Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Is laughter the best medicine?

Life is too short to be miserable, especially when you are over 60 and don't know how many years you've got left to enjoy yourself.  I had a great role model in my mother Joy, who certainly knew how to live up to her name.  No matter what life threw at her, she was able to laugh about it. When I think about my friends, the ones that I am closest to and the ones I feel most comfortable with are those who laugh at life and who can laugh at themselves.  Being with them always makes me feel better, even when life isn't going very smoothly.

Humour is of course a very individual thing.  Apparently when I was a child I would sit stony-faced when the clowns came on at the circus, and even now I don't really find slapstick humour funny.  I prefer situation comedies or humour based on strong characterisation.  I admit that there were slapstick moments in Fawlty Towers but the real humour for me came from the relationships between Basil, Sybil, Polly and Manuel.

Please don't bring on the clowns!

Although I'm not really a fan of Mr Bean, much preferring Blackadder, I did find Rowan Atkinson's contribution to the Olympics Opening Ceremony very entertaining.  I also enjoyed watching "Her Majesty" dropping into the stadium by parachute - that showed a very British sense of humour.

There have been a couple of times though when laughter wasn't what I really needed.  I had a hernia operation when I was living in Gibraltar and two male colleagues came to see me in hospital and "cheer me up".  Thanks, lads, when I have stitches across my stomach I really don't need you keeping me in stitches with your jokes!  A similar thing occurred when I tripped out running and had a muscular spasm.  One of my favourite comedies was on TV that night, but every time I laughed it hurt me, so I was sitting there trying not to laugh.

These are the exceptions.  At the end of the day nothing beats having a good laugh to make you feel healthier, happier and even younger.  Will somebody please put on the "Only fools and horses" DVD?

"Use it or lose it" - part 3

Your spirit or soul - what do those words mean to you?  If you are religious there will be obvious connotations and in the context of "Use it or lose it" no doubt you will be reflecting on the importance of faith in your life and especially as you get older.  Religion can be very comforting in your later years and with a strong faith you can overcome almost anything that life throws at you.

I confess to being not particularly religious, although I was brought up in a Church of England family and my grandfather was a priest.  I would like to believe that there is another life after this one, but I'm not totally convinced, so I believe in making the most of this life and living every day as if it might be your last one. I do have moral values though and try to behave in what I suppose many people would describe as a Christian way, no doubt as a result of my upbringing.

What doesn't help my religious beliefs are the wars that are fought in the name of religion: surely this goes against everything you are supposed to believe in? Religion shouldn't be about hatred, it should be about love. However I also acknowledge the good that many people do in the name of religion, the most powerful example in my opinion being Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Whatever your beliefs, I think the more positive you are the better it is for you.  There are countless stories of people beating serious illnesses through their positive attitude, one of them being my lovely friend Callie who thankfully has survived breast cancer.

On the other hand I had an uncle who always seemed to look on the black side of life and who had a very negative outlook.  Ask him about his latest holiday and he would say "It was all right, apart from the bad weather most days, and the car breaking down.  Our hotel room was too small and the food was dreadful."  My mother, who was his sister and his complete opposite, would say "We had a wonderful holiday.  The sun shone a lot and the people who ran the hotel were really kind and helpful.  It was good to eat out and not have to do any cooking." One of the best holidays of my life was when we took Mum to New England for her 80th birthday, as she so obviously had a great time and her enjoyment was contagious.
Did you hear the joke about the two knitters?  It had me in stitches!
We talk about people being in good spirits and I think that as we get older we should do more things that we really enjoy to raise our spirits.  Things that I find particularly uplifting are listening to a beautiful piece of music, reading a good book, watching a glorious sunset, travelling to foreign countries and spending time with my family.  All of these are good for my soul, as the more I do them the happier I feel. If I feel happy, then I am sure my happiness rubs off on other people.  When I see someone smiling, it usually makes me feel like smiling too.

Do you have anything in particular that you feel is good for your spirits and that would benefit other people? If so, please share it with the rest of us.


Monday, 30 July 2012

Use it or lose it - part 2

Today's  "Use it or lose it" is about your body and the importance of keeping fit as you get older.  My mother was my inspiration, as she was still going for long walks and playing badminton in her eighties.

When we were living in London John and I belonged to Serpentine Running Club, so we were both running on a regular basis even in our sixties.  Living in Spain we find it too hot to go running in the summer months, but we go out walking several times a day with our dog, as well as walking into the town centre for shopping or to meet friends.  What I have noticed though amongst friends of a similar age is that, because they have a car and live in the countryside, their walking is limited to a gentle stroll from their car to the shops or restaurant.  This means that  they don't have the stamina that John and I have.

Don't forget that your heart is a muscle and still needs regular exercise to keep it in good shape: you don't have to run marathons, but regular walking will help to keep you fit and help to keep your heart healthy.

Weight-bearing exercise is especially important for women after the menopause to help them avoid osteoporosis.  Walking is one of the best forms of exercise in this respect and has the advantages of being easy to do and cheap, but dancing and low-impact aerobics are also good.

Strength training is another important element in building bone density, but don't panic as I'm not talking about using heavy weights and building up huge muscles.  You don't even have to use weights for this as you can use resistance bands or just your own body weight as in push-ups.  If you do want to use free weights, I would recommend going to a gym in the first instance to learn good technique, but then you can continue using them at home.

This discussion is about keeping your body in good condition, which includes suppleness as well as stamina and strength.  When I was living in London I regularly went to Pilates and yoga classes in my local gym.  I now use fitness videos at home, though once my Spanish has improved I will look for a Pilates class locally as I enjoy exercising in a group. Again, I would recommend doing some Pilates classes in a gym if you are a novice before trying to do it at home, to ensure that you are doing the exercises correctly.  Even doing simple stretches on a daily basis will help to keep your body flexible - I like to boast that I can still touch my toes!

