Book Reviews

Books for fit feminists and friends!

There are parts of my Dean’s job that feel like work–tenure and promotion meetings, anyone?–important work, yes. But still work. And then there are times when I’m just thrilled to be associated with the College of Arts at Guelph and the thing that I’m doing just feels like fun, not like work at all.

As Dean I get to attend musical performances, art openings, and theatre.  Also, book launches. Last week we had our first big snow and I walked home and then bundled up to walk downtown to the Bookshelf/ebar  to watch two fantastic women colleagues in History launch their new books.

Full disclosure: I own signed copies and I’ve listened to them read from their books but I haven’t read them yet. Still, it strikes me that they’re books that readers of this blog would like very much.  In Thumbing a Ride: Hitchhikers, Hostels, and Counterculture in Canada Linda Mahood explores the rise and fall of hitch hiking in Canada. In Be Wise! Be Healthy!: Morality and Citizenship in Canadian Public Health Campaigns Catherine Carstairs and her co-authors examine the history of public health in Canada. These books connect with our themes of adventure and travel, as well as health education and healthism.

Looking for holiday gifts? All of your friends already own Fit at Midlife? Then, consider these titles!

Oh, oh, oh. I also love that they had non-alcoholic punch at their lunch. Thanks Linda and Catherine! (I’m hoping to get them both on board as bloggers too. Wish me luck.)

fitness · health

The real news from the US physical activity guidelines: everything counts.

Last week, an updated report with the newest physical guidelines for physical activity for everyone was released by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The last edition came out 10 years ago, and the new version, informed by the latest research, is saying this:

Move more. Sit less. Do all kinds of activity– aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone strengthening, balancing (this one’s very important for older people), and multi-component activities that combine these features.

Aim to do 150–300 minutes a week of a combo of moderate-intensity to vigorous-intensity level activity. This means anything from walking 2–4mph to running.  Cycling and swimming, depending on speed and effort, can vary. Lower-intensity activities are good, too, although more intense activity is needed to get the most benefits.

Why should we do this? The guidelines give us the low-down (this was from a JAMA article):

Strong evidence demonstrates that regular physical activity has health benefits for everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or body size. Some benefits occur immediately, such as reduced feelings of anxiety, reduced blood pressure, and improved sleep, cognitive function, and insulin sensitivity. Other benefits, such as increased cardiorespiratory fitness, increased muscular strength, decreased depressive symptoms, and sustained reduction in blood pressure, accrue over months or years of physical activity.

So, we get benefits now and benefits later.  Immediately we feel calmer, clearer, more ready for good sleep, and metabolically in better shape. Over time, we get lowered risks of all sorts of bad health outcomes, from bone fractures to dementia to cardiovascular disease and on.

This advice holds for everyone– small children, teenagers, pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic illness, people with disabilities– everyone. 

A new message for this version: everything counts.  Every minute of walking.  Every flight of stairs. Every time you park far away from a building. Every load of laundry you haul around. It all adds up, and it is all beneficial for us.

That’s really good news.  And it’s important.  Why?

Because, right now, only 20% of Americans engage in physical activity that meets the guidelines. It looks like this:

2 out of 10– the two are in gray…

In Canada it’s the same– a 2016 report showed that only 2 out of 10 Canadians meet their physical guidelines of 60 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. 

Why is that?

Probably everyone who reads this blog knows how hard it is to start and continue an exercise or activity program from scratch. Here’s what some of them look like:

These look rather daunting to me, and I’m usually one of those gray persons who meets the physical activity guidelines.

I wonder what it would be like if governments released a tl:dr version of the guidelines that just said this:

Move. Everything counts.

I even generated a meme for it:

Move.  Everything counts. Picture of a woman’s feet in flip flops, with blue jeans on.

You’re welcome, US and Canada! Other countries– you may borrow this as well.

Readers, how much or how often do you pay attention to or work on extending your everyday movement in your lives (apart from anything organized, like classes, rides, swims, gym workouts, etc.)?   I’m curious to know if and how and when it figures into your activity.

cycling · holiday fitness · holidays · running

Streaking Sam Style

I’ve had some great holiday running streaks. See here and here and here.

But I’ve said a sad goodbye to running. I still struggle see here. When Running World put out their annual call to streak, I shared it on our Facebook page and said I wouldn’t be joining in.

What’s the #RWRunStreak?
The rules are simple: Run at least one mile per day, every day, starting on Thanksgiving (November 22) and ending on New Year’s Day (January 1). That’s 41 consecutive days of running.

And then it hit me. I could do a bike version. Ride everyday from November 22 to January 1. I laid out my winter options here.

I’m going to count riding outside (obviously) but also spin classes and riding on the bike trainer. 41 days in a row of riding over the holidays. I’m in.

