Wellness Wednesday: Why Being a Friend is Good for your Health

There’s a new bounce in my step. Part of the feeling comes from some good news: A cyst that cropped up on my pancreas has disappeared. Good. Moving on.

But most of the bounce in my step comes from a new energy. Maybe it’s that I’m swimming again. Or maybe it’s that I’m spending more time with a good friend.

Supporting my friend

My dear friend and neighbor C. took swimming classes this summer, taking the plunge at the urging of her husband to overcome a life-long fear of the water. In just three weeks, she progressed from a panicked doggie paddle to this, which I recorded when I got up earlier than usual to attend her graduation day swim. (Yes, I do testament to the 50’s with my exclamations of ”Holy mackerel!” Another one I seem to use a lot is “Phooey.”)

C swimming class graduation day!

C invited me to help her continue to practice her newfound skill by joining her at our community pool a few mornings a week before her work day.

It was a big ask: being fully retired, I’ve gotten very accustomed to sleeping in, waking slowly over breakfast and the newspaper, and doing some writing before getting out the door for a two-mile walk with our dog.

But C. had made so much progress — not just the crawl, but backstroke, breaststroke and sidestroke! — that I simply couldn’t say no. Swimming alone is not a good idea — although I usually do water exercise once or twice a week, it has been a long time since I’ve done any serious swimming for lack of company.

So, I set my alarm, organized breakfast and the dog, and started showing up.

Helping a friend got me healthier

That was a month ago. Three mornings a week, I am up early, knowing that C. is doing the same, and we meet at our community pool. We catch up and goggle up, and then we’re in the water.

I have watched C continue to develop her new skill. As her arms and legs settle into their rhythm, she is finding freedom in the water and emerges into the warming air with a huge smile on her face. Swimming is a joyful exploration.

My old swimming routine was just waiting for me. The slow ten lengths of freestyle, my body gradually releasing the night’s tension. The mix-up of breaststroke, freestyle, backstroke, and a sort-of butterfly, the variety entertaining my mind and challenging my body. The hypnotic burble of breath and bubble. The final laps bring me home, panting.

We stretch and talk, or talk and stretch. And talk some more on the walk back home. Then we each disappear into the requirements of the day, knowing that, in a day or two, we’ll do this all again.

My friend’s company was just the support I needed to reclaim an old habit. And swimming has become another vehicle though which our friendship blossoms.

Friendship and exercise, what a great combination

The happy buzz of endorphins percolates through my body all day long. I feel stronger, more connected, and more committed to my health. And grateful for a friend’s support.

I thought I was doing her a favor, when in fact it was I who received the blessing.

C and me in the pool
C and me in the pool

Wellness Wednesday: How I Built Back Better

Regular readers will know that I am a huge advocate of water exercise. Last month, I wrote about what water exercise can do for you. In May, I wrote about how water fitness helped me survive a 2019 ruptured aneurysm and to recover and rehabilitate as I celebrated my second anniversary of that trauma. At the end of 2019, when I was strong enough to resume taking classes and before the pandemic had shut down LA Fitness, I wrote that water keeps saving my life.

Heel pain prevented me from jogging

One of the reasons that I became such an advocate of water exercise years ago was that I had developed plantar fasciitis, heel pain that did not permit me to continue to jog as my cardiovascular routine. Although I purchased orthodic inserts for my sneakers, iced my heels, and stretched as recommended by the physical therapists at FYZICAL, nothing really improved. Blame my high-arched dancer’s feet, too tender for the hard world of running.

Buoyancy allowed me to run in water, and resistance improved my overall strength. I even put my old orthotics in my water shoes, — mine are from Ryka.

I didn’t think I would ever jog again. It never occurred to me that I might have to re-learn how to walk, or that starting over would rehabilitate the old injury as I built back better.

