Bundle of Rags

Last night I decided to stop in at my favorite Taqueria for a bite to eat.   Sitting by the window, I observed an older, dirty, African-American homeless man in tattered clothes park his shopping cart and come into the restaurant.  He had one of those box meals that you just add hot water to and asked the waitress if she would add water to it for him which she was kind enough to do.  She asked him if he needed silverware but he had his own plastic cutlery.

When the waitress came to take my order, I had her ask him if he would like a meal and that I would buy it for him.  He smiled and shook his head yes, looked over and me and said “thank you”.

When his food arrived, he started eating and once again looked at me, smiled and said “This is really good!”

Why did I buy his dinner?  There are multiple homeless in the area but what I observed through the window before he came into the restaurant made him stand out.  When he pushed his cart up to the window, he stopped and took a few minutes to straighten up the few belonging that he had in his shopping cart. The blankets were all neatly folded and things were placed in an orderly fashion.

Even though homeless, dirty and dressed in tattered clothes, he still had enough pride to take care the his few possessions.

As I left the restaurant he once again thanked me.  By the few words we exchanged, he was articulate and sounded educated.  What’s his story?

California has an overwhelming homeless problem.  The warm weather draws people here. In San Francisco

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, in many neighborhoods, you have to watch where you step or you may trip over the homeless sleeping on the street. There it is legal to live on public property, even sidewalks and in doorways.

It’s obvious that many are mentally ill and/or have addiction problems.  As I walk down the street and look into the faces of these lost people, many with empty eyes, I find myself asking, “What’s their story?”  Everyone has a story, came from somewhere and may even have family wondering where they are.  How did they come to be living on the street?

In San Francisco, the Civic Center is a popular place for the homeless to gather.  Walking by there one day, I saw a police officer on his knees with head bowed.  In front of him was what appeared to be a bundle of rags.  Upon closer observation, I realized that it was a homeless person who had died.

What was his story?  How does a human being lose his humanity and end up dying alone on the street, little more than a bundle of rags?

The Miracle Drink

Looking at my garden the other evening, I noticed a little green shoot sprouting.  The next day I couldn’t believe the difference.  Green shoots were everywhere.  What happened?  It had rained in the night and the plants got a good drink of water.

Can the same thing happen with people?  My client, Grace, at eighty-three was having multiple health problems from difficulty walking, dizziness and mental confusion, just to name a few.  She had a spell and ended up in the ambulance on her way to the hospital.  The first thing the paramedics did was put her on an IV of fluids.  After numerous tests and a stay in the hospital, the doctor could find nothing wrong.

Grace mentioned how much better she felt once she had the IV of fluid.  I started to wonder if dehydration could be contributing to her problems.  Looking up the symptoms of dehydration in seniors, Grace’s picture could have been next to the entry.  They included:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low urine output
  • Constipation

Many seniors don’t drink water because they don’t want to have to get up and go to the bathroom but that’s a small price to pay for the benefits of staying hydrated.  Some of which include:

  • Increased mental and physical performance
  • Improved energy
  • Reduced headaches and dizziness
  • Reduced the risk of urinary tract infections


The next time you feel tired

, lethargic or confused, drink a glass of water.  You may be surprised how much better you feel.  Like Grace and the plants in the garden, you may blossom.  Water is a miracle drink that could change your life.  Drink up!

Rock On

My Grandma did it.  My Grandpa did it.  I did it with my daughter.  As a mother, I learned rocking soothes a baby.  Is rocking beneficial as we get older?

Contemplating this question, I was surprised to find that there has been research done on the benefits of rocking.  Just as rocking soothes babies, it can have the same effect on adults.  Rocking releases endorphins, the feel good hormone, which elevates the mood.  It moves the body into a restorative state and can help relieve pain.  President Kennedy used a rocking chair to alleviate his back pain.

For seniors, even those with dementia, it’s been found that rocking reduces anxiety and depression.  Rocking stimulates better balance which can help reduce the risk of falls. It is a great way to exercise the ankles. Although it is not a substitute for strength training, rocking can help strengthen weak muscles. It has been found beneficial for people after knee replacement surgery.  Rocking stimulates circulation and speeds healing.

Rocking calms the spirit

, soothes a stressed body and focuses the mind. Just 15-30 minutes of rocking can be a form of meditation and self-hypnosis. It actually changes the brain waves and has a calming effect.

After a hard day of work, my grandparents would relax on the porch in their rocking chairs and enjoy a glass of iced tea.  I’m sure many of life’s problems were solved in those rocking chairs.  The front porch was also a social gathering place.  Neighbors would drop by, sit, rock and discuss world affairs and the meaning of life.

