Why I Run, and Why You Should Exercise, Too

The Start of My Love Affair with Running

I have gravitated toward distance running since high school.  I played soccer and also joined my high school track team, opting for the longer 3200 kilometer race.  My tendency toward endurance sports likely means my body has more “slow twitch” fibers. Or perhaps I have a penchant for long, grueling processes.  Whatever the case, I continued to run both in high school, and afterward.

Later, in college, I joined Naval ROTC, where running was a key part of “PT” (physical training) sessions and a component of the physical fitness test.  I loved how much I improved with regular training exercises with my battalion. I also am a perfectionist and a habitual practicer, so I would run on the side to improve my performance at the PT sessions. This, of course, improved my physical fitness even further, and led me to further enjoy running.

Falling off of the Wagon, i.e. my Time Away from Running

My little nugget of Turkey energy, Madelyn, around 15 months of age. In the time period between my daughter’s birth and my son’s birth, I felt progressive fatigue. Kind of like I had just eaten a large Thanksgiving dinner, suffering the hangover effects of Tryptophan!

As I transitioned to medical school and then residency, busy life took over.  I blamed my degree of stress and overwork on why I fell off of my beloved hobby.  However, as I have mentioned in other posts, I now realize I was also suffering from Graves Disease, which caused exercise intolerance, shortness of breath upon exertion, and palpitations.  I was unaware of this, thinking I was simply “lazy” and busy, and blamed the symptoms on poor conditioning and lack of willpower.

My Return to Running, with a Vengeance

Fast forward now to fall 2016. This was the time of my Graves Disease diagnosis. Once the diagnosis was made, I realized my fatigue had a secondary cause.  My mind was blown.  And also, my confidence grew.  I resumed running here and there.  And then, January 1, 2017, I made a “New Years Resolution” to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. The longest I had run to that point was probably in the ballpark of 3-5 miles.  I was nervous but also excited to challenge myself, and see how far I could go.

I carried out the training dutifully, finding a free beginners training plan online. I entered the workouts into my calendar, and tried to juggle these around my already busy life.  The first couple of weeks were pretty rough, I will not lie.  I admit I was embarrassingly out of shape.  But I persevered, primarily because I had set a goal. I had also registered for the race furthering my commitment.   Internally, as well, I did not want to shortchange myself – I wanted to know if I could do it, and do it right!

I finished my first half marathon at age 35 in 2:23.  Not too bad for my beginner-level training and several years of couch potatoed-ness preceding this!

A couple of days after finishing, I was incredibly sore. I got Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness with a vengeance, mainly because I did not train on hills leading up to this hilly race.  I did not incorporate any strength training into my Half Marathon training.  I also ran faster in the race than I had been training (the adrenaline made me do it!).  However, mentally, I was buoyed and very proud of my accomplishment.

About 2 days after my race ended, I was motivated to next take on a marathon.  I logged on that day to the Columbus Marathon website and (wisely or unwisely) registered myself.   My very first marathon will be in Columbus, Ohio, this October, 2017.

I have been training for this marathon now for 3 months. I have a little less than 2 months to go before my race date.  The training is grueling and time consuming.  I will admit it is not all gumdrops and rainbows.  I have good days, and bad days!  I have also begun more strength training this time around, as I have read several books and articles highlighting why it is important to be a well rounded athlete.

I admit I neglected strength training altogether with my Half Marathon training, as I am busy and like to cut corners where I can.  But incorporating about 10 minutes/day of body weight strength training most days of the week has improved my health, my sense of accomplishment, and my physical fitness.  I think my physique has also improved.  All of those smart trainers and exercise physiologists are correct – it pays off to be well rounded!

Thought the training is hard at times, I have come to look forward to my runs.  I have also opted to move my runs to the morning. This ensures I get the workout done. I also feel accomplished and more productive early on in my day.  The runs are a time for me to focus on me.  I push my body with my harder runs, and let my subconscious take over with my easier runs. It is cathartic, a form of mindfulness and meditation for me nearly every day.

My husband, Matt, and son, Luca, two of the reasons that I want to keep fit and healthy each and every day!

Why Should You Exercise?

