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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

How Much Water Should I Drink a Day? Part I

June 17, 2019

My mother wasn’t a water drinker, and so I wasn’t a water drinker until I was in my late twenties when I first read about the benefits of good hydration and the importance of staying hydrated for healthy aging. It took a while for me to add this habit into my life. I used to have an eight-ounce cup with a dial, and each time I drank a full cup of water I got to turn the dial to the next opening. It somehow made it easier, and a little more fun to chug down those glasses.  Now, thirty-plus years later, it comes naturally. What’s more, I can feel the effects of dehydration when I don’t get enough water. Here is the really, really terrific news about drinking water: the effects are virtually immediate, and the positive feelings (which I will discuss in more detail) you will experience become accessible anytime you fill your body with this life-enhancing elixir. Now that’s pretty great in my book.

Our science lesson for today: Think back to high school biology class for a moment, where we learned that our bodies are made up of 60% water, our brains and hearts are 73% water and our lungs 83% water. Every organ in our bodies, and every system and process of our bodies, require water to run properly. And, they all need enough water to work optimally. Some of the most important functions of proper hydration include our digestion, circulation of our blood, the transportation of nutrients in and out of our cells, removal of toxins and waste from our organs and cells, and maintaining our body’s temperature. Whew, and that’s just the short list! Without enough water our body downshifts into crisis mode, causing stress to all parts, inside and out.

Without enough water, our cells can’t stay balanced (with the correct amount of fluid) and so electrolytes (a substance present in all our bodily fluids) can’t do their job effectively. Electrolytes are needed for all nerve reactions—in our muscles and…you guessed it, our brain. According to research, an electrolyte imbalance can cause a variety of negative symptoms, some potentially deadly. Fatigue after only limited activity is a sign of dehydration; the muscles don’t perform as well, and cramping may occur. This is especially crucial for folks who exercise regularly, and/or do so in a warm climate.

Brain fog and mental confusion are also triggers that tell us our bodies need more water. Remember when you drank too much alcohol at your niece’s wedding?  The headache and foggy thinking you felt the next day were due to dehydration from choosing to replace your water intake with gin and tonics. 😉  In a large study published in Nutrition Review in 2010, researchers found that a steady practice of denying your brain the water it needs can speed up the development of dementia. They also discovered being even mildly dehydrated causes mood fluctuations, difficulty in maintaining concentration, and influences the short-term memory process in all people regardless of their ages. It seems no one is immune. Running on empty, water-wise, impairs higher brain functions we use in math calculations. Insufficient water also affects the use of fine motor skills—think sewing or silver-smithing, as well as our eye-hand coordination needed to fold laundry, put on make-up, or write a letter (in the olden days, that is). Again, filling our internal tanks will alleviate most of these difficulties in double-quick fashion, so drink up!

I have more to say about this important topic so stay tuned, and…

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Are You Out of Balance?

June 7, 2019

Until I pass on into the next world, I want to be independent and mobile; if I can prevent it, no wheelchairs or rocking chairs for me. I’m sure you feel the same, right? I have covered many aspects of aging which will help us stay out of those kind of chairs, and maintain our ability to get out of our favorite chair. Today, we will look at one more: Keeping and improving our balance. So if you are in your fifties reading this, you might thing, “well, that’s not something I need to worry about now,” but, au contraire, the research shows balance begins to slow down in our fifties and continues declining unless we stop and reverse this tendency.

First, let’s breakdown all the elements contributing to our ability to get out of a chair with ease and walk down the sidewalk in high heels without ending up in the street, embarrassed and bloody. Balance is actually a complex whole-body exercise. Your science lesson for the day: balance requires your sensory systems, your brain, and your muscles and joints to work together. Our sensory system is made up of our eyes, ears and sense of touch. Our eyes tell us where we are in relation to other objects, and if these objects are still or moving; our inner ear has tiny hairs and tiny nerves which work together to tell our brains the position of our head, and like the rudder of a boat or airplane, the hairs and nerves are constantly trying to right the ship and keep it in perfect alignment to the earth, standing still or in motion. Additionally, small crystals of calcium inside our ears help us sense the pull of the earth-gravity, and recognize movement. No small tasks for such fine hairs! Our feet and joints let us know if we are on even ground or moving across rough terrain, and our brain takes all this in and sends messages to our cerebral cortex. We then understand all this input as “Watch out, it’s dark and the path is angled and covered with loose rocks!”  

