6 Key Ingredients in My Healthiest Year+ Ever

There are so many wonderful ways we can take care of ourselves. What a gift that we can continue to learn new techniques and practices throughout our lifetimes!

I gave a presentation a couple days ago on self-care for academic advisors at the University where I work. I addressed inherent job risks for advisors and the importance of setting boundaries in our lives (not just important for advisors!). I also shared some of my favorite self-care practices, including some that I have discussed in previous blog posts, like square breathing, 3 Good Things, quotes, mantras exercise and meditation. It was fun for me to reflect on many of the things that have been most helpful in elevating the quality of my life.

I am grateful to enjoy excellent health, in general. I attribute this to many things, including rich blessings, which I believe obligate me to make a positive difference in the world in proportion to the gifts I have been given. In addition, I believe that I have a responsibility to take excellent care of the strong, healthy body I have been given.

For over a year now, I have been particularly fortunate to have very little trouble with colds or any other ailments. More than ever—and I really do mean ever—I have stayed exceptionally healthy.

In this post, I want to share with you six key ingredients I have used to create my recipe for my healthiest year plus.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are certainly other important things that I do to stay healthy and feel well.

This is also not medical advice. I am not a health care professional, and you should consult yours for medical advice specific to your situation.

I am a certified health and life coach, and I am a human with half a century (egad!!!!) of caring about and being interested in contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world—starting with how I treat, and what I do with, my own body. Through trial and error and lived experience, I have found certain things that I have incorporated into my life on a permanent basis because they made a noticeable difference in my health and well-being. I thought about listing the six I am featuring in this post alphabetically, because there is not necessarily a hierarchy of contribution to my wellness. I do think they have been additive over time, though, so I decided to list them chronologically, in order of when they became part of my regular practice. Each “ingredient” I list here has added to the previous ones to create a recipe for health that really serves me. They have made such a difference that I decided to share and explain.

1982/2008: Whole-Food, Plant-Based Nourishment

A pot of lentil and vegetable stew
Lentil Veggie Stew

This one has evolved over time. My journey to plant-based eating started in 1982, when I was 12. I became vegetarian (I didn’t even know vegans existed back then.) because I had never liked the idea of eating animals. From the time I was very young, it made me sad. Finally, after several upsetting experiences, including having the butchered flesh of a cow named Blackie, whom I had met, come into our home, I took the announced that I was never eating meat again. It was a lonely world for an adolescent vegetarian back then. I was the only vegetarian in my family or my group of friends (although my friend Quynh’s mother was vegetarian, but there was a language barrier between us). There was no internet. I had to go to an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore or library to get any information. And there wasn’t much in those days. Still, I knew I was on the right path for me.

I cut meat from my diet for ethical reasons, but I was pleasantly surprised to notice an increase in stamina between my seventh-grade basketball season and my eighth-grade basketball season. I first noticed it when running laps for basketball. This is anecdotal, of course. There was no scientific study isolating vegetarianism from other possible contributing variables, but I wasn’t consciously looking for a difference, and I found one. I was maturing, too, but I decided that my vegetarian diet was the main factor in my improved stamina. I still believe that.

So, the internet and better information came along, but, honestly, I wanted to believe for many years that I was living my values by being vegetarian. Even once the tools were there for finding out the whole truth about the egg and dairy industries, I avoided researching—until my conscience would no longer let me. In early 2008 I decided that, since one of my core values was integrity, I needed to find out if I was really living in integrity. I researched the egg and dairy industries and found out that some of the most horrific animal living conditions and some of the worst cruelty exists in the production of eggs and dairy products. Learning the truth was painful, and it was not convenient. A fair amount of guilt ensued for not trying to learn this sooner, but it became clear that, in order to live according to my professed values (Compassion is #1!), I needed to become vegan.

So, I did.

It has become easier and easier to be a plant-based eater. The internet is not only a source of information, but a source of community. Books abound these days! You can have them delivered to your electronic device instantly, 24 hours a day. Such a different world. Being vegan is not lonely. It is joyful. I have wonderful, caring vegan friends.

In addition to improved mental health, due to living in alignment with my values, my physical health improved. My skin became clearer. My colds became milder. I stopped having bladder infections, after having spent a couple rounds of two years each on prophylactic Macrodantin (until I developed resistance). True story. These things really got better, and my vegan diet was the difference.

