People often start with the “no pain, no gain” mindset. This does not work! Exercise needs to feel good to really work. Our brain chemicals play a massive role: when we do something that is sore or hurts, our brain gets signals that send it into “fight or flight” mode. It starts sending us warning signals that what we’re doing is bad for us and that we should stop. We don’t listen to our bodies, keep going, and end up stiff, sore, or injuring ourselves. When we do exercise that makes us feel good, our body sends happy signals to our brain. It floods with dopamine — our happy chemical — and so it feels good. And we want to do it more. Any exercise program should be progressive, and based on what works for the individual. If someone hasn’t done any exercise for years, it’s enough to start out with 5–10 minutes a day. What’s important is improvement; improvement motivates us. When we start feeling the benefits and enjoy what we’re doing, our brains flood with dopamine and it feels good so naturally, we want to do it again and again.
I had the pleasure to interview Liz Grantham. Liz is the founder of TheOptimal.me. She has more than thirty years of experience in marketing and advertising with global clients such as Visa, Shell, and Sony Mobile, working on projects including the Olympics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Liz! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Asa single mom and business owner, many people rely on me so I simply don’t have time to be unwell.
The “wellness” part came before the “fitness.” I’ve never been a lover of pharmaceuticals as a cure for anything. My curious nature, general questioning of authority, and common sense — without my realizing it — have guided me in finding an alternate way through various health issues. For me, finding engaged doctors who listen, review, and explain things in a way that makes sense to me, honesty about my diet, and psychotherapy was a positive combination.
The fitness part of my journey was a result of my crazy stress levels, and hours on the phone and behind my computer chasing deadlines having a real negative impact mentally and physically
I had multiple issues: debilitating neck and shoulder pain requiring a daily dose of ibuprofen, insomnia, low energy, a struggle to stay focused, and unmanaged daily stress. It felt like a tall order. I was really resistant to exercise even though everything I read and everyone I spoke to told me it would make a difference. But a functional movement class changed everything for me; after fifty minutes of Jannie Claassen’s class I immediately felt a difference! 50 minutes flew by as the great music and repetitive, flowing movements started relieving tension and knots. What surprised me most was that at the end of it I felt really energized and happy.
As I made Jannie’s classes part of my weekly routine, I quickly felt the impact and needed no convincing to get away from my desk and deadlines. And because my friends and colleagues started asking me about how I had changed things around, I started researching and learning more so that I could share my great experience with them too.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The thing I love most about life is a great story! Thankfully, my career has provided many.
In 1991, I was on board an aeroplane waiting to travel from Cape Town to Johannesburg with two colleagues. We were wondering what was holding our departure up. After some time, none other than Nelson Mandela, released from prison the year before, boarded the flight and sat down across the aisle from us.
Needless to say we were beside ourselves, desperate to meet him. I kept teasing myl colleagues that they should go and say hello, but they just couldn’t. So I took the opportunity — there was no way I was going to let it pass — and went over and introduced myself. He invited me to sit down, so I sat with him for about twenty minutest talking about South Africa, politics, the work we were doing. He was interested, humble and charming, generously sharing some of his experiences traveling around South Africa,
The great man had been imprisoned for 27 years, was an international hero, had a massive responsibility on his shoulders working towards delivering a democratic South Africa in the next 3 years, yet still had the time and curiosity to talk to everyday people. He was extraordinary.
My colleagues were beyond jealous that they’d missed out . And I must say, I wish that selfies had been a thing back then — what a memory to have photographic evidence of!
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
After my daughter was born I became hormonally challenged and I made a life-changing decision that ended up as both a financial and social disaster. I decided to open a children’s emporium filled with exclusive, handmade items; we even had fabric hand-painted for the cot and bed linens! Within two weeks I knew that I had made the biggest financial mistake ever. Six months later I was literally facing bankruptcy. I also faced the reality that new parents were a very specific group that all shared the same point of view: their babies were the smartest, cutest, and most likely to rule the world. Of course, our children are our greatest accomplishment and I fully embraced their joy and pride and was able to laugh off their often delirious observations about their offspring. I was also determined to pay back every supplier I owed, and I did. I learned some great lessons. First, cash flow is everything. Second, if you have two hands, a good brain, and the will to get out of trouble, you can do it. Finally, great relationships are worth more than money; when your back’s against the wall, people help.
