Let’s face it. I am lazy. A couch potato, a homebody, a slug. Those all describe me. I am also tough as nails and have been through a lot, and somehow rated in the 95th percentile for flexibility, ab strength and (before my shoulder surgery) upper body strength for women my age. That age is “over 40 under 50.”
As such, I offer for your consideration some easy-peasy quick-n-dirty ways to do things to improve your health without going to a boot camp or cross fit gym. Those places make you actually work out and that just isn’t right.
Stretch. Stretch a lot and all the time.
-Hold stretches for 20-30 seconds. Lather, rinse, repeat.
-Stretch your hamstrings and calves, shoulders, forearms, back, neck and hips multiple times a day.
-Occasionally measure your progress and notice how you have gradually become more limber and flexible.
-Flexibility helps you avoid injury and minimize the severity of injuries like sprains and strains. It also helps you get away from people trying to hurt you more often than someone who locks up as soon as their wrist is bent funny.
Be a complete freak about washing your linens.
-I switched over to all white linens and bedding, so I can wash them in hot water and bleach – lots of bleach – every week. This kills dust mites and gets rid of allergens like pollen and pet fur, plus de-germs the whole mess. I feel much less chronically congested since I made the switch. Also, my favorite smell in the world is freshly bleached linen so sleeping in this smell is heaven for me.
-Wash your mattress pad and comforters at least once a month in the same manner, even if you have to go to a Laundromat and use the $3 machine to do it.
-Regardless of your linen color choice, launder the works every week and use at least a color safe bleach and the hottest water your fabrics can stand.
-Wash everything immediately if you are or have been recently ill with any virus.
Practice sleep hygiene. Granted, I generally fail massively at sleeping BUT my sleep is a hundred times better since I started practicing sleep hygiene.
-Go to bed in a dark, quiet and cool room (I like around 62-64 degrees) in a bed that is comfortable for you.
-Use lightweight layers of linens so you don’t mush your feet flat in bed and get leg cramps. I use a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, a cotton open weave blanket or a flannel sheet as a blanket, a lightweight cotton down-substitute comforter and another thin flat sheet on top. The top sheet is to keep the pet fur to a minimum on the bed, and could be left off if I was merciless and kept the cats out of the bedroom.
-Go to bed and get up at around the same time each day, even on your days off. I have been a shift worker for years and have found that keeping to my weird shift sleep schedule on days off is crucial to sleeping well during my work week. Flipping schedules around is a good way to get bad sleep.
-Do NOT take your phone with you to the bedroom unless you know there is a pending emergency call or the high likelihood of one, AND it is an emergency that you can do something about in the middle of your night. Otherwise, silence the phone and leave it in another room. Check your messages when you get up in the morning and respond to anything needed then. Just the light coming on your phone if you get a call can be enough to wake up a fussy sleeper.
-Learn to use earplugs and a sleep mask if you work odd hours and have to sleep during noisy times or day light. I like the pink “for ladies” soft foam earplugs and my memory foam sleep mask.
-No caffeine for at least 6 hours – preferably 8 hours – before your bedtime. Chocolate, sadly, contains caffeine. Stick to water, milk, and juice in moderation or herbal teas.
Cut your stress as much as possible. I know, again I am not one to talk. I blow up those “rate your stress level” tests and suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. However, I have also spent a long time in high stress jobs without freaking out too much.
-When stress attacks think about the big picture. Most things that cause us to be worked up are small potatoes in the end. -Do some exercise – walk around the parking lot at work, run up and down the stairs a few times, do some calisthenics, walk the dog. Anything that burns up some of that anxiety will help you manage your stress.
-Stay away from sugar, caffeine and energy drinks in general if you can and especially if you are particularly stressed. They just raise your heart rate and make you feel more anxious.
-Meditate, if you can, or at least listen to some calming music or a meditation tape. I like Gregorian chants personally. Your mileage may vary.
-Drink some chamomile or bedtime hot tea or a glass of warm milk.
-Talk to someone trusted about what is going on in your head or journal about what is in there. Anything is better than keeping that junk bottled up and rattling around in your head making you nuts.
-If you find you are having anxiety regularly or episodes of racing heart and feeling panicky for no apparent reason, check in with your doctor. If you are diagnosed with anxiety or panic attacks, don’t be too proud to try medication.
Get your annual medical checkup. Annually, as in every year.
-The Affordable Care Act has made it a requirement that insurance companies cover an annual check up and a well woman exam plus mammogram if you are of a certain age or have risk factors.
-Get your lab work done every year, too, including a full range thyroid check (there are at least three different thyroid hormones that can get wacky and affect how you feel).
-Have the lab tests include hormone testing as well as the usual cholesterol, blood count, liver and kidney functions and blood glucose level. If something comes back amiss on your labs, follow your doctor’s advice on how to fix it.
-Listen to your body and if something feels wrong keep on top of your doctor until it is resolved. Lots of symptoms and illnesses are masked by other things or very tricky to find. You have lived in your body all your life and are in an expert position to what feels right vs. what feels wrong.
-If your doctor recommends a mammogram or a pap smear, suck it up and get it done regardless of your family history. Something like 40% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of it. Newer digital mammogram machines make the procedure feel much less like slamming your girls in a sliding glass door.
-Annual check up includes getting your dental exams and eye exams, even if your teeth seem fine and you don’t wear glasses.
-Get your flu shot and whooping cough shot, and any other shots your doctor says you need.
