Sitting is BAD for you. Use a standing desk. Stand when you talk on the phone.

Come join me!

March 16th, 2016

laurenchronicles_option1I’m closing down  counterclockwisebook.com. No, I have not tired of writing about health, wellness, promising research, anti-aging hucksterism, mid-life challenges, dark chocolate and other vital issues of the day. And no (oddly) I haven’t tired of writing these small essays every week.

But it’s time to, well, shake it up.

I posted a similar heads-up a few weeks back when I first started blogging at the new site. Here’s a reminder:

LaurenChronicles” is my new site. Not to worry, I am migrating the counterclockwise material over to that site — and the posts will be easy to find. Instead of being listed by date, they will now be organized by category (exercise, health research, food and nutrition, etc.) The new site gives me more room to roam over different topics. Yes, I will continue to write about health. But there are other things I care deeply about, or get annoyed by or just want to explore. In fact, I am just following my own advice, advice you will read about in the first post on the new site.

Join me at the new site. I’d love your comments.

Weight training helps boost metabolism.  Add it to your routine 2-3 x/ week.

Shaking it up!

March 2nd, 2016

laurenchronicles_option1This is my 206th — and final — post at counterclockwisebook.com. No, I have not tired of writing about health, wellness, promising research, anti-aging hucksterism, mid-life challenges, dark chocolate and other vital issues of the day. And no (oddly) I haven’t tired of writing these small essays every week.

But it’s time to, well, shake it up.

And so, allow me to introduce “LaurenChronicles,” my new site. Not to worry, I am migrating the counterclockwise material over to that site — and the posts will be easy to find. Instead of being listed by date, they will now be organized by category (exercise, health research, food and nutrition, etc.) The new site gives me more room to roam over different topics. Yes, I will continue to write about health. But there are other things I care deeply about, or get annoyed by or just want to explore. In fact, I am just following my own advice, advice you will read about in the first post on the new site. It’s about our CQ — Curiosity Quotient — and how important it is to rekindle that fire.

Join me every Wednesday at LaurenChronicles. Bookmark it now! Change your RSS feed. Spread the word. See you there.

Eat 30g of cholesterol-lowering, happy-colon fiber every day.

Time to enfeeble AGEISM

February 17th, 2016

photoWhat I see when I look around is old people living solitary, silent lives; old people sequestered in old people communities – “active” for the healthy, “assisted” for the not; old people made to feel as if they need to apologize for being old, for clogging up the works, for showing us the future we don’t want to see.

Presumably we all have a soft spot in our hearts for our old people – grandpa, great aunt Tillie, old cousin Bill – but we lose patience with everyone else’s. The grandma at the grocery store. She’s looking through her cavernous handbag for coupons. She’s taking forever to count out the change from her purse. She’s holding up the line. Come on. The geezer in the car, the one whose gray head you can barely see above the top of the driver’s seat. He’s driving 22 in a 35 mph zone. He’s actually making a full stop at the stop sign and looking both ways before proceeding. Get off the road.

And maybe even, sometimes, we lose it with our own kin. Grandpa (Dad) pulls out the old photo album. Again. He launches into the story about…fill in the blank. Again. We roll our eyes and find the first excuse to leave the room.

Old and in the way.

“Old and in the way” was a music group Jerry Garcia formed in the mid-1970s (with David Grisman and the amazing Vassar Clemens.) I know this not from reading the Wikipedia entry but because I heard the group in Berkeley. I got there early and was hanging out in the alley behind the club when Garcia arrived. I held open the back door for him.

Just as my young self from those days – car-less, kid-less, 401K-less, a joker, a smoker, a midnight toker — could not imagine my mid-life self today, so too can I not imagine my elderly self in decades to come. Or maybe I should say, the (stereotyped) elderly self that comes to mind is not one I care to imagine: the little old lady in a mint green polyester pants suit gripping the steering wheel of a big Buick. The little old lady sitting on a vinyl couch in the TV room of an assisted living facility talking to other little old ladies about blood pressure medicine. Or about how she once held open the door for Jerry Garcia. No thanks.

