My health hacks…

This door led to our riad, only a short distance from the souk in the Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco, in March 2014.

As most of our readers know, I spend a lot of time researching every interest that comes to my mind. It’s not unusual for me to spend hours each day when something new piques my interest, which is more often than not. At times, I find myself so engrossed in a topic that hours can fly by, to my amazement, when I stop for a break.

Again, one topic in particular, as our regular readers know, is health and well-being. No, I am not a purist. I subscribe to specific modalities to which others may not agree. I am okay with that. It boils down to a few simple realities: sleep, diet, exercise, sufficient water, minimal alcohol, and harmony in my daily life with minimal stress.

I strive for the optimal benefits from these basic principles, but, like many of us, I falter from time to time. However, my next meal, exercise session, and night’s sleep is an opportunity to begin again, never feeling guilty for slipping, knowing I’m one step away from returning to my chosen path.

My recent goals have included improving my heart health, regardless of the outcome of my cardiology appointment tomorrow afternoon and what is to come in the future regarding the condition of my heart valves, which is precarious at this time and cannot be improved by lifestyle enhancements.

However, whatever treatment I may face down the road can only be successful if I continue improving my overall health daily. Over this past year, I have improved several aspects of my health. Although, at times, I went kicking and screaming, all the while knowing what I had to do.

Today, I will share some “hacks” with you that, without a doubt, have helped me substantially:

  1. Sleep – I have never been a sleep-though-the-night kind of person. Invariably, regardless of what I do, I wake up five out of six nights wide awake, anywhere from 2:00 to 3:00 am, feeling alert and unable to go back to sleep. But in the past several months, I’ve adopted a new state of mind when this happens…I don’t worry about it; trying to get back to sleep. I have trained myself to let my mind be free of concern, implanting the knowledge that eventually, I’ll be sleepy again and have sufficient hours of sleep for excellent functioning during the day without feeling sleepy. This state of mind has changed everything. I always fall back to sleep with seven to eight hours of good sleep. Sure, I have to sleep later, which may not work for everyone, but as a retired person, generally, I do not need to get up at 7:00 am or earlier.
  2. Diet – Since November, when we were in Ecuador and I was desperately struggling with Afib around the clock, I’d read repeatedly that losing weight can help reduce the incidences of Afib events. Over the past several years, since I had cardiac surgery in 2019, I’d gained about 25 pounds, creeping up slowly, partly from medications, partly from being less active, and partly from eating portions that were simply too large. Even on a keto diet, one can overeat and gain weight over time. I cut back on portions, and slowly, since November, I’ve lost about 22 pounds with five more to go. In the meanwhile, in November, I went on medication for Afib and have not had an event since then. I try to eat organic when possible, healthy meats, fish, and poultry, along with healthy fats, and every evening, I have a bowl of Fage Greek Yogurt.
  3. Exercise – Although I tried exercising in Ecuador, the Afib was a severe deterrent before taking the medication. Once we arrived in Nevada in mid-December, I committed to working out as much as possible while keeping the Afib in check. Recently, I escalated the program by adding an app called Better Me with guided exercises suitable for me. I am only on day nine of a repeatable 28-day program. Wow! Is this working for me! In this short period, I’ve noticed a considerable improvement in my stamina and flexibility. I’m still walking but have found ways to increase my daily steps, making reaching my 7000 daily goals much more manageable. For example, this morning, when I was folding and putting away the dry clothes from the drying rack in the second bedroom, I folded one item at a time and walked to the drawers or closets where that item was meant to go. By doing this, I added 1000 steps to today’s goal. Soon, we’ll walk to the market in the Village for more steps, and when we return to the condo, I quickly walk around the center island in the kitchen. It takes about 18 times to add 1000 steps. That sounds like a lot, but we usually listen to podcasts that occupy my mind.
  4. Sufficient water – I quit drinking coffee and flavored zero-calorie drinks a month ago. Now I only drink room temperature water, I never liked drinking water. I always reached for flavored drinks with lots of ice. But I am already feeling better and less bloated and have a better sense of when I am thirsty. No, I am not drinking gallons of water since I am not forcing it. Also, I eat a lot of vegetables, most of which have a high water content, and those, too, count toward a daily goal.
  5. Minimal alcohol – If I have wine, I don’t drink more than one average-sized glass (last Friday night was the exception) of a non-sweet wine such as a Cabernet, Merlot, or Pinot Grigio. There are carbs in wine, and I don’t care, or need, to use my daily allotment of 20 to 30 grams by drinking wine, nor is it healthy to drink more. I am having no ill effects from the one glass.
  6. Harmony in my daily life with minimal stress – I avoid stressful situations at all costs. That doesn’t mean I am unwilling to work through a stressful situation. Since Tom and I get along so well, our daily lives are relatively stress-free. We talk, laugh, and have a good time. But sometimes, things happen over which I have little to no control. During those times, I could feel my heart rate increasing and cortisol (the stress hormone) running through me. Those times, I realized how significant stress reduction is to maintain good health.

