The following excerpt comes from my upcoming 13th book, Shawna's Outreach: When we each give a little, a lot gets done, by Shawna Thibodeau and Amanda Sterczyk. All royalties from this book will go directly to help people living in poverty and on the streets of Ottawa. It's called, "A day in the life of a donation."
Let’s meet Hotel Hank, the complimentary bar of soap we all pick up on overnight hotel stays. His journey is one example of how even the smallest item can have a profound influence on someone’s life.
Hotel Hank has been languishing on the stairs of a suburban Ottawa home for at least six months. Don’t let his diminutive appearance fool you: he has big dreams. All he wants is to meet up with his pal, Water, and help someone get clean. Never quite making it to a water source, his mission has been thwarted. Until today.
9:37 a.m. A careless footfall on the stairs sends Hotel Hank reeling, tumbling end over end until he lands at the bottom of the stairs, slightly askew. The person responsible for said relocation picks up Hotel Hank with one hand, as the other hand scrolls distractedly on a smartphone.
9:38 a.m. A friend’s social media post about Shawna’s Outreach fills the smartphone screen. Coincidentally, it’s a post detailing the need for toiletries.
9:39 a.m. Eyes shift from one hand to the other, from looking at Hotel Hank to reading the post about Shawna’s Outreach. A lightbulb goes off as a plan is formed.
9:40 a.m. A direct message arrives at Shawna’s Outreach: “Hi, I have a bar of soap that I’d like to donate. How can I get it to you?”
10:37 a.m. Hotel Hank is delivered to a local shop that serves as a drop-off point for Shawna’s Outreach. Shawna will be coming by in a few hours to gather the items in this donation bin. In the meantime, Hotel Hank chills with the other products that are awaiting delivery to their final destination.
12:44 p.m. Shawna arrives and collects Hotel Hank and the other donated items. She brings them to the back of her vehicle and begins distributing them in the half-filled bags. Hotel Hank joins a bag that already contains the usual items (drink, source of protein, socks, etc.).
3:00 p.m. After a few additional stops to pick up more donations and sort them into waiting bags, Shawna arrives in downtown Ottawa to begin sharing the bags with the unhoused people she meets on the street.
4:12 p.m. The bag containing Hotel Hank is handed to a young man sitting on the curb. He quickly opens the bag and begins pulling out the items. A smile forms across his face as he takes out Hotel Hank, and he tells Shawna that he hasn’t had a shower in four days. He’s looking forward to using his new bar of soap—Hotel Hank.
5:13 p.m. Hotel Hank’s dream comes true at last as he meets his pal, Water. More exuberant than soapy bubbles is his pride in helping this young homeless person. It’s been a good day all around.
Copyright: Shawna Thibodeau and Amanda Sterczyk 2023, all rights reserved.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are fully aware that Canada’s health care system is broken. More than one simple break, the problem is akin to a car window that shatters into thousands of tiny pieces on impact. Many problems that require many steps to fix all of the breaks. It is going to take years to dig us out of this hole, and it will require policy changes across the spectrum. I liken it to a giant cross-country jigsaw puzzle that can only be completed in small steps.
Today, I want to address one potential component regarding the shortage of family doctors in Canada. The adoption of multidisciplinary health care teams, also known as team-based care, is vital to the future viability of our health care system.
When it comes to team-based care, a key component must be the inclusion of exercise professionals on these teams. The World Health Organization has identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for premature death:
"Regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and manage noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several cancers. It also helps prevent hypertension, maintain healthy body weight and can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being.” (WHO guidelines on physical activity)
In fact, the Ontario Kinesiology Association has been advocating for the inclusion of exercise-specific professionals to be included on all primary care teams in the province:
"Exercise and physical activity are recognized unequivocally as among the most effective means to both prevent and manage chronic disease. Managing these illnesses is critical: Chronic conditions such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease are the leading cause of death in Ontario. The cost of supporting individuals with chronic disease is estimated to be 55% of total direct and indirect health costs.”
Indeed, a Canadian study demonstrated that patients want individualized physical activity recommendations from their primary care physicians. If team-based care is to be successful, not only should dieticians be added to these teams, but also exercise professionals. Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise would go a long way to reducing the burden of chronic disease on Canadians and our health care system.
If you’ve been following my Facebook author page, you may be aware that I’ve embarked on my first author collaboration. If not, keep reading to learn more.
