walking · weight loss

Walking 10,000 steps a day won’t help you lose weight, but who would have thought that it would?

From the Independent: “Over the last few years, the theory that walking 10,000 steps a day has become popularised as the key to health and weight loss. However, according to a new study, walking 10,000 steps a day won’t actually prevent weight gain, or lead to weight loss.”

I don’t have a lot to say about this start to the story, except….


More on the study: The study took 120 first year university students, all women, and had them walk either 10, 12 or 15,000 steps a day, 6 days a week, for 24 weeks. They also tracked their weights and their calories consumed. On average, no matter what group they were in, the students had all gained 3.5 lbs which is the average amount of weight students typically gain during their first semester of school.

Again, my reaction….

Let me act shocked.

But here is the bit they don’t mention until the end of the story.

“However, the researchers did note that the increased steps meant an overall positive impact on students’ “physical activity patterns,” which they stated “may have other emotional and health benefits””

Why isn’t that the headline? It’s good news. Students struggle with stress and anxiety and all sorts of emotional and mental health issues when beginning university. Why isn’t that the focus rather than the 3.5 lbs they typically gain when confronted with stress and cafeteria style eating?

Probably my biggest complaint about health and exercise reporting is the emphasis on weight loss. If people do it for reasons of weight loss and then don’t lose weight, they quit. And then they miss out on all the real health benefits of physical activity.

I’m with Yoni Freedhoff (again): Exercise is the world’s best drug. It’s just not a weight-loss drug.

Let’s talk about the other benefits of walking lots. I’ve got a post in our drafts folder about the wonders of walking.

It starts like this: “Walking is obviously wonderful. You can’t blink an eye these days without some news about the wonders of walking flash by. It’s a radical act in fast paced world. Walking makes us wiser. It makes us healthier, happier, and brainier. Even philosophers are in on the act. Here’s five philosophers on walking and wisdom. Yet more, why walking helps us think. A few years ago Adam Gopnick penned, Heaven’s Gait: What We Do When We Walk which covers both contemplative walking and walking as a sport.”

So walking is wonderful. It’s not about weight loss. And that’s just fine.

More later about walking and my reflections on walking for those of us who can’t.

fitness · monthly check in

Sam's monthly check-in: February's ups and downs

First, the February good news. I’m counting down the days to spring. I’m loving the added evening light. There are days when it’s clear spring is happening soon.

It’s 23 days to spring and this is a photo of pink buds with green grass and a bright blue sky.

Also, February contains Valentine’s Day. And that’s a good thing.

Happy Valentine’s bitmoji

The rest of February is a mixed bag of feelings.

With my knee surgery within the year, I’ve been trying to push myself. I want to be in the best shape possible before it’s all knee rehab all the time. I’ve been watching another athletic friend go through the work that’s required in recovery and that was her goal. Go into surgery in fighting form. (Go Patty!) That’s my focus for the year.

My knee and knee surgery isn’t really bad or good. It just is.

But it’s also a challenge in that there a lot of things I just can’t do. Have I mentioned how much I miss running? Aikido? Soccer? CrossFit? Blerg. Yawn.

Here’s a green belt Aikido selfie from four years ago.

Aikido Sam selfie in dojo washroom mirror

But focusing on what I can do…

Mostly it’s strength training, yoga, and Zwift these days with the odd dog walk thrown in for good measure. There’s also a lot of tedious knee physio. That’s not a bad combo but by temperament I’m a Jill of All Sports.

Home yoga with Cheddar

It’s also a lot of balancing. Workout hard, let my knee recover. Gentle exercise, hard thing, rest. Repeat. I’m edgy about it. I want to bite peoples’ heads off when they say, listen to your body. (Sorry friends!) Our bodies don’t have singular messages. They don’t speak with one voice. My heart and lungs want to push harder. My knee says slow down. My strong core is ready for anything but again the knee doesn’t like quick, unexpected movements on unstable ground. Okay, so maybe I should just listen to my knee since that’s my focus for the year. But my knee isn’t always the most helpful voice. My knee says, nothing hurts on the sofa. Grab a book! We can wait for surgery with a backlog of unread fiction and pots of tea. Lots of Netflix to catch up on.

But I’m with Cate about the importance of movement. I’ve written before about life as a shark. Keep moving. Keep quiet knee. My brain knows what’s best.

Also, for the first time since this whole knee falling apart thing began I’m self conscious exercising in public. I’m noticing my incapacity more and feeling embarrassed. I shouldn’t have that attitude. I wouldn’t have it if others had the same disability. And then I get angry at myself for being so self-judgey. That’s not a very good mood cycle.

When I do Modo Yoga in the studio now I’m very conscious of my limitations. There are things I just can’t do no matter how modified. That’s you, hero pose. I can manage tree and eagle with my right leg as the sole leg but not the left. I imagine I can see people looking and wondering what’s up.