Join me? (You can do your own version. Running, biking, swimming, whatever. You choose.)

fitness · skiing · winter

Jennifer’s Pro-tip: Find a thing you love! (Guest post)

by Jennifer Tamse

Jennifer cross country skiing

Canadian Protip #1: Find a winter sport that you love, and each snowfall will be met with a renewed sense of fervor and spirit. And if you’re still looking for that special something, go into the attic, dust the dirt and cobwebs off grandma’s skis, and join me. 


Jennifer is an amateur philosopher, self-described Trekkie and craft beer aficionado, Jennifer has close to a decade of experience driving innovation and change in the hospitality sector and beverage industries. In her spare time, she enjoys x-country skiing, hiking, antiquing and progressive rock music.

cycling · fitness

Sam’s ‘no excuses’ winter cycling plan!

Sam's bike on a trainer in front of her computer
Sam’s bike on a trainer in front of her computer

Part 1: Bike on the trainer in my home office. It’s good for weekday evening mini-spins and longer sessions on the weekend. This is my old house set up from last year. This year it will actually require unpacking my home office and setting up the computer. On the bright side the floor is carpeted and it will be quieter. Though truth be told there’s only so much time on the trainer I can take.

Part 2: Bike commuting on the fat bike and weekend playing. I’m not a fan of the indoors.

Sam on a fat bike in the snow
Sam on a fat bike in the snow

Part 3: Spin classes on campus. My favourite is bike yoga with is 30 min of spin, followed by 30 of yoga stretches for cyclists

Part 4. Sarah and I have scoped out a place called the Bike Shed which runs trainer classes indoors. You just bring your bike. They supply the trainers. And the tech. 

Part 5. Go South! We have a plan to visit Jeff on the boat in January in Florida. Planning to motor around the Florida Keys and get out each day for a ride. We haven’t decided yet whether we are taking road bikes and flying with them or if we’ll rent bikes there. 

Image result for florida keys bike path
Map of the Florida Keys Heritage Trail
View of the ocean from the Florida Keys Heritage Trail
View of the ocean from the Florida Keys Heritage Trail

The latest from Catherine’s USA yoga tour– Yinki class in San Diego

Last weekend I was in San Diego for the American Public Health Association conference, which is huuuge– at least 12,000 people were expected to attend. That means a lot of walking to and fro in a big convention center (and to a nearby enormous hotel for more meetings), and interacting with a lot-a-lot of people (albeit friendly public health folks).

I’m a classic extrovert (although the latest research and commentary is critical of the distinction and is at least reimagining it; here’s one newer take on it).  However, even I can get tired of all that interaction with crowds of people all day long.  So what’s the perfect antidote to a day of conferencing? an evening yoga class, of course.

It has been so much fun this year checking out yoga classes in other cities where I’ve been traveling for work. In July I encountered yin yoga for the first time at a lovely little studio in Tucson, AZ.  I wrote glowingly about how relaxing and also intense it was and could be.

Apparently I was late to the yin yoga party; Natalie and Cate have both enjoyed and posted about it here and here.  Others of our bloggers and readers also love it and some of them teach it, too.

Checking out yoga (or any fitness opportunities) in a new place requires a bit of advance research. I was looking for studios that offered classes I was interested in at times I could make it, and were also relatively convenient to where I was staying. Yeah, I guess all that’s obvious. But I was also looking for classes that seemed interesting or different from what I usually do at home or at my local studio.  And, for me, vigorous vinyasa was not on the table, as I’m still recovering from my sprained ankle (it’s going to take a few months to get back strength and balance. Sigh).

Imagine my surprise and curiosity when I saw this:

YINKI (registered trademark) (Yin yoga plus Reiki)

I was determined to check this out.  I know what yin yoga is, and I have some idea about what reiki is, but hadn’t experienced them together in one class.

Also, I just love the name Yinki.  It reminds me of the Teletubbies, in a good way.

The teletubbies– Po in red, Laa-Laa in yellow, Dipsy in green, and Tinky Winky in purple.

By the way, even the Teletubbies do yoga.  Well, actually, they watch some live-action kids do yoga. However, they seem flexible and rubbery enough to do many poses.  You can check out the episode  here

Back to the yinki class. Full disclosure: I am a reiki skeptic. However, the yin part of yinki was enough to get me in the door. And look what I saw when I entered this beautiful space:

A large Buddha head on a corner shrine with candles (lit during class).

The studio, called The Little Yoga Studio, is indeed little, but beautifully fitted up with warm wood paneled walls and honey-colored wood floors.  I borrowed a mat from them, got my blocks, bolster, strap, and even a little eye pillow, and proceeded to set up. 

The studio before class.

I was careful to put my mat in an inconspicuous spot, as the regulars at my studio can get a little territorial about their spaces.  Maybe it’s a Boston thing; after all, Bostonians are notorious for saving parking spaces in winter after they’ve shoveled their cars out.  Lawn chairs and trash cans are the favored spot markers, but just about anything obtrusive will do.

A milk crate with large doll in it, keeping watch over a recently shoveled parking space in Boston.

