Happy World Sleep Day!

It certainly doesn’t feel like it here in New York City, but here we are two days before the official start of spring. How’s everyone holding up?

As we all continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, I did want to offer what’s usually a semi-annual reminder about one of the most critical but often overlooked components to staying healthy: sleep. As if getting quality sleep wasn’t hard enough before 2020, many people – including yours truly – are suffering from a new condition some health experts have identified as “Coronasomnia.” While not surprising, this new classification only highlights the importance of trying to find ways to unwind and give your body a chance to rest and recover, especially during these stressful times.

We all know how hard it is to focus or find energy to do even the most basic tasks when we don’t get enough solid zzz’s. But research shows lack of sleep can contribute to other less-than-optimal health issues including weight gain, a rise in blood pressure and even increase your risk for heart disease.

So while there is no surefire way to get better sleep, I’ll offer some of the tips and tricks that work for me:

  1. Sip carefully: It’s no secret I love my libations, but while a glass or two of wine can help soothe the spirit after a stressful day, too much can wreak havoc on your system and end up doing just the opposite.
  2. Kill the Screen Time: I know. Throughout these monotonous days, sometimes there doesn’t seem to be much to do than mindlessly scroll through a feed or read the latest statistics on the virus or other stressful news. I’ve been working hard to shut off any blue-light devices at least an hour before bedtime. Try reading a real book or magazine instead.
  3. Pamper Yourself: Maybe it’s a hot shower or bath with lavender scented soaps. Or lighting a calming candle and sipping some herbal tea. Or putting on your favorite fuzzy slippers. Whatever creature comfort gives you peace, cling to it and unwind!
  4. Get Moving: Exercise always does a body good, but just wrap up the workout at least one hour before bedtime.
  5. Let It Out: Jot down some thoughts or list of worries in a journal or on a piece of note paper. Or sing out loud to your favorite “angry” song. Talk to a best buddy. Just get the negative “stuff” out of your system.

If you’ve found the secret to better sleep in these challenging times, please don’t keep it to yourself! As we move toward a new season together, sharing ideas is a great way to keep pushing forward and not lose sight of our plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Starting Over

 
Yesterday, I embarked on my 47th trip around the sun. Never before have I felt so lucky to start another year-long journey, especially with my parents and James along for the ride.
 
My 2020 birthday marked the last time the four of us enjoyed “normal” indoor-dining celebratory meals. No masks. No social distancing between tables. No temperature checks or hand sanitizer stations set up at restaurant entrances. That all seems like a lifetime ago.
 
I don’t need to go through all the ways New York City, the rest of the state and the rest of the country have changed since this time last year. The most devastating change, of course, being the tragic loss of family members and friends to COVID and other maladies.
 
While all the positive changes we long for won’t happen overnight, I do embrace a stronger feeling of hope as the vaccination process continues. I will patiently wait my turn while the elderly and most vulnerable get their shots. And I’ll continue wearing my masks, washing my hands, keeping my distance and holding off on socializing with the people I miss oh so desperately a little while longer.
 
So as I start another year, I’m a bit more optimistic those get-togethers with family and friends aren’t quite as far off as they were a few months ago. I also find some comfort when I realize we hang on to the daylight a little longer each day as we crawl toward spring. I look forward to getting back to Central Park for the walks and runs that gave my body and soul a powerful shot of positivity. Winter won’t last forever. Nor will the dismal days we’ve muddled through for all these months.
 
I wrap up with a heartfelt thank you to everyone who sent the loveliest birthday wishes via text, phone, email or social media. The cheer from near and far certainly made me feel a little less isolated that the typical days here in New York City. Wishing you and yours good health and safety as we trudge along through 2021, and here’s to more days ahead filled with more opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
 
 
 

A Quiet Start

Wow. Welcome, February! So, how is everyone handling 2021 so far?

