fitness · menstruation · soccer

Marginal gains and menstruation

I love the idea of marginal gains. See Tracy’s blog post about the idea here.

I first heard about in the sports content reading Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes–and What We Can Learn from Them which, by the way, is a fun book about sports performance.

The main idea as I recall it was that when you are working with elite athletes at the top of their game you aren’t going to be able to make big changes and see big improvements. All the athletes are working at near capacity. Instead you focus on making lots of small improvements in all areas.

My favourite example concerned cyclists and sleep quality. It turns out, not surprisingly, that athletes sleep better at home. How to replicate those conditions on the road? The coach had them bring along pillows and blankets from home.

But coaches traditionally haven’t much attention to women’s menstrual patterns. Until now.

See Ending period ‘taboo’ gave USA marginal gain at World Cup.

” One emerging issue in women’s sport is the menstrual cycle and its impact on performance, player health and injury risk,” explains Dawn Scott, the USWNT’s fitness coach, exclusively to The Telegraph. “I’ve known about these effects, the research, for a long time – but working with 23 players, I had always struggled to know how to accurately monitor that and how to individualise strategies for players.”

It’s a great story. Go read it! But what I love is that the coaching team decided to be open and talk about it–not keeping the competitive edge a secret.

““We want to end the taboo,” says Scott. “At the elite level, but also for teenage girls. They should feel comfortable talking about this with their coaches.” Bruinvels admits that awareness and improved education are key motivations for her work. “Often we are afraid of discussing this because we don’t really understand it,” she says. “I feel particularly for male coaches, who wonder how they would start this discussion.”

Open air stadium with soccer field

 Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta, Indonesia
cycling · fall · fitness · season transitions · snow · winter

The seasons of cycling

When I first started riding a bike as an adult, I commuted in the winter but recreational riding came to an end with the snow and the cold. Fun riding was summer riding on my road bike with skinny tires in the sunshine. I trained indoors all winter but I did it for the sake of summer riding.

Over the years I’ve changed, as a cyclist, and I’ve come to appreciate the change of seasons for the different kinds of riding it brings.

For me fall means the return of my adventure road bike and fun riding on gravel. It’s my go-to commuting bike but it’s also good for weekend country rides. We dial back the distance and go out for an hour or two on bike trails. It’s relaxing to ride with no cars in sight. This past weekend Sarah and I did some riding in Turkey Point. See the gallery below.

I’ve got my eyes on the Guelph to Goderich rail trail too.

But it’s not just the fall and cyclocross/gravel riding. I’m also looking forward now to the winter and to riding in the snow on my fat bike. It’s a fun and joyful way to play in the snow on bikes. Check out my smile!

I think I’ve honestly come to love all the seasons of cycling. They’re different things, each with their own kind of pleasure.

Some road riding friends don’t get it. They question the fitness benefits of fat bike riding. They ask about my heart rate and training zones. I say that’s not the point. I don’t fess up that I am not even wearing a heart rate monitor. I’m doing it for fun and for mental health benefits. I need to be outside in the winter. I love riding through the woods. Fat bike riding makes me feel like a kid again as I ride over all sorts of obstacles in my path.

I still ride inside all winter. I put a road bike on a trainer and ride virtually in Zwift. That’s fun too and that I do do for fitness reasons.

Fat biking? That’s for fun and the love of riding a bike.

I’m now the kind of cyclist who loves all the seasons of cycling. See you out there in autumn, winter, spring, and summer!

How about you? Do you ride year round? How many seasons of cycling do you like?

fitness

While Cate went running, we went singing! La la la..

As readers of the blog know my running days are over. Mostly I’m okay with that but not at stressful times like this election season. Today’s the big vote here in Canada. Yesterday, I was super stressed. Anxious, grumpy, and a bit panicky.

I read Cate’s post about running and election anxiety and felt jealous, adding that to my range of unpleasant emotions. I’ve written before about comfort eating and the US election in defense of food that makes us feel good but I was away from my kitchen and it’s home cooked food that makes me feel better usually.

Instead, I did something new. I sang. Sarah and I went to the Big Sing with my daughter Mallory who is a singing regular. She’s a member of the Karen Schuessler Singers and conducts a children’s choir as well.

What’s a Big Sing?

“Big Sing London! is an event where a couple hundred people get together to just sing. It’s not a concert—we do all the singing ourselves! With our need to come together and engage in community, what better activity could there be to do that than singing?” says KSS Artistic Director and Conductor Karen Schuessler.

