Personal Summer

Earlier this year I was sitting in a writing class in Sydney. It was winter, the room was not over-heated but comfortable, say 19 – 20oC. I was trying to listen to the presenter but the woman next to me was a festival of distraction. She had a very slight build and was well rugged up. I watched as she repeatedly followed a sequence of moves

  • Fingerless gloves off
  • Socks off
  • Jumper off
  • Long sleeve T-shirt off
  • Pull out remaining T-shirt at neckline and fan vigorously with a paper fan for 2 minutes
  • Sit quietly for 10 minutes then
  • Long sleeve T-shirt on
  • Jumper on
  • Socks on
  • Fingerless gloves on
  • Wait and repeat!

All friggen day! Jeez! She was driving me crazy!

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Invisible woman: Taken in New York in 2009

I looked on with a condescending smile which masked the burning desire to shout, “Would you just stop fidgeting!”

My impatient self was smacked down when I belatedly realised the poor woman was obviously suffering from frequent and acute temperature fluctuations – she was ‘going through the change.’

As an Old Chook, I am in peak menopause territory. I have been fortunate to sail through these potentially rough waters; smoothly, with very few issues. I can only remember having one full-blown “hot flush” and that was in Officeworks about 4 years ago. I had just picked up some photos, opened the packet to have a peek and the smell of the ink wafted up and made me gag. Simultaneously, I felt like I was about to explode as the rising tide of heat travelled from my belly up to my head. I was sweating, I felt faint. I thought I had been poisoned by the ink. I drove home in a panic and laid down. It dawned on me about 2 hours later that this was, perhaps, a hot flush and the ink smell trigger just a co-incidence. Who knows, I am just pleased I have never had a repeat. Sure, I have had some sweaty nights but nothing major. I had a strategy for smooth sailing, to stay on the Pill for as long a possible. My GP was sceptical and finally talked me into giving it a break. “It’s no fountain of youth,” she said. So I quit. I didn’t fall apart.

After some quick research on the interwebs, it appears that I am one of the lucky 20% of women who do not experience menopausal symptoms. Namely, vasomotor changes that lead to hot flushes, night sweats and a general inability to regulate temperature and vaginal dryness. Then there are the mood swings, depression and anxiety which some women experience.  After menopause, the rate of somatic (cell) ageing increases. Women will become less healthy after menopause compared to before menopause.  Not to mention the fact that we live in a culture where older women tend to become invisible. Something to look forward to heh, younger sisters?

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Taken in Ottawa – the original work by Daphne Odjig.

The age of onset of menopause is on average 45 – 55. Back in the days of Ugg the Cave Woman, you didn’t usually make it this far. You had likely already died during childbirth or had been eaten by a sabre tooth before the big 4-0.  Early humans, therefore, probably never experienced menopause because they died of acute causes before its onset. For those women who did survive, it is posited that menopause inferred some evolutionary advantage, not to themselves per se, but through the grandmother effect[1]. By having females who were no longer reproductively active themselves but able to assist younger women in childbirth and lactation, an advantage was conferred to the whole group. Childbearing uses a lot of energy; post-menopausal women could use their energy for the benefit of the group rather than making babies. Even so, Grandma probably didn’t make it past 60.

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Hungry lions and tigers: Taken in 2009 in New York

Did Grandma Ugg have her own personal summer happening? Maybe – maybe not. Studies have shown that menopausal symptoms are greatly reduced in women who are very physically active[2]. Grandma Ugg was very active. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was not a sedentary one, so perhaps these older Palaeolithic women were not too bothered by menopause.

Our genome evolved a long, long time ago. In modern times, cultural evolution moves at a pace that outstrips any possible changes to our genome.  Our genes can’t keep up with changes in our culture and lifestyle and therefore the age of onset of menopause has not changed significantly. Average life expectancy, has, however, increased dramatically – at least in the developed world. The average life expectancy for women in Australia is 82. This means we now live for 30 years beyond menopause. It’s unlikely that our genes know how to deal with this.

The symptoms of menopause are very real and for some women, debilitating. Our attitudes to menopause play a big role in how we manage and cope with it and our attitude towards “women’s problems” have a lot to do with Big Pharma.

