Saturday, 27 June 2015

Stress Management Over 40

Revisit Your Own Idealism to Handle Work Stress

Revisiting idealism can help you survive the stresses of a neoliberal world
What are the best ways to handle stress as a baby boomer still dealing with demanding clients, high-pressure days and daily operation in the thick of the rate race? When your kids are grown up, when bar-hopping after work with colleagues is too unhealthy an option, and when retirement is not in your plans any time in the foreseeable future, how do you unwind? The answer may be to revisit who you were at 15 or 20. The seeds of old dreams are still there, sitting in time capsules waiting to be opened and reclaimed. The difference now is that you can actually pursue them.

Dialing Down Stress Means Focusing on Positive Mechanisms

The "fight and flight" instinct that helped you respond so well to emergencies and perform so well at work for so long is actually on a timer. The stress response has an effect on our bodies in a way that can compromise health and well-being in a very big way. According to the American Psychological Association, "the long-term activation of your body's stress response impairs your immune system's ability to fight against disease and increases the risk of physical and mental health problems."

This means it's time to get creative about coming up with ways to transform stress into inspiration. This can involve doing many of the things that never quite fit into our super-practical way of life. It also means dedicating some time, effort and funds to exploring them. For some it's a year of travel, for others it's starting a second career that may not make much money but is fulfilling creatively, intellectually or in terms of its societal value. For still others, it's going back to school while still enjoying one's career. One of the best resources to explore the rekindling of your inner creative is Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes' book Women Who Run With the Wolves - Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype (oh so 80s but still so useful).

May We Unite with Great Healthy People

It's important to follow people you admire, who speak to your particular demographic and needs. For baby boomers, some of the most inspiring people are part of an earlier cohort who think, thought, live and lived completely outside the rules. Here are just a few of the great influential, revolutionary thinkers who come to mind:

  1. Martha Graham
  2. Don Tapscott
  3. Jane Jacobs
  4. Vasily Aksenov
  5. Starhawk
  6. Leonard Cohen
  7. Germaine Greer
  8. John Ralston Saul
  9. Joan Didion
  10. Romeo Dallaire

Tactics to Handle Stress Better

Aside of aspiring to do things you've always wanted to do and cultivating your own wild creativity, here are some other constructive ways to handle stress:

  • meditation - incorporating this into your daily routine can go a long way in managing stress
  • exercise - an hour of exercise three or more times a week is recommended, even walking
  • yoga - take a class or do it at home with the help of some online classes or guides
  • dance classes - contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a dancer to join a class
  • community involvement - engage with anything you are interested in or care about
  • diet - you can't go wrong with more fruits and vegetables
  • go out - take in sports, culture, or anything outside yourself
  • chemicals in food - avoid wherever possible, even though it's pretty difficult
  • pampering - treat yourself to hair appointments, manicures, massages, and spas 
  • socialize - make a practice of drawing people you like closer to you

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Walking in Tommy Thompson Park - A Wildlife Sanctuary Across the Lake from a City

A Bird Sanctuary as Well as a Healthy Getaway for City Dwellers

Tommy Thompson Park offers a healthy alternative for wildlife and urbanites alike
Have you ever walked just outside a city's perimeter where the air is so fresh that you feel dizzy? At Leslie Spit/ Tommy Thompson Park on the waters of Lake Ontario, it is possible to completely escape the air pollution of 3-million strong Toronto just a short distance away. You are literally on the water looking into the city from across a lake. The fresh breeze that blows across the lake feels fresh and pollution-free.

Tommy Thompson Park is a former dump site that grew into a wildlife bird sanctuary on an isthmus in Toronto. It is entirely human-made.  As described in its history, "the natural processes that evolved during the long construction and planning of the site had shaped [the park] into a truly "accidental wilderness".   A map from shows where the park is situated in relation to the City of Toronto.

A map from shows where Leslie Spit/ Tommy Thompson Park is situated

Leave It For The Birds

Eventually it was decided to leave the park for the birds. Visits to the wildlife sanctuary are allowed during restricted hours.