The worst part of taking a fall when we are over sixty comes more from the psychological toll than the physical one: the fear of falling. Suddenly, we might start limiting what we do—traveling, going out to unfamiliar places, resisting new experiences, all because we might fall. That wheelchair or rocking chair now starts looking positively inviting. STOP HERE! Do not past GO and collect your $200 to use on one of these. There is good news, and it is this: falling is NOT a normal part of aging. You have the power and the ability to keep your balance until the day the angels take you away, but you must, like all things, work on it to keep. Thankfully relief from the fear is as close as your YMCA/YWCA, gym, or rec center. Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese practice of slow, meditative movements done in a particular sequence ranks as one of the most effective practices to enhance or restore balance. It also works great on lowering your stress and cortisol so you will live longer to dance with your favorite partner. Additionally, yoga is an outstanding practice for shoring up balance, there is even a one-footed balancing pose to get right to it! 

Outside of organized classes there are some very effective daily practices we can incorporate to help us be fall-free:

  • Try heel-to-toe walking as if you were on a balance beam like an Olympic gymnast
  • Sit on an exercise ball to strengthen your core and practice getting up without holding on to anything or toppling over
  • Exercise on a wobble board or Boscu ™ ball (one of those half balls nailed to a flat board
  • Practice standing on one foot while you brush your teeth—left in the morning, right one at night.

All of the above should be done once your doctor has given you the go-ahead and ruled out any serious inner ear disorders, Parkinson’s, diabetes and/or certain medications which might affect balance.

Keeping our balance throughout our lives is such an empowering, and doable thing one wonders why we don’t all work on it every day. What might be stopping you? 

Until next time…..Be Vibrant!

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Does Aging Suck? Part II

June 3, 2019

Such a potent and controversial topic requires at least two posts to even begin to discuss how the process of getting older can affect us. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the feelings of comfort and ease my husband and I experience while walking George on the same streets we have covered for almost three decades. I know almost all my neighbors—except for those who landed here in the last few years. Those warm, familiar feelings only come with the passage of time, which is the same arc of time in which we get older. These are feelings I wouldn’t give away. 

Decades-long friendships of sharing every success, failure, bad haircut, and yucky boyfriend are experiences I would never trade. The richness of those moments comes from living them. Watching family wee ones being born and then go off to college and down the aisle are priceless joy. The amount of data I hold in my brain, three distinct careers worth, could only be acquired from spending the time learning it. Now I get the chance to share it with the world. Lucky me! To me, half a lifetime of wonderful— and some not so hot—memories with my sweet husband is so worth getting older just to have those experiences in my memory bank. 

My looks aren’t as snappy as they once were, looser has replaced tight, and there are other obvious signs of aging. White is growing in with the blonde; bikinis and sleeveless dresses, things of the past. Yet, I have learned grace under pressure, forgiveness in the face of severe harshness and unfair treatment. I now know how to take a longer view of things and really consider the other person’s world before I pop off my mouth. I also know there is more sand in the bottom of my hourglass than in the top, and that makes me hungry to go and do everything I can, to learn everything I can, and embrace every delicious/fun/exciting moment presented to me. I could never have known these things at twenty-seven or even forty-two.

It takes time for the cloak of age to gently enfold us. And, admittedly, it’s sometimes not an easy path, even for an incurable optimist like me, to accept the changes we must make if we are to thrive in this last third of our lives. Depression, illness, the inevitable loss of those we love, and our never-realized hopes and dreams all work against this acceptance. At times life hands us too much to handle alone. The good news is the older I get the lass I care about things that once made me anxious or stressed in my younger years. I know now if we have worked to keep our bodies and minds the best they can be through good health practices and meaningful relationships, surviving those toughest of times only add to the gifts we can share with others: wisdom, acceptance, and abiding love. 