Remember that exercise doesn't have to be boring: I have some Zumba videos and have great fun trying to dance along to them, though our dog Lisa gives me some funny looks!  The important things to remember are to include Stamina, Strength and Suppleness in your exercise programme for overall fitness, to build up your fitness slowly, to consult with your doctor if you have any medical problems and/or if you are over 40 and to learn the correct techniques if you are a beginner before exercising at home.

Are you over 60?  What exercises do you enjoy doing to keep your body in good condition?

Use it or lose it - part 1

"Use it or lose it" is of particular significance to those of us who are over 60 - or are heading there rapidly.  I have already worked out what I will say in "Use it or lose it" parts 1 and 2, which will be about mind and body.  I am hoping that some other blogger will offer to guest blog for me and write about spirit or soul.  (Please, pretty please!) Alternatively, can anyone point me to an appropriate blog for part 3?

I think we all expect and accept that we will have a few problems with our short-term memory as we get older.  I remember sitting with a group of running friends when we were all in our forties and fifties, talking about "what's her name?".  We all knew whom we were talking about, but what was her name?   "I think it begins with M" was my contribution.  "Yes! Mary?  Marie?" was one response.  "Marianne?" " Melissa?"  We eventually agreed that it was Maureen and sighed with relief that our memories weren't too bad.

But is it inevitable?  Is there anything we can do to improve things?

6 down - 5 letters beginning with B

My mother always enjoyed doing crosswords and would sit with her "elevenses" of a cup of coffee and a biscuit every morning while trying to complete the crossword in her daily newspaper.  She could also beat everyone at Scrabble and - though sometimes we accused her of making up words - they were always in her dictionary.  Going into her eighties, Mum was still very sharp and aware  and it was only when I noticed that she was no longer doing the crossword at the age of 84 that I realised she was starting to age.  Sadly she died in her 85th year, but even at the end she didn't lose her sense of humour and love of life.

John and I didn't know much Spanish when we decided to move to a small Spanish town where hardly anybody speaks English.  We go to Spanish lessons twice a week with four British friends who are all over the age of 60.  We don't find it easy, and it is made more challenging by the fact that our Spanish teacher doesn't speak any English, but we agree that it is good to learn another language even at our advanced age.

So is it important to exercise your mind?  I think it is just as important as exercising your body and it helps to stave off boredom when you are no longer working.  Learn a new language.  Do a crossword or other puzzle. If you want to watch TV then watch quiz shows and see if you can beat them.  University Challenge anyone?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bloggers Tag

Today is a bit of fun for those of us who are taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  Thanks to Susan Wilson for choosing me as one of her 11 bloggers to play ‘Bloggers Tag’. I’m only too happy to oblige! 

First the rules:
  1. Post rules
  2. Answer the question your taggers sent you or create new ones, the choice is yours.
  3. Tag eleven people
  4. Tell these people they have been tagged.
And now the questions:
What gets you out of bed each day?
Every other day I have to get out of bed to walk our dog Lisa, as my husband John and I take it in turns to take her out first thing. However, even if it's John's turn to walk Lisa, I still have to get up, as my task on alternative mornings is to make breakfast!  What also gets me out of bed is the sunshine, which is a bonus for those of us who live in Spain.
 If an alien landed on earth, what would your top tip ‘for living here’ be?
You probably think that we're all a bit weird, but remember that we think you're strange too, so let's all live in harmony and accept each other for what we are.
3 What is your ‘happy song’?
I have a couple: "Dancing Queen" by Abba always makes me want to get up and dance. I am also a Queen fan and chose "Don't Stop Me Now" for my entrance when John and I got married: it was the second marriage for both of us.
4 Do you have a special place real or imagined?
I enjoy sitting out on our balcony, looking at the Sierra de Santa Ana and Sierra del Carche, especially in the evening when the sun is setting.

