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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

To the Class of 2014

This year would have been my 25th high school reunion. No sweet sisters- there was no repeat of a prom or a party in honour of the two and half decades sine my spiral perm days. Instead I passed the time and it simply passed.

I’ve thought a lot about what has happened since my own graduation. This is in part spurred on by my nephew’s recent graduation from high school. I’ve thought about what I have learned since those days of youth and what I have become.

Last week I walked by a group of graduates dressed to the nines in front of the Vancouver Art gallery. There they were full of youth and promise in prom dresses that spoke more of a Miss Universe era than a high school grad. But no matter, for I have learned that when an 18-year-old girl has a fashion vision for her you just smile and get out of the way. Nothing will stop her from making her style dreams a reality.

And so as I walked passed them I could not help but comment,
“Ladies, You look beautiful”.
They looked up from their smart phones and smiled. “Thanks”, said a brunette in orange chiffon with a bodice made entirely of rhinestones. Sister had it going on and she needed someone to let her know that although orange chiffon and rhinestones might have been a bit too mature for an 18 year old, she was still getting an “A” from me for effort.

My high school grad dress was indeed a recycled garment. I had worn it the previous August for my sisters wedding. It was royal blue taffeta with rouching for days. It had a puffy skirt and puffy sleeves with rhinestones. It was a seamstress’s tribute to the 1980’s if ever there was. I was madly in love with that dress as I was with the 3 pounds of rhinestones I wore dangling from my ears. My hair, of course was a spiral perm.

I took my friends Ian to my prom. My boyfriend at the time was living in Montreal and could not come in for the event. Ian was a lovely substitute, save for the fact that he got bored half way through the dinner and went to the hotel bar to drink. I did not care. I was with my girlfriends and when you are 18 in 1989 in Winnipeg and in love with a boy in Montreal, rhinestones are indeed a girl’s best friend.

I smile when I look back at my 18-year-old self. What would I say to her if we met in some weird parallel universe of today? Do any of us know what lessons we’d impart on the younger versions of ourselves? Please. Here I go my sisters….. Waxing philosophical. This is what happens when perimenopause hits…. You reminisce a dream sequence and get lost in the theoretical.

Well… if I must…..

I blame it on the girls in the orange chiffon and the fact that every time I open a paper or the interweb, I am faced with another commencement address from everyone from Condelesa Rice to Louis CK letting the future generation know who to be and how.

If I’m honest? I’m kinda worried for this next generation. They are indeed raised by a generation pretty close to my own and hell… we were pretty fucked up. So to fully face my fears and for the sake of some random teenager on the street in Vancouver bold enough to mix orange chiffon with crystals and bling, I thought I take a moment to write my own commencement address to the class of 2014.

Dear Class of 2014, do I say Yo? What is the greeting these days? You see apparently I am old but when you don’t have children around you- you tend to lose your sense of relative age and somehow you think you are indeed still 22. That is until you find yourself looking in a People magazine and you don’t recognize half the celebrities any longer…. But I digress… Ahem

My dear class of 2014.

I know I should give you some serious life lessons…. The kind I would have liked to have been given when I was your age… but here’s the thing- When I was 18 I really did not want too much advice from someone older than me. It was not until I hit 30 that I realized I could have benefitted from some serious advanced warnings.

So my first piece of advice for you oh generation to come is to listen up. It’s not that you don’t know everything and its not that you are less intelligent than a generation before you it’s just that most of you have not screwed up enough to learn anything of meaning.

And let’s be clear- it’s our mistakes that teach us everything. So here’ my next piece of advice to you oh class of 2014- fell free to screw up…. Just don’t do it to badly and never more than once at the same thing. What I mean by this is that success tends to blind us. We pat ourselves on the back- post our pleasures on Facebook and move on. We relish in our victories so much so that we forget to have a lesson- we forget to debrief.

Make no mistake- failure is a bitch. Believe me- I’ve done it a few times…. This week, let alone this lifetime- and it stings like a blister in a new pair of sandals on a hot summer day.

But failure is where you find out who you really are. When you have fallen down with the world above and the only decision that remains is to get up and go home or to just get up…. You find out what you are made of- you see the potential in your own self.

