Academic conferences as sitting marathons

rows of blue chairs

Image description: Rows of blue plastic chairs

Readers of the blog have heard lots about my standing desk. I’m in love! See Celebrating my standing desks. Like Emma and her treadmill desk, I was an instant convert. Now not everyone is convinced. See here. YMMV, as they say. But the standing desk works well for me. I’m a fidgeter by nature. I like pacing.

In the past my favorite working state has always been physically exhausted and mentally alert. I used to ride my bike and then rest, writing at my desk. But back pain and lousy sitting posture got me to investigate standing desks.

At the same time a whole bunch of research has come out about the health risks of sitting. We’re plagued by sedentary disease, as they call it. Sitting is the new smoking, blah blah blah. I’ve written lots about it. See But can you sit in the evening if you have an active job?, Sedentary athletes, not a contradiction in terms, and Stand up, get out of that chair, and get moving.

Here’s the most recent from the Globe and Mail,

“The list of ills associated with hours of uninterrupted sitting includes elevated risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions, which occur as your muscles switch into a “dormant” mode that compromises their ability to break down fats and sugars. Crucially, exercising before or after work isn’t enough to counteract these effects – sitting all day is harmful no matter how fit and active you are. “

Tracy has wondered about ableism of all this “sitting kills” talk. Not everyone can stand or get up and walk around. “Just Stand” as a slogan seems to assume that standing is an option. And not all bodies can stand.

Many health campaigns make this mistake. It’s just like not everyone can take the stairs, ELEVATOR SHAMING and Ableism: Why Pro-Stairs Health Campaigns Kind Of Suck.

I’ve had two thoughts about this. First, I’ve thought we need to consider of the health risks of extended sitting for wheelchair users in our discussions of the health risks of sitting. There are discussions of active sitting and about standing wheelchairs. Second, we can’t assume that standing is an option for everyone. It’s not. My back problems mean I can’t sit all day. Other people have bodies that can’t stand. Human bodies and abilities vary.

A search for disability and sitting also turn up the concern that the two are causally linked. The obvious connection is the one I’ve mentioned, that wheelchair users sit more than non wheelchair users. A less obvious connection is that those who sit a lot are at greater risk for needing a wheelchair.

See Coach Potato Today, Wheelchair Tomorrow?

“Here’s another reason desk jockeys need to get up and move. Researchers are finding that sedentary behaviors like sitting even just an hour extra per day can up your risk for disabilities in later life — even if you are a moderately active gym rat.

The study published Wednesday in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health is the first to show that sedentary behavior alone may be an independent risk factor for disability, separate from lack of moderate physical activity, its authors say.”

For me the benefits of standing aren’t just physical. I’ve found it changes my writing. I’m more engaged, on task, alert. Less day dreaming and random web browsing. Now I tend to save that for when I flop on the sofa with my smart phone. As I posted to Facebook one day, if sitting is the new smoking, is flopping your bed with your smart phone the new heroin?

The world seems to be changing fast on this front. I know lots of people with standing desks. My partner’s workplace has standing meetings. They’re livelier, more engaged, and shorter he reports. I’ve gone for walks with my PhD students talk about thesis chapters. They humour me. I’m the supervisor, after all.

But some work related challenges remain.

First, there’s air travel. Just flew to California twice this post month. Five hours sitting. On the way home my anti sitting instincts were confirmed by my seat mate, a cancer researcher, also at a conference.  He says he’s read the research and is convinced. He sets an alarm and gets up every 20 minutes. With the permission of the flight attendants he stands at the back of the plane. But we can’t all do that. Should we organize turns?

Second, when you get there there’s the conference itself. If my regular working day is a 5 or 10 km run, conferences are sitting marathons. Papers started at 9 am and sessions ended at 9 pm with very few breaks. Most sessions came in three hour chunks sometimes without breaks. Now that I’m not used to sitting, it’s worse. I fidget, practise martial arts wrist locks, and then finally stand at the back. That’s okay but since everyone else is sitting even the speaker, it feels odd.