I had to re-learn how to walk

July 2019

When I was released from the Amsterdam ICU after six weeks, most of it intubated and inert, I had lost 30 percent of my body weight and the ability to move. Returning home to the United States depended on my ability to walk. Weeks into recovery in the hospital’s 7A unit, I finally stood, but my legs felt as empty as cardboard tubes. Weeks of additional work with my awesome physiotherapists, and I flew home.

Better alignment

My dance background and my American Council on Exercise personal trainer certification helped me be aware of keeping my ears over my shoulders, my shoulders down and back, and my knees over my hips. As my body slowly came back into its own through physical therapy at FYZICAL, there were weeks when I felt like a Transformer every time I slowly stood up, my parts slowly clicking into place.

Better body mechanics

I used the audio workouts from WeightWatchers, aaptiv, to keep me focused and motivated on my outdoor walks. For the first time since my days as a barefoot modern dancer, I was super conscious of how I used my feet in propelling my weight forward. As much as I thought I knew about how to move, I picked up tips like landing mid-foot instead of on my heel. That single tip probably helped more than any other in keeping plantar fasciitis at bay.

Fall 2020

Better strengthening

I continued to do the exercises I had done at PT to strengthen my legs (particularly squats and monster walks), adding resistance bands when my old Lycra water bands gave out. Mine are Fitfort, no longer under that in Amazon, but they look very similar to these. My daughter’s hand weights came out of the closet, too.

Better stretching

The two things I missed most about moving my body while I was hospitalized were relaxation — when you’re lying in bed all day, you never get that “ahhh” release — and stretching. As I recovered strength and movement, I regained the need to relax and the ability to stretch. Water gave me back loads of stretching, and my weekly yoga class with Jade Wonzo has facilitated even more.

Et voilá! I’m jogging

Bit by bit, walking became trotting became jogging, without any heel pain, and now I’m jogging — not running every day but doing a steady 15-minute mile several times a week. I’m swimming or biking the other days. And doing weights and stretching too. Our rescue Lab and I walk every day.

Someone said, “Oh, you’re cross-training!” Guess so. A little bit of everything seems to be a good balance for now. As I continue to build back better.

September 8, 2021 running in my Ryka water shoes

Wellness Wednesday: How the Fitness Habit Helped One Journalist Recover from COVID

My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

I recognized the gratitude in these words. My exercise teaching experience gave me a whole lot of helping hands when I pulled myself up from post-Intensive Care syndrome following my lengthy hospitalization in 2019. Although my illness pre-dated COVID, I felt a sort of kinship with Jorge Milian’s experience. I wanted to find out more.

Here is what I learned in my research, including a telephone conversation with Jorge a few weeks ago.

Palm Beach Post reporter Jorge Milian

In his coverage of the COVID pandemic’s impact on his beat of Lake Worth Beach and Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Post reporter and journalist Jorge Milian has written tributes to fallen community leaders and other victims of the virus, stories on the verbal attacks on the city’s Central American migrants, and articles on the eviction moratorium. What he never expected to write was a story on his own hellish encounter with COVID-19 at the end of January.

Hellish month

I had a raging fever, my head felt like it was on the verge of exploding and each of the 206 bones in my body ached.

That began around 4-5 weeks of unpleasantness that, at its worst, had me wondering if I would wind up like some of the people I’ve written about since last March in the Palm Beach Post who died after getting COVID-19 (and if would I have time to alert the Post’s editors not to use the headshot that makes me look 20 pounds heavier in my obituary?)

I can joke about it now. But there’s nothing funny about running a high fever for days and feeling like you are trying to breathe under water while your doctor is wondering aloud whether you should check into a hospital – a thought that terrified me even more than the unexplainable nightmares and hallucinations that dogged me for around 10 unrelenting, miserable days and nights.

Walking from one side of the house to the other seemed like a marathon. The worst of it was at night when I would wake up gasping for air, almost as if I had forgotten to breathe.

Fatigue was another big issue. For around two weeks after getting sick, I would sleep for 10 hours then spend the rest of the day feeling like I needed a nap.

