Cissy Brady-Rogers
Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers

Tag: exercise

I drank enough alcohol in my first 38 years to last several lifetimes. As much as I wanted to be like normal people who can control and enjoy their drinking, my Irish genetics predisposed me to excess.

Cissy the Teatotaler - Moroccan Mint Tea in a Fancy Glass

They say an Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold on to one blade of grass and not fall off the face of the earth! In fact, that very saying hung on the wall in my childhood home – complete with an illustration of a happy-go-lucky leprechaun holding a mug of ale!

Becoming a committed teetotaler twelve years ago is one of the best decisions I’ve made. And, while “teatotaler” (implying that the person prefers to drink tea instead of alcohol) is considered a misspelling, it describes me to a “T”!

While moderate alcohol consumption (one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men) has been associated with some health benefits, excessive drinking contributes to numerous health risks — including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal problems.

Moreover, apart from abuse or dependence and health risks, alcohol is a source of empty calories that contributes to excess energy storage in the fat cells of the body. Those hungry little guys are just doing their job when they hold on to the unused calories we consume. Historically, they were essential for survival. Our ancestor’s bodies were finely trained to store energy for the lean months when food was scarce.

The two other primary considerations for weight loss are related to fat metabolism and protein synthesis. Alcohol puts the brakes on fat burning and muscle building from the minute you ingest it until it is completely out of your system. Even if you’re drinking “moderately” you may be impeding your ability to burn fat and build lean muscle tissue. One night of excessive drinking or a daily habit of moderate drinking may be significantly hampering all your other efforts to deplete your excess energy stores and increase your muscle mass.

A coaching client whose steady weight loss cycle had plateaued gave up her almost daily cocktail or beer with dinner and saw immediate shift back into burning stored energy. While she was somewhat surprised, she also said it lined up with her inner wisdom that even moderate daily drinking wasn’t supporting her optimal health and well being.

Tea anyone??

I love coffee. In college and graduate school I drank a lot of coffee. My husband even roasts his own: Dave’s Roast – The Cure for Common Coffee. But sitting around in coffee shops ingesting caffeine and calories I don’t need isn’t particularly good for my health.

A Harvard Business Review blog about the health risks of sitting caught my attention. Most people sit more than we do anything else (she noted while sitting at the computer)–including sleeping. At work, in the car, on the computer, in front of the T.V., while eating or socializing over coffee or a drink–the author suggests that sitting is the smoking of our generation.

Many health risks are associated with excess sitting including: increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels. It also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

In light of the potential lethality of excess sitting, James Levine (an M.D. and researcher at the Mayo Clinic) advocates we shift away from a “chair-based lifestyle” by finding alternatives wherever we can. These included taking regular stretch and stand breaks if you must be seated, standing while on phone calls, adjusting your work station to a counter height so you can stand, or even creating or buying a treadmill desk.

The blog author schedules four walking meetings into her work week. She reports many personal and professional benefits, including adding 20-30 miles of activity to her week.

My contribution: walking is the new coffee. Instead of spending money and ingesting calories and caffeine I don’t need anyway, I’m going to start suggesting a gentle walk instead.

Who’s on board?

Dr. Levine’s campaign against a chair-based lifestyle goes beyond physical health: “Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day,” he said. “The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of the nation to rise.”

Let’s rise up and do this!

What will be your creative alternative?

How might you get out of your chair and into motion this week?

Set a timer on your computer to alert you to get out of the chair every hour and do something active. It doesn’t need to be much.

Your body and soul will be better off if you do!

Long term change occurs gradually through patient practice and faithful failure. Whether you’re seeking more attuned ways of eating and exercising, better communication skills with family members, or trying to change the world, patience and faithfulness will be necessary.

In writing about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Desmond Tutu said that the “faithful failures” and years of “unsuccessful” efforts to restore right relationships among the people of his country “nurtured the soil of godly success.”

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of organizing my schedule and “to do” lists since I began my professional life as a youth ministry intern back in 1985. I’ve had varying levels of success and failure, and days when I just wanted to give up. But, I’ve stuck with it.