Is menopause a disease?

In the developed world, we[3] have medicalised women’s biology to the extent that menopause is seen as a deficiency DISEASE that needs to be treated with hormone replacement therapy rather than something that just happens naturally, as is the case in other cultures, such as in India.  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15981376)

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I have always thought Indian sculptors were much better at breasts than those from Italy and Greece

So, what point am I trying to make here? I think there is a lot more to say about this topic so I plan to do some more research over the next few months and re-post. So for the time being, I will leave it here:  Our genetic makeup has not prepared us for living this long beyond menopause. To reduce the symptoms of menopause you should maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. But most of all you should keep in mind that menopause is a natural event that is not a disease,  it may bring health issues but you’re not abnormal.

As to the photos,  I didn’t really know what to post, what photos depict menopause?  These are just some random ones I liked from my collection. So I will have to work on that too. Perhaps it’s good inspiration for some portraits of post-menopausal women being fantabulous?

[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433273/

[2] another good reason for being a Tough Grandmudder!

[3] definitely using the royal ‘we’ here! The ‘we’ of course means the THEY who control everything. The ones with the money, power and penises.

Homeless people don’t have kitchens.

FullSizeRender 18Today I was out for an early morning run. Feeling pretty darn pleased with myself as I ran across the golf course, past the beach as the sun came up as a glorious orange ball and then through the mall. I joked with myself that I was going to do a marathon this week – well in five 8km segments! But hey it’s still a marathon!

 

Not too many people about and nothing much open. I noticed a homeless man[1] sitting on a bollard out the front of some of the swankier shops. He was working away at a strip of instant scratch lottery tickets. He had about five and judging by the size they were the $2 ones. I t’sked internally to myself. My judgy-judge voice started up in my squarely upper-middle class head.

Goodness! Fancy wasting $10 on lottery tickets! He should have bought himself a decent meal! A couple of decent meals! Ten dollars would maybe buy him one or two takeaway meals. If he waited for the sushi shop to have its sell out at the end of the day he could get three! Heck!

If he bought himself dried beans and rice and some veggies on special, he could probably feed himself for a week with that $10! Tut, tut, tut!

As I strode past him I began to think a bit more deeply about it.

Hang on dried beans need to be soaked overnight and then they need to be cooked for forty minutes or so. You’d need another pot for the rice and veggies. You’d need a kitchen.

Homeless people don’t have kitchens.

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So perhaps spending ten bucks on some instant lottery tickets which could have potentially increased his capital by ten-thousand was probably not such a bad idea.

 

[1] I decided he was homeless because of his appearance, unkempt and scruffy.

Wine and Wedges – getting out of the hole

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My fridge on moving day – no food but plenty of booze. A sign of things to come?

A few years ago, I went through a reasonably civilised divorce. On reflection, it wasn’t so civilised but I am not going into details here. The part leading up to the divorce was harrowing. Broken promises, lost dreams and plenty of regret. It was civilised because by the time we got to the signing of the papers part, things were settled and we didn’t squabble over the stuff, we settled things up evenly; our only daughter was a trainee adult and we had stopped yelling at each other.

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I have included this series of images from the Illawarra Vintage Car Expo because they are taken at the start of my photographic journey in 2012. I tried to find something to photograph every weekend.

I moved into my own place and I had some good friends help me and I unpacked with not much food but about five bottles of champagne in the fridge; given to me by said friends as  ‘happy divorce’ gifts.

I had been on that track for nearly 3 years. Not much food and too much wine.  I like to call it my wine and wedges phase (wedges being thick potato chips). I survived on pretty much nothing else as I grappled with the slow and torturous end to my marriage, the fact that my daughter had chosen to move overseas and the crushing reality that I was on the other side of 50 and alone.

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Thankfully, I had a good job, the financial resources and the wit to carry on normally during the daylight hours but come 5 o’clock, I self-medicated and drank more wine than I should. Often. Everyday! Nothing new…I know lots of people, both men and women who have been through this same self-destructive phase. That’s not what I want to share. The road to recovery and the return to all five food groups is the real story.

