fitness

5 tools to supercharge your resolutions!

2014 tools resolutions weight loss improvement

I hate New Year’s Day. It’s that time of year when I flog myself over holiday misdeeds of over-eating, not meditating and being too sedentary. My diet for the last month has mostly consisted of cookies and meat — a kind of of modified Paleo. I rarely got to the gym and didn’t eat a single fruit all Christmas, if you don’t count the raspberry jam in the thumbprint cookies I snarfed.

I scramble for a resolution that will shortcut me to greater fitness, flexibility and the loss of those extra pounds that have overstayed their welcome like a bad holiday guest. But, the good thing is, at the age of 52, I’ve had some success in personal transformation.

It’s times like these, when the inky darkness of winter and post-holiday doldrums threaten to engulf me, that I think on past victories and remember the principles and practices that have led to lasting transformation. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Acceptance
Nine years ago I had an uncomfortable moment of truth when unexpectedly viewing a photo of myself in a bathing suit. It was a brown, ruched affair and I looked exactly like an unhappy potato on legs. After a fat caliper test, I was appalled to learn of a body fat percentage of 30% — sneakily close to obese. Instead of denying reality or hating myself and drowning in a sea of Ben & Jerry’s, I calmly made peace with my body as it was — then lost twenty pounds.

Forgiveness
The best time to make a meaningful change in life is (insert number) years ago. The next best time is today. I stayed in a sad and unfulfilling marriage for 25 years. It was tempting to blame myself for the lost years and all the love not gotten, but it was pointless. I could not have left a moment sooner than I did. I looked kindly on the girl I was, embraced her anyway, and learned from her mistakes to build a new life of love and fulfillment.

Teachability
I was a stiff-necked kid who couldn’t be taught a single thing — an unfortunate result of being a naturally talented, overly adored first-born girl in a competitive family. But, talent is a bus that doesn’t go to the end of the line without a refuel — that’s where teachers and receptivity come in.

When I entered my thirties and wanted to progress in music, my father delicately suggested I take voice lessons from his choirmaster. The teacher could not have been more encouraging, and soon I quit bellowing like a moose and started really singing. A good teacher (and a willing attitude) has been the fastest way to learning new skills and making big life changes.

Moderation
When I was 18 and a freshman in college I started running with the cross-country team. I went from being relatively sedentary to running five miles a day — every day. On the advent of our big first meet, my lower legs were in excruciating pain. A doctor’s visit diagnosed shin splints — painful micro-breaks in the shinbones — a result of over-training.

As an adult, I’ve learned to pace myself and get some form of exercise every day, even if it’s just a leisurely walk with a friend. On icy, windy days I might choose the stationary bike in the basement with the latest from Netflix. At times I take it easy on myself and do almost nothing physically. After 34-some years of mostly continual fitness, I’m in it for the long haul and realize that slow and steady truly does win the race.

Courage
Two years before quitting my job, I knew I wanted to walk away. But, the idea of leaving a 30-year career filled me with anxiety. For all my blather about taking chances and being adventurous, I am, essentially, a groove creature.

After crunching the numbers with my husband and determining we could (frugally) live on his income, I hit a wall. I called it every name in the book, but it was generic, yellow-labeled fear. I drew on the wisdom of Mark Twain’s bromide, “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it” and jumped into the abyss and got to work. I have not looked back. Now fear is taken as a sign that I’m onto something. Let the adventure begin!

This year, I have made some resolutions: put away my clothes after wearing them; lose five pounds; write a business plan; complete that book I’ve been talking about for years; write thank you notes; de-clutter the house. Some of them I’ll honor, others will burst like yesterday’s champagne bubbles. What I won’t do is hate, nag or be unkind to myself. That’s one resolution I’m planning on keeping.

 

Hell and heaven in the Grand Canyon.

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WARNING: DO NOT attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day. Each year hikers suffer serious illness or death from exhaustion.

It was on my bucket list, “See the Grand Canyon.” But, I didn’t want to see it from the South rim like a middle-aged tourist starting to slow down. In spite of the warning, I wanted a challenge — to see, hear, feel and consume the canyon as the adventurer I’d like to think I am — a modern-day Viking.

At 52, I had found myself, like many women my age, modifying physical activities in concession to fear or injuries: water and downhill skiing were too dangerous; running beat up hips and knees; overnight camping in a tent — too uncomfortable. At the gym I clung to the same ritual of treadmill, stair climber, then weights — lulled by the familiar.

