Archive for January, 2011
In memory of Jack LaLanne, who passed away yesterday — January 23rd, 2011 — at the age of 96, I am re-posting this article, which originally ran on Huffington Post.
One of the most important lessons I learned after turning 50 is that it’s never too late to get in shape. Along with a regular cardio program and eating right, strength training is one of the best things you can do for your body, and your health.
It can be a little more challenging for those of us over 50, especially if, like me, you haven’t been doing too much of anything for a number of years. But it isn’t impossible. Far from it. And as I discovered, we don’t have to spend a lot of money on gyms, equipment or trainers to achieve our fitness goals.
When I turned 50 a few years ago, I had loads of questions about many things: Was I getting all the right health checks? Should I be eating more protein or less? Could I still wear jeans? Was my hair too long? And … what in the world was I going to do about my arms (which had been banished behind sweaters and long-sleeved shirts)? Let’s not even talk about the 15 “post-menopausal” pounds I packed on. Even more important than that: how could I keep osteoporosis at bay?
For many years I had heard, and read about, the NYC-based celebrity trainer David Kirsch, who regularly works with Heidi Klum, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Barkin and many others. In the name of research (I was writing a new book about living our best lives after 50), I went to see David. When he asked me to get down on the floor and “give me 10,” and saw that I couldn’t even do one, he didn’t laugh or smirk or roll his eyes at me. Instead, David gave me a challenge I couldn’t refuse:
“Barbara, do these five exercises which I will show you, every day, for four weeks. When you come back to see me again, your body will be transformed.”
Result? I went down an entire pant size, my arms developed curves I never thought I would ever have, and I can now do 20 or more push-ups. Before starting, I got the green light from my doctor, which is strongly recommended, especially if you’re over 50. That was two years ago, and I still do this program at least four times a week.
Just as David challenged me, here’s my challenge to you: Do these five exercises every day for four weeks, then post a comment on this article (or connect with me on Facebook) describing your experience. I know that, like me, you will see a major change in your body. And, even more importantly, you will be helping to keep osteoporosis away.
First, a few guidelines:
- Do these every day
- Do them as a circuit (move from one to the other, quickly)
- Have your sneakers on
- Use a yoga mat
- Remember to breathe
It’s best if you do three sets (or more) with a 15 second “breather” in between each set. As you progress, trying adding more sets. This entire program will take less than 15 minutes to complete.
Here are the five exercises that will transform your body:
Nothing symbolizes fitness quite like the simple push-up. It tests your entire body by engaging every part of it — arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. Doing them is the easiest, fastest and most effective way to get fit. They are the gold standard. You may need to start with a modified push-up (on your knees), but eventually, you’ll build up to the full push-up.
How to do a full push-up: Make your entire body straight, like a plank, with your toes and the balls of your feet on the mat, and hands directly under your chest. Using your arms, go down to the count of 4, and back up to the count of 4. Do 12-15 reps.
#2 Squat: This is one of David’s favorite exercises for working the entire lower body, thighs, hips and butt. The movement is as if you are sitting in a chair.
How to do a squat: Stand with your feet under your hips, shoulder width apart. Extend arms in front of you, for balance (or hold onto the back of a chair). To the count of four, slowly bend your knees, with your chest and butt out, stopping once you are almost “sitting in a chair.” It’s essential that you push your butt out as much as possible as you’re going down, to keep the pressure off your knees. Do 15 reps.
#3 The plié squat: This version of the squat focuses on the inner thighs, a problem area for many women, especially.
How to do a plié Squat: Stand with feet wider than hip distance apart.
Turn toes out and heels in. Slowly bring your body weight back onto your heels as you bend your knees out toward your toes, to the count of 4, and squat down while pushing your butt out. For both squats, never tuck your tailbone in. That puts too much stress on knees.
#4 The plank: This is an incredibly hard, but Zen-like, position that is one of the most effective exercises you can do, because it works your entire body.
How to do a Plank: Hold your body in a “plank” position, simulating the “up” part of a push-up, but stay there, holding perfectly still, for 30-60 seconds. Keep your abs tight and your back flat the entire time. (see photo above) Try to lengthen your whole body, reaching back through your heels and forward through the top of your head. Your heart will be pounding, your arms will be shaking, but try to make it to 60 seconds (or more).
#5 The sit-up: Our abs are getting a good workout by doing the push-ups and the plank, but it’s still smart to spend a little time doing an exercise just for them. Strong abdominal muscles look good, but they will help maintain good posture and take a lot of the pressure off our backs as we age. David loves the good, old-fashioned sit-up the best.