Until next time, be vibrant!

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Meditation 101

May 28, 2019

As I was researching for this week’s discussion, I found an old Chinese proverb I thought beautifully sums up last’s week’s post on stress and feelings of control. It says, “Eight out of nine things that happen to us do not match our expectations.” How true, and the response we often have is to feel stressed about those eight things. I wonder, did the author of that truism mean eight or nine times in a day, a week, a year, or a lifetime? In my world, it would be eight in a day, and that would be a light day. I think this saying begs the question, then what do we do about it? Ahhh, the perfect segue into this week’s topic: the benefits of finding quiet contemplation time, or time for meditation.

A train car full of research confirms the immediate, and long term benefits of sitting quietly in silence and letting go of conscious thinking—the planning, reasoning, problem-solving type thinking–and instead bringing your mind and thoughts to focus on a single thought: “I am at peace,” “Let it all go,” “I am fine,” “I am safe,” “I have enough,” “I am well,” or any special phrase you find comforting. You can also think of nothing in particular, and let whatever thoughts that come to you flow by as if you are sitting on the banks of a river watching it babble along. You simply observe your thoughts as they float by. There is no right or wrong way to practice being quiet, it’s whatever works for you. The key here is to stay unattached to the thoughts, letting them go instead of grabbing on to them and going down some rabbit hole of thinking the next thought about the first thought, then a second one about the first one, then a third, and on and on, until you are right back in your busy mind. 

From a recent article, I would like to offer the words of one of the world’s most respected experts and teachers, and one of my favorites, Pema Chödrön. I appreciate her writings especially because she was reared on a New Jersey farm, attended Sarah Lawrence College, married, had two children, lived and worked as a wife and mother in the real world decades before she became a fully ordained Buddhist nun and teacher. She has walked the walk we are all walking.

“One of the most effective means for working with that [stressful] moment when we see the gathering storm of our habitual mind is the practice of pausing, or creating a gap. 

If you take some time to formally practice meditation, perhaps in the early morning, there is a lot of silence and space. Meditation practice itself is a way to create gaps. Every time you realize you are thinking and you let your thoughts go, you are creating a gap. Every time the breath goes out, you are creating a gap. You may not always experience it that way, but the basic meditation instruction is designed to be full of gaps. If you don’t fill up your practice time with your discursive mind, with your worrying and obsessing and all that kind of thing… caught up in the work you have to do that day, the projects you haven’t finished from the day before… caught up in busy mind, caught up in hesitation or fear, depression or discouragement. In other words, you’ve gone into your cocoon.

If you don’t fill up your practice [with busy mind] you have time to experience the blessing of your surroundings. You can just sit there quietly. Then maybe silence will dawn on you. Or maybe not. Maybe you are already….If you connect with… the stillness… maybe that feeling can stay with you and you can go into your day with it. Whatever it is you are doing… the expansiveness, the stillness, stays with you. When you are in touch with that larger environment, it can cut through your cocoon mentality.

On the other hand, I know from personal experience how strong the habitual mind is. The discursive mind, the busy, worried, caught-up, spaced-out mind, is powerful. That’s all the more reason to do the most important thing — to realize what a strong opportunity every day is, (the emphasis is mine) and how easy it is to waste it. If you don’t allow your mind to open and to connect with where you are, with the immediacy of your experience, you could easily become completely submerged. You could be completely caught up and distracted by the details of your life, from the moment you get up in the morning until you fall asleep at night.

You get so caught up in the content of your life, the minutiae that make up a day, so self-absorbed in the big project you have to do, that… the stillness, and the vastness escape you. You never emerge from your cocoon, except for when there’s a noise that’s so loud you can’t help but notice it, or something shocks you, or captures your eye, and you say, ‘Wow’.”