As frightening as that canyon warning was, I didn’t want to not do it and admit I was forever closed-off to adventure and growth, the sort that comes from pushing physical limits. The canyon offered a challenge to the complacency of age and routine and, I was to find, much more.

The original plan had been to hike down in one day, stay at Phantom Ranch in the bottom for the night, then hike back up the next day. But accommodations at the ranch fill up a year in advance. Passes to tent camp at Bright Angel campground were also long gone.

My husband Dave was dubious, but descriptions of supplies and fitness levels needed to complete the hike reassured him. Up for an adventure himself, he got on board, and soon packages started arriving from Amazon with things like Camelbak hydration packs and a case of Clif Bars.

We started hitting the gym harder than normal and decided the stair climber might be the best thing to prepare us for all those steps. Dave daily put in an hour on the stair climber — me, usually a half hour, occasionally a full hour. Did I mention the hike was estimated to take 12 hours round trip?

Neither of us had given footwear much thought. Dave had some steel-toed boots from work he thought were appropriate. I chose Keen All-Terrain sandals, in hindsight about as appropriate for the canyon as red stilettos. Both of us would have been in a vortex of pain had we continued on that path.

For weeks my dreams were anxious — filled with images of dry landscapes and falling off sheer precipices. The thought of calling it off occurred many times. This didn’t have to be undertaken and what exactly was I proving? At my age, did I really need to take a treacherous hike we were barely prepared for?

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We arrived in Arizona to stay with my brother Greg and his family five days before the canyon. Greg, well aware of the dangers of high-altitude hiking in the heat, took us on three killer climbs to prepare us for the rigors of our adventure. Our first trek up Black Mountain had us sucking wind like Grandma at a polka. Nothing in Buffalo, NY could have prepared us for the thin air.

While sturdy, my Keen open-air sandals collected stones, dirt and sand every few steps. Dave’s boots were heavy and increasingly hot. A subsequent trip to Big 5 Sporting Goods outfitted us with Coleman mid-ankle, lightweight boots. Two more rigorous hikes further hardened us for the Canyon ahead, or so we thought.

We woke in our hotel room at 5am the morning of our adventure, neither of us having slept much. After filling our Camelbaks with water and food, we powdered our socks, Vasalined our feet and laced up the new boots. Then, we drove to the main parking lot on the South Rim of the Canyon where a shuttle bus would take us to the South Kaibab trailhead.

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On the bus was a grizzled 60-something park ranger with a braided Fu-Manchu beard viewing us with a practiced eye. I’m sure our Wonder Bread whiteness and un-scuffed boots didn’t escape his notice. “How far you folks hiking today?” “We’re hiking top to bottom in one day” answered Dave. (crickets) “We recommend against that. You folks know how long that takes?” “We figure 12 hours or so.” He nodded gravely in agreement and repeated his warning.

Our first view of the Canyon had been spectacular the previous night, but the hike down South Kaibab continually took our breath away. The path is stunning and recommended for its panoramic views. It’s also steep. Deep ruts filled with dust and bracketed by logs formed the steps we were to become quite familiar with.

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Tangled Utah Junipers greeted us early on the trail but vegetation became sparse and desert-like as we descended and the temperature rose. Spiky agave plants studded the hillsides, some with peculiar flowering stalks up to 12 feet tall — sending up a swan song before they died.

Our path zig-zagged down sheer cliffs of brick red, sage green and chalk white. Each turn revealed queer rock formations carved by the Colorado River eons ago, but what we noticed most was the silence. No wind, car or tourist noises broke that hollow, cathedral hush. The azure sky was empty of all but the wispiest clouds and the occasional floating hawk.

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As we moved down the path, we encountered a couple of mule teams coming up the trail loaded with tourists and garbage from the ranch, their droppings odiferous landmines steaming under the hot canyon sun. Aside from this, there were surprisingly few hikers along the trail and mostly we trekked by ourselves.

The old ranger had warned us that injuries were more common on descent, while exhaustion and dehydration were risks on the ascent. This was true for us. Within a few hours, Dave’s old knee injury ominously began to act up. My hips became sore from the pounding of each dusty step.

Walking sticks helped but we further wondered what on Mars we were doing when we viewed a sign mid-way advising that “Descending the canyon is optional — ascent is mandatory.” In fact,
if you do get sick or stuck on the trail, it costs $4,500 to get airlifted out in a helicopter.