Let me start with a heartfelt thank you to all of you who’ve taken the time to to check on me recently. It seems my silence here and on social media has raised some concern. Overall, I’m fine. And I realize I’m beyond blessed to be able to say the same for James, Mom and Dad. However, as someone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder during “normal” years, let’s just say this season has been particularly rough. I just haven’t had much motivation to do the things I usually enjoy. It’s been a struggle to get on the treadmill and break a sweat, and that’s definitely a shift from my usual self. (The fact I’m nursing an ongoing lower back / sacroiliac joint issue isn’t helping.) Then there’s writing. I’ve avoided that outlet mostly because I fear many of my musings have been darker than the ones I’m used to sharing. As for my unintentional hiatus from social media, I guess it was my way of shielding myself from the negativity and hate-filled posts and tweets that filled too many feeds for my liking.

So what have I been doing? I’ve remained beyond busy at work as part of the Test & Trace Corps. And there’s no let-up in sight. My other focus is trying to find more time for self-care. The newest addition to that routine is acupuncture. In addition to helping me find relief for the ongoing SI joint dysfunction that’s been plaguing me for years, it’s helping with my overall sense of well-being. I leave those sessions less anxious and more rested. My only regret is that I didn’t give it a try years ago.

As we kick off a new month, I garner new optimism for what lies ahead. (Even in the midst of a monster snow storm.) I hope all the beloved elderly people in my life can get vaccinated as soon as possible. I pray for the continued safety of all my family and friends. I look forward to the slow but steady arrival of more daylight in the days, weeks and months ahead. And I know my mood will eventually lighten just as it has through winters passed. In the meantime, I thank you for your ongoing support and look forward to days filled with more sunshine and more opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

Buh-Bye, 2020!

Bring on 2021!

Well, we made it to the last day of the year most of us would like to forget. While things won’t magically reset to the pre-COVID life we all miss when the clock strikes midnight, there’s still something empowering about ripping the last page off my 2020 desk calendar. (Yes, I realize I’m a little old school.)

Through these endless months of darkness, there have been some brief moments of light. James and I were able to join in two wedding ceremonies for two special couples this year – one we watched with a very small, socially-distant group at a Church; the other via Zoom. While there have been predictions about what’s being called a potential “COVID baby bust” in 2021, little bundles of joy did arrive in this altered world in 2020. Here in our all-too-quiet New York City, there were long walks and newbie running adventures in Central Park, along with a new appreciation for peaceful parts of the concrete jungle I hadn’t really explored despite living here for 12 years.

Of course, the most precious moments were those spent with Mom and Dad. Trust me, I realize how blessed we’ve been to share those together times in 2020. Especially when we know of the heartache experienced by so many – some within our own extended family. My heart goes out to all the families who lost fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, grandparents, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. My thoughts are also with the doctors, nurses and all the frontline heroes who have spent countless hours away from their families and so close to this devastating virus. Of course, I also send a heartfelt thank you to the essential workers who’ve kept businesses open, transit lines running and city services going so the rest of us could stay home. Finally, I offer my sincere gratitude for all my readers. Whether you’ve been following this blog since its beginning in 2011 or just started checking in this year, I appreciate you sticking with me through some very random topics ranging from new workouts to new ways of staying mentally healthy through a pandemic. 

I realize the first day of 2021 won’t look much different from the last of 2020. And I have no plans to hang up my masks or put away the hand sanitizer anytime soon. Yet, there is something about saying good bye and good riddance to this particular year that offers a spark of new hope in my heart. I close this final post of 2020 sending heartfelt wishes to you and your loved ones for a safe and healthy New Year ahead. Here’s to the times in the not-so-distant future filled with opportunities to once again have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! 

 

Eat. Trace. Sleep. Repeat.

Caffeine fix before the work day

Six weeks since my last post. Yikes. Aside from my summer hiatus when life was “normal,” I’ve never taken such a big pause between sharing my thoughts. But life is far beyond normal, and somehow time seems to stand still and race ahead at the same time. I do find comfort in the knowledge there are only three weeks left in this horrendous year. 

Writing has always been one of my escape mechanisms. During these past six weeks, however, I’ve simply been too tired to put more than a few sentences together. And it’s not just physical fatigue. This is the most mental exhaustion I can remember pushing through since I don’t know when. Of course, I realize I’m not alone. Especially since I hear more fatigue, fear and frustration in the voices of the people I speak with every day in my work with the Test & Trace Corps. Twenty weeks into the job I never could have dreamed having during my lifetime, the number of those voices has exploded. When our call center opened yesterday, there were 10,000 calls to be made to cases and contacts throughout Manhattan and the five boroughs.