New Year's Eve over Santa Ana
5 What childhood fable, fairy tale or movie stretched your imagination and sticks with you today?
I loved "The Secret Garden" as a child, and even now I enjoy discovering "secret" gardens.  As an adult living in London I used to run in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens with my friends and there I found my own secret garden.  We used to stand admiring "our" garden (a good excuse to catch our breath!) and marvel at the number of people who used to walk straight past, without even glancing at it.  I visited the Royal Alcazar in Seville recently with my daughters, and we all enjoyed strolling through its delightful gardens.
6 What is your idea of a perfect evening?
During the summer months in Jumilla, where we now live, the Ruta del Vino holds a series of concerts in local wineries.  Nothing beats listening to good music while enjoying some of the best Jumilla wines accompanied by tasty local dishes, and surrounded by friends and neighbours all having a good time. Especially on a lovely summer's evening.
7 As a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
When I was younger I wanted to be a ballet dancer and although I never had any lessons I would practise my pirouettes in the back garden.  However I also wanted to be a writer, so at least I have achieved one of my ambitions.
8 What is your favorite type of movie?
Not surprisingly, given some of my previous answers, I love musicals.  I enjoy the singing, the dancing and above all the feel-good factor.
9 If you won the lottery would you tell anyone?
Apart from my family and close friends, I don't think so.  I would like to help my favourite charities of course, but I don't think I could handle begging letters.
10 If you could visit anywhere in the world where would it be?
The Taj Mahal as it's such a romantic story apart from the sheer beauty of the place.
11 Do you believe in Destiny?
I believe that you make your own destiny.  Having said that, sometimes I get the feeling that something was just meant to be.  What I find fascinating in life is that when you have to make a choice, what happens next is governed by your choice.  We will never know what would have happened if we had reached a different decision.
You've been tagged!:
If you've been tagged before, or if this isn't your type of thing, I won't be offended if you choose not to participate. Well, if I'm being honest, I'll only be a teeny bit offended!  I like the idea of expressing thanks though to those of you whose blogs I've enjoyed, through tagging you here.  Hope you don't mind!
  1. Johnson talks about sharing unplanned abundance: this happens a lot to us in Spain, especially during the fruit season!  http://toscasac.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/sharing-unplanned-abundance.html
  2. Jackie Bledsoe, thanks for the warning - can I wait until after this Challenge to follow your advice? http://jackiebledsoe.com/is-sitting-killing-you/
  3. Cheri describes her blog as Random thoughts on life......  I guess I am a bit random too!  http://cherisidlechatter.blogspot.co.uk/
  4. Keith at  http://www.keithaddison.co.uk/sleeplessinnewcastle/ always gives me something to think about when I read his posts.
  5. Harriet, I totally agree with your thoughts on the Olympics Opening Ceremony.  We stayed up late to watch it (Spain is one hour ahead of the UK) and loved it.  http://www.harrietstack.com/  
  6. Lena has some encouraging words on finding your own style: look at her photos of the plus-size blogger.  Far more inspiring than photos of skinny models! http://www.lenapenteado.com/blog/
  7. Dot gives some good advice on natural health and I will be giving my friend the link to her post on Treatment for Arthritis:  http://dothurleyblog.co.uk/
  8. Nikki has had to face challenges in her life that most of us thankfully haven't experienced.  Two of my cousins have Cystic Fibrosis so this resonated with me:  http://itsslimply-life.blogspot.co.uk/
  9. Laurie's latest post is on a topic close to my heart: words.  The blog is mainly about Pilates and riding, though I recommend Pilates for any sports person, anyone with back problems - in fact, for anyone!  https://coreconnexxions.wordpress.com/  
  10. Lori gives lots of good advice about getting fit naturally and I like the helpful photos and videos: http://www.get-fit-naturally.org/
  11. Jes In The World combines two interests of mine: travel and photography.  http://www.jesintheworld.com/
 The above are just a few of the many excellent blogs taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge: if you haven't already seen them, why not check them out now?

Friday, 27 July 2012

Do clothes make the woman?

Why do we wear clothes?  First of all to preserve our modesty and, for those of you who aren't so modest, it is also to adhere to the law.  There are of course nudist beaches and resorts, but as the Naked Rambler knows only too well, wandering around without any clothes on in public can get you arrested and even imprisoned.

Apart from these reasons, I wear clothes to be comfortable and because I like the colour, pattern or shape of a particular outfit.  I also try to wear clothes that flatter me, which can be particularly challenging if you are  petite like me.  When I was younger and slimmer than I am now, I would often look in the children's department for clothes to fit me.  There are of course specialist brands, but that can limit your choices at times.  Even they can let you down, when you find that their perfect short trouser length has suddenly become a little longer!

As a petite whose waistline has decided to disappear, I have been looking at several style and fashion blogs for suggestions about which styles will suit my new figure.  Apparently a "column of colour" will help to slim me down and make me look taller, as will vertical lines. However no belts, no horizontal lines and no wrap dresses in future.  Oh dear!  Here are some examples of these from my current wardrobe:

Wrap around dress = No
Horizontal stripes and belt = No No

You know what?  Rules are made to be broken.  I like both these outfits and I feel comfortable in them, so maybe next time I buy a new outfit I will follow the rules for dressing as a petite.  Maybe.

Little and large

When I was a young women I didn't mind being petite, as I was petite in every direction.  However now that I'm older I am becoming petite and podgy, which is not a great look.  I blame my hormones: my Mum told me I was petite and podgy in my early teens when my hormones first started playing up.  I have been battling with middle age spread for several years, starting with the menopause, and I think I'm definitely on the losing side. 

Part of the reason why I would like to be slim again is that when you are just over 5' tall every extra pound around your middle shows.  My next post will look at ways of disguising this. 

The main reason though is that abdominal fat isn't good for your health, especially as you become older, so I am going to try out a new diet.  I know!  I have already blogged about not following fad diets, but this one sounds healthy to me.   

Here is a summary of foods to eat:

2 servings of cruciferous vegetables a day, which includes broccoli, asparagus, spinach, beetroot and radishes.

1 piece of citrus fruit plus at least one other piece of fruit a day.

2 servings of insoluble fibre a day, which includes wholemeal bread, barley, couscous, brown rice, whole-grain cereal and wheat bran, seeds, carrots, cucumbers, courgettes, celery and tomatoes.   That's ok for me, apart from the tomatoes!

Add a portion of protein to every meal, plus keep up your intake of calcium-rich foods such as cheese, yoghurt, almonds and skimmed milk.

Use olive oil or rapeseed oil for cooking and salad dressings.

Add 2-3 tablespoons a day of ground flaxseed or sesame seeds to smoothies, yoghurt or salads, or stir into cottage cheese or sprinkle over steamed vegetables.
Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.

These are the foods to avoid: 

Foods high in saturated fats.

Refined or processed foods.

Caffeine - I already drink decaffeinated coffee, which tastes quite good here in Spain .

Soya products.  Spanish supermarkets aren't exactly overflowing with vegetarian food so this one is easy.

Alcohol.  Oh dear!  I live in Jumilla, which is the "city of wine".  The information I was reading did talk about the effect on the liver after two drinks a day, so maybe I will allow myself one glass of wine a day.  After all, there is a school of thought that says wine in moderation is good for your health!