The songs we’ll sing will be all kinds—traditional songs. Songs that unite us. Fun songs. Inspiring songs. Simple songs. Songs we can just sing out and not worry if we’re singing too loud—because we’ll all be singing loud! We’ll use word sheets so everyone can join in.

Bernie Gilmore is a well-known folksinger, singer-songwriter, guitarist and banjo player right here in London. Bernie is passionate about the power of community singing and the right of every person to be able to sing. He loves leading Community Sings! You can be sure he’ll get the whole room rocking!

As he says, “Get the heck off your favourite chair at home and out from in front of the big screen. If you love to sing great songs come on out to Big Sing London! for an afternoon you will thoroughly enjoy—and get ready to sing your socks off!”

I’ve written before about the fitness benefits of singing. I can’t actually hold a tune so it’s not something I usually do. But yesterday I sang, Canadian folk songs mostly, and I felt just a little bit more relaxed. I think it’s the breathing. Thanks Mallory for having us along!

fitness

Running my way through election anxiety

Today is a federal election in Canada.  It’s a tense time for progressives.  Our relationship with our high school boyfriend Justin didn’t survive the first few weeks of university — he kept drunk-texting us and not showing up when he promised — and we were ready to break up with him by Thanksgiving.

151020-justin-trudeau-boxing-mn-0840_588b78b45f4484d6af2d7a8965825765.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000-670x476

But the alternatives aren’t obvious.  There’s your tough, smart and committed aunt who’s off doing fabulous things and doesn’t make it to the family holidays, your sister’s mean and sullen boyfriend, the nice guy your cousin is bringing to dinner for the first time, the brother who is always off in the other room playing some super complex strategy game, and the drunk racist uncle who won’t shut up.  Canadians seem to be all over the map, it’s been a pretty ugly campaign, and the only thing for sure is that on Tuesday morning, we won’t feel anymore like the only major western country that can sit comfortably (and slightly smugly) knowing that we’ve resisted the tension and polarization that’s shaped politics for the past four years.

There is a lot of anxiety swirling in the air.  So how do we breathe through it?

Well, my first thought was yoga.  I haven’t been doing as much yoga lately, being obsessed with my feminist cross-fit style gym, punctuated by a couple of runs a week.  But the day before a tense election seemed like the perfect time to re-engage with Iyengar yoga.  So I looked up the schedule for the studio across the street, paid for a new set of class passes (ignoring the pang over realizing that my last set expired with a couple of unused classes), and trotted on over, mat over my back.

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I signed in, collected the pile of props iyengar usually demands, and lay down to quiet myself.  A few minutes later, I suddenly became aware that the room was filling up with people who weren’t grabbing mats, and then one of the studio owners came over to check in.  “Isn’t this Iyengar?”  “No, Cindy’s away.  This is a EATT training workshop.”  I stared, stupidly — “but I signed up online?”  “The website was wrong.”

(Note I’m not even sure he apologized — he’s not the reason I go to that studio).

The person at the desk did apologize and said they were giving me an extra class credit, and I slunk out of there, my mat under my arm, feeling foolish.  Nothing like lying on your back in the wrong class to bring back all the high school angst.

So much for breathing through the election tension.  But lesson learned:  there will be frustration, and unexpected detours, and moments where I’m going to have to bite my tongue.  Got it.

An hour later, that lesson showed up for real, when someone in my life told me they’d voted conservative in the advance polls, parroting a reactionary discourse about too many immigrants, liberals limiting free speech and giving in to identity politics, and oh, the debt!  “Why would you do a thing like that?” I said mildly.  Direct and clear.

I had work to do, but the angst was still swirling. It was the perfect October day, about 12 degrees, windless, sunny.  My body was a little sore from all the squats and suchlike all week, but I decided a run would shake out the anxiety.  I mentally planned just half an hour, just enough to breathe in some oxygen.

I started running and then…  I just kept going.  Over to the valley, and up through the secret pathway through the city.  I felt strong and I felt present.  The ground was under my feet, and my body and my soul let me put one foot in front of the other.  Step, step, step.

 

At my turnaround point, there was a lesson on the bridge:  LOOK BOTH WAYS.

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Got it.  There’s more than one perspective.  Other people have reasons for the choices they make.  Vilifying them isn’t going to help anything.

I let the familiar rhythm of running overtake me until an hour and 11 km had passed.  The longest run I’ve done in a few months.  Me, at my essence.

I ran up from the valley trail at Queen Street, where the Bridge of Wisdom had another lesson:  “the river I step in is not the river I stand in,” it says in comforting iron.  Every moment will pass. No moment will be the same as the one before:

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Got that lesson too.  Whatever happens, it will pass.