My 2020 Survival Tools

So forgive me if this isn’t one of more eloquent posts. Like many New Yorkers and I imagine, most Americans, I’m tired. Tired in my body, heart and soul. So finding daily comforts has become increasingly important with each day I’m blessed to open my bloodshot eyes. As the official start of winter creeps closer, my 2020 self-care indulgences include wine, baths, Vitamin D supplements in addition to my daily multi-vitamin, lots of candles and anything scented with lavender. I encourage everyone to find your own creature comforts and moments of Zen – no matter how fleeting – whenever you can.

I don’t mean to sound so heavy. I do love the ability to talk with my fellow New Yorkers and know the Test & Trace program is helping many of them by providing everything from the phone number for the city’s mental health hotline to assistance with food and medication deliveries. I am beyond thankful I’ve gotten to see my parents this year, especially when I know many families have been separated since the pandemic began. I am thankful for my husband, family and friends who worry about my well-being. I am thankful for the doctors, nurses and researchers who keep fighting the good fight and the essential workers who keep our city open. And I look forward to celebrating another Christmas – even if it involves a virtual get-together with our usual holiday crowd – and of course, to ringing in the start of what has to be a better New Year.

Thank you for entertaining my random thoughts through these difficult months and for all the support you’ve offered from near and far. I wish all of my readers moments of peace and happiness during this strange holiday season. Here’s to a safe end to 2020 and all good thoughts for a 2021 filled with new chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Dark Days Ahead

I truly don’t know where the month went, but here we are on the last Workout Wednesday of October. Election Day is only six days away. In three nights, we turn the clocks back for the end of Daylight Saving time. And every day, I see the alarming statistics and hear stories that prove we’re nowhere near the end of struggling with a pandemic. While I’ve always considered myself an upbeat and optimistic person, 2020 continues to put us all to the test on just how much we can take.

In an effort to focus on the positive, I’d like to turn your attention to a crucial element in our health and wellness routine: self-care. I realize some of you are smirking and thinking, “Sure, Laura, and just when would you like me to fit that into my schedule?” Well, my repeat readers know when it comes to fitness, I’ve always believed 10 minutes of exercise is better than zero. The same can be said for finding moments of me-time -which may be more important than ever.

Here are a five things you can do in 10 minutes or less to de-stress:

  1. Leave your computer/work station and go into a different room for a change of scenery. (Close the door for extra solitude if you can.) If you have access to outdoor space, step outside for some fresh air.
  2. Make a cup of tea.
  3. Practice deep breathing / meditate.
  4. Stretch!
  5. Eat some dark chocolate.

Just so you know, I’m making more of an effort to follow my own advice as I continue my work as a contact monitor for the Test & Trace Corps. (My colleagues and I get two 15-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch during our shifts.) The number of cases is on the rise again in New York City and our call volumes have increased in recent weeks. Each day, we hear stories from our fellow New Yorkers different in age, gender, race and creed – but many share the same fears and frustrations. So many parents, teachers and students feel overwhelmed as they struggle to navigate this unprecedented school year. Healthcare workers continue their tireless efforts to care for the sick and worry about bringing anything home to their own families. Essential workers grind through their shifts and remote workers miss the socialization of office life. And many of our city’s seniors are scared and lonely, and need ongoing assistance with necessities including food and medication. After listening to these often emotional stories almost daily for the past 14 weeks, I’ve learned if don’t make time to shut off my mind for even just a few moments during the day, sleeping at night will be nearly impossible.

Meanwhile, I miss my extended family and friends and find myself feeling sad about the strange holiday season ahead. My hope is that each of us find one or two things that give us some peace and comfort throughout the darker, colder days ahead. For me, that means buying some warmer workout gear to keep up my running efforts as the days get colder and incorporating more mini-moments of Zen into the day.

I also encourage everyone to strive to follow a healthy diet, bundle up for those outdoor exercise plans, wash your hands often and of course, wear a mask! Here’s to getting a game plan in place for the new month ahead and hopefully finding more than just a few moments to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

 

One Strange October

Highlights of Octobers past… Boston, 2017

And so we turn the calendar to a Breast Cancer Awareness Month like no other.