I won't be eating less food over the next few weeks, but I will be following these guidelines.  I will measure my waist and stand on the scales today (the result will be a secret between me and my scales!) and check them in a few weeks' time.  The verdict will be published on this blog with one of the following titles:

My middle-age spread has miraculously disappeared; OR

Still little and still large!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Release your inner child

As adults - particularly when we are women of a certain age - we are supposed to be the mature and sensible ones.  We are expected to behave in a certain way, which for those of us with children means not embarrassing them.  My daughter Kate gave me a mug with the words "If you're not embarrassing your children, you're not enjoying yourself".  I don't know whether that was meant to inspire me to enjoy myself more, but that's the way I have taken it.

I should add one proviso: if you still have children at school, please avoid showing them up in front of their peers.  However my children are now adults and don't seem to mind if I behave in what might be considered an inappropriate way, such as embarrassing dancing.  I could win gold medals for dancing in an embarrassing way, but I love letting my hair down (not literally, as it's short) and showing off my moves on the dance floor.

I also adore going on a swing - and children have been known to wait patiently to take their turn while the sixty-year old woman tries to see how high she can swing.  I don't know what they think, and I don't care.  I am letting my inner child have a good time.

Adults playground in Haydon Bridge
A couple of years ago we went back to the UK for my nephew's wedding and stayed in Haydon Bridge for the weekend.  We could have stayed at Langley Castle Hotel where the wedding was being held, however the B & B in Haydon Bridge where we had the whole place to ourselves was more fun and a lot cheaper!  One of the highlights of the weekend was going out for a walk and discovering the playground in the photo - eventually my daughters had to drag me away!

What do you enjoy doing that could be considered child-like?  Do you ever release your inner child and have fun doing so?  It's a great way to relieve any stress and in my case it scores high on the feel-good factor.

Monday, 23 July 2012

My schizophrenic wardrobe

I've read lots of good advice on other people's blogs about building a stylish wardrobe - check out the links and you will see what I mean.  Several factors should be taken into consideration, such as your current lifestyle, your shape and your colouring, as well as personal preferences.  Organised ladies have several beautifully co-ordinated capsule wardrobes, which may include one for their working life if they haven't retired; a more casual selection of clothes for their leisure time and some glamorous clothes for nights out.  They group their clothes so that they can immediately see what top goes with whatever skirt or pair of trousers they plan to wear on a particular day. You can bet your bottom dollar that they never wail "I've got nothing to wear"!  I admire them, I would like to emulate them, but although the sensible me tells me to choose neutral colours and classic styles - the frivolous, irresponsible me says "Look at that gorgeous colour.  Don't you love that pattern?"  and another unsuitable purchase ends up in my wardrobe.

You can see what I mean if you look at this section of my wardrobe.  Lots of difference colours and patterns, with a token beige jacket as a gesture towards a capsule wardrobe.  Skirts mixed in with tops and jackets, none of them really going with each other, this is hardly a wardrobe to brag about.  Looking at this, would you have a clue what my personal style is?  I thought not.

Now that I work from home, I don't have many smart daytime clothes.  I guess I am a smart casual person at best, with a few clothes for going out, and mainly trousers and tops.  What does your wardrobe say about you?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Cutting Out Column 3 = Pounds Lost

Today I am very pleased to introduce Jacqui, from  "Fancy a coffee and a chat?" who kindly agreed to be a guest blogger.  Jacqui raises some very interesting points about the dangers of hidden fats.

Over the years my wardrobe has increased in size due the need to store a whole range of clothes in a whole range of sizes. When I put on a few more pounds which required the next dress size up, I hung onto my previous clothes for when I lost those few pounds and could get back into them.

It didn’t happen!

I played golf 3 times a week and walked 2 dogs 3 times a day, I walked miles and miles and miles. Surely this would shift those stubborn pounds.
It didn’t happen!

There seemed to be some magic correlation between the increasing years and the increasing dress size. I couldn’t reverse the trend. I was the heaviest I’d ever been and desperate not to move up into the next dress size.

Then it happened. Life hit me like a brick wall.

Routine tests after an accident, where, by some quirk of fate I actually drove into a brick wall with my car, showed me to have a higher than normal cholesterol level, my triglyceride were at +3. My doctor told me I needed to get that back to normal or they would put me on statins. I’d never heard of statins but as an ‘under 60 but getting there fast’ I felt too young to be taking medication long term for a condition that can be controlled by eating properly. All I had to do was dramatically reduce my intake of saturated fats.

I agreed that I would try and turn it around in 3 months and scheduled a follow up cholesterol test for the end of September.

As soon as I got home I fired up my laptop and started to read up on saturated fats. I needed an easy reference to foods I could have and more importantly, those I needed to avoid. I found this list:  http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Low-Fat-Diet-Sheet.htm

I got my husband onside with my new eating regime and we went shopping for wholemeal bread, pasta & rice. We bought Quorn to replace mince in spaghetti bolognese. We bought a sack of potatoes and baked them all so I only needed to reheat in the microwave. We bought a block of Edam and grated the entire lot and stored in the fridge so I could have a little sprinkling of cheese when the need arose. (Oh how I love cheese, I miss cheese but I’m learning). I replaced bacon rashers with turkey rashers, vegetable oil with sunflower oil, margarine with high polyunsaturate spread. I checked every label for the content of saturated fat. It took 3 times longer to do our shopping but in the end I had food for a week that was as low in fat as it could get.

