By Patricia ‘Pat’ VanGalen, M.S.

Active Agile Mountain Grit: Training for the Long Haul

The Training Corner

Q: Hi Pat! I am a healthy energetic woman at 57. My 7S Buckets are full, and for my outdoor sports, robust enough. Recently, I got into it with a friend my age. She chooses the MED route for every mood swing, sniffle and ache or pain, on top of her paranoia over COVID. She asks my advice, then has a hissy-fit when I suggest that she woman-up, and take charge of her daily habits. I fully understand the NEED for medications and procedures, and applaud the advances in medical science. But shouldn’t our first line of defense be to fortify our own health and well-being, including our immune system through our habits and routines?

I may sound harsh, but the commonsense seeds were sown on the ranch, working it since my teens, complete with lots of physical labor and outdoor work, in snow, wind and smoke. It was hard at times, but our family has thrived for generations. My three kids are grown, with one daughter choosing to take the ranch helm soon. For decades, it’s been early to rise, chores, a good-size breakfast, medium lunch and a small dinner. I never was much of a snacker and didn’t buy into the convenient fast-food marketing barrage. My family are big hunters-fishermen, so our freezer is stocked with elk and salmon. As matron of the household, I see to it that my family eats REALLY well, with home-baked goods and desserts as rare treats. I never smoked, and I kicked the booze bucket back in my 20’s, after losing a brother to alcohol and drugs. My parents are going strong in their 80s, living with us and still working the ranch. They are both sharp as tacks, physically agile, strong and lean, too.

I am 5’7” 145 lbs. No MEDS yet, even after the menopause thing. I did trim down my starch portions, to fight off the belly fat gain that many women whine about. My bones are strong, and the rest of the organs and systems seem to be functioning well, according to my annual check-ups. I took up running back in my 30s and am still at it 3X/week. I run an annual 5K fund-raiser, just to see how I stack up against the 40-somethings. At 50, I got serious about staying strong, since ranching is not as physically taxing as it used to be, despite the barn work. Now, I hit a strength-power class at the local gym twice a week and love it. My husband and I like to climb. With a family that can run the ranch, we can get away. Yippee!!

Pat, you frequently refer to the Five Pillars of Hardiness, each built with three Big Rocks. It seems that people obsess over pebbles and granules, when they actually need to adopt the big rocks first. A no-brainer to me, but common sense is not so common today. For your readers, including my aforementioned friend, and me, can you highlight your Pillar message? Thanks Pat!

Wendy, 57 A: Hello Wendy! You are Hardy, resilient, durable and robust, and proof that natural menopause is not a medical condition. You are the antithesis to the lifestyle that aids and abets the top 10 chronic lifestyle diseases in U.S. adults. MEDS manage symptoms and keep us alive for longer. They do not necessarily repair and regenerate organs and systems. It’s the Hardiness Pillars that provide the environment that CAN halt, repair and reverse disease progression. I have had clients who invested in their Pillars, and beat back hypertension, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, MetS, obesity and Diabetes II. Parroting a cardiologist, “A stent without lifestyle changes is like an ant working alone.” So yes, our DAILY habits, practices and patterns matter. Onto Pillars and Rocks ….

The Five Pillars of Hardiness are grounded in DAILY habits, practices and patterns, not programs with a start and an end date. All FIVE buttress each other, and exponentially synergize their strength. They are:

1. Purpose, our reasons to get up in the morning; our sense of meaning and relevance.

2. Movement, in all of its forms.

3. Diet, the sum total of everything we eat and drink, the why, when, where and how.

4. Rhythms, the patterns of our day, rest, recovery and regeneration.

5. Stress, operations to survive it, and opportunities to thrive on it. Within each Pillar, are THREE BIG Rocks. As Stephen Covey so clearly outlined, ROCKS, the musts, go in first, pebbles, the wants, second, and granules, the nice-to-haves, third. Pebbles and granules first? No room for the rocks, and the Pillar will eventually fail. Here is a nutshell overview of this concept:


BIG Rocks: Faith, Family & Freedom, our moral compass, our values and ethics that drive our decisions and behaviors, bypassing self-gratification and acquiescence to feelings.

Pebbles: Job/vocation to support self, family, home, food, clothing, etc.

Granules: Stuff, recognition and fame.


BIG Rocks: DAILY activity, labor, and steps; SIT LESS and get outdoors in the sunshine. Training for health, well-being and movement longevity; refill and restore the 7S Buckets. Enjoyment through sport, recreation, dance, hobbies, etc.

Pebbles: Mind-body practices.

Granules: Massage, hydrotherapy.

Diet BIG Rocks: Water and fluids from REAL food. Macros: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates, minimally-processed. Variety: ingested proportionally and rhythmically throughout the day.

Pebbles: Organic, vegan.

Granules: Nutraceuticals, supplements.


BIG Rocks: Patterns, routines [not ruts] of our day and week: SLEEP, EAT, WORK, REST, PRAY and PLAY. SLEEP 7-9 hours/day on a reasonably consistent schedule. Rest-relax with a sense of accomplishment at the end of a purpose-filled day.

Pebbles: Morning yoga practice.

Granules: Melatonin, chamomile tea.


BIG Rocks:

Mindset makeover, Stress is the stimulus for learning, growth and discovery, opportunity. Countering chronic distress is tactical, an operation; if self-inflicted, and life is a series of ping-pong knee-jerk reactions, confront, organize and strategize. Perception of a stressor matters; learn from the past, move forward, and change what we can.

Pebbles: Breath-work to induce the relaxation response.

Granules:Meditation, a shot of bourbon.

These Pillars may sound like ‘All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten’, by Robert Fulghum. But today, our Pillars have imploded, resulting in decades of sick-care. Each Pillar is losing its footers, its foundation, filled with quick-fixes, hacks and comfy conveniences, eventually collapsing under its own weight, no pun intended. Repair and restoration is possible IF … we get the big rocks in place first, then fill the spaces and crannies with the pebbles and granules, fortifying each pillar, further buttressing Hardiness. Excuses are not reasons. Adults, motivation gets us started, but self-discipline keeps us going. Choose uncomfortable sometimes. The Purpose Pillar is the driver of the spirit, mind and body, adding life to our years, and years to our life. So, Wendy, keep mentoring, leading and doing, and oh yeah, climbing and aspiring, inspiring others along the way.

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