I kept the door mat. I wiped my feet on it every day as a reminder to manage my cashflow, not get too big for my boots, and to keep things real.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
From years of research, experimentation, and collaboration with other experts, I created a program that uniquely supports people 50+. We don’t all want to be lean, mean, and perfectly muscled; we want to stay healthy and well enough to do all the things we enjoy — to travel, to keep working, to feel energized, and most importantly, to work towards still being physically and mentally independent well into our 80s or 90s.
This very particular focus and understanding has gone into TheOptimal.me. Anyone who feels the same way can easily access tools and information that really work!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I look back and think about the arrogance of youth … my word! Computers were a new thing, and I was finding the transition extremely frustrating. My boss Al and I had a screaming match at my work station outside his office in front of a corridor of people. Neither of us minced words. He basically told me I could pack my bags and leave if I wasn’t going to learn the word processing programs needed (Word and Excel). The following day I called a meeting and we both agreed we neither liked nor respected each other…but I loved my work. I suggested a three month trial period to see if we could make things work.
Thankfully he agreed, and after many late nights getting to grips with the word processor, and focusing on making myself indispensable, we became a formidable team. He trusted me and gave me the freedom to learn; he listened to my ideas and let me implement them when he thought they would work; he made me fix my mistakes so that I’d know better the next time round. By age 25, my work experience included strategy, project management, event management, finance, tv production, creative development, and PR. It was worth more than any university degree.
The most important thing Al taught me was to embrace change and not let bravado get in the way of betterment. He made me realize I was capable of delivering far beyond my own expectations of myself. He knew I could do things that I doubted within myself. And he was my greatest supporter when I decided I was going to be a single mother. Thanks Al!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Motivation: Knowing your “why” is key to success. And to make real change, it needs to be big enough and important enough to get you to commit to change every single day. Your “why” should be personal — a real goal — whether for health reasons or preparing for an exciting adventure in the months ahead.
Discipline: Jim Rohn says that “discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” We know it takes 21 days to six weeks to make a lasting change. Lay out your plan for six weeks and then stick to it. Don’t skip a workout session; don’t eat outside of your plan; say no to social engagements that you know will tempt you to get off track; record your success every day as a reminder that you do have self-discipline. And if you do slip, don’t give in or beat yourself up — just get straight back on track.
Time: Some days I’m so busy and under pressure that I find it difficult to find time to go to the loo, never mind an hour or more to exercise or cook a healthy meal. Carving time out for yourself is hard — and often feels selfish. It’s critical to remember that making our health a priority serves not only ourselves, but those around us as well. It’s not selfish — it’s essential.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for slipping up, or not achieving all your day’s / week’s goals. Being kind to yourself also means making healthy choices, both physically and emotionally.
- Get to know yourself better. Take time to get to know your “whole” self. When you embrace and accept all of who you are, life gets so much easier.
- Embrace the 5:2 philosophy. Most of us have a routine Monday to Friday, so staying on track is much easier. The two weekend days are generally a time for relaxing, socializing, and doing things we enjoy. So stick with your program during the week, and then cut yourself a little slack on the weekend; sleep in, enjoy a cocktail (just don’t over-indulge).
- Dance like noone’s watching! If I could, I’d organize a dance party every month. There’s nothing like great music and shaking it out to feel high!
- Try to look on the bright side. Science has proven that a healthy dose of optimism and a positive outlook can result in a stronger immune system, better lung function, and cardio health. As we’re bombarded with negative stories so much of the day it isn’t always easy, so a daily gratitude practice should help your perspective.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
As we get older and our priorities change, we’re looking for different outcomes from exercise than we were in our 20s and 30s. My three top reasons for including functional movement in my daily routine are:
- Exercise improves our memory and cognitive function — our ability to think clearly, to plan, and to problem solve. Gentle aerobic exercise that gets our hearts pumping to the point we break out in a light sweat promotes the production of BDNF (Brain derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF stimulates growth and proliferation of brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory.
- Exercise improves our mood because it increases the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine — our happy chemicals — and boosts our feel-good chemical, endorphins.
- Exercise contributes to good heart health. As research shows that both women and men are likely to have heart problems as they age, functional movement that is aerobic and includes resistance training (theraband or light weights) will strengthen the heart’s muscles, reducing the effects of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that could lead to a stroke or heart attack.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
At TheOptimal.me, we believe in integrated functional movement. Functional movements are the movements of daily life such as walking, sitting, standing, getting up off the floor, pushing, turning and twisting, and being able to move confidently from one action to the next without fear of injury or pain.
