The Simple Way We Balance Healthy with Happy Hour

Our nation’s culture — and that of my immediate family, to be honest — is one where it is acceptable to use alcohol to celebrate and to soothe. How many times have we all toasted an achievement? Large — Your book got published! — and small — We got through the work week!

Where shall we meet for drinks?

When my mother had a massive stroke in the grocery store (part of her social world, they all knew and loved her there, thankfully) it was during the week and I ‘wasn’t drinking until Friday.’ But when I called my husband to tell him what had happened, he could barely make out the words through my sobs: “Get wine on your way home. I’m getting drunk.”

I was still able to fly home early the next morning to say goodbye to Mom. She was on life support and not responding, though her vitals signs all went up when she heard my voice. And she would have totally understood my need for wine the night before.

A drink or two, or three, seem innocuous in the evening as we make dinner, enjoy the meal, sit on the couch and play cards with the kids. One of our favorite ways to relax in the evening is to settle in, we call it, snuggled up with the dogs in front of a good movie. With wine.

But now we’ve learned that for optimum health and longevity women should have only 1 serving of alcohol a day (4 ounces!) and men, 2 servings. Alcohol’s link to breast cancer is scary, and I’m a breast cancer survivor.

As much as we try to justify not quite sticking to that strict regime of one drink (might as well have nothing to drink, some of us have been heard to whine) it’s been staring us in the face lately, even more glaringly than our rescue Chihuahua mix when she decrees it’s dinner time.

So now we walk. We walk for miles, on the beach, and meticulously plan our route so the halfway point is a beach bar.

Here is why this works for us: It is virtually impossible to face walking all those miles back home after more than one drink. I truly do not want more than that one drink. It feels like such a deserved treat, and it is enough.

And can I tell you how exhilarating that first pull on an ice cold beverage feels after powering through the pounding sunshine and hot sand for hours?

Our beach walks are not all punishment. Please don’t feel sorry for us. We talk, we laugh. We don’t talk for long intervals. We plan and dream, we observe. I won’t go into detail regarding our observations, but the beach wildlife we see as we walk…

And we practice gratitude. Did you know that the happiest couples go on walks together regularly? (They also kiss for a solid 10 seconds, and they hold hands.)

We started small. Short distances to begin with. Each time we’d go a little longer, became stronger and better able to handle the heat. (And pretty proud of ourselves as well!)

We got wiser, too, quickly. Our longest walk happened because of poor planning on my part (I am usually the Epic Planning Woman for our travel blog, Beaches, Bars and Bungalows. Not sure where my brain was this day. Already at the bar?) After three and a half miles on the beach I thought the midway point beach bar was just around the corner but it was still 2 miles away! And we’d each finished our one bottle of water long ago.

That walk turned out to be eleven miles, which we will never do again. We can, physically, but why? Breaking it up into 3–6 mile walks a few times a week is much more humane, and doesn’t take all damn day.

Not all of us live near the beach, I hear you saying. We haven’t always, either. It took us 12 years of wrestling, scheming, and seeing our grown kids finally moving out to achieve our little slice of paradise. But that is another story for another day.

When we lived in landlocked Orlando, surrounded by idiot drivers and clueless tourists with mouse ears, we walked through our neighborhood and into the next one, having fun observing people’s landscaping, driveways, paint colors, and the one woman who laid out in her side yard topless and observable through the fence gaps.

Then we took our lives in our hands crossing a busy road to have the special treat of one drink at the Orlando Ale House.

There is always somewhere to walk. If your area isn’t walkable, drive somewhere that is. Act like you live there, make sure your walking attire is fairly respectable, and no one will care.

A few must-dos for long walks that we learned the hard way:

· Comfortable footwear. This is a no-brainer when walking on pavement but if you do a long beach walk, bring walking/hiking sandals like the Teva Tirra athletic sandal to switch to occasionally. Yes, “earthing” (bare feet in direct contact with the ground) is something we’ve read is beneficial, but your feet will get sore after a long haul. Water shoes don’t work (they fill with sand) and running shoes are problematic if you worry they’ll get wet.

· Hydration. Bring way more water than you think you will need. We carry an insulated backpack, and with multiple water containers it does become heavy. But think of the extra calories you’ll burn carrying the added weight!

· Food. Always bring food, even if you’ve had a big lunch or you’re anticipating a delicious protein-filled appetizer at your midway point. Once I became so light headed I thought I might faint just steps away from the beach bar (and the big crowd on the open deck.) We bring apples and almonds.

· Sunscreen. I am super diligent at applying sunscreen every day, but horrible about re-applying. Which is pure laziness on my part. Reapplying is messy and inconvenient. But so is skin cancer. A good, natural spray sunscreen is easy to whip out and coat myself with. We like Florida Snowbird SPF 30, made with coconut oil, oxybenzone free, and is made here in Florida by Florida Salt Scrubs. Another great product for us and the environment is WaxHead Sun Defense Zinc Oxide Vitamin D Enhanced SPF 35, also a family owned company in Florida.

And how we balance healthy with Happy Hour on the days we don’t walk? Scheduling certain days to have Happy Hour, for one. It’s not every day, and sometimes it happens on days it’s not supposed to. (Have I just embodied Happy Hour, like an unwanted guest?)

When we began our beach walks with bar stops I read The Alcohol Industry Doesn’t Want Us to Drink Like Adults — How to drink moderately in an immoderate world, by Laura Entis.

The most helpful take-aways for us were these:

  1. Have a drinking plan for your week.
  2. Cap the overall number of drinks.
  3. Never drink before a certain time of day.
  4. Designate multiple days where you don’t drink at all.

In the article Entis quotes Gabrielle Glasser, a journalist and author of Her Best Kept Secret; Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control:

“Give your liver a break, give your brain a break, give your evenings a break where you are able to fully focus and remember every single word of the book you are reading. Be more present.”

(This resonated especially with me because a time or two my husband said “That movie last night was great, wasn’t it?” And I hesitated… “Um… yes! It was.” Pretending to remember it!)

We brew tea during the day — hibiscus, or matcha, or turmeric. I add ice to mine, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a little Stevia. Having a pretty glass with ice clinking around feels vacation-y (and Happy Hour-ish) and of course, healthy.

How do you balance healthy with Happy Hour?

Please note that it is not our intent to promote using alcohol to celebrate or to soothe. Some people cannot, or choose not, to drink, and while current thought/research says moderate use of alcohol could be healthier than abstaining, who really knows? We’re figuring out how to incorporate many healthy lifestyle changes and tweaks, and we don’t succeed every single day.

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