Finding the Art of Saying ‘Yes’

In a previous post, I referenced a fellow blogger who described her travel in retirement not as ‘vacation’ but as ‘an opportunity to say yes’. This way of thinking struck a deep chord with me. Isn’t that what retirement is all about– a chance to say ‘yes’ to invitations that had previously been overlooked, or never actually received, or for which there was never enough time?

In my current travel, this attitude has led me on long rides to attend short events simply because a friend or family member wished me to be there. It included our road trip from Vancouver Island to Nevada, Arizona, and California this past February. It also includes a brand new road trip from Parksville, B.C. to Winnipeg, Manitoba (2,446 kilometers) at the end of this month, as well as a hike along the Camino Trail planned for this coming summer (stay tuned for those posts).

In events unrelated to travel, this Nike-mindset has led me to frequent yoga,  a twice-weekly walking group, monthly potluck dinners and an upcoming painting class (which the teacher and I are both very likely to regret). It has also prompted me to try out curling, bird watching, and more rigorous hikes than I would normally choose. With this determination, I  accepted a social media position with our local Newcomer’s Club, and took part in home renovations that rivalled anything currently seen on reality tv.  This way of thinking is the reason that I recently knocked on the doors of over 35 nearby residents to discuss a neighbourhood get-together (which, thanks to all, was a big success).  It has led me to some volunteer work that has downright shoved me out of my comfort zone and caused me to ask for donations from local businesses (if you know me at all, this “cold calling” is a big leap for me…huge actually)! This approach has also prompted me to start this blog.

Today I embraced another ‘out-of-my-comfort-zone’ experience. I attended a seven a.m. ‘throwback fitness class’. Okay, so it wasn’t bungee jumping, but for me, it may as well have been. First of all, I needed to be up, dressed, and out of the house shortly after 6:30 a.m. (although this was my daily routine in my work life, the current me is stumped on how that was ever possible). This fitness class also contained more cardio…and sweating than I usually care for and involved (gasp here): running, jumping, grapevines, stride kicks and shaking parts of my body that I didn’t realize could still shake…all to thunderous (non-yoga-like) music.

If my husband hadn’t woke me up at 6:25 (I got dressed fast) I would have missed this opportunity. And if I hadn’t previously said aloud that I was attending, and had a partner ensure that I followed through with my intention, I would have easily talked myself out of it (or rather, slept through the whole thing).

The final result? I am glad that I attended, will definitely be attending again…and I have once again promised myself to give a nod to as many opportunities that I can. This doesn’t mean death-defying adventures, long-term commitments that I cannot keep or obligations that would restrict me from doing other things that I love (or negate the reasons that I retired in the first place). Simply it means embracing things that are otherwise easy to talk myself out of (and easy to shove into the ‘I’ll think about it later’ basket). And sometimes this means mindful choice and negotiation to select the best fit for me.

What about you? What out-of-comfort-zone opportunities have you tried recently, or are planning to attempt? By stating them publicly, you are one step closer to doing them!

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Top Photo Credit:  travelsadventures at https://www.canva.com/design/DABvoVwPoVY/3b-8Dd5drBalSEhPSn8O-Q/edit

Bottom Photos: Liz’s 7a.m Throwback Fitness Class in action. If you live in the area, give it a try! (Parksville B.C.’s Hot N Cool Yoga Studio).

 

A WALK IN THE WOODS (NOT THE BOOK OR THE MOVIE)

I’ve just returned from our regular weekend 5K walk. Okay, so it’s actually supposed to be 10K, but a few of us cut out half way through to join some of our other friends for coffee. I don’t want to miss out on the coffee part, so I exit at the 5K mark too – my story, and I’m totally sticking to it!

I originally had a different post planned for today (my apologies if I told you about that one, and you were expecting another topic). Since I have recently been on my ‘longevity and active aging rant,’ I thought that I would sneak in one more post on this theme.

Previously a somewhat undervalued activity, the benefits of regular walking are now exalted everywhere that we turn. From improving physical fitness, calming the mind, reducing stress (source) triggering anti-aging processes, repairing old DNA (source), lessening risks of breast cancer/colon cancer (source)/dementia (source) and helping to prevent premature death (source), walking is now hailed as a multi-tasking cure-all.

