Exercise, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

March in Review

Another month closer to 50!  Two more months to go.

At the beginning of March I set myself three goals:

  1. Not drink alcohol
  2. Cut out sweet treats
  3. Try to increase activity levels

It would be fair to say that I achieved mixed results!

With regards to the alcohol, I did manage to cut down the amount of wine that I was drinking.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a great wine guzzler, but I don’t handle it particularly well.  I wanted to see if it did have that much of a difference on my general health and pain levels.  It does definitely have an impact.  Does it cause my pain?  I don’t think so.  But if I am in pain, it really doesn’t make things better – it makes painful days more painful but it’s not the sole cause of the pain.  It also makes hot flushes hotter!  During the two weeks that I had no wine at all the hot flushes didn’t stop – but they were noticeably less intense.  We are also heading into summer here in Albufeira and I do know that I don’t manage wine with the heat, I get very dehydrated very quickly and so would say that from here on in, I am unlikely to drink much by way of wine. Equally, if I am going out for an evening for a meal with friends, I won’t totally avoid wine, but drinking wine for drinking’s sake is at an end.  One thing that I have realise is how much sitting still causes pain, particularly through the night.  I suspect in the past I have blamed the wine – but in actual fact it is sitting still for prolonged periods that is the main culprit.

Cutting out sweet treats was an epic fail.  There is no other way to describe it!  On top of the odd twix here and there, I also did some baking during March.  I do love baking but find eating it all a bit overwhelming.  This month, however, I had the opportunity to bake and share my offerings which made it all a bit more manageable.  As we leave lockdown, I expect the opportunities to bake will stop – but having said that, the fabulous cake shop in Albufeira may well re-open and it would be a shame not to partake!  So, I am going to try a bit harder this month to cut down on the number of sweet treats I eat.  Obviously, it is Easter this weekend and so I will have a chocolate egg to savour, but once that has gone, I will try really hard not to snack on chocolate so much and save it for special occasions.

Increasing exercise was a bit of a mixed bag.  I did complete the 500 sun salutation challenge, which was a real plus considering I only managed 10 last year.  I’d like to say I enjoyed it, but that would be a lie!  I’m not even that sure I learned all that much about myself either.  By the end of the month, I was finding breathing with the moves easier and I am definitely a bit more flexible, but that’s pretty much where the benefits have ended.  Having said that, I may well carry on doing 10 a day for the next while just to see if there is a difference over time.  I did find that doing 10 sun salutations in the afternoon is a great energy boost and lifts you out of the post lunch slump really effectively.

I’ve also maintained 15 to 30 minutes a day of yoga and started doing the Lift Program for prolapse with Fem Fusion Fitness.  I have had a prolapse for about 3 years or so and am in a bit of a cycle.  I do the exercises and get to the point where I feel really well, then don’t bother with the exercises, the prolapse gets worse again and so I return to the exercises!  I should just learn to carry on doing the exercises!  It does also really help my back as it also strengthens my core.  Not in the six-pack version of core exercises, but the deep core muscles that help to keep the pelvis stable.  I’ve reached the point where I am doing 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, including the yoga.

Earlier in the month, I did have a bit of a set-back.  A week where I just wasn’t really able to motivate myself, much beyond the sun salutations and the 15 minutes of yoga in the morning.  It wasn’t until I started to come out of the slump that I realised quite how bad it had been.  But I did keep on going with the sun salutations, which I am quite proud of and I didn’t totally give up.  However, my daily walks did go out of the window and I haven’t started them back up as yet.  Hopefully, during April I will be able to reintroduce those and get back to achieving 11,000 steps per day on top of my other exercise.  It’s taken me a long time to reach the point that I am able to accept set-backs and to listen to my body rather than force it to complete things that it just isn’t well enough to do.  I suspect many of the problems I have with my back are exacerbated by running in the past, as I forced my body to compete in a sport it wasn’t really capable of!

Besides that, I have made progress in other areas and as I leave lockdown, I am very excited about what lies ahead of me.  In the past I often said I would just like the world to stop so that I could get off and rest for a while.  Covid has allowed that to happen and I feel in a much stronger place mentally as the world opens up again and I have a better understanding of what matters to me.

I have started another degree with the Open University.  I’m currently doing an introductory module with a view to studying Classical Studies, however, I might change that to English Literature as I am enjoying that aspect of the course far more than I anticipated

I have also just started Portuguese lessons.  My language skills are fairly ropey, but I am quite determined to learn and hope that hearing the language on a daily basis will help me to pick it up sooner rather than later.  

