Monday Meditation: My 10,000 Steps (and very sore feet).

A very personal post this week. I hope you’ll bear with me, I am writing this the night before posting in place of the scheduled one. Typos may happen as I’m pretty tired and sore because yesterday (Saturday), this happened:

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This is the first time I have ever reached this goal and this is how I felt when I saw the stats:

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To put it into context: I’ve had a severe back injury that goes back (sorry) to when I was 20, and has been exacerbated by numerous other injuries, surgery, medications and treatments. I have spent months in a plaster cast, weeks in traction, years wearing a steel reinforced corset, and spent most of my adult life lying flat on my back rattling with pills that didn’t work, unable to have anyone touch me due to intractable pain.

I’ve missed countless family events.  I have gone to bed in my trainers because there was no-one around to unfasten them for me. I have frequently slept in my clothes because either I couldn’t move or the pain was too severe to have someone help me. There are times I can’t even clean my teeth because raising my arm is too painful. I didn’t have a bath, shower or hair wash for 5 years – I eventually had my son shave my head, very liberating! I can’t travel to see my mum. I can’t hold a book. There are still days when I can’t get out of bed. But just occasionally, with a lot of hard work over a long period of time, with fingers crossed and all the planets in alignment, I manage to go for a walk. Usually they are short. Once in a blue moon and usually in warm summer weather, they become longer.

Saturday was one of these days.

To cut a long story short, my husband needed me to go with him to take a parcel that was being returned and the address needed to be scanned, but he doesn’t have a smartphone and wanted to use mine. He has a (justified) reputation for losing or breaking electronic devices and I didn’t trust him with mine!

Had I known how far we would be going, and end up going via a circuitous route along the canal, I would have gone by car. I wasn’t feeling the best, but knew I should try and have a walk. In the event, I was distracted by swans and ducks – flying overhead and sitting on the water –  crocuses, snowdrops and canal architecture, smallholdings with geese, old buildings, and my husband pointing out where various people lived and so on.

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By the time we arrived home, I had done 7,000 steps. SEVEN THOUSAND STEPS!! In winter when it’s impossible to leave the house, I struggle to make a few hundred; previously when I did go out, I was delirious if I made 1500. Lately, with hard work, I’ve been managing 3-4,000, that’s how momentous this is. I couldn’t believe it and knew immediately there would be payback. I could feel myself stiffening up as soon as I sat down.

It had threatened rain, so it had been damp, which didn’t help. The next time I stood up, I couldn’t straighten my legs, and my feet and ankles felt like they would break with the pressure. My back was not happy at all. I knew I had to keep moving, hard as it might be. So, even though my husband kept offering to fetch things for me, I doggedly shuffled about trying to keep the bodyparts mobile. I felt like I was in my nineties! Injections of WD40 would have been appreciated.

Later, as my husband made dinner, it became a lovely evening with a peach-toned sky and I decided I had to try to walk around the block or I would never get out of bed in the morning. I was rewarded by the most beautiful song from an overhanging tree as I rounded the corner. A robin was in full voice right above my head and I had my own private concert. I was glad I made the effort.

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Can you see him? I wish you could hear him, but my blog won’t support video. I took this still from the video I took with my phone camera.

His song lifted my spirits and I walked the rest of the way with a smile and a metaphorical if not literal spring in my step.

By late evening, my husband and I compared notes, we had both done just over 9,000 steps! I couldn’t believe it. My competitive genes kicked in and I knew, if I tried really hard, I could manage the final 1,000 before bed, just walking around the house. I knew I would be sorry next day, but I didn’t care: I also knew that my sense of achievement (and the fact I beat my very fit husband!) would be worth all the pain and discomfort.

I had a long and very hot shower, smothered myself in arnica gel and set about my task. Eventually, I looked at my stats and it said 9,951! So close. I shuffled and counted. I was sure I had made it. I checked again. 9,951. What was going on? Again I counted. Still 9,951. I knew I had made it but I needed the visual evidence! I walked around and around the kitchen as I waited for the kettle to heat up for a couple of hot water bottles, I was going to need them! I was dead on my feet, they would ever forgive me for abusing them this way.

Finally, finally, the stats changed. 10,360! That was so cruel. I could have been in bed 360 steps ago! But I was ecstatic. And so proud. I have been trying for years to improve my walking and kept being kicked back to the starting point. This was incredible. I was so happy.

All I needed now was a good night’s rest and to take things easy next day, try to keep moving but not push myself. So, what happened? A dog barked all night. The temperature had risen and I was overheated with the shower and hot water bottles. I was over-stimulated by the exercise and my mind wouldn’t stop recalling my efforts and everything I’d seen that day. I was so stiff, I found it hard to change position. By the time I felt like I had just managed to drop off, a blackbird was singing his heart out and it was still pitch dark!