I want my head full of other images, images of vibrant, engaged older people, funny, feisty, perceptive, talented, passionate, compassionate older people. Older people who not only have experience but still seek it. I want to be that kind of older person. Why is that so hard to imagine? Why do we have to think of aging as a long list of things we can’t do rather than a long list of things we can?

The photo is of my maternal grandparents who traveled every summer throughout the western U.S. landing in various college towns and talking their way (well, Nanny did the talking) into summer school classes. He was an engineering teacher with the soul of a poet. She was a pistol.

Go to bed hungry. (I mean, how many calories do you need to dream?)

What, me worry?

February 10th, 2016

Hakuna.matata4And then there’s the morning (this morning) when instead of awakening to take a deep belly breath and stretch your limbs and luxuriate in the softness of the flannel sheets against your skin and feel the warmth of the body next to you, you instead awaken to hear a mind already chattering with petty worry and negative thoughts: You have so much work to do today…and how much of that work really matters to you…and why aren’t you filling your hours with what does matter…and why did you read Martha Stewart Living last night instead of starting that book on prison reform you should be reading…and the garage is overflowing with returnable bottles…and how come this new blogsite you’ve been talking about for six months isn’t up yet…and oh, sweetie, just in case you momentarily forgot, you somehow (well, you know how) gained five pounds since Christmas.

Welcome to the Black Hole Zone.

Astronomically speaking, a black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out.

Uh huh.

A place where no light can get out. Did you get that?

Have you been there? Of course you have.

What does one do to stop the chatter, to dig out of the hole? (Okay, I know you can’t dig yourself out of a Black Hole, but just stay with me.)

There’s the “count your blessings” approach. Yes, we all should, especially those of us who have so many. There’s a “daily affirmations” approach. Yes, positive self-talk is a good thing. You go, girl. Both of these strategies are lovely. But, for me, a little cheesy, a smidge bumperstickery.

There’s the “stop digging” approach. Here’s a turn-of-the-phrase truism I heard on the radio the other day: The best way to dig yourself out of a hole is to stop digging. I like that one. Translation: Just (don’t) do it.

I prefer either of these strategies:
1. The sweat it out approach. Brainless bliss in the exercise studio or on the forested hike or the long-distance bike ride. It quiets the mind and lifts the spirits.
2. The fake it ‘til you make it approach. Pretend you’re not worried. Turn that frown upside down. (Yes, you may groan.) Burst into song. You know which one. At some point, the pretense becomes real. I know that sounds psychologically problematic, but I’m pretty sure this is what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is about. A nicer way of stating this approach is: Believe you can do it (transcend stupid worries, for example); act as if you are already doing it. And you end up doing it.

And you?

Use a moisturizer/ sunscreen (SPF 30) always, regardless of season.

Use your words

February 3rd, 2016

WordsSometimes I think English is the richest of languages: a murder of crows, a sleuth of bears, an exaltation of larks. I mean, really, it doesn’t get much better than that.

But it does.

It turns out that other languages have emotionally enriching words that are sadly lacking in English. A University of East London researcher is investigating non-English words for positive emotions and concepts that have no direct translation in English. Although certainly one can feel an emotion without having a name for it, having a name captures the emotion, shines a light on it, preserves it, makes it sharable. What Tim Lomas, the researcher, says is that if you don’t have a way of identifying a specific feeling it “becomes just another unconceptualized ripple in the ongoing flux of subjective experience.”

I don’t know about you, but I am not partial to unconceptualized ripples.

So here is a sampling of what Lomas has found so far. You may want to boost your vocabulary with these words:

Gula (Spanish) the desire to eat simply for the taste
Mbukimvuki (Bantu) “to shuck off one’s clothes in order to dance”
Schnapsidee (German) coming up with an ingenious plan when drunk
Volta (Greek) leisurely strolling the streets
Gokotta (Swedish) waking up early to listen to bird song
Gumusservi (Turkish) the glimmer that moonlight makes on water
Gigil (Philippine Tagalog) the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because you love them so much
Firgun (Hebrew) saying nice things to someone simply to make them feel good
Sprezzatura (Italian) when all art and effort are concealed beneath a “studied carelessness”

I think there ought to be word for how muscles feel when they are toasty and pliant and well-used.