That’s a long day of sitting. Four days in a row.

Looking around at this conference I started to wonder about how we might change things. Airports now, in recognition that people will be sitting for a long time on their flights, have gotten better with stand up options. The London airport, in my home town has two long standing counters with electrical outlets close to the departure gates.

I thought that some of those counters at the back of conference rooms would work well.

Speakers, for sure, ought to stand. From my days in radio I know they’d sound better, more alive.

But the audience too might be more awake and engaged.

Third, there’s teaching. Not me, I stand and walk but I do worry about my students. I do try to get people up at least once in a one hour lecture.

I wonder what other changes we could make? Ideas?

I’m a Fairweather Cyclist and I’m Okay with That

7-day weather forecast for London Ontario, April 22-28, 2014 -- Today, raining and 8 degrees and windy.

Do you ride no matter what? Or are you, like me, someone who watches the weather?

Sam pulls together a group to go for a short lunch time ride every Tuesday and Thursday, starting today. It’s the right kind of length for me–maximum two hours on the road. And the right kind of speed–they pace to the slowest in the group. It also couldn’t be more convenient. The group meets just outside the Philosophy Department. And Sam has assured me that we don’t knowingly go out in the rain.

But I’m even more fairweather than that. It’s not raining right now, but it was cold when I left for work this morning. And windy. It had been raining earlier, when I left to go to the Y for my swim. Environment Canada said it might rain into the early afternoon.

If it’s wet, or even just threatening to be wet, and it’s cold (under 10 degrees C), and windy (“Wind northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50″ was today’s forecast), then at least for the time being, I’m not interested.

Why? Well, here’s the thing. I just got my road bike out of winter storage the other day and pumped up the tires (with some help from my FB friends, who had to remind me about that little valve that needed to be unscrewed first).  I’m keen, even excited, to get back on the bike.  But my last ride of the season, which was also only my second ride on the road bike ever, was miserable. So horrible was it that it prompted me to write a post about suffering.

So I want my first ride of this season to be a good experience.  Rain was not the main issue on that early-November ride that left me wondering whether I really should have bought a road bike. Even the cold wasn’t so bad.  But those gusty northwesterlies? No thanks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that you can never cycle a whole route with a tailwind. At some point, around some corner, it will happen that you turn into a headwind. So there’s that.

Add to that that this morning, it just felt like a dreary morning to get on my bike for the commute in.  So I bailed.

For a moment I felt as if this fairweatheredness of mine said something about me, like maybe that I lack grit or something like that. I may not be the grittiest of them all, but hey, I was in the pool at 6 a.m. this morning and swam over 2000 metres before a lot of people I know were even awake!

I ran 2-3 times a week through the polar vortex winter, increasing my distance steadily from January to March.

I’ve already ridden my (commuter) bike home in the rain this spring, so it’s not as if I won’t do it.  But I won’t “go for a ride” if the weather is bad.

That’s where I draw the line.  I want to enjoy my time on the bike. I know that sometimes we all get caught in the rain. I can live with that. And I know that sometimes the wind comes up. I can live with that. But I won’t knowingly go for what’s supposed to be a fun ride over the lunch hour when that’s in the forecast.

That may change.  But for now, I’m a fairweather cyclist and I’m okay with that.

Hiking and biking on the academic talk circuit

Academics travel a lot to give talks, share our work, attend conferences, discuss our ideas. It’s part of what we do.

(Conference travel is written about in the campus humour novel, Small World, by British author David Lodge, though it’s set several decades ago. The Guardian book club discusses it here. Norms of behavior while traveling an academic have changed since then.)

I’ve written before about exercising on the road. (See, for example, Finding my inner Arnold in Peterborough.) Mostly though these have been individual solutions. But lately a new thing has been happening. In part, thanks to the blog, I think, and our growing community.