It took me an hour and a half to get up this morning. Another long hot shower. More arnica gel. My feet didn’t want to touch the ground. I felt like I’d been in the ring with Ali. My husband went on a 50 mile bike ride and I could barely lift a cup of tea!

And yet, I was smiling. I couldn’t wait to show my also very fit cycling son and my kick-boxing daughter what I had achieved. They wouldn’t believe it. I still had trouble believing it. I keep having to look back at the stats.

I may never manage it again. But if I don’t, I will always have this feeling. I will always remember this euphoria. I will always be grateful for the chance to prove that despite all the ‘can’ts’, this time I could.

Ps Plus the added bonus of beating my husband!

PPs I could never have done this before I started juicing and became vegan. There has been a marked improvement in my overall health in the last 4-5 years. I think there has been a reduction in the inflammation throughout my body, plus the added nutrients feeding my muscles, nerves and so on.

Thank you for reading. I just had to tell someone!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood

A9782E54-B393-4A09-B173-2A2C704B7C59As I write, it’s midday on Sunday, the sky is a clear blue as far as the eye can see and the sun is bringing out the crocuses and daffodils in the front garden. A perfect time to go for a walk. Except it’s 2 degrees C out there with an icy wind. My crazy husband is out on a bike ride with the club, but I’m waiting a couple of hours for those predicted extra couple of degrees! So, I’ve put on the Prime Chill album, made a cup of 3 Mint tea and thought I would show you some pictures of last week’s walk on a similar day, when I went up to what used to be the horses’ field.

Not that long ago, I used to go regularly to see the permanent residents of this field, Dolly and Annie, two working carriage horses. Dolly was a black heavy, plodding mare who was so quiet and friendly. Annie was a tall chestnut and very temperamental. She was a bully and any other temporary residents were given short shrift, including the foals, often receiving a nip or a kick to let them know their place in the scheme of things. She was quite haughty, looking and behaving more like a thoroughbred. She would always push herself forward for any treats and I often had to distract her so that I could sneak some apple or carrot to Dolly or the foals. But they both allowed me to befriend them and would make their way over from the far corner of the field as soon as I approached, Dolly plodding over in her slow, lumbering fashion, Annie skittish and tossing her tail.

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I was privileged to witness one of Dolly’s foals being born, a really ugly little thing with a huge head, but he was so friendly and funny. Annie had a much more elegant-looking long-legged foal not long after and some months later, on a beautiful summer evening, I stood and watched as first Dolly’s foal started racing around the perimeter of the field, then Annie’s foal joined in. Annie was not impressed and tried to put a stop to it, but then Dolly got the itch and began charging around after the excited foals, pounding the ground with her heavy feet, and before long, Annie had to join in the fun. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Four horses careering around the field at full gallop, round and round, uninhibited, kicking up their legs every so often with the sheer freedom and fun of it all. Oh, to move with such joyful abandon in the fresh summer air under an endlessly clear sky!

 

Now, sadly, the field lies abandoned. The local authority wants to build a supermarket, petrol station and housing, by a busy roundabout in a residential area at the entrance to the town. Of course there has been a huge outcry and everything has been up in the air for a few years.

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This gnarly old tree used to be the only shade for up to 6 horses, next to a pond that gradually shrank over the years. Now the tree has apparently been struck by lightning, cleaved in two. It wasn’t an ideal situation for the horses: in summer it was completely overgrown with tall thistles and nettles, in Spring and Autumn, it was a boggy quagmire around the perimeter with all the rain. But it was a large space, with a right of way for walkers, who would bring treats as they passed through. I loved taking my young grandchildren there: they, too, saw the baby foal within minutes of its birth. It was a special time. We were on a nature walk at the time, I had given them a list of things to look out for. We had spotted guard-dog geese, a pair of swans with their cygnets, collected feathers, but this was truly a gem.

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Annie’s foal with my grandson

On my most recent walk, I spotted these gates further up the road on the opposite side to the field:

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I don’t know how many hundreds of times we have driven past, or the dozens of times I’ve walked past, but I have never noticed them before. I was always looking over the road for the horses. They are beautiful iron gates with metal flower ornamentation.

When I arrived home, a little sad and angry at what I had found by the field (see next Monday), I came through our gate and smiled. I saw the first real signs of Spring:

 

The daffodil had been proudly standing in bud since early January, the only one to be in such a hurry, and I thought it would be sure to get caught by the frosts, but has withstood everything the elements have thrown at it: frost, hail, rain, snow and icy winds, and now it was fully open. And there, too, was the first forsythia flower, a sign I always look for tell me that Spring is really very close.

