What’s the antithesis of placebo?

swimming pool in Palm Springs
Palm Springs pool where I thought I needed a fitbit to keep track of my laps. Reality check — I can count higher than the number of laps I can swim.

My fitbit died a sudden death in Sept. 2021. From tracking my every step and swim stroke it went dark. My first instinct was to order another one online and strap it back into my life ASAP. Then an idea hit me. I decided to try an experiment. I’d go one week without it.

I wrote about the first week HERE.

My daughter sent me an article this morning called “Beware That Nocebo Strapped to Your Wrist” by Tim Culpan from Bloomberg.com. It’s premise is this: “Fitness gadgets are supposed to improve your health, but often end up making you feel worse.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Most people are familiar with the concept of a placebo, where merely providing positive information can improve perception of well-being. Yet the opposite also occurs, with negative data making people feel worse about their own health.

That’s a nocebo — Latin for “I shall harm” as opposed to “I shall please” for placebo. And there’s a good chance you have a nocebo strapped to your wrist.

A wave of health-tech gadgets — from fitness trackers to Apple Inc.’s Watch — means hundreds of millions of people are hooked up to real-time feedback devices. They’re designed to measure your steps, encourage you to exercise more, and give daily updates on your mental and physical health. Apple wants you to “close your rings” — the three colorful circles the Watch uses to monitor your progress — and Garmin Ltd. helpfully tells you when your health is “excellent.”

They make for popular gifts and are bound to be stocking-stuffers this year. Various models of the Apple Watch occupied four of the top 10 most popular items in November’s Black Friday sales, according to Business Insider.

But there’s also good reason to think twice about whether you, or a loved one, will truly benefit from 24-7 monitoring, arbitrary goals served up by an algorithm, and regular notifications telling you that you’re stressed, tired, fit, or simply “unproductive.” 

In fact, research on the nocebo effect — first conceptualized in 1961 — has shown that perceptions of pain can increase with shifts in information and detail. Patients with suspected concussions have shown poorer neurocognitive performance when their history of traumatic injury is called to attention. Concentration falters when unpleasant data is provided. Sometimes, even a change in the color of a specific signal associated with health can trigger discomfort.

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-12-15/wrist-size-fitness-gadgets-make-for-great-gifts-but-beware-of-the-nocebo-effect

It’s been a little less than four months since the nocebo left my wrist. I no longer wake up to immediately check my fitbit. I’d check to see if I had a good night’s sleep or not. If it told me I had a bad night’s sleep, it changed my outlook for the entire day. I felt tired, cranky, and I didn’t know how I’d get through the day. Say good-bye to getting into my creative space. I was becoming a slave to the nocebo.

I haven’t replaced it. I don’t need it. I know if I’ve gotten enough steps from years of walking 10,000 steps or more each day. I know if I had a good night’s sleep or not. AND as for swimming laps, I count higher than the number of laps I can swim. It’s not too much to keep track of laps in my head. Maybe even good for the old brain power.

What type of device do use to keep track of your health, steps and sleep? Or do you use one at all? I hear people say the Apple Watch has all sorts of other benefits, but I can’t figure out if I need another device to alert me about calls, texts, and emails with a laptop and cellphone at my side? What are your thoughts? What are the benefits that you like the most?

Starts and stops

saguaro cactus with a full moom
Full moon view from my backyard. The holes in the saguaro are woodpecker nests.

I find myself starting things like my physical therapy, stretching and crunches — and then just as soon as I get a routine going — I stop. It’s such a natural inclination of mine that it takes me weeks to notice.

Why is that? When I know something is good for me, why do I stop it? With New Year’s a week away, is it possible to make some resolutions that I can stick with?

Is it laziness? Forgetfulness? Too busy? What keeps me from doing things that are good for me?

I do have a positive morning routine I’ve followed for years thanks to “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I religiously write my three morning pages, go for a walk and pray. I should be thankful that I accomplish those things each day.

Do you find yourself starting and stopping on things, too? What have you started and stuck with? What have you stopped?

The great ping pong war

ping pong balls above a keyboard
I found my missing ping pong balls in my husband’s office.

The friendly games of ping pong between me and my husband took a highly competitive turn with a sprinkle of shady dealings with ping pong balls yesterday.

I like the brand of balls named Kettler that came in the box with our ping pong table. They don’t have a lot of bounce. They are soft to the touch and I have a better feel with my paddle. I’ve mastered a serve that I discovered on the Youtube video on killer serves. It’s a tricky little serve that barely makes it over the net and bounces a bunch of times away from the opponent. It only works with the Kettler balls for me.

My husband likes ping pong balls from a brand called Stiga. They have a lot of bounce and I can’t control my shots as well. My return flies off the table without bouncing when my husband has a fast, strong serve. I lose a ton of points that way. In fact, I think I only lose because of the Stiga balls.