Finally, I am hoping to start doing some voluntary work at a local charity shop.  It’s taken quite a while for me to reach this point but finally I am starting to regain the zest for life that has been missing.  There is so much I want to try and get involved with and slowly I am making steps in the right direction.  

I am very excited to see where I am by the end of April!  

Exercise, Healthy living, Well-being, Women's Health

Getting fit for free

This past week or so I’ve been getting a bit deflated, I’m not going to lie!  There seems to be a price for everything.

My inbox and Facebook feed has recently been filled with sale after sale after sale.  Buy a mindfulness course, buy a neuro-science course, buy a spirituality course, buy a yoga course, buy a Qi Gong course, buy a meditation course.  But then it suddenly hit me, why do I have to pay for all of this stuff, surely there has to be enough out there for free.  And so, I set off on my google search and sure enough there is plenty that is available that’s free of charge.

As you know, I have this mad fool dream of paddling across the sea on my paddle board, and there has been some progress as I have had a swimming lesson in the sea.  Sadly, since the aforementioned lesson I have been without a car, so have been unable to go for a second one, but believe you me, as soon as I can I will be going for a second swimming lesson in the sea as I progress towards my goal. The other thing that really needs to be improved in order to achieve my goal is to strengthen was is currently a very weak core, in a safe manner appropriate for a woman of a certain age!

You Tube is always a great place to start if you are looking for anything.   I already follow:

  • Yoga with Adriene
  • Yoga with Kassandra
  • FemFusion Fitness

After a short while searching I also came across:

  • Videos by Women’s Health Magazine
  • Walk at Home by Leslie Sansone
  • PopSugar fitness
  • The Body Coach – although some of his workouts are a bit beyond me at the moment

And since when did you need to pay money to meditate or pray, at the end of the day it involves sitting quietly on a chair or a school with a timer going, dependent on how long you wish to sit there.  You don’t have to download a fancy app with a million different types of meditations.  I’ve been reading ‘Untamed’ by Glennon Doyle and I read recently that Adele accredits the book for her dramatic recent shift in outlook on life.  Glennon herself says she started meditating by just sitting in her closet for 10 minutes a day, and after a while it became easier and she could sit for longer.  No fancy app, just sit.  

Another quote I read in ‘Untamed’ was ‘This life is mine alone’.  I am the only person on this planet with these skills, these talents, these people.  I am the only person living this experience, in this body, that’s this shape, with these health problems  – so what is the point in trying to be like someone else?  Of trying to make an exercise programme that’s designed for somebody completely different fit me as best as it can. There is absolutely no point at all, because I am not the same as everyone else and they aren’t the same as me – what suits one person is not going to suit another and a one size fits all really just doesn’t work that well.  Obviously, I am prone to over thinking and this set me off thinking about that old saying ‘keeping up with the Jones’.  You could have exactly the same things as your neighbours, same car, same house, same tv – but you can never be the same.  Ever.

You can apply this to everything – social media, marketing, exercise, everything.  The whole kit and kaboodle is based on us all being the same!  Where’s the point in that!

I found this to be incredibly refreshing!  

So, I have decided that I am going to try and get on to my paddle board for free!  Just by using free apps, or programmes, or pins on Pinterest and rather than just pay someone to tell me what to do I’m going to try to put together a programme that works for me.  A diet that works for me.  Not doing what someone else tells me I should be doing, especially as I am mindful of a weak pelvic floor, a need to build up my core and the ever-present fibromyalgia.  There are also so many opportunities for exercising free of charge in Portugal, walking, cycling, swimming, exercise equipment in the parks and I don’t have to worry about poor weather stopping me getting outside into the fresh air.

Having said that, I will still pay for swimming lessons in the sea – they are a need to get me on the paddle board, and I will still pay for yoga lessons, as this is also a social activity for me and having contact with the other members of the class is beneficial to my mental health.  I am sociable by nature, so I do need to have some human interaction.  I also appreciate that I am in a fortunate situation in that I already have trainers, a good sports bra, a bike and access to technology to do the online exercises, so don’t have to spend money on bits of equipment to get going.  Beyond that, I am going to reward myself with a €1 a day for exercising and will spend that money on equipment should I need to replace anything during the course of the challenge.  In an ideal world I would complete a Personal Trainer instructor course so that I can safely advise other women of a certain age, how they could add exercise in to their lives in a safe and consistent manner, but that’s just out there for the universe to decide at the moment so in the meantime, I shall just share what I’m doing and the progress I am making.I’m just off to unsubscribe from all of the sales emails in my inbox and am quite excited by the challenge of finding new and different ways to improve my fitness, without creating a huge hole in my bank balance. 

