live it active


Exploring New Exercise Territory

I’ve been reading and watching quite a bit about explorers and exploring. It seems we humans have a penchant for testing the odds, for pushing the limits, for taking a risk in pursuit of a reward so great, they often perish in its pursuit.

How does this relate to exercise? Well, if you’re heading out on a exploratory trek that will take you across great plains or tundras, or into luscious ran forests or up mountains, you’re likely going to get a workout. Yet, most of us don’t have the time or the means for such adventures, nor do most of us want to.

But we don’t have to engage in a massive or life-threatening journey to be considered an explorer. We can explore on a smaller scale – within our neighbourhood, city, or ourselves. We can explore our own physical limits, but also our mental limits through a variety of means – going to a new exercise class, trying an activity we are afraid of (for whatever reason), joining a running group, attending a meditation class, finally setting up an appointment with a counselor  etc. We often establish limits – both physical and mental – to what we can and will do, even when we want to push past them. We’re often left standing at the starting gait because we’re afraid.

Okay let me give you an example. I’d like to see the underwater world, but the times I’ve gone snorkeling have been petrifying (I don’t like the fish swimming at my goggles…this happened…I’m not lying) and I’m afraid of dying underwater if I go scuba diving. Death is a pretty big fear. But seeing as I’m comfortable with the notion of going sky diving and that I ride horses and hike in the bear-filled mountains, death isn’t the real reason I’m afraid.

I have to dig a little deeper because the reason I’ve provided isn’t the real one. Underwater, my oxygen supply is determined by a tank – I don’t have control of when it empties or if it malfunctions. Underwater, my swimming ability is aided by flippers and a wet suit, but I will always remain a slow and nervous swimmer. Underwater, I would have trouble defending myself from a predator, more so than on land (at least in my opinion). Underwater, I lose a lot of control and that’s the real reason I’m afraid. Not because I might die, but because I wouldn’t have a lot of control over how my death could occur.

Okay here’s another, less extreme example. About a year and half ago, I was asked if I wanted to become a Zumba instructor to teach at a local community centre. Training would be provided for free. At first, I was extremely hesitant. As a fairly uncoordinated, non-dancer I didn’t think I had the necessary skills. I was afraid of making a fool of myself. At first I said ‘no’, but I kept thinking about it. I couldn’t back down because I was afraid (this is why I will go scuba diving one of these days). I finally accepted, completed my training, taught for a few months at the community centre and eventually, started my own business teaching business to the community. I absolutely loved it. Every minute of every class was a delight. I’m so thankful I got over my fear of failure and accepted the challenge.

Perhaps you have some fears or well-established boundaries holding you back from participating in a challenge. Perhaps you’re afraid of injury. Perhaps you’re afraid of not accomplishing the challenge. Perhaps you’re afraid of succeeding – yes, succeeding.

Whatever the fear or the boundary, I encourage you to evaluate it. Dig deeper. Understand the true root of the fear. Get comfortable with the fact you have fears and boundaries. Once comfortable, start to challenge them. Come up with a strategy to get around the fear. Come up with a plan.

Why am I encouraging you to explore your physical and mental limits? Because if you don’t, you’re likely going to miss out on something or some things that are great, fun, exciting, life-changing, life-affirming – you get the picture.

I know if I don’t go scuba diving one of these days that I will miss out on the splendor of the sea and all the creatures that it holds. What will you miss?

M


Friday Funny

Good morning.

It is a little busy in my professional life at the moment hence the lack of regular posts, but I wanted to provide with at least a laugh as you enter into the weekend (yay)!

I’ve now watched this particular video three times and laughed each time. I grew up with cats and it wasn’t until I went to university and came back home that I realized I was actually allergic. To this day, my mom still has three cats (one is actually mine) and when I go home I must take at least 1 to 2 allergy pills per day. But even though I’m allergic and would choose a dog over a cat for a pet, they always manage to make me laugh. It’s impossible to deny that I love them (but I love most animals).

Happy watching!

M


11 Greatest Diet Myths

Ah the world of dieting. It’s a world full of mind-boggling and often unsafe recommendations. It’s a world that most will enter into at some point in their life – a very unfortunate thing.

Why unfortunate? Because diets are not sustainable and therefore, will never work in the long haul. Sure, you’ll drop a couple pounds at the beginning, but when you stop whatever you’re doing, the weight is likely to creep back on.

I came across this article and thought the writer did a wonderful job of explaining 11 of the greatest lies in mainstream nutrition.  The best part – it’s evidence based and readers are able to link the actual journal article the writer is referencing. Love it.