As we kick off October, I find myself feeling more out of sorts than usual because I’m not gearing up for what’s been a favorite fall highlight since 2014. There’s no breast cancer awareness walk on my calendar. I completely understand why  fundraising walks around the country for all types of causes have been put on hold until at least 2021, but this absence only punctuates another aspect of “normal” that no longer exists thanks to COVID-19.

My repeat readers probably recall my journey in the fight against breast cancer started as a tribute to my Mom, a warrior survivor; and my dear high school friend Elizabeth, who sadly lost her battle with the disease in 2016. The experience changed dramatically in 2018 when the annual 39.3-mile trek as part of Avon39 Walk to End Breast Cancer morphed into a much shorter walk through Central Park as Avon began a new partnership with the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides campaign. The mission, however, remained the same: to raise awareness about a disease that is still the leading cancer-killer of women worldwide and support patients and their families through the fight. This year, the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer initiative has made changes for less crowd-centric fundraising efforts and the main push kicks off today.

2016

Like so many people, I’m trying to navigate a much different October path this year. My passion for helping in this fight remains, but there comes a point when each of us has to step back and acknowledge “I can’t do it all.” I would have loved to join the Pink Forward Step Challenge, but between my new job in the contact tracing world; caring for my elderly parents; planning for an upcoming move and trying to stay healthy – physically and emotionally – well, sometimes you just have to say no.

What I can do is make a donation to this year’s Making Strides of Central park 2020 campaign. However, I encourage those only with the means to do so to consider doing the same. I realize it’s been an extremely difficult year for so many people, especially on the financial front. I hear about these hardships almost daily as I reach out to COVID cases and contacts around my beloved city.

2015

While everything looks very different, the passions that drive our heart and soul can remain strong and steadfast. Finding a different way to channel that energy will continue to be a challenge as we push forward through these difficult days. All we can do is try our best each and every day and not give up hope for better times ahead and more chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

Happy Fall, Y’All!

Here Comes the Fall!

Wow. I blinked and somehow we made it to the first Workout Wednesday of fall. It’s nearly impossible to believe at this time last year, I was in the midst of peak week leading up to my first NPC competition. I still can’t believe how unbelievably different the world is this year.

While the mercury will register just shy of 80 degrees here in New York today, the past few days certainly felt like autumn and I found myself searching for heavier sweaters and socks to ward off some chilly air. Yet the bright sunshine and crisp air that greeted me on my morning runs also fueled me with new hope that better days are ahead for all of us as we start a brand new season.

I thought I’d kick things off season three of 2020 by reminding everyone of the few health perks found in a top fall favorite: pumpkins! While I recommend practicing moderation when it comes to enjoying pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie or pumpkin lattes, there are plenty of nutritional perks packed inside fall’s signature squash when enjoyed in its natural form:

  • Post-Workout Power! Bananas seem to get all the credit as a top source of natural energy, but pumpkins actually provide more potassium. One cup of cooked pumpkin has 564 milligrams of potassium compared to a banana’s 422 milligrams. A little extra potassium helps restore the body’s balance of electrolytes after a workout and keeps those muscles firing.
  • Good for Your Baby Blues…and Browns, Greens and Hazels, too!:  One cup of mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. Also, pumpkin is chock full of carotenoids, a fancy name for the compounds that create its orange color. One of those compounds is beta carotene, which has been linked to eye protection.
  • Keep Your Appetite in Check! Poor little pumpkin is often overlooked as a great source of fiber. A one-cup serving packs three grams or protein at only 49 calories. Countless studies show a fiber-rich diet can help you stay full longer so you eat more sensibly throughout the day.

If you have any recipes featuring the all-powerful pumpkin, please feel free to share! Also, don’t be shy about asking questions or offering ideas for mixing up your workout routine. Whatever is on your fall menu or exercise agenda, here’s to all of us embracing the season ahead filled with new chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! (Just stay safe out there!)

The Reluctant Runner

Always happy AFTER the run!

