February Fit Tips

It’s already the end of January. February is just one short week away, and for many of us, the weather outside is frightful. The cold, dark days combined with the wicked winter weather can wreak havoc on our plans to get fit and stay fit. Besides, swim suit season doesn’t seem quite as threatening when we’re buried under a snow bank, so it might be more tempting to kick back with a cup of hot cocoa rather than leaving the house to go to the gym or fitness class.  

However, you don’t even have to leave the house to stay on track with an exercise program. After all, swim suit season will be here before you know it. So, before you slip into a hot cocoa coma, here are a few simple fit tips that you can easily do at home to help keep you fit and healthy.   

1). Get on the ball. If you don’t have one yet, get a large exercise ball. If you do have one, start using it. Sit and gently bounce on the ball intermittently during the day to improve your posture, balance, stimulate circulation and strengthen your low back and abdominal muscles. You may be surprised to discover that just a few minutes a day on the ball can make a huge improvement in your strength and flexibility.  

2). Why weight? A resistance program will shape and tone your muscles. Invest in a set of light weights to use while sitting on your ball to strengthen the muscles of your arms, chest, upper back, and shoulders. You can use your weights in sitting and/or standing, but sitting on the ball challenges your balance, posture, and strengthens your core muscles even more.     

3). What goes up must come down; make the most of it. You’re going to get up and down multiple times a day anyway, so why not make the most of it? Every time you get up and down from a chair or the couch, slow down and do several repetitions to strengthen your legs, hips and buttocks. Remember to pull your lower abdominals in to further strengthen your core muscles. The slower you move, the more benefit you will get from each repetition. However, it isn’t the number of repetitions that you do, it’s the quality of the movement that builds strength and tones muscles.

4). It’s time to clean up your act. While doing household chores, slow down and really focus on the quality of your movements as you work. The simple act of cleaning the house then turns into an opportunity to improve your gait, balance, strength, flexibility, posture, body awareness and body mechanics. It’s almost like a moving meditation practice.

5). Shake it up and try something new and different to add to your fitness routineNothing kills your enthusiasm for exercise like boredom. Now is the time to try that dance, yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi class you have been always meaning to try. Any of those will help balance your energy as well as your body. It will also add an extra element of interest to your fitness program that will prevent it from turning into a “routine” that becomes boring and tedious. Besides, you will learn movement patterns that you can easily practice at home to keep you fit and healthy.

6). The more the merrier. Recruit a friend so you can encourage and support each other to stay focused on your goals to get fit and stay fit. It also helps to stick with a program if you have someone to be accountable to, and it makes working out a social experience as well as a physical one.

These are just a few suggestions. Just a few minutes of exercise each and every day can have a huge, positive impact on your strength, flexibility, overall health and fitness. Small, simple changes that you can implement at home can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Use your imagination to see if you can find a way to design a program for yourself that is fun, playful, and interesting. That is the key to success, not just during the dark days of winter, but all year long as well. The possibilities are endless!

The Gift of Shoes and Human Dignity

Isn’t it amazing how a simple pair of shoes can mean so much to some people, while others take them for granted? A pair of shoes can change your life, and can even give you back your human dignity. 

I was in a store a few days ago where a large screen TV was on one of those silly game shows. A woman from the audience was presented with a prize of $5,000 worth of shoes. I stood there wondering who could possibly want (or wear) so many different pairs of shoes. I marveled at the sheer extravagance of it all, when suddenly a distant memory popped into my head.

It was 30 years ago, and I was working at an Intensive Care Unit as a respiratory therapist. One of my patients was an elderly gentleman who had been on a ventilator for weeks. He really touched my heart, because even though he was so ill and had been with us for so long, he never had any visitors. No family, no friends, no pastor, no neighbors. No one. His only human contact came from the staff that took care of him.

He was unable to speak because of the ventilator, but the day came when he was finally weaned off of the ventilator and he was able to talk to us. I patiently coached him how to use his voice, which had been silenced for so long. What would he say?