Highlights for me (remember these are the myths that the writer is challenging):

  • That eggs are unhealthy due to cholesterol levels 
  • That low fat diets are the way to go
  • That saturated fats are bad for you and lead to heart disease
  • That high protein diets put strain on your kidneys and increase the risk of osteoporosis
  • That you should eat many small meals per day

As the title suggests, there are six more myths. I highly recommend you read the article.

Due to a recent dietary shift (not diet) within my household I can speak firsthand to the benefits of adopting a low carbohydrate / high fat and protein diet. While the weight loss is undeniable (and perhaps a little too fast for my liking), the emotional benefits associated with this particular eating style are remarkable. Reduced fatigue, better sleep, improved mood, more energy for skiing, hiking, and snow-shoeing. Thus, there are many benefits other than weight loss and if you’ve ever my posts on motivation, these emotional benefits are actually better predictors of long-term success.

This article may throw some of your long-held notions out the window. If it does, I encourage you to link the journal articles and read through the various studies. Understanding the science is important and it may help to quell some of your fears on the subject.

Happy myth-busting!

M


Let’s Talk…about Mental Illness

Today is Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” day, an annual mental illness and mental health awareness-raising initiative.

As some of my readers know, I work in the mental health field, specifically in workplace mental health. But I don’t just work in mental health, I actually believe in it.mental-illness-sketch_20110328091118

So what does mental health mean? According to the World Health Organization mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

Of course, this definition will vary depending on an individual’s professional and personal experience, but I do think the above definition captures the essence of mental health. We want to work well and be well at work. We want to contribute to our community (whether this community consists of friends and family or is much broader in scope) in a meaningful manner. We want to move through the trials and tribulations of life as best as we possibly we can, utilizing the resources we have available to us. We want to find peace (whatever your definition of peace may be) within our ever-changing and ever-busy lives.

But we must realize that mental health takes work and that sometimes some have to work harder than others to achieve mental health. Some of us are born with a different genetic code. Some of us are born into different families, within different cultures with varying norms and expectations. Some of us have experienced great trauma (and we must understand that “great trauma” can only be defined by the person who experiences it as we undeniably vary in our perception of life events). Some of us work in environments that are not only psychologically unsafe, but still remain physically unsafe.

We must appreciate that each and every one of us steps up to the plate with a different genetic code and life experience and that these differences have a huge impact on how we perceive, process, and handle certain life events. We must fundamentally understand that our lens is not the same as our co-worker’s, our partner’s or our best friend’s.

While I laud Bell’s campaign*, I also think their television advertising campaign somewhat perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness. The two commercials I’ve seen feature a mopey, isolated man in his living room and a counter-gripping, head-sagging woman calling in sick to work. While some people experiencing a mental illness may exhibit such symptoms at home, when completely alone, a large majority won’t. And they will likely not exhibit such symptoms at work or with friends. They’ll more than likely act like nothing is wrong – that things are, for the most part, pretty hunky dory.

This is what makes mental illness such a tricky and easily-misunderstood disease. We may assume a person experiencing depression will look sad or cry. We may assume a person experiencing anxiety will bite their nails and become easily agitated. We may assume a person who has a drinking addiction will show up to work drunk. We may assume a person with schizophrenia is going to become physically or verbally aggressive.

Our assumptions often interfere with our ability to truly “see”. We assume that the receptionist who cried today at work is depressed and miss the employee working overtime who’s experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In fact, they’re probably being applauded and encouraged. Guided by our assumptions, which are largely determined by various societal myths, we may (or may not) catch ourselves or hear others saying:

  • “Oh, Sally? She’s just crazy. Ignore her last email.”
  • “Dave’s been off for a few days now. Seriously, he should just suck it up.”
  • “He’s faking it.”
  • “She’s got Bipolar? She can’t possibly be productive at work.”
  • “How can she not cope with the stress of that job? I did it for 5 years without one issue.”

We (not all) may make these assumptions, but often fail to recognize statistics on mental illness. That almost 1 in 2 working Canadians are currently experiencing or have experienced a mental illness. That 500,000 Canadians miss work each day due to mental illness. That it knows no gender, race or age. That it can strike at any time, regardless of the situation. That one cannot simply “suck it up”. That one is likely not “faking it” to get out of work. Honestly, would you ask someone diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes to suck it up?

Mental illness affects our life whether we know it or not. More importantly, it affects our life whether we like it or not.

