your destination and purpose. Keeping your heart and mind on your goal is much easier when you are striving for something that has great meaning to you. Have enough faith, respect and esteem for yourself to follow through. Whenever you are at a crossroad, regardless of how insignificant the decision may seem, consider your purpose. Does your action fit? We are a feelings driven society. We know we need to lose weight, but those chips look so good to eat. We know we need to get in shape, but we are so sleepy at 7:00 am. Your feelings should not direct your life. Feelings give us important information and must not be ignored, but they ought to take a back seat to purpose. Self-discipline is an act of self love. Do what needs doing regardless of how you feel. Fitness and weight loss must be approached systematically, consistently and daily. Unlike developing a training manual for your work or preparing for an examination for school, you can’t “cram” at the end of the week. Fitness and healthy weight management is about daily lifestyle.

What you do each moment, this moment, impacts outcome. You must distinguish between what is controllable and what is not. Motivation is one of those things. How you feel at the moment the alarm clock goes off for your gym appointment is not controllable at that moment. You will likely not feel motivated to exercise much of the time. Although it is helpful to add things to life that stimulate motivational feelings like photos, success collages, inspirational mantras, spiffy new running shoes, the bottom line is that you can’t completely control how you feel about sensible eating and exercise. Don’t wait for the feeling. Just do it. This you have complete control over. When so much needs doing, you can feel overwhelmed about where to start. The following list is a simple way to begin. Choose a new positive habit each week from the list below. Keep adding the one that seems easiest to you.

  • Drink 1 litre of water a day.
  • Eliminate refined sugar from your diet.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation one day a week, only if you have purposefully exercised that day.
  • Aerobic activity in the following progression: 30 minutes, 4 – 6 days/week: 30 minutes, 4 – 6/days/week at ≥70% of your maximum exertion level.
  • Do 200 – 280 minutes of aerobic activity per week. 40% of these minutes need to be ≥70% of your max.
  • Lift weights (or engage in some other form of resistance training) 2 – 6x/week.
  • Eat at least 6 servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruit every day.
  • Eliminate white and enriched flour,
  • high fructose corn syrup,
  • and hydrogenated oil (trans fat) from your diet.
  • Eliminate food with any kind of sugar as one of the first five ingredients.
  • Stop eating when no longer hungry, not stuffed.
  • Sit down to eat.
  • Eat 3 meals a day.
  • Don’t eat 2 hours before bed time.
  • Eat chicken and fish more often than red meat.
  • Engage in a meditative activity such as: yoga, breathing, focused meditation, pottery making or painting.
  • Do something fun and a little out of the ordinary once a week.
  • Weigh yourself weekly with your eyes open.
  • Never do another diet, no matter how sexy and scientifically viable it seems!

The good news here is that once you control your behaviour, feelings of motivation will likely follow. You will begin to look forward to eating smart and exercising … most of the time.

More tips from the trenches: Many of these tips are courtesy of former clients, and my inspiration.

  1. What is your favourite late night binge snack? Schedule it in. For example, every evening at 8pm, sit at the table with your small bag of chips (or whatever your snack happens to be), eat the whole thing, paying attention to every bite, chewing slowly and deliberately, remaining mindful from the moment that chip leaves the bag, enters your mouth, slides down your throat. Notice the scratchy edge of the chip against the inside of your cheek, the salty fragrance and taste, the muffled crinkle as you compact it against the roof of your mouth, and so on. Take out another only after swallowing. Do this with the whole bag. Make a point of doing this for one week.
  2. Place your entire daily vegetable and fruit servings in a box in the fridge. You can snack, but only after you’ve consumed your 8 – 10 servings.
  3. Wear just your bathing suit around the house after dinner! (What a reminder … for everyone at home).
  4. Have a full length mirror in your home where you cannot avoid seeing yourself.
  5. Rather than telling yourself “no”, tell yourself “maybe later … afterI_____.” (Healthy activity goes in the blank).
  6. Weigh yourself every Friday morning. This way, you have specific information to apply to weekend activity!

Rest is part of the exercise plan. If you are extremely driven, you are setting yourself up for setbacks, injury, overtraining, plateau, you name the bad training result, you are likely to get there.

Periodization is a term used not only by elite athletes, but lately by recreational exercisers. It is a method of training that involves changing training systems and including rest periods within training cycles of days, weeks, months and a year. A change of task is like a rest.In life and in exercise, one needs to incorporate a “periodized” schedule. Even in nature there are cycles. Animals hibernate during the cold months. Seasons change life speed and cycles of growth. On a 24 hour clock, our bodies follow a circadian rhythm that allows our bodies and minds to rest, and go through various cycles of productivity and heightened alertness. Some disorders and conditions such as SADS (seasonal affected disorder) and attention deficit disorder are said to be related to the disruption or dysfunction of these natural cycles.