I think the journey is  transferable so if you are trawling the internet looking for confirmation that things will get better; hang on they will!!

Here are a few suggestions on what I did to “get my shit together”.

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  1. Never refuse an invitation.

You never know who you will meet and what might happen. I heard this advice on the radio. A young widower was outlining his struggle and said he met his current wife at a dinner party he had intended to avoid. Of course, this comes with the caveat of not accepting invitations that don’t align with your values, morals or bank account. But don’t not accept invitations because you think it might be boring. You can find interest in any situation even if you treat it as an anthropological investigation. Getting out and socializing and building relationships; especially platonic ones will build your sense of worth.

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I took a liking to the hood ornaments.
  1. Keep a three good things journal.

When I first read about this in Martin Seligman’s Flourish, a self-help book based in positive psychology, I thought it was a gimmick. How could this help? Regardless, I gave it a go and I am now a real fan! It helped me get out of a heavy “woe-is-me” phase. Your job is to write down three good things that happened during your day before you go to sleep. Sometimes it may just be you have the skill to write or you spent some time with friends; saw an interesting movie;  or your enjoyed 5 minutes in the sun. The good things don’t have to be big, but you must be consistent. I noticed a significant change in my mood and enthusiasm after only 10 days and looked forward to writing in the journal. I would end up writing out six good things. My life was good and I should remember that. Sure, I might be alone but come to think of it I like that! I enjoy the freedom it gives me.

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  1. Eat healthy, sleep at least 8 hours a day and get some exercise.

You will also of course have to cut back on the booze! Sounds like pretty sensible advice doesn’t it, but I know it can be hard to get it happening. Maybe start with one of those dry fund raising months. In Australia, we have Dry July (Cancer Council) and Ocsober (Life Education for Kids). Even if you don’t end up raising money it is a good way to appease those helpful friends who question why you may have gone from good-time-party-girl to teetotaler. Volunteering to drive is also a good way to keep you on track.

There is a direct link between gut bacteria and mood. (see my other blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/01/good-mood-food/). The bacteria in your gut send good mood chemicals to your brain. Changing your diet to include more fibre, less refined carbohydrates and probiotics such as fermented foods helps.

My new food mantras is summed up in a few words from Michael Pollan (www.michaelpollan.com)

Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.

The eat food part confuses people sometimes…of course we eat food… but he means eat whole food. Things made BY plants not IN plants. Foods that your “great grandmother would recognize as food” and without all the long lists of ingredients that sounds more like a chem lab than something you’d want to eat. My original degree was in food technology and I worked in food plants and labs in the late ’80s. I remember rows and rows of artificial flavoring  we used to test. I try and cook everything from scratch and while I would not call myself vegetarian, I have cut right back on the meat I eat and now generally only order it if I am eating out. The bonus of this is I am saving a lot on my grocery bills!

Sleeping too much or too little will mess with your moods. So practice good sleep hygiene. (see my blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/07/03/sleep-app-nea/) This website also has lots of good information. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/

If you keep your body moving it will pay you back. You will sleep better, feel better and cope better with life’s challenges. Endorphins do wonders! Research shows that even small amounts of exercise can make a difference, both physically and mentally.  There are plenty of websites that back this up:  https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health

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Just driving around in this gorgeous Chevvy would make you feel better!
  1. JFDI

I borrow this one from fitness guru Michelle Bridges. Just frickin’ do it! Just get out of bed; just go for that run/walk/exercise class. On those days when it seems too much of an effort do any of the things on this list, just shout at yourself – JFDI! And do it! You will feel better when you have.

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  1. Take up a new hobby or rekindle an old one.

Give yourself something to do other than sit in front to the telly, moping. Start something new. Learn. Immerse yourself. Become a fanatic. Practice! I took up photography and took photos every minute I could. I used it as an excuse for planning photo safaris where I would plan a weekend or day trip to somewhere new and practice new techniques. Sign up for some courses if you can afford it otherwise there are plenty of free resources online. Seriously, think of any topic/hobby and there is bound to be a thousand YouTube videos.

