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Living Longer Better


NICOLE: If you start today, it makes an immediate impact. So you can begin now or begin in an hour. They can begin 20 minutes from now, but you'll always stay stuck if you never take one step forward. So, you can't just stop now because the world has changed. You have to pick yourself up and keep going,

Hi, this is Dan Baum, host of Redefine U. Thanks for joining us as we continue our series exploring how we redefine in the face of a pandemic.

What is the difference between health and wellness? How do we stay well in a world that is so different than the one we had only a few months ago?

This week, we talk with Nicole Reed, assistant professor in the Department of Health, Fitness and Exercise Studies at Anne Arundel Community College. Nicole will tell us what it means to be healthy and well, how fitness continues in an online world, and the importance of connection to our overall well-being.

DAN: I want to welcome Professor Nicole Reed who teaches in the exercise studies program at AACC. Welcome, Nicole.

NICOLE: Hi, Dan. Thanks for having me.

DAN: Thanks for being here. How are you doing at this time?

NICOLE: I'm great. I've been better and I've been worse. I feel like this week, I think this is week three, I feel a little bit more settled and less unnerved, more in a routine. So all those things help, I think; less anxious and scattered. I think a little bit more in balance than week one or week two, whenever that was.

DAN: I can relate to that. It's a process. How many are in your household?

NICOLE: Oh, there are three children, two of which are teenagers, and an elementary school student, and my husband and three dogs.

DAN: Wow.

NICOLE: So there is a good bit of us. It's busy on a normal day, but when you're home 24 hours a day, seven days a week together, it seems like we have a lot of moving parts.

DAN: Definitely. Sounds busy. So tell me about the relationship between physical exercise and mental health.

NICOLE: I was just talking with someone earlier about it. I don't like to even think about it like there's a relationship. They're one almost in the same. I always used to say to even our students, you have to exercise for your head, for your brain more so for your body. The benefits to your body will come later. But the balance that moving and even the opposite of moving, sleeping, creates for your body, the benefits are endless. I could probably go on about it forever.

We normally, we typically exercise, most people enjoy exercising with other people, other humans. I was just saying earlier today, the community that you find when you begin exercising, even if it's just your next door neighbor and you walk around the block, it's your support system that grows that improves your overall health. Health is not just being physically fit. It's so much more. It's being well in so many other ways. That's the biggest thing we're finding now, I think, being in the exercise field is that people not only miss exercising as much as they used to, but they're missing the community, the support network that they had when they were doing exercise with others, not just at home in your garage or walking around the block by yourself. So, critical.

DAN: Yeah, that's understandable. Yeah, that's understandable. And you mentioned some terms that we often put together; health and wellness. So tell me about the wellness side. What do we mean when we say wellness?

NICOLE: Well, like I said, I was teaching a class earlier and I literally was reviewing the definition of health. A lot of people don't realize it's simply the absence of illness or injury. It's not really inspiring.

DAN: No, not really.

NICOLE:  I always say that on the first day of my classes. That's not real motivational, that just because you would lack illness or injury that you should consider yourself healthy. You definitely should not. So then you compare health to wellness. That's literally the next sentence. So, wellness is all of your dimensions of your wellbeing being in balance, having homeostasis. So they'll ebb and flow and some of the dimensions of your wellness, there's eight, some will be stronger at some times and some will be weaker at other times. But having a balance with all of those dimensions of your wellness keeps you feeling, like we would typically say healthy, and then they lead to not having illness or injury. But it's more of a holistic concept that I think some people, we typically think physical fitness and the number on a scale or what you're putting in your mouth, and it's so much more.

DAN: Yeah. It's very helpful to hear that distinction, thank you. I'm curious about your students. So typically, what kind of courses do you teach?

NICOLE:  I teach the gen. ed. required health classes, so typically a Health 100 which is assessment theory of health and wellness. Then I teach personal and community health, women's health, personal trainer fundamentals, a health coach course. We have pretty much all the courses in our program other than care and prevention of athletic injuries and first aid and safety. The theme in all of them, they all overlap in some ways. Some just have particular focus than others, but I typically in every single one of those classes, start it with the dimensions of wellness talk so that everybody understands that while we might have one focus here, everything sort of overlaps and will be expanded on differently depending upon the class.

DAN: What's it been like to teach all of your classes online now?

NICOLE: Well, I have a love/hate relationship with teaching online, I think. Sometimes I love teaching online because you can be very flexible. The students, I think like having the independence of some of that flexibility. I typically, I consider myself introverted. It is a show when I'm in the classroom. So it's a very extroverted-type, sort of performance, I feel like you give when you're a teacher and you're working the crowd and you're getting participation and there's a lot of human interaction obviously. Weeks ago I would have... I love that, but it's tiring. So now, when you take that away, I miss it.