Earlier this year, I met Shawna Thibodeau at a women’s networking event. Shawna runs a grassroots initiative called Shawna’s Outreach. She accepts donations from all over the city and creates outreach bags to distribute to people living on the street.
At the event, Shawna received a generous cash donation to support her outreach work. Attendees were also invited to see how they could support in their own way, which leads us to today.
My idea was to write a book—you know, give back through writing. The book is called Shawna's Outreach: When we each give a little, a lot gets done. Shawna and I are co-authors on this book, and we’re excited to let you know that it will be available for sale in a few months’ time.
I have donated my time and services to write the book, but I have also recruited a volunteer editorial team. Everyone involved in producing this book is donating their time and services, so that all royalties can directly benefit Shawna's Outreach.
The book will cover who Shawna is, how Shawna’s Outreach began, who donates to and who benefits from Shawna’s Outreach, and much more. We are telling the story of the homelessness crisis in Ottawa with hope and humour—in effort to demonstrate that every small act of kindness and sharing is important.
As we look towards a fall book launch, we hope those of you in Ottawa will join us. If you are outside the Ottawa area and would like to donate directly to Shawna’s Outreach, please get in touch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Shawna's Outreach on Facebook.
It’s been five years since I published my first book. At the time, I thought I’d be a one-hit wonder. But I’ve gone on to publish a total of 11 books and one audiobook. So I now confidently introduce myself as a writer, especially since I’m working on my next few manuscripts.
In recognition of my five-year authorship anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on what led me to write my first book, Move More, Your Life Depends on It. That was published in 2019, but I founded THE MOVE MORE INSTITUTE™ in 2016. It was an initiative I created to help sedentary individuals learn how to incorporate non-exercise activity into their daily lives. You know, how our grandparents used to live when they didn’t have so many labour-saving devices at their fingertips.
Here’s a post about it from 2018, when I appeared on local television to promote my initiative:
Living in the nation’s capital—home to the federal government and a multitude of associations and institutes—I wanted a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek title for my initiative. That’s how THE MOVE MORE INSTITUTE™ came into existence. But there was nothing formal or regimented about it. In reality, I was trying to work myself out of a job. You see, as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer, many clients participated in weekly exercise with me. But for many, that was the extent of their physical activity. The rest of their waking hours, they were mostly sedentary at work and home. I was trying to inspire people to sit less, move more--even if that meant they no longer felt the need to attend my classes or hire me for personal training.
And that was a problem, because sitting had been identified as the “new smoking." You see, exercise alone isn’t enough. Daily movement that breaks up long periods of sitting is vital. I first read about this concept in the 2011 book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, by Dr. Joan Vernikos—the former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. Vernikos was instrumental in astronaut John Glenn’s return to space at the age of 77.
Although I wrote about Vernikos’ important work as early as 2014, Vernikos published her first book on the topic a decade earlier— The G-Connection: Harness Gravity and Reverse Aging. Although I can confidently say I’ve been ahead of my time with many of my publications, it is Dr. Vernikos’ ground-breaking research at NASA that led the movement to reduce sedentary time. When I realized in 2018 that many of my blog posts had already touched on this important topic, I knew I wanted to expand on my previous writing and turn it into a book.
So that’s my story of how NASA inspired my writing career. If you haven’t had a chance to read Dr. Vernikos' work, I’d recommend any of her books. But my favourite is still Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.
Other books by Joan Vernikos, Ph.D.:
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And recovery requires you to patiently peel back those onion layers
Late last year—as in, days before the Christmas break—I walked away from my job for the same reasons. I had hit a wall and it was impacting my physical and emotional health. I equate my burnout to a raw onion: it makes your eyes water, leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and can cause indigestion.
I had had enough. My body had had enough. Right before I packed it in, every work email was triggering a fight or flight response: sheer panic about more tasks and responsibilities landing on my plate.
Post-resignation hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. It’s been messy and complicated. And it still feels like an onion, where peeling back the layers of recovery requires strength. Not to mention patience in dealing with that sticky onion layer that doesn’t want to let go.
As I’ve peeled these layers back in my own life, I’d like to share with you some of the layers I’ve been through, in hopes that they might help you in your journey back from burnout.
