Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘health

Reclaiming Normal

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For all the times we look forward to holidays and time off from work, it feels wrong to be so interested in having things get back to normal. I am a big proponent of staying open to variety and change, but at the same time, I have a very strong comfort with routine.

This weekend, we brought a return to normalcy in a variety of ways at home, not the least of which involved the taking down of Christmas decorations and returning furniture to the usual arrangements. I will be lobbying for a return to our artificial tree next year.

Getting back to my routine of days commuting to the day-job, and (full) days home without travel holds a surprising appeal now that we are a week into the new year. I’m guessing one of the reasons it seems so appealing to me today is because my health has also made great progress toward normal wellness again.

I spent much of the weekend lying low in quest of recuperation. It seems to have produced desired results.

Here’s to the rare phenomena of feeling good about the arrival of a typical Monday morning.

Hah!

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Written by johnwhays

January 7, 2019 at 7:00 am

Other Examples

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As long as I’m on the subject of sticktoitiveness, there are two other examples in my life that have slowly rewarded me for staying the course day after day, in one case, for years.

When I finally took action to address an addiction to sugar which manifested in cravings that controlled my decisions, I had no idea what lay ahead for me. I had previously experimented with simply cutting out desserts and cookies or candy treats for a random period of weeks, just to see if I could, but I neglected to account for the amount of sugar I was getting from other sources.

My cravings for breads and cereals would ramp up to impressive levels, and I would allow myself those compromises.

After learning more about where I was getting most of the sugar in my diet, and discovering the actual measurement of sugar recommended by the World Health Organization for percentage of daily calories, I set out to control it by watching the numbers.

That made a big difference. First of all, it showed me how physically addicted my body, and mind, had become. I experienced withdrawal symptoms that included headaches, dizziness, nausea, and tremors, not because I cut out sugar completely, but simply by strictly limiting the amount of sugar in the food I was eating.

It has taken me years at the rate I am working it (because I waver with my level of strictness), but self-control slowly improved to a point where it hardly takes mental energy to employ anymore. Most importantly, I am not just doing this for a period of weeks. This is forever. I always measure how much cereal I eat, and I always check serving size information to figure out how much sugar there is.

A more recent adventure in every day tenacity that I am watching produce slow results is, my daily planking exercises. When I started back in the last week of March, I decided to see what results I might achieve if I did the exercises my physical therapist recommended for the entire month of April. These were focused on strengthening my core to treat the painful symptoms of degenerating discs.

It is really helpful to not be constrained by debilitating pain when doing daily chores to care for our animals.

Thirty consecutive days of planking in April established enough of a pattern that I found it easy enough to keep going through May. Then two months became four, and in a blink, I’ve made it eight months of pretty regular planking. In that time I have slowly gained enough strength that I have modified my methods to match.

The current plank that is my primary exercise is four minutes long, starting with a minute and a half of a basic horizontal planking, then 45 seconds of lifting an opposite arm and leg for a two-point plank, 45 more seconds with the other arm and leg, and then finishing with a final minute of the basic plank again.

There are other leg exercises and some yoga stretches that get mixed in after the planking, depending on how much time I have to spend, but the planking is key.

Between these two daily efforts of healthy controlled-sugar diet and regular exercise, practiced over months and years, my physical health is in better shape than most of my previous adult life.

That is providing plenty of incentive for me to stick to this indefinitely.

Maybe the fact that these steps are not a quick fix, makes the positive results that much more satisfying. It definitely provides a welcome bonus of boosting my mental health, as well.

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It’s Friday

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One of the marvels of my Fridays is that I don’t have to commute the long drive to the day-job. You’d think that might give me an extra hour to sleep in, but my experience has been marred by a problematic habit of staying up too late on Thursday nights, and then suffering a double whammy by naturally waking very near the normal early alarm time of my work days.

By Sunday mornings, I have usually made progress with sleeping past the alarm time, but that just makes it that much more difficult to deal with the Monday alarm time the following day.

At this point, of all my attempts striving toward optimal health, getting enough sleep every night seems to be my Achilles’ heel.

Being over-tired doesn’t mix well with needing to drive in traffic for an hour to and from work.

Some days there are changes that mix things up a bit for me, which helps maintain alertness. On Wednesday morning, I had a chance to explore some of St. Paul’s streets in the early dark hours when I dropped off the Tiffany light fixtures with a buyer who found my ad on Craigslist.

Yahoo! They are gone!

There is a perk for driving through the cities four days a week: it’s easier to accommodate buyers who aren’t exactly local when I’m pawning off clutter online. The woman this week was so appreciative that I would drive all that way to deliver what I was selling. (It was a few short blocks off my normal route on the interstate.)

I didn’t bother to tell her I would gladly pay her to take them, after having them sit in a box under foot for the last six years.

My drive home yesterday was interrupted by another traffic stopping accident, but this time I was close enough to the incident that my delay was mere minutes. The sad part was this meant the vehicles were still positioned where they landed and the people and emergency responders were still present.