DAN:  Yeah, yeah.

NICOLE: Even though I think of myself as an introvert and I sort of like being alone and quiet and I would think sort of just would be comfortable just sitting behind the screen. I miss the humans. All of them.

DAN: It's kind of like what you were saying about exercising with other people, there's an energy that goes with that.


DAN:  Has that been the biggest difference for you going online, is that energy?

NICOLE:  Yes, 100% and I asked my students and we were shifting over, especially my face to face classes that shifted over to being fully online, I was just asking, "What do you need? What would you like to see? I'm not going to completely shift everything and turn the class upside down on you, but how about something simple like this?" I just create a discussion board area and it's not required and it's not anything more than just a place where we can talk to each other whenever you want.

Almost each class that I asked it in said, "Yes." There hasn't been too much interaction, but it's not people are on there every day all day long chatting away. But every time I go in, there are a few people that are participating. I think it's just simply to be able to say to the person that you typically sit next to, "Hey, how are you? How's it going?"

DAN: Yeah, so students are chatting with each other. What kind of feedback are you getting from them?

NICOLE: Just that they want to check in. They want to say like, "I remember talking to you in class that one time and you mentioned that you had such and such kind of dog. How's it going? Are you taking him on 20 walks a day?" Just things that you can't, or you typically wouldn't have the opportunity maybe to do in an online class. They just want to ask each other how they are. I think it was meaningful for them that I just set up that little space and that it's not classwork. It's not an assignment or a project they have to do on each other. It's just a space to say, "Hi."

DAN: Well, one of the things you said for exercise it often is a communal experience and many people go to a gym and then they'll use equipment at that gym. Most people don't have that kind of equipment at home. So it would take some kind of creativity in this environment. What are you seeing people doing or attempting to do in this environment?

NICOLE: Sure. Well, we started small and just said... Well, when people were asking us, "How can I exercise at home?" Literally, take a walk around your block. It doesn't have to involve weights. It can involve body weight. So it can just be air squats. It can just be ab work. It can be pushups on the floor. You don't have to overcomplicate it. Then I always say, "If there's someone in your house, if there's a neighbor that can stand across the street and you can keep each other accountable for your daily walk or keep each other accountable for a wave when you head out the door." Exercise doesn't have to be overcomplicated. We tend to overcomplicate it, but it can just be deliberate time set aside to move your body and you really, honestly you don't need a lot of fancy equipment.

DAN: Yeah, I like to swim sometimes, but the bathtub, it's just not cutting it. It's just not working.

NICOLE: I know. It's awful. I do missing swimming.

DAN: One time, I went on vacation and a mutual colleague, someone that you know, she took a program with you and now teaches, she advised me that I could work my arms by picking up bags of wine bottles and use them for bicep curls and such. If you have enough wine in a bag, that gets pretty heavy.

NICOLE: That's very... And it has to be a controlled delicate movement. You wouldn't want to break them.

DAN: That's exactly right. Then some people like the 12-ounce curl, but if you use a six pack, it brings a whole new meaning to six pack abs, I think.

NICOLE: That's true. That's very true.

DAN: Well, you also teach personal trainer fundamentals and when I think of a personal trainer, a lot of it, for me what comes to mind, is proper form, helping people follow a proper form. How do you approach that in an online environment?

NICOLE: Well, for my students in my classes, I have them just self reflect and make sure, you can use a mirror, and you can literally watch what you're doing compared to how you should be doing it. Just compare and contrast. So there's little things when you do a squat, you should be below parallel and you can't really do that unless you can see yourself or you have the trainer there to help you correct. Those are little tidbits that I just teach my students. Then like you said, my husband and I, we do own a gym in the area and in 24-hours time, had to switch from being in a gym with all that fancy equipment and being with all the people and providing corrections for form and that sort of thing on an online platform and being in each other's houses.

So it wasn't necessarily easy at first, but what we did find was if you have the basics, you have basic equipment and you have basic form; so up and down, push and press, squat. You can be very successful and really see benefits, and like you said earlier, physically and mentally. But what we found in shifting from the personal trainer that's with you to being online, is that people missed community more than they missed the actual exercises. We would turn on the screen and it was 15 minutes of people saying, "Hi, how are you?" Where I had to switch off the time and be like, "I switched out the time to be two hours now instead of just a one hour class because everybody simply just wants to ask each other how they're doing," and maybe cared a little bit less about the workout and more about each other, which was nice.

NICOLE: So learning that, that was brand new for me or two, three weeks ago, learning that that would be so important in that sort of modality. So I just communicated it to my students. I said, "Look, I'm learning this too as a personal trainer." When you're a personal trainer or even a teacher, you're a people person. You like to be together and demonstrating things together and engaging and interacting with each other. So now that we don't have that as much as we used to, how can you still perform your job? Fundamentally, it's about providing connectedness with each other and doing the best you can. I was talking to someone else on your team the other day and we were saying, we both realized in this time that perhaps perfection is less important than it ever was before, that it's just being authentic.

