Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Farewell, My Shovel

It was 7:30 a.m. last Friday morning when Ivy the Wonder Cat and I were playing chess on the coffee table or at least Ivy’s version of chess, knocking the chess pieces off the table and meowing with joy.

Then I heard it!

You’d think it was the sound of “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer” with the speed at which I flew to the window, but no. It was the snow plow… The snow plow I hired to clear my driveway, making its very first visit!

For those who might not be familiar with an Ottawa winter, let’s just put things into perspective. While different sources offer different statistics, I’d say that on average, Ottawa receives about 200 cm (roughly 78 inches) of snow through the fall, winter and spring months.

Of course it doesn’t fall at once. Sometimes it falls as light fluffy flakes, sometimes it comes with ice pellets and sometimes it is wet and heavy. As an added bonus, after the plow (or plough, if you prefer) comes to clear the street, there is always a heavy (and sometimes mountainous) snow bank at the end of the driveway that needs to be cleared as well.

Plus, when you have a winter like 2008 with more than 300 cm of snow, and all of the snowbanks start getting taller than you, where do you put the snow?

For the longest time, I thought that hiring a plowing service might have been frivolous or extravagant, especially since my driveway is barely over one car length. But I had to accept the sad reality that the degenerating disc in my back will continue to degenerate, and that the shoveling is probably not helping it in the long run.

I tried to convince myself that it was good exercise and that it was one of the joys (and responsibilities) of home ownership. But 17 winters later, my positive spin on shoveling is spiraling downward. I’m over it.

After having spent the last two winters experiencing periods of back pain (directly related to the shoveling), and having to make time for more chiropractor visits, was it worth it?

As a runner, I recognize the importance of keeping my body in good shape and that regular stretching (much like yoga moves) has helped to prevent injury over the years. But preparing for shoveling is like training for a sport in itself when every shovel full of wet heavy snow can weigh quite a bit, and the movements involved in snow clearing can be awkward and dangerous if one does not pay attention.

Then came the bitter admission that I just don’t bounce back from back injury like I used to. It’s called getting older. It sucks, but it’s a fact of life.

Plus, while I never considered myself a candidate for a fatal heart attack, sedentary men over 50 are most at risk from the strains of shoveling, so why tempt fate?

As much as I felt like I was being a wimp for not doing it myself, I knew in my heart that it was time to cast aside my pride and to call it quits.

Over the fall, I priced out a few different contractors and found prices to be far more reasonable than when I priced them out 5 years ago, the last time my back wasn’t feeling great. The quotes were in the same ball park as the price of 6 visits to the chiropractor. For the pain I could potentially avoid, the expense now made sense.

I ended up hiring the company that was highly recommended by a good friend.

And on this beautiful snowy morning, here was the plow! The pure joy I felt defies words. I didn’t have to break out in a sweat, I didn’t have to risk my back’s wellness and I didn’t have to worry. Sixty seconds after the driveway was cleared, I knew I had made the right decision.

I laughed a devilish laugh at the realization that I may have partially won the war against Old Man Winter. It was in that moment that I realized that aside from the 3 feet of pathway in front of my house, I really don’t need to even think, plan or set aside time for shoveling this winter. At all… Ever…

That is when I realized how much of an irritant it was, not only for my back, but for my outlook on winter itself.

Maybe if I didn’t have to shovel 40-50 times in a season and risk injury, might I enjoy winter more, from the comfort of the great indoors, snuggled up with a good book, a cup of tea and Miss Ivy purring contentedly by my side?

Now, will I see every new snowfall for its romantic natural beauty, rather than a risk to my health and safety?

Could I put the reclaimed time toward a less risky form of exercise, to stay healthy, fit and happy through the winter months?

In retrospect, maybe hiring a plowing service was a better idea than I thought. Now I wonder why I waited so long.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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50 Reasons Why I Enjoy Running

1. It gets me out to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
2. It’s a versatile activity: when running with friends it can be a very social activity, but when running alone, it can offer great moments of introspection.
3. There are several great programs and clinics offering information and instruction on how to run injury-free. Checking one out can be the difference between hating the sport and loving the sport.
4. Running helps me to clear my head.
5. Running can be a good activity for stress management.
6. Running puts a smile on my face.
7. Running is a great conversation starter with other runners.
8. The subtle changes I see and feel in my body, when a belt can tighten a notch or when something from the back of the closet suddenly fits again.
9. Overall, I feel more confident when I have been running.
10. Running only seems to require discipline in the beginning. Over time, the sense of progress, achievement and well-being seems to help discipline take care of itself.
11. When I am running regularly, the sense of progress and achievement seems to motivate me to make better, healthier choices overall.
12. The feeling of “ugh, I need to work out” disappears as soon as I am done, which means less guilt for the rest of the day.
13. There is a wonderful sense of community among runners.
14. I sometimes get my best writing ideas while running.
15. I sometimes solve problems while running. Continue reading

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Why Am I Walking So Fast?

I was walking down the street one evening after work, when I caught myself. I was walking at a brisk pace.

What’s wrong with walking at a brisk pace? Nothing if you are running late or have a long list of things to do and only a little time to accomplish them.

But I wasn’t late nor did I have a long list of things to do. But I was still on autopilot, at a pace more typical of “The Busy People’s Walk”. The brisk pace seems to be the norm these days, even when there’s no reason for it.