It’s a very unsettling sight. The collision occurred at an at-grade crossing of a divided 4-lane highway that has a 65 mph speed limit. Damage was significant to at least three vehicles.

I drove a little slower the rest of the way home, and I didn’t feel drowsy at all.

But for the grace of God, go I.

When I pulled up the driveway, the horses were in the far corner of the paddock and whether it was that they saw me, or heard Cyndie and Delilah walking down to feed them, they bolted from where they had been standing, racing and kicking their way up past the barn overhang all the way over to the near paddock fence.

What a nice welcome-home greeting.

Cyndie reported she and Delilah came upon two young deer that dashed away across the trail in the woods. Our paths are becoming paved in golden hues. The freezing temps seem to flip a switch on a lot of our maples such that 80% of the leaves will drop in a matter of a few hours and create a gorgeous circle of color that carpets the ground around the trunk.

It’s beautiful to be home this Friday.

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Improvement Movement

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In my grand scheme of a continuous improvement movement toward optimal health, I have recently added new attention to not cleaning my plate. It’s an old habit, but eating everything served has long contributed to my consuming more food than my body needs at a sitting. I’ve decided to take another crack at altering that pattern.

It’s a project I tried off and on in the past, just like my attempts to stop snacking directly out of the bag, or trying to get a full 8-hours of sleep a night. I have not accomplished everything I set out to achieve.

I’m hoping to springboard on the success I have been experiencing with my daily regimen of planking and stretching exercises.

Actually, it parallels well with my recent decluttering effort. The latest accomplishments have inspired me to keep going to the next level of clutter out in the shop.

My planking success –started about 6-months ago and still making daily progress, well beyond the initial 30-days-in-a-row goal– seems to be inspiring me to take the next step toward better (and consistent) attention to portion size.

This whole portion control thing rides on top of my earlier focus to kick a sugar addiction and rein in the percentage of my daily sugar consumption in my diet.

Last night, I took a moment to calculate the number of grams of sugar in a serving of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Coconut Almonds that Cyndie brought home as a treat on our anniversary. It’s the coconut that sends these over the top. It calls out to me every time I walk past them.

Sixteen grams in a 1/3rd cup serving, which is a little under 1-gram per coated almond.

I have tried to satisfy myself with eating just 2 or 3 almonds at a time, but then the challenge I face is to honestly track how many little visits to the well I make in a day.

Craving is a powerful thing.

I’m happy that I have developed a bit of a craving to do my daily planking routine, and I struggle with the craving to sleep that washes over me at times of the day when I can’t.

Now, if I could just get myself to crave small portions of really delicious large servings of food on a plate in front of me, I’ll really be getting somewhere.

Here’s to continuous movement toward optimal health, one step at a time. Mind, body, and spirit.

Join me, won’t you?

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Instant Aging

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I have developed an unmistakable hunched-over gait that instantly adds years to my appearance. Even though I have been able to carry on with a wide variety of chores, my recent disc flare up has slowed my motions dramatically.

I didn’t have too much discomfort mowing the lawn on the small tractor. I did mostly okay using the power trimmer to cut back the overgrowth along the trail outside our southern fence line. I raked. I used the pitchfork to turn composting manure.

Oh, the chickens love that task. We uncover a lot of crawly insects when disturbing the compost piles. We do the scratching for them. They just show up to reap the rewards.

Funny how they turn those creepy bugs into eggs we find irresistibly delicious.

Regarding my difficulty with standing straight after I’ve been sitting for a while, I’ve got a hunch. Without actually being able to see how the degenerating disc is causing me pain, I can only guess using the sensations I feel.

For the most part, there is nothing more than a dull sense that something is amiss. I never know what movement or gesture is going to result in the feeling of electric shock, when I presume the bulging disc suddenly reaches a nerve.

It seems to me that my body takes it upon itself to protect me from the possibility of the shock by locking up the muscles in the vicinity. This happens unconsciously, and when I try to stand up, those frozen muscles are no help. The remaining muscles have to do all the work, and my movements look incredibly labored.

Eventually the rest of my back, neck, and shoulders become stressed and fatigued from essentially fighting against the frozen lower back muscles that are trying to protect me from the feeling of being stabbed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy my body is trying to save itself from the stabbing shocks, but it reaches a point where the protection is as bad as the injury.

Today, I have new respect for the stilted shuffle of an old body. It’s probably busy protecting itself best as it knows how.

I’m hoping the continued addition of yoga strengthening and stretching positions will provide added information for my body to reign in the extreme reaction of seizing up completely.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for aging to come on instantly, but regaining youthfulness requires a lot of effort over a relatively long period of time?

I fail to see the harmonious balance of nature in that.

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Written by johnwhays

September 4, 2018 at 6:00 am

Karmic Humility

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Today is Friday, so I was able to sleep in because I don’t commute to the day-job on Fridays. The final minutes of my slumber this morning were filled with a dream about our cattle.