I eat a mostly whole-food, completely plant-based diet. This is one of the most significant factors in maintaining my excellent health. It is easier than ever. If you would like my help transitioning, email me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. Or, get 28 of my favorite recipes when you join my email list here.

1992: Consistent, Intentional Exercise

Two people on road bikes
BAK 2017 with Logan

I was reasonably active as a child and teenager. I played basketball from 4th through 9th grades (proudly helping my Sacred Heart 5th– and 8th-grade teams win Oklahoma Catholic Grade School Athletic Association state championships! 😊). I played my freshman year at Mount Saint Mary High School, but we played public schools, and I found out I was not anywhere near as good a player as I had thought I was. After a season mostly on the bench, my basketball career reverted to driveway pick-up games with neighborhood boys (while my brother was planting the seeds for his future career as a technology genius by working inside on his Commodore VIC-20 and 64). I did sporadic exercise in fits and starts from then until 1992, when I was working on my undergraduate degree at Wichita State University. I worked full time and went to school at night. I finally started going to the Heskett Center (the building where I now work full time) to exercise between work and my 7:05 p.m. classes. I also did step workouts at home. I cringe at flashback to the then-fashionable tights and leotards I wore in public in the Heskett Center. I can only hope that there were never any pictures taken that might turn up in building archives.

Eventually, I started running, and in 1996 I committed to run the New York City Marathon as part of the Leukemia Society Team in Training. My life changed when I crossed the finish line in that first marathon and started thinking of myself as an athlete.

Ever since, endurance sports have been a major part of my life. Cycling came into it when I met my husband and trained for Biking Across Kansas in 1999. I got hooked and now serve on the BAK Board of Directors and love that week in June more than any other each year. (Registration for BAK 2020 opens this Friday. Register on 11/29 for a free jersey.)

I know that consistent, daily exercise is a major factor in my mental and physical health. In addition to cycling, I incorporate yoga, weight training, walking and other forms of exercise. I do something virtually every day.

I have a Master of Education degree in Exercise Science and held a personal training certification for 10 years, until I had to let that go in 2011, when a personal tragedy prevented me from recertifying. I am considering adding certain future certifications in physical activity. In the meantime, intentional movement is an integral part of who I am and why I am healthy.

2012: Echinacea

A picture of a tea cup and a box of tea bags.
Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus Tea

Specifically, Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus Tea. I am a believer in this stuff!

2011 was a difficult year for me. It ended in a very painful way that shook my world. I decided that 2012 was dedicated to recovery. This took a variety of forms in my life, but one thing I did was research what could enhance my immune system because I was getting sick more frequently than I wanted. Some of my research led me to echinacea. Admittedly, scientific research has shown mixed results, but I decided to give it a try. I think I first tried it when I felt myself coming down with a cold, and I just didn’t want to be sick. I was pleasantly amazed at how mild my symptoms quickly became and how soon I was well. It could have been coincidental, but I was convinced. I adopted this tea into my daily routine. I drink a cup every, single morning. When I am on Biking Across Kansas, where it may not always be easy to make tea, I cut open a tea bag and include it in the magic mix of nutrients I put into my preworkout energizer. If I feel like I am getting sick, I will drink extra cups—up to five a day. It almost always stops or dramatically lessens my symptoms and shortens the duration (based on my history with colds) of my illness.

I have recommended this tea to many people over the years. My skeptical husband even became a believer after he tried it.

Whether or not the science backs up the efficacy of echinacea for immune health, my anecdotal experience has been unequivocal. It made, and continues (over years) to make, a noticeable difference.

2014: Algae

Bags of spirulina and chlorella
ENERGYbits & RECOVERYbits

I honestly can’t remember how I first learned about ENERGYbits. It might have been through Brendan Brazier’s work on plant-based eating for athletic performance, but I am not sure. Anyway, at some point, I was looking for a way to enhance my energy level on the bike, and I found ENERGYbits, which is the name of both a company and a specific product made by the company. Initially, I only used ENERGYbits, which is 100% spirulina algae. I would swallow the spirulina, conveniently compressed into easy-to-swallow tablets. It’s food, not pills, but I do prefer to swallow, because it sticks to my teeth if I chew it. There is controversy around spirulina because it can be contaminated, if it is not organically grown in controlled conditions. ENERGYbits prioritizes the safety of its algae, so I feel great about using their products. Company founder Catharine Arnston learned about the benefits of algae when she was researching ways to help her younger sister heal from breast cancer. She concluded that a plant-based diet, heavy on greens, was a powerful healing strategy, and she learned that algae contains the highest concentration of alkaline-promoting chlorophyll of any food. Using algae as part of her plant-based diet, her sister healed and has remained free from cancer for 10 years.

