Take a Minute to Breathe

Breathe“Take a minute to breathe,” my watch said. How did it know? This message arrived, unbidden, in the late afternoon of a day full of unpleasant chores, contentious meetings, unexpected crises and the usual daily events. It made me laugh. And breathe. Or at the very least, sigh.

I don’t know about this breathing business. If we aren’t doing it we’re definitely dead, or about to be, but the conscious breathing business – there may be something to it. So it is certainly worth a reminder or two.

(Anyone who knows me knows I would never spend actual money for a gadget that tells me to breathe; I helped with a study at the request of a friend, and we got to keep the watch. But I have to admit to a growing affection. This gadget knows stuff.Watch After I finished working out in the park on the first day of San Francisco’s recent, obscene heat wave, it told me how far I’d walked, how much energy I’d expended, how high my heart rate had gone – and then it said, “It’s 96 degrees, dummy, what are you doing exercising in 96-degree heat? At your age??” Or something like that; I don’t remember its exact words. Of course, it doesn’t know everything. Such as, if I want to take a nap, shouldn’t it know I don’t want to be nudged to Stand after 15 minutes? I take it off for naps.)

But back to breathing.

Breathe.1Calm, measured, thoughtful breathing may be the only answer to finding peace in these days. North Korea firing nuclear missiles? Breathe. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, record-breaking heat waves and climate change deniers? Breathe. Air and water pollution, thanks to relaxed environmental regulations, threatening the very lives of your grandchildren? Breathe. And that latest tweet, post or whatever startling message from cyberspace? Breathe, breathe.

Perhaps someone who understands social media better than I could institute a new policy: No tweet, post or instant-photo can be fired off until the person behind it has taken three slow, deep breaths. Think about it. Breathe.2Such an action would require engaging the brain, and how much personal and national angst might be avoided if brains were required to be engaged in advance? A small  reduction in lies, vulgarities and scary messages . . .?

Sigh.

The curious world of cyberspace

Disappearing from cyberspace is a little like being a tree that falls in the forest. A very small tree. Having disappeared from cyberspace myself for a couple of weeks, I am comforted by the fact that the forest is very large.

It’s not that this space disappeared, just that Boomers and Beyond disappeared. Boomers and Beyond is a blog primarily about issues critical to over-50 generations, and it came to pass on  True/Slant.com a couple of years ago. It dealt with health care and fitness and housing choices and brain exercises and driving safety, and often diverted into rants about gay rights and abortion rights and gun control and other miscellany — because the True/Slant folks were a free-wheeling bunch and why should anybody quit worrying about rights and justice when they turn 50? All those profound words are archived in this nifty blog (this WordPress one right here) created by incredible friend-of-B&B-&-this space Mary Trigiani, so that if anyone stumbles into the forest and wants to study a small bush those twigs — OK, enough with the metaphor — are there to be read.

True/Slant didn’t actually disappear; it got bought by Forbes, and is gradually reappearing (as a New And Improved Forbes blogsite) there. Boomers & Beyond is reportedly going to reappear thereon, as soon as a contract appears. In the interim, it is just sitting there inert, and after several watchful readers noticed its inertia (posting anything new isn’t an option at True/Slant any more) I decided to venture once more into cyberspace.

It’s pleasant to meet you here. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

How's your brain fitness today?

Pick five random numbers, say them out loud. Now say them backward. No fair using props. You have now exercised your brain, and your brain appreciates it.

Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains, author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, enthusiastic speaker on healthy brains and how to keep them, addressed a group at the New York Library — great spot for exercising brains — recently and another in San Francisco a few days later. If you’ve ever despaired over forgetfulness or worried about some day getting Alzheimer’s, Mr. Fernandez will brighten your day. Much as the gym trainers promise you your muscles can be strengthened, Alvaro Fernandez can convince you those neurons can multiply and prosper. With an energy and demeanor to match his several degrees, he may one day be the Jack Lalanne of brain fitness.

The San Francisco audience was made up of members of San Francisco Village, the second such aging-in-place organization in California. (Other village-concept communities are springing up across the country, preferred options for many seniors who want to stay in their homes.) Most of them highly active and engaged, they were receptive to Fernandez’ proposals about how to stay that way.

Fernandez began by offering facts to debunk a few popular myths about brain function: Lifelong neuroplasticity means we can always help our brains evolve through lifestyle and activities; brain function can be affected by a variety of things, from yoga to cognitive therapy; and nothing is carved in stone that says brains deteriorate with age. In short, you might not be able to avoid Alzheimer’s completely if it’s in your genes and your karma, but you might well be able to forestall it with vigorous exercise.

Four “pillars of maintenance” will keep the brain fit, Fernandez says: good nutrition, stress managment, physical exercise and brain exercise. Potato chips and TV are not on the pillars list. The best comment of the event, in fact, probably came from author/healthy aging expert and SF Village advisory board member Walter Bortz, MD, who quoted a Harvard study that revealed “watching TV is like staring at a brick wall.”

Your brain is, when you come right down to it, not interested in the TV.

Fitness & Health Reform: Stay Flexible

Flexiblility is the new necessity. Political flexibility if one is to make the loop from truth to Sarah-Palin fiction, emotional flexibility if you’re following the market from day to day, mental flexibility just to stay sane with it all.

So maybe we’d better look at the physical. If you can just acquire and maintain a little physical flexibility you’re on the way to fitness, health and inner peace. At least, that’s what the yoga people tell me. Plus a lot of gym people, personal-trainer people and public park people. It is these last whom I tend to believe. I failed yoga (tried and just flat-out failed; I was too itchy for sunlight and speedier movement) and can’t afford a personal trainer. But parks! What a gift to the flexibility and fitness of the world and may we please not be closing them.

In our nearby urban park there is a par course. An array of exercise stations installed usually several hundred feet apart along an outdoor trail, the par course is the Everyman/Everywoman route to flexibility, especially for Boomers and Beyonders. It features a number of stretching posts (each station comes with illustrated instructions about what to do and how many times to do it) plus a variety of sturdily-equipped stations for things like chin-ups and sit-ups and other ups. I am addicted to the par course.

For the first five decades, fitness and flexibility aren’t all that hard to come by. Thereafter, one needs encouragement in this obesogenic (my new favorite word) society in which we live. Par courses are all about encouragement. You can’t manage to hand-walk more than halfway on the parallel bars? Last week you couldn’t get past one-third! Or you’re near despair at the chin-up station, and the hunky twenty-something at the adjacent bar applauds as you master a tiny new fraction of an inch.

By the time the final health reform bill is hammered out the issue of preventive medicine may be hopelessly lost in the shuffle. “Takes too long to produce results.” “Isn’t really worth the cost or the effort.” I don’t buy any of those arguments. Until we tackle the need for lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, losing weight and getting fit we’ll just keep pouring money down the drain of preventable illness. E-mail your senator. Write your representative.

Meanwhile, I recommend staying flexible.