I don’t have any easy answers on how to live one’s best life. Nor do I rely upon “internet” suggestions on what we “should” be doing. Those suggestions change almost daily, and it’s impossible to decipher what is suitable for each of us. Even medical studies can be misleading when sponsored by companies trying to convey a message to increase sales of their less-than-ideal products. One must be very careful about the modalities they adopt based on skewed studies and opinions not backed by science.

When I say this today, I especially wish every one of you to “Be well.”

Photo from ten years ago today, March 4, 2014:

The sunlight in the open courtyard of our Moroccan riad provides a welcoming warmth as we acclimate to the cooler weather. For more photos, please click here.

Trying to sleep when our minds won’t shut off…Fitbit stats from last night…

Watch this astounding situation we encountered in Kruger National Park, with horns of two buffaloes entangled, another video the park asked to post on their site.

Note: To all of our readers visiting our site via a smartphone, please click the “View web version” tab under the word, “Home” at the bottom of the page to access the web version enabling you to access all of our archives on the right side of the page. We’ll be updating our site in a few months, making these extra steps unnecessary. Thank you.

Today’s photos are from May 24, 2018, from Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Please click here for more details.

As we all know, sleep can be elusive for many in the best of times. Add the concerns over our own, our country’s and the world’s current situation falling into the mix of worries, and concerns making sleep elusive, short, and disruptive.
Wearing my Fitbit has given me a better perspective of how much I am able to sleep. Below are the stats from last night’s sleep, indicating overall that I had a reasonably good night’s sleep of 8 hours 45 minutes, but the red portion indicates how often I awoke.

It’s no wonder I may feel sleepy during the day today when I awoke so often during the night. I remember the middle of the night awakenings but hadn’t realized how much difficulty I had in falling asleep. 

As shown above, the four stages of sleep are “awake, REM, light, and deep.” It’s during the REM sleep that we dream and as indicated above 20% of my night’s sleep included REM during which time we dream. Last night, I dreamed about the lions; a male and a females with cubs that are currently in Marloth Park.

These two cape buffaloes, close to the dirt road, with their horns stuck together made it easy for us to get these photos.

During usual, not Covid-19 times, I may have slept a total of 7 hours but awakened very few times. Also, in normal times, I’m often excited to get up and begin to enjoy the day. Here and now, the later I sleep the quicker the day flies by.

Most certainly, I’m not trying to “wish my life away” but instead shorten the periods of boredom often encountered during daylight hours. Thank goodness for my hourly walks. Paying attention to the time and when I have to walk again, helps the day pass more quickly.
However, what happens to most of us when we awaken during the night when we may be particularly stressed or worried? We put our brains into action and the added activity can make it more difficult to fall back to sleep.
The anguished look on the faces was disheartening.

As shown in the above chart I managed to go back to sleep after all those middle-of-the-night awakenings. I know it sounds silly, but I do count backward from 100 after ensuring I am in the most possible comfortable position. Then, breathing deeply and steadily, somehow I manage to fall back to sleep.

The trick for me is clearing my mind. Some people listen to music or sleep apps. But, I am trying to avoid using my phone for anything during the night unless I haven’t been able to go back to sleep after being awake for 30 minutes or more.

In that case, I may play a boring game of solitaire but avoid playing scrabble which, in its competitive nature in playing with other players online, can get my brain engaged to a point, I’ll never go back to sleep.

They tried desperately to become un-entangled to no avail.

One trick I’ve also found that helps, especially during this lockdown period, is not to “worry” about not sleeping. So what if I only sleep three hours? I can always nap the next day if necessary (which I rarely do). Worrying about it only exacerbates the problem. Worrying about anything exacerbates the problem.

It’s not easy to free our minds during these difficult times. But, restful sleep is as important for one’s health as is exercise, a good diet and a low level of stress. 

It has been during this time of Covid-19, locked away in a hotel in Mumbai, India that I have preoccupied myself with my health through healthy, although repetitive diet, losing a few pounds I’d gained from all the heart medications; hourly exercise; good sleep and above all attempting to keep my mind as free as possible from negative thoughts.

Another buffalo approached wondering what was going on. Check the above video as to what the other buffalo did to help. See the above video to see how the buffalo in the background saved the day.

It’s a big challenge which essentially has been made easier by our odd circumstances. There’s no access to snacks, alcoholic beverages and the meals served are consistent with the same macro-nutrients each day. Sure at times, I’m hungry and don’t feel like walking but I know all these efforts may serve me well in times to come.

Good sleep falls right in line with these other choices during this potentially stressful and often trying times.

May all of you get plenty of quality rest and maintain good health during this outrageous period in all of our lives.

Photo from one year ago today, May 24, 2019:

Chaiseal describes a “stone fort” in the Irish language, in Connemara, Ireland. Please click here for details.