For several years now, I have used ENERGYbits before my bike rides and RECOVERYbits afterward, often blended into my recovery smoothie. They truly make a difference in my energy level and endurance on the bike, and they help me recovery quickly and fully after tough rides. I sometimes give them to Logan before and after his training runs and races. He has noticed a benefit on his long runs.

ENERGYbits products aren’t just for athletic performance, though. They can be incorporated into a healthful, plant-based diet daily to energize, clear toxins and enhance overall nutrition. For an answer to the ever-popular question all vegans get asked, “Where do you get your protein?” take a look at this information comparing usable protein per acre of various animal and plant protein sources. Algae is also an outstanding source of B12. In addition to ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits, there are also BEAUTYbits and VITALITYbits, although I have not used those products personally. If you want to make this a part of your nutritional plan, you can get 20% off when you use my discount code JustWind. Type it in the discount code box at checkout. (Full disclosure, I receive a free bag for every 10 bags bought using my discount code. Although I have been an affiliate for years, I have never promoted it, so I have bought all the bags under my code, up to this point. 😊)

2018: Meditation

My New Meditation Cushion

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I thought for years that I couldn’t meditate. When I was in my health and life coaching certification trainings, my constant, nagging concern, when I traded coaching sessions with my training partner, was stress and what it did to me and how I couldn’t get it under control.

Finally, in early 2018, I decided to give meditation a real try. I called it “mindfulness” for quite a while because “meditation” didn’t feel quite right. Until it did one day. After a short time of consistent, daily practice, I noticed how much calmer and more peaceful I felt. I was managing stress so much more productively. To my surprise, I started to look forward to my daily meditation in the same way that I do my bike rides.

What I noticed most is that my health took a dramatic turn for the positive. I went over a year without a single cold, even when students, coworkers and family members around me were sick. As I said above, I think all these “ingredients” have been additive, but this one has been huge. Since I have practiced meditation daily, I have only had one real cold and no laryngitis, which used to plague me on a regular basis. Even the cold I did get was quite mild, and most people didn’t even know that I had one.

I attribute meditation to taking my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health to the next level. As I taught in my presentation to fellow advisors this week, there is no one right way to do it. This was a limiting belief I had to overcome in order to allow meditation into my life. My practice incorporates breathing exercises, mindfulness, visualizations, affirmations and Kundalini yoga, depending what feels right on a given day. Now, I would not skip a single day. I meditate anywhere from about 10 minutes to around 30 minutes, depending on the time I have. I do it first thing in the morning or immediately after my morning workout. It is a game-changer.

2018: Mindset

A person posing for the camera

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This is probably the most difficult to explain concisely. Maybe that is why I am writing a whole book that addresses the topic. The picture is of a content me. Life is not perfect, but I have made a choice to live consciously and to choose my perspectives carefully. I still experience stress, but I have learned how to think of it differently and to choose an empowering approach to it. Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It was life changing. I’ve written about it previously because it had such an impact on the way I view stress and how I allow it to affect me. It took a while for me to fully internalize her message, but it started percolating right away. The biggest takeaway from McGonigal’s book for me was the idea that a meaningful life is a stressful life. The same things that bring us the most stress—family, work, school—are the same things that bring us the most meaning. Recognizing that can change everything.

I don’t live in constant bliss, but I am healthier and happier, and part of that is my mindset. Meditation supports my chosen mindset, and so do several other practices, but consciously and actively choosing the mindset I want to hold is the first step. It is a big step that has made a rewarding difference.

So, these are some of the most important things that have contributed to my healthiest year plus ever. My guess is that any one of them added to your life could make a positive difference in your physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual health. Adding them together has compounded their benefits in my life.

I know I am not invincible. I could drop dead or be stricken down with some horrific illness (or a cold) tomorrow. I am committed to doing my part to take care of the gifts I have been given, though. These are some of the ways I do that.

I can be reached at sheri@justwindcoach.com or through a comment on this blog post or social media. I’d love to hear your experience with any of these or other practices that have made a healthy difference for you.