Make you own videos and share them!

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Hobbies are a great way to connect with like minded people as well. Join groups that specialize in your chosen field. Look out for meet-ups in your area.
  1. Do something for someone else

Become a volunteer.  Practice random acts of kindness. If you start thinking about other people you will have less time to wallow in your own self-pity. Taking yourself out of the house and doing volunteer work for people other than your family will give you a real sense of accomplishment.

I love the idea of these Kindness Cards. http://wakeupproject.com.au/kindness-cards/ a variation on the pay it forward theme.

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I obviously did not take this one. The owner was very happy for me to sit inside and get a photo. He spent a long time explaining how he looked after his car!

If you try these things and you still feel stuck, you may need some medical interventions. How long you take to make that decision will depend on you. I am no expert but I would think if you have tried three of four the things on this list and you still feel low, get professional help.

If you feel worse than low get help quick. https://www.lifeline.org.au/

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Team Earth

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Photo Credit: A nice man in the crowd took our photo

Last Saturday I was the one half of Wonder Woman and my younger sister, Tracy, the other half. We were each wearing one half of a Wonder Woman outfit for a Tough Mudder event.

Tough Mudder is not a race. The event is not timed. A full Mudder is a 16 – 20 km course with 20 obstacles. The Sydney Mudder in November 2017 was enhanced by heavy rain the night before so the course was even muddier than it was designed to be. We waded, walked and slurped our way through knee-deep mud that varied in viscosity from milk to partially melted ice cream. It sucked the shoes off many. It filled our orifices, both private and public.

The mud was a smelly, dank, black ooze with grassy inclusions. It was better not the think about the amount of horse shit that was mixed with the velvety clay. We threw ourselves over and into trenches filled with slime. We dragged ourselves up walls with knotted ropes. We stood on the shoulders of others to climb over obstacles and we cheered those who made it. We laughed and smiled as some fell face first into the muck and we wiped each other off.

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Tracy and I made it through with a couple of bruises and scrapes, our pride boosted by the encounters with friendly and helpful people along the way. Our feeling of accomplishment heightened by the collective knowledge that you can’t complete a Tough Mudder on your own. To finish, you need help. You need to co-operate, either with your own team or enlist the help of strangers. You need someone to help you up and over the mud walls in the Mud Mile; you need people to haul you up the Everest obstacle. You just can’t do it on your own, no matter how fit and fabulous you are.

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Not so clean but enjoying a beer! Photo credit: another nice person from the crowd!

Why is it that at an event like this we can cast aside our differences and reserved natures and help with an open heart and a spirit of untapped, immeasurable generosity?  I finished because total strangers gave me a leg up, literally. If I met these people on the street on Monday, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

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Let me give you a hand buddy! (Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page)

Why? Because on Saturday we had a common goal. Because we had all been banded into one team. The Tough Mudder Team. We had an initial idea that this would be fun. We paid our money and we joined the team – willingly. We signed a waiver that basically said – this is dangerous – you could die – but that’s your choice. On Saturday we arrived at the one place at the one time. We were corralled together for the warm up and listened to the playful banter of the “coach”.  We joined the chant.

“When I say tough YOU say Mudder”

“TOUGH”

“MUDDER”

“TOUGH”

“MUDDER”

The warm-up guy at the start line invoked the spirit of shared purpose even further when we all got down on one knee and pledged to think of others before we thought of ourselves. We learnt how to signal to indicate a fallen Mudder. We knew if we found someone hurt, we crossed our arms above our heads and first aid would arrive.

We bonded.  We were a family. We were TOUGH MUDDERS!

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

There was plenty of swearing going on that day but none of it was in anger. The f’ing and blinding was targeted at our common enemy – the mud. All the elements of team building were right there:  collective action to successfully  overcome a series of challenges that took us outside our comfort zone to achieve a common purpose.

By the 12 kilometre mark, our tired bodies were seeking distraction despite the fun, and as we jogged from one obstacle to the next, my sister commented

“Wouldn’t it be good if it was like this all the time. If we could be friendly and kind all the time.”