Oh Class of 2014- makes some mistakes. You likely are doing this very thing right now- but instead of just making a mistake- forgive yourself for the mistake, learn from it and move on.

Remember when “being wrong” threw into a tantrum of sorts? Maybe you were eight years old or maybe it was last week- but remember how a mistake would drop you into a shame spiral and self loathing? You’d call yourself names or emotionally beat yourself up just because of the error at hand?

No? Well, aren’t you special.

Most of us make mistakes and it takes us on an emotional down spiral. We chastise ourselves, we bate, and we go over the mistake in our head and let it weaken our sense of self. But what if we took the mistake as a valuable lesson and mentally “debriefed”- wouldn’t we learn more?

According to my medical hero, Dr. Atul Gawande, there are indeed two kinds of mistakes.

Mistakes of ignorance are where we lack the knowledge to make the right decision and to do the right thing.

Mistakes of ineptitude are where we indeed have the knowledge but fail to apply it properly.

Indeed both kinds of mistakes have much to teach us. One teaches us the information itself, the other a lesson in application.

Do we curse the heavens each time we fail? No.

Make a mistake. Don’t do it often and don’t be careless, but ask yourself was it because I did not know or was it because I failed to apply what I know to a situation.

In my mind- that’s how you grow as a person.

There you have it my class of 2014. Go forth into the world and make it a better place. But don’t be afraid to screw things up on your road to redemption- you might wind up smarter than the sweet sisters before you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When The Rubber Hits the Road

Yes, I am a runner. Fast or slow, long and steady…. I am a runner.  May be I’m in it for the shoes, maybe I’m in it for the health benefits… hell maybe I just run from brunch. But indeed, I am a runner.

It has dawned on me in this year of running that indeed there is a rhythm to the sport of lacing up ones shoes and pounding pavement or trails or treadmill or a flat surface of any kind in the pursuit of…. The pursuit.

So this past Saturday there I was with my last long run before my taper in preparation for my next race.  

Yes, my sisters- in just 5 short days, I will run the Scotiabank Half Marathon. This is not my first 21.1 km race. I’ve been running for about 7 years now. My first half marathon was in 2007 and I’ve been running them ever since.

I do love a good half. It’s just the right distance to allow me to eat brunch without guilt while still allowing me to walk upright the following morning.

And so it dawned on me somewhere along my recent 20 or so km run that indeed there are stages to a run.

Humans love to keep track don’t we? We love to record the passage of time and the stages of life. We have stages of  growth, we have stages of life and yes, even in death we have stages of grief. Indeed, one such girlfriend, Elizabeth Kubler Ross even documented such stages of grief in her world renowned work ON DEATH AND DYING.

As an aside- the book is a fabulous piece of work. I would argue it has become an iconic reference in our grief nomenclature.

So I could not help but wonder if the lessons from Kubler Ross could be applied to  other stages in life…. Perhaps the stages of running?

Let’s be clear my sisters- I am in no way poking fun at grief in general or a personal grief in particular. I myself have had my fair share enough to know that once in a  while a good laugh is mandatory. If you find the comparison between stages of grief and the following offensive, please accept my heart felt apologies in advance and feel free to boycott my blog for at least, shall we say, the next calendar year?

But if you are a runner or indeed you dare to try it, might I say in advance (and I’m not over-reaching) that I think you may identify with my following little rant.


Denial usually begins the night before the run. Maybe you are eating a little too many carbohydrates, maybe not.  But somewhere along the way you think to yourself…. 20km? No big deal. If you are training for an even longer distance you lull yourself into a false sense of security of some kind. There’s no way running 38km is a bad idea? I’ll be able to handle it. This kind of blind disconnect continues into the next morning and perhaps even well into the first five or six kilometers of your run. I suspect its how a mother feels when giving birth to her fourth child. As the kid is ripping through her body with no apologies and no morphine she thinks…. There is no freakin way this is going to hurt that much.

