First baby tooth. First baby tooth to fall out. First words. First reads. Riding a bike. Learning to drive. Cooking. Living independently. Choosing a partner. Having children. Milestones mark the journey of life, reminding us of befores and afters so that our time on earth doesn’t just pass by in a monotonous blur.

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New Year, New Life

IMG_5464We are going to do all the challenges. New Year is the moment for resolutions, but we’re taking a shorter horizon, hoping it’s long enough to establish good habits and break bad ones, and thus become resolutions. A 30-day challenge of all the things.

While doing Pilates with some friends this week, one asked the group, “what decision did you make for 2020?” I liked that framing. Somehow, by overuse, “resolution” has come to mean “good intention” rather than “firm decision.” I am in control of my life, and I am deciding to do a few things differently.

Sautéed leeks, with white beans and a splash of white wine. My Christmas meal, served with…

Squash and mushroom risotto. And steamed broccoli. Colorful, nutritious, delicious. We are well into a plant-based diet.

My BFF and I decided to make a list together of all the challenges we wanted to accomplish. You’ll note that they are to-do’s rather than don’ts, except for snacking. Doing the challenge together gives us some accountability. Plus, this post is a public declaration–more accountability! Here’s the list:

  • 10,000 steps a day minimum (according to my FitBit, my daily average is around 8,000)

    Less coffee, no sweets.
  • Eliminate added sugar (already we both mostly cook all meals from scratch, but we both have a sweet tooth and tend to crack for desserts and chocolate. Also: no wine, which is basically sugar.)
  • Intermittent fasting, which is basically to say eat dinner earlier and no snacking after. 
  • No snacking (this is hard for me, working from home and tending to graze all day).
  • Wake up 30 minutes earlier.
  • Use that bonus morning time to journal (my friend) or exercise. For most of my life, I worked out as soon as I got up. I had a routine, with situps, weights for my arms, stationary bike while reading the newspaper (it took around 45 minutes, with 30 on the bike). I even did it while pregnant, up to a week before giving birth to my kid. Yet I let it drop when my kid started taking the bus to school and got up super early. Plus the stationary bike broke. And I got an iPad and started reading the paper while curled up on the sofa. A snowball of lethargy.

  • Daily stretching. Another thing I used to do that fell by the wayside. My friend is into dance, and so stretching is important for her.
  • Abs and strength training. Thanks to Pilates, my BFF and I have abs of steel, but mine are under a Michelin Man layer of insulation, AKA fat. I want to get rid of it and also improve strength. In the days when I worked out, my exercises with weights were intended to give me arms strong enough to pick up heavy things without ruining my back. Time to work on that again. 
  • Write every day. My friend wants to journal; I want to write a book.
  • Meditate. This makes both my friend and me uncomfortable. We are not much for spiritual stuff, and neither of us is religious. One reason I prefer Pilates over yoga is I don’t like the meditation part of yoga. But every evidence shows it’s good for us. Must find a way to do it. I actually took a meditation class many moons ago (“find beauty and harmony in your life”). It didn’t stick. Will try again. Just 10 minutes.
  • Run every other day. My friend and I hope to do a 10K this year.

    My beautiful, car-free jogging trail.
  • Read books every day. Another thing I did faithfully for years was read books before bed. Then I got an iPad and switched to reading news before bed, as if I hadn’t been reading news all day long. There’s always something else to be informed about, even though it’s usually incremental. And then I worry about the dismal future of the world all night.
  • Improve sleep. During the holidays, I’ve been sleeping too much and I spend too much time in bed. This is as bad as not enough sleep. More exercise should help. No wine should help (high glycemic foods before bed can perturb sleep). Eating earlier should help. Reading before bed should help. And I plan to be stricter about bedtime and wakeup time.

    My to-read list. I just finished the top one, Celestial Bodies. Very interesting and sad. Not shown, but on order from the library (more library books!): Chanson Douce by Leïla Slimani, which I will read in the original French. I tend to be too lazy to read in French and I like to devour books (I read Celestial Bodies in three sittings), so having to slow down for French is frustrating. This must improve!
  • Drink more water (but not right before bed; see sleep). Some years ago, I quit drinking soda, so now I consume coffee (too much), wine and water. But probably not enough water during the day. 6-8 glasses, for sure.
  • Do a cartwheel. I was proud that at age 50 I could do a cartwheel. But now, somehow, my legs don’t quite get up there. Is it the legs? Weak arms? Weak back? Whatever, I want to do it again before I turn 60. My friend, who is younger, wants to do a handstand and walkover. I once could do those, too, but a walkover is decidedly out of the question.

The cartwheel aside (that will take more than a month), the list consists of things to do on a daily basis, starting now. We are going to try to stick to this list for a month. Usually with these 30-day challenges, people pick one thing to focus on. But so many of these are interrelated. Better diet will help sleep, as will exercise. Getting up early will help exercise and/or writing. Etc. It seems that one way to stick to the goals is to aim for all of them so they reinforce each other.Screen Shot 2020-01-03 at 10.19.06 AMMy friend follows a YouTuber who does challenges and who crosses off the days of a calendar each time he accomplishes his goal. One blank day isn’t a failure, not even a couple of blanks in a week, but he vows not to have two consecutive blank days. That sounds reasonable. I know a couple of people who vow to diet or quit smoking and as soon as they crack, they give up on the effort entirely. Perfection or nothing. Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m not about perfection. I agree with the adage, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” I’m all about “better” not necessarily “perfect.”

