Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

A Habitat for Humanity Legacy

There are strong opinions about who might be the most impactful US president. But, there should be less debate on the most impactful ex-president. In the view of many, that would be James Earl Carter, better known as Jimmy.

With Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years by his side, the 95 year-old Carter is out there with hammer and drill building houses for Habitat for Humanity. As a non-profit Board volunteer, I believe the Habitat model, embraced by Carter, is a sound model, based on sweat equity. Having helped build one house with my co-workers, I can attest to the “sweat” part, as never have I been more tired at the end of the day.

Not only does the home owner have to help build his or her house, he or she has to help other home owners build their houses. But, another famous couple is building on the Carter Habitat legacy. You may have heard of them – country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. They hope to carry the hammer and drill forward after the Carters can no longer do it. Yet, the older couple are still out their hammering away, even after falls, hospital stays, etc.

Yet, that is not all of what Carter does. He still teaches Sunday school, which is so well attended, it was moved to the church sanctuary. He has also written about thirty books – I have read a couple, one on his upbringing and one on addressing the maltreatment of women in the US and world. His and Rosalynn’s “Carter Center” has helped to eradicate guinea worm disease in many places around the globe. And, Carter has been asked by several presidents to be an envoy to certain countries to represent our interests be it for state funerals or to elicit the release of an American in custody.

To be frank, his presidency is not given sufficient credit as he served one term as an outsider. To my surprise, I read that a significant number of bills were signed into law on his watch, but that is not well known. But, it is clear, he has been a much more impactful former president. He will be missed when he is gone.

Let’s celebrate them while he and Rosalynn are with us. A good way to do so, is to sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song, “If I had a hammer, I’d swing it in the morning, I’d swing it in the evening all over this land….”

Five easy memory tricks

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”

Wednesday walkabout – October 16, 2019

I went for a hike a day early, so I will write with tired legs. I shouldn’t be too tired as I ran into an old friend hiking this weekend on a local trail. He said he was walking after minor surgery, so he could start training for a 50 mile race. Yikes! It put my three mile walk to shame.

I used to run road races, but would never be confused with a fast runner. Once, as I neared the finish line of an 8K race, a girl nudged her father at one of the turns and said “Dad, look at him!” Unfortunately, she was pointing at me. The longest road race I ever ran was a 15K. To my surprise, they put out a list of how we finished. I came in second….from last. I did notice one person who cheated cutting off part of the course, so I actually finished third from last.

I was one of the boys who grew up fast. I was 6’0″ tall in the 8th grade. But, my foot speed was slower than when I was a quick football player in the 6th grade. I did eventually get faster, but would not ever be considered fast.

To my chagrin, my high school basketball coach also coached the cross country team. So, we had to run cross country to train. The coach liked to make us run gassers at the end of a long run. Gassers are finishing off with two 880s, four 440s, and eight 220s. At night, I would sometimes wake up to leg cramps, which was not fun.

This will sound strange, but I would rather run an 880 over a 440 anyday. On the latter, you feel like it is a sprint, so you run out of gas at the end.

So, I think I will leave the running to my friend. Hiking is much more sustainable.

 

Brussel sprouts, breathing and beaches

“What an odd title?” you might be asking. “Outside of the alliteration, what does it mean?” These three terms represent a list of things I learned more about as I got older.

Brussel sprouts were nowhere close to being something I would eat when I was young. Okra, orange marmalade, spinach, etc. would also be in that category. Now, to my wife’s surprise, I will even eat brussel sprouts, preferably broiled or sautéed in a pan with bacon bits and olive oil. The brussel sprouts are a good metaphor for many things I now enjoy.

The breathing is an odd one. As a high school athlete, I was taught to breathe through my mouth as I worked out. Inhale when lessening the exertion and exhale when exerting. With yoga, more measured breathing is suggested, breathing in and out through the nose, exhaling through your mouth as you need it.

The yoga advice is sound. But, I read recently that breathing normally is better for your lung and heart health, as the sense of smell is activated and it better maintains the  breathing organs. The other observation is I find out I snore less at night by breathing in this manner when I exercise.