If you walk the 2+ hours to the end of the Spit, you end up in what feels like the middle of Lake Ontario. Now a popular destination for bird watchers, cyclists and conservationists, the only sounds you can hear as you walk are the chirps and songs of numerous species of birds rarely seen elsewhere.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Real Meaning of Farm to Table

Declining Number of Fruit Farms in Niagara Region Affect Supply

A lone tree reaches across the expanse of a Niagara-on-the-Lake field

Whenever I eat a fresh peach, cherry, plum, nectarine or pear in Niagara in the summertime, I notice how much better it tastes than the fruit I buy at home in Toronto stores, just an hour and a half's drive north.

If Niagara fruit farms still exist (which I found they do) why can't we purchase their produce in the urban outlets in Toronto? When I tried to find out more, I found a great list of fruit farms in the Niagara area, as well as another helpful resource about where to pick your own fruits and vegetables in the Niagara region, but no real explanation of why this natural wealth isn't part of the major distribution networks supplying our urban supermarkets.

Grapes on the vine in the July Niagara-on-the-Lake countryside

It turns out that many of the various fruit orchards that filled the Niagara countryside have become endless rows of grape vines. If the larger Niagara fruit farms were supplanted by the needs of the grape-growing and winery industries in the Niagara peninsula, I don't remember hearing who made the decision. Why can't we have both the Niagara winery and fresh fruit industries succeeding side by side? Was there ever a public consultation about it?

When I was growing up in Niagara Falls in the 1970s one of my favourite summer jobs was strawberry-picking at Tregunno Farms. I would ride my bike the 20-odd kilometres along the Niagara River Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake and hit the fields with my fellow fruit-pickers, eating as many strawberries as I could while I worked. Happily, Tregunno Farms is still in the same location and managed by the fourth generation of the family. But now their main crops are peaches and grapes and they are trying to grow plum-apricot hybrids currently shipped to us from the U.S.

One of the many palatial wineries that dot the Niagara-on-the-Lake countryside

Food Giants McCain, Saputo and Maple Leaf Helped Grow Canadian Food Sector

The more I dug for information on who is really in charge of the quality of fresh food available to put onto my family's table, the less I found out it was a story of small or medium sized business success. A couple of years ago a Globe and Mail article described the Canadian food industry sector as being the largest manufacturing industry in the country in terms of sales, surpassing auto parts or high-tech gadgets and achieving sales that quietly passed that of textiles, paper, machinery, and aerospace combined. It goes on to describe how "giants like McCain, Saputo and Maple Leaf" helped the sector to expand over the past decade and keep growing even in the recession when most other sectors slumped.

I'm still trying to find out what farms exactly, are producing our local food. According to Statistics Canada, 70% of our food comes from our own country and only 30% of the food we eat comes from somewhere else. A full 80% of meat and dairy products and 76% of breads and cereals are produced here, and imports account for 40% of all fruit, vegetables and fish we eat.

When I looked at the Farm and Food Care Foundation, I found Sobey's, Ontario Pork, The Centre for Food Integrity,  and Cargill writing and distributing consumer-friendly brochures from the voice of Canadian farmers. The messaging was that "big corporations have not taken over Canadian farms, and more than 97 per cent of Canadian farms today are still family-owned and operated." But the brochure did not stipulate the most important point: What percentage of our food do these family-owned farms actually produce?

I am still digging... What is the reality of your region's farm to table supply? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

How to Handle Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The Effects of Sun Deprivation

Walking the sunlit trails in Earl Bales Park in Toronto is a good antidote to winter sun deprivation
After getting through the -25 C (-13 F) cold spell last week, conversation among a few of us who live in the world's northern hemisphere turned to SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. The effects of sun deprivation in the long winter months can include:
  • loss of energy
  • decreased desire to socialize
  • short-term memory loss
  • fatigue
  • depression
We don't always need to read an article to know that our energy levels are waning annually around mid February to early March. But Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real for people who experience prolonged depression every winter. Approximately 2-3% of Canadians experience the full effects of SAD, and 15% experience a milder form of it. It is estimated by NHS Choices that SAD affects about 2 million people in the UK, and more than 12 million people across Northern Europe. According to Psych Central, approximately half a million Americans are affected by SAD.