I love that my reputation for physical activity now precedes me. The first inkling something was changing was last fall when I was invited to keynote a conference, with short notice. Perhaps the result of the gendered conference campaign, I don’t know. I couldn’t do it but the organizer tried to make it more attractive with the offer of a bike ride. I wouldn’t even have to miss my long weekend ride. And I needn’t bring my own bike on the plane. I could borrow his wife’s road bike. Tempting. (Though I did wonder what his wife might think of the offer. What bike would she ride?) A beautiful part of the world where I’d never ridden before. But still, I couldn’t do it. Bike ride possibilities didn’t make the conflicts in my schedule go away.

Last week I was in San Diego for the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association and the conference bike ride idea finally worked out thanks to guest contributor Sharon Crasnow. See Guest Post-Cycling after 60.  Sharon generously arranged me for to borrow her daughter’s road bike. I packed cycling clothes and my helmet. Off we went! We had a lovely bike ride around Fiesta Island.

Great spot for riding and racing. You can do loops, which I love. Ocean view and no snow! Just perfect. Also, flat!

Last month I was in the Los Angeles area giving a talk and I was happy to be taken on a hike on the beach the day of my talk. Later that weekend I got to go hiking in the hills and canyons of LA. I hadn’t thought of LA as a great hiking city. But I was wrong.

Sharing physical activity, hiking and biking, with fellow philosophers is terrific. We can talk while moving. I get to see a new part of the world. And I don’t feel like I need to sneak off on my own to exercise.

I’m organizing bike rides for friends attending the Canadian Philosophical Association conference in May also for philosophers coming to the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference in Waterloo in August.

I love my job!

Thigh chafing and the joys of summer

iz needs talc powder   mai thighs are chafing

Warmer weather is here. Spring! And soon, summer! I can put away my black tights and wear cotton dresses and mini-skirts. I can stop wearing running tights. But of course, much as I love all those things, there’s the problem of thigh chafing.

“At first thigh chafing is annoying, then it’s embarrassing, then it’s painful, then it’s ugly (all that friction causes little red bumps to pop up on my inner thighs–so not cute). My solution up to now has been to wear spandex shorts underneath all my dresses. This combats chafing and serves the secondary purpose of preventing me from flashing the whole neighborhood whenever I get out my car. Every time I pull on those shorts, though, I feel a little sad and a little resentful: for once I’d just like to throw on a sundress and some comfy undies and be done. This hot, binding extra layer kind of defeats the purpose of the easy, breezy summer outfit.” The Horrors of Thigh Chafing

For active women, out deliberately pursuing sweaty activities in the heat it can be especially difficult. Amazon recently started selling anti-chafing underwear. While it’s ridiculous looking you can get the sense the lengths people will go to to avoid thigh chafing. It’s a serious problem. A blog reader sent me the link along with a note saying that people were mocking both the product and the problem If only you had a thigh gap, like reasonable, thin women, you wouldn’t have this problem. (For more on thigh gap, see Tracy’s post, Thigh Gap” Makes Me Sad.)

antichafing

To that I have two things to say. First, for me, my thighs have always made contact and it’s been a summer issue no matter what I’ve weighed. Second, it in no way follows from something being a problem for fat women that the answer is shame. Oh right, they could diet and lose weight? And even if that did work, which it doesn’t mostly, surely we don’t deserve pain and suffering when we exercise?

For non-workout occasions I have friends who swear by bandelettes. They’re lacy thigh bands, sexy is the idea, with the added benefit of helping with chafing. Me? I’d never be quite sure where to put them and they aren’t quite in my everyday repertoire. Maybe for fancy nights out but fancy nights out don’t usually involve a lot of walking.

I’ve tried various lotions and creams but with no great success. Bodyglide works well for making it easy to get your wetsuit off but it’s not something I want to use for a run on a warm day. There is specific anti chafe cream for runners but again I haven’t had great luck with it. Baby powder works but never lasts long enough. For workouts I never wear traditional baggy running shorts. Instead, I wear tighter fitting reasonably long bicycle style shorts.

I discovered my answer for regular day to day skirt wearing when I started riding to work in dresses with bike shorts underneath. If I forgot undies I’d just keep the bike shorts on and that had the added benefit of no thigh chafing. It also meant I didn’t worry about modesty at all.

