“If you have a chronic disease — such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, (arthritis, cancer, dementia) or back or joint pain — exercise can have important health benefits.”— “Exercise and chronic disease: Get the Facts,” Mayo Clinic Staff
COVID has taken away many so-called practices and habits that were once societal norms. I think it is fair to say that many of us, from time to time, have felt weighed down, a bit angry, and even bereaved over the loss of the “way things used to be.” In fact, now that we’ve begun traveling down this new road of living, I suspect there may be many things that will never return. However, on the positive side, there are a few things that have evolved from this swift shifting of life.
One such personal benefit began during the quarantine period of 2020 as I reflected on my own health. As I recently shared in other pieces, I have a genetic predisposition to colon cancer and heart disease. Therefore, in an attempt to boost my immune system against these two inherited threats as well as COVID, I began to dial in my focus on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and plant based eating, while still continuing some strength/flexibility/mindfulness practices. None of these attempts have been perfect, but they do provide a sense of personal empowerment–a worthwhile feeling in a world that often feels out of control.
Of particular focus for me was a renewed desire for out-of-doors exercise; however, the ever-present battle with two bulging discs and an extra vertebrae was/is a never-ending reality. Therefore, towards the middle of May 2020, I began researching ways to strengthen my back and core muscles while simultaneously gradually working my way from walking to running in order to increase my cardiovascular fitness level. While there is nothing wrong with walking–in fact, I love it, and I honestly believe it is one of the safest and best forms of exercise–there is something about the heart pumping vigor of running that leaves me, well, breathless!
All kidding aside, I do not want to give the illusion that I run fast. Speed is not, per se, part of my goal; instead, I focus on increased endurance. In particular, I put greater emphasis on my resting heart rate. The lower my resting heart rate, the better I sleep, and the less stress affects me–especially at bed time.
Therefore, without belaboring the point, I found a program for strengthening the back and core called, the Mckenzie Method. Using some of the exercises from this back method and combining them with exercises from my time spent in physical therapy and practicing yoga, I cobbled together my own DIY daily back/core care routine. Additionally, while researching this method, I ran across (See what I did there?) a book/training entitled, Run Your Butt Off, about which I have previously written. This running program offers a plan to help a walker go from walking for 30 minutes, to running for the same length of time in 12 weeks (or however many weeks you decide to take it).
Since completing the Run Your Butt Off plan, I have continued running 3-4 times per week. On the days that I run, I sleep much better–even if I don’t have the time to sleep long. Even more exciting is that I have signed up to run a virtual half marathon. Due to this, I have put greater emphasis on personal nutrition for the purposes of reducing inflammation and fostering recovery as the running mileage increases each week.
“Choosing plants will help all your body’s systems work the best they can.”–Heather Alexander, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center
One way I am doing this is by continuing to eat plant-based. While plant based eating does not have to mean that you will completely forgo meat and dairy, it does mean that those foods are dramatically reduced. However, my personal choice, other than my occasional indulgence of black bean nachos, I choose not to consume meat and dairy products. Additionally, I have (once again) committed to breakfast smoothies during this time period rather than skipping breakfast. These smoothies are whole food, plant based powerhouses with no added sugar. Every ingredient contained within them is full of fiber and a solid source of nutrition.
I know that many people are opposed to drinking calories, and I understand abiding by that rule. However, I simply do not have time to commit to a sit-down breakfast, plus my stomach is often a queasy mess in the mornings. A premade smoothie that I make ahead of time is a portable package of sound nutrition that my stomach can tolerate a couple of hours after rising. They fuel me through my morning, and by lunch, I find I am not, per se, ravenously hungry.
Additionally, by the time I head for my after-work runs, even if I am mentally exhausted, once I force myself to my running destination, I have plenty of fuel in the tank to complete the run. Afterwards, I ALWAYS feel better, and even if everything else about the day seemed like it went wrong, at least I did two positive things for myself: fed my body good nutrition and exercised. In my book, that’s a win. COVID changes be danged.
What follows below is one of my newest smoothie creations. (I’ve got a few more recipes I’m refining!) No matter how frazzled, frustrated, or dissatisfied I may feel with external situations, this recipe has a way of mentally picking me up with its bright flavors and hint of chocolatey goodness. Feel free to play around with and/or change the ingredients and/or the amounts to meet your personal dietary needs and taste preference. Additionally, serve it up in a nice glass or even canning jar, and don’t be ashamed if using a straw (I use metal, reusable straw.) to slurp up all of the goodness at the bottom of the glass!
From my home to yours, I wish you much happiness, health, and harmony even during these challenging times.
Steph’s Blues Busting Chocolate Green Smoothie
½ cup favorite milk or water (I use plant based milk.)
1 cup (75 grams) chopped romaine lettuce
1/2 ripe banana (I buy them ahead of time and freeze once ripe.)
2 tablespoons flax seed (Can use hemp or chia seeds.)
**2-4 tablespoons of Dutched cocoa powder, depending upon how chocolatey you want it.
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder
1 ½ cup (45 grams frozen; 85 grams fresh) chopped spinach
1 cup blueberries (Can use frozen.)
½ cup cherry, pomegranate, or pomegranate/cherry juice
Dash of salt (I use a twist of ground pink himalyan.)
Optional: Add 1-2 teaspoons of favorite sweetener if desired, such as pure maple syrup, molasses, or honey (I do NOT add any sweetener, but I know others prefer a sweeter smoothie.)
Place in a blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.
Divide between two glasses.
Can be served immediately or stored for later use in the fridge.
Makes 2 servings.
**If you are not a fan of chocolate, you can skip the cocoa powder altogether. However, you may want to consider adding, at the very least, 1 tablespoons of it. Cocoa powder has numerous health and nutritional benefits.