I got home, knees sore, body tired, and sunk into the tub.  Grateful for my body, grateful for my neighbourhood and my city, grateful to be reminded that I have the fortitude and clarity I need for anxious times.

(And PSA for Canadians still undecided:  this site aggregates different projections and identifies the best way to vote in your riding if you want to vote strategically:  https://votewell.ca/ Vote well!

**

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who voted in the advance polls, and changed her mind just before she made the X.

 

 

 

dogs · fitness

Can fit be a canine issue, too? Dogs and human health

This week, a couple of “having a dog is good for your health” studies came out. One of them , a systematic review of medical studies on associations of dog ownership with health, found a 24% reduced mortality risk across various groups in studies done in several countries. The other one other one found a 21% reduced mortality risk (risk of death from any cause) for people with heart disease. Here’s a bit more detail about this study from the journal commentary:

The effect was remarkably consistent across various demographic subgroups but was modified by the number of individuals in the household: single-person households with dogs were associated with a markedly greater reduction in all-cause mortality than multi-person households. Interestingly, the effect appeared to be somewhat larger for owners of more active breeds like pointers and hunting dogs, possibly due to their need for greater physical activity.

This stands to reason. If you live alone and have a dog, you have to take care of it– feed, walk, play with, throw chew toys around with, etc. And if you have a more active dog, that dog will want and need more stimulation and activity. So you get the same as you take care of your dog. And this is good for you.

Of course, you may be asking the question: does finding an association mean that have a dog causes better health? No. The journal editor made this clear:

… Pet owners tend to be younger, wealthier, better educated, and more likely to be married, all of which improve cardiovascular outcomes… individuals who own a dog may have higher disposable incomes than those who do not. High incomes are in turn associated with a lower prevalence of tobacco use, diabetes, and obesity in the population, so the observed relationship between pet ownership and outcomes may be partially due to socioeconomic factors… Finally, the association between dog ownership and good health may even be reverse causal because adults with excellent physical health are more likely to adopt a dog than those who are too ill or frail to care for a pet…

But, the editor continues, it’s consistent with what we know about human biology that dog ownership has all sorts of positive physical effects on people. And,

…the most salient benefits of dog ownership on cardiovascular outcomes are likely mediated through large and sustained improvements in mental health, including lower rates of depression, decreased loneliness, and increased self-esteem. This may explain why the effect appears to be larger for individuals living alone than those in multi-person households.

The upshot, for me, is this: I should get a dog.

I’ve wanted to get a dog for years. I’ve hemmed and hawed and dragged my feet and trotted out excuses– I’m too busy! I travel too much! My life is already full! I’m not a morning person!

All of these things are true. But I keep coming back to this imperative: Catherine, you need a dog in your life. I do think that, once we (my future dog and me) get settled into a routine, I’ll wonder why I didn’t do this 30 years earlier. (I did grow up with dogs, so I know what I’d be getting into).

Dogs are not fitness accessories like gym memberships or shiny new bikes. They’re creatures with wants and needs who are utterly dependent on us. The seriousness of taking on the care of another creature is what’s given me pause all these years. But I keep coming back to the question: should I get a dog now? How about now?

My inner conversation hasn’t gone anywhere yet, except to endless online perusing of rescue dog sites and breed information gathering. But I am putting this out there as a step forward in the process.

Question to you, dear readers: what are some ways having a dog has affected your health or fitness? Have there been changes? I’d love to hear from you.

body image · Fit Feminists Answer · fitness · You Ask

Is my menopausal belly something to worry about?

We love it when we get questions from blog readers.  This one came in last week:

There’s a general recommendation that women keep their waist circumference to 35 inches or less, because of associations with metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. It seems at mid age this becomes more of a concern.  What’s Fit is a Feminist Issue’s perspective on this?

Kitty inspecting her waistline

 

Here’s how I read this question:   we’ve all heard that carrying more of your weight in your middle (“apple shaped”) is a bigger risk for heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic issues than carrying your weight in your hips, bum and thigh (“pear shaped”).  This belief has been around for a while — I’m old, and I remember learning this in high school.  So I think the questions are — Is there evidence behind this recommendation?   When we hit menopause, we tend to accumulate more fat in our middles — so are we at bigger risk for cardiovascular disease at menopause?  Is there a specific guideline?   Is there anything we can to do manage our fat distribution with an eye to preventing heart disease?

Turns out, this is a super not easy question to answer. 

Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.28.46

I went down a few rabbit holes here, but I’ll try to break it down.