Recently I’ve experienced a “breakthrough” — coming into a rhythm of productivity I’d previously only dreamed about. Today I wondered aloud to myself, “Who is this I have become? Who is this woman who moves through her day with purpose, clarity, relative ease, getting things done that align with her goals, letting go of what is incomplete, knowing she’s done what she could?”

It’s tiny, miniscule, and relatively unimportant compared to what Tutu and his brothers and sisters in South Africa achieved. Yet, in the same way that their faithful efforts brought about increased justice and peace for a nation,  my faithfulness has brought greater peace within, which impacts my husband, friends, clients, students, and everyone in my world.

For both great and small scale changes, patience and faithfulness are essential qualities needed to bring about a new way of being in our bodies and our lives.

As we say in the recovery movement, “Don’t give up before the miracle.”

In the latter decades of the 20th Century, building positive self-esteem in children became a widely accepted and influential concept in psychotherapy, parenting, and education.  Years later, with decades of implementing esteem building interventions, it turns out self-esteem isn’t as effective a standard of psychological health as it was originally thought to be.

Educators, coaches, parents, youth workers and psychotherapists have spent decades trying to help kids “feel good about themselves.”  Yet it turns out that self-esteem is highly resistant to change, may cause self-distortions, and is associated with narcissism and bullying.  On top of the evidence that it isn’t the most helpful construct for supporting identity development , the notion that we should always feel good about ourselves and our lives doesn’t leave room for what Judith Viorst termed the “necessary losses” of real life.

Dynamic Duo Working Out at Dynamic Advantage

This week I participated in my first group strength training class at Dynamic Advantage in Eagle Rock.  I was a good ten or fifteen years younger than my classmates.  But some of those gals were surprisingly strong!  One of the two “Pats” in the class was doing tricep pushdowns with several times the amount of resistance I was using.

Dynamic Strength for Everyone!

In an earlier season of my life I might have experienced a drop in self-esteem, feel “bad” about myself and judge myself for being such a slouch.  I prided myself on my strength and fitness.  My body identity was largely built on comparing myself to you, being superior, and allowing the good feelings of being “better than” you enhance my sense of self.  I don’t like admitting it.  Yet, it’s the precise dynamic that years of academic evaluation, athletic competition, and cultural tutelage in building my esteem by being at the top of the class  or having my dog win the “best in show” have taught me.

Yesterday I noticed a small dark line beneath my eye.  Thinking it was an eyelash, I used my pinky to brush it away.  No such luck!  Turns out,  it’s a permanent documentation of my recent life experience.  Dehydrated, un-moisturized, and fifty years old—I’ve got the wrinkles to prove it!

This week I discussed loss and grief with my marital and family therapy students.  Several students spoke of experiencing a loss of physical strength and fortitude.  One said in his younger years he felt invincible as he ran for miles, feeling more energized the further he ran.  “I can’t do that anymore.  It doesn’t feel good.  After a few miles I start to hurt.”

Even though we know these physical changes are normal, as another student put it, we still don’t  like them.   And we often don’t “like” ourselves during the moments they preoccupy our minds. It’s difficult to extend loving care to someone we have a negative attitude toward.  In a similar way, not “liking” ourselves often becomes a barrier to the very work we need to do to feel better.   Somewhere along the line we’ve come to value “liking” ourselves in a way that inhibits truly “loving” ourselves, just as we are, on any given day, in whatever state of health and success or illness and failure we might be.

Disappointment, frustration, sadness and anger are expect responses to loss.    Just as we must grieve the death of a loved one or loss of a job so that we can move forward into new life possibilities, physical changes bring real losses that must be acknowledged and integrated. And grief doesn’t necessarily feel good!

I wonder if the ladies I work out with feel “good” about how they look?  Do they “like” their wrinkles, sags, thinning hair, and widening mid-sections?  Do they feel affection for the necessary losses of their once youthful bodies and faces? Or are they too busy living their lives to the fullest, enjoying themselves and making the most of each moment to bother with such antiquated notions as self-esteem?