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Indeed, it would!

In the real world, we divide ourselves into teams based on religion, ethnicity, colour and gender. We subdivide that into even smaller teams based on sexual preference, political affiliation and citizenship. We endlessly divide ourselves into smaller and smaller teams and privilege those who belong to the same team and cast the outsiders well away. We don’t trust the “others” and we choose not to share with them. We walk past the homeless. We demonise those whose faith is different to our own, even though the scriptures we follow all include love and peace as their central tenets.

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

With the black mud covering our bodies, it was almost impossible to tell who was who. The lumps and bumps that showed through the active wear defined gender, but that was all. The act of helping a fellow Mudder over the wall was offered to and by men and women equally, so gender became insignificant. You helped; regardless.

After all we were the same tribe! The Saturday Mudders!

Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Driving home, I turned on the news and discovered that the world had not become a loving festival of generosity. Those who hated others who were not in the same tribe still outnumbered the generous. I heard that our Parliament was considering the Same Sex Marriage Bill and might vote to permit active discrimination by allowing those who “felt uncomfortable” in baking a wedding cake etc. to refuse service to a gay couple seeking to formalise their love. I sighed – the bubble burst.

How can we join all the humans of the world into one big team? By expanding our horizons. After all, when you pull the focus back far enough it is easy to see we already do belong to only one team.

Team Earth.

Let’s hope it does not take until the arrival of the Aliens before we all sign up for membership to the team that seeks to maintain a habitable planet.

Today, as I nurse my aching muscles I feel like one tough grand-mudder! I urge you to  pay the membership to join Team Earth. Let’s play together! All 7.6 billion of us. That’s one awesome human pyramid we could build!

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page
(Unfortunately the GoPro I was wearing malfunctioned. The 100% waterproof cover was in fact 0% waterproof!! As a result I have no original pictures to post except the two with Tracy and I at the start and finish)

Well past it….

My mum had a can or mandarin segments in her cupboard for as long as I can remember. As a kid l would look at them longingly. They shone, as if lit by some magical spotlight at the back of the dark food cupboard where all the other cans lived.

I would ask, hopefully “Mum, can we eat these?”

“’No” she would say “they’re for a special occasion”.

Exotic but forbidden fruit with a dazzling label.  The choir of angels would sing “Ahhhhhhhhhhh” and I would be turned away.

I am not sure when the mandarins come into the cupboard but they stayed there for at least 15 years and when Mum and Dad moved to the country, they moved with them. As an adult, I used to tease her about them. They must have been getting close to 40 years old when they finally got thrown out, unused. They became useless before the special occasion arrived.

I am not sure what would have warranted their opening. We had plenty of special occasions in the time they lingered. Four weddings, more than four funerals. The birth of grandchildren and the loss of one Angel baby. In the end, I am sure Mum kept them for the fun of it; as a reminder of the earlier days. I used to go looking for them each time I visited and we would have a bit of a laugh.

When I noticed a sticky brown liquid seeping over the shelves of my own food cupboard, I thought I must have knocked over a sauce bottle or something. I cleaned up the bottom shelf, sniffing at the sticky, metallic liquid. I discovered more of the same on the second and then the third shelf. I eventually tracked it down to a can of apricot nectar that had been lurking there for at least four years and probably longer. It was swollen, corroded and hissing. Not waiting for a special occasion but especially bought to make apricot chicken[1] which was no longer on my preferred food options and obviously hadn’t been for some time.

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The offending can of Apricot Nectar carefully transported to the bin like a ticking bomb!

The mandarin segments and the apricot nectar collided in my brain to create a metaphor. The merging of waste, waiting and the passage of life. The special occasion mandarins ended up wasted as they waited for an ill-defined special use. They could have enriched a meal years earlier. Adorned a special birthday pavlova decades before. The mandarin tree took energy to grow them, the factory used energy to can them and they took up space in at least one packing box as they shifted from a city life to the rural bliss of Bellingen.

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They symbolise a life held in limbo – waiting. Waiting for the right time for something to happen.