1. Get comfortable with discomfort (yours and others). The discomfort is just one of many layers you need to peel away, and this one has multiple layers. I’ve had many sleepless nights since I left my job. At first, it was all about my brain processing what had led to the moment when I decided that quitting that very day was the best action. The discomfort here came from reliving a lot of little things that, taken on their own, shouldn’t cause employee burnout. But added up with all the other little things, well, let’s just say the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
The next layer of discomfort came from thinking about my colleagues. I felt like I was letting them down by leaving with work on my plate, some of which they would have to pick up and manage along with their own workloads. Unmanageable workloads seem to be quite common in many workplaces, and a wise friend advised me that it wasn’t my responsibility to sort it out for everyone.
A further layer of discomfort reflected back on my actions, when I started thinking, “what was I thinking?!” You know, that I quite possibly made a wrong choice. In the end, I know in my heart that I made the best choice—the only choice--for me at the time. The discomfort comes from acknowledging and sitting with these uncomfortable thoughts, instead of dismissing them outright.
2. Take some time. At some point, I’ll return to paid work, of that I am sure. But for the moment, I’m taking time for myself—to breathe, to recover, to reset. Of course, I’m still promoting my books and thinking about new books that I might write in the future. But if and when I do return to the paid workforce, my books will once again become a weekend side hustle. For now, though, I’m enjoying having time on weekdays to work on them, with no pressure. I hope you too are able to take some time to recover.
3. Reject the tired recruiting belief about “finding a job while you still have a job.” Have you had someone spout these supposed words of wisdom to you? That the “best time to find a job is when you already have a job.” Have you said them yourself? I would argue that’s not always true. If you’re suffering from even the early stages of burnout and you jump ship for another organization, you’ll just transfer your burnout baggage to another employer. While it can be considerably less stressful to job hunt when you’re currently receiving a regular paycheque, it may be tough to present your best self during interviews if you’re already burnt out. Take it from me. Enough said.
4. Be kind to yourself. It can be easy to feel like it’s your fault when your mental wellbeing takes a hit in the workplace—as it does in the case of burnout. It’s not your fault you are experiencing burnout. I tell myself that every day; maybe one of these days I’ll truly believe it. And I hope the same goes for you. Remember why you left in the first place. It was the best choice at the time, so don’t feel guilty that you cut and ran—and I’ll endeavour to keep it in mind too. Bottom line, you need to look out for yourself.
Conclusion. There you have it, my onion layers I’ve been examining as I reset and move beyond burnout. I’m sure I’ll discover more layers, more lessons. When I do, I’ll share them with you. For the record, I try to keep my eyes dry as I peel onions, with varying degrees of success.
Do you have a desk-based job? Are you a professional sitter? The knowledge-based economy means that many adults sit at their desks and in meetings for hours at a time every day. Productivity, profit, and professionalism lead people to remain seated at all times. But we're not in an airplane, and there is no turbulence (hint: you can get up and move about the cabin). This physical inactivity is prematurely aging our mostly sedentary bodies when we sit at a desk all day. It is killing us.
Being sedentary for too long impacts your entire body—your brain feels sluggish, your joints hurt, your muscles stiffen, and your mood turns generally gloomy. I think we can all agree that it’s difficult to be a productive person when you feel like that.
What can you do to address it? Here's a simple exercise that you can easily incorporate into your busy workday: Active Sitting.*
Active sitting helps us engage our muscles, strengthen our bones, and improve our posture. Instead of outsourcing the role of our muscles by slumping in our seats, we should sit tall. Aim for five minutes of active sitting every hour.
To start: Begin by sitting in a chair that has a firm seat.
Shifting forward: Sit up straight in your chair. You can slide your bottom forward so you’re not leaning back in the chair, or place your bottom right at the back of the seat with a tall back. Place both feet flat on the floor in front of you. If your legs are shorter and you can’t touch the floor, you can place a large book or block on the floor to support your feet. Don’t roll onto your tailbone. Imagine you have a tail and you want the tail behind you so you can wag it. Often, people roll backwards so they’re resting on their tailbone instead of their sit bones—these are the bony part of your bum, the lower edge of your pelvis.
Shoulder position: Drop your shoulders away from your ears. It should feel like you're letting them slide down your back.
Head position: Pull your head and neck back so your ears are sitting over your shoulders, not pushed forward. Your head is now positioned over your centre of gravity, which is allowing you to strengthen your bones by loading them. Feel your muscles and bones at work.