Sun deprivation is also associated with Vitamin D deficiency and declined serotonin levels. Hormonal Fitness explains that the sun is the main stimulus for serotonin production as well as critical for the production of Vitamin D. It describes further that "discoveries have been made recently about the effects of vitamin D and the consequences of deficiency - particularly in connection with immunity, osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer. An article at even suggests that "lack of sunlight probably kills many thousands more people in this country and others at similar latitudes than skin cancer."

How is SAD Treated?

Skiing in the middle of the city at Earl Bales Park ski hill in Toronto

Treatment for SAD usually includes medication or light therapy. But the Tech Times offers great solutions to dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder and the winter blues that are more natural. Natural remedies that avoid prescriptions or the use of light boxes are:

  • taking advantage of the natural light whenever and wherever possible
  • getting regular exercise
  • opening up the blinds during daylight hours
  • going out for a walk during the day
  • doing yoga
  • embracing the snow and enjoying it

Enjoying Winter

One of the best perspectives on how we really enjoy winter in Canada is a great documentary entitled Life Below Zero.

But stepping out to your local city parks in winter can offer some very interesting surprises. On Family Day 2015 I discovered an uptown urban ski hill that is a mere 20-minute walk from our home. This facility rents ski equipment and has a canteen. It may not be challenging enough for the advanced skier and, while it's true that skiing down it only takes a minute or two, it's a great way to enjoy the city sun in winter months.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Anger and Social Change

Angry Film Characters in Winter Sleep and Corbo Profoundly Affect Those Closest to Them

Haluk Bilginer in the Turkish film 'Winter Sleep' and Tony Nardi in the Canadian film 'Corbo'
In two completely different films produced in different cultures about different political eras, a deep-seated anger spills over to affect and take root in central characters who dominate the story. These two films share the same root element of misplaced anger causing social change that goes wrong. The anger, pain and disappointment in the protagonists slowly move central characters into zones of irrationality, while their own repressed anger causes them to carry on unaware of the effect that they have on people around them. The two films were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in January 2015.

In Winter Sleep, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and set in a small village in Cappadocia, a failed actor controls others through his education and amassed wealth as a landowner, oblivious to the debilitating poverty around him. He has a particularly suffocating effect on his young wife. In Corbo, directed by Mathieu Denis and set in Montreal, a repressive father who was formerly discriminated against in Canada as an Italian immigrant after Mussolini declared war, cannot understand why his 16-year old son is not appreciative of the wealth and stability he provides the family as a lawyer. (The son, the main character in Corbo, becomes involved in the underground pro-French independence movement and later a radical terrorist in the FLQ).

How Anger Can Cause Things To End Badly          

The people who affect those who move the story along in both films are angry. The films are about a lot of things other than anger, yet without the rigidity and lack of communication engendered by anger these stories would have been very different. The complacence of these characters plays a part in the suffering of others around them, and when enlarged to a view of a whole society, is the very same complacence that provokes the desire for social change. But enacting social change doesn't work very well when inherited, repressed anger from unrelated sources is fueling it.

In Winter Sleep, it is difficult not to surmise that the arrogance of the angry character played by Haluk Bilginer is a direct result of his earlier failure as an actor. One wonders when his openness to ideas and people stopped. He acknowledges that his wife no longer loves him but lacks the flexibility to understand why.

Similarly, the repressed father in Corbo, played by Tony Nardi, actually believes that his sons will absorb his learned Anglophone liberal middle class values without absorbing his anxiety about having suffered at its hand as an Italian immigrant during WWII.

The theme of painful suffering developing into powerful control of others runs as a subtext throughout both Corbo and Winter Sleep, two totally different films produced by different generations and countries. Whether reacting to the dominant English culture in Canada or the crushing poverty of rural Turkey, it is the people affected by repressed anti-heroes who express the truth - a young wife crushed by a self-hating husband, or a young son angry without knowing why. We find out there are no easy answers in their personal stories.

