Use It Or Lose It – No Really!

Jannine Myers

My father has been dealing lately with knee and lower back pain, not surprising given how active he is. But his pain – the result of cumulative wear and tear – has reached a certain threshold that has forced him to either modify or put some of his usual weekly activities on hold.

My mother on the other hand, moves about with relative ease – or to better clarify, with minimal pain. Unlike my father, she’s more of an indoor person; she’d much rather stay in and read a book or stroll down to one of the social gatherings on-site at their semi-retirement village. Besides flirting over the years with a few sporting endeavors (netball in her youth, and golf and lawn bowling later on), she has never really put her body under too much stress or tension.

As I think about their situation, and the all-too-familiar phrase “Use It Or Lose It,” I have to admit that I envy my mother for being pain-free. But isn’t it ironic that she – the one who has hardly exercised, and with a far less impressive physical profile – is also the one who does not struggle with chronic pain!

Still, when weighing up the pros and cons, I think one has to consider personal lifestyle preferences, and what will ultimately provide fulfillment. How much will it matter to stay fit and active for as long as possible, versus settling for a mostly indoor and sedentary lifestyle?

Also important, is contemplating who might (or might not be) in your life during your retirement years. As much as my mother jokingly boasts about her pain-free body, she would not be able to deny that her quality of life is as great as it is because she has a husband who has worked hard to maintain a certain level of vitality.

Essential day-to-day tasks, for example – cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping – are no longer manageable for her. And forget about the road trips she still enjoys, or social outings beyond the village, since venturing out would not be possible without my father.

So yes, my mother is incredibly fortunate to have reaped the rewards of a gently-used body, but she is also incredibly fortunate to have someone do for her what her body can no longer do.

 

From Mum-Bod To Fit-Bod

No time to exercise? You’re a busy mum?

I get it; I really do. I remember when each of my girls were young and I felt pulled in every direction, all of the time. But honestly, now that they’re older, nothing much has changed. Life is still as busy as ever; it’s the same challenge, different focus!

Maybe you’ve been told this before (and found it condescending), but we all have the same number of hours in our days. To some degree – more or less – we mostly get to choose how we spend those hours. People are generally best at what they do more of, the implication being that whatever matters most will likely make it’s way to the top of their priority list. That mum you know, who looks ridiculously fit and healthy, doesn’t necessarily have more time on her hands; she may just have a priority list that looks very different to yours.

Part of the problem too, is that mums feel pressured to conform. If they struggle to fit into whatever “mum box” they believe is most socially acceptable, they no longer feel worthy or valued. That’s rubbish though! Whoever you are and choose to be, is of value, and perfectly okay!

Heck, I’m grossly inept as an efficient and organized house-keeper, or disciplinarian, or home-work assistant, and my girls would probably agree. In fact, on my last birthday they gave me a card that said “BE WILD & FREE” and inside was a hand-written message that said, “Not a traditional card, but that’s because you are wild and free!” They accept that I’ve never really been a conventional/logical/practical kind of mum, but they love me just the same.

They accept too that exercise has always mattered to me, and is an integral part of my life (I hope in turn that as they get older it will matter equally as much to them). When they were much younger, keeping fit was only possible via spontaneous and brief, but regular bouts of movement; ten minutes here, ten minutes there, basically wherever, whenever, and however. If I had cleaning to do, I would do it vigorously; if the morning brought clear skies, the jogging stroller was put to use; or if I had to choose between a quick calisthenics workout versus folding the laundry, I’d opt for the former (or do both simultaneously).

As my girls moved through different ages and stages of their lives, and required less hands-on care, I took advantage of their extra-curricular activities. I’d drive them to sports practices and while waiting I’d go run with the dog, instead of engaging in idle chatter with other mums. Or, as a military spouse, frequently encouraged to participate in group-bonding activities, I often chose not to. That meant that I missed out on developing relationships with other mums, but it was more important to me to nurture my own personal needs while participating in ways that at minimum, supported my girls.

In most “mum” situations, I believe it’s a matter of shifting mindset. I’ve listened to many mothers of young kids tell me that it’s impossible to workout, because a workout to them meant having to start and finish a specific exercise routine without interruption. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and once you grasp the idea that anything done counts, you’ll soon get creative and good at fitting in lots of little “anythings!”