How to do a Sit-Up: Lie completely flat on your back, hands behind your head, pull your belly button down into the floor, and using your abdominal muscles, pull yourself up, and then lower yourself down. Exhale as you go up, and inhale going down. Keep your legs and feet flat on the floor, and see if you can do 20 in 60 seconds.
Start with one set every day, and then build up to three sets (or more) with a 15-second “breather” in between each set. Not only will you be strengthening your muscles, but you’ll be getting a solid cardio workout, as well.
I look forward to hearing how you’re doing. In the meantime, keep an eye out for future posts about a great cardio workout that anyone can do, regardless of age or physical fitness level . . . and how I took the word “diet” out of my vocabulary, and replaced it with “eat.”
I wish you the best of everything!
If you’re like most of us, by now you’ve written your New Year’s resolutions, which could include anything from losing weight to changing jobs, finding a mate, saving more, spending less or finding a few extra minutes every day for yourself.
Before you even think about embarking on any of them, consider this fundamental truth: you can’t move forward if you’re stuck where you are.
By the time we hit 50, most of us have developed some kind of management system for our lives. We had to. How else could we balance school, work, play dates, doctor appointments, walking the dog, making dinner, shopping for groceries, washing laundry, paying bills and working out and still find time for family and friends? If we didn’t have some kind of organizational skills, nothing would ever get done.
As organized as I was, though, when I turned 50 I was overwhelmed by the stuff that had accumulated over the years, and I realized that it wasn’t just physical clutter but mental clutter, as well. I looked around at everything and started to feel paralyzed, and stuck. The more clutter there was, the more stuck I felt, and it was stopping me from moving forward.
That’s when I heard Julie Morgenstern on the radio. Julie is a New York Times bestselling author, an internationally known organization consultant and time-management expert, and a frequent guest on The Oprah Show.
On the radio that day, Julie was talking about life transitions, feeling stuck, managing change, and decluttering your life to make room for your future. She said that you shouldn’t even try organizing anything until you have gone through a process called “shedding.” Organizing is great and useful, she said, but to assume you can just tidy up what you have without thinking about why you have it and what you really want is setting yourself up for failure. It just won’t work.
I met with Julie to learn how to shed my stuff and to interview her for my book, “The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More.” Her advice was, for me, life-changing. Here’s some of what Julie taught me, which I would like to share with you, to help you get your New Year off to a fantastic start.
Forget the Sock Drawer — Do You Want to Transform Your Life?
We’ve spent decades being organized: managing our households, families, and lives. What we need to do now is much bigger. Julie described it in terms of our life cycle: Starting in our twenties, we go through a period of acquisition: property, people, experiences, marriage, children and other relationships. As we age, we organize and integrate everything we acquire. By the time we reach 50, we need to step back and evaluate our acquisitions, and to focus on where we are now, and where we want to go. It’s very easy to lose yourself, especially at this age when there are so many potential changes looming: kids growing up and moving out, parents aging and possibly moving in, changes in jobs, retiring, downsizing. We can confront these life events, seize the moment of transition, and push ourselves out of the clutter, or we can get stuck in the mire.
How Can We Get Ready for the Rest of Our Lives?
Julie gave me a straightforward process to objectively evaluate where we are in our lives, and decide where we want to be next. There are several steps:
1) Acknowledge that change is happening. Our fifties can be rife with events that can affect how well we prepare of the rest of our lives. Understanding and managing these events can make the difference between having rewarding and meaningful lives as we move forward, or not. Some of the more common life-altering experiences that can happen after 50 include:
Your “I’m really 50?” moment: When Julie entered her fifties, she had a profound and cathartic experience. She realized that she was past the mid-point, and her life wasn’t going to go on forever. The experience was deep and powerful and brought out many different feelings. Julie decided that this was also the time in her life to explore the new and potentially wonderful opportunities that were ahead.
Your children are leaving home: If your life has been organized around your family, you might feel lost when your children become independent and less in need of your involvement, and then even more so when they eventually move out of your home. This can be a hard transition for many people over 50, especially women. Some welcome this new phase of life, but others seek to fill the void, often with more stuff.
You’ve focused on your work, and now you’re going through a change, whether you want to or not: Perhaps you’ve been laid off due to downsizing. Or maybe you’re changing jobs, going back to work, or doing something completely different. Perhaps you’re happily planning your retirement but are aware that your life will change significantly once you do. Anytime you change roles, your identity can feel threatened, which can disrupt your view of yourself.