Experts suggest mixing up your walking routine to keep it fresh and challenging, as well as to ensure that you reap maximum benefits. For example, walking barefoot, sometimes called ‘grounding,’ helps you to absorb free electrons from the earth. These electrons are touted to assist with a wide assortment of health concerns including, poor sleep, arthritis, respiratory issues, chronic muscle pain, stress, hypertension, weak immune systems, and more (source). If going barefoot is not quite your thing (or if you have no soft sandy beaches or grassy knolls nearby), taking 100 steps backward is claimed to reap the same benefits as taking 1,000 steps forward (source). According to researchers, compared to regular walking, ‘retro walking’ increases cardiovascular endurance, burns more calories, improves balance, more fully promotes blood circulation, and prevents the development of a hunched-back (source). Have the walking coordination of a tarsier? Try ‘breath walking’! This technique (taking four sharp breaths in and four sharp breaths out while you walk) is argued to “prime your mind for learning and creativity while you exercise” (source). That strikes two (or even three) birds with one stone–you’ve gotta love that!

Excuse-buster alert: Almost everyone can take part in walking (or modified walking) activities and just a little bit can make a huge difference. Researchers have found that walking regularly for just 20 minutes per day, burns approximately 100 calories each time and contributes to the wide-ranging health benefits listed above (source). Some literary theorists have even closely compared walking and writing, stating, “writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another” (source).

According to Random Facts:   “The average Australian takes 9, 695 steps per day (just a few short of the ideal 10,000), the average Japanese takes 7,168; the average Swiss: 9,650; and the average American just 5,117.” Supplementing these facts, “the average Canadian man takes “9,500 steps per day” and “the average Canadian woman takes 8,400 steps per day” (source). How do your steps align with your country’s average?

Looking for even more health benefits? Add coffee! Loaded with antioxidants, coffee has been found to improve energy levels, make you smarter, fight against depression, helps to protect against liver disease/Type 2 diabetes/Parkinson’s disease/gout, and promote a healthy heart. (source, source). Add friendship and laughter on top of all of that and the health benefits are maximized off of the charts!

So, the next time that you notice a small group of walkers seemingly cutting out early, think of them not as slackers, but as diligently in pursuit of optimal health and well-being. Shout out to the Mid-Island Walkers (from Oceanside, BC) here!

The photo above is from our walk today. Seriously, it was like walking directly inside a painting. Below are a few shots of the regular walks we had in  Beijing and surrounding areas, which we also greatly loved. (Beijing friends: do you recognize any of these spots?)

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Secrets of Longevity and Aging Well — Explained through Momisms

Momisms—my mom said them, your mom probably said them—and I’ve said them too (cringe here)! If you follow current research on longevity and aging…it turns out that Mom was right (who knew?). Here are ten common momisms that match frequently cited research findings on positive aging. Time Magazines’ Longevity Issue (Vol. 187, No. 6-7, Feb 22-29, 2016) provides a summary of much of the current longevity research, and is filled with articles extolling the virtues of the following:

  1. Eat your vegetables – In her article on longevity (Time, Vol. 187, p. 82), Alexandra Sifferlin reported: “Diet Is by far the most powerful intervention to delay aging and age-related diseases.” Consistent with this claim, a 2014 UCL study reported that “People who ate seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 42% lower risk of death at any point in time than those who ate less than one portion” with “vegetables having a larger effect than fruit”. (Source) Thanks, Mom! Please pass the broccoli!
  1. Get off of the couch (sometimes translated as “go outside and play”) – Research continues to bombard us with an important message that we can no longer ignore (no matter how hard we try!): Movement and activity are essential not only to our physical health but equally to our mental and emotional well-being. The good news is that small amounts of regular activity, even squirming and wiggling, can make a difference. (Time, Vol. 187, p. 80). Unfortunately, this does cancel out one standard momism: ‘don’t fidget’! Put more harshly, “scientists have shown that sedentary behavior, like sitting all day, is a risk factor for earlier death”. (Time, Vol. 187, p.84) Going even further, a 2011 study claimed that, after age 25, every hour spent watching TV was linked to a deduction of 22 minutes from predicted life expectancy. (Source) Two words come to mind here: uh oh!
  1. It’s no use crying over spilled milk (or if Mom was a Doris Day fan, ’kay sera sera’) – Research tells us that our bodies’ natural defense mechanisms, that help manage stress, decline as we age. Being able to control stress is a key characteristic of “successful agers”. (Source) Taking this a bit further, don’t you just love how research reporters nonchalantly throw out uncommon terms and then you find yourself nodding in agreement (even though you have no idea what exactly you just read)? For example, Time Magazine also reported, “It is now suspected by scientists that reducing stress may slow biological aging by stabilizing telomeres” (Time, Vol, 187, p.86) To translate the above: elderly people have chromosomes that have replicated many times. Telomeres keep these aging chromosomes from becoming inefficient or harmful. Yup, I definitely had to use my dictionary, plus ask around, to fully understand this one.
  1. Money doesn’t grow on trees – Financial comfort is frequently cited as a key piece of a happy retirement (and it is often a major area of concern for the retired and the nearly-retired). The good news is that many retirees enjoy happiness while having much less than others because they have (creatively) found ways to “cut their coat by their cloth.”(Source) Time Magazine’s Longevity issue would not be complete without discussing current financial retirement solutions and does so in Dan Kadlec’s Article, “So How am I going to Pay for It?” (Time, Vol. 187, p. 92)
  1. Do your Homework In research study after research study, crossing different countries, races, and social-economic factors, the following findings were consistent: increasing the number of years that children went to school was linked to better health and longevity. Dr. Lleras-Muney, who wrote a prize-winning dissertation on this topic, was quoted in the New York Times as stating “life expectancy at age 35 was extended by as much as one and a half years simply by going to school for one extra year.”(Source) The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics supported this claim in their findings that “people with a bachelor’s degree or higher live about nine years longer than people who don’t graduate from high school” (Source). And as Mom knows, doing homework was a great excuse for getting out of doing the dishes!
  1. Make a Friend (sometimes translated as ‘Play nicely with others’) – Having strong, positive friendships is also solidly linked with longer life. Having friends to turn to decreases social isolation, provides emotional and physical support, helps us to better manage stress and, according to some research, improves our immune systems. (Source) Significantly, positive mindset (momism: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all), and engaging in meaningful activities (momism: if you don’t do it now, then when are you going to do it?) get wrapped up into this category as well.
  1. Respect your elders – This one surprised me. Research has now found that those of us in middle age, who possess healthy attitudes towards the elderly, fare much better as we age ourselves. Studies have shown that adults, in their 40’s, who demonstrated negative stereotypes of senior citizens, twenty-five years later showed a significantly greater loss in the volume of their hippocampus (and thus significantly greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease) than their more positive peers who took part in the same study. Something else Mom often said, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.
  1. You just ate an hour ago – Okay, this one I have found myself, as a mom, saying quite a bit. And as it turns out, cutting calories and fasting in our older years (done properly), can result in significant health benefits. Researchers from The University of California’s Longevity Institute found that “when people occasionally fasted, they lowered their risk for age-related diseases.” (Time, Vol. 187, p. 82) This combines with other research supporting the benefits of healthy low-calorie diets in reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease. (Source) Rats! There goes my planned trip to Dairy Queen!
  1. Isn’t it past your bedtime? (or ‘Just go to bed!”) The National (US) Heart, Lung and Blood Association has confirmed that ongoing lack of sleep is linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. (Source) While it is often commonly believed that we require less sleep as we age, this belief is untrue according to The National (US) Sleep Foundation. (Source) Although this news may be disconcerting to many, it is of great comfort to those of us who love our beds (what better excuse to sleep in?).
  1. I will always love you (sometimes translated as “Call me when you get there”). It is widely accepted that nurturing and supportive family relationships can decrease stress levels. Research has also found that, in retirement, such relationships can provide us with stimulation, purpose, a sense of connection and the validation that may now be missing from the workplace. (Source, Source). Nowhere else is the strength of this bond more poignant than in the countless stories of grown men in battlefields calling out for the warmth, strength and protection of their mothers’ love. (Source)

Thanks, Mom, for the great advice and for the ahead-of-your time wisdom. I will always love you too!

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Top Photo:  A current snapshot of Mom and me

Bottom Photo: (Viewers Left to Right) Me, my mom and my sister (53 years ago)

Expanding My Comfort Zone–Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

 When our youngest son came home for Christmas, he was displeased that our ten-year-old Husky only knew how to do two small tricks–sit and shake paw–the same two tricks that he himself had taught our dog over nine years ago. With the exuberance of youth, our son was determined to teach Cody a new trick– lie down…on command. It seemed easy enough, but not for Cody (he just could not connect the words to the action). Watching these training sessions, I empathized with Cody and thought about how I was currently expanding my own comfort zone.