The following chart demonstrates the circadian patterns typical of a person who awakens and retires early. With this information, one can deduce why it is important to sleep at night, when the optimal time to exercise is, etc.

6:45am sharpest blood pressure rise

7:30am melatonin (a powerful free radical scavenger hormone) secretion stops

8:30am bowel movement likely

10:00am highest alertness

12:00pm (eat lunch)

2:30pm best coordination

3:30pm fastest reaction time

5:00pm greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength

6:30pm highest blood pressure

7:00pm highest body temperature

9:00pm melatonin secretion starts

10:30pm bowel movement suppressed

2:00am deepest sleep

4:30am lowest body temperature

One also needs spiritual and mental renewal through hobbies, time with children, friends and pets. Getting adequate sleep at night is crucial – You may need more than 8 hours of sleep a night. You are still a good person, not at all lazy or slovenly if you require 9 hours of sleep per night.  I require 8.5 – 9 hours myself. You are no more virtuous for sleeping less. Getting more done is not about working longer, but about having more energy and focus when at task. Rest is necessary to put out high levels of positive energy. If you are not yet convinced that sleep is important, recent research reveals that inadequate sleep contributes to weight gain through the production of stress hormones that cause the body to store fat and trigger appetite. Honor yourself with daily, weekly and yearly rest and renewal for the body, mind, emotions and soul.

  1. The 80/20 Rule

If you stick with the plan at least 80% of the time, you are doing great. Don’t sweat the remaining 20%. No one is perfect. If you happen to eat two cookies instead of the one you intended, don’t throw in the towel & eat the whole box. If you miss two days of cardio, you won’t blimp out. Allowing space for setbacks is realistic and keeps you feeling optimistic and successful as well as on track.

  1. If you have an umbrella and it is raining, use it.

We all need friends and cheerleaders. Changing your lifestyle is no easy task. Recognizing that we need help and asking for it eases the process and in no way makes us less competent.

Accomplishing your fitness goals when the people you live with are walking contrary to your chosen path, or are apathetic about your goals, compounds the challenge. If your significant other is not enthusiastic about your change of life, find people who are. Find a fitness buddy! Hang with positive, successful people. We all need friends who believe in our potential and hold us accountable when we lose sight of it. Set yourself up for success.… And it is very likely your life partner will catch your wave of enthusiasm as they see the positive shift in you! Follow your personal wisdom, and recruit all the personal and professional support you need during this process. We receive support from many people and things whether we recognize it or not: the treadmill that allows you to jog out of the rain; your phone that plays motivational music during exercise; the grocery clerk who bags your healthy produce, or the neighbour who waves encouragingly on the last leg of your run. If you feel overwhelmed or alone in your quest, take a moment to reflect on the tremendous support that is already in place for you.

  1. Create Positive Rituals

“A growing body of research suggests that as little as 5 percent of our behaviours are consciously self-directed. We are creatures of habit and as much as 95 percent of what we do occurs automatically or in reaction to a demand or an anxiety.” (The Power of Full Engagement, Schwartz and Loehr)

When our behaviour is fuelled by a powerful purpose, and we consciously create positive rituals around these objectives, we rely less on self-discipline which waxes and wanes in all of us. Do you brush your teeth every morning? I imagine the answer is yes. (I hope it is yes!) Do you discontinue brushing around the Christmas holidays because you are so busy? Brushing your teeth has become a positive ritual in most of our lives. Sure, it only takes 3 minutes, but I’m certain you have other rituals, positive or not, that occupy more minutes than this. Why not do 3 minutes of squats or balancing on one foot while brushing your teeth?! Invest time to take inventory of your daily activities so that an action plan that embodies your wellness values can be etched into your life.

  1. Focus on the good stuff

There is always more than one perspective on any situation.  If you are unhappy with a circumstance that is out of your sphere of influence, change the picture in your head. Exercising is a gift to yourself, not a form of torture. The brain is the most significant tool in cardiovascular and strength conditioning — not treadmills and weight machines. Be mindful throughout your day about the thoughts that drift into your mind. There is no need to block the negative self-talk, but we tend to hang on to these negative messages, and replay them over and over. I call this cerebral looping. Finding positive solutions to negative stuff is great. Chronic negative cerebral looping is not! Hardwiring Happiness  by Rick Hanson, PhD has changed my life, helped me rewire my brain. Neurons the fire together, wire together! You can create new happy pathways that become automatic!

Meditate, take a water colour course, learn a sequence of Yoga postures that you can practice regularly on your own. Calming and grounding your mind and heart will aid in improving your state of mind. Focus on the good stuff.

Well, there you have it, my friends. May this decade provide lessons that draw you home to yourself.