They were nothing but a cheap can of fruit that could have been easily replaced. I imagine that lots of families have the equivalent in their own cupboard and this is not meant to be a criticism of my own family. We apply this ‘special occasion’ mentality to lots of life’s good things… the special crystal bowls; the special tableware or the special outfits. If we buy these things and they sit there year in year out in the back of a cupboard we waste money and resources.

I sorted through the cans and bottles and discovered lots of out of date food. Food bought and not used either because I had not been careful in my stock rotation or because I had changed the way I cook and eat. I looked at the pile I had set aside and estimated it was worth at least $40-50. Not a lot, but still a symbol of wasteful affluence that I was not happy with.  Add to this cache, the bits of wilted, slimy or mouldy veggies that get thrown from the fridge each week and it represents not only a waste of my own money but of the world’s resources. It is, on some level, immoral. Here was proof that I was consuming more than I needed to. My wasteful approach to food is past its use by date. I need to make some changes.

This exercise in cleaning has given me two new goals:

  1. To reduce the amount of food I keep stored. I am lucky that I have resources to buy what I need and failing a nuclear holocaust I don’t need to stockpile.
  2. I am going to eat life’s mandarin segments in fancy crystal bowls and enjoy them because life is too unpredictable to wait for the special occasions.

 

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My aim is to reduce the canned foods to close to zero.

 

[1] You know the one. The 1970’s cordon bleu dish of chicken pieces,  French onion soup mix and a can of apricot nectar poured over the top and shoved in the oven for 40 minutes. Simple, fast and kid friendly!

 

Chook run

Eleven weeks ago, I started a 12-week running program. The program’s aim was to go from 0 to 10km in 12 weeks. I have always tried to keep fit but as I have gotten older I have gotten lazier. Even though I walked around 8km most days, I hardly ever raised a sweat. I wasn’t overweight but I was heavier than I wanted to be. I figured if I kept putting on weight as I was – around a kilo a year – I would end up at 80kg before I was sixty, which is way too heavy for someone with my frame!

I decided to act and hence the running training. I am pleased to say that today, I have just completed a 15km fun run.  A week and 5 km ahead of schedule.  I am feeling very pleased with myself!

Not only did I finish but I finished in a pretty good time for an old chook – 83:04.

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Why am I telling you all this? In keeping with some of my other posts I think it fits into the wellbeing category. Setting goals, being active and connecting with others.

I stuck to my training schedule and my fitness has improved. I lost seven kilos and don’t want to lose anymore. My heart rate has gone down. Always pretty low, it’s 55 bpm while I type this and at complete rest it’s down to about 45bpm

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Not such a glamorous shot – but hey! I had just finished 15km!!

 

 

 

My tips for you if you are looking at getting fitter:

  1. Find a program that you have to sign up for or a training buddy. This will keep you accountable. Nothing works like an accountability partner. I used the Michelle Bridges 12WBT 10K program but I am sure there are plenty of others.
  2. Set yourself some sub-goals along the way. For me, it was a 3km fun run at week 3, then 5km at week 5, 10km at week 8 and 15km at week 11. This meant I always had something I was working towards. By paying money upfront to enter the events, I “locked” myself in and couldn’t come up with excuses for not doing the training.
  3. JFID – just fricken do it! Just get out there and do it. (Thanks Michelle for this one!)
  4. There are plenty of programs online for free but stick to them. If it says rest – rest! If it says do strength work or stretch; do it! I have managed to get through the last 11 weeks without an injury and I think that’s the key. Stick to the program. Don’t wing it!

I had intended to cut back on the running after today, to say 5 – 10km twice a week with stretching, yoga and strength work on the non-running days. BUT!!! And there’s always a but… I have accepted another challenge. My younger sister asked me to run with her in a Tough Mudder event in four weeks’ time.  Sixteen kilometres and 20 obstacles in mud. I have never done anything like it so it looks like I will be keeping up the training schedule plus adding some heavier upper body work so I can drag myself over the obstacles.

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Hashtag blessed! I am in good health and the endorphins are doing wonders!

