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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Confessions of a slacker, or the secret of happiness

Emery_Way, Flickr

I must confess something today.

Some 20 weeks ago, I wrote a post about the marathon training that was about to begin. Since 2009, I had not missed one Bluenose Marathon (running 5K the first year, then 10K, and finally the half-marathon last year). I was determined to try the full this year (or at least run a half again).

However, as it sometimes happens in life, things got in the way.


Oh, how I abhor blaming things on the weather. I have run in all kinds of conditions, from rain to black ice, from strong winds to -20 Celsius. But there lies my problem: if it gets colder than -20, I don't run. It's just plain dangerous (I am asthmatic, by the way). And this year, according to the experts, was the coldest winter since the mid-nineties (that is, in about 20 years). At the time slot my running partner K and I run, i.e. 5 am, it is usually cold. But this year in particular, it often dropped under -20, meaning we had to miss many training sessions in the first few weeks of the program.


Not only did Mother Nature fail me, my body did. In February, I caught something that could very well have been the flu. The real flu. The one that completely knocks you down for many days, and from which you need many more days to recover once you're finally out of bed. I will never know for sure what hit me this past February, but as far as my blurry memory can tell, it hit hard.


Then as March arrived and the weather slowly (very slowly) started to warm up, and as the last flu symptoms and the exhaustion had finally disappeared, I started having knee problems, which was bizarre since I hadn't been running very much. In any case, any attempt to run made it much worse.

By then I was already many weeks behind in my training program. So one fateful day, after too much frustration and disappointment, I made the difficult decision: I was not going to run the Bluenose this year.

Interestingly, I felt much better right away. I was - and I still am - okay with that decision. You cannot control everything in life, and this winter was just a very bad one for me.

But then I made a mistake. I also cut down on the gym workouts. I was very tired, after all. Then, some not-so-healthy foods crept back into my diet.

Luckily, good habits die hard, and I still did « relatively well » health and fitness wise. I might not be as fit as I was last year at the same date (scares me to think about it), but I haven't completely fallen apart physically.

However, there has been another, unexpected effect. A big one. And this effect is not physical. It is MENTAL.

Without the constant stimulation of challenging runs and workouts, and with the reintroduction of bad sugars and fats into my diet, something did go downhill:

My mental energy and my mood!

I don't remember the last time I felt as « blah » as this winter. Or if I do remember it, it was a long time ago.

It's fascinating to see how not working out on a daily basis, and how not eating clean most of the time, can change things in a matter of months. This winter I felt more tired, more impatient, more stressed, more negative. I also felt less energetic, less zen, less enthusiastic... in a word...

... less HAPPY.

To me, this is a confirmation that putting the right fuel into our bodies, and exercising sufficiently, does indeed (studies have been showing it time and again) play a significant role on what happens between our two ears.

Given the prevalence of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in our society, I believe this to be extremely important! Anybody who does not feel so good mentally should probably, before attempting anything else, get moving and cut down on the junk!

(And by the way, wine and chocolate will NOT make you happy in the way that a healthy lifestyle does. Tried and tested!)

I might not have had the nicest winter, but you can be sure that I am back on track, and that I will remember this unpleasant experience with the slacker lifestyle!

Have you experienced the link between mental health and body health?

And now for more on the « Science of Happiness »,
specially delivered by the experts at UC Berkeley:


  1. As you clearly say Julie, our mental state is so powerful as to the way we feel! Sometimes a change in attitude can be as fast as flipping a switch, sometimes it's a slower process, but if the directional trend is in the right direction we will get there!

    I was just thinking today about how I had a bad foot injury several years ago that I thought I'd never recover from, but now it's just a bad memory. lol!

    You'll get to that finish line, I'm sure of that!

    1. Thanks Dr. J for the kind words. I know life is ups and downs, and that definitely applies to running as well! A good attitude is key. :-)

  2. Life can throw many different things in our path, which upsets our "usual" patterns and I think our mind and body does appreciate patterns.

    To me I have found these "patterns" are five simple pointers. They work well for me, but I appreciate we are different, our needs, our life, may require something slightly different depending on other related health issues.

    My five simple tips are:
    1. I eat foods that are low in carbohydrates
    2. I eat foods that are high in good fats
    3. I eat foods that are moderate protein
    4. I take regular exercise ....walking suits me the best ...and I can easily alter the speed.
    5. I try to keep my sleep patterns the same.

    Yes, I appreciate this may not be for you or your readers but I can only pass on my own experience.

    Sometimes our inner self does butt into our thoughts and deeds ...maybe your inner self wanted a break, but now that break is over and you need to focus on good health and well being, and encompass all that is involved. Not easy in our busy lives, busy family, busy work.

    We can only do our best. Stay focused, stay positive.....

    Take Care and

    All the best Jan

    1. Those 5 points work for most I would say! :-) I would add: drink water and not much else.

      Personally, I « need » more than walking to get all the benefits, but that's very personal.

      All in all the main challenge is to stay on track no matter what life throws at you!

  3. Junky foods like sugar are really addicting. After years of eating a reasonably clean diet of homecooked foods, I've found that even a weekend of junk makes me feel lethargic and cranky. There's definitely a difference in how I feel with quality foods rather than processed ones full of salt and mystery chemicals. One thing I really have to prioritize in the wintertime is sleep. Lots of hours, preferably the same time each night.

    Being nice to our bodies is a lifelong challenge, but one that is so worth it!

    1. So much truth and wisdom in that comment, Karen. I might print it and put it on my fridge. Thank you! :-)

  4. I know that the times I've had to take more than a day or two off from working out I notice an immediate drop in my mood - I'm sure that when I've had to take extended periods off, all those around me can also tell how cranky I get!!
    I'm sorry you aren't able to do the race but it sounds like making that choice was the right thing for you - physically and mentally.
    Hopefully now you are are healthy and ready to get back to your more normal way of life!!

    1. We've had the same experience then, Kim!

      I am back to more exercising and already feeling much better. Yay! I wish everybody would give themselves the gift of fitness. :-)

  5. the exercise is a natural chemical mood booster for sure. too many days of lying about almost always brings me down. I walk, and often times, several times a day. It clears out my head and replenishes my body with endorphins. I function best, as do you, by eating healthy nutrient rich foods, and keeping to somewhat of a schedule. Especially important since I am retired and sometimes the couch potato in me is very strong.....