I am always astounded at how quickly the time goes during live appearances. This appearance was no different. Before I knew it, the host was wrapping up my segment, thanking me for my time and directing folks to visit my website for more information.
The next day, I received an email from someone who did just that. They wanted to know about my books and where they were available. They had seen me on the episode of Daytime Ottawa, and they wanted to access my books. I directed them to my Amazon page first (not knowing yet that they lived locally), then indicated they could buy directly from me if they were in the Ottawa area.
"I saw you on TV, but I can't afford your books." The email response did not deter me, as I directed them to our library to access them for free. I am so proud that my library has chosen to put their faith in my books by ordering multiple copies. Libraries support education and literary in an equitable fashion. As a child, we didn't have a library branch near our home, but we did have monthly visits from their bookmobile. It was my favourite day of the month.
When I published my first book, it was a great feeling of accomplishment. It was only when I saw that book in circulation at our library that I truly felt I was an author. Even if you can't afford to buy one of my books, I hope you'll be able to access it via the library.
If you live in another city, you can request that they purchase a book. This blog explains how to do it. And if you'd like to request they purchase one of my books, you can find details you'll need for your request by following the book links on my Amazon Author Page.
On that note, I'm off to read a book. That I checked out of the library.
What a strange year it has been. A once-in-a-century pandemic has uprooted the entire planet, the toll to human life staggering. No one has been unaffected by the events of the past year, including me. Here’s a brief glimpse into the past year, from a recovering fitness professional.
Shortly before the world got turned upside down, I began a new chapter in my life. My fitness business of more than a decade was shelved in favour of a full-time job for a health charity. If you’ve read my fitness memoir, I Can See Your Underwear, or even the excerpt I shared one year ago, you’ll know that I was feeling burnt out from focusing on other people’s fitness goals, at the expense of my own.
That’s what partly precipitated my retirement from being a fitness entrepreneur—I needed to put my goals first. The office job was a way to reclaim my evenings and weekends—punch a clock and contribute when at the office, while focusing on myself during my down time. I even managed to find a job that allowed me to engage in active transportation—the office was a 40-minute walk in each direction, a 19-minute bike ride when the snow finally melted.
And then it happened—seven days in to my new role, everyone who could was instructed to work from home until further notice. [Spoiler alert: one year later, we’re still awaiting details on the return-to-the-office plans. Thankfully, none of us have been holding our breath.] Overnight, my commute became much shorter—eight steps from the kitchen to my desk, eighteen steps from there to the bathroom. The line between home and work blurred for many, myself included. I spent many more hours in a seated position, and it didn’t take long for my body to protest.
You’ve heard of the Freshman 15? Well, I acquired the COVID 19. All that extra sitting began wreaking havoc on my now-larger frame. Another lockdown during the worst of the winter months meant that, in addition to being more sedentary that I ever have, I was also less physically active. That’s when the pain started. It began with foot pain in my left foot, then in my right foot, followed by low back pain and excruciating hip pain.
Some targeted physiotherapy treatments helped, as well as a gentle reminder from my physio to do daily stretches. I began with a few minutes of stretching when things started acting up. The stretching helped and I was thankful I could draw on my fitness background for my own needs.
And yet, my problems with pain persisted, even worsened. Until, that is, I went back to my roots. You see, it was a love of the very popular PBS fitness show Classical Stretch that opened me up to a career in fitness. I first discovered Classical Stretch on a snowy winter’s day in late 2001. I practiced it on and off throughout the decade, always feeling better after the 22-minute full-body rebalancing it provided. I jumped into the fray, beginning instructor training in early 2010.
One thing that happens when you’re a group fitness instructor is that every workout you do is focused on your clients’ needs. But now, back to doing my own workouts in my living room—often in my pjs—I could focus once again on my own needs. And boy, did I need a full-body rebalancing!
After a decade as a teacher, I was experiencing a renaissance as a student. And practicing what I often preached: the best exercise for you is the one you enjoy. Because if you like it, you’re more likely to do it. So I’m back to tried-and-true 22-minute workouts in the comfort of my own home. And my body thanks me every day.
What’s the lesson here? When it comes to exercise, physical activity, and just plain movement, find what you love and keep going. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
*To be clear: the weight gain was due to my constant close contact with the kitchen. I have been eating more than I needed to, from a caloric perspective. My weight gain was food-based, not due to a lack of exercise.