These days when I’m not riding I wear bike short style undies, like these by Jockey. Is this a summertime issue for you? Does it affect your exercise plans? What solutions have you found?

See also:

Chub Rub Be Gone: How To Prevent Inner-Thigh Chafing

Inner Thighs Rubbing You the Wrong Way? Here’s Help!

How Runners Can Prevent Thigh Chafing

How to prevent the dreaded ‘chub rub

 

Pink Weights? (Guest Post)

pigeonsI’m fit, feminist, and almost 50, so naturally I’ve been following Samantha and Tracy with avid interest since this blog began. I’ve always been active, but became more fiercely fit in my 40s. I survived Zuzana’s burpee torture (100 burpees!), I was working up to full chin-ups and benching over 100 pounds. 50 didn’t scare me. OK, it did a little bit, but feeling strong really helped with that.

About a year and a half ago I started experiencing back pain that interfered with pretty much all activities. A visit to the doctor confirmed that the problem wasn’t skeletal, so off to the physiotherapist I went. She put me on a core-strengthening program that quickly made things a lot worse. I lucked out with the second physiotherapist because she happened to also specialize in pelvic floor dysfunction. Her hunch was confirmed by a specialist: I have a mild uterine prolapse, which is like a mild hernia with less reliable surgical options. This condition is quite common, but not talked about very much, perhaps because it involves female bits, or perhaps because it isn’t life threatening. It certainly was news to me. Now that I have it, I am to avoid impact, most core exercises including planks, and weights heavier than 3 pounds. The good news is that this may be temporary and I might be able to reverse it by exercising with care.

It turns out that despite my level of fitness, I hadn’t been exercising properly. I did not know what “activate your core before lifting” actually meant. I thought it meant bracing your abdominal and back muscles. But that’s not enough, and bracing could actually be doing more harm than good. If your waist expands when you brace, you might be doing it wrong. Safely lifting heavy means knowing (feeling) that your pelvic floor is actively supporting your organs the entire time you are lifting. Even if your arms or legs are strong enough, your pelvic floor might not be. I used to laugh at my Mom when she tried to stop me from lifting heavy weights: “That’s for boys, you’ll throw your womb out!” The 70s feminist in me found this weird and objectionable (I am woman!). As I’ve learned, lifting isn’t just for males, but people with uteri do need to take certain precautions (men can also develop prolapse, but it is considerably less common).

Once I learned this, the big challenge for me was to figure out how to regain my fitness level, and to do so in a way that I loved. I love sweating. I love exerting myself. Physio was great for relieving my back pain, but not enough for fitness. It’s quite difficult to exercise with care while exercising intensely. I initially tried doing my old workouts while modifying them. It turns out that the advice to modify and work your way up was spectacularly unhelpful in my case. Bicep curls with 3-pound weights are pretty useless if you are strong (fatigue takes forever!). Jump squats got modified to bodyweight squats, clean and presses became bodyweight squats, burpees became bodyweight squats, etc. Sigh. Well, you get the idea. I was starting to get a bit depressed. It didn’t help that we were having a terrible winter that made walking difficult, and I’ve never been a fan of cardio machines.

I started swimming, which was a joy, but I needed variety and home workouts as well. I also wasn’t sure what to do with the 3-pound pink weights I had purchased (the very ones I used to sneer at). Naturally I googled “3 pound weights exercises” and came across the various “bulk is unappealing” fitness gurus (Tracy Anderson and Ellen Barrett, I’m looking at you!). I tried the workouts anyways and found them surprisingly satisfying. They were different enough from what I usually did that I found them challenging, and they were designed to make the most out of light weights. I’m used to squats with heavy weights, and now I lift my leg in various ballet directions while maintaining my balance, holding my arms in an “elegant” position, and looking graceful. I even sweat. My posture has improved. My muscle tone is returning, which is great news after months of near inactivity. I do wish, however, that these workouts came without the marketing and comments about the ideal female physique.