I’ll give you updates about how it’s going and in a month we’ll assess the results.

What are your decisions for 2020? Do you have a bucket list instead? Tips for succeeding at any of these?

Wishing all of you the very best for 2020, surtout la santé!

À votre santé! Adieu to wine, at least for a month. And this is such a good one. Sniff!


En Forme

P1090667For about a year and a half I’ve been wearing a wrist-based monitor and I love it. I work from home, and since our kid started going to school by bus in town and I no longer walk to and from school four times a day (coming home for a two-hour lunch…yes, it’s the south of France), I can easily get consumed by my screen and barely budge for hours.

My monitor tells me how many steps I’ve taken, how many calories I’ve burned, more or less, how many hours I’ve slept and how well, and my heart rate. For a while, I filled out the online form with everything I ate, but that was too tedious, so I just look at the total that I’ve burned. It is sometimes depressingly low.

Fishing and walking along the Canal du Midi

My monitor is like a Mary Poppins on my wrist, seeing all and nudging me to be my better self.  I can see when I’ve been at my desk too long and whether I slouched through a run or whether I actually went all-out, based on the heart-rate stats. The overall effects are in the resting heart rate, which are comfortingly low. I am a type-A overachiever, and I love nothing better than to best myself.

I can see how I slept–not just how I thought I slept, but actually how many minutes I was tossing and turning and how much time was in the Alzheimer-fighting deep sleep zone. I can look back at factors like how late I ate, or whether I had wine with dinner, or how late my last coffee was, to try to tweak my sleep for the better, and to see how it turns out.

Mountain biking through the vineyards

I realize that all of the numbers are broad generalities, because a wrist-based sensor isn’t the same as the precision of a laboratory. But it gives me an idea and keeps me from being overly optimistic. A reality check. A kick in the pants.

I am not into selling stuff, and so I haven’t mentioned the name of my monitor, but it’s one of the popular ones. The first one fell to pieces (and I was furious) but was still under guarantee so I have a newish one that seems to be of sturdier design. There are many options. A friend has a phone app that counts steps. Whatever works. Sometimes we need somebody/something to tell us, hey, do better! Other people who have tested multiple brands are better positioned to make a recommendation.P1090609Another interesting, and free, test is the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s World Fitness Level Calculator. It asks lots of questions (like maximum heart rate and resting heart rate) that are easier to answer with one of these wrist fitness monitors, but it also asks lots of lifestyle questions, like whether you’ve ever smoked, and your waist circumference. At the end, it gives you your fitness age. My fitness age is less than my chronological age, despite the fact that my best sport is reading (I have never successfully caught a ball). It’s probably because I do exercise pretty much every day, figuring that being able to run up steps and carry stuff and act like the much-younger parents of my kid’s friends is well worth a daily half-hour of misery. I also go to Pilates once a week, to add to the suffering, but that is so worth it for correcting back problems.

As for the French take on this stuff, almost all my French friends do some kind of exercise. One swims (outside!), even when I think it’s insanely cold. Another does Pilates and aquagym. Several go to the village exercise class, which I did for years. Some do yoga. Another does yoga and walks for an hour a day. I had always read that French women don’t work out or do anything that involves sweat, but pretty much everybody I know actually does work out in one way or another. A group of retired villagers goes for a walk around the vineyards every day–early in summer; midday in winter. Their ranks have dwindled over the years and is down to four feisty old ladies. They stop at the cemetery on their way home.

I even found some stats: 64% of French people over age 15 do some kind of sports at least once a week. The most common activity is walking for leisure, with 42% of people doing it. The sport most people do the most frequently is “utilitarian” walking–i.e., commuting on foot. It probably helps keep obesity levels to around 15.3% in France, compared with 38.2% in the car-centric U.S. Another source said 48% of the French walk or run.IMG_5802There are gyms and associations for every imaginable sport, from fencing to flamenco to football. Crazily, to join a gym or sport club, you have to go to the doctor for a medical certificate that says you’re healthy enough to do the sport. The city of Carcassonne just launched a program to get people in not-great health (people with chronic illness, cancer, obesity, diabetes, Parkinsons, hypertension, arthritis, or kidney or respiratory problems) to do sports in a supervised way–you get a prescription from your doctor and can go to a sports center for €50 per six months for locals. Which is quite a bargain. The sports include rowing, kayaking (in a pool), swimming, walking, nordic walking, climbing (indoors), archery, stretching, tennis, muscle-building, exercise, balance, yoga and cardio training.

If you can motivate yourself to exercise alone, you’ll save money–running doesn’t cost anything except for shoes. I was on the track team for one year in high school, at the behest of some friends, and came in last in every event I tried. I once ran a 10K and came in second-to-last, nosing out a guy twice my age. Despite my lack of aptitude, running appeals because it’s cheap, time-flexible and efficient. I’ve been doing high-intensity intervals–30 seconds of walking, 20 seconds of jogging and 10 seconds of sprinting. Last fall, during a sprint, I asked myself whether I was really at my max and tried to go faster. I ended up splat on the ground with two skinned knees. On the other hand, I can take stairs two at a time without getting winded, so it’s worth it.P1090690What do you do to stay in shape?