Sunday, 29 April 2012

Is time on your side?

It's Sunday today and I really ought to stop and savour that fact because, in my life, it nearly always seems to be Thursday – that is to say, the week goes so fast that, before I know it, I’m facing another weekend....

I am acutely conscious of time – the way 10 minutes can feel like seconds when I’m hurrying to get to the station, but drag like eternity when I’m on the platform waiting for the train – and I was delighted when two wonderful books about time recently arrived on my desk.

The first was Claudia Hammond’s Time Warped (published by Canongate) in which the author – a psychologist and presenter of Radio 4’s All In The Mind -- discusses the perception of time: for example, how an hour at the dentist feels very different to an hour working up to a deadline; and how a holiday you’ve looked forward to seems to be hurtling towards its end as soon as it starts, but feels much longer when you look back on it. (One good reason, I argue, for taking plenty of mini breaks – they may be over in a couple of days, but they fill our minds with happy memories that will last forever!).

The other was a charming novel by the French psychiatrist, Francois Lelord. In ‘Hector Finds Time’ (published by Gallic Fiction), the hero, another psychiatrist, resolves to understand why so many of his patients are suffering with time-related worries – mostly that time is passing too fast – and, in so doing, he comes up with a series of exercises, some of which I have often found myself doing.

Here are a few of my favourites:

. Whenever you are with an elderly person, imagine what they were like when they were young.

. Take some time to think about things. The past has gone, so it doesn’t exist. The future hasn’t happened, so it doesn’t exist. The present doesn’t exist, because, as soon as you talk about it, it’s already in the past. So, what does exist?

. Draw up a table with four boxes: Urgent-Important, Urgent-Not Important, Not Urgent-Important, Not Urgent-Not Important. Put everything you have to do into these boxes...
For Prima magazine, I recently interviewed an inspiring woman with Parkinson’s Disease who had used this exercise to re-evaluate her life, and, as a result, has found happiness and success that may never have come her way if her disease had not forced her to confront her life!

. Last but not least, a game I love to play – and which my family tease me for: guess the time before you check your watch. I love playing this on holiday when we’re out of our usual routine. I’m usually very accurate – and I love that feeling that time’s on my side. Yet, if my watch is away for repair, even for a few hours, I find it hard to function... So is time really on my side, or am I just a slave to time?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Zen and the art of dog walking

The thing about dogs is that they don’t care what the weather is like: they still want a walk. So, come rain or shine, we dog walkers are pounding the paths with our canine friends...

 And it’s not such a bad thing... walking is an instant mood lifter, and especially outdoor walking. Fitness guru Joanna Hall says that a six week regime of 7,500 steps a day is enough to improve fitness by 25% while also shifting eight pounds in weight – and six inches off body measurements. But walking on a treadmill can feel relentless – and a view of sweaty bodies plugged into i-pods is rather dull. Step outside however and the mental health charity Mind says nine out of ten people report a lift to their self-esteem (compared to just 17% of indoor walkers).

But, for me, walking with a dog pays extra dividends. My spaniel’s happiness is so infectious I swear we’re both wagging our tails after about 20 minutes. We dog owners are supposed to benefit from lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and, if we are still unlucky enough to suffer a heart attack, experts say that we can expect a faster recovery than a non dog owner. A lot of this must be attributed to the fact that we also have a lower BMI than non dog walkers – and of course having to take a dog for a walk solves one of the main problems with any exercise routine: starting it.

Even when I had to wear waterproof trousers and a silly hat this week, I came back from my early morning walk feeling happy and refreshed. Did I then feel inspired to put my waterproofs back on to walk to the shops or gym? No – it’s just not the same without a dog.

. Tomorrow sees the start of Depression Awareness Week – the perfect excuse for a walk, preferably with a dog. For more information, click here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Under exercised?

It’s rare that I find myself feeling over exercised – not because I’m such a great athlete that I can keep going for hours without suffering the consequences. Far from it – I just don’t have the stamina to push myself hard enough that it hurts. If I did, then I’d no doubt have more luck shifting those excess kilos I want to lose. As my husband the marathon runner pointed out today, exercise has to go beyond what is comfortable for it to have any benefit. And of course that’s why so many of us hate the idea of exercising – and why so many of my friends have recently quoted newspaper reports that exercise either a) makes no difference to weight unless you’re prepared to go mad with it (hence, they argue, there’s little point starting), or b) has no benefits – even to general health – for about 15% of the population (hence, they argue, there’s little point starting)...
BUT I do exercise enough that I can easily feel under-exercised. It’s that niggling, nagging feeling, deep in my muscles, which are saying: “Come on, get out there and DO something!!” My usual exercise routine is not great, but it’s better than nothing – a 40 minute walk with my dog every morning, and a second walk in the evening if he’s lucky; aquarobics twice a week, and yoga once a week. If I don’t do these things – my body misses them. I hated sports when I was a child and a teenager. But now I love the extra energy just this small amount if exercise gives me. I know it boosts my mood, makes me more positive, and helps get my creative juices flowing. If I have a problem to solve, or an idea to find, the answer will come while I am jumping up and down in the swimming pool, or walking in the park with my dog. (Thinking up new ideas is strictly forbidden in yoga, when we’re all supposed to be emptying our minds and focusing on our breath). Exercise worms its way into your heart and makes you want more. I want to start liking Body Pump.  I daydream about doing Zumba, and sometimes I even find myself yearning to go for a run!  It's surely a sign I am under-exercised - I have reached a plateau and my body needs more. So what's stopping me? I have the shoes. I have the shorts.  I can imagine myself running, and I see other people doing it and can feel how much they love it. I even have a great book – Run Fat Bitch Run, by Ruth Field (£10.99 Sphere) – strapped: “The only personal trainer you’ll ever need”. It really makes me want to get out there, feel my muscles working, my heart pumping, the breeze on my face... But then my husband comes in, sweaty and breathless after his five mile run, and, even though he swears he feels great, I can't help thinking: “Oh nooooooo – that’s going to hurt far too much!” 
Will I ever start running? I promise I'll let you know!