My doctor told me I should seriously consider going to the hospital if my oxygen level fell below 90. My oxygen level never dropped under 92, but still low enough for thoughts of ventilators and doctors in space suits to cram my thoughts.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

Exercise habit

In a recent conversation, Jorge told me that before being bedridden by COVID-19 for 15 days, he had not been sick in his 26 years with The Palm Beach Post. He is an active 61-year-old, a diligent gym-goer (“a little bit of a maniac”), and former runner. He credits his lifetime fitness habit with his quick comeback.

As sick as I got, I still feel kind of lucky. My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery. [Still], it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I can go for my hour-long bike ride or complete my daily strengthtraining routine without stopping every 15 minutes to catch my breath.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

His body struggled though what had been comfortable workouts.

When I returned to the gym, it felt like a fever would suddenly rage through my body, heating up like crazy, although my temperature would be normal. But my muscle memory was there to see me though.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Fitness advice

Jorge is happy to be on the other side of his COVID-19 illness. He is not a long hauler, having been able to resume his full activity routine. And what does he recommend to help others build up their strength?

Find something you like to do and do it. Every day. Consistently. Work up to being active for an hour a day.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Staying well

Follow the public health recommendations: get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that contracting COVID-19 was no worse than catching the flu, but the virus put this 60-year-old through a physical and mental wringer like I haven’t experienced before.

What I had, you don’t want.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021
Reporter Jorge Milian, photo Thomas Cordy, The Palm Beach Post

Wellness Wednesday: What Metabolism Myth Was Just Busted?

Although people gain on average more than a pound and a half a year during adulthood, they can no longer attribute it to slowing metabolisms.

Gina Kolata, The New York Times, August 12, 2021

Metabolism steady through adulthood

My friend Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness, brought this new information to my attention.

In a recent New York Times article, What We Think We Know About Metabolism May Be Wrong, science reporter Gina Kolata writes that a recent study published in Science Magazine opens to question the belief that the rate at which our bodies burn calories slows as we age. Instead, the study found, adult metabolism holds steady from age 20 to 60. So much for blaming middle-age spread on our slowing bodies.

No difference between men and women

The study also found no significant difference between men’s and women’s metabolic rates.

Everything changes at 60

On a more sobering note, there is a big slow-down after 60, with a 20 percent drop by age 95.

There is a myth of retaining youth. That’s not what the biology says. In and around age 60, things start to change. There is a time point when things are no longer as they used to be.

Rozalyn Anderson, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, quoted in What We Think We Know About Metabolism May Be Wrong.

So, there’s no blaming a slow metabolism before you’re 60, and then everything falls apart. Great.

What can we do? Move more, eat better, and sleep longer.

Move more

Exercise is the key!

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness

Getting off the couch immediately improves our body’s ability to burn calories and break down body fat, and to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Get a fitness tracker to see how many steps you take each day. Information is power! Challenge yourself to do a little more and see if you can get to 10,000.

Eat better

USDA myplate.gov
USDA myplate.gov

Remember the old food pyramid? It’s now been simplified (and assigned portion control) as a small dinner plate. (Yes, plates have expanded in size along with our bodies!) A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean protein is the key to good nutrition. And drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Find out more at myplate.gov.

When deciding what to eat or drink, choose options that are full of nutrients. Make every bite count.

Myplate.gov

Sleep longer

Getting enough sleep is an essential part of a well-rounded health routine — We’ve all had those sluggish mornings that just beg for breakfasts loaded with sugar and fat, which send us crashing hours later.

Establish a screen-free bedtime routine to help you disengage from the day. I drink a calming cup of Sleepytime tea and take a relaxing bath before I turn in. And I sleep more deeply since I began using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to reduce apnea interruptions. Martin Sheen’s character, Robert, now sports one on Grace and Frankie. Here’s why. A short Season 7 is up!