While it might be great for my cardio, it’s not exactly conducive to stopping and smelling the roses along the way.

I laughed to myself and thought, “Slow down! Enjoy the moment!” At the same time, it evoked childhood memories from when my Dad used to tell me (in French) “T’es pas au feu”, meaning “You’re not on fire”, whenever I was unnecessarily rushing through something.

Funny enough, even after consciously slowing myself down, somehow my walking speed started creeping up again and I had to remind myself that I am, in fact, not on fire and could enjoy a more leisurely pace. I slowed myself down again.

The question is… why? Has my auto-pilot always been stuck in rush mode? Continue reading

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The Hunt for the Perfect Lawn Chair

There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a warm summer day in the great outdoors, in the company of friends or family, feasting on barbecued food and sipping a frosty beverage… until your back locks up and you can’t get out of the freaking lawn chair.

Or conversely, to not be able to get out of bed the next day from lower back pain.

This happened to me a while ago which had my normally brisk walking pace down to a slow shuffle much like the character Tim Conway used to play on the Carol Burnett Show. I was back at my trusty chiropractor’s office for a few sessions to get things back to normal.

Since that time, it has become an annual ritual: testing lawn chairs in the hope of finding… THE ONE!

If you have been around for a few decades as I have, you’ll probably remember that the worst thing that used to happen with lawn chairs was to get up and having a funny checked pattern imprinted on the back of your thighs from the plastic webbing. I miss those days of plaid thighs. But it wasn’t the challenge that it is today.

I’ve accepted the reality of blood circulation randomly deciding to cut out, grunting when I pick up things from the floor and discs degenerating by the hour. These “joys” are tempered by the bright side that waking up with a new ache or pain is actually a sign of still being alive to write about it. Continue reading

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Am I Too Sensitive?

I’d like to think that I treat people with kindness, class, respect and dignity. The only thing is that being consistent in that regard can become difficult when that treatment is not reciprocated.  Similarly, it is hard to be gracious when I am met with negativity and judgement.

As I found out, I seem to be quite sensitive to the energy around me. Negative energy can be pretty contagious.

That being the case, I often found myself stepping back from certain situations and wondering to myself, “Am I being too sensitive”?

Intuitively, to survive in our sometimes not-so-kind world, I managed to develop a thick skin and just enough armour to make my way through life without getting trampled or taken advantage of… most times. And those who did cross the line remained on my “naughty” list for years to follow. Some might call it a grudge, but I prefer to call it a defense mechanism to prevent it from happening again.

As I head into the second half of my life, I realize that being empathetic, kind-hearted and sensitive is my natural way of being, and that’s OK. My challenge is that I tend to be overly sensitive to others’ feelings, and that I worry about it… a lot. And then my resilience pays the price.

Most time, it is not a horrible problem in itself. What a wonderful world it would be if people actually did take a moment to care a little more about others rather than taking people down a peg, giving people a piece of their mind, and losing sight of the fact that we are all human beings. Continue reading

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Ruminating, Racing Thoughts and Overthinking

… or does “Overthinking, Racing Thoughts and Ruminating” sound better?

… or should I say, “Racing Thoughts, Ruminating and Overthinking”?

… or perhaps “Ruminating, Overthinking and Racing Thoughts?”

As someone who considers himself a proactive person, it is well within my nature to think things through before acting.

Not only do I want to avoid making mistakes, but when I make a decision, I’d like to think that I have been responsible, thoughtful, balanced, sensitive and kind.

I admit it, I don’t deal well with surprises. Getting blindsided sends steam shooting out of my ears. Getting pressed for quick decisions and reactions without the proper time to process the situation sends my blood pressure through the roof.

While I think others have more confidence in my handling of things than I do myself, perhaps it is a sense of not wanting to let people down by appearing unprepared, that I try to eradicate surprises before they happen.

But that’s exhausting. Anticipating every possible outcome is next to impossible and developing an action plan for every negative scenario is hard on the mind, body and spirit.
This is not to say I can’t be impulsive or spontaneous. I have a pretty good sense of what works for me and what doesn’t. Over 52 years, my gut has rarely steered me wrong. I just need to trust that instinct. Continue reading

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When Door-To-Door Sales Were Banned

On March 1st, a province-wide ban went into effect in Ontario, effectively putting a stop to high pressure sales of heating, air conditioning and water services at our front doors. What a relief!

While I feel bad for the folks who were trying to make an honest living in the business of door-to-door sales, the sad reality is that in recent years, a few rotten apples spoiled it for everyone. Some sales people were becoming pushy, confrontational and some were downright creepy.

I remember one young lady who looked like Jan Brady from the Brady Bunch, who was selling a locked-in price plan for natural gas. After I politely declined the offer and started gently shutting the door, she wrapped up the conversation saying “you’ll beeee soooorryyyyy” with the same tone and inflection as a dire warning from a horror movie. That was a little creepy!

I also remember an argumentative type that got my blood boiling when I innocently thought this might be a good time to ask questions and to get more information. As I started asking very genuine questions about the service he was offering, he kept asking me why I needed to know that, as his tone got increasingly defensive with every passing question. When he started raising his voice and I started feeling rattled, I decided it was time to end the conversation. He kept talking after I closed the door.

It was the pushy people who wanted to get into the house and check out my water heater that pushed me over the edge, when challenging my own authority to say “no, thank you”. Holy invasion of privacy, Batman! Continue reading

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