I think there ought to a word for the wave of well-er-than-well feeling that floods the body during a brisk walk on a bright February morning.

I think there ought to be a word for that rush of surprise and pleasure when discovering a bag of last summer’s hand-picked blueberries at the back of the freezer.

Because those are the words I would use to describe this morning.

Have a plan.  Have a Plan B.  Flexibility and resilience are hallmarks of a youthful life.

Leave it at the door

January 27th, 2016

worryIt’s early morning — steel gray skies, steady light rain (yes, western Oregon in January. Also February, March and probably April) – and I’m in the car on my way to the 7:30 Barre3 class. I am worrying about the presidential election and what if Donald Trump gets elected and I have to move to Canada. I am worrying about whether my daughter is going to be offered this baking job she wants and does the cat have worms and what’s that strange clicking I hear coming from the engine and wasn’t I supposed to get my yearly cholesterol check like two months ago. I am worrying that I worry too much.

I find a parking space on Broadway and I walk across the street, worrying that I forgot to put shampoo in my bag. I open the door and stuff my coat (it’s getting ratty…should I invest in a new one?) and purse (uh oh, did I remember my cellphone from the car?) in a cubby, ditch my boots (I should really get them re-heeled), and walk barefoot into the studio. I find my place at the barre.

We start with deep breaths, then neck stretches, then cat-cows. We are eight beats into step-tapping to Edge of Glory when I suddenly realize that I am not worrying any more. I realize that I am not in my head any more. The realization zips by in an instant, evaporates, disappears because, well, I am not in my head any more. I am in horse pose doing plié-relevées. I am in chair doing tricept kickbacks.  I am planking. I am my body.

This, really, is the glory of physical exertion. For years – decades – I exercised with my focus on the long game: bone strength, cardiovascular health, weight control. All important, oh yes, but it was all about the future, about the distant rewards, about body parts and mechanics. My deep investment in long-term goals all but blinded me – or at least caused me to take for granted — the immediate gratification one gets from movement and exertion: the infusion of energy, the sense of well-being, the elevated mood. And the insistent, chattering internal do-it-it’s-good-for-you monolog robbed me of the real-time experience of moving in my body. Of being in my body. Of scouring my mind of worry and thought.

And, like this morning, of moving, just moving.

Packaged foods?  Oh no you don’t.  Unless you want trans fats, refined grains, HFCS.

2-4-6-8 Don’t be so quick to correlate

January 20th, 2016

EATING OR DRINKING    IS LINKED TO           P-VALUE
Raw tomatoes                       Judaism                        <0.0001
Egg rolls                                  Dog ownership           <0.0001
Energy drinks                       Smoking                        <0.0001
Potato chips                          Higher score
                                                   SAT math v verbal      <0.0001
Soda                                         Weird rash                    <0.0002
Shellfish                                 Right-handedness      <0.0002
Fried/breaded fish             Democrat                       <0.0007
Beer                                         Frequent smoking      <0.0013
Coffee                                      Cat ownership              <0.0016
Salt                                           Likes ISP                        <0.0014
Steak w fat trimmed          Atheism                          <0.0030
Bananas                                 Higher score
                                                   SAT verbal v math      <0.0073
Cabbage                                  Innie bellybutton         <0.0097

This spurious [and pretty damn funny] correlations table is from a smart, thoughtful article recently posted on FiveThirtyEightScience. It’s about why it is so very difficult to get trustworthy, consistent information about diet and nutrition.

Here’s the problem. Or rather, the problems:

There’s lack of consensus about what makes for a healthy diet. Yep, it’s that basic. There are raw foodists and calorie-restrictors, vegans and paleos, gluten-frees and dairy-frees, Mediterranean fans and Asian followers. There’s scientific evidence to support the health benefits of all these regimens. No one is making a case for a high-sugar, low-fiber, processed food diet, but the inclusion (or exclusion) of meat (yes beef, no beef? grass fed?), dairy (milk no, but yogurt yes?), various grains (demon wheat, angelic quinoa?), fruit (blueberries as panacea?), vegetables (kale kale kale…really?), coffee (no! yes!) all get big media attention, millions of adherents – and (confusingly) credible research backing.

