I had a moment of epiphany recently. I take better care of my horse than I do of myself. And that’s got to change.
I make sure Charlie Brown goes out every day, be it for turnout or a ride. I make sure someone else can ride him if I’m out of town for work (or any other reason). He gets supplements, organic oil for his feed, body clips, regular check-ups, and consistent pedicures from the farrier.
I don’t do that kind of thing for myself. But after a particularly demanding week on a business trip, I decided to get a massage once the conference I was attending was over. And in the middle of that experience, when I realized how tight my left hip was, it dawned on me that I wasn’t doing nearly what I should for my own body.
So with that in mind, I’m taking on a series of “reforms” to my own health regimen. The plan is to implement one thing (maybe two) each month, using that time to create a genuine habit that will stick with me as I pick up other meaningful and healthy habits. Here are some of the things on my “to do” list:
I did a month long plank challenge with friends this past April. OK, it’s more like I tried to do the plank challenge. They all eventually got up to a five minute plank. I’m still stuck between 90 seconds and 2 minutes. <sigh> All I can tell you is that pregnancy is really rough on your core. Obviously mine has never really recovered. But now it’s time.
Even though the official challenge is over, I’m going to stick with it. The goal is to do my 90 second plank at least once a day, preferably when I get up (and get it over with). There will be bonus points if I can get it done a second time, before I go to bed. Then I’ll increase the time by 15 seconds every two weeks. Hopefully that will be enough to make me more fit, without becoming akin to the challenge, where I fell behind very quickly.
I used to be much more flexible than I am now. I was also more disciplined about stretching before I rode. Ironically that was when I was in my 20s, and didn’t need to stretch so much. Now I’m in my 50s, and arguably at a point when I need to stretch. But I confess: I don’t. So after that plank, I’m going to stretch for 10 minutes. I just got my copy of Misty Copeland’s workout book, so I’ll be drawing from her exercises that focus on keeping my muscles long, loose, and strong.
I was brought up in a house where we were never taught the value of exercise, never mind how to do it. My family’s attitude was that sports were for jocks who didn’t do well in school. As a result, I’ve never enjoyed exercise. So as simple and silly as it sounds, I’m going to learn how to exercise. But it doesn’t make sense to do exercises that conflict with the muscle memory specific to riding. So I’m going to a boot camp with Daniel Stewart, an equestrian trainer I met at last year’s USEA meeting, to learn what to do, and how to do it.
Plus, Daniel has agreed to follow up with me. So when I get home, I will have set up a regular schedule of exercise that specifically helps my riding.
I’ve never had regular massages. But after this last one, I have a new appreciation for the value of having someone unkink your muscles for you. My day job has me sitting at a desk, in front of a computer screen, for several hours at a time. That causes me to shrink my shoulders up toward my ears. No wonder it’s tough to get my shoulders relaxed and back when I ride! I’ll start with once a month, and see what the results are.
I love my food. And when I’m hungry, portion control goes right out the window. So for me, nutrition becomes all about eating the right things for my body. Over time, I have noticed that my system doesn’t like red meat so much anymore. I love the flavor of a good steak. But my stomach isn’t a fan of having to digest it. That makes it relatively easy to control my intake of beef. I’m happy with just a small taste.
My other nutritional challenge is that my job often requires me to eat out. And business meals are mostly not the kinds of things I want to eat, or should be eating.
I could easily be a vegetarian, or close to it. Once I get the taste of the protein, I don’t feel deprived, and my body appreciates not having to go through the effort of processing it all. But my family isn’t exactly on board with that. My husband is an outright meat-a-tarian, and going to a vegetable based diet might put him on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So meal planning is challenging. Yes, I’m going to revisit this, but not immediately.
My more pressing issue is junk food. I can commit some serious food crimes with things like Cheetos, Oreos, and the like — especially after a stressful day at the office. Unfortunately, I might as well apply those things topically to my hips and thighs, because that’s exactly where they go. I’m not entirely sure how best to manage this. I may have to give myself a set number of “get out of jail free” cards so I can satisfy my tastebuds without going overboard too often. Full disclosure: this one’s gonna be hard!
We all need to drink more water for a variety of reasons. The general recommendation is 8 8-ounce glasses of water per day. I think I’d float or sprout gills if I start with the whole 8 glasses, so I’m committing to drinking 6 glasses of water daily, initially. Then in a month I’ll work up to 7 glasses, and finally to 8 glasses. Don’t worry, getting to 6 glasses will be a stretch for me. I have a 1.5 liter water bottle, which is about to become a regular fashion accessory for me, which holds 6 glasses, so I only have to get through that one and a half times a day.
I’m often in social and work situations where the wine can flow pretty freely. Sometimes I just don’t want it. But you’re almost expected to drink. The problem is that more than one glass makes me sleepy and dehydrated. So I’m going for the “you think it’s a gin and tonic, but it’s really just sparkling water and lime” strategy. That way I won’t get parched, I’ll look like I’m drinking so I won’t get push back, and I won’t get sleepy. Let’s save the wine for when I can focus on it, and really enjoy a single glass of something amazing.
My body is very affected by my brain. Sometimes it’s emotional things that I need to process and let go of. Sometimes it’s just the frenetic pace of life that causes my mind to race, so I need to quiet it and slow things down so I can even get to sleep. Regardless, meditation can help with that.
I recently met a very successful business owner who meditates for two hours a day. Yes, you read that right — two HOURS. I figured if she can do that much, I can certainly come up with 15 minutes. I’ll probably be like the lead character in Eat, Pray, Love, who sat down to meditate for an hour, and couldn’t keep her eyes closed for five minutes. But I’ll never get any better at it if I don’t practice.
I’m a night owl, usually going to bed around midnight. But the upcoming school year for my daughter will require us all to get up at 6am. So I need to engineer a good night’s sleep back from that targeted wake up time.
In addition, to create the best opportunity for productive sleep, I will create a bedtime ritual that includes things like reading, stretching, meditating, and that second plank. It will also exclude things like electronic devices, television, and a jarring alarm.