The recommended daily intake of saturated fat for an adult woman is 20gms. I had been seriously over this amount. For example, when I sat down with a good book, a frothy coffee and 2 short bread fingers, I was having over 12 gms of saturated fat. More than half my daily allowance in 2 biscuits! We had been buying a frozen fruit lattice pudding from the supermarket. It didn’t seem that big and we would have half each with a little drop of cream after dinner sometimes. I looked at the label, each serving was 6 gms of saturated fat, not too bad until I read one serving was one sixth of the pudding, we were having half each – a staggering 18 gms of saturated fat in one pudding, not even a whole meal.


And so, for 4 weeks I have lived a low fat diet. I don’t count calories, I don’t weigh food, I don’t measure portion sizes. I have simply cut out anything from column 3. I have loads from column 1 and I have column 2 in moderation.

I am not hungry. I am not bored with my meals and I am not constantly thinking of food. I have found a  fat-free recipe for banana cake where the banana is used instead of fat and apple sauce is used as a sweetener. I have found a no-fat recipe for chocolate brownies which means I can have something nice with a coffee when I get the cravings.

And I drink water instead of fizzy drinks. I have more than trebled my daily intake of water.

And the result – I have dropped a dress size in 4 weeks. At first I kept a daily diary of everything I ate, but now I know what I can eat and don’t feel I even need to keep a record of it.

Today I’ve had:
Breakfast – muesli with fresh fruit (sliced banana & strawberries) and semi-skimmed milk
Lunch – roast chicken salad sandwich (brown bread of course, no margarine, no salad dressing)
Dinner – Salmon fillet with vegetable stir-fry and asparagus follows by low-fat yoghurt.

And as a reward for writing this I can now look forward to a coffee and a slice of banana cake.
It really is that simple. Today I wore a blouse and a pair of trousers that have not been out of my wardrobe in over 2 years. I have a new set of clothes that haven’t cost me a penny.

Finally I have broken the relationship where my size increases with my age.

Finally, it did happen!

And it feels really, really good.

Thanks, Jacqui, for your inspiring words.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Does dieting make you fat?

Many women notice that their weight starts to gradually increase once they have gone through the menopause, and in particular that their waists are thickening.  Some women accept this with resignation "it's normal at my age" and start filling their wardrobes with baggy clothes.  There's nothing wrong with this, as the important thing is to feel comfortable both with your body and with what you wear.   In particular do not get stressed about your weight - stress is bad for your blood pressure!  As we get older, we usually look better if we are slightly over-weight rather than being thin to the point of looking haggard.  The only danger is in being too complacent and allowing your weight to increase to the stage where it becomes a health risk.

Other women's reaction is that it's time to go on a diet.  If you decide to do this you are spoilt for choice and your main problem is deciding which of the latest diets is the most suitable for you.  How about the 5-Factor Diet, supposedly followed by Lady Gaga, Megan Fox and Kate Beckinsale?  Maybe you like the sound of the Zone Diet or South Beach Diet, both of which are also favoured by many celebrities?  The Dukan Diet has its followers, and of course there are the old favourites, Weight Watchers and Slimming World.  The best overall diet of 2012, according to 22 experts in diet and nutrition in the US, is the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean Diet is also ranked highly, which is good news for those of us living in Spain!

Wait a minute though before you begin your brand new diet - and reflect on the title of this post: Does dieting make you fat?  Surely it makes you slim? Geoffrey Cannon wrote a book in 1983 with the title "Dieting makes you fat", which became an international best-seller.  The basic premise was that, although initially you lose weight on a diet by consuming fewer calories, dieting also lowers your metabolism, meaning you are more likely to put on weight again.

This goes back to the days of our cavemen ancestors when our bodies were programmed not to starve.  If you don't eat enough food, your body tries to conserve its fat stores by lowering your metabolism until you get enough food again. When you get back to eating normally after a diet, this lower metabolic rate means you usually put the lost weight back on again and sometimes you gain even more weight.  So you then decide to go on yet another diet.  Yes, it's that infamous yo-yo effect.

Even worse, diets that exclude specific food groups may be endangering your long-term health.  Low fat diets, for example, can ignore the fact that our bodies need a minimal amount of fat to be healthy and that some fats are actually essential for good health.  High protein diets diets may be fine for short-term weight loss but long-term they can be prejudicial for your health.

Most diets are based on the simple premise that if calories consumed are greater than calories burnt, you are going to gain weight.  If on the other hand calories consumed are less than calories burnt you should lose weight, the problem being that the emphasis is usually on consuming less calories, with just a passing reference to exercise, and too many diets start with a very restricted phase one.

I am not medically qualified and I am not a dietician, however many so-called dieting "experts" are no more qualified than I am to advise you.  What I do know from my research is that a combination of healthy eating and exercise is the best method of gradually losing weight and then maintaining a healthy weight for life and that the worst thing you can do is go on a crash diet.  Losing weight slowly and healthily should be your aim, combined with a sensible exercise programme.  If you have a particular health problem such as high blood pressure or diabetes, consult your doctor as well as looking on specialised websites such as these:
http://www.bhsoc.org/Healthy_Eating.stm and

I would love to hear about your dieting experiences and welcome any tips to help others.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

I've got nothing to wear!

I've got nothing to wear!  Any male readers who stray into this blog by mistake will no doubt raise their eyebrows at this statement, especially if they have a wife, daughter, mother or lover (hopefully not all four!) with a wardrobe bulging full of clothes.  So what triggers this cry of woe?  What are the reasons why so many of us feel that we have nothing to wear?