That deep line under my eye is part of the package of living long enough to get old!  A friend is grieving the death of his twenty-six year old nephew.  That young man will never have the privilege of developing wrinkles under his eyes. My classmate Pat is stronger than me–good for her!  And, good for me.  I want to be like Pat when I am sixty-something: wispy white hair, lots of life documented on ever surface of her face and body, and enjoying every second of cranking out those tricep pushdowns!

I wanted to cry as I left home this morning. I crossed the threshold of my front door on the way to my car and felt tears well up in my eyes. Physical therapy (PT) again?

i want to be here

If I didn’t love all sorts of recreational activities like I do, I wonder if I’d keep showing up for these appointments.   The arduous process of rehabilitating my shoulder is teaching me at a personal level what I’ve known theoretically for years: functional goals are most predictive of successful rehabilitation or training. I don’t like spending up to eight hours a week doing the repetitive, narrowly focused exercises of PT.  But a vision of myself meditatively swimming laps at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center or with the turtles in Hawaii keeps me inspired to show up even when it’s difficult.

PT is the most challenging exercise I’ve done in my life. The psychological and physical demands of recruiting nerves and muscle fibers to remember how to work is far more intense than training for the 100-mile bike ride of a Solvang century. I don’t breathe hard or sweat during physical therapy, but I do feel an intense straining of my brain as I try to extend my left arm in directions I used to take for granted.

Brain strain is also what people who’ve never enjoyed exercise experience when they attempt to begin a new fitness regime. It isn’t just the motor muscles that get activated in new ways. The brain must also lay down new neural pathways to support the movements and energy expenditure demanded by new modes of physical activity. Anyone who has struggled with exercise resistance knows that the key to rewiring our brains for new functions are more psychological than physical – requiring mental discipline, alongside physical effort.

choosing to show up again...and again...and again

When I strain to lift my arm a little higher or hold it in a difficult position a little longer, my mental focus is more important than the muscles doing the work. My mind must choose the effort demanded to lift higher and hold longer. If my mind isn’t on board, my muscles give up.

Neuroplasticity is the technical term for what occur when we use mental focus and discipline to learn new skills or develop new habits. As recently as the 1990’s neurologists were still being taught that adult brains were unable to change. But experimental and rehabilitative work with various conditions, especially stroke patients, has proved otherwise.

When my supraspinitus muscle sends “warning” signals to my mind in the form of pain, my brain is the conduit of communication. My mental challenge in that moment is to remember what I really want – a fully functioning shoulder. When I remember that this pain is therapeutic and stay with the discomfort, I’m reactivating old neural pathways that went to sleep during my months of inactivity. My mental vision of a fully functioning supraspinitus muscle strengthens the neural pathways of my brain designated for shoulder movement. The mental vision strengthens the brain muscles even when the shoulder muscles lag far behind.

Albert Einstein said that discipline is remembering what you really want. Whether you are awakening old neural pathways that have been offline for a while or building new pathways, keeping your focus on what you really want is essential.

I really want to fully rotate my left arm as I swim freestyle and backstroke this summer. One of my coaching clients really wants to walk the cobble stoned streets of old Italian cities without fear of stumbling or getting winded.

Exercising to lose weight or tone up in order to “look better” (whatever that is) in your swimsuit or wedding dress offers short-term, limited success. A functional goal of confidently swimming in the ocean with your children, nieces and nephews or grandchildren, or of effortlessly carrying your own suitcases up several flights of rickety stairs at an exotic island cottage on your honeymoon is more likely to produce long-term, sustainable behavioral changes.

What do you really want do be physically capable of?

What do you want to be able to do on your own power and strength in six months, one year, five, ten or twenty years?

What mental vision of yourself in motion do you hold as you face the brain strain necessary to strengthen your muscles and train your neural pathways?

What do you focus on as you face the therapeutic pain of your physical therapy or fitness training regime?

Remember what you really want and show up for your therapy or training appointments with yourself or a professional this week. You and those who want to enjoy an active life with you will be grateful that you did.