Wellness Wednesday: How I celebrated my second anniversary of being alive

As I sipped my first cup of coffee this morning, I checked for the Amsterdam time. It was about two in the afternoon, two years ago to the hour from when my heart stopped on May 5, 2019.

My second anniversary

We’d just crossed the Atlantic on a Holland America cruise ship and should have been at Keukenhof Gardens but my husband had bronchitis, so we had stayed in Amsterdam to pick up medicine when I fainted on the sidewalk.
The EMTs arrived quickly, but my vital signs were within normal range and I told them I felt perfectly fine. Of course I did not feel perfectly fine. I’d had several days of cramping in my abdomen but I had been ignoring it, focused as I was on the next leg of our journey and a reunion with family at the Oslo Opera. “Take us back to the ship,” I commanded.

The ship doctor would not let us back on board unless we signed waivers relieving Holland America of the responsibility for our actions. I was determined, R was sick, and getting back to our room seemed like the only thing to do. We signed the waivers and got to the room, but when R returned with lunch 15 minutes later I was sprawled on the bed, semi conscious. This time, the decision was made for us — the ship doctor and his staff, along with a new set of EMTs, evacuated us off the ship within minutes. Although I understand I must have been unconscious, I remember someone saying as I was rolled into the ER at OLVG Hospital, “We are starting CPR.”

Imagine my poor husband watching this drama unfold, sitting in the ER lounge with our luggage and still very, very sick himself.

Surviving

The ER team identified a ruptured arterial aneurysm in my abdomen as the reason for my condition, and they quickly performed a clamping procedure that stopped the leak. However, the amount of blood in my abdomen had already begun to wreak havoc with my organs, and I spent the next six weeks in the ICU as my body fought off failure.

Our daughter and my sister flew to be at my husband’s side through these very long and dark weeks, and they were supported by the remarkably compassionate OLVG doctors and nurses and the extended family of another ICU patient. These dear people became our friends forever — I just mailed them some gifts.

Recovering

When I was discharged to the hospital’s gastroenterology unit, I had lost 30% of my bodyweight and the ability to move. The doctors told me that I might not have made it at all had I not been strong, the result of teaching water exercise to fellow retirees in Florida. The lifetime exercise habit gave my body the muscle memory it needed as I slowly recovered my ability to move, then to stand, then to walk.

R and I flew to Florida at the end of July, where the University of Florida Shands Hospital took over my care and confirmed that I was strong enough to continue my recovery as an outpatient. I shuffled down my neighborhood sidewalk using a walker and then a cane, and regained my ability to walk unassisted through physical therapy. We even joined a gym, and then, just weeks before my first anniversary, the pandemic hit.

Living

Quarantine did not stop me. My walks got longer and faster. The hand weights came out from the closet. I worked out on Zoom with my sister’s Colorado fitness instructor. We bought a stationary bike. I swam in our community pool and jogged in the ocean.

I have regained, maybe even surpassed, my May 5, 2019 strength and resilience. My next Shands checkup is in July, and we’re expecting me to be discharged.

Gratitude

I really wasn’t sure how I was going to celebrate this day. But then, I got a surprise call from Marsha, who was the first person to entrust me with being her personal trainer in the water. Marsha had just finished a water exercise class with an instructor who was filled with joy and enthusiasm, the feeling that I hoped to impart with every class when I was teaching. The repetition of exercises we’d worked on together, the freedom of moving in water and connecting with others — well, she simply had to call me.

As we caught up with each others lives, I was filled with gratitude for Marsha and all my former students who helped me to be strong enough to survive in 2019. We have made it through this awful pandemic year and will see each other over breakfast or in a pool when conditions permit. We are in each other’s lives, and that is a wonderful thing.

Indeed, I am reminded, today and every day, that life is a wonderful thing.