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We caught our first glimpse of the Colorado River about three hours in at the portentously named Skeleton Point. It was tiny, copper green and impossibly far away. It looked so refreshing and inviting. Dave reasoned his knees would not be an issue on the longer ascent and, in an act of faith or foolishness, we continued down the increasingly steep switchbacks.

Four hours and 7.1 miles from the start, we reached river’s edge after crossing the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. It was over 100 degrees by that time — it had been just 42 degrees at the trailhead that morning. I soaked my hot and swollen feet in the river and dunked my head in clear water cold enough for an ice cream headache. Then, we hiked the flat half-mile or so to Phantom Ranch. Any illusions of splendor or luxury were soon dashed.

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Designed by Mary Colter and constructed in 1922, Phantom Ranch lodge is of mostly stone construction surrounded by rustic cabins. The dining room has long wood benches and tables with florescent lighting overhead — not much different than the rough-hewn Girl Scout camps I went to in the 60’s.

We sucked down the fresh lemonade they sold ($4.99 a glass, but so worth it!) and ate the contents of our packs — beef jerky, dried mango, Clif bars and trail mix. After an hour’s rest, we got back on the trail for the arduous uphill climb.

At first Bright Angel trail gradually inclines, but then dismayingly descends while switchbacking up and down near the Colorado. It’s an easier climb up than the steep Kaibab would have been, which is why it was so much longer.

As the temperature climbed, my hands began to swell alarmingly. I had not thought to take my wedding ring off and my fingers were puffing like shiny bratwursts. My slightly heat-addled brain I reasoned I could flag down the occasional ranger we encountered to cut my ring off if needed. Soaking my head and hands in every icy stream we encountered felt good, but didn’t help the swelling.

The risk of dehydration is very real on the uphill. We continually sucked water from our Camelbaks, their lifeline tubes positioned at our mouths, but did not urinate once during the 6 ½ hour uphill climb. The intense Arizona sun evaporated our sweat as soon as it left our bodies.

There is far more vegetation on Bright Angel Trail than on Kaibab. About 1/3 of the way up we saw an enormous cottonwood tree — limbs splaying over the trail like angel’s wings, its shade welcome in the sweltering heat.

As the winds shifted, we smelled the most intoxicating fragrance — what I later learned was the flowering Cliff Rose. It was spicy, sweet and disconcertingly, given the heat, brought me back to my childhood and the smell of incense in church at Christmas.

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Dave was right about his knees not hurting, but we felt increasingly fatigued after three hours, and rested halfway up at Indian Gardens. We refilled our water and ate the dried, but surprisingly appetizing snacks. The thermometer read 114 degrees but shade was found, and with my hat over my face I took a short nap.

Refreshed and encouraged that we were roughly 2/3 of the way through with our ill-advised adventure we headed off confidently — cockily — up the trail. The worst, however, was yet to come.

The gradual incline behind us was replaced by a steep and relentlessly climbing trail. Switchback after switchback did not even seem to make a dent in the towering rise of cliffs above us. Viewing the sheer drop of the Canyon walls I could not imagine how our path could possibly take us to the top, and pictured a giant ladder propped upright for the final 1,000 feet.

My legs began to feel like licorice, back sore from the pack, fingers swollen and throbbing — this with hours to go. Another warning we had received from a ranger was “Oh, you won’t die, but the last hour of the hike you’ll wish you had.” Dave and I grimly trudged on.

We stopped every 15 minutes or so to chug down water, catch our breath and appreciate the view. When our eyes met, there was only sympathy and exhaustion, though Dave could have understandably carped at me for my hare-brained idea. But, we were in this together and there was to be no blame. We didn’t even have the energy to talk, other than the occasional “You’re doing great.”

The final hour of the hike became a battle of wills: That of the whiny baby girl inside of me who wanted to cry, rest and complain, or the warrior who had given birth and raised two children, survived a nasty divorce and built a new life of love and courage. “If I have survived ­_______, then I can survive this” kept swirling in my head like a mantra.

We were frequently fooled by what appeared to be the end of the trail, but was yet another heartbreaking switchback. Energetic tourists wearing flip-flops would pass us going down, chatting easily among themselves with no clue as to the epic drama unfolding before them. I hated them and their fresh legs. I imagined we looked like zombies with our hollow eyes and sweat and dirt-stained skin.

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At last, six hours after beginning our climb, a final rise revealed Kolb Studio, the end of our trail. A crowning surge of adrenaline powered us to the top, surrounded by tourists. We kissed each other tearfully, disbelieving, and hugged, leaning on each other for support, then enlisted a Danish tourist to snap our photo — our swelled hands raised in victory.