This Workout Wednesday marks exactly two weeks since my gym re-opened in New York City. While I’m beyond thrilled for the trainers and staff who are back in action after the five-month furlough, I have yet to step foot inside those concrete walls. To be honest, I’m just not ready in this ongoing COVID-19 world. To my fellow fitness fanatics who have been back to those favorite indoor workout haunts, I’d love to hear about your experiences so far.

While I look forward to your feedback, I’ll stick with my running efforts. I can’t say it’s been easy, and not just because of the shin splints I developed back in May after getting a little too aggressive with my speed and mileage in too short a period of time. (Another reason to kick that no-pain-no-gain mantra to the curb!) It’s been more of a mental challenge, and the reason is simple: I just don’t like to run.

Staying motivated to do anything you don’t particularly like is a struggle, but I do try to focus on the positives. First, running provides the calorie burn I crave so I don’t feel guilty about that second glass of wine with dinner. Second, tracking my progress using the Strava app since late April has helped. While I’ll always consider myself the tortoise and not the hare, I have noticed an uptick in my speed and the distance I can travel before my legs and lungs start screaming. Finally, while I can’t say I’ve experienced that “high” described by true runners who love the sport, I definitely have more energy to face the workday after getting those four miles in (along with one or two core-focused Tabatas and push-ups) first thing in the morning. Since my contact monitor job does involve sitting for much longer periods of time than I’m used to, getting the blood going first thing in the day has definitely had its perks.

I really do look forward to a time when I’m back in the weight room and back in front of a heavy bag. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding myself of the good I’m doing for my heart, body and spirit by sticking with the running / power walking regimen. As we all continue to muddle through a less-than-optimal year for all our pre-COVID “normal” activities, let’s remember to be kind to ourselves -and each other – and to be grateful for each day we wake up to do what we can to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

A Whole New World

Well, hello September. I hope this Workout Wednesday post finds you and your loved ones healthy and safe and stealing some moments of sunshine as another summer winds down. I thought I’d kick off another almost-fall season here at LauraLovesFitness with an update on how my world has changed in a way I never could have imagined.

I find it nearly impossible to believe it’s been roughly six months since New York City basically went into shut down mode. Only a few weeks before, I had decided to make a major career change and leave the world of corporate video production and hosting to become a personal trainer. When the gyms closed, I had no idea what I’d do next. I never could have imagined just a few months later I’d be using the journalism skills I learned during my years at Northwestern as part of the New York City Health + Hospitals Test and Trace Corps.

My official title is contact monitor. From Sunday through Thursday, I reach out to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 (cases) along with contacts they’ve identified. Sometimes I’m the first person to alert a neighbor he or she has been in close contact with a case. The purpose of each and every call is to conduct wellness checks, encourage the case or contact to follow the appropriate isolation or quarantine guidelines and also provide resources. That includes everything from providing the phone number for the city’s mental health hotline to setting up food or medication deliveries and informing my neighbors about the free hotel rooms available for those who need a place to isolate or quarantine safely.

It has been a challenging and rewarding experience so far. I’m able to do my work remotely, though there are other members of Test & Trace who go out into the community when multiple attempts to reach people by phone fail. Thanks to help from translators, I’ve communicated with my neighbors in many languages, including Spanish, Bengali, Russian and Mandarin. I talk to nervous parents of pediatric contacts as young as three years old and happily tell a 75-year-old case they can get back to the “new” normal on their last day of isolation or quarantine. While I do this work from my laptop, I “meet” with my supervisor and the rest of the contact monitors in my team for a virtual chat each morning. We also reach out to each other to vent after a particularly emotional call or on a day when we just need some extra support. We all look forward to the day when the 20 of us can meet in person.

As we muddle our way through a September like no other, my heart goes out to students, parents, teachers and administrators across the country who have either started or are gearing up for a first-of-its kind academic year. I also think of the gym owners and fitness professionals and those still struggling with whether they feel “safe” enough to return to their favorite workout spot. Then there are the struggling restaurant and small business owners; out-of-work Broadway actors and crew members; healthcare and essential workers; and pretty much everyone still doing their best to keep it together day after challenging day. Last but certainly not least, I think of all the victims of 9/11 and the families and friends who continue to mourn them as we approach the 19th anniversary of that horrific day.

No doubt we’re all in for a strange fall season. Here’s to hoping things improve a little each day and we simply do the best we can to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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