-Get your kids vaccinated and keep every one’s shots up to date. Just. Do. It.
-Do the same for your furry friends.
Track your eating in a food diary. Every bite, every day.
-Sparkpeople.com and other sites have great food trackers, and there are tons of apps for your SmartPhone or iPhone, too.
-Studies have shown that just writing down what you put in your mouth makes you more accountable to yourself and helps you follow a healthy diet.
-Learn about portion sizes if you need to in order to keep a rein on your food intake. A serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and a serving of most green veggies is about ½ cup.
-Use a smaller plate to make your servings look bigger, and eat slower than you think is rational. Give your stomach time to tell your brain you are full.
-Eat the healthiest stuff on your plate first – vegetables or a salad, then protein, followed by fruit and whole grains. Save the starchy stuff like bread, pasta and anything sugary until last if you have it at all.
-If you can, give up white carbs altogether.
-Keep your dairy intake to high protein Greek yogurt, healthy hard cheeses and skim or 1% milk as much as possible.
-Drink 1 ounce of water for every 2 pounds of your body weight every day no matter what, and don’t count caffeinated beverages or sweetened drinks towards your water goal.
-Avoid artificial sweeteners and “no fat” stuff altogether – if you are going to eat or drink something bad for you, do the real thing. Your body will feel more satisfied and you are less likely to overdo it with the Big Gulp and full dozen donuts. Shoot for the medium or small Coke and one donut cooked in real oil, or a scoop of real and super-creamy ice cream.
Track your fitness using an app or an online or paper exercise diary.
-Walking ½ hour at a moderate pace is about 1 mile under normal circumstances.
-Wear a pedometer or some other means of tracking your steps.
-Count any activity outside your normal get up and do your job routine. On days at work where I have had to do extra stairs or restrain kids, I count that.
-I count a day of walking around shopping, too, because most of my days are not spent standing and walking for a full 8 hours.
-Count your stretching as fitness, too, because it is.
-Try one new yoga or Pilates move every week or every month, just for the hell of it.
-If something hurts when you are exercising, STOP doing that thing! Breaking yourself or making yourself hurt will not motivate you to exercise more, and sometimes the damage can be permanent.
-Find exercises that do not hurt you but that do make you sweat at least a little.
Become at least slightly germophobic. Not the washing your hands sixty times a day type – unless you are in the health care field and you will be doing that anyway.
-Wash your dish sponge in the dishwasher every time you run the washer. This sterilizes the sponge.
-Use Clorox with Bleach wipes every week on your phones, light switches, doorknobs, and any bathroom handles and fixtures.
-Go overboard with the Clorox wipes on everything if you or anyone in the house is sick with anything.
-Keep hand sanitizer mini-bottles with you at all times and use them.
-Any time you are out in public and there is hand sanitizer prominently displayed for use – use it, they are trying to tell you something.
-Wipe down that nasty shopping cart handle before you use it, too. Remember the Wal-Mart kid that was sitting in it right before you and his mom? Yeah, that’s why.
-Toss your toothbrush after 4-6 weeks no matter what, and immediately if you have been ill. Your dentist gives you a new one every 6 months, and you can buy mega-packs at Costco for the other times.
-Be wary of public bathrooms and be extra-germophobic in those places. I carry a mini-pack of Clorox wipes in my bag for just these situations, and use them to wipe down the seat, the handle, the stall door handle, the exit door handle, the paper towel dispenser handle and the sink handles almost always unless I see the cleaning person in the bathroom cleaning.
-Learn the “hover’ maneuver for really skeevy places like rest stops and convenience stores.
Eat a decent breakfast every day.
-Include a protein and a slow carb like whole-wheat grains or multi-grain oatmeal. My personal favorite is vanilla Greek yogurt, berries and lower fat organic granola mixed together. This hits every food group except vegetables and keeps me full for hours. I could probably add a V-8 if I could stomach the peppers in the drinks.
-I try not to skip meals in general because I have found I tend to binge eat when I am feeling starved. Sometimes I get lucky and binge on fruit or something really healthy. More often, it is something far worse for me than anything is in my regular diet.
Don’t weigh yourself constantly.
-Weigh and measure once a week and keep a diary of your progress. More often than this and you are just beating yourself up for nothing.
-Everyone’s weight and inches varies daily and throughout the day, so get off your own back.
This is the most important healthy lesson I have ever learned: Laugh at something (not someone) every day.
-Find something about which to be happy, joyful, and mirthful about every day.
-Find something beautiful to see or hear every day and laugh with joy at it.
-Laugh every chance you get, and don’t be afraid to laugh aloud and let everyone know you are laughing.
-There are studies that show laughing helps release feel good hormones called endorphins, relieves stress and burnout, and just generally makes you a happier person.
-It is pretty hard to be a negative Nancy when you are laughing your ass off!
Am I the paragon of health, fitness and virtue? Not by a long shot. But I have been to a lot of classes and counseling, seen doctors more than most people see their families, and had enough surgeries and procedures to read my own MRI scans as accurately as my doctor (true story). I have also lost about 50 pounds over a 2 year period and kept almost all of it off for the past two years on top of that. I have survived things that might have killed other people. I graduated second in my class from the law enforcement academy at the age of 42 – including getting a fitness endorsement. I have studied this stuff and what I can’t necessarily do I can certainly speak about with some authority. Not once did I lose anything of value by trying something new to be healthier.
This article is copyright © 2013 Holly Cochran/iamintellectuallypromiscuous.com