 

 

 

Wellbeing – an introduction

You might have noticed my by-line

“One woman’s journey to a more meaningful life”

It’s not that my life lacks meaning now, I just want to be more purposeful and intentional and not drift through my life bouncing from one thing to another like I feel I have in the past. This blog is about physical and emotional journeys[1] but don’t worry I am not going to get all hippy-dippy[2] or religious!

The by-line is also a product of my recent discovery of the “THE Minimalists” podcast[3]. The underpinning mantra of Josh and Ryan’s message is to do more with less and follow your values. I’d recommend it even though I sometimes find their banter a bit repetitive.

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Another significant factor leading me down the meaningful pathway is my day job. I am a Deputy Principal at a large high school with close to 1000 people on site every day. Part of my role is to improve their wellbeing. I have been teaching for 25 years and I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students with low-level (but no less real) mental health issues linked to anxiety and depression.

 

It is reaching plague proportions. Part of me thinks it’s just a case of telling sixteen-year old’s (as empathetically as possible) to “Toughen up Prince/Princess” and/or tell their lawn-mower[4] parents to back off and let their kids face a bit of a character-developing challenge every now and then. Another part of me knows there is a real problem that needs to be dealt with urgently.

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Looking for ways to take action, I came across a great paper[5] published by the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation which in turn is based on research by the New Economics Forum. Five Ways to Wellbeing – A Best Practice Guide sets out in very easy to understand language, the five key factors in improving your wellbeing in everyday life. I have wrapped up the advice in the infographic below.

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This post is only an introduction and I recommend you have a look at the paper and the research behind it.

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I volunteer for the NSW SES – where I  learn lots of new skills while helping my community and making great connections to people. Three birds with one stone!

[1] I am sort of hoping you may have noticed that already if you have been reading any of the previous posts. J

[2] Although I have started to make my own kombucha, kimchi and alfalfa sprouts. That is for a whole other blog post and has been triggered by reading Michael Mosley’s Clever Guts Diet at https://cleverguts.com/

[3] Find their podcast on iTunes or here on their website http://www.theminimalists.com/

[4] Parents who clear all obstacles ahead of their children so they don’t face any problems.

[5] https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/  click on the link halfway down the page.

 

Good mood food

What you eat controls the bacteria in your gut. The bacteria in your gut controls your mood and can now be linked directly to symptoms of anxiety and depression

We all know that eating a healthy diet is really important in keeping yourself physically fit but mounting medical research is showing that it could also be the key to good mental health.

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Ditch the chips and its perfect!

Recent studies have shown that there is a direct link from a Western diet – i.e. one that is high in processed foods, sugar, soft drinks (either with or without sugar) to poor mental health.

Conversely, a “Mediterranean” diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, some dairy and healthy oils has been found to be protective and even curative for some mental health conditions. Adding pre-biotics in the form of fermented foods helps even more.

 

 

 

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Hoi An – Vietnam

Our gut is inhabited by a whole host of bacteria – “good bacteria”. This is our gut biome or gut microflora. There are in fact more bacterial cells in your gut than cells in your entire body! (They are much smaller than our own cells so they don’t take up much room!) These microbes produce chemicals that affect our mood and act directly on our brain. When we eat a diet high in refined foods, we leave nothing for the bacteria that live in our lower gut to eat. They starve and die off. The diversity of our gut microflora is reduced and hence the good mood chemicals are not around to keep us mentally healthy.

So if you are feeling a bit low or anxious, diet may be a good and relatively easy starting point.  First steps are to cut the CRAP

CRAPIf you want to know more have a look at the links below.

Firstly, a great podcast that gives some of the science and places to get more information

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/the-food-mood-connection/8510518

Look at these websites for more details and some great recipes:

http://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140826-is-fast-food-making-us-depressed http://www.nowtolove.com.au/health/diet-nutrition/is-your-diet-making-you-depressed-12904

http://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2017/05/30/michael-mosleys-plan-killing-your-cravings

For a more academic article

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303825/  

Some books include

The Healthy Kitchen – http://thehappykitchen.net/

The Clever Guts Diet. – Dr Michael Mosely – https://cleverguts.com/

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Luscious tomatoes at Granville Island Market – Vancouver