Now, I realize not everyone enjoys running.  But I think there is something everyone’s body is inclined to doing, be it walking, swimming, cycling, etc.   I challenge you to start doing this regularly, for example, 4-5x/week for 10 minutes a session at first.  Pencil it in (electronically or physically) into your calendar. This will hold you accountable. You will feel guilty ignoring the event, or worse, scratching it off or deleting it.  I also encourage you to consider working out in the morning.  As I have mentioned, it gets the workout over and done.  Also, your mind will be stimulated by the physical activity so early on in the day.  I suspect you will perform better and be happier with the rest of your work and life activities later that day.

My daughter, Madelyn, one of the beautiful reasons I live a happy, fulfilled life!

Most importantly of all, exercising regularly not only helps your mental health, it also improves your physical health. You will have lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  With the rising overweight and obesity epidemic in our society, I think these are all unfortunately becoming too commonplace in my day to day practice as a family physician.  Please do your darnedest to avoid these diseases!   It is so much better to avoid the diseases altogether, than to try to treat them once they are present.  Part of your risks come from genetics, age, and sex, which I realize are not changeable.  However, your physical activity and exercise habits are something you CAN change.  Please do so!

 

My Hidden Specter: Anxiety

My Old Companion, Anxiety

I had anxiety. I am very glad and fortunate that anxiety is no longer a constant part of me.  I have been nervous and worrisome since my childhood.  However, I had poor insight into the fact of how problematic this was.  I assumed that the things I felt were what everyone else was feeling.  I would get “butterflies” in my stomach each morning, particularly worse with school or work.  When driving, this feeling of “flip flops” in my gut would happen each time I would anticipate a terrible accident when other drivers would turn or cut in front of me.

As a physician, when I patient would propose a challenging problem or symptom, I would feel the anxiety building in my mind and in my stomach.   Speaking in front of crowds would create intense panic.   I was so busy and hard headed to recognize that I was experiencing was pathologic. Now, however, I am blissfully anxiety-free.  It took the absence of this nagging specter of anxiety for me to realize it for what it was.

My Thyroid Gland

How can this be, that my anxiety is now thankfully gone?  I have a condition called Graves Disease. This is an overactivity in the thyroid gland, which is a  butterfly-shaped gland that controls metabolism and growth.  I was diagnosed with this in the fall of 2016, after evaluation for worsening fatigue.  I was placed on oral medication for about 8 months. About 3 months into treatment, my fatigue had considerable lessened.  In addition, however, and totally surprisingly to me, the anxiety I had been feeling my entire life had disappeared.

Mama – This is getting boring! Move it along, please!

What is anxiety?

The medical definition of anxiety, per Merriam-Webster, is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it”.

Wow. I wish I had looked this definition up sooner, and connected the dots in myself. However, if you do not realize you are having a problem, why would you seek out a solution?  I am dabbling in the concept of mindfulness and meditation in the last few weeks. If you start adopting this practice, you will become more in tune with your own symptoms. I hope that by practicing mindfulness and meditation, you will be able to recognize when something is out of balance, and seek appropriate help.

I am so grateful for my improvement with my own therapy. Looking back, I realize that coping with my anxiety all of those years taught me ways to be resilient.  I learned to focus and cope through the intense  physiologic response of stress.  However, I would never go back to the way I felt all of those years.   I feel so much more balanced, calm, and free.

My family and me at Idlewild in fall 2016, right before my diagnosis. I am so grateful for my good health, and my ability to fully appreciate and enjoy those I love!

If you also suspect that you have anxiety (or any other condition, for that matter) I encourage you to seek evaluation by a medical professional.  The first step is recognition that something is wrong.   This is often intuitive, feeling something out of sorts.  The job of your provider is to then deduce from your symptoms what is plaguing you.  If you are currently struggling with something causing you distress, I hope that you also reach peace soon, so you may achieve balance in your work and your home life.

Improving Your Outlook

Looking on the Positive Side

I have been looking more consistently at the “optimistic” side of things lately.  And it has totally turned my day to day activities around, for the better!  Instead of dreading a long tedious day at work, I look at the positives, with each minute and each hour.  How can I help my next patient? What things can I learn from him or her? What makes this fellow human being interesting and valuable?  Also, I look inward every now and then and take stock in what accomplishments I have made.  Look at how far I have come!  Several years into practice, I now have the experience and confidence to make decisions that I would agonize over for several minutes.