One thing that has fascinated me about the Tracy Anderson phenomenon is just how angry the fitness world is at her. I agree completely when this anger is directed at her marketing strategies (offensive), her diet (extreme and unhealthy!), and her claim that women should only work out her way (ridiculous). But some people are also surprisingly furious at the very existence of workouts that only use 3 pound weights. They insist that the only way to get fit is to lift heavy. I, on the other hand, am grateful that these light weight workouts exist and are widely available on YouTube. Thankfully I did not accept the insistence on the necessity of heavy weights. That would have been demoralizing given my situation.

There doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the marketing of lifting light and lifting heavy. During my googling into using light weights I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a site that starts with something like a picture of a sprinter and a marathoner, complete with a discussion of how unappealing the body of the marathoner is (here,  here, and here). They then conclude that their way of exercising, which usually involves heavy weights rather than actually sprinting, is the only way. The philosopher in me is fascinated by how they seem to be creating facts through repetition, and by how little evidence is actually offered other than cherry-picked photos. The feminist in me is deeply bothered by how shaming is used to generate a market.

What about a comparison on quality and safety? I think you already know that I think the advice to activate your core (common advice given by strength trainers) is insufficiently informative and can have potentially devastating consequences. Ellen Barrett, on the other hand, gives very good instruction and her programs are very safe. My only complaint about her is that I have to listen to her comments on the female physique while I’m working out. Tracy Anderson rarely says anything, which is a mixed blessing. She gives very few notes on form and expects you to play follow the leader and just get what she is doing. I have a background in various dance forms, so for the most part I can do that. Her routines have some creativity in them and have some use for me, especially since I don’t take her seriously when she claims that you must do her complete program and nothing but. But her routines range from useless to dangerous for those who don’t have a dance background. For example, in the unweighted arms section, the fact that I’ve taken flamenco dance helps a lot. I took flamenco after several years of cabaret and tribal belly dance, and was struck by how even though the arm patterns were very similar, the way the arms were held gave the moves a completely different look and feel. You put a lot of power and energy into your arms when you dance flamenco. My arms would burn and exhaust during flamenco arm drills in a way they never did during belly dance. So when Tracy talks about using your arms with a lot of power I know exactly what she means. I have done drills for this. They’d be pretty pointless otherwise and I can see why personal trainers find her arm routine baffling. But for me, the idea of using dance arm drills hadn’t occurred to me and was a revelation. It was something I could safely do to use my arms when I wasn’t in the pool. For another example, her standing abs routine contains a series of staccato belly dance moves. This is something you work up to in belly dance. You’d never start with these moves in a beginner class because the students would lack the control to execute the moves safely (if at all). I can do them, but I warm up first with the smoother belly dance moves.

 

My takeaway lessons from this experience are these. 1) We need a variety of permissible fitness philosophies. Fitness activities that would have been silly or pointless for one stage of life might be very beneficial for another. 2) Uniform fitness recommendations open the door for people like Tracy Anderson. She spotted a gap and marched through. But she isn’t a good fitness instructor. I’m guessing that if there were more competition and creativity in the light weights arena, Tracy wouldn’t be as popular as she is. 3) I found it depressing and boring to do modified versions of my usual workouts. Injuries can hold you back, or they can be an opportunity to focus on a different area and excel there. I’ve been working on perfecting my form rather than increasing my speed in the pool and on the ski trails. I’ve also been working on moving smoothly and with grace, rather than with explosive power.

I now feel quite good, and have learned to be active and fit again. I’m even a little grateful for this experience because I have learned enough from my physiotherapist to know how to exercise in a way that nurtures my body, and will probably age better for it. I was inspired to write this post in the hopes that some women will be able to avoid following in my footsteps. And if you are already, feel free to email me at wesleypresley1@live.com and I’ll tell you what has and hasn’t worked for me. It is also important that more fitness experts become aware of this common condition so that they can offer the appropriate cautions. A good resource on this topic can be found here.

 

Rhonda Martens is a philosopher who lives in Winnipeg with her husband and cat. She loves dancing and refuses to stop wearing mini skirts.

