Category Archives: Health and wellness

#30DaysofExercise . . . and Live to Tell

Like half of all Americans, I live less than five miles from where I work.

So, no excuses during National Bike to Work Week — except for Thursday, when I have to dress up for a volunteer recognition lunch and attend a fancier work function in the evening.MayisBikeMonth

Exercise-challenge programs such as National Bike to Work Day on May 15 or Run 2,015 in 2015 (whoops, too late now!) are effective motivators — except when they’re inconvenient. I learned that the hard way during the 30 Days of Biking challenge in April.

On the face of it, my mere seven days of biking during the cold, rainy month were a failure compared with the hard-cores who rode their bicycles to bakeries and tweeted throughout the month or posted grinning, thumbs-up photos on Instagram.

What I did instead is what I do every day, every month, every year: I exercised. The particular daily movement that I chose — biking, running, fitness yoga, walking — depended on the weather, on my schedule or on my mood.

The #30daysofbiking challenge did inspire me to log the experience. I kept a daily record of my exercise, and that’s proven to be fruitful now that warm weather is here and I really want to up my cycling miles and train to run another half-marathon.

My daily logs are both instructive and inspiring. I note the excuses, but I see also that I managed to move every day. The journal entries reinforce my midlife exercise mantra: Something is better than nothing. Any exercise counts.

30 Days #2

EXCUSES ARE EASY to come by. It’s harder to sidestep #30DaysofExercise, however, than daily cycling because it allows you to be more a generalist than a specialist.

On April days when it was too windy and cold to bike, I could easily walk the 1.2 miles to work. Likewise, on a day after my running partner had pushed me to run farther than I would have on my own, I could stretch my aching quadriceps and hamstrings in a yoga class.

But the exercise log’s purpose was to record, specifically, whether I had biked. And it revealed more than anything why I failed to get my seat on the saddle for 23 of the month’s 30 days.

  • April 1: Blew it on the first day of the bike challenge! Warm but really windy and then had horrendous rainstorm this evening. Oh, well.
  • April 9: Pouring rain today, 40 degrees. Going to Core Power at noon.
  • April 17: Went for a run with Lou Anne. No energy for more exercise today.
  • April 21: It snowed today. Enough said.

30 Days #4

WITH MY LONG LEGS and short trunk, I seem built to ride a bike. It’s an effortless exercise.

And so it’s easy for me to combine biking with errands, which feels more healthful — and less stressful — than other forms of multitasking.

Movement has more meaning, my cycling log has taught me, when there’s purpose behind it.

  • April 12: Rode to Rainbow Chinese and back to meet friends. As we get more serious about becoming a one-vehicle family, it will become essential to bike.
  • April 16: Still not feeling well so working from home. But I felt well enough to bike to work for meetings. Nobody seemed to mind that I was wearing spandex bike shorts, with bad hair and carrying a helmet.
  • April 26: Rode around the neighborhood and then went to Mom’s. I like combining biking with appointments. It’s a twofer, the equivalent of walking to work.

30 Days #3

CYCLING MAKES ME SMILE in a way that running never has. I love the sweep of scenery, the sense of being one with the natural world.

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a bike,” I read on a cyclist’s T-shirt one sunny Sunday when I was biking home on Midtown Greenway.

Discovering the joy in the simple act of riding was an impetus behind the founding of 30 Days of Biking by Twin Citian Patrick Stephenson, whose idea has gone viral and international. He describes the practice of daily cycling as “transformative.”

  •  April 4: Wore my runner’s mask to bike this morning. Legs and fingers froze. No wind, gliding through the streets. Hills felt good after sculpt class yesterday.
  • April 14: Woke up with sore throat and sniffles. Hunkered down and got tasks done at my desk. Rode the six-mile loop along the River Road after work: 60 degrees, sunny, little wind. I felt better afterward.
  • April 28: Thirty-minute ride at 7 p.m. through the neighborhood. Not enough but it was something. Like any exercise or art or behavior at which I want to get better, biking has to be a practice.