With a look of distress on his face and tears in his eyes, he rasped, “I have no shoes!” I was stunned, and immediately made attempts to reassure him that he didn’t have to worry about shoes right now. However, nothing I said made a difference. He was distraught as he continued, “What am I going to do now? I don’t even have any shoes!” I became pretty distraught myself. 

I went back to my department at the end of my shift.  With tears in my eyes, I repeated his words to my colleagues. Finally, one of them said, “Let’s get this guy some shoes!” Dollar bills immediately started piling up on the table while two therapists ran upstairs to measure his feet. Our two secretaries gave up their lunch break to run to the local mall with the cash and the measurements.  

An hour later they returned with a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of socks. As a group, we all trooped up to the ICU to give him his gift of shoes. When he opened the box, his eyes filled with tears as he stared at his shoes. I asked him if he wanted to try them on, but he declined, and held his shoes to his chest as he thanked us for the gift.

Our story (and his) spread through the hospital like wildfire. The PR department was contacted. Everyone was deeply touched by our act of kindness and compassion for this man who was alone and destitute.

A few days later I got a call from the head of the PR department. He thanked me and my colleagues for what we did for this patient. However, he informed me, this guy was so wealthy that we didn’t need to buy him any shoes. As a matter of fact, he could easily afford to buy everyone in our entire department a new pair of shoes. Ooops.

Apparently he owned a large ranch about five hours outside of Denver. His wife and their sons were so busy working the ranch, none of them had the opportunity to take the time off of work during their busy season to visit him. Since the entire hospital staff heard the story, we took a lot of good-natured teasing about the whole incident.

Since I still had a special place in my heart for this man, I often visited him after he was transferred to the general floor. His shoes were always on the bedside table, on the window sill, and even in the bed next to him. I learned that he immigrated to this country years ago, and didn’t have a penny to his name. I’m guessing he didn’t have a pair of shoes, either. How can you have any dignity when you don’t even have a pair of shoes to call your own? 

Our PR director said that we didn’t need to buy him any shoes. He was right; we didn’t need to, but we sure did want to. It meant a lot to us, and it certainly meant a lot to a sick, lonely man who was separated from his family for so long.

I came out of my reverie just as that lucky lady stopped screaming over her $5,000 worth of designer shoes. I wondered if they could possible mean as much to her as the $20 pair of tennis shoes meant to my patient, my colleagues, and myself all those years ago. I somehow doubt it.

Teaching Bullies Better Manners

I detest bullies. In my humble opinion they are sniveling little cowards with no manners or sense of human decency. They pick on those they perceive as weak, vulnerable, or helpless. If only we could teach bullies better manners, I do believe that the world would be a better place. And I believe we can.

I recently taught a self-defense class for women and girls. There were several grown women as well as two petite and quiet teen-aged girls attending the class. Well, at least one of the girls were quiet. The other one was a lot more verbose and outgoing. They were sisters, and they were adorable. They were in the class accompanied by their grandmother, who thought it would be a beneficial experience for all of them. She was right about that!

Although it usually takes awhile for ladies to get comfortable in a self-defense class, this group quickly got into the spirit of the class, and started to have some fun with it. However, I noticed that the quiet teenager hung back and silently watched the rest of us as we played with a few techniques and walked through several different scenarios. I thought she was just shy, so I decided to engage with her and make her feel more comfortable.

I caught her eye and made an effort to draw her into the class. I usually don’t focus on bullies or anti-bullying in women’s self defense classes, since we focus more on random attacks and “what-if” situations. But, for some reason, I said to her, “Let’s pretend that someone is picking on you at school…” Before I could finish, she shot a look at her grandmother. After a few moments of silence, her grandmother said, “That’s exactly what’s happening.”

I thought blood was going to shoot out of my eyes. Just the thought that a bully (or bullies) were picking on this adorable young girl enraged me. I wished I could go to school with her the next day, stand in front of her, and make them go through me before they could get to her. Instead, I continued teaching from a slightly different perspective, making sure that I kept this girl front and center.