“That’s fine if you want to win that way,” I told my husband.

“What??”

“That you feel you have to play balls you know I have a difficulty with. If winning is that important to you.”

He switched to my Kettler balls on the next game and I skunked him 7 – 0.

When we finished the match, I had a plan in my mind. I raced to my laptop and ordered more Kettler balls on Amazon. When my box of 60 balls came in, I’d remove the Stigas and hide them in the casita.

My husband approached me while I was ordering and looked over my shoulder.

“Are you going to order my balls, too?”

I shook my head no. Definitely not.

He tried to log onto Amazon on his computer. But he doesn’t know the password. And no, I didn’t give it to him when he asked.

“I called our daughter and she is ordering my ping pong balls,” he announced.

We played another match, and my Kettler balls were missing. Later that night I walked into my husband’s office and found a nice little pyramid of them resting against his keyboard.

Stiga ping pong ball
My husband’s preferred brand of ping pong ball.

Do you and your spouse get competitive in sports or games? What games or sports to do you play together?

Day One of NaNoWriMo

Sunrise over pool
Sunrise in my backyard on November 1, the start of NaNoWriMo.

I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. to get a start on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where I attempt to write a novel in 30 days. I was tired, but felt I needed to get up earlier than normal. I have a lengthy morning routine and I’m not going to change it for this writing challenge.

I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise and the views of my morning walk were filled with pink-hued clouds and a violet sky. The world looks entirely different at dawn.

dawn views in the Arizona desert
Walking at dawn gave me a new view of the neighborhood.

My morning routine includes “The Artist’s Way” morning pages, reading a few Bible verses, prayer, a long walk, stretching, crunches, shower and breakfast. I never thought about how long this routine takes, but it’s more than two hours. I never was afforded the luxury of such a routine when I was working in public relations, as a financial advisor — or raising kids. It’s a perk of my empty nest.

I sat down at 8 a.m. and wrote for two solid hours. I decided I needed a break, but first I posted that I had written 2,000 plus words to the NaNoWriMo website and earned my first three badges. To figure out how many words I need to type a day, I divided 50,000 words by 30 days. I decided to write more than the 1,667 words because I may not want to write for 30 days straight. I will definitely take time off while my dad visits for Thanksgiving and I think I need to take an occasional day off from the challenge. After taking a break to read my favorite bloggers’ posts, I returned to writing a bit more and hit 3,030 words.

The website offers a tool to figure out how and when to write. They assumed I work full time so they told me to write two 40-minute sessions Monday through Friday, and fit in six hours on the weekend. I’m not following that schedule because my husband likes to get out and explore on the weekends and I like to go with him. I’m going for it and will write away while I’m enthused and the words are flowing. Why not?

I’m excited with my characters. The story so far is pretty slow. But the advice is not to edit, not to critique — it’s all about getting the words written down. Editing is something I’ll look at later, after this month is over.

Is anyone else taking on this challenge? Or if you’ve done it in the past, what tips can you offer? Remember, it’s not too late to start if you want to join me. If you’ve written a novel, how long did the process take you to write a rough draft? When do you find time to write?

What do you think is the hardest part? For me it’s the “mushy middle.”

Have you heard of “text neck?”

Arizona back hard with pool and pool bar.
My favorite place to read is in a zero gravity chair with this view. I’m looking up, not down.

I hadn’t heard of it. But I’ve felt it. It’s a pain in the neck. I ran across this term last week and since the back of my neck hurts, I wanted to find out more about it.

Text neck is caused by looking down at our phones. I find I look down not only at my phone, but when I’m on my laptop and reading a book, too. I spend too much time doing all three of those. I wonder if I have text neck or if I’ve been sleeping wrong? The other culprit may be the crunches that I’ve added to my exercise routine. Crunches strain my neck.

Here’s an excerpt of an article from NBC that talks about text neck and offers four exercises to help with it called 4 exercises to combat ‘text neck’ by Brianna Steinhilber.

“Looking down promotes a forward head posture. For every inch forward you hold your head, the weight carried down through the spine increases by 10 pounds” says Dr. Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai. “Looking down puts pressure on the front of the neck and gaps the back. This is especially troublesome as it can cause intervertebral discs to migrate backward, thereby increasing the chances for disc bulges. It also strains the back of the neck as the muscles on the backside are in a constant state of contraction, trying to pull and support the head (which weighs 8-10 pounds) in this too far forward position. That leads to muscle strain and pain on the back of the neck.” And it doesn’t end there. Wu goes on to say that text neck also “creates tightening on the front of the neck and chest which then leads to discomfort or dysfunction into the shoulders and middle of the back.”