Healthy, holistic success: Be curious, be mindful, be brave

The wheel of life — an exercise designed to help people find true balance among all aspects of their lives — typically has eight areas of focus, from social life to personal growth to career.

Amy Machacek, 46, a high-energy yoga instructor turned entrepreneur, rocked the wheel a bit for her personal and corporate training programs. Her nine categories include “home/environment,” “fun and recreation,” “significant other/romance” and “friends.”Amy Etzell

As the owner of two Northfield, Minnesota–based businesses — HeartWork Yoga and LIFE.REVAMP — Machacek has relied equally on her instincts, her network (including her entrepreneurial father) and her passion for keeping up with industry trends. In addition to her E-RYT 200-hour yoga certification, she has trained in nutrition, meditation and life coaching. She’s also studied with Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of The Success Principles.

Machacek’s liberal arts education at the University of St. Thomas taught her to “be curious” — one of her favorite sayings — and to embrace lifelong learning. “It’s why I have one daughter there now and another starting in the fall,” she says.

On February 6, Machacek will headline UST’s prestigious First Friday Speaker Series in downtown Minneapolis, offering attendees a five-step plan for gaining more energy in all areas of their lives.

On stress reduction: Yoga doesn’t decrease your stress. It doesn’t make your boss nicer or your kids listen to you. But it changes your perception of that stress. I’m helping people process or manage this stuff in a way that is less taxing.”

On the character of an entrepreneur: “I’m not sure whether it takes courage or stupidity! My partner, Dave Shonka, works for a traditional company. He likes the security, but he doesn’t have the freedom. I like the freedom, and I’m OK without having security. Neither is right or wrong, but your choice should match your personality.

“I’m creative, and I really need a creative outlet. Plus, I watched my family do this when I was growing up. It seemed normal to me to put in long hours when you’re building the business and have some flexibility once the business is doing well.”

On growing a business: “If I stay just one step ahead of my growth, I can expand thoughtfully and not have to take on debt. HeartWork initially was yoga classes only, in a small town with 11 other places that offer yoga. We weren’t going to be viable forever if we just did yoga classes.Life Revamp

“Then I created the yoga teacher training school and added personal training to the studio. LIFE.REVAMP was next. I was working on all of my certifications, and I recognized that if I combined nutrition, life coaching and yoga, I could help people gain forward momentum.

“I brought in barre tone classes when I saw them on the coasts. People have short attention spans. If you’re not adding or changing, you’re dying.”

On how fitness fuels success: “Everyone in LIFE.REVAMP is working on their own things, but it all starts with fitness and nutrition. The initial call may come because of career issues, but first people need more energy and clarity about where they are body-wise.

“One of my clients has 750 employees, and his company bought another company this fall. He told me how great he felt standing in front of his expanded team. ‘I knew what I was talking about,’ he told me. ‘I was standing up straight.’ Another middle-aged client who has shed some weight says she’s now ready to focus on being an athlete again.”

On the tyranny of technology: “We have to make some rules for ourselves. At the end of the workday, Ward Cleaver could close his ledger book, turn off the light and go home. And nothing followed him.

“Now, that doesn’t happen — but we don’t have to allow technology into every aspect of our lives. Otherwise, it’s like the spoiled child who demands our attention all the time. We’re losing out on our relationships because of it.”

On positive parenting: “I don’t want to hover over my kids and make every decision for them. I help them slowly make more decisions as they get older, so they’re ready when they go to college. Nowadays, parenting seems to be defined as keeping kids in a sweet, tight grip. My job as a mom is to love my kids and prepare to let them go.”

On beauty and aging: Marcia Wellstone [Markuson] was a classmate of mine at Northfield High. When she died in October 2002, I was 33 years old. I remember it vividly. We’d had a class reunion that summer, and she was this shiny person. She had gotten remarried, she loved her stepkids. I was standing in my bedroom when I heard the news and thought: ‘Who am I to complain about getting older, about being alive?’ Marcia didn’t get this opportunity, and I did.

“I describe it now as my life before that moment and my life after. Honestly, not for one day since then have I complained about aging. I see aging as a gift, and I believe that to the bottom of who I am.”

