cycling · fitness · planning · training · traveling

Sam goes spring riding with friends (finally!)

Sarah front and center takes a selfie. On the photo’s left are the blog’s Kim and Susan and on the right are David and Sam. We standing in front of the sign for Billie Bear Road.

It’s been a cold wet spring. As Tracy posted last week we’ve had a miserable few months of cold wet weather that hasn’t exactly been inspiring outdoor activity. I was envisioning months of outdoor riding leading up to our Newfoundland trip. (I think there’s still room, by the way.) Instead I’ve been riding inside even in May!

Well this weekend is the May holiday weekend in Canada and while the weather wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t terrible for riding either. Susan invited Sarah, David, Kim and me to her family cottage for the weekend and we all brought our bikes so could ride and get ready for our big Newfoundland adventure. Susan got to introduce us to her favorite nearby hilly road. You could tell it was warm and the holiday weekend because on Sunday there were three other groups of cyclists on that same stretch of road.

I think we all felt a bit rusty. Well, I did. Susan got to ride her fancy new bike. We all got to practise our group riding skills. The hills were demanding on the way up and “whee!”on the way down. I loved the hills. I wasn’t a big fan of all the gravel that had washed into the road. But there was a big smile on my face doing one of the things I liked most in the world, riding bikes with friends.

This week it’s back to work and back to my resolution of riding 20 km and writing 30 minutes each day.

The weekend ended wth the other great Canadian spring tradition, bbqing in the rain. Quite the thunderstorm. Thanks Sarah. Image description: Sarah in a red raincoat tending the BBQ on the deck with the lake in the background.

After riding there was food, of course. Here’s a bagel with black bean spread, avocado, and melted cheddar cheese. Yum!
ergonomics · fitness

Is life really rosier in the Blue Zones? On health and community

Is health something that we are born with (or not), something we work for (or not), or something that just happens to us (or not)? Or is it something we can get just by relocating to the right town or neighborhood?

This last idea has become popular in the last decade or so with the advent of the notion of Blue Zones— actual places where there’s been documentation of people living well over the age of 100. Where are these places, you ask? No problem– here they are:

  • Sardinia (Italy)
  • Okinawa (Japan)
  • Loma Linda (California, Seventh-day Adventists)
  • Nicoya (Costa Rica)
  • Ikaria (Greece)

If you prefer pictures, they are here:

The world with Blue Zones located. Although the whole world is blue. Hmmm...
The world with Blue Zones located. Although the whole world is blue. Hmmm…

Hmmm. Okay. Next question: what is going on in these places? According to this article (and the book by Blue Zone guy Dan Buettner), these things:

  1. They have a strong sense of family.
  2. They eat very little meat and processed foods, but instead eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, especially beans, and have a moderate caloric intake.
  3. They do moderate exercise every day as a function of living – they walk to work, garden, climb hills, etc.
  4. They have a moderate amount of wine per day with friends and family.
  5. They have an active, strong social life.
  6. They report less stress, sleep well, and nap.
  7. They have a strong sense of purpose in their lives.
  8. They have a strong faith basis to their lives.

As Miss Manners would say, “how nice for them.”

Seriously, though, there is a big question here: can we/how can we shift some of the work of creating conditions for a healthy-to-us (or in this case healthy-to-experts) life to the communities where we live? There’s a ton of work being done in public health, urban planning, environmental architecture, you name it– lots of fields want to see how we can make healthyish and happier living easier for people. For instance, Buettner and company work with cities to help them develop say, infrastructures to make biking and walking commutes safer and easier(from this article):

Buettner and his team at Blue Zones have personally worked with dozens of US cities over the last decade to make them more walkable and bikeable. He points out that in almost every case, the BMI and obesity rate in those cities have dropped as a result.

“We have hard evidence that when you optimize a city for walkability, bikeability, public transportation, and cleaned-up parks, you can raise the physical activity level of a whole population by up to 30%,” says Buettner. “There is no gym, CrossFit, or exercise program that can get those types of results at a population level.”

I’m extremely skeptical about the drop in BMI claim. There have been many extremely well-funded multi-prong programs (like this one near me) to make environments more conducive to healthy-to-experts living and eating and moving. They have worked well on a lot of markers, but BMI doesn’t tend to be one of them.

But I digress. This idea of the Blue Zone has taken off in some circles; there are dozens of websites devoted to making your own Blue Zone, what are the advantages to Blue Zone living, etc. One website seems to suggest that Blue Zone living brings with it physical well being for as long as you live. At least this is what their illustration is telling me.

In some Blue Zones, everyone knows how to do crow pose.
In some Blue Zones, everyone knows how to do crow pose. She’s awesome, btw. It’s this website I am having a little fun with.

Even in a Blue Zone, we can’t protect against everything. I mean, eventually someone is going to have an anvil fall on them.

Wile E. Coyote. Don't worry, he'll be fine.
Wile E. Coyote. Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.

Again, digressing. So, short of moving to Sardinia or getting our city to overhaul the enture urban landscape, how can we create our own Blue Zones? You’re in luck– here’s a list:

  1. Walk your children to school 1 day a week (or more). Take turns with other parents so that it is more feasible with busy work schedules.
  2. Let your children play in the street (with discretion). Not only will your children enjoy it, but it creates a community of neighbors, slows traffic down, and encourages elderly neighbors to come out of their houses.
  3. Build a community. It doesn’t have to be with a religious group, although it may be for you, but it could also be around a volunteer position, your neighborhood, a hobby, or your children’s school.
  4. Eat more vegetables – period. You don’t have to become vegan, but try to incorporate at least 1 vegetable at every meal of the day with a goal of at least 5 servings per day.
  5. Eat with friends at work instead of at your desk. Perhaps go for a walk together every day. You’ll keep yourselves accountable and lower your stress burden.
  6. Add more fiber to your diet. Most of these communities ate more beans per day than average.
  7. Create a family mission statement about what you and/or your family wish for the world. Having a positive sense of purpose in how you are making a difference satisfies us and feeds our psyches.

But this is ill-conceived advice.  First of all, it’s of the buy-low-sell-high variety.  Everyone knows all of this. The thing that is supposed to be magic about the Blue Zones is that people don’t have to make a huge effort to put these systems into place or do it on their own—just living in the community creates a context that has systematized these practices (supposedly; I’m skeptical).

Also, this is kind of saying be richer and very lucky. Have more time to move, cook, eat. Pay more money for all of this. Have a supportive family and community that you’re an active part of. Don’t have mental health issues. Live close to your work and don’t spend too much time working. Develop a palate for certain kinds of foods, learn how to make recipes with them, take the time to shop for and prepare and eat them, and maintain this over time. Have a stable long-term relationship, stable and happy family situation, and lots of happy stable extended family and neighbors.  Right. Oh, and be a member of functional clubs that hike, prepare communal meals, etc.

In short, go forth and be privileged, and you’ll live longer. Thanks.

What we in the Zones of All Colors have to deal with is creating connections, leveraging the ones we have, working within our individual and social and financial and political constraints, and loosening those constraints by any means available when we have the energy and time and resources to do so. Which is what we already do.

What sorts of programs do you see in your communities for make them more Blue-Zone-like? Are you seeing more bike lanes? Green space development? All-ages crow pose workshops? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · yoga

I have a yoga crush on Jessamyn Stanley

If you haven’t heard of Jessamyn Stanley, today’s your lucky day. Let me introduce you…

Content warning: some of her quotes include copious profanity, which I will coyly edit with **s. Not sure why, but I figured I would. So know those words will be there, and you’ll know what they are, but there will be a little editing.

Now on to the post proper.

The world is complicated.

A very cute cartoon ghost saying "duh".
A very cute cartoon ghost saying “duh”.

Likewise the world of yoga. Especially the world of commercialized western yoga. As some bloggers have pointed out (definitely read this article if you’re interested), it tends to look like this:

A group of white women, dressed all in white, seated on yoga mats.
A group of white women, dressed all in white, seated on yoga mats.

There are a few worries that this picture provokes for me:

  • the extreme whiteness of yoga here in North America
  • the extreme thinness of yoga here in North America
  • the Westernization/appropriation of yoga here in North America

Jessamyn Stanley takes aim at all three of these things, and she obliterates them in one fell swoop. Or rather, one swell soliloquy, found on her FB page:

Short story- yoga is not about practicing yoga postures perfectly it’s about peeling back the layers of bullsh*t that envelop all of us.

That means I DONT GIVE A F**KKKK if you follow along perfectly with the sequences… Literally couldn’t care less.

You can legit spend the whole class in #corpsepose and I will be so happy for your *ss because we’re not in a dance troupe and this isn’t synchronized swimming or any sh*t where we need to move in tandem. You just do what you need to do and we gon be alright.

Yoga is not exercise.
Yoga is not fitness.

Don’t bring fitness bullsh*t to my yoga class and we’ll be square.

YES. I am living for this.

We’re not in a dance troupe.

Modern dance troupe at work.
Modern dance troupe at work.

This isn’t synchronized swimming.

Synchronized swimmers, looking up with arms raised out of the water.
Synchronized swimmers, looking up with arms raised out of the water.

So if yoga isn’t fitness and it isn’t exercise, then what should we look for? Jessamyn says it’s not anyone’s job to serve as our inspiration.

What authority do I have to intentionally inspire? I’m just like anyone else. I wake up, I fall down, I make mistakes. I’ve got wildly contradictory and problematic opinions. I’m vengeful and I can be quite spiteful. I’m jealous, and I allow my jealousy to cloud my judgments.

And yes, I practice yoga. I practice yoking the light and the dark in life. And yes, I’m shamelessly fat.

But my goal is not to inspire other people. I don’t think desiring followership is in the best interest of any yoga practice, let alone mine.

(Honestly, I think the best way to inspire people is to mind your f*cking business, drink water, get some sleep, and keep your spirit moisturized.)

Most excellent advice, in my view.

Jessmyn’s book Every Body Yoga, is great, with lots of honest stories and good tips about how to put together a yoga practice that works for you.

The cover of Jessamyn's book, with her doing a hard yoga pose.
The cover of Jessamyn’s book, with her doing a hard yoga pose.

But her FB page and Instagram feeds are presenting, confronting and sharing ideas about self, size, love, acceptance, acceptability, breaking with conventions, and instigating new conventions. Here’s an example:

Jessamyn, in a bra and panties standing beside a stereo. Her quote: Is being fat and black only chill when it makes other people feel good about themselves? #fat
Her quote: Is being fat and black only chill when it makes other people feel good about themselves? #fat

And this:

Jessamyn Stanley, covered in green and yellow paint, on her yoga mat.
Jessamyn Stanley, covered in green and yellow paint, on her yoga mat.

The quote with this picture is long, and worth reading:

I tend to revel in anger. Especially when it’s justifiable. My anger manifests as a fiery weapon & I gleefully burn away everything in my path. But maybe yoga is supposed to help manage my weapons before I accidentally hurt myself. Digging into Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider” for @spirithouse_inc’s Harm Free Book Zone has got me ready to amp on everyone in my life who refuses to admit that they’re complicit in upholding white supremacy. Although, if I’m being completely honest, I’m mostly just angry at myself. Angry that I am complicit in white supremacy. Angry that I officially spent my entire adolescence and young adulthood trying to buy into a system that will never let me in. Angry because, much as I loathe it, I CONTINUE to actively buy into this sh*t every day. And I think it would be quite easy to never do any analysis of this emotional circuit.

But yoga is a hand at the nape of my neck and it’s literally pushing my face into the mirror of truth. And I’m really f*cking grateful for that. Because while I’m actually quite happy with my anger (frankly, it arouses me), if I keep lighting everything on fire a b*tch will be burned alive. And why you use a perfectly good blaze to burn down your own ship, Jessamyn. #yoga

Yes. I’m listening, Jessamyn. Keep talking.

Hey readers, do you have any online activity crushes right now? Who am I missing out on? Let us know.


End Game strikes some wrong notes for size acceptance

By MarthaFitat55

I’m a big fan of the Marvel Comic franchise and I eagerly awaited the final installment End Game, particularly as I have a few favorite characters, including Thor, the God of Thunder.

The author poses with a cardboard cutout of an early version of Thor.

I won’t go into any detail about the film itself in case there are still some readers out there who haven’t seen it. However it is safe to say the surviving heroes from Infinity Wars deal with grief in their own unique ways befitting their personalities and histories as we know them.

Hawkeye becomes a driven assassin; Captain America becomes a peer support leader; Black Widow is laser-focused on monitoring the world for potential threats; and Iron Man has retired to a peaceful rural life with Pepper Potts and their daughter.

Thor, on the other hand has retreated to beer, pizza, and a wastrel life of video games with his bros. The film offers grave tones suggesting a depressed, unhappy and sorrowful hero who cannot find his strength or motivation to lead.

Fair enough, many of us do use food or drink to manage our feelings, so no judgement from me on that. However, when we catch our first glimpse of Thor, he is seen as unkempt, schlumpy and fat.

In fact, there were lots of titters and guffaws at this unexpected manifestation of depression. I’ve read enough comments to see this was not an unusual response. While I appreciate Thor in the pantheon was funnier than the other heroes, it was hard to see him as a tool for mockery. And he is mocked by the people he calls his friends.

I suppose I should be grateful there was no miracle makeover, but the constant digs were unkind at best and cruel at their worst. That Thor himself feels he is a lost cause becomes apparent with his overwhelmingly relief when he learns he is still worthy enough to recall the Hammer.