With all the distractions available now, we don’t often stop and take time to just rock and commune with ourselves.  I have my grandma and grandpa’s rocking chairs.  I think I’ll bring them out.  It’s time to slow down, sit down and rock on.

Tyranny of the Birth Certificate

February 1, 1953—the date on my birth certificate.  It says I am 63 years old.  I’m not sure what 63 is supposed to look or feel like.  I wonder, “how old would I be if I didn’t know how old I was?”

A study at Harvard put two groups of senior men in the environment of their youth—same clothes, furniture, music, cars, TV, magazines, etc. One group was told to reminisce about their youth and the other to act as if they were still young.

“…after just one week, there were dramatic positive changes across the board. Both groups were stronger and more flexible. … But the men who had acted as if they were actually back in 1959 showed significantly more improvement. Those who had impersonated younger men seemed to have bodies that actually were younger.”  The conclusion was “the aging process is indeed less fixed than most people think.  Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow.”*

There is no time machine to take us back and shag carpeting, the white go-go boots and miniskirt are probably best left in the past, however, there are ways we can impersonate our youth.    

  • Study the beauty of a butterfly’s wings with the amazement of a5 years old.
  • Go out and play just for the joy of it?  Hopscotch or jacks anyone?  
  • Turn on the music you loved as a teenager and dance.  
  • How old would you feel cruising down the road in a‘57 Chevy?  Buy, borrow or rent one.
  • Remember parking?  Take a drive with someone special and park under the stars with the radio on.  (The backseats of cars aren’t as big as they used to be, so you may want to forego that part of parking.)
  • Did you ever want to run away and join the circus?  A lady I know is taking lessons on the flying trapeze.  
  • Maybe you always wanted to be on stage.  A group of ladies took up tap dancing in retirement and put on shows.
  • Go back to college and take classes for the sheer pleasure of learning.
  • Take a child to the children’s museum and explore with her.
  • Color.  Adult coloring books are popular.


Just because the date on my birth certificate says I’m 63

, I’ll not let it tell me how old I am—I’ll decide.  Today it may be 30, tomorrow, who knows?  How old do you choose to be today?

If anyone needs me, I’ll be under the table in my fort, coloring.

* The study can be found at


Your Body–Asset or Liability?


Sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco, I’m reflecting on why I work out.  Yes, reducing belly fat is nice.  Looking great in your clothes feels good and being healthy is important.  But being strong is my motivation.

As a personal trainer, I feel that it is my job to set an example and workout regularly.  Do I always want to or enjoy it every time—no, absolutely not.  The effects of working out take time to notice, which causes many people to give up, but every day I workout, I know I am getting stronger.

I want to be strong enough to enjoy my visit to my daughter in San Francisco.  Why is being strong important?  She lives in a third floor walkup—51 stairs (yes, I counted them).  Even though I’ve learned to pack light, my suitcase weighed in at 28 pounds, which I had to proceed to lug up the 51 stairs.   It seems like the escalators at the MUNI are always broken

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, which means more stairs to climb, plus climbing on and off the buses and trains.

Today I decided to hike up Powell Street (I swear it is the steepest street in SF).  It was quite a trek but when I got to the top of Nob Hill I had a panoramic view of the city and the bay, and I took a break in the lobby of the beautiful, historic Fairmont Hotel.

I want to be strong enough to go where I want to go, do what I want to do and not have to wonder if I will be physically capable.  Many people, as they get older, weaker and larger, let their worlds become smaller.  I have slowed down some, but I don’t plan to stop.  I never want my body to become a liability that stops me from doing the things I love but rather have it be an asset that takes me where I want to go.

Poop on the Path

“I’m going to start exercising.  I will walk every day.  I will eat healthier.”  Your intentions may be good, but often there are barriers that get in the way.

There is a beautiful bike path at the river near where I live that I love to walk and run along.  It is also popular with the local geese who have a propensity for pooping on the path.  For one of my friends, the poop on the path is his barrier to walking.  You have a choice how you deal with the barriers that always seem to be on the path to good intensions.

  1. Look for a way around the barrier ahead. This may mean checking in with your doctor to be sure the exercise plan you are about to embark upon is right for you.  You may need to attend a class, join a gym or hire a trainer to help you find the correct program or get a workout partner to hold you accountable.
  2. Run right through the “poop”. Despite the barriers, you can keep going.  You can deal with your “barriers” or more often they are “excuses” when they come up.  I’ve found that if you keep going and ignore those barriers, they usually aren’t an issue anymore.
  3. Focus on the beauty of the reflections on the river, the blue sky, gentle breeze, the wonder of the baby geese and the beautiful flowers—the wonder of moving your body. Ignore the “poop” and without even realizing it, by the time you finish, what seemed like a barrier is no longer important.