1.  I've got nothing to wear that fits me. 

Unless you wake up in the morning to find that you've grown several dress sizes overnight or (even less likely) that you have miraculously shed your excess weight while sleeping, this is highly unlikely to be true.  Of course you may be a hoarder like me and have lots of clothes in your wardrobe that used to fit you ten years ago but are way too small now.  If so, it's time to be ruthless: give any that are still in  good condition to the charity shop and throw away the rest.  If you can squeeze into some clothes but they are bursting at the seams, either start exercising and eating sensibly until they fit you or follow the previous advice.  If you have lost weight, then see if you can alter the clothes to fit you properly or if, like me, you're no seamstress get a professional to do it for you.

2.  None of my clothes are suitable for my current lifestyle.  

This may be true if you have a wardrobe full of clothes that were suitable when you worked in an office and you have now retired.  My life is a lot less formal now that my only job is sitting in front of a PC at home, so I have gradually replaced my suits with more casual outfits.  I have kept a couple of suits though that can be worn as separates with my casual clothes, so use your imagination before discarding everything as unsuitable.

3.  The colours don't suit me.

I can't wear this old thing again!
Well this could be true, especially if you are prone to making impulse purchases in the sales!  Also, as we grow older, colours that we used to be able to wear easily can sometimes start looking a bit too bright, or maybe a bit too dull, for our colouring.  You may be able to disguise this by wearing a scarf in more flattering colours near your face, or by putting a cardigan in a colour that suits you over the offending garment.  Also, beware of colour analysis.  I had my colours "done" twice: the first time was when a work colleague recommended someone, and the consultant told me I was a Winter; the second time was when I was made redundant from a different job and I had a free colour analysis, and this consultant told me that I was an Autumn.  Hmm.  Luckily I didn't buy lots of new clothes based on my colour swatches, as I realised that some of the colours did nothing for me, otherwise most of my wardrobe would have been suffering from this symptom!  There are of course professionals out there who do give good advice, but don't take it all as gospel.

4.  I'm bored with my clothes.

This could very well be the real reason behind your complaint.  It's too easy to thrown on the same clothes every week and wear them in exactly the same way.  Why not lay out your usual outfits on your bed (if the bed is big enough!) and see if you can change them around a bit, or get a few different items out of your wardrobe to wear with them?  If you usually get dressed in a hurry, it's all too easy to put on the red top that you always wear with that particular black skirt or pair of trousers.  Find a different coloured top and you won't feel bored any more, as you will now have a brand new outfit.

Any other reasons why you have nothing to wear?  Please share them with us.

I'm a doctor - trust me!

First of all, I want to make it clear that I don't want to knock the medical profession.  After all, my uncle was a doctor, my cousin is a doctor and many of my friends have been doctors.  However they are very busy people, and they can't possibly know everything there is to know about maintaining good health when their chief priority is dealing with bad health. At times they must be tempted to just scribble out a prescription and buzz the next patient in, especially when they know that the medication works.

I have a friend - let's call him Ian.  Ian has been a diabetic for 20 years and when he was first diagnosed he ventured to ask his doctor about the Low GI Diet.  His doctor dismissed this by saying it was far too complicated, so Ian has been insulin-dependent ever since.  Until recently, when his wife discovered a book about the Low GI Diet that wasn't complicated, and since then Ian's health has improved and he has been able to reduce the insulin.  It is still early days, but Ian is hopeful that this is working - if only he had been given this help 20 years ago!

As we get older, the chances of developing age-related medical conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, joint pains, cancer - and of course diabetes - start to increase. Your doctor is there to help you when such problems arise, however who is there to help prevent such conditions occurring in the first place?  Only one person can do that - you.

My father had high blood pressure and was on medication until the day he died prematurely at the age of 47.  When my doctor told me that my blood pressure was a bit too high, I decided to lower it the natural way rather than relying on medication - after all, at the end of the day it hadn't prevented my father's death.  I use natural supplements, relaxation techniques, regular exercise, a healthy diet and sensible weight control amongst other methods.  Obviously I check my blood pressure on a regular basis, as if it does get too high I will need to go back to my doctor, but I see that as a last resort.

Of course we all need to use our common sense here: if you discover your blood pressure is dangerously high, please see your doctor immediately and don't try to self-medicate! Be wary of self-diagnosis too - in particular don't use the internet to replace your highly qualified doctor.  I am talking mainly of preventing these so-called age-related conditions in the first place, as well as using natural methods to improve your health if problems occur, hopefully allowing your doctor to either reduce or even stop your drugs.

When I worked as a complementary therapist, I always advised my clients to tell their doctor about their treatment and never to reduce their medication without their doctor's consent. After all, I  am not medically qualified and the key word here is "complementary" - I see natural medicine as working alongside conventional medicine rather than replacing it.

However I am a great believer in preventative methods such as regular exercise, a healthy and varied diet, and relaxation techniques.  Surely it is better to prevent, or at least delay, age-related health problems in the first place?  The internet is an excellent source of information, though please don't take everything that you read on a website as gospel (even this one!).  Research widely, and remember that some websites exist mainly to sell their own products, even though their general advice may still be very good.

If in doubt, do talk to your doctor.  You may need to be persistent if you want to use natural remedies, but emphasise that you aren't talking about replacing conventional medicine, just reinforcing it the natural way. He or she may not know everything, and if you have an old-school doctor they may be sceptical about complementary medicine, however doctors are one of the few professionals that most people still trust!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

My best anti-ageing tip ever

I remember sitting on a bus in Newcastle when I was in my 30s, and glancing at the woman opposite me who looked like she was in her 60s.  Her mouth was turned down and every line on her face was drooping in a downwards direction.  I vowed then that I wouldn't look as miserable when I was her age.