“Because people are so reliant on their phones, they mentally are so lost in their work that they lose track of their posture. If you spend a long time in the ‘text neck’ position, you have to spend at least the same amount, if not more in the opposite position in order for the neck to stay in balance,” says Dr. Wu. “These exercises increase flexibility in the tight muscles (chest), restore postural alignment and increase firing of muscle stabilizers. Wu says we lose 10 percent of our height due to spinal compression and “this one exercise helps to unload our own joints and increase the space between the vertebrae (spinal bones).”

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/4-neck-exercises-will-counteract-effects-texting-ncna840291

If you click on the link, you can find out about the exercises to combat this pain that is in the back of the next, shoulders and back. I’m wondering if I should find a better place to be on my laptop than the tiny kitchen table in the casita. Maybe I need to raise up the laptop or get a lower seat so I’m not looking down.

Have you heard of text neck? Have you experienced it? What have you done about it? When you’re on your computer or laptop, are your eyes level with your screen? Any other suggestions to combat text neck?

Yikes. Maybe this was written for me?

view of saguaro against the sky
A majestic saguaro I stopped to admire during a hike on Sunday.

I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Six Exercises to Help Seniors Build Strength, Improve Balance and Prevent Falls” by Jen Murphy. My first thought was my 89-year-old dad. He’s active and does physical therapy to improve balance and strength. He’s always working on getting stronger — especially post shoulder and ankle surgery. He’s worked hard to be where he is today, golfing several days a week, remote yacht racing, and taking ukulele lessons.

I clicked on the headline with the plan to forward him the article, without reading it myself. The photo of a fit woman who was approaching middle age stopped me. Wait a minute! I might benefit from this, too! In fact, maybe I’m considered a senior now? Maybe I’m the intended audience. YIKES. Hold that thought.

It turns out the photo of the woman was of the fitness instructor who works with seniors, not a “senior” herself. Here’s the opening of the article:

Exercises that help us perform everyday activities become increasingly important as we get older.

Our balance declines and we lose muscle, making ordinary activities like climbing stairs more difficult, and increasing the risk of injury and falls, says Rachael Holden, a fitness educator who specializes in older people. She recommends “functional exercises,” which replicate the movements people make in daily activities.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/six-exercises-to-help-seniors-build-strength-improve-balance-and-prevent-falls-11634378400?mod=hp_listc_pos4

I read the article and realized I can incorporate these six exercises into my daily routine. The first one was “Sit to Stand.”

Why: As we age, weak legs, poor balance and stiffness in the back and ankles can make sitting down into a chair and standing up again challenging, says Ms. Holden. The sit-to-stand exercise is a beginner-friendly alternative to a squat and will build lower-body strength and stability.

How: Sit in a chair or on a couch. Keep your spine tall and arms long by your sides. Push down through your feet to stand tall. Slowly lower back down to a seated position. Perform 10 repetitions. “You can do these during commercial breaks when you watch TV,” says Ms. Holden.

Okay. I can do that. Another exercise was “Step Ups.” That was something I did in PT after my knee surgery. The six exercises were simple but should help with functionality. I am not as fit as I was pre ski accident. My balance isn’t great and I could benefit from these “senior” exercises. I’ll admit it. I was believing that because I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, hike on weekends, do my stretches and crunches that I didn’t need “senior” exercises. But they sure can’t hurt. After I’m done, I’ll forward the article to my dad.

What do you do for your balance and strength? Or is it something you’re concerned with? What age do you think is considered a senior?

hiking trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The Stagecoach Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Life goes on… fitbit or not

Sunset in the Sonoran Desert.
Sunset view in our neighborhood the other night.

It’s been over a week without checking my steps and sleep on my fitbit. It went kaput and I wrote about that HERE. How have I survived? Well, the only complaint I have has nothing to do with fitness tracking, but the lack of toilet paper in the grocery store.

In fact, things are better than alright. When I’m on my morning walks or after a night’s sleep, I don’t focus on the device tracking my every move. I know if I slept well or not. I feel I’m more in touch with how I feel physically rather than being dependent on an arbitrary number. I don’t need to know how many steps I take each day. I get plenty. Although my husband still wants to compete. He’ll interrupt my writing to tell me how many steps he has. I look back at him with a blank stare.

Although the fitbit has it’s advantages, I’m not in a rush to get a new one. I feel I’m more in the moment watching the sunset, enjoying my wildlife, swimming, walking. I’m more focused on my surroundings. I also don’t need to know what time it is every few minutes.

I wonder If I’d feel even better if I point down the iphone? Not checking on electronics has its benefits.

We had javelinas at sunset at our front door!

Have you ever taken a break from your devices? How did it go?

How long do you think you’d last without a fitness tracker or a smart phone?