We don’t have any cattle.

Made me think of the saying, “all hat, no cattle.”

I would have said I was dreaming about cows, but after the great escape and tromping of our property by our neighbor’s bovine ten earlier this summer, we learned he didn’t have cows. His herd was all steers, so the term to use was, cattle.

I’m thinking my mind was dreaming of cattle to distract me from what is stabbing me in the back during my waking hours these last two days: degenerating discs again.

In a twist of karmic humility, instead of boasting about the progress of five consecutive months of daily plank exercises, I find myself focused on a debilitating flare up of stabbing back pains. The precious positive thread woven into this tale is the noticeable difference in level of disruption this time. I truly believe it is the result of the strength built up in my core from my string of consecutive days of planking.

When my series of painful back injuries were diagnosed as degenerating disc disease years ago, I was given a regimen of recommended exercises to treat the symptoms. The easiest was to walk a half an hour a day. Stretching and plank exercises were also advised. 

I was all about the walking, but the exercises weren’t activities that I easily maintained.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t my degenerating discs that inspired my decision to finally get serious about planking. It was more about vanity. I was unhappy that none of my healthy efforts ever seemed to put a dent in the paunch and love handles that graced my midsection.

Cutting the amount of sugar in my daily diet had gone a long way to trim out my overall plumpness, but that classic paunch persisted.

I also credit the annual Tour of Minnesota bike trip for inspiring me to plank. Knowing I was at a risk of not having enough opportunities to bike in preparation for the mid-June trip, I decided to try planking every day in April to at least build up my core strength.

My butt might not be ready for the trip, but the rest of me would be resilient and strong. Knowing that planking was also advised to ward off back problems did help maintain my motivation at the time. Who wants to bike all day and sleep on the ground at night with an ailing back?

So, I succeeded in planking all through April, twice a day, in fact. It’s said that doing something for 30 consecutive days goes a long way to creating a habit. I planked through May, June –taking a week off during the bike ride– and have continued pretty much every day since.

Sometimes I miss an occasional day, or skip a morning or night, but the habit has been established, and the developing results are noticeable. The paunch and love handles are losing ground. As the planking has gotten easier with accumulated strength, my routine has expanded to longer duration, two-point planks, side planks, and more yoga stretching.

This morning, the routine is greatly modified to accommodate a recently unhappy, worn out disc.

Consider me duly humbled.

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Written by johnwhays

August 31, 2018 at 7:53 am

Fluid Planning

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There is one aspect of a healthy balanced mind that I am enjoying in particular in the years since overcoming the dysfunctional thinking that was a huge part of my depression. I find it much easier to accept unexpected changes to plans.

I think my old pattern of rigidity was an attempt to protect myself from any possible discomfort I might experience over not being adequately prepared for some new scenario that might pop up. My new perspective resulted from an exercise of examining what the worst possible outcomes might be for situations that I was earnestly wanting to avoid.

In the end, there was never anything that deserved the level of angst I was nurturing.

Cyndie and I had big plans for this coming weekend. It has morphed a little to become “not as big” plans now. We are going on a little “stay-cation” to her parent’s house in Edina, leaving Jackie to take her first shift of managing the ranch for an extended few days.

I had intended to pack enough things last night to allow me to leave from work today and go straight to the Edina house for the entire time. Then on Monday morning, I’d only need to drive the short distance again to work. Now both ends of the plan have shifted.

Cyndie was assigned a responsibility to manage affairs for an aunt who is moving from her own home into a nursing care facility. This event is claiming her full attention this week and she just isn’t ready to be away as early as we originally envisioned.

That actually eased my burden of trying to pack the bike in the car before work today, because I am going to want it with me over the weekend to continue my conditioning efforts before the Tour of Minnesota begins in another week.

In fact, the night off allowed me a chance to get out and ride for an hour last night. That was a particularly pleasant outing due to perfect weather conditions.

Now we are thinking we’ll pack up and head for Edina tomorrow morning.

The back end of the plan for the upcoming weekend has also changed for me. As the date closed in, I realized I have an appointment to drop off my car at the body shop to repair my deer-dented doors and pick up a rental car.

I’ll head home Sunday night to fit in that detail.

Other than those two changes, the middle of the extended weekend plans are still standing firm. For now.

What’s the worst that could happen if those end up changing, too?

Nothing that we won’t be able to adjust to, …kind of like the way horses get back to grazing so quickly after something rattles their calm.

Here’s to mastering the art of being comfortable with the possibility that plans might change.

If you want to take it up a level, the next step is mastering the art of visualizing the best possible outcomes, and allowing it to become your ongoing default perspective.

Then you get to celebrate with reckless abandon when something changes, and the outcome ends up even better than the best possibility you imagined!

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Written by johnwhays

June 7, 2018 at 6:00 am