Your marriage is ending, or you’re starting a new one: If you’ve been married for many years, or even a few, a shift in this area of your life has profound implications. Even if it is something you wanted, it still can create big changes in your life and sense of self, as does starting a new life with a new person.
Your spouse or another family member becomes ill or disabled, or passes on: Illness and death are natural occurrences in life, especially as we get older, but we are never fully prepared. If a spouse dies, your life is irrevocably changed on many levels, and this kind of change can stop you from creating your new life. Caring for an ill spouse or parent can also affect your ability to open up the next chapter in your life.
2) Create a personal theme that defines what your life will be. A personal theme is a guide that states what you are reaching for and moving toward. It lets you focus on the bigger picture. Ask yourself what you want your life to look like over the next few years, and you’ll come up with a vision for your future, which will be your personal theme. Once you have your theme, you can work on getting rid of everything in your life that doesn’t fit the theme, and you will be prepared to let go of the clutter. After meeting with Julie, my personal theme became to “simplify my life” because I was feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to simplify every aspect of my life: hair, health, makeup, home, food, finances, work, everything. That theme continues to drive me forward in everything I do and is a big part of the reason why I wrote my book. Adopting this theme made it much easier for me to get rid of things that no longer fit in my life.
3) Identify the different kinds of clutter that exist in your life. Clutter can take many different forms, but all of it can make you feel weighed down and stuck. Clutter is anything that is obsolete, time-consuming and de-energizing. If you can call it clutter, then chances are good that it doesn’t belong in your life anymore. The four main types of clutter are:
Objects: It could be the boxes that you haven’t opened since you moved five years ago, the jewelry you no longer wear, the old business cards in your handbag, or the stacks of magazines and books that you will never look at again. If seeing them brings you down, most likely it should go.
Obligations: Obsolete roles and responsibilities can be the hardest to get rid of because they often involve other people — like boards, committees and clubs. You need to be sensitive to others when shedding, but you can’t let other people’s needs dictate your decision.
Habits: If you are a perfectionist, a chronic procrastinator or a workaholic, you are doing yourself a great disservice. These habits waste time and energy and are stressful and draining. People who have these habits often waste additional time by beating themselves up about having them. Once we’re over 50, we don’t need to be perfectionists or workaholics anymore. We’ve proven ourselves. We no longer need to be defined by what we do. Instead, try to focus more on who we are as people. It’s enough to be engaging, interesting and involved.
People: People can be just as de-energizing and draining as piles of newspapers and magazines. If there’s someone in your life who drags you down whenever you see her, whines and complains about life, only talks about herself and never asks how you are doing, maybe it’s time to reconsider the relationship. It’s not easy to completely remove people from your life, so perhaps you can think about redefining the relationship. You want to be kind, but you must also be honest with yourself about which relationships nourish you, and which deplete you. If releasing someone completely isn’t an option, then figure out ways to limit the amount of time you spend together.
4) Get ready to shed your stuff. Once you’ve gone through those steps, you will have a clear idea of where you are, where you want to be, and what is holding you back. Then you will be ready to shed your stuff. The process of shedding, as Julie calls it, has a few steps, which provides a framework for managing change and helps us get rid of clutter that makes us feel stuck.
Find the treasures and keep them. A treasure is a useful object, activity, skill, habit or person that fits in with your personal theme. You may hold on to only about 20 percent of what you have when you go through the process, and that’s why they are called treasures.
Give the stuff you don’t want the old heave-ho. Once you’ve gone through the process of choosing what stays, you have to get rid of the rest. Say goodbye and let it go. Decide what you will give away, sell, recycle or donate, then get it out of your space. Don’t let bags of stuff sit in the hallway or closet. If stuff is physically around, then you haven’t been successful in getting rid of it.
Move forward. You’ve created a theme, you’ve gotten rid of those things that no longer fit in your life, kept those that do, and you’re ready to move forward. You can now use your space, time and energy for people, activities, objects, and experiences that will move you closer to your vision and your personal theme.
This Is a Continual Process and a Way of Life
When you organize a space — your hall closet, for example — there’s a starting point and an ending point. When you go through a shedding process, there is often no obvious ending point. How do you know when the transition is complete? If you no longer feel stuck, you can safely say that you’ve done it. Don’t be afraid of setbacks. When you’re in your fifties, it’s very tempting to shrink back into your familiar clutter. So many things can happen all at once — aging parents, illness, divorce, job setbacks or changes, new opportunities — it’s easy to get overwhelmed all over again. Focus on how far you’ve come, and always keep your eye on your theme. If you find yourself slipping back into some of your old habits, or if piles of clutter start building up, just do it all over again.