Being a mum doesn’t mean you can’t look after you! Granted, it’s not a time when you can expect to train optimally and be in the best shape of your life, but there’s no reason to sabotage your health and fitness goals by giving up altogether. My exercise routine was average at best (during my girls’ younger years), but it was enough to maintain a baseline level of health and fitness, and keep the “happy hormones” activated. That in itself, as any mother well knows, should be motivation enough to make time for exercise!

 

When Our Kids Fail……

Last week my teen experienced a couple of disappointing setbacks; one was of an academic nature and the other had to do with a dance audition. She’s a sensitive soul, so it hurt me to see her have to deal with the pain of failure and rejection. I wanted to tell her not to worry, and that in my eyes she’s super smart and talented. But, I also never want her to feel that her self-worth must be determined by her ability to produce certain outcomes. No, I’d rather she accept her failures for what they are and know that they are stepping stones to whatever is next.

Fortunately, I’m well acquainted with the sting of failure, so I was able to offer what was hopefully some sage advice. I mean, if not for my past failures many of my successes may never have been realized. So, drawing on a couple of recent experiences, I shared with her how at first the sting feels unpleasant, but as the pain subsides it gives way to a clearer view and understanding of what just happened.

With fresh eyes and a less clouded perspective, it’s then easier to discern if continued effort and persistence is worth it, or if maybe it’s time to completely move on. There is after all, often a fine line between knowing when to keep working on something and when giving up is actually the better/healthier option.

Thankfully, our heart-to-heart helped her to find the clarity and peace of mind that she needed. She was able to make choices that personally, I am proud of. Additionally, she understood and accepted that although failure and rejection sucks, it’s not personal! It’s not about her, it’s about her work/performance. And that revelation alone, small as it was, provided the greatest comfort.

Kids Have MUCH More To Gain From A Healthy Diet Than Just Weight Control

I heard a news report recently that cited several reasons for the staggering increase in childhood obesity: biological factors, unregulated marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, a decline in physical activity, and inadequate access to healthier food options.

With regards to nutrition, I think conventional approaches to influencing changes are simply not working. Both government and private health groups constantly disseminate information in attempts to encourage better dietary choices, and yet the number of kids being categorized as overweight or obese continues to rise. 

Not wanting to get into a debate on what might or might not make a difference (there’s enough of that going on right now with the sugar-tax proposal), I’m going to share instead a “happy story,” one that tells of the surprising transformation that took place when a friend took small but progressive steps to change her 10 year old son’s eating habits.

Jet is twelve years old; at the age of just ten he ran and finished a half marathon. Two weeks later he also completed a very challenging 10k mud run. While it’s not uncommon to see young kids of Jet’s age participating in running events, it is unusual to see them completing the more difficult adult distances and courses.

Two years prior, health reasons prompted Jet’s mother to change his diet. Haruna, Jet’s mother, says, “Jet always loved to eat lots of meat, and very few veggies. He loved to eat chocolate or anything sweet; he’d eat just sugar if he could!”

To start with, Haruna stopped buying processed snacks. She used to keep an ample supply in the house but knew that that had to stop. Her greatest challenge was saying no to Jet and his sister when they accompanied her to the supermarket, but by compromising and allowing them to each choose just one “treat,” she was met with far less resistance.

The next step Haruna took was to cut back on Jet’s meat servings, another huge challenge since he was used to eating meat-heavy meals every day of the week. The change was initially too drastic, so reducing Jet’s portions (and eventually meals), had to be a gradual process that involved simultaneously introducing a greater variety of salad vegetables and dressings. 

Haruna says it was around eight months later that she began to observe some very noticeable differences in Jet’s body; he looked leaner and more muscularly toned. But in addition to the changes in appearance, he seemed to have much more energy and soon expressed a desire to start joining his mother on some of her weekly runs.

Not long after he took up running with his mother, Jet decided he wanted to train for his first half marathon. Haruna believes that Jet’s change in diet made it possible for him to achieve that goal; the change in body composition (loss of fat and increase in lean muscle), undoubtedly gave him the physical strength he needed, but Haruna says the real surprise came with the changes she observed in Jet’s mental clarity and behavior. 

According to Haruna, Jet somehow seemed calmer, more positive, and better able to focus and concentrate. Most athletes will agree that these qualities are invaluable in the realm of endurance sports, especially if the end goal is to “successfully” complete an event (and imagine how these qualities would improve a young person’s life, in general).

For Jet, success would have been defined by simply finishing, and had Jet remained on the diet he had enjoyed for so long, it’s highly likely that running and finishing a half marathon at age 10 would never have happened.

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Jet, trying to stay cool in the hot and humid conditions, and still smiling!

At just 10 years old, Jet completed a half marathon and proudly earned his finisher's certificate!

At just 10 years old, Jet completed a half marathon and proudly earned his finisher’s certificate!

Jet and his mom Haruna on right - at the Famous Hansen 10k Mud Run April 24th 2016

Jet and his mom Haruna on right – at the Famous Hansen 10k Mud Run April 24th 2016

The take-away from sharing Haruna and Jet’s story:

  • Most parents are exposed to enough nutritional data to know what they probably should – or should not – feed their kids, but even when it’s obvious that health and weight concerns are indicative of a poor diet, they continue to make decisions based on convenience and/or taste. It’s my hope that in sharing Jet’s story, and illustrating the immense and beneficial impact of a nutrition-rich diet, that some parents reading this might be inspired to take the kind of proactive steps that Jet’s mother did.

Exercise Tips For Mothers With Young Kids

This morning I ran past a daycare centre and felt bad for a young mum who struggled to carry her crying baby in one arm, and an overloaded day-bag in the other; she looked tired and defeated. I remember those days well, and not too fondly either. Exhaustion was something I hated but got used to, and frustration was frequently experienced but more so when exercise couldn’t find its way into my daily schedule.

These days, with my kids both grown, I have the luxury of exercising with fewer restraints. But thinking back to those years, I do remember working with my limitations and finding ways to at least maintain a reasonable level of fitness. If a mother of young kids were to ask me how they could do the same, these would be my key tips:

  • Invest in a running stroller if you enjoy running!
  • Don’t feel that your workout must be completed in one consecutive session; if exercising daily means 3 lots of 10-minute workouts spread throughout the day, then take it! Some movement is always better than no movement.
  • Opt for HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts. Simply put, that means working at an all-out effort in short bursts, with equally short active-recovery periods in between. You’ll keep your heart rate elevated and burn more fat in less time.
  • Don’t focus on just cardio; strength/resistance training is key to promoting fat loss. An increase in lean muscle mass will assist your body in burning fat much more efficiently. You don’t need to go to a gym to do resistance training; all you need is a couple of light dumbbells and/or a resistance band, or even just your own bodyweight. There are plenty of at-home workouts available online that are under 30 minutes and require minimal equipment.

The last, and most important thing I would say, is that there is no greater feeling than the love a mother has for her children. So while lack of time and exercise might be a major source of frustration, realize that there is a time and season for everything and these years will pass so quickly that you’ll wish you could take them back.

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Are You That Mum Who Never Stops Or Slows Down?

Several years ago I recall setting out on an early morning run and being startled by a car that swiped the footpath a few feet ahead of me. I was further surprised when the hubcap bounced off on to the road and the driver carried on without stopping to retrieve it. It made me think of mothers, including myself, who often race through each day determined to conquer an impossibly long to-do-list, and in the process unknowingly lose a “part” of themselves.

By “part,” I mean any “thing” that contributes towards overall physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. How often for example, do we intentionally set aside time to rest and relax, get out for some fun, or take a few moments each day to talk and laugh? And what about diet and exercise; are these a priority, or do they get pushed to the wayside in favour of other “mum duties?”

Like the driver who kept driving without a hubcap, we tend to do the same. We keep going, ignorant of cues that try to warn us of our bodies needing a break. And yet, despite our noble efforts to be the best mums we can be, we’d be doing everyone (ourselves and kids especially), a huge favour if we stopped to do a “parts” check every once in a while.

Take some time this Mother’s Day to sit back and enjoy the pampering. And be selfish for a change; spend the day doing whatever it is that you want to do!

Wishing you all a restful and happy mother’s day.

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Protein Brownie Muffins For Active Teens

Jannine Myers

Protein bars are a regular shopping list item for many athletes and recreational exercisers, and provided they aren’t filled with unnecessary added sugars, “questionable” ingredients, or poor quality protein, they can occasionally add value to one’s diet. I find them particularly useful when travelling, or after races, or on days when my diet is lacking in protein.

But what about young athletes? I have a young athlete at home with me; my 13-year old daughter. She spends approximately 12 hours a week at her dance studio and besides the fact that she trains hard and puts her muscles to work daily, she is also still growing. She needs quality protein in her diet just as I do!

It’s too costly for me to buy extra protein bars (and I also wouldn’t want my daughter to get addicted to the sugary candy-bar appeal of them), however I don’t mind giving her occasional home-made “treats” that she can enjoy in place of generic supermarket muesli and cereal protein bars. The following recipe is one that she really enjoys, and one you might also like to try for your active teens:

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Ingredients

2 cups chickpeas, canned is fine but drain and wash first

3 tbsps coconut oil

1 tbsp of plunger or instant decaf coffee (optional)

250ml Unsweetened Almond Milk

3 scoops of quality chocolate whey protein (1 scoop = 25g protein)

2 tbsps cocoa or cacao powder

3/4 cup organic oats

3/4 cup ground almonds

2 tsps baking powder

1/4 tsp cayenne powder (optional)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup low GI sugar

1/4 cup molasses

2 tbsps tapioca flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Boil water and add about 4 to 5 tbsps to the coffee. Then, simply add all the ingredients to a food processor, pour the coffee over, and pulse until combined. If you are omitting the coffee, just add a little extra water. Pour the mixture into pre-greased muffin pans (recipe makes 16 muffins), and bake for 15 to 20 minutes (15 to 17 mins if you prefer a really moist brownie, or up to 20 mins if you prefer more of a dense cake texture).

Nutritional Data per muffin: Calories 160; Carbs 18.95g (Sugars 9.45g); Fat: 6.25g (Saturated Fat 2.49g); Protein 7.9g; Fiber 2.5g

 

Trying To Eat Healthy On A Budget

Jannine Myers

There are many reasons to feel grateful for living in New Zealand, but the cost of living is not one of them. Grocery shopping for the average family is either a major financial burden or a nutritional nightmare. I don’t claim to have the perfect solution, but I do have a system to share that may work for you.

To start, I recommend lining your pantry shelves with staple ingredients such as spices, seasonings, sauces, healthy oils, dried fruits and nuts, seeds, baking essentials, and also canned beans, legumes, and low-sodium vegetables. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go!

This is how I do my weekly grocery shopping and unless there are specific items I need, it does not involve writing out a shopping list:

1. Start with your nearest fresh fruit and vegetable store. Go down all the aisles and only put in your basket fruits and veges that are selling for the best price. The selection of cheaper produce will differ from week to week, but that’s a good thing as you don’t want to be eating the same foods week in and week out (greater food variety also means greater nutrient diversity).

2. Go next to your local supermarket and be prepared to only select “best deal” options. The produce section is the first area you will walk into, but since you will have already bought your fruits and vegetables, just head straight through to the deli section; I usually do a quick scan of the deli area to see if there are any exceptionally good deals, but if not I keep moving.

3. Beyond the deli section you’ll start to encounter the meats in the back of the store, as well as the first aisle entry. My strategy when supermarket shopping: is a) to look for protein foods that are on sale, to include eggs, all lean meats, seafood, and vegetarian options; b) top up on the cheapest complex carbohydrate options, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, seeded breads, etc. (root vegetables would have been purchased at the fruit and vegetable store); c) choose whichever dairy (and/or refrigerated vegan) products are on sale, and d), top up on any pantry staples that need replacing.

Once home, it’s always a good idea to start food preparation right away. I almost always do my grocery shopping on days that I am off work and have enough time to shop and meal prep all in one go. You’ll find that by practicing this one habit, the likelihood of food wastage will be significantly less.

By now you’re probably wondering how I create my meals without having planned an advance menu, and the answer to that is that I simply mix and match the groceries I come home with. All of our meals are built around the concept of a balanced plate that contains some type of lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, a decent size serving of vegetables, and a small serving of some type of healthy fat (such as avocado, nuts and seeds, or olive oil). By the end of the week, if protein options are completely used up, I start using pantry supplements such as beans and legumes.

Also, it’s not necessary but if you enjoy baking as much as I do, I use overly ripe or excess fruits and vegetables to make bread loaves and muffins, and I use dried fruits and nuts to make biscuits (I prefer to have healthier home-baked snacks on hand versus store-bought packaged goods). And finally, have plenty of portable containers available to pre-pack meals for school and work, and to also store ready-made meals in the freezer that can be pulled out later in the week and re-heated.

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A Brussels Sprouts Recipe You Might Actually Enjoy

Jannine Myers

Brussels sprouts are one of those odd vegetables that people seem to either love or hate; I personally love them! If you’re in the “indifferent” camp and don’t mind eating them, but won’t go out of your way to buy them because you’re not sure how to cook them or what to pair them with, give this recipe a try.

I made this a couple of nights ago, and not only was it super quick and easy, but it was also really delicious. And on a nutritional note, there are so many reasons why you should include brussels sprouts in your diet, including the following:

– a great source of fiber, manganese, potassium, choline, and B vitamins

– high in Vitamins C and K

– a reasonably good source of protein when compared with other green vegetables

– can potentially fight different types of cancer and improve bone health

[The following recipe directions recommend adding the brussels sprouts last, and cooking for no more than 5 minutes – brussels sprouts are nutritionally optimal when they are not overcooked].

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Ingredients

1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsps Thai red curry paste

3 cups cubed cooked pumpkin, kumara, and potato (to save time, I stopped at the deli section of my local supermarket and picked up a pre-packaged container of already roasted vegetables).

1 can (400g) organic black beans

1 can (400g) coconut milk

brussels sprouts, washed and halved (about 2 cups)

brown rice, cooked (to serve as base for the curry)

Directions

Heat oil in pan, and gently saute the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the red curry paste and cook for a further 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the cooked vegetables, coconut milk,, and drained black beans. Cover and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the brussels sprouts and a sprinkle of organic sugar, and stir through. Cook over low heat for a further 5 minutes and remove from the stovetop.

Serve hot over cooked brown rice.

[Recipe by Angela Casley, Viva]

No-Bake Apricot-Oat Slice

Jannine Myers

It hasn’t been much of a summer here in Auckland, but unlike the absence of sunshine there is definitely an abundance of sweet summer “stone” fruits. I’ve been enjoying daily servings of my choice of plums, peaches, nectarines, and apricots, and while I love seeing my fruit basket full, the fruits sometimes ripen faster than we can get around to eating them. When that happens it’s time to get innovative. Yesterday I did just that, and the end result was a No-Bake Apricot-Oat Slice made with pantry ingredients already on hand:

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Ingredients

5 or 6 medium size apricots

1 tsp sugar (optional)

1/4 cup peanut butter with chia seeds

1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 cups organic oats

1/2 cup whey chocolate protein powder

1/4 cup ground flaxseed

A few large chunks of dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao)

Directions

Skin and roughly chop the apricots, then add to a small saucepan. Add enough water to soak the apricots and bring to a slow boil (add a little sugar if you wish). Once boiling, cover and simmer until the fruit softens. Remove the lid, increase to medium heat and allow the water to evaporate. Reduce heat again and add remaining wet ingredients (peanut butter, almond milk, and molasses). Slowly heat the mixture through, then remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a separate mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and mix together. Next, add the apricot mixture to the dry ingredients and combine well. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and lightly grease. Pour the mixture into baking tray and spread out evenly using a spatula.

Melt the dark chocolate and spread over the apricot-oat slice. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then slice and store in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated.

Enjoy with your morning or afternoon tea/coffee, or as a pre-workout snack (and although not as sweet as store-bought granola bars, they’d also be a great, and healthier school snack).