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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Golden Beach

July 1, 2012

Tags: water, movement, abalone, antibacterial, antifungal, asphalt, balance, barefoot walking, beach, beauty follows function, Black Beach, body, bone strength, California, coconut oil, danger, drowning, feet, force of water, fun, glitter, gold, Golden Beach, leather, Massachusetts, massage, mica, mineral, mood enhancer, petrolatum, petroleum-derived, Plum Island, rock, sand, sandals, shoe, shoe shine, silicate, skin, skin scrape, sparkle, submerging, sun, sun hat, Sunday walk, swimming, Vaseline, vitamin D, wading, walking, wave, wave breaker, workout

Today we went to Plum Island/Massachusetts for a long Sunday walk on the beach – and I nearly drowned. I can’t blame anybody but myself. I thought I had found an easy wading spot through the big rocks of a wave breaker – as my husband did the reasonable thing and walked around it. While I balanced on one foot, trying to find a landing spot for the other, a wave pulled the sand out under me, tossing me back and forth between the rocks like a toy – I have scrapes up and down my side to prove that I underestimated the force of water squeezing through a tight space. At least, I should have dropped my towel to be able to hold onto a rock with both hands. But I didn’t because one doesn’t throw out a still pretty good towel …

Although I had wanted to swim, I had not planned it in such a fashion. The nice couple that fished me out of my predicament before my husband even suspected that I was in danger, told me they knew there was a problem when my legs stuck out from the water higher than my head. In spite of total submerging, I did not even lose my sun hat! But I was pounded on the rocks like an abalone waiting to be served, and for a moment I feared I would drown in this ridiculous situation: feet up, head under water, trying to save an old towel.

Last winter, we had hiked Black Beach in California. This beach today was golden. Firstly, the sand is white with many sprinkles of yellow. And then, in the sun, I observed a beautiful spectacle: The incoming waves glittered and sparkled like gold. Silt was tumbling in with each breaking wave, and it must contain – all that glitters is not gold – mica. Mica is sheet silicate, a mineral. And then I saw the mica on the wet sand flash and shine, too. A really golden beach – or, at least, I call it Golden Beach now.

After my mishap, we continued walking the beach and the waves for several miles (me with that huge pink sun hat, and a good sunscreen applied to my legs). Walking barefoot on sand is about the best thing you can do for your feet – they get a much better massage and workout than walking in shoes and walking on asphalt. In the body, beauty follows function – and a well-used foot is a beautiful foot.

Walking at a seaside has other health benefits: fun and sun. Light induces the manufacturing of vitamin D under your skin, which helps you to stronger bones – to which the walking itself already attributes. Sun and water are easy mood enhancers.

- Only marginally related, but it still has to do with feet: For a time now I have observed the marvelous effects of coconut oil on the skin, its antifungal and antibacterial actions. I also noticed that my sandals now always look freshly shined – in spite that I never have the time or energy to shine shoes. It seemed as if the coconut oil from my feet would end up in my shoes and then – miraculously – wander to the outside leather, and make the dirt fall off. My shoes suddenly look so cared for.

Yesterday, I did an experiment: I slipped into some rather dirty old sandals after I had slathered coconut oil on my feet in the morning; the sandals were still very dusty from our last walk around the pond, on sand and gravel. And sure enough, I can already see, after a single application, that the trick worked here again: The shoes clean themselves from the inside out.

Remarkable as it is, I am more interested what it tells me about coconut on my skin: It will penetrate everywhere, and does it good healing work. Other than, say, Vaseline (or petrolatum), the petroleum-derived product. It covers an area of skin, but adds much less to the healing process.

Minimal Exercise Program

December 5, 2011

Tags: movement, anti-aging, arm exercise, back exercise, balance, ball – weighted, barefoot walking, bedridden, Black Beach, body pampering, bone mass, boredom, Boston, bowels - massaging, brushing teeth, cello, California, Chinese, constipation, daily exercise program, death, double chin, elderly, exercise program, exercises en-passant, falls in the elderly, family, fire, Five Tibetans, friends, garden, gentle exercise, German, gluten intolerance, gym machine, hip fracture, hypothermia, imbalance, immune-stimulating, immune system, injury, jogging, Kegel exercises, knee bends, leg strengthening, lower back pain, marathon, marriage, mindfulness, mindless exercise, minimal, Minimal Exercise Program, muscles, neck strengthening, osteopenia, osteoporosis, overexertion, painting, pelvic muscles, pinyin, pneumonia, pool, posture, reading, ruptured muscles, San Diego, sex, shadow boxing, soul pampering, spine, sports medicine, squeezing of shoulder blades, standing on one leg, swimming on dry, tai chi, tai ji, talking, tongue exercise, toning, traveling, triathlon, TV, upper back muscles, walking, warmth, writing, yoga

Reasons why I keep my exercise program as minimal as possible:

1. Exercise is boring.
2. Too much exercise may easily lead to injuries: We now have a medical specialty called “sports medicine”. If we didn’t overdo exercises, we would not need sports medicine. Using those modern gym machines while watching TV is a mindless enterprise. And as things go around, they come around – you could end up hurting yourself.
3. Definitely, there are more interesting things to do – playing cello, writing a book, reading tons of books, dabble with colors and brushes, being with family and friends, learning Chinese – to name a few.

On the other hand, I do have bad posture – inborn (many years of unrecognized gluten intolerance that weakened my muscles), and from years of being bedridden as a young person. Movement creates fire and warmth inside, without which we would not be alive. We need to move yes, but nowhere is it written that we need to jog or overexert ourselves in bad ways.

My exercise program changes all the time – I am always on the lookout for something faster and better. You might remember how much I liked the Five Tibetans – until I developed lower back pain. Recently I had to abandon my laps in the unheated Californian pool; the temperature got too low. I still jump in from time to time, just to get the immune-stimulating jolt of the cold water. But I can’t get my exercise that way anymore - danger of hypothermia and ruptured muscles.