Flying, public speaking, heights…. even spiders are all fine with me. Running a school with 300 – 800 middle schoolers…. no problem. But figuring out the current BC recycling rules, how to throw a rock in curling, or how to properly set up my downward facing dog in yoga have all felt like major mind-boggling feats. Due to the significant change in my current surroundings, I now need to be “bear and cougar aware,” as our local hiking trails are shared with these majestic creatures (freaks me out every single time). Other seemingly commonplace undertakings, such as single-handedly making a Christmas turkey dinner from scratch (I had never taken this task on solo before) have frankly scared the wits out of me (insert belated thanks to my mom, mother-in-law and Liz Harrison here)!

Please do not think I am exaggerating about what some may dismiss as mundane tasks. Consider recycling for example. You no longer just toss all recyclables in your blue bin as we did before we left for China–no, no, no! Now all paper goes in the yellow bag (a recent recycling addition) unless the paper is shredded, and then it goes in a clear plastic bag beside your blue box. All cardboard boxes must be flattened and placed in your yellow bag, unless they are large pieces of cardboard, then they must be cut down and placed beside your blue box. All paper cups and milk cartons go in the yellow bag, unless they contain food waste, then they go in the green composting bin. All glass bottles and jars must be taken with your returnables to the bottle deposit station, unless they are non-returnable, then they actually go in the garbage. All returnable beverage containers must be capless, cleaned and crushed–unless they are glass bottles (which thankfully should not be crushed) and must have their lids on…except for glass wine bottles that must have their lids off and labels on. Other recycling contradictions include soft and hard cover books that you must take to the used bookstore (unless the book has been mangled by your dog, and then you must tear all pages away from the spine in order to recycle…or stash the tome in your garbage bin when no one is looking). And then there is wrapping paper, which according to the Regional District of Nanaimo’s recycling poster goes in your yellow bag, unless said wrapping paper contains foil…but according to our local recycling transfer station, all wrapping paper should be put in the trash. Finally, garbage containers for collection day can only be three-quarters full if you have a plus-sized can–but if you have a regular sized can feel free to go ahead and fill the whole thing completely. Seriously, on garbage day, our whole community gyrates with the fear of being tasered lest they mess up on any of the recycling rules. In actual fact, the penalty for faulty recycling is far worse… your stuff simply will not be picked up and you will need to wait another two weeks to try again.

Unfortunately, recycling is not just one isolated example. Take yoga’s famous downward facing dog. Cody makes it look so easy! Hands should be shoulder width apart (no problem). Feet should be sit-bone distance apart (again okay). You slightly rotate your forearms as if your thumbs are magnetically drawn to each other (huh?). Then you externally rotate your upper arms while activating and elongating your shoulders (definitely losing me). Your neck and head form one long line with your spine while you draw in your navel towards your back (yup, definitely lost). And if somehow you survived all that, don’t rejoice just yet because you are then reminded that your heels should strive to be flat on the ground! But even if you get your heels anywhere near the floor, then comes the ultimate morale buster, downward facing dog is considered a resting pose–you read it correctly—a resting pose!

The media continues to bombard us with two secrets of aging well: 1) Live an active lifestyle and avoid prolonged periods of sitting, viz. if you don’t use you will definitely you lose it. 2) Continue to learn new things in order to grow additional brain connections and strengthen existing ones (the focus here is on learning brand new things as opposed to playing it safe and sticking solely to what we already know).

Following this advice, I prepare myself for a stroll on one of the trails outside of my home. Then I remember–bears, cougars, and other scary things. I try to calm myself by reading the bear aware literature. The Get Bear Smart Society advises me to “Stand tall and look the bear directly in the eye. Yell at the bear and firmly tell it to leave: ‘Get out of here, bear!’” But that recommendation is only for black bears (and apparently, ones who understand English). If it is a grizzly, that has somehow managed to make its way onto Vancouver Island, the advice is “never try to move a grizzly bear” (seriously, I could not make this stuff up). (http://www.bearsmart.com/play/bear-encounters)

So here I am, just like Cody, learning new tricks in my retirement years. There’s a lot more to learn…especially since I have signed up for another month of yoga, and as my husband is suggesting that we hike the West Coast Trail this summer. Looks like I will need to continue to practice my downward dog…and review the Get Bear Smart literature one more time!