Pretty soon, something remarkable happened. She began standing taller (all five feet of her), and started looking us all in the eye. She paid closer attention to what we were doing and got a lot more talkative, although not nearly as loquacious as her sister. Eventually I slid up beside her and whispered, “You’re getting it now, aren’t you?”

I wish you could have seen the look she gave me. She had a gleam in her eye and a knowing smile on her beautiful face. As a matter of fact, she actually glowed with a wisdom well beyond her years. She nodded her head and replied, “Oh, yeah. I get it.” I wanted to weep with joy. 

For the next several days I could not get this girl and the bullies out of my head. I wondered if the lessons she learned that evening had any impact on her and her situation at school. Two weeks later I finally got my answer.

Her grandmother sent me a beautiful email thanking me for teaching the class. She also wanted me to know her grand-daughter told her that one single class changed her life forever. She was no longer having problems with bullies and was enjoying going to school again. Or at least, as much as any teenager enjoys school.

I cried when I read the email. As a matter of fact, to this day I cannot tell the story without crying. It’s a little embarrassing, because as a rule I do not cry in public, although I seem to be getting pretty good at it lately. Especially when I repeat the story of the petite and precious teenager who was being picked on in school, but found her strength and confidence in one two-hour long self-defense class.

The one thing I would love to know, but probably never will, was how the whole thing went down. I would have giving anything to see how she stood her ground. I really would have loved to see how her tormenter responded. Especially since I know it was done in a non-violent manner. 

Like I said, bullies are cowards. All you have to do is look them in the eye, stand your ground, and walk tall. Even if you are only five feet tall, you look like a giant. And you get to teach them better manners, which not only changes your life, but changes theirs as well. It’s a beautiful thing, don’t you agree?

New Year: Now What?

Here we are, at the beginning of another New Year. Anything is possible in a new year, including keeping our New Year’s Resolutions. It doesn’t matter what your plans are, but it does matter very much how you implement them. So, whether you would like to exercise more, lose weight, get in shape, eat healthier, improve your finances, or enjoy healthier relationships, here are a few simple steps to keep in mind to help you accomplish your goals.

1). Set clear and specific goals.

Rather than making a general statement such as “I want to lose weight,” set a more well-defined goal. For example, “I will lose 2-3 pounds over the next 4-6 weeks.  This will allow you to focus on what you would like to accomplish within a set time frame, rather than a generalized statement of wanting to lose weight.

2). Set challenging but reasonable goals. 

It’s important to challenge yourself, but you want to be careful not to go overboard and overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations. Set small, incremental goals that are reasonable to achieve, and pay attention to the journey instead of the end result. If you start  by declaring you want to lose 20 pounds before swim suit season, it’s easy to get discouraged and throw in the towel before you even begin. 

3). Write your goals down, and track your progress.

When you think about wanting to do something, it’s just an abstract idea floating around. However, once you write it down, the idea then has intention, purpose, and direction. Keep a written record of your progress, including when you have met your goals and when you have fallen short. Notice I did not say failed; there is no such thing as failure, just another opportunity to re-evaluate your approach and learn from what might not be working for you.

4). Visualize success.

Imagine yourself achieving your goals. Even professional athletes and performing artists have used the power of visualization for years to improve their performance on the field and on the stage. They continue to practice it, because it works for them. Just imagine (so to speak), what it can do for you! 

5). Stay positive.

Remember to give yourself positive messages. What we tell ourselves is what we believe, and what we believe is what we achieve. Words are incredibly powerful; use them for the power of good. All of us fall on our face every now and then. Remember, there is no such thing as failure, just opportunities to learn and grow. 

These are just a few general guidelines to follow in your journey to a great new year. I am certain you can come up with a few creative and innovative tips of your own, so please share your thoughts and ideas; I would love to hear from you! In the meantime, may you enjoy a year ahead filled with peace, joy, love, laughter, and good health. I just know that 2016 is going to be a fabulous year, for all of us!