My Top 5 Tips for Cultivating a Mindset to Accomplish What You Want to Accomplish and Live with No Regrets

This post is the second in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. We get one chance to live this life. Let’s make it the grandest life we are capable of living!

In the last couple years, I have become increasingly aware of the critical importance of mindset in helping me move through life with more power, clear purpose and grateful joy. Our mindset consists of the established beliefs and attitudes we have toward life. One of the mantras I have used for years acknowledges the strength of mindset in our lives, even though I don’t use that word in it:

“My thoughts shape my perception, determine my actions and behavior and create the life I envision.”

This is a mantra I developed, based on inspiration from writing and quotes that had resonated with me. This mantra has meant so much to me. It has helped calm and center me. It has brought me peace. It has strengthened me. Even before I recognized it as a statement of the power of mindset, the mantra served to shape mine.

In her terrific book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal teaches the concept of “mindset interventions.” She says that the best mindset interventions involve being exposed to a new way of thinking, engaging in practice and application of the different way of thinking and teaching others the new perspective. Her whole book was a form of mindset intervention of this life-changing concept: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” This idea and the mindset intervention her book produced helped me realize that most of the stress in life comes from things that have meaning to us, with work and family being top. To eliminate all stress would be to eliminate all meaning. The key is to look at stress differently and realize that we can choose to grow through it, as well as to observe it, without getting completely sucked in by it. While this is easier said than done, viewing stress this way is much more helpful and empowering than viewing myself as a helpless victim of it. This is an example of the power of mindset.

Here are my top five tips for cultivating a mindset that positions you to accomplish the things that matter, so that you can live free of regrets:

I have become increasingly clear that my mindset is critical to my success or failure, when it comes to bringing big dreams to life and achieving goals that matter to me—the things that I will regret if I don’t do. Big dreams and goals can be intimidating, and they require digging deep into the reserves of our determination, resolve and resilience. Getting to, or repeatedly returning to, the mental and emotional place necessary to accept the challenges to make these things happen won’t occur without a mindset of self-efficacy and trust—in ourselves, in the Universe, in the basic goodness of life.

My collection of quotes
  1. Adopt a mantra. This can be a word, a phrase or a sentence that you devise, or it can be a quote that is meaningful for you. I use a combination, and I vary them regularly. There are some, like the one above, that are tried and true and that I use at some point (or at several points) just about every day. Others may be with me for a moment, a day or a season of life. Words are very meaningful and powerful for me. I have a collection of quotes that I have been growing for 18 years. I am on my sixth formerly blank book, with pages covered, front and back, in quotes I have collected from a wide range of sources. I find a lot of them in the books I read. I sometimes record them from webinars or podcasts. Sometimes an individual or a sign or a t-shirt strikes me, and I write down the quote. Some of my quotes are from well-known thought leaders. Others are from more obscure authors. Some are my own creations or words that come to me in a dream or upon awakening. I refer to my quotes several times, every single day. I travel with my current book, so that I have at least some of them with me, even when I am Biking Across Kansas. These quotes are my most sacred texts. You may find your mantras in more traditional sacred books or in prayers. You may have one, or you may rely on many, like I do, but I encourage you to adopt a mantra as a centering mechanism, something that can help you to return to the mindset you desire to embrace and embody. Personally, I like to focus on a mantra at transitions—upon awakening, before exercising, before getting in the shower, before driving, when I turn off my booklight to go to bed, etc. When I choose a mantra (usually at semi-random) before a bike ride or drive or shower—some time when I can think—I may ponder it deeply for several minutes or longer. Other times, it may just provide momentary focus that helps me remember what matters to me. Either way, reflecting on a mantra is one of the most valuable tools for cultivating a mindset that allows me to behave in the way I want to behave and stay focused on achieving my goals.
  2. Meditate. There are many ways to meditate, and I used to believe that I couldn’t do it. However, for well over a year a now, I have had a consistent morning mindfulness practice that includes meditation. My advice is to keep it manageable. Realize that anything is progress. Generally, my morning meditation is between five and 20 minutes, depending on the available time. At its most basic level, meditation is simply stilling your mind to be in the present moment. It is as simple as:
    • Sitting or lying comfortably with a fairly straight spine. You don’t need to be cross-legged, on a meditation cushion; you just need to be comfortable.
    • Closing your eyes or gazing gently at the floor in front of you.
    • Focusing on your breathing. I usually focus on the feeling of the air as it moves in and out of my nostrils.
    • If your mind wanders (and it will), simply notice and return your attention to your breath. I took a mindfulness course last fall, and one of the most helpful ideas I gleaned from it was to imagine sitting by a stream and to picture my thoughts as falling leaves. When I become aware of a thought, I watch it land on the water and simply float downstream. I use that technique to return to my breath.
  3. Implement rituals. Rituals are key for maintaining a beneficial mindset. These tips I am listing are not mutually exclusive. This is because, while each of these ideas is effective on its own, there is synergy when they are put together or used throughout the day. My rituals often reflect this. Rituals help me to feel that all is right with the world. They remind me of what matters, what I want to accomplish and how I want to behave. Here are some of the rituals I use daily:
    • Finding my mantras and/or quotes for reflection
    • Upon awakening, naming three things to which I am looking forward in the upcoming day
    • My morning mindfulness practice
    • Breathing exercises when stressed and before I eat
    • Journaling nightly, including my “3 Good Things” journaling (I also do this mentally throughout the day, if I am feeling stressed, asking myself, “What are three good things that have happened so far today?)
    • A bedtime series of fascial release movements
  4. Follow thinkers who inspire you. Read books by authors whose message supports your mission. Listen to podcasts. Listen to audiobooks. Watch videos. If possible, attend conferences, workshops or lectures. Any of these can serve as a booster shot for your resolve. Some of the current thought leaders whom I use to support my desired mindset are:
  5. Cultivate gratitude. My “3 Good Things” ritual is one of the ways I cultivate gratitude, but I have found that intentionally looking for the positive gives us so many more things for which to be grateful. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “I heard someone say once that all our life experiences are either lessons or gifts—that we either learn from our daily experiences or they are simply blessings to be treasured and appreciated. I like that. It means that every moment is an opportunity to grow or to be grateful (or both!).” This perspective is an excellent example of maintaining a winning mindset by using gratitude. I consciously notice and feel awe throughout the day for my countless blessings. Doing this instantly shifts my mindset back to a more helpful place, if it has started to stray.

