Don’t Breathe until you’ve Strapped on the Button-

We are used, now to seeing those posts that invite us to join in congratulatory admiration for friends’ achievements. You know the ones. So-and-so has just run X miles or, J Bloggs has cycled to here; there will be a map to show you exactly the route they took. These posts fall into the same category as those selfie shots, a cloud of grinning friends all having a ball or seated around a table of delicious, ‘Masterchef’ style food-or standing on The Great Wall of China or Golden Gate Bridge. It is rare to see a photo of someone grappling with a flooding washing machine or in the aftermath of open-heart surgery.

Creeping along into this melee of ‘tell-all’ comes the tiny, wearable, digital device. Of course, monitors of all descriptions have been around for ages, but these, ever-smaller, watch-like buttons are becoming more sophisticated than ever. According to devotees they will tell you how many steps you’ve taken, monitor your heart rate and inform you of how you’ve slept.

It seems to me that this is taking self-absorption to another level. Why do we need a device to tell us how we’ve slept? I am still compos mentis enough to know whether I’ve slept or not-because if I was awake I probably knew about it already. I also have a fairly good idea whether I’ve walked anywhere or if I’ve been a lazy slob slumped on a sofa with a book. I’ll let the health system deal with my heart rate, though if I’m feeling ok why worry?

Won’t these little, wearable buttons give us the same paranoia that googling symptoms does? Supposing it tells you you didn’t sleep a wink last night? What will you do? Go back to bed that minute to recoup the lost hours? Only walked eight thousand two hundred and fifty four steps? Quick-get outside in the garden and do a few circuits before ‘Eastenders’. Eaten too many calories today? Nothing to eat tomorrow!

Worse still, in a sinister vision of the future, supposing some popinjay in the health department of a nanny state government comes up with the brilliant idea of linking their use to the health system. You will be required to wear a monitor at all times if you wish to be entitled to health care. You will be resuscitated only if you have slept for the mandatory eight hours last night. You will qualify for a hip replacement only if you have completed your compulsory ten thousand steps per day. Goodness! A veto on surgery for smokers or the obese has already raised its ugly head. Linking healthy lifestyle to healthcare entitlement can only be around the corner.

Or why not programme the devices to issue warnings? They could jolt us with an electric shock if we sip at a second Sauvignon or munch on a MacDonald’s and sound an alarm to alert us to getting on with our ten thousand steps. Does it remind you of any famous novels? Just remember that 1984 was over thirty years ago.

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Do What You Like

I am amused by a news article declaring that the latest cohort to come under attack from the health police is the middle aged. Apparently this is due to their unhealthy life styles. They work long hours, spend hours on their commutes and then mitigate the ensuing stresses of their days by glugging down copious glasses of wine and lolling on sofas watching box-sets whilst dipping into bags of Pringles or pressing pause only to order a takeaway pizza. Shame on them!

Lucky me, then that I am past middle age. In fact, as I recall I became my most active and healthy during those years, despite having a busy, stressful job and being a single parent etc. I’d have to hold my hands up regarding the wine consumption, which was not modest-but on the exercise front I’d have won a lot of points. Not only was I undertaking DIY on the hovel I’d purchased but also attending exercise classes, following a slavish regime of aerobics videos and running each and every day. I was a virtuous paragon and the only pity was that there was no Facebook or Instagram or whatever to enable me to ‘Map My Run’ and brag about my achievements.

If that exercise regime gave me anything it was an ingrained awareness that regular physical activity is a necessary component of a comfortable life-even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. The difference now though is that the activity must be dictated by what is physically possible. In other words, running and leaping around in an aerobics class are no longer options due to failures of joints and general decrepitude. Instead I indulge in pursuits that a] I am able to do and b] I enjoy.

Exercise crazes come and go with the wind. Once upon a time I threw myself into aerobics, embracing the entire Jane Fonda/leggings and leotard package. The next big thing was Step-Aerobics. Again I became snared in the allure of leaping around and up and down, attending  3 classes each week, unaware of the damage I was doing to my hips, knees and feet but thrilling to the appeal of the ‘horseshoe turn’ and its accompanying, fancy moves.

My aversion to tepid water has been blogged in a previous post, hence swimming is ‘out’. [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/when-you-know-you-are-out-of-your-depth/]. But I can still treat myself to a twice weekly dose of dance with the ever-popular Zumba and have learned to love walking, whether accompanied or not, although I am in a constant search for the Holy Grail of all walking shoes; a pair that eliminates all vestige of arthritis, plantar fasciitis, corns, bunions and the rest. How unglamorous bodies become in older age! I’ve documented my late entry into the world of Yoga [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/sensual-slow-and-unsupple/] and recommend it for anyone hoping to stay fit and mobile for as long as possible.

I eat vegetables √ I’ve replaced a lot of meat meals with fish √ I’ve cut out sugar √ I’ve all but cut out alcohol √

So now, reader, I fully expect to become immortal. I’ll keep you posted.

Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

Ditch the Lifestyle Advice-It’s all Here with Grace’s Guide

I don’t make resolutions. I may have done so in the long, distant past, but some previous experience must have taught me that such determinations are bound to fail.

This does not prevent everywhere and everything else bombarding you with encouraging and/or harassing messages. Facebook, for instance has many well-meaning souls posting up urgent lists of to-do and not to-do. TV adverts are choc full of well-intentioned exhortations-‘STOP SMOKING’, ‘LOSE WEIGHT’, ‘GET RUNNING’, ‘EAT BUTTER’, ‘DON’T EAT BUTTER’, ‘5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR WILLPOWER’, ‘GYM MEMBERSHIP OFFER’, ‘START COLLECTING’, ‘TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE’-blah blah…

The trick, as far as I am concerned is to begin any ‘life changes’ you want to make as soon as you are ready, ie now, next week, on August 14th or never, if that is what suits. I gave up smoking during a memorable mini-break in Barcelona with Husband one Easter, resulting in some explosive differences of opinion-one in the middle of a busy thoroughfare as I recall.

I used to be a runner. I began running one random morning, early, before anyone else was awake. I started with a miniscule stumble around the block. Years later I was regularly running ten miles, until injury broke in and stole the party. I happened to be jogging along the promenade one New Year’s day and met some ex-colleagues out walking. ‘New Year’s resolution?’ one suggested, provoking an affront that only an increase in pace and distance could assuage. I’d been running every day for about twenty years by then.

Rather than pledging lofty and unachievable goals I prefer to make myself suggestions. I think, ‘I might take up yoga’ this year, or ‘I might get back to my abandoned novel’, or ‘I could clear out those outgrown and outdated clothing items’. See what I mean? This way you don’t set yourself up for failure. It might happen; or it might not.

Another strategy is to qualify resolutions by adding ‘continue to’, as in ‘I will continue to walk to the shops if there isn’t a hurricane raging’ or ‘I will continue to reply to emails within the month in which they arrive’. As you see, I don’t try to make it too difficult. I’m not aiming to fail. Sometime during this weekend I just might take a look at the website for a new gym that opened towards the end of last year [matching my strategy very nicely] and I might even look for a yoga class to attend-but then again I may not have time.

So there you have it. Tried and tested lifestyle advice. My New Year’s gift to readers. Some people pay a fortune to lifestyle gurus to know how to improve their lives, be better, richer, healthier, thinner and happier. More fool them!

Hard Work, Dedication and not a small Amount of Luck

                Nadeem Badshah, the world’s oldest runner, who is 102 years old, has retired from marathon running. Oh not from running, you understand-he is continuing to run, though not competitively. Nadeem only started running in his eighties, but has still managed to clock up an impressive number of jogging years. A fall whilst competing in a 10k race in Hong Kong in February has led him to retire from competition, though he still runs, jogs and walks every day. Little wonder that Nadeem has become a celebrity, a superstar of the world of running. Last weekend he officiated at the start of our own town’s marathon festival, an event that attracted 9,000 entrants.

                Elsewhere, in the football world, a relative youngster at 87, Harry Hardy was awarded a medal for his services to the sport. The footage showed Harry, resplendent in his ref’s shorts, shirt and whistle, galloping up and down the pitch with the lads, for all the world like a man half his age.

                What are we to make of these feisty, fit old fellows? First of all, both of them are whip thin, with not a milligram of excess fat on them. They both love what they do. They are dedicated. They work hard at their chosen activities. You have to admire them for their dogged determination and stamina. But more than anything I’d say they’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be able to pursue active sports into great old age.

                Ten years ago I was running with a local [all women] club and beginning to compete in the odd race. I ran distances of ten or twelve miles at weekends. I was never a ‘talented’ runner-more a plodder, but still I knew what it was to have run so much it was a joy [just as Nadeem explains]. Then injuries began to crop up. “Run through it!” advised an enthusiastic running friend. I did continue to run and ignore the injuries, long after I should have stopped and listened to my protesting limbs. Eventually I hung up my running shoes and pursued alternative exercise.

                During our recent stay in the South of France I attempted to resurrect my jogging with a couple of feeble turns around the local lanes. The result of these attempts has been that now I am crippled and unable to do any Zumba or to walk anywhere and fitness is confined to cycling or Pilates.

                So it’s ‘Bravo’ to Harry and Nadeem, but tempered with a touch of envy, because they have both been very, very fortunate.