Both films are well worth watching. Corbo is about the search for French identity in Canada. Winter Sleep is about the class struggle in the steppes of the Central Anatolia region of Turkey.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

How Our Own Wellness Involves the Wellness of Our World

How Greenpeace Helps Save Our Forests

Our personal wellness is inextricably linked with the wellness of our planet

Canada recently emerged as the world’s worst country for loss of intact forests, largely in the Boreal Forest. After putting it off for quite a while, I decided to join Greenpeace and do something to help change this. I wanted to help save our forests and raise awareness of what we need to do to help slow down climate change too. 

Many Canadians Feel the Same Way I Do About Urgent Environmental Concerns

At the end of November I took part in Greenpeace's Best Buy activity to stop the store's current purchasing arrangement from Resolute Forest Products, which sources its forest products from the Boreal Forest in an unsustainable way. Resolute Forest Products is a controversial Canadian pulp and paper company that has previously been exposed for logging in endangered forests and for repeatedly violating forestry regulations.

Our Greenpeace group talked to people on the street outside the Best Buy store at Yonge and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto. I found that all of the people I talked to were generally open-minded and supportive of saving the Boreal Forest through our activity. If so many Canadians feel strongly about this, why was Best Buy still buying over one hundred million pounds of paper annually from a company that sources almost exclusively from the Boreal?

How Best Buy Changed Its Policy

It turned out that Greenpeace's two week campaign mobilized over 52,000 supporters across North America. On December 9th the world’s largest electronics retailer, Best Buy, announced major improvements to its paper supply chain to better protect Canada’s Boreal Forest, one of the lungs of our planet and a vital buffer against climate change. For its paper purchases from Canada, Best Buy will shift business away from Resolute Forest Products and now require Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper from this supplier.

Affecting Change About Something Greater Than Ourselves

I believe that wellness of ourselves also involves the wellness of our world. The two are not really separate. There were also some unexpected personal benefits that my participation in Greenpeace's November campaign gave me:
  • A sense of accomplishment in affecting change about something greater than ourselves
  • The reward of really connecting with people on a busy downtown street and changing their minds about something important to all of us
  • The warmth and responsiveness of my team members, who were much more encouraging and helpful than many people who cross my path on a daily basis
  • A sense of having a voice that was being heard
  • The knowledge that if we keep trying, we can stop the dangerous environmental spiral we are currently on

Friday, 14 November 2014

Who Defines Our Cultural Attitudes?

If older people stay engaged with mainstream society, experience will become a valued commodity

Making Life Experience Count

The large cities where we live are meccas of people from all over the world, yet our cultural attitude towards ageing is still dictated by a 1950s Madison Avenue advertising culture that slowly removed people over 40 from its depiction of relevant consumers. And that is still where we sit. According to our billboards, online or print ads, videos and articles, we are all perpetually somewhere between 21 and 38.

Taking Back Mass Media

The only way for people over 40 to see ourselves addressed by our own culture, is to take back the street. Keep working. Do not go and stare at a sunset somewhere - unless it's on a holiday. If you're in marketing, stay engaged in your brands and change the copy and the design to reflect your own demographic somewhere in the market, as you get older. Stay engaged at your clubs, restaurants and open spaces until you become a visible force. The more people over 40 are reflected in the mass media and included as a demographic in marketing, the more the elderly will slowly be looked upon as a group to respect. Since we are a consumer culture, each segment has to stay engaged with the marketplace just to earn a psychological place within it.