Try these five suggestions for cultivating a mindset to set yourself up for living with no regrets. It is not a one-and-done endeavor. I find that it takes daily attention, but each dose of mindset intervention, using the things I list above, takes me farther down the road in the direction of my big dreams, even if the steps (or pedal strokes) are slow and plodding at times.

If you would like help cultivating the mindset you need to live the way you want to live and to help ensure that you are living with no regrets, schedule a complimentary call, using this link.

“How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and do what really matters.” –Stephen R Covey

A Different Slant on Common Advice

One of my favorite and most frequently used mantras is, “My thoughts shape my perceptions, determine my actions and behaviors and create the world I envision.”

Goethe’s advice to live each day as if life had just begun contradicts the popular recommendation to live each day as if it is your last. I find the idea of living as if life had just begun much more hopeful and inspiring. While living as if time is short (which it is, in the big picture) can remind us to make the most of each moment and to prioritize what matters, I think such a mindset can also discourage pursuit of our dreams and even encourage a fatalistic perspective.

I prefer a more optimistic, proactive approach to life.

If I think that life is drawing to a close, I am less likely do something challenging like build a health coaching business or even put in the work to be a stronger cyclist or to live as healthfully as possible. If I am living as if each day is my last, why bother?

But, if I adopt a perspective that views each day as a clean slate, a new opportunity, a chance for a beginning (with the benefit of the wisdom I have earned along the way to getting here), my options feel, if not limitless, far less bounded by fate or even time.

Every day is a chance to make a difference, to live my purpose and my values more fully, to embody my personal and professional missions. By choosing this outlook, I can act accordingly. It feels worth the risk to go after my goals and worth the effort to improve and grow.

It is easy to get discouraged when goals are not achieved as quickly as I might hope because life and responsibilities get in the way. However, I am empowered by embracing the belief that each day gives me a new chance to work toward my dreams and to add value to the world in new and exciting ways.

Tim McGraw hopes we get the chance to “live like we are dying.” My wish for you and for myself is that we seize the chance to live like we are living—right now, every day—not just existing or biding our time until we until we really are in our last days.

The mission of my coaching practice is “to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.” I believe this mission is far better served by living each day as if life has just begun and goals are worth pursuing and that my efforts matter.

I encourage you to try on this perspective and see how you like it. Compare it to viewing each day as if it were your last. What would you do differently if you lived each day as if life were just beginning?