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Wilderness Wander

Labour Day: the transition between summer and school…a bittersweet day by all accounts. Today in Sudbury it’s a scorcher. You can almost smell the asphalt melting. Fortunately I logged five kilometers of trails this morning before the sun was high in the sky. Rory Bear, Ace and RJ were along for the trek. I wandered into the woods rather than stay on the manicured path, and it was wonderful. Rustling leaves, sun dappling through the trees, and lots more to sense and see.

A photo of the sun reflecting off the lake taken by Norma Walton on her wilderness wander in Northern Ontario
Lake Laurentian Conservation Authority

Lake Laurentian Conservation Authority has an extensive trail system surrounding the university. Some paths are gravel; others are dedicated to cross country skiing; still more wander through the woods up close and personal with the trees. Sudbury is part of the Canadian Shield so rock is abundant, and it is in the Great Lakes Basin so has over 330 lakes in the municipality alone, not to mention in the surrounding communities. Scrambling over the rocks, making sure you have a toehold when you are climbing, and paying attention to the sounds of animals around you are all part of the wonder of hiking.

A photo of a map taken by Norma Walton that shows the Lake Laurentian Conservation Authority trail system in Northern Ontario on her Wilderness Wander
Trail Map

You can hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, or run the trails. They are one way and comprise about 20 kilometers in total. There are beaver dams and duck ponds, chickadees and perch. All manner of nature abounds. The Conservation Authority does a nice job of maintaining the paths, and they are rugged but manageable. There are various high points along the way where you have various vistas of the city. You can see for miles from various high rocks in the system.

Modern life is fast-paced and technology abounds. It is rare to be without the sound of technology – engines turning over, typing on a keyboard, whirring of the washing machine, and the dinging of bells. We drove to Sault Ste. Marie yesterday to see our boys play hockey, and along the way we encountered six Amish buggies with people inside who don’t embrace anything modern. That level of rejection is foreign to me, but I do seek a balance between no technology and technology everywhere. One place to find that balance is the woods. It is quiet but for the sounds of animals moving around; it is shaded; there is natural beauty everywhere; it is empty of people for the most part; and it permits time to ponder, to reflect, to enjoy your own thoughts at your own pace. That time is essential for me. I love company, but sometimes being alone is needed.

A photo taken by Norma Walton showing Sudbury in the distance with the Canadian Shield in front on her wilderness wander through Northern Ontairo
Vistas of the city

My wander through the wilderness today set the table for a day of serenity and calm. I imbibed the mood (and some of the mud) of the forest. It is a perfect frame of mind for feeling grateful for a wonderful summer and at the same time turning my mind to the pending start of the school year. It is a continual struggle to juggle health and fitness, work responsibilities, and relationships…a task which I find far easier to achieve in the summer when the days are long and the weather is inviting. It was a wonderful wilderness wander.

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Guest Post by Amy Mazur

Amy enjoying ME TIME on her horse Dee

So often as women we get consumed with our loved ones, our family and friends, and in our work. We pour every ounce of who we are and what we have to give into being the best possible mother; the dedicated wife; the reliable friend; the loyal daughter; the ideal employee.  I could go on and on. We not only forget to take the time for ourselves but we also feel guilty for wanting/needing to. We develop this mentality that we would be wrong to say “No, I cannot (or won’t) do that right now”. We feel guilty for taking a 30-minute bath or leaving the kids for an hour to go to the gym or to go swimming. We think it selfish if we spend $100 at the salon or spend a couple days in the month not constantly doing for others, but instead reading a book or watching a show.

The problem with this mentality is that when we are not taking time for ourselves and recharging, we have less and less to give to our loved ones, to our friends and at work.  This mentality needs to change. The guilt needs to be removed. The stigma of “me time” needs to be vanquished.

We need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else.  Three years ago, after I had my second daughter, I was so blessed to be introduced to a group of women who call themselves FOMM, for Friends of Muskoka Midwives. In addition to supporting the Muskoka Midwives Clinic and helping to raise money for them, they also created an event for the mothers called “Fill Up Your Cup”.  It was there that I realized just how much subconscious guilt I personally held for leaving my girls with ANYONE, for ANY REASON.  I realized that I felt shame when I didn’t get the laundry done because I was exhausted and needed to nap with my baby. I desperately missed my friends because I wouldn’t leave the girls at home to go out even for a coffee and my friends did not always want me bringing my kids with me.

I share all of this because I feel it is so very important. I listened to other women and other mothers talk about all of their struggles and “shortcomings,” none of which were in fact shortcomings.  I realized that all of us were just normal women and that we cannot be superwomen all the time. The number of women at that event that advocated for each other taking a breath and “filling up their cups” was empowering and life changing.