Wellness Wednesday: How Ordinary Activity Improves Your Life

I am approaching the two-year anniversary of my shocking illness. On May 5, 2019, an undiagnosed aneurysm ruptured while my husband and I were in Amsterdam. Three months later, I left Amsterdam’s OVLG Hospital, whose skilled staff saved my life while their compassionate hearts helped me to begin recovering in a body that was left wasted by repeated brushes with death.

It has taken me two years to fully rehabilitate. I am grateful every time my feet hit the floor, or I roll over in bed, or I grab a heavy pan, or I sit up straight. I will never again take movement for granted. And neither should you, because you can improve your quality of life through ordinary activity.

Here is my experience and the findings of new research from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.  

Mobility Disability Affects One in Four of Us

When I returned home, I could stand, but not long. I could walk, but not far. And I could not lift my foot high enough to step up on a curb. I was among the 25 percent of older women who are mobility impaired.

One in four women over age 65 is unable to walk two blocks or climb a flight of stairs. Known as mobility disability, it is the leading type of incapacity in the United States and a key contributor to a person’s loss of independence.

Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego 

Exercise Guidelines Are Unrealistic

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

The Mayo Clinic

Before my illness, I was a fitness instructor, putting 55-plus men and women through hour-long aerobic, strengthening, and stretching classes many times a week. Since I dedicated myself to recovery, I have inhabited a far more real world of older Americans who are just not going to get those 150 minutes in. Ever.

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is increasingly more difficult to perform as people age.

John Bellettiere, Ph.D., UC San Diego

Light-Intensity Movement is the Key

We found that, among older women, light-intensity physical activity preserves mobility later in life.

Andrea LaCroix, PhD, MPH, UC San Diego

When you’re learning how to move again, every activity is challenging. As I’ve regained my strength, it’s tempting to disregard everyday movement, but it’s precisely this kind of routine activity that turns out to be the key to independence.

All movement counts if you want to maintain mobility.

Nicole Glass, UC San Diego

— Standing up during the television commercials.

— Making yourself that cup of tea.

— Browsing the garden to see what’s coming up this spring.

— Emptying the dishwasher (this is one you can “gift” to your housemate.)

— Taking a walk down the block. Or around the block.

And, as my friend Marlo Scott said in our post of last week:

Have fun while you move!

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness.

You can find out more about Marlo Scott’s fitness and wellness work here.

Wellness Wednesday: Exercise Doesn’t Guarantee Weight Loss, So Why Do It?

I’d like a good swim or long walk to earn me a Snicker’s bar, but that’s not how it works.

As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise.

Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic, cited on Oprah.com

So, why exercise if it’s not about weight loss?

I posed that question to my friend Marlo Scott, owner of First Class Fitness and Wellness and a former colleague when I taught exercise classes to active seniors in nearby Boynton Beach. Marlo, a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, holds a Masters degree in Health Education and is on the faculty of Broward College.

Although exercise alone doesn’t guarantee weight loss, it does make us healthier by reducing blood pressure, the risk for diabetes, arthritis pain, and depression and anxiety.

Marlo Scott

Exercise reduces blood pressure

The Mayo Clinic explains the correlation: physical activity makes your heart stronger = pumping more blood with less effort = reducing the force on your arteries and lowering your blood pressure.

Exercise reduces risk for diabetes

The Joselin Diabetes Center says that exercise alters fat to release a protein into the blood system, helping to improve glucose tolerance.

Exercise reduces arthritic pain

The Aquatic Exercise Association has partnered with the Arthritis Foundation to develop pool-based classes that use water’s buoyancy, resistance, and pressure to facilitate movement and relieve arthritic pain. I was an AEA-certified instructor before my 2019 illness, and being in water gave me back my body after losing so much muscle mass in the ICU.

Exercise reduces depression and anxiety

The Mayo Clinic says that exercise releases feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals, and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Getting more social interaction lifts the spirit. And the positive feed-back loop about knowing you’re doing something good for yourself brings you back for more.

Above all, find something that you enjoy! Have fun while you move.

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness

You can find out more about Marlo Scott’s fitness and wellness work here.