Even if you make mistakes or your form is wrong or whatever it is, if your cat runs through the room or your kids are jumping on your back, people, I think now more than ever, and I hope it stays this way, like the authenticity more so than anything else. You can make mistakes, I think now and people are a little bit more forgiving or people are less intimidated. Maybe you've been intimidated to go to the gym because you didn't know how to do something or you thought your form was right or you didn't think you were strong enough or whatever. Now people are like, "Forget it. I just want to be where people are," and I think it's like “The Little Mermaid” song or something I just quoted, but the expectation of the pressure I think I'm seeing. If you just provide the opportunities, people seem to be really appreciative of that.

DAN: Well, I think that your point about connection too, I'm seeing that in the online meetings, I'm seeing it in the manner of people's emails. And in the past, I think we would just say, "Well, that's small talk. Let's dispense with the small talk," but it seems to be so important right now and you're seeing it in class and elsewhere.

For some people, they're juggling so much. right now; you have a full household and many want to exercise, want the benefits, but they may find that it's really hard to find the time where they just find it challenging. What do you say to those people?

NICOLE: I don't know if it's harder or more challenging now, because those things were always hard. People put exercise and care for themselves at the bottom of their to do list, and I don't know why. I don't know why. I say this to my students and my clients all the time. I don't know why living longer, better isn't enough motivation. Because isn't that the goal? We want to live longer, better. We want to have a better quality of life for as many years as we can. But if that's all you're trying to sell to people, people still put that at the bottom of their priority list. So while things may be different now, unless you're going to prioritize it and say, "I'm going to go find a 20 minute break," or, "I'm going to go take an hour first thing in the morning..."

Our days are no more or less stressful now. I think they're just different and there's unsettling pieces about them and there's sort of a, maybe it could be a lack of routine, but you have to prioritize yourself knowing and your health and your wellness knowing that you won't be the best you can be without sleeping well and eating well and moving frequently. I've said that since my first interview at Anne Arundel.

And I tell it to my students, "I don't need you to become the best A plus student in our program. I don't even need you to be in our program. You can change your mind and go study engineering next week if that's what you want to do, but I need you to be the best engineer then. In order to do that, you've got to take care of yourself. I don't want you to be the A-plus student that dies when they're 30 have a heart attack because you didn't walk regularly. That's a shame. I would be doing you a disservice." So I think it's a challenge to convince people that living longer, better should always be your priority no matter what happens to our daily routine or our schedules.

DAN: That's very encouraging. I'm sure people would say, "Yeah, I want to begin now." So what would you say is the most important thing that people can do at this time for their health and wellness?

NICOLE: The most important thing, I guess I could over simplify it and say just start. I love being outside. I think now, I'm thankful for the springtime. So if you can, if you can go outside and take that walk around the block, you'll get a lot of benefits from that. The sunshine that's out there, the stress relief of just hearing the bird sing, feeling the ground beneath your feet. Don't just sit behind your desk and work and click away on the computers just because we're relying on them so much more now than ever. It doesn't have to be an over complicated workout routine. It just means beginning.

If you walk to the end of the street or to your mailbox today, and that's as far as you can go, it's further than you went yesterday. So then maybe by the end of the week, it's a walk around the block. Then maybe in six months from now, you realize you can run it or whatever your goal is. But set a goal for yourself. Set a goal for yourself that is attainable. A week from now or three days from now, if you didn't take a walk yesterday, walk today and you'll sleep better at night. You'll have more energy the next day. The benefits constantly begin to compound. Have water. Water's good.

DAN: It's unfortunate that this is happening, but it is, as you said, fortunate that it's the spring and we can get outside. At some point, we will ease up these at-home restriction. So how do you see the field of fitness classes, personal training, moving forward in the near future?

NICOLE: I don't know. I wish I knew the answer to that.

DAN: You don't have a crystal ball, Nicole?

NICOLE: I've seen in a lot of my meetings lately too and in a lot of conversations, people want all the answers. They definitely don't like uncertainty. I don't know what things will look like long term when we all go back to sort of normal. I hope that... At least I'm realizing I never would have imagined teaching fully online the way that we are, but it's got to be reaching more people than it ever did before. So maybe it is great that we've learned how to change some of our classes around to be able to be completely in that modality. We'll find better ways to connect people behind screens, I guess, even more so than we did before.

Maybe the class quality or just the interaction of everybody, like you were saying tones and email, maybe people will just be a little bit more, I don't know, kind and compassionate and appreciative of the time together when we are able to be face to face again. I think before all this happened, we were seeing a boom in enrollment on online and our face to face classes were less popular, but maybe people will be really excited to get back in the classrooms again and see each other in the traditional way. I don't know.

