The last 6 weeks have not been kind to the brain-healthy lifestyle to which I aspire.
During the months that I was trying to lose weight, it seemed easy to establish new habits and maintain them. My motivation was clear and there was positive reinforcement when I weighed myself each morning. There was the added excitement of learning new things and implementing them as I went along. That went for food, sleep, exercise and learning to play the recorder. They were heady times, indeed!
There was a comfort in the routine that emerged, from my morning granola ritual to getting into bed every night at 10:30pm. Every hour of my day seemed purposeful and, more importantly, healthy.
All that began to change, though, after I reached my weight loss goal. I had to figure out how to stop losing weight. (Nice problem to have, eh?) I thought that just exercising a little less (i.e., burning fewer calories each day) might take care of it, but to my surprise, it didn’t.
Although it wasn’t my intention, I stopped exercising altogether, which is obviously not part of any brain health plan. It began on the 3 extended weekends we were traveling to go to UConn women’s basketball games. Although all of our hotels had fitness centers where I could have worked out, I just didn’t feel compelled to use them. It was as if I were on vacation and exercising would have been akin to bringing my job with me. Strange, right?
Around the same time, I noticed that my body was starting to complain about working out. I was having fantasies about running 5k races again and trying to regain what little speed I had 5 years ago. It wasn’t long after I began increasing the intensity of my workouts that I tweaked something in my left hip. Then I noticed that there were a couple of spots in my shoulder and back that resented my weight workouts.
I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and that it would be smart, not brave, if I took a week or two off and let my body heal.
That was the plan I was implementing when COVID knocked me for a loop and kept me from working out for another two weeks.
But it wasn’t just about exercising. I went off my brain-healthy diet, too.
Since we were traveling, we ate out all the time. For unknown reasons, I felt that this gave me license to eat anything. And I did: corned beef, bread with butter, cheese danish, deep-fried walleye, bratwurst, bacon, stadium pizza, french fries, coffee with half&half and sugar, ice cream…all the banned food groups found their way down my gullet.
It would have been easy to eat much more healthily as just about all the restaurants had vegan items on the menu. But when I saw them, a wave of ‘I can make that at home’ would sweep over me and I would move on to the taboo side of the menu. It wasn’t pretty. And it didn’t feel good, either.
Our sleep hygiene went out the window, as well. Instead of getting in bed at 10:30pm, we’d stay up as long as we needed to relax after the excitement of the basketball games. We’d get up whenever we got up. Intermittent overnight fasting went by the wayside, too, as did chilling the rooms down to the high 60s before bedtime because we didn’t have our heated sheets to jump into when the time came.
It’s not easy being brain-healthy on the road!
But now we’re home and healthy and I’m getting back in the groove. This week I made granola, sauerkraut and kefir and I’ve worked them all back into my diet. I faltered again, though, when we went out for dinner and I had a hamburger, of all things. But I’m doing better. Honest!
I had to start from ground zero with exercising by walking on the treadmill for half an hour. I was actually sore the day after my first workout! We’ve restored sleep hygiene to our life, and that’s a good thing.
We’ve got more trips planned in the months ahead and so I’m going to have to steel myself to maintain brain-health discipline while on the road. I don’t think my backsliding hurt my brain, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t help it, either. My sense is that I lost about a month in the long-term project of cleaning up whatever toxic waste sites that have amassed during my first 70 years. What I need to do going forward is to find a way to treat myself occasionally without running amok.
That’s probably easier said than done!