Functional movement classes will help you achieve this by working the entire body at once, integrating all muscles, tendons and joints. Incorporating integrated functional movement into your daily routine if you don’t have time for a class is easy! Put on some music and dance for five minutes using your whole body. Housework is a fantastic way to include functional movement into your day. At the very least, make sure you get up and walk as often as possible (and swing your arms whilst you’re at it).
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
Let me answer your question in 2 parts:
- People often start with the “no pain, no gain” mindset. This does not work! Exercise needs to feel good to really work. Our brain chemicals play a massive role: when we do something that is sore or hurts, our brain gets signals that send it into “fight or flight” mode. It starts sending us warning signals that what we’re doing is bad for us and that we should stop. We don’t listen to our bodies, keep going, and end up stiff, sore, or injuring ourselves. When we do exercise that makes us feel good, our body sends happy signals to our brain. It floods with dopamine — our happy chemical — and so it feels good. And we want to do it more. Any exercise program should be progressive, and based on what works for the individual. If someone hasn’t done any exercise for years, it’s enough to start out with 5–10 minutes a day. What’s important is improvement; improvement motivates us. When we start feeling the benefits and enjoy what we’re doing, our brains flood with dopamine and it feels good so naturally, we want to do it again and again.
- Incorporate functional movement in your day. I cannot stress this enough. The isolated movements you do in the gym, or running, or even in Pilates don’t necessarily work your whole body functionally, meaning you likely overwork one or more areas of your body unevenly, leading to injury. Keeping all your muscles and joints flexible and mobile will improve the quality of your exercise and prevent long term injury or strain.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I’m not a dietician, so anyone who has health and weight related questions should first consult a dietician or their health professional. There are a few things we know, based on research, that guide my diet:
Steer clear of processed sugar and processed foods. We all know excess sugar leads to weight gain. It also puts you at risk for diabetes and obesity-related heart disease. It has also been linked to accelerating the development of cancer cells and leading to chronic inflammation.
When evaluating a diet or eating plan, if you don’t think you’ll be able to incorporate it into your life for the long term, it’s not going to work. Fad diets might mean fast weight loss, but the minute we go back to eating normally, the pounds pile back on. The answer lies in finding balance: eating a proportionate amount of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, good fats, and other nutrients. Every vitamin and mineral helps your body perform specific functions, so naturally, depriving your body of a number of nutrients means your body won’t function properly.
Portion control is a massive part of maintaining a healthy weight, and the pendulum swings both ways. Eating too much causes weight gain, but eating too little and you’re self-sabotaging. If you’re not sure what’s right for you, see a nutritionist or dietician to get the perfect recommendation.
Limit your alcohol intake. Not only is most alcohol high in sugar, Harvard Medical School research found that regardless of gender, higher alcohol consumption was associated with a higher rate of stroke, fatal aneurysms, and heart failure.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
BOLD by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It has been my inspiration and North Star while building TheOptimal.me. When the nay-sayers (and there are many) make me feel like I’ve lost my mind, I revisit BOLD: “go big, create wealth and impact the world”. Well that says it all, doesn’t it? Their writing helps me believe that I can make my boldest dream come true. It’s both inspirational and provides practical advice for our roadmap. One of the things I found most impactful is that in the digital world, we don’t have to be scared of competition; if you have a solution to a problem that will help many, there is plenty of room for your voice.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I like to think we’ve already started one with TheOptimal.me, bringing “functional movement” to people over 50. Everyone should try it and will undoubtedly benefit. Science is constantly proving its impact on our health and longevity. I want to see us living the second half of our lives engaged, excited, contributing, and acknowledged as the wise bold owls we truly are!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Actions speak louder than words.” I think it’s a perfect way to judge someone’s intent and conviction. When words aren’t followed by actions, you just know that they’re meaningless.
I am totally action-oriented; I don’t believe in standing on the sidelines and having a lot to say. You have to walk your talk every day, and that’s how I built a successful company that punches way above its weight. Words are always followed by action!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
That’s tough for a number of reasons: I love a good story and am inspired by so many people.
Arianna Huffington is an extraordinary business woman that built an amazing news organization and then reinvented herself after her health scare. I used to watch her being interviewed on Larry King Live and feel so inspired to be self-made and successful in a man’s world, and never be cowered. She’s opinionated, confident, and says what she means to say. And I think she’d love what we’re doing with Optimal. In fact, I’d like to be BOLD and say I’d love her on our board!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Hahahahahaha….… ask my daughter.
These days you’ll find me on TheOptimal.me’s social media pages and I am about to start publishing a weekly blog in the next few weeks!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!