If anything I have said has resonated, please talk about it. Talk to anyone…even a stranger.  Perhaps there is another mother at the park that you could chat with or a co-worker that seems to be just as exhausted as you are. You are allowed time for yourself; you NEED time to recharge and breathe. If you are empty, you cannot assist anyone else.  Even if you just set aside 10 minutes a day where, sans a life-threatening situation, nobody can disrupt you or ask anything of you, that would be a good start.

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Thoughtful Benefits You Can Offer Your Employees To Show You Care, By Hazel Bridges

Image by Pexels

If you want to send a message to your staff that shows you care, start with a robust benefits package. Getting creative with benefits attracts talent to your business, makes you stand out among competitors, and improves your bottom line. These examples (presented below by Norma Walton) can help you start thinking about innovative ways to create or improve your benefits package. 

Traditional Benefits Improvements

Employees expect paid vacation days and health insurance, but you can make it more exciting. Consider offering paid personal days or extra paid vacation time. Surveys show that daycare cost is astronomical almost everywhere. ZenBusiness suggests offering supplemental daycare assistance or even building a workplace daycare.

Offering dental and vision insurance in the healthcare package is a strong improvement, but you can also actively promote healthy living. Provide nutrition education or fitness coaching programs. Move brainstorming meetings from the conference room to walking trails outside to get everyone moving. Some companies occasionally extend the lunch hour to incorporate intramurals. It promotes exercise and is great for team-building. Emphasize mental health with counseling sessions or paid days off to regroup after a long week. 

Off-the-Clock Services

Many companies have started offering experiences for employees after-hours. You can turn some benefits into fun surprises. One company allowed employees to participate in a luggage party, holding a drawing during the workday and sending the winner on a free weekend trip. Offer a vacation bonus that employees can spend on any trip they choose. Provide sabbaticals outside of the standard annual vacation days. For example, you can include a three-week, paid sabbatical under time-off benefits, and implement it after 10 years of employment and every five years following. If you want to offer a fun short break in the year, appeal to nostalgia and bring back spring break. 

Find a way to contribute to everyday life after the workday. Chore help, such as weekly laundry services or cleaning crews, frees up time for your employees after work hours. If you have employees with a long commute, offer a subscription to Audible. Pay your employees to use their free time volunteering. Many companies are offering 40 hours of paid volunteer work annually. Employees can distribute it throughout the year as they please. 

On-Site Enhancements

Your employees spend a substantial amount of time at the workplace. You can use the benefits package to change up the workday. Some companies implement a break in the day for relaxing activities, such as yoga classes. Allow for flexibility in the form of work from anywhere, not just from home. Schedule social activities, such as Wednesday morning coffee or Thursday off-site lunch together. An increasingly popular move is to reduce hours. In the tech industry, some companies are eliminating the five-day workweek and giving employees Friday off.

You can also help employees develop personally. Provide tuition assistance or funding for classes and conferences. Helping employees further their education benefits the business as well. Create a workplace library for a quiet break. Put in a bookshelf and some informational reading and encourage employees to share their favorite books. 

Employee appreciation comes in a variety of forms, and it doesn’t have to stop when the workday ends. Your employees will recognize when you are invested in their productivity and well-being. In return, they will become more productive and beneficial to your company. 

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The Benefits of a Morning Walk with Norma Walton

Norma Walton Michelle Obama Benefits of Walking

I remember reading that Michele Obama woke up really early to ensure she fit a workout in every day.  When her first daughter was four months old, that meant 4:30 am.  That is a little crazy-early for me.  Nonetheless, the concept appealed to me that if you fit your workout in first thing in the morning then it is done for the rest of the day.

I love a morning walk. The weather is fresh; it is quiet, still and peaceful; you get your exercise out of the way for the day; and you feel more invigorated with energy for the remainder of the day. It definitely takes extra effort to get up early to add a walk into your morning regime but for me, the benefits far outweigh that one challenge. I am now used to the early rise and like being up before the rest of my crew.  I have found that my morning walk brings the following health benefits: 

Energy Boost

We’ll start here because it is the first thing you’ll notice following your walk. Exercising outdoors is an excellent way to increase your energy.  The fresh air and morning quiet gives you a boost.  Although I typically walk for between 30 and 60 minutes each morning, it takes just 20 minutes of brisk walking to enjoy the newfound vitality. Instead of reaching for that cup of coffee in the morning with your eyes half closed, may I suggest you instead lace up your shoes and head out to take in some fresh air and get your circulation pumping.

Happier Mood

I tend to run happy but notice that even generally cranky people benefit from exercise.  So if you live with someone who tends to wake up angry, drag him with you on your morning walk.  Mood improvements are a wonderful benefit of morning walks, which can create an overall feeling of well-being.  Pumping a few endorphins through your body first thing can improve your mood for the entire day. Your daily constitutional can also improve self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety, shake off fatigue, and even ease symptoms of depression.  All of these positive feelings can be achieved with a 20 minute walk five mornings a week.