What about all the Bad Stuff Out There?

I know, I know, you read or watch the news and you cannot help but see all of the negativity out there. You sometimes cannot help but yield to the pessimism that surrounds us.  But, it really matters how you perceive and look at things, since your attitude has a huge bearing on how you feel.  I also think that having this positive outlook will improve your gratitude and thankfulness for all of the good in your life.  And this will make you a better person!

Me and Luca. This little guy always manages to get me smiling and thankful!

I credit my more positive attitude to my binge-listening of “Optimal Living Daily,” a free podcast that reads short clips from various personal development blogs out there.  Totally digestible, as they are short chunks of high yield information.  I wish I had found this earlier!  This is a great way to break up your morning commute. I personally add them to my morning workout playlist, which makes my workout breeze by.  I also am addicted to Optimal Finance Daily, another offering from the Optimal Living Daily creators.  These short clips from financial blogs will help improve your financial health.  Please try them out!

11 Tips for Your Best Morning Routine

Don’t you love that feeling in the morning when the day is full of rightness and promise? For me, this typically happens in the first 15 minutes of my morning when the house is quiet, my other family members deeply asleep.  I can enjoy the quiet, meditate, and simply think through my day. However, once my other family members wake up one by one, the mornings are often time-pressed, rushing around to get the family ready for the day.

I have found the items below have made me happier and less frazzled as I step through my morning.  Please read on for tips that will make you more organized in the crucial early morning hours each and every day!

One particularly chaotic scene, a toy “tornado”. Something to avoid in your weekday morning!

1. Pack your lunches and bags the night before.

Doing this helps you to wind down the night before, and start mentally preparing for the next day. You may buy lunch occasionally, but packing your lunch most days will keep you on track with both diet and budget. Also, being disciplined in packing your bags each night helps prevent any last minute forgotten items the next day.

2. Know the weather forecast.

There is now little excuse  NOT to know the forecast. Smart phones have changed the way we can obtain the weather forecast, making it accessible at the push of a button. You can now look up the next several days or the next several hours to plan appropriate clothing and to gauge how weather may affect your planned activities. You should be looking up weather forecasts every evening as you are planning your next busy day.

3.Set out outfits for yourself and your kids the night before.

This takes the guesswork out of getting dressed each morning. Of course, you should first do step 2, investigate the weather, so you will be spot on in your clothing choices.

You will have less arguments with your kids, particularly any opinionated toddlers, with this tactic. If your child wants to weigh in on their outfit choice, they are welcome to do so, the night before. It is much smoother and less dramatic to do this at bedtime rather than in the AM when you are pressed for time.

4. Wake up 15 minutes before your family members.

The reason for doing this is mostly selfish – you get a quiet moment to collect your thoughts and get things started. For example, I start arranging my kids’ breakfasts, grab my own breakfast, and get my coffee brewing.  However, waking early has additional health benefits, including a better sense of accomplishment and less procrastination. In other words, you will be more productive and happier!

5. Have a routine for you and your kids.

We are all creatures of habit. Kids particularly thrive in the setting of routine – go potty, brush teeth, get dressed, breakfast. In addition, kids with routine are emotionally healthier and more socially adjusted. Sure, the first time or two you institute this will be challenging and sometimes painful. But once it is expected, it will feel natural and there will be much less conflict.

6. Check your calendar and your list of “things to do.”

Doing this the night before your day and each morning helps to avoid forgetting anything.  I am pretty good at remembering my own appointments, but with 2 kids and a husband, sometimes it is hard to juggle everyone’s responsibilities.  And sometimes, my cat has a vet appointment, too!  I am partial to Google Calendar, since I can access it via my Google account on any device.  I share my Google Calendar with my husband, which is incredibly helpful.  I also love the “reminders” feature on my cell phone. I can set it to remind me at a particular day and time, e.g. “stop at the pharmacy tonight at 5 pm” or “pay the credit card bill next Tuesday evening.”  There are tons of other time management apps and websites out there to choose from.  Use technology to your advantage!