DAN: I'm curious about your routine. You alluded to enjoying the outdoors, but if you're teaching, you're likely exercising all day. Is there anything you do just for you?

NICOLE: I don't know. That's a good question. Yeah, I like to take long runs. I like to be alone on a run, just quiet and not too much in my head. Yeah, I don't know. That's my answer for that one. I like a good long run, but I always say that to people too. If you don't like to run, please don't tell me that you want to pick up running. Please pick up the thing that you like. Don't just say you want to do this one thing because that's what it seems like everybody else does. If you just like to stretch, if you just like to do Pilates or yoga or you don't like lifting weights, don't decide to do the thing that you're not in love with doing because you'll never stick with it.

I like a good long run. I like to lift weights. And water's, like I said, I sort of underestimate... We sort of underestimate the importance of simple things like sleeping and staying hydrated, but without a good night's sleep and without a good bit of water each day, I definitely don't feel like myself. So I try to take care of myself that way. It doesn't seem like it's that impactful, but it really is.

DAN:  You don't have to convince me. I am not a runner, so you don't have to sell me on that. The outside world is clearly forcing us to change in so many ways. How do you think we're redefining ourselves collectively in these times?

NICOLE: I think the biggest thing I've seen is like you said, being more patient with each other, having less sort of expectations of perfection even with ourselves, but maybe even with our colleagues and our students, saying to people, "Just let me know how you're doing so that I know how I can help you." I feel like I've always said it to my students per se, like in the classroom, but now I feel like I'm saying it every single day to them and I still mean it. There's not many things that I feel like I would've said before that I would be like, "I've told you this once already, but now I really mean it. How are you and how can I help you?" every single day. So I hope that doesn't change. I hope that is part of something we're weaving in now that we are just a little better to each other and to ourselves than we were before.

DAN: That would be nice, wouldn't it?

NICOLE: Mm-hmm (affirmative) mm-hmm (affirmative).

DAN: How about for yourself? How do you think you're redefining yourself?

NICOLE: I think, like I said, I have a pretty busy household. I certainly hope that we are slower, a slower paced when we go back out to the real world again or whatever it's going to look like. I hope we are less rushed. I've certainly enjoyed sitting around the table with my family and having regular meals where we're not eating in the car or eating on the go. I definitely don't miss that. I was asking myself the other day, what do you miss about the way things used to be before and I don't really miss too much. I sort of am liking some of the things that we're doing now. We are spending a bit more time outside and we're less fast paced and I see more benefits from that for everybody than I see a negative consequence. So I hope I remember that. I hope I don't forget that when we go back to the way things used to be or whatever our new normal is going to look like.

DAN: Hopefully, we all remember that not just for the kindness to each other, but the earth seems to be enjoying this health and wellness.

NICOLE: It's amazing. It's amazing. The earth, the flowers are blooming and the earth is healing itself and people are seeing animals do things that they didn't do before and the skylines are changing and there's less pollution. Oh my gosh. It warms my heart. Environmental wellness is so important. That's the one key when you teach the dimensions of wellness, the environmental chapter or the environmental piece is always at the back of the textbook. I always would sort of fight the curriculum and push it towards the front, and remember to tell my students like, "This is so important. It's where you get your food from. It's where the sun comes from." It's the simple basic things. You can pay $1 million to go to any gym you want, but the fundamental human needs that people have are sort of the simplest things; air, water, good quality food, shelter and being together with people. It's really simple. I'm loving watching what our environment and the earth is doing to itself.

DAN: Well, professor Reed, thank you for slowing down enough to spend some time today. Thank you for keeping us healthy and stay well and take care.

NICOLE: Thank you, Dan.

Even a little exercise can go a long way to improving our health and well-being, especially in stressful times. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a walk, do some stretches, or find a workout online.

Wellness is so much more than physical fitness. It’s the balance of all our dimensions, including emotions, environment and social connections. Nicole and the Little Mermaid said it well: we want to be where the people are.

Fortunately, connection — like exercise — doesn’t have to be complicated. We can pick up the phone or talk across the street with a neighbor. People are getting creative. They’re hosting virtual happy hours, teaching friends to cook on social media, and having musical jams through video conferencing.

Taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to wait until the pandemic is over. What we do doesn’t have to be perfect. We just have to start.

How will you begin to live longer, better?


Special thanks to Nicole Reed for joining us for this week’s episode.

Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College. Our Executive Producer is Allison Baumbusch, our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte, and our Writer Amy Carr-Willard. Others who helped with this podcast include Amanda Behrens, Angie Hamlet, Ben Pierce, and Alicia Renehan. Find show notes, how to subscribe, and other extras on our website I’m your Host and Creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.


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