Anger in running typically manifests itself in what I like to call ATHLETIC TOURETTE’S SYNDROME. This is where I swear profusely somewhere around 12 kilometres into the run and usually while on an incline. Anger is your brain’s way of bitch slapping your body for even thinking that 3 hours or more of exercise was anything but a shitty idea. Anger can also be directed at the skinny sister in front of you who is indeed the size of your left thigh and is running (and chatting) without a care in the world. She typically has a perfect ponytail that sways back and forth, rhythmically mocking you while your hip begins to throb.

Rest assured anger can indeed be a useful stage in running. It often propels you faster on your run and is a creative outlet for all those explatives you wanted to say in your everyday life but could not. When else in your life can the rubber meet the road while you scream MOTHERFUNSHOUSE for all to hear?

Fortunately, anger tends to pass as the run progresses. It must. Runners are a pretty happy group. If anger does not pass you will likely give up running all together and take up golf. Why golf you ask? Golfing by its nature is a very angry sport.

Ah, the runner loves to bargain. Half way throught he run you make deals with the road and with yourself.
“I’ll run to the next bridge and then I’m done”
“I’ll eat another energy gel and then I’ll run for another 45 minutes”
“I’ll walk for 60 seconds until I can feel my left foot and then I’ll start to run again”

As for me? I bargain with retail rewards. If I finish this marathon I will buy myself a new pair of shoes. How extravagant these shoes are directly correlates to the amount of suffering I am currently feeling in this race or training run.  In short? I trade my pain for something pretty. I bargain back and forth in my brain on how much I will run and nothing is for nothing. Yes, it is juvenile. But both my body and my shoe closet have benefitted for some time.

 Bargainers often bargain well before the run…. If I eat this chocolate torte, I will run that 10km race…. Bargainers are everywhere and they do indeed drive the sport.

Most people would think running is a great cure for one’s mood. In fact in many large scale randomized trials exercise has been shown to be an excellent treatment for depression. Here’s the thing…. Somewhere after the first hour of a three hour run you realize that you are only 1/3 of the way through. Heads up? That’s where the sadness begins. Some of us cry, some of us look at our watches and wonder why is it our body can’t go any faster. Some of us just settle in to the sadness and get ready for the next stage. Which is of course….

Yes, my sisters…. Here it is. This is where you sit back and resign yourself to the fact that you are indeed a lunatic. I say sit back only figuratively of course begin stage 5 usually comes somewhere near the end of your run and by this point you can no longer feel your hips. Sitting down is not an option. Why? Not because of the will of a woman but because you physically can no longer sit down. And so like any good girlfriend with the will of a woman you just keep on running.

There you have it my sweet sisters. We are full into running season. The Sun Run is past, the Vancouver Marathon down. My eye is towards London 2015 and my love for Boston swells as that city continues to be Boston Strong.

On this that note I leave you with the five stages of running that all of us go through in the pursuit of our own physical excellence as we strive to push the limits of human abilities.

As for me? I continue to push my own boundaries of fitness when the rubber meets the road. Should I fail to meet my own limits? I will always have my shoe closet to remind of the real pursuits of excellence.

Have a great week my sisters. Run safe and run strong.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mind over Matter

Happy and healthy Tuesday sweet sisters.  Ever wondered about Tuesday? Such an uninspired day of the week. Monday is the GROAN day, Wednesday the HUMP day, Thursday is almost Friday and Friday is indeed just that. The weekend is where the magic happens…. But poor Tuesday; stuck between a GROAN and a HUMP. Perhaps that’s why I chose it. Ever a fan of the underdog in life…. I picked Tuesday as my GGTH glory day and made it happen.

But I digress.

This past week I spent 5 days in Boston. To be precise it was Cambridge, Massachusetts but apparently Bostoners don’t really make the distinction.

I was there for a Harvard Review Course (oooh, Harvard) and let me just say… if the course is anything like the University, It has its reputation for a reason. This review course indeed blew my mind. The quality of the instructors and the presentations were a lesson in themselves; never mind that the material was fabulous.

Yes, dear sisters- last week I went to Harvard and came back smarter and refreshed.  No, I did not buy a t-shirt and technically speaking the course was not even held on campus (it was at a hotel in Cambridge). But man oh man…. My cortex was schooled and I liked it.