That’s because scientific research on diet and nutrition is flawed. I’m not talking about the Beef people tweaking numbers or the Dairy lobby funding its own studies. I am talking about the underlying method used by top-notch researchers. Studies on the possible connection between certain foods or dietary regimens and health are retrospective. That is, researchers ask eaters to keep food diaries or fill out questionnaires about what and how much they eat after the fact. As anyone who has ever tried to keep a food diary can attest, this is not easy — unless you always eat at home and prepare your own food. Also, the farther back you have to remember, the less accurate you are (but a number of studies ask you to respond to “in the last month, how often have you eaten…”) It is also a well known phenomenon in the research that people like to report they eat healthier than they do.

The potential for flawed data continues when researchers ask a zillion other questions about the eater’s habits and lifestyle. The more data collected, the more possible it is to find correlations between responses that may in fact have no connection at all outside the realm of statistics. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy to link individual foods with reported behaviors or conditions. As  as a computational physiologist says in the article I urge you to read: These connections are nothing more than circular reasoning.  “You’re taking one type of subjective report and validating it with another form of subjective report.” And so we get corrections between use of table salt and one’s level of satisfaction with an internet provide. Or consumption of potato chills and SAT math scores. (So that’s why my math score was so low!)

Read the article. It’s funny and fascinating. And sobering.

Keep chemicals off your skin!  Read, really read, those ingredient labels for body products.

Shades of Gray

January 13th, 2016

gray-greyNope. Sorry. Not Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’m talking about a different sort of shades of gray — with gray spelled the good old all-American way, you know, with an “a.” Although, really, that’s the least of the differences between that spurious book and my topic today.

My Shades of Gray is about how we – and by we I mean me – often don’t see shades of gray. Instead we see black or white. Success or failure, All or nothing.

In the world of therapy (because, yes, thinking like this is a bonafide psychological problem), this is called splitting, “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.”

All-or-Nothing thinking dictates: “Either do this perfectly or don’t even bother.” Assuming you do take action and accomplish something, all-or-nothing thinking frames it this way: Either what you did was flawless or it was hopelessly flawed. Given that those are the only two choices, and given that “flawless” is generally unachievable, failure is pretty much assured. Which doesn’t mean you’ve actually failed – not at all – just that 100 percent A+ perfection was not the outcome. Easy to see how all-or-nothing thinking can sabotage effort and create enormous road blocks to positive change.

Well, easy to see in retrospect.

But not so easy for me to see last Monday, the very first day of the January Barre3 challenge. I had been looking forward to the challenge, building it up in my mind. January was going to be THE month. With perfect (there’s that word!) attention to body, mind and spirit in January, with four studio classes and two at-home, online work-outs every week, with a smoothie/salad/soup daily regimen of healthy, whole food, with insistently self-compassionate self-talk, I was going to launch the new year in a big way. It was going to give it my all (there’s that word!).

Instead, it snowed on Sunday followed by sleet and freezing rain, and come Monday morning I could not drive up my steep access road to get to the B3 studio. Or to the store to stock up on smoothie/salad/soup ingredients. Instead of ALL, I was left with (I thought) NOTHING. Why even try to rescue the day, do the online exercises, see what I could pull together from what was in the cupboards? My Monday fresh start to my January fresh start was RUINED. Poor me. Poor loser me.

Embarrassingly, it took me most of the day (during which I did NOT log on to do the online exercises but did find plenty of time to mindlessly eat handfuls of granola) to recognize my erroneous – not to mention damaging – all-or-nothing thinking.

On Tuesday, when the ice hadn’t melted, and I still couldn’t make it up the access road and into the studio, I did not self-sabotage. I hauled out the yoga mat. I breathed and asana-ed my way into a better head space. I did two online work-outs. I threw together a bottom-of-the veggie-bin soup. It wasn’t ALL. But neither was it NOTHING. It was a Shade of Gray.