There are always going to obstacles, difficulties and “poop” on the path to a healthier lifestyle.  You have a choice how you deal with them—avoid them, deal with them as they come up, just keep going through them or be so focused on the beauty of the journey that you don’t even see the “poop” on the path.

Be Wonder-FULL

“I’m set in my ways.”   “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  I’m sure you’ve made these statements or heard them.  Is it true that after a certain age you can’t become fit physically and mentally?  Absolutely not!  Research is showing how being physically active also increases our mental ability.  You can not only build new muscles, you can build new neuro-pathways in your brain.

We all have a comfort zone—where we’re—well—comfortable, and we usually really like our comfort zone.  The problem is that the old adage “use it or lose it” is true.   If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.  If you don’t challenge your muscles you lose them and the same goes for your brain—you lose what you don’t use.

So what is the answer?

  1. Decide to improve.  You won’t do what you don’t really feel compelled to do.  A good start is to read articles on the benefits of physical and mental exercise and talk to people who are more active and engaged than you are and find out what they do and how it has helped them.
  2. Get out of your comfort zone.  Try something new.  What is one thing you always thought you would like to try but never did?  Now would be a good time to explore.  You may find you really enjoy an activity you never even thought about before.  (I discovered I love boxing.)
  3. Be consistent. Trying new activities can be difficult at first.  Don’t give up.  Watch a baby learning to walk.  It takes a lot of effort and concentration to master a new activity.
  4. Have fun! You comfort zone can be limiting.   Always doing the same things with the same people and talking about the same things can make your world very narrow.  Never lose the wonder—appreciate the beauty of the world, the love of family and friends and opportunities to explore–whether it’s learning Italian, taking a dance class, learning to paint or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
  5. Be wonder—full! Remain full of wonder and you’ll never grow old!


Spring if finally here.  I’m excited to be able to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air after a long winter.

It’s a great time to start running! Ok, I know what you’re thinking “I can’t run.  I’m too old, I have joint problem.”  I used these same excuses for over 25 years.  Then my daughter call me and asked to train and run the Big Sur Half Marathon with her.  I never dreamed it would be something I could do, but I didn’t want to disappoint Mandy.

Most of you have heard  the benefits of running:

  • It burns calories
  • Improves oxygen usage
  • Improves brain performance
  • Improves mood and sleep
  • Lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease, just to name a few.

That said, you don’t have to run a lot of miles or spend a lot time running to reap the benefits.  Research shows that running as little as 5 minutes has significant benefits.

So how do you start?

  1. Set your own pace.  I’m a very slow runner.  I’ve get passed by people walking but I run the pace that feels right for me.
  2. Run short intervals, especially when you’re first starting.  A 15-30 second interval every 5 to 10 minutes will get your heart pumping and build endurance.
  3. Do strength training.  Having strong muscles will make running easier.  Building muscles around the joints, especially the knees, will help support them.  This is what made it possible for me to run again.
  4. Strengthen your core and keep it engaged when you run.  The core muscles are the support struts for the body.  When they are strong they can absorb some of the shock so the joints don’t take all the impact.
  5. Get good shoes.  Go to a good running shoe store and get fitted with the right shoes.
  6. Sign up for a race to keep you motivated.  It is said that the difference between a runner and a non-runner is an entry form.  Signing up for that half-marathon motivated me to get out and run on days I really didn’t want to.  I knew if I didn’t train, I would never make it.  It gave me a purpose and a goal that I could see, not like the other benefits of running that come more slowly and are easy to overlook.

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon gave me a sense of accomplishment and total elation because I knew if I could accomplish that goal

, there wasn’t ANYTHING I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it.  I also came away with four valuable life lessons:

  1. It was my race, no one else’s and I didn’t need to compare myself to any of the other runners.  Of the 9000 runners in the race, at least 8500 were ahead of me.  If I had watched all the people passing me the first couple of miles, I would have given up right then, especially when the old man with the walker passed me (but he was passing everybody).
  2. Quitting was not an option.  If I gave myself permission to quit when the going got tough, I would have.
  3. No matter how far away the goal was, the most important step was the next one.  I knew if I just simply put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, I would eventually reach my goal–the finish line.
  4. Look up and enjoy the view.  It was easy to get caught up of the pain of the hills and wondering how much farther I had to go  I had to remind myself that I was in one of the most beautiful spots on earth–look up and enjoy the view.