7. Exercise!

I have tried different exercise times. With 2 kids and a full time job,  doing a workout right after getting home is really not feasible.  (Once the kids are older, I predict there will be more after-school activities to keep me busy.)  I am lucky enough to get an afternoon off each week, but that only accounts for one day.  I also have an evening session of office hours each week, which adds to my late night fatigue.  Late evening workouts have made it harder for to wind down and fall asleep easily.  Lately, I have therefore preferred exercising in the morning.  One huge benefit of this: once it is done, you are done for the day!  I understand this is not always practical  (I get it – have had to work at 6 am or 7 am with prior jobs).  If this is your scenario, try to simply stretch or do some core strengthening exercises for 10 minutes in the morning.  At first, it may be time consuming, but with practice, you can easily pare down your workout to a nice quick routine.  It will make you a healthier person and help stave off coronary artery disease and diabetes.  And you will feel amazing!

Maddie_Luca_Pool-2253522175-1502135840790.jpg
My kids would agree – a swim would be great exercise, and quite refreshing!

8. Come up with 2-3 doable goals for the day.

I have started doing this formally in the last couple of weeks, after hearing it suggested on several podcasts I love to listen to.  I sometimes combine this with my “reminders” list.  However, actually jotting your goals down on a wipe board or Post -It note holds you more accountable. It is crucial to keep your goals concrete and doable, so you mark off that “check box” or “strike it off” your list.  So gratifying!  Actually seeing the goals somewhere in writing also makes you more likely to carry them out.  This is a great exercise for your longer term goals as well, e.g. at 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc.

9. Write down one thing you are thankful for.

Again, this is something new I have adopted in the last couple of weeks after some suggestions from other personal development websites.  I do this mindfully and purposefully during my morning workout.  It is so easy to fall into a rut of negative thinking and pessimism.  Many of us, however, are blessed and fortunate beyond what we often consciously think about.  I never worry about where my next meal will come from.  I have more than enough clothes for myself and my family.  I have a strong, sturdy roof over my head.  My family is full of love and good health.  Thinking in terms of optimism and gratitude improves your mood and sets the tone for  happier day.

10. Fight the impulse to check your email and social media!

I myself fall into a rut of checking these “just for a second” in the morning while getting ready.  5 minutes later I look up at the clock and start cursing myself for doing so.  Start setting aside specific times each day to check your email and social media, and for a specific time period. Set a timer on your phone to go off when the time has finished. Being more disciplined with these time drains will free up more of your time to accomplish your daily goals.

11. Leave 5 minutes sooner than your goal “leave time.”

Personally, this has become more challenging, now that I have two children instead of one.  (It seems I have gotten exponentially less efficient each morning!)  But my time in the Navy and military ingrained in me a sense of being prompt, and it still haunts me to this day.  “10 minutes early is on time.  On time is late.  Late is unacceptable.”  Whoever created this mantra must not have had young kids, right?  Or any pets.  (Last minute vomit a la cat, or leg rub on your freshly lint-rolled dress pants. Sound familiar to anyone else?)  Setting a 5 minute buffer on your leave time will give you a  bit more wiggle room and more success in getting out of the house on time.  If you need a longer buffer, then by all means use one.

Toward a Better, Smoother Morning

I hope the tips I have laid out for you will make you more organized and less frantic each morning.  Starting out the day on the right note is a crucial first step to a better, more productive day!

Luca_smiles
Here’s to your next smile-filled, organized morning!

Busy Wife, Busy Life

Thank you for checking out my blog! And welcome to my first post! I am a full time family physician.  I am also a full time wife and mom. I strive to keep my husband, son, daughter, and beloved pet cat all clean, fed, and sheltered.   I personally understand how challenging this tall order can be. I am by no means perfect, but I want to be a resource to you as I share things that have worked for me in my own life as a working mom.

I invite you to join me as I share some useful life tips and tricks. I will share my own advice to become a supportive, compassionate partner/spouse, a nurturing parent, and a happier and grounded person. I have passions in family medicine, distance running, bowling, and cooking, so I plan to also share some posts in these fields as the next several weeks and months unfold. Please follow me and message me with any impressions or ideas you may have!