Exercise, Walking, Women's Health

Learning to walk

It would appear that I’ve been doing it all wrong.  You might wonder, how hard walking can be, but seemingly it’s harder than you think!

As you know, I’ve been having a few issues with a bit of a flimsy pelvic floor, but I’ve also been struggling quite a bit with sore hips and a bad back, particularly after long walks.  I’ve found some great exercises on the internet, but am always wary about getting too engrossed in videos on the internet just in case you get the technique wrong.  I have recently become quite scared of exercising, which is frustrating because I love it, but I am terrified of doing some more damage to the lower half of my body.  Whilst we were in Bristol, I made an appointment to see my Kinesiologist, who recommended I also saw her daughter, a physiotherapist that specialises in muscular skeletal conditions.  I was keen to know where the pain was originating from, was it my feet, my hips or my back.

As it happens it was none of the above.  The problem stems from the sacroiliac joint.  Who knew it could cause such chaos if it’s not working correctly!  On top of that it would also seem that as well as having a flimsy pelvic floor and a core that is shot to bits, I also have little by way of any kind of action in my glute muscles.  It would appear that my joints have literally been hanging off my ligaments and my muscles have not been doing any of the work at all.  As a consequence, my joints have just been merrily grinding against each other, causing the stiffness, pain and soreness – and why I look like an elderly lady most mornings before I get moving.

photo of person walking along seashore
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Exercising pelvic floor muscles aren’t going to resolve this.  This requires some hard core back to basics to get my body functioning in a way that will support me for the years to come.  I need to learn to walk again with proper posture and alignment, I need to learn to use my glute muscles so that they do the job they were designed for.  These are tiny, tiny muscles that need to be worked – not the big showey offey muscles, but the deep muscles that support the body and enable it to function correctly.

It would seem that the pelvic cavity is like a bucket.  You need to keep the bucket level, if it’s not, then things spill out.  In order to get the bucket level, you need to tuck your pelvis under and keep it level when you walk!  This, apparently will help my spine to stay straighter and avoid lordosis in my spine.  Then while I’m keeping the bucket level, I need to engage my glutes with every step.  I need to try to stop over working my joints.  How hard can this be?!?!?  I am mildly terrified that I will get it wrong and create other imbalances in my body which will need to be corrected at a later date.  

photo of woman wearing pink sports shoes walking
Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

In the short term I’ve been provided with some stretches, some simple exercises, have been encouraged to try swimming, cycling on a stationary bike, walking on the flat and in particular avoiding hills and cobbles – so Albufeira with its cobbled hills is going to be a bit of a challenge!  I’m also not too sure how my beloved yoga is going to fare, even there I think I need to go back to the beginning again, hyper mobility in my joints has also meant that I’ve not actually been stretching or strengthening muscles, more grinding the joints, which is never a good thing.

Husband is a big believer in there being something that is a trigger for change.  The fear of premature arthritis in my hips and sacroiliac joint is enough of a trigger.  Since I’ve started the stretches, the pain in the morning has already started to subside, so at least I do know there is some relief on the horizon.  I suspect it’s going to be a bit of slow journey, and I also suspect I’m going to have to make several visits to a physiotherapist to make sure that I’m not doing myself further damage.  It’s always nice to know where you are, where you are starting from and the positive steps you can take to bring about change.  Fingers crossed 6 months from now there will be some progress, the pain will have subsided and I may be able to increase the amount of exercise I can do – correctly.

So … when I originally set up my blog I called it ‘Walking Back to Happiness’ because I’d had to give up running as I had just too many injuries to carry on through.  It seems the title is more appropriate than I’d ever imagined as I have to go right back to the beginning, walking little and often, this time treating my poor, damaged, body with a little more love and tenderness!

Exercise, Healthy living, Mindfulness

Well, that was August …..

…. and a funny month it was too.  Obviously, I had a ‘moment’ there at the beginning of the month, after which I took time to ‘get a grip of myself’ and consider what it is that matters most to me.