Get Exercise Out of the Way

If you’re like a lot of people, the thought of exercise might be a real turn off. However, a morning walk can provide enough exercise for the day. It is one of the best forms of physical activity and I find it far more pleasant than trying to work out at home or in a gym. If you find yourself trying to avoid exercise, walking feels more like a treat than the drudgery of exercising. Even a slower paced walk can do wonders for your health.. Walk at whatever pace you feel comfortable. After your walk, you will feel satisfaction in the knowledge that you’re done for the day.

Weight Loss and Avoiding Weight Gain

At my age, the objective is not to gain any more weight.  A daily walk helps me maintain my weight.  For some, a daily walk will not only permit you to maintain your weight but will allow you to shed a few excess pounds.  Weight loss typically makes you look better, move easier, and improve overall health. A brisk morning walk lasting 30 minutes burns approximately 150 calories per walk.  Walking five days a week means you are burning 750 calories a week from walking.  That makes a difference…that is a pound of weight lost each month you walk.

For Your Health

Walking will improve your health.  A morning walk can help you better manage your health, prevent some health problems, and make it easier to live with chronic health challenges. Because you are exercising, you are receiving an immune system boost, coursing endorphins through your body, promoting weight maintenance or weight loss, and reducing your risk for heart disease. If you suffer from diabetes, walking can also help you better manage glucose levels.  There is even some research suggesting that walking daily will reduce your risk of contracting some forms of cancer and will increase your lifespan.  What’s not to like?

Improve Muscle Strength

As we age, we lose muscle and gain fat.  Our bodies change in ways we typically don’t appreciate.  A nice brisk walk can help strengthen leg muscles. Going uphill or taking the stairs can further increase the impact of walking on your leg muscles and also increase your leg strength. Even a slight incline gets your heart and muscles pumping. A walk is a pleasant way to keep leg muscles toned. To get your arm muscles into the act, consider carrying small weights with you or bringing Nordic poles along on your walk.  I often walk to the grocery store in the morning then walk home laden with groceries in my back pack and in my arms.  Although sometimes I feel like a pack mule, I have no doubt it is good for me.

Norma Walton explores mountains in Nevada

Mental Clarity

For me, being quiet in nature is an excellent stress buster.  If you live in a neighbourhood with green space, you can clear your head by drinking in that natural beauty each morning. Even in an urban space, you can improve mental clarity with a morning walk but the more nature you can incorporate into your morning walk, the more you will benefit. As we age, our brains become foggier.  A morning walk helps keep that youthful cognitive function that keeps your mind sharp. If you do creative work, a morning walk can open up your creativity and remove blocks. You can even experience improved problem-solving skills.  I always find solutions to my problems come to me after a good night’s sleep and a morning walk.

A Good Night’s Sleep

When you are up early for your walk, you tend to tire earlier at night.  When my head hits the pillow, it is easy for me to fall asleep.  In my view, even though you are walking in the morning, that activity actually helps you sleep better at night. Also, if you suffer from mild insomnia, a morning walk is better than an evening walk because you don’t want your body moving into an energy-producing mode just before bed. Also, with a morning kick start, your metabolism will work better throughout the day. Once your morning walk is a habit, you start to create a nice cycle providing yourself with much needed energy in the morning and throughout the day with improved sleep at night, allowing you to wake ready for your next walk the next morning.

Norma Walton kids sleeping

Summer Friendly

Toronto has been hot the past few days.  Walking in the middle of the day would be uncomfortable.  Walking in the morning allows you to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.  I always drink a big glass of water before heading out for my walk, and another one upon my return.  Others bring water with them.

Motion is Lotion

Three members of my household suffer from back pain.  Although laying down may seem the obvious fix, they find it is actually the worst thing you can do.  Staying  up and staying active will help work out the back problem faster than lying prone and still.  If you suffer from chronic pain of any kind, it is hard to get into the spirit of the motion-is-lotion movement.  However, I believe it is true and can help you relieve your pain. You can start out with slower, shorter walks and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself. Instead, take your time and remember that every step is one towards improved health and a reduction in muscle stiffness and joint pain. Walking actually helps protect your joints, as it promotes production of lubrication while helping to strengthen joint muscles. Once again, this is very important as you age, as it can help manage issues such as arthritis. As a low-impact exercise, it is the safest way to avoid increasing pain, and instead helps reduce swelling and stiffness.

I still think Michelle Obama is a little crazy being up that early.  But I agree wholeheartedly with her opinion that morning is the best time to exercise.  Hopefully the above benefits have encouraged you to give a morning walk a try if you don’t already enjoy one.  If so, then lace it up, take it slow to start, and always stay hydrated.

Norma Walton walk in the woods