And now the outdoors calls again, the sun couldn’t be brighter: it’s bouncing off windows and cars. Incredibly, we are forecast snow on Tuesday! Have a wonderful week, we are confined to barracks having the parquet flooring in the hallway refurbished, pictures soon.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

 B4B53D6F-9C92-4C30-920B-75FB1D18287AMany of you know that I have a long-term back problem, but perhaps not how serious it is. The warmer weather helps and today we ventured out for a walk along the former railway line, now turned Sustrans bike track. Unfortunately, I was enjoying myself so much that I pushed my body too far and my back seized up by the side of the canal where I had wanted to look at the brightly-coloured barges. I was in a bit of a pickle and knew I couldn’t turn around and go back, nor could I see a bench to perch on while I worked out how get out of this predicament.

I was wondering how on earth I would make it back to the car when I looked up and saw on a ledge a small rock painted with the words: ‘Staffs Smilesstones, please share a pic on FB then rehide me’ with the name of the family who had put it there. It did indeed make me smile, it was such a surprise, sitting there at my eyeline, waiting for me to look up and smile.

This smile and its subsequent break into laughter helped me relax enough to make it to where I needed to go – a nearby pub where I waited while my husband walked back to fetch the car.

When I got back home, and after a few hours’ rest, I looked up Staffs Smilestones and they have a page on Facebook, full of photos of young children with painted stones and cute happy faces, finding and re-hiding the rocks all over Staffordshire for the pure joy of giving someone a smile. I joined their group and will be painting my own rocks very soon.

I am sitting here with a heat pad on my back, having taken some Arnica and smoothed on some Arnica cream, about to go to bed, but wanted to share this story with you.

Here’s a calming photo of a barge drifting along the canal for your Friday night meditation 💜 I love the reflections in the water.

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I’ll be writing a fuller post with lots of photos of our walk when I’m up to it. Oh, and we didn’t get lost!

This story was first shared on Terry’s blog

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Jumpin’, Jivin’ an’ Jiggin’ About: Your Home As Your ‘Gym’!

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We all know any kind of movement is good for us.

We do, don’t we?

(Can’t hear you at the back of the class!) 

At this time of year especially, articles, tweets, tv programmes, Instagram memes all shout at us to get our bodies moving.

Just in case you’re still in any doubt or denial, here is a list of proven benefits:

  • it gets the heart pumping
  • improves circulation
  • builds muscle and bone which improves balance – especially important for those of us no longer in the first flush of youth
  • builds strength and stamina
  • creates endorphins which improves our mood, helps us feel better and therefore helps diminish those January blues and even depression.
  • makes you feel more alert and energetic
  • aids mental clarity, making us more productive and creative at work and home.
  • helps prevent lifestyle diseases like Type 2 diabetes through better control of blood sugar levels
  • helps keep our weight in check – if we also keep an eye on what we eat.
  • helps keep joints mobile and flexible

So, now you really do know that exercise is good for you, you can’t claim ignorance as your get-out clause!

But don’t worry, this post is not about going all out on the crossfit machine or hefting eye-watering weights at the gym. It’s all about movement and fun!

At this time of year, when the Christmas season is over, we feel overfed and lethargic, Spring is in the air and many of us start making plans to go to the gym, start running or take a zumba class.

Trouble is, in the cold months, our resolve can soon start dying a slow death. It’s cold, wet, dark, and miserable. The woodburner or the tv and a glass or cup of something warming are far more attractive. All that money spent on gym fees or trendy neon fit-wear may as well be flushed away for all the use we make of it.

Unfortunately, many of us have also had negative gym experiences or are old enough to remember the torture of school PE classes: being made to run cross-country in freezing conditions wearing t-shirt and shorts, inadequate footwear and with little or no preparation, the booming voice of the wrapped-up PE teacher in our ears decrying our efforts and urging us on, drill-sergeant style. (Anyone who has seen the film ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ will know what I mean!)

It’s also often difficult if not impossible for many of us to embark on formal exercise regimes due to having small children or sick family members or because we have physical problems of our own or simply can’t afford the expense. So we accept that’s how it has to be and get on with it, skipping over all the articles we see urging us to move more and diverting our eyes from all the pony-tailed, fitbit-wearing runners dashing past the window.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. No more guilt at being a trainer-free home-bod.

Hooray! you shout.

Hang on, you’re not getting off that easily! You still have to move about, just not in a gym or on the road. 