When I last wrote a blog post about exercise, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to take hold. None of us knew how long until we could resume our regularly scheduled activities. The "world outside our windows" wasn't so much a scary place, just a really empty place.
As we enter the fourth month of restrictions on our movement and activities, many organizations in Ottawa have pivoted to offering online workshops and fitness classes. And I've been recruited to help deliver some of these offerings. So, here's what's on tap in July and August:
Workshops: How Can Seniors Prevent a Fall?
As we age, our risk of falling increases, as does the likelihood that a fall will cause an injury. How can we help seniors prevent a fall, maintain their independence, and avoid a hospital visit? Before the time of COVID-19, falls were the leading cause of injury, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations for seniors in North America, and half of all falls happened in the home. What about now? No data has yet been compiled on home-based falls during the pandemic, but the number has likely increased, as seniors have become more housebound as well as more sedentary.
Amanda Sterczyk, an independent author and personal trainer, will teach participants about the balance "sweet spot", the complexity of our balance system, and how easy it is to incorporate exercise into their daily lives to improve their balance and prevent falls.
There will be three opportunities to join this online workshop:
Friday, July 10th, 10:00 am, Ottawa Public Library's Zoom Portal. The session is free but you must register with the library to attend.
Monday, July 20th, 2:00 pm, Old Ottawa South Community Association. The session is pay what you can, and you must register with OSCA to attend. (Note: workshop listed as "Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall.")
Monday, August 17th, 2:00 pm, Old Ottawa South Community Association. The session is pay what you can, and you must register with OSCA to attend. (Note: workshop listed as "Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall.")
Classes: Online Fitness for Seniors
There is a three-week series of classes that will be hosted via the Ottawa Public Library's Zoom portal. Each class is free, but also requires registration. If you want to join all three, you'll have to register for each of these classes:
Friday, July 17th, 10:00 am, standing exercises
Friday, July 24th, 10:00 am, seated exercises
Friday, July 31st, 10:00 am, lying down exercises (can be completed on the floor or on a bed)
Thursdays at 2:30 pm, MOBA: Stretch with Amanda.* If you're missing classes with me, I've returned to teaching once a week. Please contact me for registration details.
*(MOBA = mobility and balance)
I am what you would call the poster child for introverted authors everywhere, toiling away in private, keeping my head down to work on my oeuvres — you get the idea. So joining not one but two online NaNoWriMo accountability groups was out of character for me. But I did it anyway, partly to see if being held accountable for writing every day would change my habits for the better.
Are you curious about my success? While I didn’t achieve the goal of completing my novel’s manuscript, heck, I didn’t even crack the 50K word goal, I did learn a lot about myself during the process:
While my intention at the beginning of the month had been to write my novel, Selfried and the Secret, I was actually juggling four books:
That first day I was forced to write a zero on my word count tally, well, that hurt. I felt like I was letting the group down, that I was letting myself down. Until I read posts from my fellow writers, some of whom were experiencing similar challenges with daily writing, for a variety of reasons. And I remembered why I wanted to focus on writing and publishing my works: for me and my audience. So I let myself off the hook. I was doing fine, and I needed to get back to writing for the right reasons.
When I experienced a second day of entering zero in my word count tally, I realized I wouldn’t be able to crack 50,000 words. I made the decision to adjust my monthly goal down from 50,000 to 40,000 words. And I did it! By mid-afternoon on November 30th, my word count ticked past 40K. The bulk of my words this month went to my first novel in progress, currently resting at 28,000 words, patiently awaiting my return. It also included three blog posts, key updates — to the tune of 6,500 words — to the manuscript for my fourth non-fiction book, and a decent chunk of a fifth non-fiction book, which came to me as a result of our family emergency earlier in the month.
It’s now December and I’m going to continue trying to write and create every day, but I’m also going to cut myself some slack if it doesn’t happen. Did the month-long challenge change my habit? Yes and no. It helped me be more comfortable with writing at different times of the day. But as I’ve noted before that even on the days I’m not writing, the wheels in my brain never stop turning. I’m pondering, reflecting, editing in my head. So whether or not these words make it on to paper or a screen, they’re still alive, waiting to be shared with the world.
All in good time, all in good time.
Amanda Sterczyk is an international author, Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor.