Walking with Children

I’m a big advocate of communication with children (as in talking and listening) being one of the most effective ways of keeping a good relationship going, building trust, getting to know one another, guiding and advising them and just staying close to one another throughout their whole young life.

Image credit
Image credit

I find one of the single most easy times to get your kids to open up and talk to you, to ask  you questions, to listen to you is when you are walking with them. When you get them outside no matter the weather, no matter their age (we have things like microfibre and waterproof shades for prams and umbrellas now) and you take them away from technology and interference, leave phones in pockets or at home if it’s safe to do so and just go for a walk you are onto a winner. Walk anywhere, it’s free, around your neighbourhood or a nicer neighbourhood if yours isn’t too nice, along a beach if you’re lucky enough to live near one or to be able to drive to one easily, around a woods, a park, a community garden… anywhere where there are few modern day interruptions. Walking at night is especially relaxing.

I used to walk my kids to school and back rather than drive them so that we always had that daily opportunity to talk and for me to listen and even now when one of them is grown and the other in mid teens we still walk regularly and they open up to me in ways they just don’t normally, we talk about everything and anything and it’s not only fun and bonding for us but it lets me into their world and into their mind and their heart, I find out what their passions and joys are, I find out about their friends and their jobs or school, I find out about their ambitions, their fears… it all tumbles out during a walk.

What’s more you can go a long time without a walk (we went about 2 years) and it’s easy to bring back as a feature of your life together, it doesn’t have to happen daily. Weekly or even monthly is good. Also of course there is the added benefit for you and the kid/s of it being healthy easy exercise, of getting some fresh air into your lungs and to relax and destress away from everything for ten minutes, half an  hour or several hours it doesn’t matter.

We should all walk more and if we can do it with people we want to always be close to even better.

If you’re looking to start to lose weight and exercise more and build stronger relationships start with adding a short walk into your life and by drinking more water. Two top tips which are easy to do and which you will thank yourself that you did one day.


Walking Back to Happiness

A good walk is really under-estimated. Sometimes we get so caught up in fashionable trends that we forget the simplest of things. Forget all this fancy exercise, just get up and take a walk. It gives you a moderate workout, most people can do it, it lightens your imood, it pumps some fresh air into your lungs and circulates lots of rich oxygen around your body, you see things and meet people if you’re lucky. It’s free,  you don’t need equipment and you can do it in all weathers.

We need to walk more.

When my dad died he had the heart and lungs of an ox, the doctors said they would have kept him going another fifty years and he’d been a smoker and a drinker and a consumer of much fat at times in his life BUT he always took a daily walk. Even when it was bitterly cold outside he would go for a walk to buy his morning newspaper rather than have it delivered and rather than take the car. Mum used to moan that he was gone too long because he used to stop and talk to all of his admirers along the way (he was always a hit with the ladies) and in bad weather everyone in the  neighbourhood knew his clockwork like routine and so they might flag him down and ask him to bring them something they needed so they didn’t have to step out, he was even known to push the odd baby or two in their prams to the shop and back to get them to take a nap for stressed mothers. Old ladies worried about a slip and a hip fracture and young ladies with snuggled up babies alike would make the most of his happy to help approach to life. His walk kept him in touch with the community, gave him a ton of people to cheer up every day and kept at least some parts of his physiology in good shape. Even the undertaker commented on how good his muscle tone was for a guy of his age.

Nick and I biked down to the sea front today after my ‘proper’ work out and we met up with old Charlie and we took a walk with him and we asked him the secret to being so sprightly and alert at 91 and he told us it was his daily walk. “No matter where I am in the world, no matter the weather, no matter how I’m feeling, I get myself up and get myself out for my walk, I think that’s the secret to this living longer lark, exercise and fresh air” he told us.  Nick didn’t mind that I chose to snuggle up to my surrogate grandad rather than him. I just love the smell of him and I never had a grandad so I’m making the most of Charlie’s offer to be anything I want as long as I have a walk with him now and again. And joy of joys, when he got home the other day several of his children and grandchildren rang to see he was OK and to chat about his wife. He was glowing when he told me.

Little things mean a lot folks. They really do. In this complex world it can be easy to forget that.

Earl Grey, grief and miracles

I had a wobble yesterday. I have them now and then and I need to let myself not feel so much of a failure for having them, I’m human. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. I think we often go into machine mode and forget that we are not robots set on go, we are organic beings who mess up and have anxieties and get affected by externalities. I need to remember that.

Anyway, two good things came of said wobble. Firstly I didn’t give in and eat my body weight in mint Aero and secondly because I chose to flee the house, drop my work and get on my bike to take my mind off bingeing and the way I was feeling I had a really cool experience that I would otherwise have missed.

At the midpoint of my bike ride, as I hauled my much happier and energised self into a cafe and ordered a cup of Earl Grey I realised I had no money, the lady behind the counter said it didn’t matter I could drop it in some time and an old chap behind me offered to pay for my tea. Normally I would have declined but I was still frazzled enough to just accept. I asked if he wanted us to sit together as he ordered his own tea and a biscuit for the dog.

This was funny because I’d joked that I’d go and find an old codger walking his dog to talk to before I left and here he was, complete with little Westie outside waiting for his biscuit. We sat in the shelter of the cafe but outside in the sunshine, it was freezing but such a beautiful day it was a shame to spend it inside. The hot tea warmed my hands and insides anyway.

We had such a lovely chat about everything and nothing, I learned that he was 91 (he didn’t look a day over 70), he had a sharp mind and a sharp wit to go with it and he really cheered me up. He told me tales of wartime and tales of his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren all scattered around the world. When we’d finished I asked if he wanted me to walk with him down the sea front, he said it would be lovely to have some company and so I locked up my bike and we set off arm in arm. It was the first time I’d been arm in arm with an old chap in years, since I lost my dad I think and just being close to this guy and smelling him and listening to him reminded me so much of my dad it was unreal.

I realised as we walked along that a lot of my sadness is grief from losing him and that sometimes it just spills over again, even after all of these years. He was the only one who ever understood me and I realised that I just miss him and that time does make it easier but that loss when it hits you afresh is as bad as that first morning you wake up and remember that they left the day before. It cuts as deep and takes the wind right out of your sails.

I felt myself snuggling up to the old guy closer and had to check myself so that he didn’t think I was going to molest him. When we’d finished our walk I told him thank you and said how he didn’t realise but his company, his jokes and laughter, his stories, his conversation had been a huge tonic for me, I’d been having a crap day and he had given me something I couldn’t explain but I was grateful for it. He told me that I’d done the same for him. He said it was the first anniversary of the loss of his wife who he had married when he was just 19 and spent a lifetime of happiness with. He told me he’d spent that morning at home and all of the family he had talked about, none of them had called to see if he was OK. He’d been acutely aware of his solitude and he’d left the house wishing he had a companion to take his mind off things to walk along the sea front with and chatter about something or nothing. He said he’d told himself not to be so foolish, it had never happened before, all he had to look forward to was a solitary walk again with just Rosie the dog for company, it would take a miracle for him to find someone willing to spend time with an old boy like him.

He planted a soft kiss on my cheek and thanked me for being his miracle.

Well he was mine too. It was all very emotional and lovely and we’ve got a date for Friday (tomorrow) to go for a walk again, I told him he’d have to share me with Nick this time but he didn’t mind, he said it was just lovely to have someone to walk with again and reminded me that I’m buying the tea. I really hope one of his family called him later that day.

Life’s as complicated as we make it and other people might be pains in the arse at time, but at others are heaven sent, good people exist, happiness restored.

Healthy Christmas A-Z Part 4

Here I am on H and this one is for Holly.

images (2)Holly has long been associated with Christmas in the UK and further afield.  Doing a bit of internet research quickly shows that Holly along with other festive greenery such as Ivy, Mistletoe and Laurel were used prior Christianity in the British Isles as pagan symbols of celebrating new growth, to ward off evil and to celebrate the winter solstice. Christians adopted these plants and gave religious meanings to them and you can read all about those in this easy, quick read I found on whychristmas.com.

I discovered that Holly is native to the British Isles, Europe, North Africa and West Asia and that there are many different varieties, most identifiable by their glossy dark green leaves and red berries. Only young or lower hanging leaves are spiky, for obvious reasons I guess, but something I didn’t know before. Check out this Woodland Trust article for more info and interesting holly facts.

Why I’ve included Holly in my healthy Christmas A-Z is twofold really, firstly instead of hiding indoors under layers of blankets and in front of roaring fires why not get yourself and the family, dog, horse, kids whatever, out and about and go in search of some of this stuff growing in the wild. Do some research, have a ramble, even take advantage in reduced traffic at this time of year and drive to a woods where you may find holly. Get your wellies on, cover up your extremities with woolen gloves and hats and stride out in search of some real, authentic, living holly and don’t come back until you find some… maybe not that extreme but you get the idea.

images (4)Take an opportunity to learn something, useless or not and to teach the kids, get them talking about customs, about Christmas about the pagan rituals which are still a part of our modern day Christmas, discuss other religions and how they celebrate their significant times of the year, talk to each other, listen to each other, exercise together, breathe fresh air, get away from technology and modern life and enjoy being a family or being free and alone for a while.

It is so good for the mind as well as the body, it keeps you moving, it keeps you breathing nice and deep, it will lift your mood and prevent stress and it can help, believe it or not, to build strong stable relationships in your family. I find that when we walk together as a family we talk more than at any other time and we listen more than at any other time and we laugh more than at any other time. I don’t think my little family is any different to any other and if it works for us it will probably work for others.

Walking is huge fun and has so many, many benefits. Whether you share a walk with a loved one or as part of a rambling group or in isolation. It can be excellent thinking time. It burns calories, gets the heart beating, uses a whole host of muscles and for even the least fit among us it is really useful valuable exercise. Do not knock walking, forget about pace and speed and distance, for some very overweight people just getting one foot in front of the other is an achievement, take a few steps and a few more, rest if you have to, breathe and take a few more, before you know it and I seriously mean this, within just a few days of walking you will be amazed at how much further you can go each time and how fast your fitness begins to improve. This is not only good for your body but for your mind, it makes the unachievable seem achievable, if you can walk more easily after three days of taking a few steps what will you be doing in a year? Running that’s what! Maybe not, but never say never. You’ll definitely be walking further and you’ll be fittimages (3)er and slimmer and feeling so much more healthy.

If you find it hard to motivate yourself to get up and exercise, a holly hunt will give you that reason. Who cares if you never find any? Who cares if you don’t have any growing near you, go seek some out in a shop or garden centre or look for something else, a flower or tree which you have in your country which has some symbolic significance at Christmas or whatever religious holiday you celebrate. The point is, find reasons to move, moving is good. If holly can be a reason to get up, get out and move then anything else can be too.

Secondly, family activities again, or even solitary activities. Find a good You Tube crafting demo like the simple one below which shows you how to make a quick and easy holly wreath.

Make some for your home or to gift to a family member or to take to the grave of a loved one who has already moved on from this life. Creating something is very therapeutic, it keeps your hands occupied and it keeps you out of the kitchen. It gives you a sense of usefulness and/or achievement and many obese people are down on themselves, feeling they can’t do anything right, so determine to make a simple holly arrangement or wreath and prove to yourself that you can do something and if you can do this one thing, what else can you do? Get good at it and make them and sell them and use the money to buy those himages (5)ealthy ingredients you can’t normally afford or a piece of exercise equipment, even if only a bungee band to tug on when you’re sat watching the TV. Or donate them to charities who can’t afford decorations or as prizes in local charity raffles or for local Christmas craft sales. No matter how big you are, even if you are bed bound you can do a craft activity and by the way you can pull on a bungee band. Lying in bed pulling on a bungee band is more exercise than you have been doing, it is more movement and we can all manage it, so get crafting and buy yourself a band and get exercising, you will burn more calories, strengthen muscles and start to lose weight, especially if you are making changes to the amount and type of food you eat too.

Again if you can do a Christmas project with your partner or kids or friends it is great for bonding and fun and is mood lifting and gets you talking and listening to one another. It’s surprising what you might get off your chest when you are relaxed, creative and happy and it’s amazing what your kids feel comfortable talking to you about. Sometimes other people in our lives have deep and genuine concerns about us when we are morbidly overweight, kids secretly worry about obese parents in the same way they silently worry about smoking parents, they hear the news, they have the lessons at school and they all scream to them “your mum or dad is going to die very soon and leave you all alone” and that is heartbreaking to know but it shakes you into action too when you find that your kid is worried sick about losing you.

Getting comfortable and having good quality family time gives them space and safety to come out and tell you about these things, to express their concerns and lets you have time to benefit from hearing that, to keep you inspired and to give you strength to avoid that Christmas buffet. It’s also good to hear them open up about how proud they are of your efforts and to hear them tell you what their favourite thing is about the new healthier you. Don’t miss these opportunities by not doing things together and allowing that space for such conversations to open up. The concerns and pride of your loved ones is the best food in the world, it fills you up and spurs you on and makes you strong, you want to put their fears behind them and you want to give them even more reasons to be proud of you. It dawns on you that only you can do this, it’s all up to you. Imagine the day you’re making a holly wreath with your kids and one of them says “remember that time when you used to be overweight mum and you….” that day is yours to have and it will come sooner if you can stay strong and focused on becoming that person who used to be overweight.

downloadChristmas is about togetherness for me and what better way to spend it than really talking and listening and getting to know the people you love more and letting them into new parts of you that they maybe didn’t know so well before. Make holly wreaths, make anything except unhealthy food.

Exercise is just movement, we can all move

Now I have always acknowledged that exercise is important if you want to lose weight and if you want to feel healthy and fit and you want your body to do the things you want it to do. I’ve suffered the pain and aches of muscle and ligament atrophy, blaming it on something else, imagining I have some awful disease or illness when in actual fact I’d stopped doing what my body was made for… moving.

Some people are put off by the thought of exercise, I’ve enjoyed it for most of my life… skipping and hiking as a kid, my ‘must improve my bust’ Carry on Camping style keep fit as a late teen, leaping about in my stripey leotard to Jane Fonda tapes with my big perm tethered under a sweat band around my forehead in the 80’s, going to the gym, cycling, walking, a bit of dancing. I even used to practice purposeful calorie busting sex once upon a time. I kid you not, I would take the… initiative shall we say and I’d mentally count my way through sets. A couple of times I accidentally vocalised my set counting which was embarrassing but hey, anything’s possible in the heat of the moment. Tell me we’ve all done that right? Please tell me we have. If I fancied a really long work out I’d usually get the poor victim drunk first so I could really get those big quads and glutes pumping, it was a bit of a let down if it was all over before I’d got much beyond my resting heart beat.

What I like to think of it as now, and something that might appeal to people who shudder at the thought of exercise is just moving, movement, activity, doing something which requires any effort over and above that required to sit in a chair and type, or drive, or watch telly, or eat.

When I, in my hugely unfit mountain of a mess, began on this journey I really thought exercise would kill me, I was certain my heart would just shudder and die at the very thought and truth is had I attempted the Insanity workout at that stage it probably would have.

Besides that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself one bit and I think exercise has to be enjoyable or have a purpose… but then you probably gathered that from my TMI moment earlier. It has to be enjoyable or you won’t do it again but it also has to hurt a bit to make you feel you accomplished something.

The best time to make exercise hurt a bit is when you are seriously hugely over weight and haven’t moved for a couple of years. So now is the time to start and now is the time you will get the most pain out of the least exercise. See… bonuses to being morbidly obese ;). Who would have thought it?

So I changed my attitude to exercise, I was no longer a fit fat person I was no longer just a fat person, I was super morbidly obese (think I still am, not sure, don’t care) and I had not done any movement other than normal day to day functions for a couple of years. Remember my blog is about honesty with myself and that’s the truth. As much as I hate to admit what I did to myself, that is what I did, I ate crap and sat down, then ate some more crap and lay down day after day for too long. No matter what the reasons or excuses it happened, I did it. As a result I couldn’t look at exercise as I had before, there was no way I could spend two hours doing cardio at the gym (I hadn’t the confidence to walk past a gym let alone go in one so that was out anyway), I couldn’t walk far, I couldn’t do an aerobics tape, I couldn’t whizz off an hour on a cross trainer, I couldn’t jump up and down on the trampoline for half an hour, I couldn’t skip for 500.

There was no point in thinking I could just pick up where I left off and so I had to rethink. I just had to stop thinking of exercise and rebrand it ‘movement’. So that’s what I did. I began to move. Anyone who has followed me from the beginning knows I made some changes:

  • I gave up driving to work and started to take the bus as I had a 5 minute walk either side of each bus journey giving me a 20 minute walk which I’d not previously had. I could manage a 5 minute leisurely walk. I couldn’t have managed a 20 minute one and that’s the sad truth.
  • I committed to a 100 days of health challenge to dance with my kids every day for 20 minutes. Now don’t kid yourself that this dancing was anything more than moving from foot to foot, the odd knee bend and a clap and some chicken arms thrown in at first. That is all it was and it wore me out. But I did it and enlisting my kids to help and support me was a master stroke, we used to just bang on some high energy music, move the coffee table and dance and laugh and chat and bond as well as burn up some calories and get those atrophied muscles working again.
  • I stopped asking my kids to get me things and started to haul my fat ass off the chair and go get ‘it’ myself.  I forbade them from fetching me anything unless it was a dire emergency.
  • As each load of laundry finished I took it upstairs, instead of waiting for the whole week’s laundry to be done and taking up huge piles to each bedroom on one trip, I made lots more trips up stairs.
  • I cleared every room in my house out of clutter and unnecessary belongings systematically room by room until they were all done and we had a huge heap of saleable goods which we no longer had use for in the dining room which we set to selling on ebay and made £1400 from. The clearing of the house was mentally refreshing for me, it helped symbolise a fresh start, a new approach, a clearing away of old crap and of course it had me bending, twisting, standing, stretching.. just moving. 
  • I stopped taking the lift to my first floor base at work and started using the stairs and this progressed into me taking a walk at lunch time (when I got a break) and trying to climb all 8 flights to the top which I eventually managed after just a couple of weeks.
  • I started going for a walk at night, while it was still dark, just five minutes or so, trying to pick up some pace that was lacking in my commuting walks.

Any one of these in isolation was an improvement on what I had been doing and combined they amounted to over an hour of movement a day that I had not been doing up to that point. My strength began to return in my muscles, my aches and pains started to go away, my flexibility increased, my posture improved, my stamina improved and I could increase my level of exercise. I don’t care what impact it had on my weight loss or calorie burning, it was doing me no harm and it was doing me a world of good. There was and is a time in the future when I can think of purposeful exercise to trim here and tone there and burn up x amount of energy or fat but for now it’s about moving.

I know we watch the Biggest Loser and see them beasted to breaking point in the gym but that’s not fun and it’s not sustainable and it’s why they pile weight back on when they go home again. These programmes and their lose 140 pounds in 5 months trainers have a lot to answer for, it’s not real, it’s not sustainable, it’s as quick a fix as the Cambridge starvation diet, it’s just as unhealthy if not for the pressure it puts on the body for the damage it does to the mind. Fat people don’t think like slim people, it’s OK for a guy or gal who has spent a life time slim, for whom exercise has been a life long pleasure, for who it is their career or part of their career, they are not in the head of a fat person and movement is where it is at, just movement with a gradual build up. Go to these guys when you’re near goal and need to intensify your workout but not when you’re 300 or 400 pounds, they will destroy your soul eventually and they do not understand your mindset, making you cry and hate yourself is not healthy. Driving you to physical collapse is not healthy. Even if you find one who was obese, ask them honestly did they do what they are asking you to do at the start of their weightloss journey? Only if they did and can prove that take any notice of them.

I went from those early days of moving more very quickly into the next phase which was more testing but still manageable yet a challenge all at the same time. I started walking on the beach where the movement of the sand necessitates more intensive use of muscles, trying to climb the sea defence wall’s huge steps, I extended my walking and made my dancing more focused by starting a simple online Zumba class and using a walking video on You Tube, where I could pump my arms and legs in a way I was not prepared to do in public. I added wrist and ankle weights eventually.

I started clearing my garden and doing a few projects out there, just gradual increases. This one led to me starting to grow my own herbs and that led on to me growing salad leaves and spinach and I’ve got quite a little farm going on out there now. That gets me out in the fresh air, breathing good oxygen not stuffy dust mite laden stuff in doors.

I began to practice Tai Chi again, focusing on controlling muscles and relaxing my mind and body at the same time, using imagined resistance to improve my strength, posture and general sense of well being, teaching my body to breathe again. It helped increase my mental strength and reduced my stress levels.

Now I do all kinds of movement including using my treadmill and exercise bike and I’m getting close to the point where I think I might start to feel not too self conscious to use a real bike. I’ve ran on the beach with my kids, I’ve climbed that wall to the top, I’ve made it to the top of my building and down again using only stairs day after day, I run up and down stairs again. I’ve danced and jumped and I’ve used resistance bands and now I’m using more weights for strength training. Resistance bands are fab, anyone can use them, they’re a couple of pounds online, you can sit in a chair and use them on arms and legs there is no excuse. 

But I still am very overweight and I’m not at a point where I’m back to my usual self yet and so I still use activity in place of what might traditionally be thought of as exercise.

This week I’m weeding my garden (needs it bad) and painting my garden walls (need it bad) and I’m tearing up a huge hall stairs and landing carpet and I’m preparing the same for decorating and I’m going to paint it all. It might take time but I have time, I’m going to do it, all of it, the low bits and the high bits.

What I’m trying to say here to anyone who thinks they can’t exercise is that you can, even if you are bed bound and the most you can do is hang a teddy bear from your ceiling and punch it with both hands you are exercising, you are doing more movement than you would normally. Even if you just lift one leg up and drop it again 10 times a day it is more than you were doing. Your body will love you for it and it will reward you for it by helping make it easier and easier so you can do more and more and you can use up more and more energy and strip away that fat faster and faster making yourself strong and lean again or for the first time.

You can do it, you can start right now.

I got my kids to take a video of me trying to get out of my lazy boy recliner when I was at my biggest. I cried when I watched it for the first time last week. I was so embarrassed, I struggled to even get out of a chair, the chair where I spent most of my life when I wasn’t forced by necessity to earn money to provide for my kids to leave it.

I get out of my chair with ease now and it all started with just that one spark of understanding that I had to think of moving not exercising and I had to start small and build up. Exercise seemed a ridiculous concept to a 347lb 46 year old languishing in a lazy boy. Moving didn’t.

Try it you will like it and so will your body, I promise 😀