Of course, back in Boston, I work in the garden and go to yoga classes, and have a house to tend to. Here, in this tiny apartment, I had nothing comparable – so far. Until last week , when I joined tai chi classes – or as it is called in proper pinyin Chinese: tai ji. In German, tai chi is called “shadow boxing” – and that describes well those flowing, artful movements I now try to learn. Emphasis on “try”: This is not my first time; in the past, I always had trouble remembering the sequence of movements. This time around, I will not even try to learn the sequence; I will just mimic my teacher and lose myself in the flow of gestures. Because, in the two more months we will stay in San Diego, how much can I really learn? Not much.

But in the first lesson, I already learned an important movement, which I now practice every time I pass by a mirror and notice how bent I have gotten up from my studies. Which makes two little exercises which I do in en-passant, not putting in extra time:

1. This squeezing of my shoulder blades that immediately makes me more upright. Firstly, it is a simple reminder; secondly, the squeezing loosens the muscles of the upper back and prevents that my head slowly vanishes between my shoulders like the head of a turtle in its shell.
2. Standing on one leg – especially while brushing my teeth, or waiting and whiling time away. This is good for balance, and for strengthening leg and pelvic muscles. Imbalance is what kills the elderly: Imbalance – fall – hip fracture – pneumonia – death; we physicians see it all the time. This exercise also increases bone mass in legs and spine, thus counteracting osteopenia and osteoporosis, thus preventing those nasty hip fractures. Standing on one leg is far more interesting and effective than Kegel exercises! Keeps your sex alive!

Not everything can be done on the go. So, I have this daily program – and don’t hold your breath! - each of these exercises takes less than a minute, and presently, I am doing six of them, each of them repeated 21 times. Twenty-one: That is the number of repetitions I have kept from the Five Tibetans. You can’t overdo much in twenty-one times, and twenty-one brings me just to the border of utter boredom.

1. Knee bends: Done wrongly, knee bends can hurt your knees. Therefore make sure that you are doing them right: Keep feet and knees together, keep knee caps over your toes, and don’t go deeper than you can easily do, but challenge yourself to go deeper with time. 21 times. Or, in the beginning, you might want to do this by holding on to something stable.
2. Arm exercise: Done with a small heavy ball. I have one of those weighted exercise balls – six pounds. When traveling, I am using my whale of a laptop – has nearly six pounds, too. Fill a plastic bottle with water (this is lighter), or find a heavy book. Slowly lift the ball (or whatever) with both hands and arms out-stretched, and bring it up above your head. Then bend your arms backward and down. Bring up your arms again, over your head and then down in front. Repeat this 21 times. It is good against arm flab, and strengthens the muscles of your upper back.
3. Back exercise: Stand tall. Take the ball in both hands behind you back and lift it upward 21 times. That will squeeze your shoulder blades and improves posture.
4. Swimming on dry: I started this after I had to leave the pool, because I missed the exercise that built up my upper back muscles. Come down on the floor on your belly, lift arms and legs slightly from the ground, and make swimming movements 21 times. A boon is that you are massaging your bowels in this position, which is good against constipation. Getting down on the floor daily acts also anti-aging.
5. Neck strengthening: This I do mornings and evenings in bed: Dig your heels and the lower part of your back head into the mattress. It feels like you arch your back in this position. Breathe in and out. It strengthens all back muscles, especially the upper back. It also works like a charm against a double chin.
6. Tongue exercise: This also helps to eliminate a double chin. Stretch out your tongue, 21 times.

One would think that a program this trifling would do nothing for the health of your body. On the contrary – I was never as toned and nimble as I am now, on this program. If however you are already doing triathlons or marathons: Stick with it, don’t listen to me … at least not until you come home injured. Then turn to my gentler method.

A big part of why this works is the mindfulness you practice all day: You stand on one leg while waiting for the bus. You get up from the computer and squeeze your shoulder blades. You are in the bathroom and stick out your tongue a few extra times. This program keeps you aware that you have a body, and your body needs attention and pampering, too. Moving your body gently pampers it. Lying down and doing nothing pampers your soul. There needs to be a balance between the two!

The other activity we do as often as we can, is walking. Here in San Diego, we have the beautiful Black Beach. If one removes shoes and socks and walks at the water line, in and out of the waves, it is great fun, and another great provocation to the immune system! And by walking and talking we keep our marriage afresh and alive.

To The Other Coast

October 2, 2011

Tags: order, airport, barefoot, California, cat, cello, character, East Coast, food, obesity, ocean, Otto - the cat, sabbatical, San Diego, sun, tomcat - castrated, To The Other Coast, traveling, vet, West Coast, Black Beach

We relocated to the other coast, yesterday – for a few months. We will be in San Diego for a sabbatical. Swapping places makes it possible.

Otto, the cat, turned out the best travel cat ever. He also turned out to be too heavy (which the vet had just told me, while I had bristled – after all, Otto had been even fatter when I got him. Besides, what does a castrated tomcat have to live for but food??). I schlepped him through three airports.

My friends all envy me – going to California, into eternal sun, to the fun state. Me, on the other hand, I am not really a California girl – can’t take much sun, and what I like for fun – I will have to see ... This morning, I took a cold sitzbath – but the water was not really cold. One makes up for sitting longer – no fun, really.

But because it is Sunday and the real work will begin only tomorrow, we walked along Black Beach barefoot. Lots and lots of people. The wonderfully cold ocean made me at last arrive here with my heart, too.

Now I will pick up a cello that a friend of a friend will lend me for the time here. What is not to love in California?
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

Tags - see also the non-captalized entries below!