I saw End Game just days before news broke that runners in the London marathon’s 7.5 hour pace group were mocked and called fat for their efforts. It was another reminder that if you don’t fit social expectations, you are not worthy. If you are interested in some other thoughts, here’s an interesting take at the Mary Sue.

What do you think? How might this story line be done more positively?

219 in 2019 · fitness

Sam is Celebrating 100

I’m trying to work out 219 times in 2019. Truth be told I’d like to work out 300 times in 2019 but I likely won’t make that. But today was a milestone either way. Today I hit 100. Yay!

Where does that out me? If keep exercising at this pace where will I be on the last day of 2019?

Let’s do some math: Today Thursday May 16, 2019 is …Day 136 of 365 days. After today there are 229 days remaining in this year. Or to put it differently 36.99% of the year has gone. Doing some quick back of the envelope math–as they say? but who says that anymore? who does that these days? Well, I did–that means by year’s end, working out at the current rate I’ll make it to 268 workouts in 2019. More than 219 but not quite 300. And that’s fine.

But back to today and my 100th workout. What did I do? I walked Cheddar with my neighbour Judy and her dog Cooper. It’s spring and the neighbours are outside again! And then I got on my Brompton and biked to my office. It’s sunny and warmish and I’m smiling!


Dear Spring, We are ready for you…

Image description: magnolia bud against a blurred background.

Everyone in my part of the world is complaining about our terrible spring. It’s been cold. It’s been wet. Yes, we have more light. But mostly the weather has been so horrible that the extra light hasn’t made the dramatic difference it usually does. I like running in the morning when it gets light early. But lately it’s been hovering just above zero in the morning. No thanks.

I’m reminded of a book a read some years ago by Jose Saramago, the author best known for his novel, Blindness. In this lesser known novel of his, Death with Interruptions, people in this one town stop dying. Like, not matter how old they get, they just don’t die. Though perhaps that seems like it would be something awesome, and at first it is, eventually it creates all kinds of havoc. It turns out [SPOILER] death decided she (death is a woman in this novel) was tired and needed a vacation. So she took a break.

I feel like that’s what Spring is doing this year. She’s taking a break and maybe, just maybe, she’ll be ready to get back to it really soon. Like yesterday was kind of a nice day. Not exactly a “leave your coat at home” day. But close. And today promises to be even better.

By the time we get to this point in May, everyone is eager to get outside into warmer weather. Granted, it’s warmer than winter. I went for a run at lunch time on Monday and I had to take off a layer because I got warm. But the weather is nowhere near what its should be.

And I’m aware that in no time we will be complaining about the heat and humidity. Just yesterday I was telling a colleague who is visiting from Texas that sometimes it is so hot and humid here that even first thing in the morning you’re dripping in sweat after 5 minutes of running.

But we’re not there yet. Spring, if you’re out there having a vacation, please come back. We need you.

What do you plan to do when the weather becomes beautiful (if you’re somewhere were you too are patiently or not so patiently awaiting Spring)?

fitness · motivation

Writing and riding, goals, and resolutions

So I’m behind with three writing projects (two book reviews and one edited companion chapter). There’s also a 1000 word abstract I want to write and two sets of remarks to prepare for Congress in early June. This is even before my larger summer writing goals kick in. My plight will be familiar to academic colleagues in various disciplines around the world. Welcome to academic summers.

That’s not only only pressing set of priorities though. I need to get in bike shape for my Newfoundland bike trip.  And of course there’s my ongoing big job. This morning’s priority is preparing for University of Guelph Research Advocacy Day at Queen’s Park where we hope to wow the MPPs with all the exciting research we do.

So I think my weekday plan is going to have to involve some writing and riding now that university is getting a little bit quieter. Nothing unreasonable but here’s my plan: 20 km+ riding on the weekdays and long rides on the weekends. 30 minutes of writing each day except for Friday when it’s 2 hours.

Day 1 was a rousing success, though more biking than writing. I rode my bike to the Bike Shed in the cold and the rain and rode on the trainer with a different bike for an hour when I got there and then rode to work. Cold and wet but 40 km done and dusted.

In the evening Sarah and I had our first night out Snipe sailing. After a late dinner, I snuck in 30 minutes on the most overdue of the book reviews. It’s a review of Heather Widdows’ Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal. I had some things to say about here on the blog.

Writing and riding are both things that require daily routines for me. See Shouldn’t You Be Riding?

I’ll check in as I go along as let you know how it’s working out.