My next memorable experience was seeing a photo of myself doing a cross-country run when I was in my 40s.  The photographer took me by surprise and the result was a picture of me looking as grim as I felt.  You could have pinned it up in a Police station with the caption: "Wanted.  This woman is on the run and is dangerous. Do not approach!"  it was that bad. I looked so old and haggard that after that I always ran with a smile on my face. Even when I was feeling weary towards the end of the London Marathon, I managed to smile when I saw my friend, and the resulting photo was surprisingly good considering I had reached mile 18.

These experiences taught me one important lesson about getting old: smile and you instantly look years younger.  Eventually you end up with the face you deserve, so if you are always friendly and smile at people at least any lines will be laughter lines.  You may not be able to afford or even want a face lift, but if you smile at people your eyes look brighter, your face is instantly uplifted and you look a lot younger.  Not only that, it makes you feel good and it makes other people feel even better.  Plus - an additional bonus for those of us who are no longer earning money - a smile costs nothing!  Please share your own anti-ageing tips with us, especially those that don't involve spending lots of money on expensive creams.

Michelle Obama not looking too happy!

Michelle looking her usual lovely self!

Fashion savvy - or fashion victim?

Many of us over 60s are still very interested in fashion and don't want to be seen as frumpy and dumpy, but how do we avoid falling into the trap of slavishly following the latest trends and becoming a fashion victim instead?

Take the current trend for wearing fluorescent colours.  I like bright colours and could easily be tempted, but a lime green top or shocking pink blouse worn next to an ageing face is not a flattering look.  Trust me, I've tried them on!  I remember fondly the purple miniskirt and shocking pink top that I wore in the sixties, but I was young enough to get away with it then.  Sadly, that is no longer the case!

If I want to indulge myself and succumb to this trend  then I need to restrict myself to brightly coloured bangles or maybe a lime green clutch bag.  As for wearing bright colours on my bottom half - even if I was still skinny it wouldn't flatter my legs and it is a fashion trend best avoided.  As is the trend for patterned trousers, unless I want to look like a clown.

Motel Jordan Stretch Denim Jeans
Motel Jordan Stretch Jeans from Next
Do not be tempted!

I subscribe to newsletters from Wallis as they have a good petite range, but I need to bear in mind that not all  of their styles will necessarily suit me.  It is good to have an idea about the latest fashions, but although I like their bold, bright print collection "Hot Tropics", I have to be realistic and accept that some styles will simply overwhelm me as I am only 5' 1".

I also buy a weekly Spanish magazine called Mia, which is particularly useful as, if I see clothes that I like, I know that I can buy them over here.  Last week's magazine featured "plumas" (feathers) as one of the latest trends: needless to say I turned that page over quickly.  Any ladies of a certain age reading this - believe me, a feathery skirt won't make you look fashionable, it will just make you look ridiculous.  This is a trend for teens and twenties only, in my opinion.  Do you agree?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Saturday night out, Spanish style

Occasionally we decide to blow the budget and have a special night out together, like we did last Saturday.  We paid the princely sum of 20€ each for tickets to "Música entre Vinos" at Bodegas Bleda, which was one of a series of concerts held in local wineries.

Our friends Lesley and John kindly picked us up at 8pm and drove us there as the bodega is out of town.  The evening was supposed to begin at 8pm with a tour of the bodega, but we have visited it before so we didn't need to do the tour.  Besides which, this is Spain and punctuality is pretty rare!

The concert by Oché Cortés was very good: it was billed as an evening of "boleros", which we realised was music that you can cha-cha to as soon as an elderly couple started dancing.  We would probably describe Oché as a crooner - and he was also a bit of a comedian, judging by the laughter from the mainly Spanish audience whenever he spoke.  He was accompanied by a very talented pianist too, whose name escapes me.

We sat outside on a beautiful July evening, surrounded by people of all ages, and realised how lucky we are to be living here.  Lesley summed it up: great music and a great atmosphere.  Our only complaint was that we didn't get to sample the wines and have some food until after the concert finished at quarter to eleven!  By this time, the rosado wine was frozen in the ice bucket, so clearly the caterers had expected the concert to be finished earlier too.

The food was typical of this area: lots of empanadas (savoury pastries similar to Cornish pasties, but usually containing tuna, potato and egg), local goats cheeses, jamón and other cold meats, tortilla squares, all accompanied by the (very) chilled rosado wine, white wine and the award-winning Divus red wine.

We eventually got home at about one, having had a great evening's entertainment with lots to eat and drink: we definitely got our money's worth.  The good news is that we are going to another concert in a different bodega this coming weekend.  How do you like to spend your Saturday nights?

A cut above

How do you choose a flattering hairstyle when you reach a certain age?  Should you go grey gracefully or are you dyeing to try out a new colour?  There are certain rules, but my mantra is that rules are made to be broken and we are all individuals anyway.

Rule number one is to go several shades lighter as you become older.  I have tried this however I prefer myself darker, as somehow that is more "me".  My daughter Kate also feels that I look younger when my hair is darker, even though that is against the rules.  What do you think?

A lighter shade of pale
This is my natural colour - more or less!

Rule number two is to keep your hair shorter, which is what I do.  The reasons I follow this rule are: my hair is very fine, so if it's too long it loses any shape; I am vertically challenged and long hair doesn't suit me as much. However many older women keep their hair long and it suits them. Jane Seymour, Raquel Welch and Goldie Hawn spring to mind.

Rule number three is to spend the most money you can afford on a good cut. This is certainly a rule that all chic Frenchwoman follow religiously.  Living in a Spanish town for the last four years, this has proved to be challenging at times, even apart from the language difficulties.  No self-respecting Spanish hairdresser will let you leave without blow drying your hair into submission, adding as much volume as possible, and emptying most of the contents of the hairspray onto your locks.  I have found a new hairdresser who so far seems willing to listen to my requests, and who limits the amount of hairspray - though this may be more to do with the financial "crisis" here than the whims of her customer.