Countering Ageism

Whereas Native Canadian, Asian and many other cultures celebrate the wisdom and intelligence of their elders, in the dominant North American culture our underlying tendency is to consider non-earning members of our society as irrelevant to the marketplace - and therefore irrelevant to us. The upshot of this is that boomers control a huge portion of current spending whether they are currently earning or not. According to Mass Mutual Financial Group, senior women age 50 and older control a net worth of $19 trillion and own more that three-fourths of the nation's financial wealth. You would never know this by the representation of senior women in either our mass media or targeted messaging in our brand-oriented culture. Perhaps the brands currently serving the over-40 consumer group are quietly enjoying the financial rewards somewhere on a beach... and keeping the secret to themselves.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Massage Therapy is a Great Way to Stay Healthy and Manage Stress

Be Proactive About Wellness & Stress Management

As the autumn gets underway and work and family stresses build up again, massage therapy can go a long way toward maintaining your wellness and helping manage your stress levels. Whether you are in pain or just want to relax, regular massage therapy can help you achieve greater wellness.

Along with mindful meditation and yoga, massage therapy is an effective way to improve blood flow and breathing, give you an increased sense of well-being, and increase your range of motion. 

In Canada, a Great Place to Get a Massage is LifeMark Health

A couple of weeks ago I had a very restorative experience at a LifeMark clinic on Bathurst Street in Toronto, which is right near my neighbourhood. LifeMark has around 100 locations across the country that offer different health and wellness services. Their experts work holistically in the areas of physiotherapy, massage therapy, cancer rehabilitation, dizziness and imbalance, and more. 

I hadn't had a massage in 8 months. While it was no surprise that my sedentary job with my right hand on a mouse all day was the culprit in the severe tightness of my rotator cuff muscles, it felt fantastic to have them worked on. I was told that these muscles are overworking to keep me in balance while I'm manipulating a computer mouse for seven or eight hours a day. (Why can't hardware companies invent a replacement for the mouse so that we can work without causing harm to our bodies, especially as we age?...).

Improving Your Immune System With Massage

Many people don't know that a massage also strengthens your immune system. According to Holistic Medical Massage:

Your immune system is affected by your emotional state—whether you are elated, angry, fatigued, or stressed. Stress actually decreases natural defenses resulting in less efficient and slower healing, and a greater susceptibility to infection.

So how does massage help your immune system? Massage therapy boosts immune system by stimulating “natural killer cells” Since therapeutic massage decreases cortisol that destroys natural killer cells, your immune system gets a boost. An increase in white blood cells and natural killer-cell activity better prepares the body to fight off possible invading cells. Massage even boosts immunity in those people with severely compromised immune system, such as breast-cancer patients.

Taking Time Out For Yourself

Individuals who have health insurance coverage through their employment can be entitled to up to 6 registered massage therapy sessions annually, depending on their plan and the price of the services. The idea is that you don't wait until you're super tense and stressed out to go - instead, you go for a massage every couple of months for proactive health maintenance, incorporating it into your routine just like you go for a regular haircut, work out, walk regularly, and take time out of your routine just for yourself.

Check out these articles to find out more about how massage therapy can help you:

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Climbing Steps For Health

Climbing the Steps of Dubrovnik: an Adventure in Health

Looking at Dubrovnik's Old Town and the Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik Steps

For any traveler, climbing steps in Europe is an adventure in health as much as a beautiful, historical wonder to experience. Just like doing a step class at the gym, step-climbing on real stairs or steps uses up many more calories than walking, is good for your heart, and is a quick way to get your legs into great shape.

An article by the Huffington Post describes how someone lost 96 pounds by climbing six flights of stairs a day, and the Times of India reports that in addition to maximizing your cardio efforts, climbing steps increases your core muscle strength, tones and sculps your body, and provides a good low-impact workout.

Walking Up the Dubrovnik Steps

Walking down the Dubrovnik Steps from Villa Klaic is beautiful!
The Dubrovnik steps to Villa Klaic, 15 minutes on foot (walking straight up the steps) from the Old Town on the Adriatic Sea  are a case in point. The first time I climbed them a month ago, it felt like a lot longer than 15 minutes. I was so out of breath once I got to the top that I could hardly breathe, but afterwards I felt fantastic! The second time I finished the climb I was slightly less out of breath, and the next day my legs really hurt. But when I looked around at all of the other 40+ women in Dubrovnik, I noticed that they all have toned thighs and are slender. Who wouldn't be, climbing those steps all your life?