Now, what about beaches? I was thinking of the “Sunscreen” song where an older person shares a few pieces of wisdom including wearing sunscreen. I grew up twelve miles from the ocean. So, we hit the beaches often. Sunscreen was sparingly used especially with high schoolers. Yet, as more information emerged at the same time my scalp did so through my thinning hair, caps and sunscreen became paramount. And, don’t forget to re-apply the sunscreen after being out on the beach more than an hour. The sea breeze masks the burning.

So, breathe more naturally, protect your skin, and eat your veggies, including brussel sprouts. And, try other things you passed on. Our great-niece used to say to her mother when asked to try something, “I don’t think I could like that.” That feeling will change.

Happy heart day to all

Although it is a corporate-based holiday, let’s take a moment to wish a healthy heart for all on this Valentine’s Day. Here are a few random thoughts to sink your sweet tooth into.

– Walk more, drive less. If possible, walk with a friend. Holding hands is optional, highly dependent on the closeness of the friendship.

– Dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate, but far worse for your pet. The latter should not be fed to a pet either. I will let you judge if it is an aphrodisiac. That would not be bad for your heart, if it were.

– Those little candied sweet hearts are nice for fifth graders, but I would rather waste my sugar limit on something else. See dark chocolate above.

– Fewer carbs, more fruits and nuts. But, I do miss good bread, potatoes and pasta. Well, maybe just a little every now and then.

– Work on your core. Yoga, Pilates, calisthenics or all the above work. It only takes ten to fifteen minutes a day and alter your routines to keep it fresh. Also it may help with that aphrodisiac thing.

– More hugs, more laughter. Hugs may be the best medicine of all. Laughter is right up there as well. If we can bring warmth, comfort and humor to each other, we could solve more problems.

– Singjng out loud regardless of talent is good for your soul. It is also good for your heart. Getting the words right is optional.

– Finally, a helping hand makes you and the recipient feel better. Doing good for others makes you feel good about yourself. And, guys always remember a man will never be shot while doing the dishes.

A virtual hug to all. Peace be with you. Now, where is that dark chocolate?

A foreboding observation

One of my relatives has had the misfortune of breaking a hip, which is not a fun thing to do. Since I have been the principal chauffeur for her many doctor and rehab visits, I have made an unfortunate, but telling observation that is foreboding for us all.  Based on my observations in the waiting room, the dominant majority of patients over the age of 30 in an orthopedic office are obese.

I recognize fully this is not an unbiased statistical sampling. Yet, I kept thinking of what a nurse friend told me about our bodies. Our bone structures are not designed to carry so much extra weight. They will break down. I believe I was seeing first hand evidence of such. This is a foreboding lesson for us all.

Over the past five years, through brief morning stretching routines, walking and smaller portions of meals and snacks, I have lost forty pounds. My goal is to walk on my own for the rest of my life. A geriatric doctor said there are two inflection points on the demise of an elderly person. The first is the inability to drive. The lost freedom is impactful both physically and mentally. The second is the inability to walk unassisted. When this occurs, all sorts of challenges evolve for the patient.

Through my work as a benefit consultant and manager, I became aware of a key data point. The United States is the most obese nation in the world. We are all train wrecks waiting to happen. When we add all of this together, the lesson to be learned is we must do something about our weight. Even a little bit helps. While I have lost forty pounds, I could use about five to ten more less. Or, at least I would like to come in closer proximity to one or two pack abs. Six pack abs would be a pipe dream.

The stretching I do is a combination of Pilates, Yoga, Isometrics and mild weightlifting. They last fifteen minutes and are so limited in exertion that I do them after my shower. The key is they vary daily and are sustainable, which is vital. One day it is stand-up stretching, the next day is floor stretching and the third day is light weightlifting. Then, I start again. The fact I vary them keep me engaged. If I did the same thing everyday, I would get bored.

The above is balanced out with walking and swimming. Plus, the yard and pool boy is the one typing this post. As for the eating, it has taken time, but I eat smaller meals and snacks. Portion control is key, but another contributor is little bread. My wife is on a low-carb diet and that makes a huge difference. We love bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, but we now eat much less of them.

Folks, we must get a better handle on our weight. I am not saying we must look like the after pictures advertised on TV, but we could benefit from exercise and eating better. The alternatives are not pretty if we don’t. Higher blood pressure and risk of falling become more pronounced. So, let’s get moving and eating better.