Ageing Part 1-The Experts’ Way

                Once you get beyond what can reasonably be called middle age [although I realise it stretches to a further point the older you get…], you might think it would be helpful to know what we all need to do to grow old and keep your health. I read an article in the Guardian newspaper recently which did just this thing-with useful, informative suggestions from ‘experts’. It is interesting to note that few of the ‘experts’ are themselves beyond middle age. Fair enough. Perhaps one needs to begin on their regimes early; forward planning, you might say. In this case I am, in all probability, too late. I was still interested as to what I should have done:

1 Weight Lifting

Jerrald Rector, from Birmingham University explained that apparently it is all down to a virus like Herpes and that we can stave it off if we all go to the gym and heft dumbbells around. Jerrald, a PhD student, is 26. He is also toned and beauteous. I’ve tried weight lifting more times than Jerrald has cleaned his teeth and never found it to be anything more than unutterably dull. Boredom is stressful. He may be right about the virus. He claims it is triggered by stress. Ok, stress is ageing. No surprise there!

2 Friends

There is no mention of Dr Anna Phillips’ age, but she looks to be in her twenties. Stress, she says, can be staved off by having a strong social network. Bereavement is particularly stressful. Who’d have thought it? We should all be happily married. [I must make a note to tell Husband this]. Dr Phillips also hails from the University of Birmingham. She could pair up with Jerrard and put forth the idea of married couples’ weight lifting. Weddings could even take place in gyms, with guests attending in vests and shorts and the ceremony being conducted whilst bench pressing.

3 Running

Professor Janet Lord [Birmingham] is 56 . Hooray! At last there is an expert in the appropriate age range. Of course, Janet, we all know that running is good for us. Can there be anyone left on the planet who doesn’t? I spent more than twenty years doing it. It was wonderful for all kinds of reasons-keeping weight at bay, keeping stress at bay, keeping heart healthy etc. If you are lucky you may get to run into old age; there are some who do. But most of us who used to run have had to hang up our running shoes due to the joints having given out. Lucky Janet, if she is able to keep running throughout old age.

4 Fasting

In a nutshell, Dr Sandrine Thuret wants us all to deny ourselves food in our dotage, in order to do good to our brains. Dr Sandrine [not Birmingham] eats ‘every other day’. She goes on to say she has cereal bars and apples on the fasting days. Hm. How is this fasting, Dr? Pity the poor Alzheimers sufferers. Not only have their brains failed them but they must also starve.

5 Learning languages

This is the idea of 52 year old Thomas Bak [Edinburgh this time]. Why?

                You have to wonder why they’re all expending their energy and time on these projects when the most expedient thing would be to eradicate the world of wrinklies-the expensive, difficult generation!

Next post is going to be Grace’s ideas for a healthy, happy old age, without starvation, boredom or conjugating verbs. Watch out for ageing part 2…

                 

The Metamorphosis from Hare to Tortoise, and other stories.

                If you consider the multitude of myriad, divers physical activities that can be pursued, from mountain biking to beach volleyball; from skiing to scuba diving, walking does not come across as a very sexy way to get exercise. Although I’ve listened to a riveting radio programme extolling the virtues of a ‘taught’ walking course somewhere in Yorkshire I admit I succumbed to a certain scepticism-after all, it isn’t a very difficult skill to master. Most of us manage it in the first year or two of life.

                Ten years ago I was still in thrall to running, a concept that seems as unlikely to me now as tightrope walking the Grand Canyon, but I did really come to love pounding the pavements, even though I was one of those cross country runners at school who hid behind a bush, waited until the pack returned and tagged along at the back.

                Once I’d got the hang of jogging and could stumble around the block without fainting I began to enjoy the meditative sensation I got. Husband, however pointed out that this did not lead to much progress in the way of faster speed. Apparently you are supposed to concentrate, do a mysterious thing called ‘interval training’ and various other improving activities. I was unconcerned. What I became was a long[ish], slow runner.

                I was not aware of my dependence on loping along in a trance in the evenings and at weekends until increasing decrepitude forced me to hang up my running shoes. It was a blow. I realise that during this transitional period I was about as amenable as a premenstrual rattlesnake, but eventually I came to terms and replaced running with…walking. Of course, it burns fewer calories, it is slow; it is not impressive to one’s friends. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a ‘walk-keeper’ that you can pop  posts on to Facebook with-‘Grace Lessageing has just completed a 5k walk with Walk-keeper’ doesn’t sound like a remarkable achievement.

                But walking does have its own, modest advantages. Other than a pair of comfortable shoes and a water bottle there is little equipment needed. It can be a means to an end or the purpose itself. Weather is of no consequence. A stop for shopping, tea and cake or beer can be incorporated. A solo walk can now induce that same period of meditation that used to be brought about by a run and is perfect for sparking off loads of little ideas for stories, or working out a difficult chapter of novel, or coming up with another load of drivel for this blog.

                Walking these days is a popular activity, although most walkers are accompanied, either by other walkers or a dog, or both. I enjoy company on a walk but don’t find it indispensable, and much as I like other peoples’ dogs [sometimes] I really don’t want one of my own. So two or three times a week I stride out for the good of mind and body [even if, just once in a while. I do come home on the bus].