6 Benefits of a Morning Swim

I started swimming on a regular basis about three months ago.  When I relocated to Durham, North Carolina, I found a public indoor pool and decided to sign up for a 10-visit swim pass.  I have to say I was a bit nervous.  If you have ever been to a public pool or shower, it can be intimidating.  Are the showers mildew covered, is there a private place to change, will the pool be a decent temperature, and, most importantly, will there be a free lane for me to swim in? I reserved a lane online, paid my fee, and drove, with trepidation, to the Campus Hills location on an early Saturday morning.  There was plenty of free parking, a pleasant gentleman at the reception desk, and a clean, empty locker room for me to leave my belongings as well as baskets available to take personal items out to my lane.  I was reassured.  Now all I had to do was swim.

My local indoor pool

I was on my high school swim team my sophomore year.  I can remember the early morning practices and swimming upwards of 2,000 to 2,500 yards.  What I remember most was the trance like state I would get into, swimming back and forth.  I was longing for that.  The Zen state of just being, I think it’s what brought me back to the pool after some forty years.

Here are 6 benefits of a morning swim:

It’s a great start.   There are almost always other swimmers at the eight-lane pool.  I ran into one of the women that was swimming a few lanes over on the way out the door.  I told her to have a great day and she said “Nothing can go wrong after starting my day with a swim.” I heartily agreed with her. It’s like teeing up my day for success. I’ve exercised, I’ve showered, I’ve centered myself.  It’s a terrific way to start your day.

There is one path.  Throughout my day, I need to make countless decisions whether it be what to wear, what trail to walk my dog, what to eat, or what task to work on. When I’m in the pool, there is only one way and one direction and one thick black line on the bottom of the pool.  That is my only path.  I follow the black line until it ends at a T and then, I go back the other way. It’s such a great antidote for decision fatigue.  Jump in the pool and just follow the black line.

No technology. There are no calls, emails, social media, or screens…at all. It’s amazingly freeing to be without the distraction of any notifications. I do wear an iWatch which, miraculously, counts my strokes, my laps, and heart rate.  But outside of biofeedback, I am free to detach from the outside world and focus on the black line below.

It’s good for your heart. Of course, any exercise is good for your heart but as written by Dr. Daniel Bubnis for Greatist, “One study found that people with a regular swimming routine lost weight and had decreased carotid arterial stiffness, lower blood pressure, and increased blood flow to the brain. All these benefits reduce the risk of heart disease.” I have to say that my blood pressure was already lowered most likely by eating plant based but I’ll take anything that’s good for my heart.

It burns calories. I noticed this almost immediately when I started tracking my swimming on my watch.  I burn close to twice the calories that I burn on a hike of the same period of time (say 30 minutes) and my average heart rate is higher as well.  As Bubnis wrote, “Since your whole body is working, it’s no surprise that swimming is a real calorie burner. Swimming burns the same number of calories as jogging (without the joint stress). And that’s if you’re swimming at a relaxed pace!” It’s a workout even though there’s no sweat!

Less stress. For me, it’s the repetition of the stroke, the breath, the hum of the bubbles in the water, the trusty black line below, the peace and flow when I push off the wall to glide effortlessly forward. As Bubnis reported, “A 2012 survey commissioned by Speedo found that 74 percent of participants had reduced stress after swimming. And 70 percent said swimming left them mentally refreshed. Keep in mind that any form of exercise can help reduce stress. But water-based activities are known to have additional soothing effects. It’s just hard to be stressed out when you’re floating in water.” Swimming can reduce stress.

I initially started swimming during the winter because it was the one activity that wasn’t as dependent on the weather, and I could reserve a lane time that fit my schedule. There are some days when it’s not a morning swim, although I do prefer to swim in the morning. I have slowly been working my way up to longer distances, today was 1,200 yards! I think back to swim practice in 1977, and Mrs. Woods starting us off with 1,000 yards freestyle to get warmed up. Whelp.  I can’t swim the entire length of a pool with one breath either.  It’s just nice to find peace, solitude, and a little bit of Zen to start off my day.

7 Ways to Kick Decision Fatigue to the Curb

You’re standing at your local grocery store and all you want is a box of Ritz crackers.
Problem is that there are 17 varieties of Ritz in front of you on the shelf.
Dang it! All you want is a box of Ritz crackers.
You don’t want football shaped.
You don’t want whole wheat.
You don’t want low fat.
You don’t want hint of salt.
You don’t want bacon flavored (OK maybe you do but not right now).
You don’t want Fresh Packs.
And you don’t want Ritz Bits.
You want to throw your hands up in disgust or pick up the first box that your hand reaches for. Heck, you can work bacon into a dessert recipe, right?
So after reading through countless labels and searching 6 shelves of red boxes,you find the box of Original Ritz on the bottom shelf.
How much brain matter did you exhaust on that little foray into Ritz hell?
Time to eliminate all those decision perhaps?

Kick Decision Fatigue to the Curb

Here are the 7 ways to kick your decision fatigue to the curb:

1. Wake up earlier. You make better decisions in the morning AND you fair better if you get the earliest appointment whether it’s a court hearing (Judges are more lenient in the morning) or a job interview (earlier candidates are selected more often). Everyone has a clearer head in the morning and, apparently, are more charitable.

2. Exercise early in the day. I know it doesn’t seem like it when you are just getting on the treadmill at 5 AM but you will be more energized throughout the day if you exercise early. Research shows that exercise increases mental acuity for up to 10 hours. Why hand over that acuity to the late night news or your pillow?

3. Pick out your clothes the night before. Why make decisions first thing in the morning or, worse yet, while you are trying to sleep? Hmmm. Should I wear the new sweater or the old blouse? If I wear red will it be too overpowering or perfectly enticing? These are not things you want to be thinking about while you toss and turn. Decide the night before and rest easy.

4. Curb your choices. Have the same breakfast every day of the week. Have only one pair of running shoes and one style of socks. Have the same well-oiled routine every morning to get out the door. The more times you have to stop and decide, the more you get depleted. Eliminate as many choices as possible.

5. Simplify your choices. Take that shopping list of yours and go to some place that has like 4,000 different products versus 50,000 different products. Where is that? Trader Joes. They simplify your choices. I can guarantee you they don’t have 17 varieties of Ritz crackers. In-N-Out Burger has burgers and fries. DVR some select TV shows and quit your channel surfing. That’s it. Less decisions means better cognition. Simplify.

6. Know when enough is enough. You know when you are depleted. Long day at work? Just spent 3 hours in a car? The meeting ran long and you still need to buy dinner are the store? These are bad times to make decisions. You have to acknowledge it to do anything about it. My daughter is famous for saying “Mommy you’re getting hangry (re: hungry and angry) aren’t you?”. Perhaps we should go out for dinner. Maybe a frozen pizza will work. Eggs for dinner might be perfect. You need to know so you can head that bad decision off at the pass.

7. Start with one thing. Don’t take this whole list and start working out at 4:30 AM, purchase 7 pairs of black pants and buy a Ninja to make fruit smoothies every morning. Pick one. Maybe two but NO MORE. As Caroline Arnold writes in her book “Small Move, Big Change”, making one or two small changes is much easier to take on and be successful. But start.

I have made a grocery list every Saturday for years. I know what we are having for dinner and plan it all out Saturday morning. So only the weather will impact what we have for dinner, so if there is lightning, I won’t be standing outside by the grill.

Keep that decision fatigue out of the picture so that you can optimize the more important decisions in your life and let the other ones slide into auto pilot.