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It's never too late for healthful new challenges

(ran SP TP, PT, HT, CI editions)

I always find it refreshing to set a few challenges for the new year. That reminds me, how are you doing on your resolutions?

Haven't made any new ones? Still working on the old list? That's okay. Let's focus on now. Get busy and plan for a healthier lifestyle. And remember, as Florida'a late U.S. congressman Claude Pepper said, "Life is like a bicycle; you don't fall off unless you stop pedaling."

FOR THE HEALTH OF IT, SHAPE UP: The best exercise program is the one you will stick with. If it's walking, bicycling, swimming, Pilates, tai chi, yoga, dancing, whatever _ do it regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes at least three times a week. If you are short on time, break up the exercise routine into three 10-minute segments.

IMPROVE MENTAL FITNESS: Use it or lose it applies to the brain as well as the body. Routine creates minimal stimulation to the brain. Try to create new challenges for the brain: An active brain is a healthy brain.

Try a new hobby, learn how to play a instrument, learn new skills such as painting, sculpting, photography, gardening, cooking. Experiment with something as simple as driving to work or to the grocery store on a different route or vary your outdoor walking pattern. Your goal is to stimulate and use your senses in ways that aren't routine.

TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF: Allow yourself a little time each day or a couple days a week to do something just for you. Perhaps it's arranging fresh flowers, reading a book, or planning a vacation. Treating yourself to the things you love isn't an indulgence, says Greg Hicks, co-author of How We Choose To Be Happy. Hicks says it's essential to building confidence, regulating your moods, and gaining a sense of power over your life.

LEARN TO RELAX: Whenever you can, enjoy a few moments of solitude. Consider taking a meditation class. You might want to develop this habit so you can apply it at a moment's notice whenever you find yourself stressed.

Two skills you may want to learn are progressive relaxation and diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. Classes in tai chi or yoga also offer a good defense against stress. Here is a mini relaxation exercise that you can do any time and almost anywhere. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. If you need more motivation to tap into those relaxing moments, remember that studies show chronic stress can cause the immune system to age prematurely.

TOUCH BASE WITH OLD FRIENDS: Going down memory lane can be just the ticket to help you get focused. I recently did this by calling a former high school teacher and several friends. What a pleasure it was talking with them. Think of several people who would enjoy hearing from you, and surprise them with a phone call.

_ Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write to her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or send e-mail to slafittampabay.rr.com.

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