Indoor job? Northern hemisphere?  Supplement with vitamin D.

What do you REALLY care about?

January 6th, 2016

target

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I only had the time, you say to yourself, I would (fill in the blank): start writing that story/ take an EdX course/ get to know my neighbor/ learn tagine cooking/ volunteer at the homeless shelter…

As soon as I finish (fill in the blank): the laundry, scrolling through all these Facebook updates, remodeling the kitchen, this one big project at work, I’ll find time to  ______, you tell yourself.

If I could just clear the decks, you tell yourself, then I’d have the time to get to what is really important to me.

STOP. The people who win Pulitzer prizes, the people who win Nobel prizes, the people who start new businesses, who exhibit their art work, who go back to school at age 40 (50,60,70), who teach themselves how to play the piano, who invent, discover, create, lead — all of them, like you, like me, have 24 hours in a day. That’s it. They don’t do more because they have more time. We all have the same amount of time. It is how we use it.

Here’s a thought: Instead of doing everything other than what you really want to do — on the mistaken notion that you must “clear the decks” in order to get to the important stuff — START with the important stuff. Put the important thing, the passion, the dream, the challenge, at the center (or as close to the center) of your daily life as possible. And then make the rest of the day fit in around that. That’s the idea of the target drawing above. (And yes, you’re right, I was not referring to myself when I mentioned “people who exhibit their art work.”)

I am not saying that you paint your masterpiece while your children eat from the dog’s bowl. I am saying that, after you do what you absolutely must do, you elevate your passion to the very next spot. You make a space (that is, a time) for it rather than hoping you have time “later.”  Because later never comes.  Because the decks will never be cleared. There will always be another call to make, another errand to run, the emails in your in-box, those pesky weeds overrunning your garden.

Life doesn’t stop, or simplify itself, to allow you time to pursue your passion. Life, in fact, has an uncanny way of getting in the way. But that’s only if you construct your days around everything you have to do that is not what you say to yourself (and others) you really really want to do. If you construct your days around that passion/ challenge/ dream, then the question is not “when will I have time to (fill in the blank with that one thing you say you really really want to do)” but rather “when will I have time to vacuum the living room carpet?”

It’s a sure bet that at the end of the day –- and at the end of your life – you won’t be wishing you spent more time with the Hoover.

BANISH white sugar and white flour from your life. And rejoice!  (Good riddance to bad rubbish.)

A new day

December 30th, 2015

amazing dawnYou could make any number of health and wellness/ counterclockwise-y New Years resolutions. You know what they are, and you know from past experience which ones will stay with you past, say, January 7. So you could resolve to:

Get to the gym three times a week or
Eat six servings of vegetables
Or you could vow to:
Get another hour of sleep or
Give up _______ (fill in with favorite bad-for-you indulgence)

Some people disdain the whole resolutions thing. I personally think January 1st lists are phony and set us up for failure or guilt (probably both). But I do love the idea of intention that powers action and expectation that leads to outcome. And I love the idea of self-direction. So I am, in fact, thinking of starting the new year with a plan.

The plan involves a physical challenge – actually back-to-back related physical challenges (the January Barre3 official Challenge and my personal February get-back-to-the-ballet-studio challenge). But more an more I am convinced that living a vibrant and engaged life is more about attitude and intention than it is about kale and kettlebells. I don’t mean that good health isn’t important. Certainly it is. And I don’t mean that we should shirk our personal responsibility to promote, enhance and maintain good health. Of course not. So yay for those six servings of vegetables or that pledge to work out more.

But that’s not all there is to vitality, and resolutions (if you are the resolution-making type) that focus only on the physical are often not as life-enhancing as maybe we think (or hope ) they are.

So what is? Waking with energy and purpose, eagerness and curiosity each morning. That is my “resolution,” and, yes, I know there’s a disturbing whiff of bumpersticker-ese about this. Allow me to replace that unpleasant scent with this quote from John Updike:

 Each day we wake slightly altered and the person we were yesterday is dead.

Which means we are reborn. New to the experience of that day. And that, my friends, is counterclockwise living.

(Photo by me, 30,000 feet flying east into the dawn.)