(But first, a quick note about gender terminology.  When I write about menstruation, menopause, vaginas, etc, I try to be conscious of recognizing that there are a lot of vagina and uterus-having people who don’t identify as female, and to de-gender my discussion as much as possible.  I’m finding this hard to do in looking at this research, because it’s strongly correlated to hormones that are categorized as male and female.  It’s also taken decades for science to begin to study gender differences around issues of cardiovascular disease at all, and I have yet to see one define what how they ascribe gender to their participants.  Given all of that, I’m going to sometimes use “women” and “female” here, because it’s what the research refers to, knowing that I am generally referring here to people assigned female at birth (AFAB), who are not taking testosterone and who are experiencing a naturally occurring menopause at mid-life).  

Why does where your body stores fat matter?

  1.  The apple/pear thing is technically called Gynoid-Android fat distribution patterns
    Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.54.47
    Lizzo is a great example of a pear shaped body
    Gynoid — or pear — is, as you would discern from the name, more typically associated with women, with the belly-prominent fat storage (Android/apple) more associated with men.
  2. Gynoid fat distribution is controlled by female reproductive hormones, and android fat storage by testosterone.  
  3. Gynoid and android fat patterns aren’t just about where they show up on the body but where they show up in relation to your organs.  Android fat storage can compress and restrict blood flow to your vital organs and can be a risk factor for both insulin resistance and heart disease.

 

How does menopause affect fat storage?

As a general rule, as AFAB people reach menopause, they tend to gain weight.  A large percentage of this weight tends to shift to an “android” pattern, because hormonal changes make it harder to store fat around their hips and butt.  In other words, even if you didn’t have much of a belly before menopause, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll develop one after.  On average, people accumulate abdominal fat after menopause twice as fast as before.

Does post-menopausal waist size correlate to cardiovascular and metabolic risk?

I waded through a sea of science to try to get an answer to this, and the bottom line seems to be:  maybe.  probably.  sure.  What is true is that women tend to develop cardiovascular disease on average 7 – 10 years later than men — but it’s the highest cause of death in women over the age of 65 years.  Estrogen seems to have a regulating effect on several metabolic factors, which lessens at menopause.  So menopause is associated with a greater risk for heart disease and metabolic syndromes.  And women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than men with diabetes.

But it is not entirely clear whether this risk is generally due to aging and changing hormones, or fat distribution patterns.  

Do I have to worry that my middle aged belly is going to cause heart disease or diabetes?

I am not a doctor (except of patterns of words), but from what I can tell, the size of your tummy is a bit of a red herring — except that visible changes in your metabolism are a reminder that cardiovascular risk increases as we age, and women’s profile for that risk is different than men’s. 

Historically, women don’t tend to know their own risk of heart disease, and clinicians tend to under-recognize symptoms and risks in women.  So it’s important to be aware that risk rises at menopause and pay attention to things like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.  They’re imperfect but important indicators of changes in your body.

What about hormone replacement therapy?

HRT in post-menopausal woman does help protect against intra-abdominal fat accumulation — but there is no evidence at this point that it reduces menopausal cardiovascular risk.  So it might make you feel better in different ways, but it doesn’t change your risk. 

So what do I do?

As we preach often on this blog, weight is not the issue to focus on.  If you want to lower your risk for heart disease as you reach menopause, the biggest “bang for your buck” seems to be:

 

Until I did the reading for this post, I didn’t really know how much risk of heart disease changes at menopause.  What was news to you?

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and jumps around in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fitness

Sam is waking up in Munich to bikes in the sunshine and beautiful bright leaves

Sure I’m still jetlagged and sleepy. But today I started to feel a little bit more alive. I asked questions in the talks at the conference. I sat outside in the sunshine and smiled. I’m having a wonderful time in Munich. There are really good papers at this conference and really interesting people here presenting. I’m meeting colleagues from all over the world. And I got excellent feedback on my talk which I’ll be rewriting as a chapter in the edited volume we’re putting together. Exciting.

There are also little things to enjoy such as delicious apples and salads in glass jars at lunch time. Since Martha asked, I’ll tell you, the dressing was also in little glass jars. No plastic in sight.

What else is making me smile? There are brightly coloured leaves everywhere. There are also bikes and bike lanes (so many bikes!) and I’m already thinking I need to come back. Maybe I’ll bring my Brompton next time.

I’m not moving here though despite what social media thinks.

First LinkedIn offers me German health insurance for my big move. Now all my Facebook ads are for German classes.

The latter might come in useful.

Bis zum nächsten Mal!



Alcohol free white beer!