Running Can Only Take Me So Far (Guest Post)

It is true that I’ve had breakthroughs on long runs. I have figured out many of the hardest problems in my life while running along the Charles River in Boston. That is where I decided to become a writer, a teacher, and a partner to the love of my life. Exercise is incredibly therapeutic, but it is not therapy. As Moira pointed out, this distinction matters, and much of the glorification of exercise as therapy comes from the stigma around actual therapy. So let me lay it on the line: I would not have made those breakthroughs without therapy. Therapy is hard, much harder than any run I’ve ever done. But it is in therapy that I’ve learned how to live a full, authentic, and deeply loving life. Running doesn’t do that.

Here’s the thing: running makes me feel great. So great, in fact, that it can (and did) act as anesthesia for a whole host of negative emotions. Whenever I questioned my self worth, it was easier to plan out my runs for the next four months in the most well color coordinated spreadsheet you can imagine. It was easier to run five tempo miles and come back exhausted than sit down and untangle the reasons why I hated myself.  When I say easier, I mean that it was actually neurologically easier for me to carve more deeply the grooves in my brain that erode my self worth. Those grooves say that my wellbeing is not and should not be a priority, and that I have no right to take up real space in my relationships or the world. That is how I felt for much of my twenties, and I thought that if I was just a little bit better (read: faster, thinner), it would be okay; I would be okay.

I loved running, and I ran myself into the ground. I was constantly injured and exhausted. In 2010 I trained for a marathon I never ran because I was overtrained and under-rested. Running was the most effective punishment ever because it felt amazing, and it never ended. I could always push myself to run more and faster. I set goals such that I was always falling short and then had more things to punish myself for. It was a beautiful, twisted, inescapable cycle.  What allowed me to escape was therapy. And yet, even now, I can’t help but be impressed by the efficiency of a punishment that feels amazing.

After a hiking trip where I came home unable to walk up stairs, I went to see a physical therapist. Not surprisingly both physically and psychologically, I had injured the same hamstring as when I was in high school and played whole varsity lacrosse games high on endorphins and took ibuprofen with most meals. The first time my PT told me I should take a week off, I laughed. Then he dared me to take a week off, and I’m not very good at backing down from a dare. PT helped me to appreciate my body and to treat myself like an athlete. I ate more protein, I stretched, I warmed up. I started having planned workouts and planned easy runs. It was revolutionary, but it was also all incredibly hard work because it meant pushing back against so much of what I’d been doing for years. I worked through those difficulties in actual therapy, curled tightly in the corner of a big purple couch trying to figure out if I was an athlete, if I looked like an athlete. If I was enough of anything.

A year ago at this time I was deciding not to complete my second stab at marathon training. I was two months in, and I felt exhausted. It was similar to the moment when I realized that I no longer had the capacity to make it through a day on a thousand calories. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel that pull, it was that I had lost the ability to ignore my body. I felt like a horrible failure for weeks.  But I also knew, because of long, awful therapy sessions, that I was listening to my body in an authentic way, and that it was telling me that the career shift, the job search, the financial stress, and the big move were plenty to deal with. Plenty. So I backed off on training, and told myself that running needed to be a release from stress instead of a way to punish myself. The line was not clear. Self care is an incredibly complex task made more so by years of creating static to block out the signals my body gives me.

I am still working on all of this hard. In therapy. I still untangle it on my runs. Last week my therapist asked if there was space for me to inhabit the body I have now. I couldn’t say yes, but I could say that I wanted for there to be, and that is a radical desire.

I am a different runner now, stronger and slower. Rusty from five months of winter and eight months of adjusting to an incredibly demanding job. My usual running route involves a thousand feet of elevation gain in two and half miles. When I get to the top of that hill, I feel amazing. My blood is pumping; my endorphins are flowing. I’m mentally writing a draft, planning class, or zoning out. Now I run with my whole self using the same physical, but entirely different psychological, muscles to make that climb. I never would have gotten to the top of that hill without therapy. And I probably never would have kept doing therapy if I didn’t have running. There was a period of time when I could run the five miles home from therapy, and I used those runs to filter through what we’d talked about and to anesthetize myself from the pain I felt. I needed anesthesia, we all do, but I also needed that growth and change even when it was painful.