I would not hike the Canyon in one day again but have no regrets. Some part of me knew it was going to be grueling and bring me to the edge of endurance but was OK with that. My unpreparedness enabled me to take an adventure of a lifetime and pick up what the Old Testament Israelites described as a “stone of remembrance.”

The stone I now carry at midlife is tenacity: that white-knuckle attribute which powers through illness, depression, loss and discouragement — ultimately more important than either talent or luck.

The Grand Canyon hike — so physically punishing — also energized and reminded me that despite my age, I have depths not yet plumbed; strengths not yet drawn on, but that may well serve on the sometimes-uphill climb ahead.

 

 

Fifty, fit and fabulous! – 10 tips.

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This morning I weighed myself and didn’t dread it. Why? At 50-something years old, I took those impossible ten pounds off, kept them off, and have (mostly) maintained good eating and fitness. And, in spite of all the fun and food of the holidays, I only gained back a pound of it.

I didn’t keep the weight off by starving myself, not drinking alcohol or being a workout nut. I just kept some simple practices I’ve developed over the years. I’m sharing them in the hope that they might encourage you — and keep my own resolve strong!

Love yourself. Unconditionally, right now, where you are, who you are, and how you look. Stand naked in front of a full-length mirror and take in your beautiful body — bumps, bulges, warts and all. Self-loathing has no place in your tool kit and can only sabotage you. Look at yourself and love yourself. No exceptions.

Weigh yourself. Not hatefully or self-punishingly, but mindfully. Accept where you are, but have a goal weight that is reasonable and achievable. Weigh yourself daily or weekly, whatever keeps you aware of your progress.

Move everyday. I didn't say exercise. Every January the gym is jammed with folks who want to lose those holiday pounds (again) and start an exercise program. By March they are all gone. Instead, embrace movement that you like; gardening, walking with a friend, running, skating, swimming, yoga, dancing or whatever works for you.

Eat chocolate. There. I said it. People wanting to lose weight frequently punish themselves and refrain from all desserts and sweets. This degree of deprivation can only last so long until natural cravings kick in and all resolve crumbles. Yes, refrain from donuts, cookies, pie and ice cream (fat, salt and sugar bombs), but eat that dark chocolate truffle and savor it.

Cook veggies. And not frozen peas boiled in water. Experiment with herbs, oils, cheeses and nuts. How about roasted asparagus with basting oil, pepper and sea salt? Or fresh green beans with butter, fresh dill and almond slivers? The proper seasoning and cooking method can make a hum-drum vegetable into a treat.

Avoid the whites. White sugar, flour, pasta and rice provide empty calories and spike blood sugar – this leads to cravings, binging and ultimately more pounds. Cut out sugar and substitute whole-wheat products for white. You’ll feel fuller and eat less.

Lift weights. I hate lifting weights, but notice that the women at the gym who are slim and sexy lift weights. Strength training is the secret weapon in a fit girl’s arsenal. Muscle burns energy (calories) and shapes a body beautifully. Start out slow and moderately and build up to 2 - 3x a week. And don’t worry, unless you’re a body builder you won’t bulk up.

Dress beautifully. Whether or not you’re near your goal weight, dress as though you like yourself. Choose clothes that are neither too loose nor too tight — clothes that enhance your curves or height — your unique features. The better you dress, the better you’ll feel about your body.

Get a buddy. Enlist the aid of a spouse or friend to encourage you in making better choices. Walk with them, share your goals, cheer each other on and win together. Most communities have running, hiking and walking clubs. Find one and join with others who are like-minded.

Embrace moderation. Do nothing today that you can’t see continuing for a lifetime. Fitness and good nutrition need to be slowly incorporated one-day-at-a-time into a healthy lifestyle. Fad diets and harsh workout regimes don’t work for anyone. Right now, make one or two simple, achievable goals. In the months and years to come, build on that.

I hope these tips inspire and show that fitness and good health belong to all of us — even you!

 

On being loved fully and outrageously, like I deserve.

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First, a confession. For the first 40 years of my life, I did not feel worthy to be loved romantically. I projected an aura of superiority and self-confidence, but inside felt unlovable and undesirable. A lot of women do. We internalize slights from middle and high school and hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We find ourselves lacking.

What cured me of self-loathing? At first it was becoming a musician and singing out publicly — finding a passion and that audiences liked me, they really liked me, as Sally Field once said. This flew in the face of my old story about being unattractive. Secondly, it was going through a painful, unwanted divorce.