We’re all different. We all come with a different story. We all have a different perception of what’s “normal” and have varying abilities to “cope” with the demands of a job and life in general. Just because our “normal” dictates that someone should be able to work from 8 to 6 with a short lunch break and produce 3 presentations without getting stressed, does not mean that is or should be someone else’s normal. 

Challenging our own assumptions, challenging our “normal” will be difficult. I cannot promise doing so is going to be all reward. It’s not. It’s going to be an uphill, frustrating and potentially messy battle at times. And it should be noted that the workplace will likely face the greatest struggle as there remains considerable stigma embedded within that culture. But I’m not giving you an excuse, just a warning. A warning to help you better prepare for what’s to come when and if you decide to take part in this monumental paradigm shift.

Obviously this post has a workplace focus to it given my role at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Calgary, but I have a strong personal connection to mental illness. My maternal grandmother has Depression and has, from my understanding, her entire life and my paternal grandmother also had a mood disorder, likely Bipolar Affective Disorder. So mental illness definitely runs in my family. And like many other Canadians, I have close friends who have experienced or are currently experiencing a mental illness.

I’m proud to be a part of this mental health awareness-raising initiative. Removing stigma in its entirety would be ideal, but is not realistic. Like any movement, this will take time and will face much resistance. Cancer faced considerable stigma throughout the mid and late 20th century. Those with the disease often felt considerable shame and fear of disclosing to their boss or coworkers (even family and friends). Today, cancer campaigns surround us marking a monumental shift in how society views and accepts the disease. So let’s hope the mental health movement will parallel the cancer movement. In fact, I hope it can move more quickly due to social media and advertising campaigns such as Let’s Talk.

In closing, I believe the more we talk and begin to truly understand that each person has a unique way of perceiving, processing and dealing with situations, the better. I guess it fundamentally comes down to acceptance. And true acceptance will take much time, patience, and a considerable amount of energy and effort on the part of advocates for mental health.

Who’s an advocate? Anyone willing to talk and facilitate dialogue on mental illness and mental health. Anyone willing to speak out against stigma and strategize new and innovative ways to address it. Anyone willing to share their story. Anyone trying to make a meaningful and lasting difference within the lives of those experiencing mental illness.

Become an advocate for mental health. Talk. Share. Facilitate. Listen. But most importantly, accept.

M

*Please note that I honestly believe the pros of Bell’s campaign largely outweigh any cons.


#thighgap #skinnymini #thinspiration

I watched an interesting clip on CTV news regarding a new female body trend called the “thigh gap”.

Seriously? Are you wondering what I’m talking about? Check out the image below.

So women of all ages have yet another image to aspire to – to have a gap between their thighs. As if there isn’t already enough pressure to be thin, have the perfect breasts, reduce “cell” a.k.a cellulite, ensure smooth and blemish free skin, oh and to have the right colour vagina (that is a whole other can of worms that I’m not going to get into now, but if you’re intrigued I encourage you to investigate new dyeing cream for womanly parts).

I would like all women to turn to any man in your life – your partner, friend, father, uncle, brother and ask them what they think of the thigh gap. I bet they’ll have no clue what you’re talking about. And if they do, they’re not going to give two hoots if you have a thigh gap or not. And if they do (you know what’s coming), I encourage you to drop their sorry behinds (yes, I’m 80 and said behinds).

Why am I so unbelievably passionate about this particular issue? Because the young women (and all ages for that matter) of today are already under such extreme pressure to be “perfect” that they have lost sight of the truly important aspects of life and living. The access to information via the internet, social media, television, friend groups and the list goes on is astonishing. I look at images of younger generations (those currently in junior high and highschool) and notice a significant difference in dress, makeup level, hair relative to my experience as a “young’n”. While I may not be the best comparison as I wore butterfly shirts until the ripe age of 14, I do think access to information has changed body image expectations of youth today.

I encourage you to watch the 5-minute segment on CTV (inserted below). The psychotherapist interviewed during the clip makes an excellent and profound point, “instead of looking at your body as an achievement, look at your lifestyle as the achievement…what are you doing to make your body healthy”. I don’t think I have the quote exactly correct, but watch the video and you’ll get the real deal.

The Thigh Gap (video)

Do we judge our bodies because doing so is more objective than measuring our activity levels and food intake? I’m not trying to suggest that we start measuring either of those things because that too, can become unhealthy. Yet, it’s important to ask “why is our physical appearance more important than what our bodies are capable of?” Why are we (and sadly this includes me) are we so concerned with our fat percentage as opposed to being appreciative of our body and how it was able to sustain a 10 KM run or a 20 KM hike or a 200 KM bike ride? Why are we concerned about having a thigh gap as opposed to being appreciative of all that our amazing thighs do for us each and everyday?