Andra Hibbert is a queer writer, teacher, and runner in northern Vermont. Her fiction has been published in Five Points and Weave Magazine.

hills

 

How Do You Measure Your Fitness Success?

Beach with the word "success" written in the sand.What measures do you use to determine your success at becoming more fit?  How to determine whether we’re approaching our “fittest by 50″ goals is one of the things Sam and I have pondered right from that first Facebook conversation that got us started on this challenge. The challenge, in case you’re a new reader, is to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives by the time we’re 50.

It’s not as if either of us was a varsity athlete back in our university days or anything, but we’re taking the challenge seriously.  How do we tell we’re approaching our goals?

There are all sorts of possibilities.  One way, easy for runners, is to go by race times.  This is easier for me, since I just started recording race times last year. Harder for Sam, whose 40-year old self ran 5K in 25 minutes. See her post, “Fittest by Fifty! Who’s the Competition? She Is!”  I’ve now got a baseline for my 10K. I did it in 70 minutes and 40 seconds last weekend. Aiming for under 70 minutes in my next race on April 26th.

And of course, it’s really the triathlons that I’m into.  So aside from times, there’s also distance.  I may not be able to go a lot faster, but I can go farther!  And I can do different things.  Swim-bike-run.  I’ve embraced the Olympic distance triathlon as my major fittest by 50 goal.

Time and endurance over distance are not the only measures, however.  What about resting heart rate? Lean body mass?  Strength (i.e. how much can you bench press? dead lift? squat?)?  My difficulty using these as comparisons over the course of my whole life is that I’ve not been tracking these stats for long.  I know that today I have a very low resting heart rate (59 beats per minute) and good blood pressure (I forget what it is, but my Dad took it for me when I was in Mexico and he was impressed).

I have no idea what my lean body mass is at the moment, but I do know that my clothes are fitting differently and better since I started the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program back in January.  I have no doubt that if I keep up the workouts and follow the healthy habits, I’ll become leaner over the next few months.

I’m also stronger, though not necessarily stronger than I’ve ever been because I was very seriously obsessed with weight training as a graduate student back in the late 80s/early 90s.

I’ve started to include other measures of success, tailored to my struggles. It’s a big success for me that I am no longer obsessed with food and weight. These are huge wins, accomplished through my commitment to intuitive eating, starting in January 2013.  I was nervous that PN LE might mess with that a bit, but in fact it’s been an entirely positive complement because in effect, they promote intuitive eating (eat slowly to 80% full).  Bolstered by their nutritional habits, I feel as if I’m finally introducing the principle of “gentle nutrition” that is part of the Intuitive Eating approach recommended by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Resch. See their 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, here.

This change in attitude and approach has had a dramatic impact on my sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.  I’m actually passionate about the physical activities I enjoy these days, and confident in the food choices I’m making, both in terms of quality and quantity.  I don’t obsess over what to eat and when. I’m much more in tune with what I need. And I’m even open to experimenting with different foods and different choices.  It’s been a positive experience and we’re just three months into it!

So for me, these kinds of measures of success figure prominently in my fittest by 50 challenge. If I can head into the next decade feeling confident, energetic, enthusiastic about what I’m doing, and motivated to push myself a bit without going overboard (see my post “On Doing Less” to understand why I’m cautious about going overboard), all without being obsessed about food, weight, and exercise, I will feel I’ve achieved a good measure of success.

Throw in respectable finishes in a couple of Olympic distance triathlons and a sub-70 minute 10K, and I will feel totally confident that, were I be able to travel back in time and challenge myself in my twenties, thirties, and early to mid forties, she’d have a tough time keeping up!

Upshot: there’s not just one measure, but many.

How do you measure your fitness success?

[photo credit: S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Training]