What does matter:
– Cake.  I have eaten lots and lots and lots of cake.  Some of which has been just delightful, some of which has been plain dreadful and far too sickly sweet.  But I have very much enjoyed trying all kinds of cake!
– Exercise.  It makes me feel better.  It makes me happier.  It also means I can eat cake.
– Husband.  Bit of a no-brainer there, but he does matter, very much!
– People in the real world.  I have had a fantastic month spending time with all sorts of different people.  And rather than worrying about what I should or shouldn’t be doing on these occasions, I’ve actually thrown myself right in to them and even managed to enjoy myself!
– Friendships.  I received some beautiful ‘just because’ flowers from a friend, which was a real treat.
– Crafting of any kind: As I’ve stopped with the social media and those annoying games I have returned to my crochet and am also trying to master embroidery.  Slow progress, but at least I have an end product for my time!
– My health.  I want to be healthy.  So that I can enjoy tomorrow, nothing more!
– Mindfulness and meditation.  I do really enjoy the 15 – 20 minutes a day that I just sit.  I’d miss it now if I didn’t do it.

Things I did during August which involved real people:

IMG_2811– Husband and I went to Cornwall to meet up with friends and spent a fantastic few days at a B&B called Bedlam House in Newquay.  If you’re looking for somewhere to stay I can highly recommend it (not quite too sure about Newquay itself, mind you).  We visited some beautiful places and I ate cake (cream tea to be exact), and fish and chips overlooking the sea!

– I went to watch ‘The Price’ by Arthur Miller at the Theatre Royal in Bath.  Amazing.  I didn’t have a clue what it was about, but it was a play written by Arthur Miller and starring David Suchet and Brendan Coyle – what could possibly go wrong?  This was followed up by a trip to a very nice Gin Bar.  A perfect afternoon out filled with laughter and great company.
– I went to a tapas restaurant, La Bobina, Faringdon with my sister and her family.  The setting is amazing in a converted haberdashers, complete with all the original drawers.  The food was superb and we sampled a wide section of the menu.  Again, I would highly recommend a visit, if you ever happen to be in the vicinity.
IMG_2836– I went to visit the parentals in Stoke-on-Trent and popped along to the ‘Wave and Weeping Window‘ exhibit at Middleport pottery (of Great British Throw Down fame).  It was fantastic to see the poppies cascading down the bottle kiln and Middleport pottery is a real gem which I’ll visit again when it’s somewhat quieter!
– I met up with two good friends to meet a new addition to the family over tea and more cake.  It was the first time in a long time I had laughed quite so much and it was a real pleasure to spend time with them.
– I tried a couple of different gym classes and really loved them.  It was the first time I have challenged myself at the gym in a long time and I can’t wait to go back to the classes again.  I even spoke to some of the other people at the classes!
– I stopped and had a lovely chat with an old school friend in M&S.  Normally I would have been too shy to approach them, but this time I did and we had a great 15 minutes or so catching up!
– I went to watch Christopher Robin with the husband.  We were a bit concerned because we were the only adult couple in a cinema otherwise filled with children primarily under the age of 10.  It was actually a real treat – there’s nothing quite like hearing children laughing at the end of the day.

What doesn’t matter:
– Facebook:  I think it may have passed its prime.  There’s just a load of nonsense on there now – too many adverts.  I had a good declutter – particularly of those groups that were feeding my obsessive behaviours and I realised as a consequence that there is ‘very little doing’.
– Instagram:  I do enjoy taking the photos – but if I don’t take one every day – it’s not the end of the world.  I’m a bit aim and fire with it all anyway and don’t really have time for editing nonsense!
– Sugar:  Devastating!  I had churros for dessert at La Bobina and had a banging headache within 30 minutes.  I have suspected for a while that sugar is a trigger, but was turning a blind eye to it!
– Alcohol:  If I fancy a glass that’s fine, if I don’t that’s fine too.  What does matter more is my reaction to people who have issues with it.
– Having a coffee everyday – this was a bit of a revelation!  For as long as I can remember husband and I have walked to a coffee shop first thing every morning.  I won’t lie, I don’t think either of us really felt that great for it, as the drinks in well-known coffee shop chains can be a bit large – but it was a nice walk out.  We’ve stopped doing that, we go every now and then, but not every day.  If nothing else, it’s saving a whole heap of money
– Planning my day – at the end of the day, I don’t go to work and so essentially I have 3 time slots: morning, afternoon and evening.  It doesn’t need to be any more scientific than that!
– Setting goals.  Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt, decided it’s not for me.

photograph of chocolate cupcake with red strawberry toppings

As a consequence I am entering September in a far more positive frame of mind.  I have a new, very pink, journal, which is basically more of a colouring in book than a diary, which I am using to record all the lovely things I have in my life, rather than trying to seek out the faults and imagining things that need improving.  We have also arrived back in Portugal, so I have lots of catching up to do, yoga classes to go to and I anticipate I will find more opportunities to eat cake!