What Do You Do with All the Stuff You’ve Decluttered out of Your Life?
Something that is stagnant in your life might be a treasure for someone else. Almost anything can be sold on eBay, or you can have a garage sale. Perhaps you’ll consider donating your clothes, books, furniture and other household goods to charities such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries. (Check out “The Best of Everything After 50″ for more ideas on getting rid of your clutter in a positive way.)
So, about those New Year’s Resolutions…
Once you have a clear picture of what your future will be and you systematically get rid of the clutter that’s keeping you from getting there, you’ll be ready for just about anything.
Lose the clutter, find your life.
Loss can be experienced in many different ways, and it seems tat the older one gets, the more frequently loss can make an appearance. Usually associated with the death of a loved one, the concept of loss is often terribly misunderstood.
What Is “Ambiguous Loss”?
A few examples of these kinds of losses are:
- The death of an adored pet
- Losing one’s independence through poor health or advanced age
- Witnessing a parent’s descent into dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
- Surgery to remove a body part — such as a breast — due to cancer
- Having to give up an enjoyable activity or hobby because of physical limitations
- The end of a career, even if by choice
- Being the victim of a robbery or other crime and losing your sense of security
- Experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome when children grow up and move out of your home
- The arrival of menopause, and everything this event symbolizes
Nevertheless, the person experiencing the loss, and those in her world, may not recognize or accept that she is in fact grieving and is therefore deserving of sympathy and compassion. Instead, she is encouraged to get over it and move on with her life.
During the first year of our marriage, I suffered a miscarriage, before eventually having two daughters. It happened early on in the pregnancy, during the 11th week, and my then-OB-GYN was quite matter-of-fact when he delivered the devastating news to my husband and me. He called it a “spontaneous abortion,” told us how common it was, and assured me that, because of my good health, there would be other pregnancies. What he failed to realize, as did most of the people in our lives, was that I took a nosedive into a profound period of loss and mourning. I kept it to myself, because the message I got from the world was, “Everything is OK. You’ll have more babies.” In time, I emerged from my grief, and when I did, I resolved to never sweep my sense of loss and grief under the proverbial rug just because society tells me that it’s not severe enough to warrant sympathy and compassion.
The Loss of a Passion
A few months ago, after giving a lecture at a conference, I was talking with a man, who had been in the audience, about staying physically fit after 50. His eyes lit up when he described the many years he had played competitive tennis, spending the last 10 post-retirement years playing almost every day. It was only when he described the pain of his often-debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, and how two years ago it forced him to give up tennis, one of the greatest joys and passions in his life, that his face grew dark and his eyes lost their spark. He went on to tell me how he plunged into depression shortly after stopping, and how, worse, no one in his life understood how deeply he was grieving. He didn’t even understand it. Everyone told him to stop complaining, because “at least you’re alive.”
It’s only recently that this lovely gentleman has come out of his grief with a new sense of purpose and mission: he decided that if he can’t play tennis, he’ll teach others how to play, and he now volunteers several times a week, showing financially disadvantaged teenagers how to get in the game. This is a great example of turning loss into compassion.
The Loss of a Job and an Identity
A woman I know recently lost her job. Even though she was nearing retirement age and received an excellent package, she still grieved. Her job was a very big part of her identity and gave her structure, responsibility and respect. She told me that her loss was so profound that she found it hard to get out of bed most mornings. Her two sons had graduated from college and were living on their own in different cities, and her husband was still very much involved in his small but thriving business, so they were all too busy to notice how deeply affected she was.
The few people she shared her feelings with pooh-poohed on her loss by trying to convince the woman that she was incredibly fortunate to have received such a great severance package, and that now she was free to do what she wanted. But the problem was that she hadn’t prepared herself for this, and she had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Her grief, then, was compounded by confusion and guilt.
Acknowledging Loss When It Is Happening to You or Others
These are just a few examples of the kinds of everyday loss that can occur to any of us, or to people we know and love. Loss of any kind can be devastating, but it’s these more ambiguous kinds of loss that are very often hard to recognize in ourselves or others. The more traditional kinds of loss — death, for example — has religious or societal rituals to help people get through them, but that’s not the case with most of these other kinds of losses. The most important and compassionate thing we can do to help those who are experiencing loss is to acknowledge that the person is having this experience and help her give herself permission to go through the mourning process.
Opening Your Heart to Compassion
I emerged from my period of mourning with a powerful mission: to acknowledge loss when it is happening to me, and to show compassion when it is happening to others.