On the rewards of growing older: “I love the wisdom and experiences that come with age. All the hard stuff and good stuff we’ve been through makes us who we are today.”

On staying curious: “I tell people in my classes every day: ‘Be curious. Don’t act like you know everything.’ Our lives get smaller as we grow older. We don’t get down on the floor. We don’t reach our arms as high. We don’t move as fast, we don’t try new things — but we need to keep reaching in life.”

Sit Still! Can a ‘Staycation’ Become a Daily Practice?

I skipped my company Christmas party this year — not a smart move for a new employee who hopes to grow her job and widen her influence at work.

It wasn’t because I’d had a lousy week and my boss had barked at me (though both are true). I just needed a night at home, alone, after six straight days of having e-mails, texts and virtual meetings intrude on weekend plans and overtake every evening.

My iPhone is running my life. More accurately, my connectivity-fueled agenda is my life, and the signs of that imbalance — inability to concentrate, a craving for constant movement and excitement, and, recently, the not-so-subtle suggestions from coworkers and friends that I seem hyper and wired — have me worried.

Which leads to less sleep and more caffeine.

What’s an over-achiever to do? What else? Draw up a list on the iPhone. Make a plan.

Power down

Love it, hate it

Lately I have been drawn to media reports about the downside of an internet-amplified, over-scheduled life:

  • Ever check your iPhone before and after a Sunday matinee? Or read e-mail on the sidelines of a soccer game? Me, too. In fact, the tools designed to keep us current and organized have stolen our leisure, according to a special report in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the cost of living in a state of fast-moving distraction.

“Plugged in 24/7/365, we are constantly struggling to keep up but are always falling further behind,” the Chronicle declares. “The faster we go, the less time we seem to have. As our lives speed up, stress increases, and anxiety trickles down from managers to workers, and parents to children.”

Read a book or a newspaper in its original form, he says, without the temptation to click through to related sites or articles on your portable device. Daydream. Sit still. (And do what?)

  • “The time I’ve spent going nowhere is going to sustain me much more than the time I’ve spent running around,” says travel writer Pico Iyer. He schedules some amount of downtime every day to reflect on and process his various experiences.

In an August 2014 TED talk called “The Art of Stillness,” Iyer described how Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly found the space and creativity to write his latest book by eliminating smart phones and television from his home. Take an “Internet Sabbath” at least one day a week, Iyer says, “in order to develop the perspective and sense of direction when you go online again.”

What is scary about stillness?

I’ve been taking stay-at-home vacations since before the shorthand, staycation, was even coined. My husband and I couldn’t afford to travel when we were raising our two sons. Plus, I enjoyed hanging out at our small-town home after daily commutes to the city.

When colleagues asked, “Where are you going?” my standard reply would be: “Off the clock.” Lately, I’ve amended that to “off the iPhone.”

Since finally buying a smart phone in May 2012, I’ve learned that a staycation is no vacation if I stay plugged in to office e-mail and my social media accounts. Nor is time off a break if I’m scheduled dawn to dusk with workouts, lunches, errands and appointments.

A Type A person tends to see weekends or vacations not as opportunities to relax and recharge but as prime time to get things done. And that’s OK, she tells herself, because the busyness is tied to her family and friends. Problem is, the deeper I get into middle age, the more I find that “always on” is not sustainable.

I want to live more in silence, not with Minnesota Public Radio on as background news and noise, not with music blaring while I clean or cook, but silence. Without distraction, with myself. I want more mental freedom, more unstructured moments to get lost in a book or in my thoughts.

I want to live more often without a schedule and the tools that tie me to it.

“Be curious,” one of my yoga instructors used to say. So, what would happen if:

  • I swore off caffeine for 24 hours?
  • I invited a friend out spontaneously?
  • I did yoga at home, instead of in a structured class, and followed wherever my mind and body took me?
  • I turned off my iPhone for an entire weekend?
  • I committed to focused reading time for a natural wind-down in the evening?
  • I explored the observation my mother made of me long ago: “You’re always on the go. What are you running from, I wonder?”

I won’t find the answer till I learn how to be still.