To heal I needed to fully love myself, faults and all. Early in the separation a memorable moment occurred in front of a full-length mirror. I assessed my body and finally embraced its beauty, uniqueness and flaws. I loved it — and me, completely.

Loving myself was an important step to being loved, but before dating, I also needed to map out what a successful relationship would look like, so I created a vision statement for my new life. It painted a verbal picture of my new home; the atmosphere, art and music that would live there — the social life, vacations and spirituality I’d pursue.

I also envisioned the man in my life. He would be kind, hospitable, generous and fit. I imagined a mutually loving relationship with a lot of sex and affection. I wanted a man who adored me, would lay it all down for me, put me first and powerfully desire me. I shot not only for the stars but the whole dazzling Milky Way before even setting a foot in the dating swamp. This became the road map for my future.

A friend who had been single for many years warned about the lack of prospects in our hometown. “There are no good men. They are all taken. The only ones left are losers. Trust me — I’ve dated them.” I envisioned better for myself. I reckoned it was only a matter of time before Mr. Right came into my life. The key was to not be entangled with Mr. Wrong when he finally appeared. The more I loved myself, the easier it was to lose the Mr. Wrongs. And while setting the bar high might result in singlehood, alone and happy was better than coupled and miserable. The bar stayed high.

It didn't drop with that first man I dated who noted I was “loving and feminine onstage, but vulgar and boorish offstage.” Bye. It remained high with the wealthy but incurious man with only one thing on his mind and it wasn't quantum physics. He was stopped at the second date. Significantly, the bar didn’t lower when dating the well-off, fit and sexy plumber who had anger and jealousy problems. It was sad, but I ended it and was alone again.

Dave was not an obvious choice. He was a recent widower of a dear family friend. He was an artist like I was and quiet, probing, funny and smart. We started out as supportive friends with no thought of dating while I kept looking for Mr. Right. To our surprise, over time our friendship became romantic. We were remarkably compatible, sharing interests in museums, theater and music. We both loved to read, travel, entertain and wanted to create a house filled with love, respect and generosity. Most important, Dave wanted me — was willing to do anything to get me. Nothing came before me. The more he loved me, the lower my defenses became and the more I loved him back.

Newly single, I'd been told that “statistic” that a middle-aged woman had as much chance of remarrying as getting struck by lightning. But, that was a mindset of scarcity and desperation. Instead, I determined there would be abundance and love in my new life, if not specifically a new man. However, it turned out that accepting myself fully, envisioning an ideal life and keeping high standards became the magic path to the love of my life.

 

I’ve-given-up-on-life pants.

Slacker having given up on life

Aaron had no business wearing those pants, but with a 2 year-old and a newborn at home, we all understood. But, they were god-awful. They reminded me of the pants I sewed in 6th grade home economics: no pockets or discernable back and front with an elastic waist. These khaki disasters had been hung wet on a hanger so the wrinkles were till death do they part. God-awful, rumply, saggy loser pants. The hens at work promptly named them “Aaron’s I’ve-given-up-on-life pants.”

That is now the term I use to describe anything that a person has just given up on. The “I’ve-given-up-on-life body,” “I’ve-given-up-on-life boyfriend,” “I’ve-given-up-on-life job.” It’s when you’re shooting low and you don’t even pretend to care anymore.

In my mid-twenties after having two children, I gave up on being female. It was too hard to figure out fashion, fitness, and how to be sexy. It was all I could do to pull on my men’s Levis, large sweatshirt and brown oxford flats. And my hair. I kept getting it cut shorter and shorter, hoping it would just get sucked into my skull like the retractable hair doll, Crissy, so I wouldn’t even have to deal with it.

Fast forward. I became a singer, the two kids left home and I got a divorce. Somewhere along that path I discovered my femininity and boy, I will never go back to Birkenstock’s. I won’t even appear in public without heels, lipstick and a form-fitting top. It feels good to care.

What have you given up on? Your job? Relationships? Your weight or appearance? It gets harder to get up after life kicks our ass. It’s really tempting to pretend we don’t care and that life has no more good stuff for us. And it’s dead wrong. Just ask my Mom.

Bunny is eighty years old and just had a visit to her sports medicine orthopedist. Her hip pain is beginning to affect her performance in Zumba class. She wants to get it fixed so she can start a water aerobics class on Thursdays.

Not giving up on life just yet.