Here are some tips to get it all jiggin’ about:

  1. Your home can be your gym and everyday items your equipment. Little or no expense, warm environment (less chance of injury), relative privacy (though maybe not privacy from your relatives 😉), win-win situation. Your stairs can be your step-exercise, bottles of water or tinned goods your weights, your cd player your zumba instructor.

2. You can even incorporate exercise into your everyday activities.

And no-one needs to see you doing it!

According to the BBC programme ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor,’ * a group of people over 40 – and therefore losing muscle, I think the oldest was 67 – incorporated exercise into their daily activities. Over a month on average they gained 3% more muscle, 12% more muscle strength, 13% more muscle power and 4% more grip strength.

So how did they do it?

Visit the website to see in detail, but basically:

  • squats and standing on one leg while brushing their teeth
  • heel-raising while washing-up
  • lunges while vacuuming
  • arm curls with juice cartons or tins
  • wall presses.

You get the picture.

I would add to these:

  • using the stairs as often as possible
  • doing step-ups, and also hanging your heel off the edge of the step to stretch your calf muscles and tendons
  • standing up from a chair and sitting back down without using your hands during advert breaks while watching tv or sitting at your desk
  • doing a walking circuit of your home as often as possible
  • in an upright chair with arms, press down on the arms and raise your bottom from the seat for as long as is comfortable
  • even on your commute, on buses, trains or planes, you can raise alternate knees, toes and heels (maybe not in a car – unless you’re a passenger!)
  • on fine days, take a turn around the garden, up and down your driveway or around the block, look up at the sky, the trees, the birds, breathe and smile!

Exercising needs to be fun too or you’ll never stick to it. Here comes the Jumpin’, Jivin’ an’ Jiggin’ About bit! (At last!)

3. One piece of exercising equipment I would recommend investing in if you can manage it is a rebounder. You don’t have to jump like an Olympian!

Rebounders are not trampolines. They are not as springy and provide more resistance. And kids please note: don’t even attempt to do somersaults! Parents please note: children should always be supervised because they *will* attempt to do somersaults!

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NASA-approved, this method of exercising is accessible to most people if you start off slowly and simply, just gently bending your knees then graduating to lifting your heels and low bouncing before trying anything more energetic.

A couple of rebounding sessions a day exercises all parts of the body, gets your lymphatic system moving – strengthening your immune system and clearing out waste and toxins – and makes you feel more alive.

And it’s great fun.

Kids naturally love trampolining and this is great for getting them to exercise during the winter months when they can’t use the one in the garden. It tempts them away from their screens for a while which is always a good thing. Even the smallest members of our family make straight for it when they come for a visit. They are great family fun. (Again, children should always be supervised).

The Juicemaster website* sells various sizes of rebounders, the smaller ones fold up and have a carrying case. I can vouch for their quality and endurance.

4. Just dance like no-one is watching!

With or without a partner, dancing with reckless abandon is the best way to forget your worries and feel alive! Put on your favourite music, the one you like singing aloud to at high volume and just go for it! (see video below).

You can jig about when you’re in the kitchen – my regular readers will know that I often like to attach a YouTube track to accompany my recipes – or when you’re cleaning or tidying up, doing the ironing, doing a bike repair (one for you, K and S!😉). I have even seen my neighbour doing her ironing to the accompaniment of reggae music in her back garden in the summer, not caring a jot if anyone saw her.

In general, whatever your age, state of health, fitness or finances, any movement is better than no movement.

(I realise there are certain health conditions where this may not be appropriate).

5. Many of us, especially older people, get stiff joints and cold legs from sitting. While reading, doing the crossword or watching tv, you can raise your knees and heels up and down, rotate your ankles and wrists, stretch out your fingers and make a fist, walk about during the ad breaks even if it’s only to get up and make a cup of tea. Clench alternate groups of muscles and release. Do shoulder rotations.

img_2421My husband exercising on a borrowed rowing machine in the garage with a broken arm. He also used one of those stretchy bands that physios use which come in different levels of flexibility.

Do what you’re able and what you enjoy – with your family, friends or on your own. Walk, cycle, laugh, sing – they all exercise your body inside and out.

Just do!

6. Oh, and btw, apparently, exercising is more effective in burning fat if men exercise on an empty stomach and women after eating. (I can hear all the women cheering from the gallery!)

Ps Whatever form of exercise you do, be sure to warm up and stretch first,  and ease into it – it won’t do you much good if you pull a back muscle or sprain an ankle in your first session!

PPs If you have any concerns about whether or not you should follow any of the advice above, please do talk to your doctor.

*Trust Me, I’m A Doctor – you can watch on BBC iPlayer

*Juicemaster: Rebounders

(Thanks to Clive at Take It Easy for putting me on to these guys!)

Copyright: Chris McGowan