More Breathtaking Scenes Walking Down the Dubrovnik Steps

Beautiful doors line the walls of the Dubrovnik Steps
Pondering the beauty of Dubrovnik while walking down the steps was truly breathtaking too. People's homes, gardens and terraces are all encased by thick 6-foot or 7-foot high stone walls. It is these walls that provide the entry point to the homes, and many homeowners took special pride in installing gorgeous doors.

Gardens inside the walls of the Dubrovnik Steps
Peering inside homeowners' open gates was a marvel. Fruits I had never seen grow on trees before were everywhere - lemons, oranges, olives, and something that I thought might be pomegranates...

Climbing Steps Wherever You Are

A view of Dubrovnik's Old Town from a different set of steps
It's easy to get sidetracked by the beauty you can see by looking across whatever scene you see when you arrive at the top of some steps wherever you happen to be. But the most important part is to just climb them.  Livestrong has come up with an interesting way to calculate how many calories are burned by climbing steps:

Divide the number of calories you burn per mile by the number of steps it takes you to walk a mile. The result is a unique-to-you conversion factor you can use to calculate how many calories you burn from the number of steps you take as you walk. For example, the calculation would look like this for a person who burns 99.75 calories per mile and walks a mile in 2,200 steps:

Conversion factor = 99.75 calories per mile / 2,200 steps per mile = 0.045 calories per step

Monday, 4 August 2014

Venetian Vivaldi's Inner Order

Finding Inner Order: Revisiting Vivaldi Concerto Op. 3 No. 8 

Summer is often a time of clearing out the old, going through attics, clearing cottage relics, selling off contents of family estates, or just clearing out one's mind to find something new again.

Mining teen dreams that were packed away can inspire new projects as a baby boomer now
One of the best summer strategies in cleansing out what's old and renewing your energies with new inspiration is to return to what you loved before you reached adulthood. There lay hidden, unmined and often unrealized passions and dreams. If you touch back on something you experienced as a teen that was not quite of this world, you can probably absorb it now and make it work positively in your life. Since Vivaldi invented ritornello form where the theme keeps returning to the main line, returning to his music now seemed very understandable.

How Rediscovering Music That Touched Us Before Can Be Rewarding

Vivaldi's Double Violin Concerto in A Minor is Light and Bright with Soaring Phrases
That is what happened with me and Vivaldi's Double Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 3, No. 8 in the recording by David and Igor Oistrach. This recording informed several of my early teen years, rehearsing a ballet competition quartet at age 14, riding bikes and soaking blistered toes from pointe shoes, and watching our ballet choreographer translate Vivaldi's sustained phrasing into 8 outstretched arms reaching across the room horizontally in a perfectly-balanced continuum. How, as young dancers, we wove and intertwined like leaves with golden ribbons and bent torsos - then back to the continuum on which all things in life rest - not quite of this world. If wellness is about maximizing natural health within the framework that we've each got, what could be of more value to it than a perfect teen influence that had been folded into the recesses of the subconscious?

What Is It In Vivaldi That Is So Uplifting?

Embracing the Platonic classicism of baroque music enriched our ballet quartet then as much as it does now. What is it about Vivaldi that is so uplifting?

Well, Vivaldi was a priest and worked in theatre, for starters. He worked extensively with tonalities in all of the music he wrote for different instruments. According to James Leonard, Vivaldi transformed music of his time. "Preceded only by a set of Trio Sonatas in 1705 and a set of Violin Sonatas in 1709, Antonio Vivaldi's first published set of concertos, called "L'estro armonico," was the most influential and innovative collection of orchestral music of the first half of the eighteenth century. "L'estro armonico" (roughly, The Genius of Harmony) was published as his Op. 3 in Amsterdam in 1711 by Estienne Roger and quickly completely changed the form from the more weighty Roman model of  to the lighter Venetian model of Vivaldi."

There is something easy about building and sustaining wellness when Vivaldi speaks to the calm of self-knowledge. This recording of Vivaldi offers the clarity of an order that helps us to feel calmness and peace. Its soaring with perfectly balanced violin lines blending in harmony is not easily forgotten.