I quoted Pema because she hits the mark so beautifully. I don’t think most of us want to live this second half of our lives in a cocoon, but so often we find our feet stuck in the minutiae, our minds in the jet stream. Instead, please try this: In the coming week, take fifteen minutes in the early morning or late afternoon, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and sit comfortably. Close or lower your eyes below center and focus on a single, comforting thought. Notice how you feel.  We will continue this discussion next week.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Does Ageing Suck? Part 1

May 20, 2019

“Aging sucks! There is nothing good about it!” my friend said. And, as she said it, her face looked as if she had just eaten a sourball candy, or worse. Two days later, another woman made the same face and with as much anger in her voice repeated those exact words, and last week I heard this same reframe from a few other friends’ mouths. It got me thinking. Do I agree with them? 

A few parts of me don’t work quite as well as they did a few years ago, now that I am in middle adulthood—my right hip—from my ice skating days, bothers me more often that it did ten years ago, But, I am healthier overall than when I turned fifty. I do special exercises to help my old injury, and when I do them, they work well to keep the pain away, or hovering around a 1/2, on a scale from 1-10. I also help my body by taking good supplements. I found these become key components to maintaining good health as I age and lose the protection offered by my pre-menopausal armor of hormones.  Finding a qualified professional to help me get on the correct vitamin regime is making all the difference.

As far as aging and mental helath, I am as sharp, with only an occasional brain blip, which is due to stress, not getting older. How do I know this? When I return from vacation, or do my meditation practice regularly, information comes instantly. My tap class, and regular piano practice also keep me mentally strong. I know both contribute to my good recall, as well.

After pondering why these women, and others who only see the negative in the ageing process, I recognized that many of us hang on to regrets about losing our youth, things we didn’t do or get to do because of other choices we made. We may be angry that the past, or “easier” parts of our lives are over– when we all were building our careers, had flexible bodies, and more energy than we needed. I also realized that some of us haven’t re-chosen how we want our lives to be.We are in contrast/opposition to what the great Byron Katie calls, Loving What Is. A couple of regrets from my youth still pique my composure, but I work to release those anger knots. In time, I can sense that with practice, they become softer, smaller, and more crumbly than they once felt. 

It helps knowing that whenever we don’t like the way our lives are going, we have the power to re-choose—from as big a decision as choosing a new life path, a new partner, a new locale to call home, to smaller things such as getting rid of unflattering clothes in the closet, or reflecting on who we are now. Even changing our lipstick color to one that better complements our skin tone, signing up to volunteer, planting some flowers, helping a neighbor in need, or trying out a new recipe moves us forward and helps us feel empowered. 

Regret is the biggest time waster on the planet—next to trying to “fix” someone you love 😉 Anger corrodes our insides, shrinks our brain, and makes us look twenty years older than our real age. All facts. Do you really want to subject the only body you will ever have to that kind of abuse? Really?

To be honest, there are days when I don’t love what is going on at that moment in my life, and I would like to chuck it all and move to a tree house with no phone and a hungry, non-endangered tiger circling below. What I know at these times is I am overtaxed. I need a break. I need to refill my energy tanks. Then, however I can, I re-choose my circumstances to allow me to get the self-care I need until I am topped off and ready to step back into the world.  So how does this tie into a worldview that aging sucks? I shift from a place of disempowerment, to replenishing my power by re-choosing what I focus on. This will not change my hip pain, nor rid me of my cellulite, but it lowers my stress, and allows me to see what is going right, where my blessings lie. To reinforce feeling empowered, I do my Gratitude Meditation, and list not just five good things in my life, but as many as I can think of, and I write them in my pretty journal I keep just for that purpose. Looking back on the completed pages and books puts me in a place of seeing both good and bad and realizing how the good stuff so overwhelms the bad stuff. Life can be really tough, but sometimes handling it well might just be a matter of perspective.

…To be continued.

Until next time….Be Vibrant!    

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