 Rule number four is to listen to any advice, but reject it unless it resonates with you.  My Spanish hairdresser is a case in point.  When she suggested cutting my hair even shorter I thought it might look a bit harsh on me, however as it is now very hot here in Spain I agreed, on the basis that I can grow it back again.  My friend Lesley's daughter told her in no uncertain terms that her hair looked dreadful and to get it sorted!  She was exaggerating, of course, but now that Lesley has had a decent cut and her hair is a flattering light shade she looks years younger.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The usual aches and pains

I remember my friend Sandra saying, when we were both in our early fifties, "I've got the usual aches and pains, that's all.  It's to be expected at our age".  I was a year older than her and my immediate response was "No!  It's not normal to be suffering from aches and pains, even if you are over 50.  See your doctor and sort it out!"

Now that I am over 60, I can state categorically that I still don't suffer from the "usual aches and pains", and certainly not on a daily basis.  The last time we visited our local castle, which involved going up and down a lot of steep steps, I didn't have any problems coping with them.  The following day though my legs felt a bit stiff, but there was a good reason for that and I was back to normal two days later.

John and I walk a lot every day, partly because we live on the edge of town and it's a ten minute walk to the nearest shop and partly because we have a dog to exercise.  When we lived in the UK we both did a lot of running, however it's too hot at the moment for running to be enjoyable so we now prefer to go out for a walk.  I think the fact that we have taken regular exercise over the years has helped to keep us fit and warded off potential aches and pains.  I also think that regular exercise has stopped us getting overweight, which is another factor in many age-related problems.  That was certainly the case for my friend Sandra, who never walked if a car was available, and unfortunately had the extra weight to prove it!

Running the Race for Life 3km, at the age of 63

Do you agree that regular walking helps to delay the onset of age-related health problems?  My mother walked everywhere, and she also played badminton every week, even in her eighties. She was a great role model for anyone wanting to be healthy in their later years. Should we all expect to be pain-free in our sixties and later, and not just accept it as part of ageing?  My mother hardly ever had to visit her doctor, and certainly didn't complain of any aches and pains, but as well as taking regular exercise she was always very slim.

Do you have any other tips for staying fit and healthy in your sixties? If so, please share them with us.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

French style

It seems only appropriate to write about French style on Bastille Day.  As a young woman I always wanted to achieve that elegant, effortless look that all Frenchwomen in the media seemed to possess.  As an older woman I realise that in most cases it was probably the result of a lot of effort!

I remember the bitter disappointment I felt when I looked around my first French market, hoping to buy some chic clothes at bargain prices.  I seemed to be surrounded by the same cheaply made, unflattering clothes that I could find in any English market.  I fared slightly better in French clothes shops though and whenever we travel to Paris or elsewhere in France I leave room in my suitcase to bring my latest French fashion find back with me.

So, bearing in mind my lack of style nous, how can I possibly give you advice on how to be chic the French way?  First of all, there are a few obvious guidelines.  After that, all I can do is point you in the right direction  and share some of the helpful resources that I have found.

1.  Baggy isn't stylish.  Unless you are nine months' pregnant, in which case it will be obvious, but what you don't want is to look pregnant when you're clearly not.  Which probably covers all of us who are over 60.  If you want to wear a loose top, make sure that your skirt or trousers are slim-fitting. If you are going to wear wide-fitting trousers or a full skirt, your top should be a snug fit.

2.  On the other hand, avoid tight-fitting clothes.  Tight clothes are not a good look unless you are young and slender, which I for one am not.  Clothes that skim but don't cling to the body are far more flattering.  Trust me on this one - I have some unflattering photos to prove the point!

3.  Take care with the colours that you wear.  In my thirties, and even in my forties, I could wear bright blues, pillar-box red, lime green - most of the colours of the rainbow in their brightest hues.  However I have noticed that even young Frenchwomen wear more subtle shades (with the occasional flash of colour) and now I am over 60 I have realised that less can definitely be more.  I still wear blue, red and green but these shades are now toned down a bit to suit my older skin.

Catherine Denueve - still looking chic
at the age of 68

4.  Don't be a fashion victim.  This is even more important when ra-ra skirts come back into fashion:, as they weren't a good idea even the first time round.  Yes, by all means read the fashion pages, but use your common sense.  If leopardskin prints are the latest trend, don't dress head to toe in it, though you may want to consider buying a leopardskin scarf or bag.

5.  Buy the best basics that you can afford, going for classic styles in neutral shades that won't date.  A well-cut jacket, skirt and trousers could form the basis of your wardrobe, depending on your lifestyle. If you live in the UK, you may be advised to spend money on a decent trench-coat and boots!  With quality basics, you can liven them up with fashionable touches to give them a different look each year.

6. Plunging necklines and ultra short skirts never look chic, and especially not when combined.  As an older woman you don't want to be stared at for the wrong reasons, so although there's nothing wrong with emphasising your assets, please do so subtly.

7. Black can look very chic, and cheap clothes usually  look better in black than in other colours.  Ask any Frenchwoman.  But if black drains all the colour out of your face and makes you look older, then restrict it to your bottom half and wear more flattering colours close to your face.  

So now to check out the style experts, and where better to start than with the French model Ines de la Fressange, author of "Parisian Chic"?

Check out Parisian style at: http://www.rogervivier.com/en/#/ines-little-diaries.

A blog for women of a certain age who are seeking Parisian style is: http://www.unefemme.net/.

Or take a look at: http://afemmeduncertainage.blogspot.com.es/.

What do you think makes Frenchwomen so stylish?  Do you have any favourite blogs?  Please leave your comments below to help all of us!