 

Bristol, Cycling, Exercise, Walking, Well-being

Loving Exercise

I love exercise.  I’d forgotten quite how much I do enjoy exercising.  I’d also forgotten quite how much I  enjoyed using my bicycle for my commute to and from work in the past.  I’d forgotten that in a city like Bristol, more often than not, cycling is the most sensible (and quickest) form of transport.

Long Ashton Cricket Club

Take going to the gym.  It’s currently taking me in the region of 20 minutes to cycle there – depending on the heat and whether or not it’s before or after a gym class.  It regularly takes me this long to drive, particular the journey back into the city.  The majority of the cycle takes me along cycle paths, past a cricket pitch, providing a break from the busy city and beautiful scenes of a traditional Bristol.  I wouldn’t have found this gem if I hadn’t taken to my bicycle and needed to find an alternative route avoiding the A370.  It’s hard to believe such a busy main road is only 100 yards away from this peace and quiet.

I’m loving being back at the gym and having a wide selection of classes to choose from.  Whilst reading around Yoga I have investigated whether or not it counts as weight-bearing exercise (it does) and whether or not I still need to do cardio exercise.  There seems to be some debate over this, but I suspect that depends on how much yoga is going to become a way of life vs an additional form of exercise.  All I can say, is I can see myself how my cardio fitness has fallen off since I have been focussing more fully on yoga.  My benchmark was rowing 1000m on the rowing machine.  In the past, I have completed the distance in around 5 minutes.  This last week it took me 5 minutes and 43 seconds.  Evidence, if it were needed, that my cardio fitness has declined, and so according to my simple brain, just practicing yoga hasn’t maintained my fitness levels.  I’m hoping that through cycling more around Bristol and adding in additional classes at the gym I will start to see an improvement.

Unfortunately, the best way I can really judge whether or not the exercise has been of benefit is by a change in weight – or more specifically, a change in how my clothes fit.  I am also going to repeat the 1000m row each week to see if I can improve on my time.  And I still have my ultimate goal – to complete one un-assisted pull up!!!!  I don’t know why I have this goal, I just think it would be an awesome thing to be able to do!

According to the UK Government, the current recommended daily exercise targets are:  

Physical activity guidelines

I have also been doing research on exercise and menopause.  It would appear that strength training is recommended and so I am making sure I do one strength session per week.  Sometimes I have been doing my own thing at the gym and other times I have been going along to a conditioning class.  One thing I have learned over the years is that variety is vital to maintaining enthusiasm.

An added benefit of exercise, is that it does seem to help with my sleep.  Given the exceedingly hot weather conditions in Bristol at the moment, a decent night’s sleep is a bit of a struggle at the best of times, however exercise does seem to improve the amount and quality of sleep I am getting.  I am now also 95% certain that drinking wine has a huge impact on the quality of sleep I am getting, specifically, it seems to increase the incidence of hot flushes and restless legs, neither of which are particularly welcome when temperatures are in the very high 20s!

I am still managing to walk quite a bit.  I’ve walked 856 miles towards my 1000 mile target for the year.  I am using this year as a benchmark to be honest and so am not particularly pushing myself.  I have increased the number of steps in a day up to 12,500 as I was achieving 10,000 most days without really having to make that much of an effort.  By adding the extra steps it is forcing me to do some additional walking to achieve the target.  Although, it would appear that a steps target isn’t necessarily the best method to use.  Current research suggests that three or four 10 minute bursts of brisk exercise getting your heart racing is far more beneficial than achieving a steps target.  I am trying to combine both and hopefully achieve the maximum benefits I can from walking. 

At the moment, in Bristol, there is the added incentive of Gromit Unleashed 2.  The exhibits this year are fabulous and it feels like they’ve built upon the previous trails in the way it is organised – including availability of the replica models.  They definitely bring a smile to people’s faces and it’s amazing how many people just sit next to Wallace on a bench just to pass the time!  The only hiccup I’ve discovered thus far is that the app doesn’t work too well inside so I’ve not been able to register that I’ve visited a couple of the statues.  It’s great fun to do the trail and well worth visiting Bristol to take part, should you get the chance.