It does’t matter how slowly you run or how little or much of your “run” you actually run, if you sign an entry form, you are a runner.

Don’t Exercise for Your Health

“(Do) not fall into the rut of “exercising for your health”.  Wallace Wattles wrote these words over 100 years ago.  In many ways he was way ahead of his time.  (His writings were the basis for “The Secret”.)  He goes on to say, “Everyone is the better for a little all round use of the muscles every day; and the best way to this is by engaging in some form of play or amusements.  Get your exercise in the natural way; as recreation not as a forced stunt for health’s sake alone.  Ride a horse or a bicycle; play tennis or ten pins or toss a ball.  Have some avocation like gardening in which you can spend an hour every day with pleasure and profit, there are thousands of ways in which you can get exercise enough to keep your body supple and your circulation good, and yet not all into the rut of “exercising for your health”.  Exercise for fun or profit; exercise because you are too healthy to sit still, and not because you wish to become healthy or to remain so.”

Is this philosophy still valid?  When this was written

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, people where much more active in their daily lives. We need to make a more conscious effort to remain active but there is a lot we can apply to our lives today.

We are constantly bombarded with the latest fitness trend that is a “must” to do to get in shape.  How many programs have you gone on and quit?  How much money have you spent on the latest gadget, class or DVD?  I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent.

As a personal trainer, I’m constantly asked, “What’s the best exercise?” and my answer is “the one you’ll do.”     If you don’t enjoy an exercise program, you probably won’t stick with it.  I’ve spent endless hours at the gym trudging away on the treadmill and other equipment because “it was good for me” and cranked up the speed because intervals burn more fat—and hated every minute of it.  Training for a half marathon a couple of years ago, I realized I enjoy walking and running outside.  Some days it’s a long walk, some a steady jog, and at times I enjoy challenging myself to see how fast I can run to the next light pole (A fun and challenging way to do intervals.)

I don’t enjoy group exercise classes but love lifting weights and seeing my body become stronger and more toned.  Zumba may be your thing, or maybe you’ve always loved to dance but not in a crowd.  Crank up the music at home and dance for a great workout.  If you hate the gym, maybe you would enjoy working with a trainer at a private studio.  You may enjoy solitary activity or need the camaraderie of a group or exercise buddy.

Until you try a new activity you won’t know if you enjoy it.  It may take a while, but if you give it a chance, you never know what will be fun.  Don’t be afraid to get totally out of your comfort zone.  I tried boxing and realized I love putting on the gloves and punching the heavy bag.  My technique isn’t great but I have fun and get a terrific workout, (and seeing the reaction of the guys at the gym when they seem me with my boxing gloves adds to the fun!)

If you go into exercise with the mindset of “I have to do this because it’s good for me”, you probably won’t stick with it very long.  On the other hand, if you’re having fun, you’re more likely to keep it up.  No matter what your personality, fitness level or ability, there is an activity you can enjoy.  Don’t be afraid to try something new and have fun.

There is the campaign for kids to “Play 60 minutes a day”.  This should apply to adults as well.  If we would play 60 minutes a day, we would be healthier, fitter and happier; not to mention have less stress.  Go play—have fun!

Birthday Reflections


My birthday is always a time of reflection. Once again we had my annual birthday blizzard–February 1. This year I officially became a senior citizen, 62. Do I mind that milestone? Not really. I agree with Betty Friedan “Aging is not lost youth but a new state of opportunity and strength.”

Looking back over the years, I am in better shape now than I was 20+ years ago and much stronger. At forty, like a lot of people, I thought that disease and disability were just a natural part of aging. I was overweight, out-of-shape and had difficulty climbing stairs. I thought it was all downhill—especially when menopause hit.

I thought joining a gym might help. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I learned the importance of building strength—and it not only changed my body, it changed my life.
At forty, when I joined the gym, I could do twelve girl’s pushups. At sixty, I did sixty-five.
At forty, I could barely walk because of the arthritis in my knees. At sixty, I ran a half marathon.
At fifty, I become a personal trainer after years of being an administrative assistant.
At forty, I was working for retirement. Now

, at sixty-two, retirement is the farthest thing from my mind. I have started writing and speaking to spread the message of strength. I am no longer working for retirement—I’m working for the next opportunity and adventure.
It’s never too late to begin. No matter if your forty, sixty or eighty, building strength is the best way to take charge and change the way you age and improve the quality of your life.