However, when I asked these women whether I was in anyone’s way, they looked friendly but quizzical.  They told me I could go anywhere I liked.  Okay, then..

Friendly women hanging out before yoga class.

What followed was 75 minutes of sometimes intense, sometimes soothing yin yoga.  The teacher went around to each of us and put her hands on us during every extended pose. That was the Reiki part. She also used some essential oils (I noticed the lavender especially) that she had on her hands, which smelled nice and not overpowering.

I didn’t feel anything unusual during the Reiki, but it was really nice to be personally attended to, and it felt comforting and not at all intrusive. I admit that I don’t mind at all when a yoga teacher touches me for adjustment; YMMV. If you’re not feeling touch-friendly, this is probably not the class for you.  But it felt therapeutic, business-like as it were, and fine.

Finding ways to be active, to move and stretch, to connect with how I’m feeling during conference travel is more important to me these days. Partly it’s because travel is harder on my 56-year-old body.  Air travel is uncomfortable no matter what, and my plane to LAX seemed even more tin-can-like than usual. Then there’s jet lag, restaurant food, reception food, and more sitting than I would prefer. 

There’s another reason I like to be active while traveling: connecting to a local studio or local active event makes me feel more at home, in part because I’m around people who are at their home. It’s a good way to learn about  potentially new-to-us ways that people do the things we do.  I’ve found this by doing some local group rides while traveling, and visiting local yoga places is a new fun thing that’s easier to do than cycling– less gear required, and if I pick the wrong level by mistake, I’m still in the same studio with everyone else. That is, all yoga classes are no-drop.  I like that.

Fear not, with woman doing crow pose (I think).  She’s doing an arm balance, which I still cannot do…

Dear readers– have you had good (or bad) experiences dropping in on yoga or exercise or other classes while you were out of town? Do you recommend this?  Do you have any tips? I’d love to hear from you.


Moving in new directions

Last week, I wrote about my relationship with yoga as a practice that goes well beyond the physical.  I didn’t mention that my current studio is actually called “spirit loft,” and they are less of a yoga studio per se and more of a “movement lab.”  They are very focused on form and on mobilizing and activating your full body — which fits me.  

I have done a few movement classes, but I don’t love them.  I like the idea of moving in a more freeform way, finding new arcs in space, exploring the edges of my ability to crouch into a deep squat, reach into a starfish shape as I roll.  But actually doing the classes challenges me in the wrong way — one teacher is sweet but too young to understand how to modify for aging bodies, and I hurt my shoulder when he had us helicoptering our arms too much.  In another class, I dislocated my thumb moving it around a pole thingy.  And in most of them, there is partner work where I always end up feeling clumsy, bad at following directions, and inept.  That is not what I want in a fitness class.  

But — I do like the concept at the essence of these classes — to go deep into the fundamentals of noticing how we move our bodies.  There is a yoga fundamentals class I really like, where we can spend an entire class opening up our hips in a certain way, rolling a little hard ball miserably up and down our hamstrings, finding deep alignment.

This fundamentals stuff is more and more appealing to me because I’ve been struggling with some weirdness in my quads, hamstrings and knees.  I’ve had odd knee pain in both knees, and my massage therapist has identified one part of my quads that is under-developed and therefore pulling me out of alignment.  I’m hyper fretful about my knees — I already have some cartilage damage and I don’t want more.  

Last week, I noticed that the person who teaches the fundamentals class was teaching a version of the movement lab for “midlife and beyond, though everyone is welcome.” I know that teacher (also one of the studio owners) is vigilant about precision and attention, so I scraped time in my Friday morning to go to the class.

So basically, we spent 90 minutes getting in touch with the hinge at our hips.  Moving a rug around in different directions with one foot while keeping the other firmly on the floor, bending with a dowel held to our backs in three places to see our real range without curving our backs, working up eventually to picking up a kettle bell from the floor with a very specific range of motion.

IMG_4548 So here’s the thing:  it was fucking HARD.  Twice in the past month — in this class and from my massage therapist — I’ve been reminded that just because I have strong legs and can do a lovely forward fold in yoga, pull my foot up onto the seat of my spinning bike to stretch — this really doesn’t mean I’m flexible.  My hinge range is about 45 degrees, not 90 — after 45, I start to curve my spine (even when my knees are bent).  That dowel thing was humbling.  And I thought I was doing a great job with the kettlebell until the teacher came and gave me a little yoga block to help me out.

This might seem esoteric, but the point of the movement for life class is to put you in touch with how the way your body moves affects your quality of life as you age — we will need to pick up things off the floor until we die.  Being able to touch your toes is great — but preserving true agility in your hips is even more important — for recovery if you start to slip on the ice, for support for your back when you pick stuff up, for strength and alignment for your knees.  

I liked the class, though I felt like it revealed all of my illusions about my own fitness. I’m strong and powerful in many ways, but there are more dimensions when I go deeper inside.  And that’s a whole new journey in and of itself.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works, and moves a blanket around with her foot in Toronto.