There I sat for 6 or so hours a day for 4 straight days taking it all in. I was rejuvenated intellectually in a way I could not have imagined. Was it the quality of the instruction? Was it the subject matter? Perhaps to both but I could not help but wonder if my enthusiasm for learning was borne purely out of my….. Well, my enthusiasm for learning.

Should that surprise me?

After all I was a pretty good student once upon a time.

In high school, I liked learning. I studied and got good grades. In university and in medical school I enjoyed filling my brain with information. I relished in finding out how things worked and what I thought about them.

Even now I find myself trying to invest mentally in new things….

Last year I set a goal to read the Sunday New York Times every week. I make it a point to choose at least 2 articles per section (even business, which quite frankly does nothing for me) and learn something new about the world. ON the reading front I read at least one fiction and one non-fiction book per month (well, I listen to them on tape while running or riding- but you can’t penalize a girl for not being able to sit still).

I find the whole process of exposing yourself to information more than just “reading for fun”. It’s opening up your brain and letting in the light. Think about it for a moment, after university the only time we really get formally exposed to new information is if we take a course or go back to school. How do you ensure that your brain cells are keeping up with the times?

Let’s face it, dear sisters- we can’t rely on the internet for all the information that’s fit to print. Sure the interweb is full of ideas but often most of us use the Internet as a function in our lives to observe and connect rather than to absorb and comprehend.

And so this brings me to my weekend in Boston.

There I sat in one classroom after another taking it all in. It began with a fresher on Neruoanatomy and ended with lectures on Exercise physiology. Through it all I remembered how much I loved learning; how much I missed using my brain in a purely selfish form- all for the betterment of me.

Here’s the thing… I use my brain a lot in a day. I’m sure most of us do…. But usually it’s to solve problems (mine and those of others) and to navigate the world around me.

I think this kind of “goal oriented intellect” can have a draining effect on one’s cerebral cortex. Sometimes shouldn’t you just stop and fill up the intellectual tank?

There is evidence in the literature that as we age our intellect starts to decline.

According to and article in the New York Times and research in the field, as we age- our cognitive function declines. But indeed there are ways to slow down or even delay the process. Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist at Brandeis University who specializes in aging states,

“Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life,”

Lachman’s group has even conducted one of the largest longitudinal studies on aging and the brain.

The Midlife in the United States, or Midus. Examines the cognitive progression of Americans born in the baby boom and onward. More than 7,000 people 25 to 74 years old were drafted to participate so that middle-agers could be compared with those younger and older.

As it turns out, one essential element of mental fitness has already been identified. For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade. This applied to people who went to university in their 20’s as well as those who did not and then went back to school later in life.

In other words- it did not matter WHEN you got a post-secondary education but that you DID.

This makes sense. We know that learning forms new pathways in the brain. WE know that certain formative learning does this even more so. It’s like planting a garden…. If your memory and intellect are a vegetable garden (there’s a pun in there somewhere) then formal education works to lay out the plots and till the soil and build new soil beds and well…. I’m not a gardener but you get the idea.

I could not help but wonder if the same could be applied to continuing education courses later in life.

My beloved mother is 74 years of age and takes a political science course at the University of Manitoba. She is always more interesting to talk with the day of her course…. (No disrespect Mama- you area fascinating woman at all times…. But you really are a bit more intellectually “jazzed” on the days that you’ve been schooled)

And so I wondered if indeed my week in Boston had done the same thing for me…. I had a pretty decent vegetable garden between my ears but had the crops been overworked and underserviced over the past few years?

Did a week in Boston sitting in a classroom entranced and enthused by some of the best educators in the world been just enough to shed a little light and plant new seeds of fantastic?

Who knows…? Perhaps it was just a week away that did it and a different change of scene. But I’m certain there was something more.

Yes, dear sisters I had a week in a classroom in Cambridge and I had the time of my life…. And no, I did not buy a single pair of shoes. That my sweet girlfriends is the best scientific study of all.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On behalf of the 5%

Excuse the rather serious nature of the following post, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.....