These are important questions to ask. Questions that I must ask myself. Questions that all women AND men should ask themselves (because men are definitely not free from societal pressure when it comes to their bodies).

We are a society obsessed with thinness and often ignore the means utilized to accomplish this “perfect” end. I don’t often write rants, but this particular issue is deserving of a rant. In fact, it’s deserving of many. I encourage you to rant away in the comments section of this blog or perhaps get a petition going to ban such hashtags from the Twittersphere. No, that won’t stop the problem, it goes much deeper than Twitter, but it may help. It may stop trends such as #thighgap or #skinnymini from taking off. It may help to reduce the number of young and rather impressionable women from learning about another new and potentially harmful fashion / body trend. It may not, but it’s worth a try.

M


Dealing with Death

When you begin writing a blog you vow to yourself, your readers, and your friends and family that you will not, I repeat, will not discuss your personal life. Sadly, I broke that vow quite early on and I’m going to break it again today.

I was in Ontario last week for a family emergency. My granny was and still is dying. The doctors told my family that she did not have long for this world and the best thing to do was to bring her home from the hospital. So we did. We bundled her up like like a Russian doll (you know the ones, except there wasn’t a smaller version of my granny inside…at least I hope). She took the ambulance ride like a trooper, joking with the EMTs when appropriate. After two days at home she asked for food. This request may not seem that startling, but as my granny had not asked for food in almost two months, it came as a surprise to us.

From that point, she started to become more engaged. Eating a little bit more each day, drinking water and juice, and even joining the family in the living room. While she remains a shadow of her former self, her unexpected rally (which is still happening) was a pleasant surprise for me and my family.

Yet, even though it was a pleasant surprise it was and remains stressful for all involved. As a family, we had to accept the fact that bringing my grandmother home would result in her death. We moved through this challenge and came to some level of acceptance of what was to come. Then we had to accept that death wasn’t going to occur within the time period the doctors had estimated – that she was going to live longer. I had to inform my work that my grandmother, after two months of basically being non-responsive to food, liquid, and family care, had decided to live again (if even for a short while). My family had to do the same – informing their respective workplaces that they would be returning to work within the next few days, that my granny had come back from the almost-dead.

Moving back and forth between life and death is an exhausting process. It’s sad, stressful, and completely gray – there is no black or white, well, until the person actually dies. It’s exhausting because every person involved in the dying person’s care has a different outlook and expectation about what should happen. Some family members are spiritual, some are not. Some don’t like using the word death while others cannot stand using inaccurate terminology. So whilst dealing with the process of losing someone you love, you have to manage your own expectations and behaviour so as not to offend or upset a family member. And let’s face it, that’s hard for anyone, regardless of intellect, age, or life experience.

So why am I sharing this with the blogosphere? Perhaps it’s helping me to process the events of last week. Perhaps it’s because throughout the week I managed to remain fairly level-headed and calm. My emotions didn’t run away with me. I helped when needed. I cared for my granny when she asked. And I find this surprising based on my behaviour in the past when dealing with stressful or difficult situations.

I attribute this relative state of calm to two things: 1) Mindfulness and, 2) Exercise. Since integrating and accepting the concept and practice of mindfulness into my life almost a year and a half ago, I have noticed a seismic shift in how I approach and deal with stress. I still have a way to go, but I am impressed with the results so far. And lastly, exercise has been and always will be my go-to coping mechanism. I managed to get to the gym twice last week (I even got to workout with my mom which I always love doing) and went for a walk with my dad (in -20 weather, eek). My workouts were not overly intense, nor long, but they allowed me a break from the ongoing and ever-stressful situation of dying. Yes, exercise is a stress on the body, but it’s a good stress. It makes you stronger and better prepares you for future stress. It makes the body and mind more resilient. So not only were last weeks workouts beneficial, but all the workouts I’ve ever done before last week.

As the creator of mindfulness states, “it is better to weave your parachute before you jump out of a plane”.

We must think of exercise, mindfulness, eating healthy, taking breaks at work, or whatever you do to effectively manage stress as threads within our metaphorical parachute – the more we do, the more threads we have and the stronger our parachute becomes for the inevitable jump.

My parachute was ready for the jump. My only task now, make the necessary repairs and continue to weave for the future.

M



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