This month I went to my favorite lunch hour fitness class at work, the full hour TRX class plus a “playground” add on that’s like calisthenics. The regular instructor was away and instead we did a Tabata style thing with circuits and partners and there were a couple of things–like sprinting for 40 seconds and jumping jacks for 40 seconds–that I just couldn’t do. I felt rotten and I nearly left the class. Instead, I told the instructor about my knee and I did planks instead. I’m glad I stayed even though my abs are sore.

As you can tell even my mood has taken a hit. I’ve become crankypants Sam. This is not normal for me. My mellow disposition is somewhat legendary. It’s part of what makes me a good academic leader. I’m hard to ruffle and cheerful and generous by nature. I don’t work at it. It’s how I wake up. It’s who I am. But I’ve been realizing lately that it takes a certain amount of exercise to keep me that way. As other people have been counting up to some really big numbers in the 220 in 2020 group, I’m having to workout less than usual to keep up with knee issues and recovery.

Also, it’s been extra busy at work. If January feels like it lasted forever, February is the month that flew by.

Also, unlike January when I did a lot of riding, February has been all indoor riding. I think that’s been part of the mood issue. My plan is to get back on my bike and make some plans for summer riding.

So Sarah and I got out for some fat bike riding on the weekend. That was fun!

Fat biking in six photos

Sarah, Joh, and I have registered for the Ride for Heart. It’s 75 km pretty early in the season. We’re really looking forward to it.

You can cheer me up by sponsoring me here.

cycling · winter

Fat Biking: A Photo Essay (February 2020)

February hasn’t been an easy month. Check out this morning’s post for details. So when the weekend was sunny, warm, and snowy our thoughts turned to fat biking on local trails. Thanks Sarah for the nudge! It’s a thing lots of people are curious about. People love to ask questions about our bikes. And it’s not often a thing you get to do in warm-ish weather. I think it was -2 when we set out.

We started out on the trails that run along the river by the golf course near our house. We ran into a guy on a mountain bike who was just coming home from a 50 km ride in the snow. We chatted bikes for a bit and he took our photo. Thanks cyclist stranger!

The trails where there was a lot of traffic were wide and flat and the snow was pretty packed. We could ride along and easily get out of the way for the occasional dog walker we ran into.

But our first obstacle wasn’t far away. The bridge was out at our usual storm drain crossing.

Where’s our bridge?

We considered crossing by carrying the bikes–despite their size they’re pretty light–but we were both worried about the ice on the rocks. It looked slippy, also cold and wet if you fell. So instead we went up and over above the drain. That was an adventure. We both fell but no one got hurt. Just then two cyclists arrived from the other direction. One of them went across–he had a mountain bike–and the other fat biker rider like us went up and over.

That’s part of the fun of riding these bikes, figuring out what you can and can’t do. Also, ducking for tree branches.

Me riding away!

Here’s a skinny bridge we could have ridden over I suspect. But we both got off and walked our bikes across.

Here’s another bridge we didn’t ride over!

It’s after this stretch that things got interesting. Off the well trodden path, we were riding in some pretty narrow single track. And these bikes have pretty wide tires. More problematically if you stop at all it’s hard to get started again.

The snow off to the sides was soft and very deep. I think we each fell a couple of times into the deep stuff and then settled into walking our bikes for a bit. Eventually the path widened and there was more hard packed snow to ride on.

After a couple of hours of snowy trail riding, we exited the path and rode home on the roads. Last night we were both feeling a little worse for wear. The bikes are fun to ride but it’s very much a full body workout. We agreed that we need to work on not stopping! Also, less falling! And we need to practice starting again when we do stop. Also, less tire pressure would have been good for the softer sections.

It’s a ton of fun. If you want to give it a try and you’re near us they rent them in Horseshoe Valley. That’s where Sarah and I rented them for the first time. We blogged about it here. Later we went with Susan as a social outing for our bike rally team. Susan blogged about that trip. We’ve rented them at Tremblant and blogged it here. I’ve also rented a fat bike at Wildwood Conservation area and blogged about that too.

Got any questions? Send them out way!

fitness · fitness classes

The NYT 6-minute workout: commenters' critiques and robust responses

Just when you thought that workouts couldn’t get any shorter, the New York Times has shaved another minute off and created the 6-minute workout. Tara Parker Pope offers us a cheery encouraging introduction:

I know that six minutes of exercise doesn’t seem like much. You might wonder: Is it even worth my time? The answer is yes! We created this workout with Chris Jordan, Director of Exercise Physiology at Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and creator of the widely-known 7 Minute Workout. His research shows that even very small amounts of exercise, when carried out with intensity, can reap big fitness rewards. By committing to a super short workout today, you are taking the first small step to building a fitness routine. Remember, new habits start with small changes, not big moves. Commit to just six minutes of exercise three times a week and you are on your way to a lifelong fitness habit.

Pope’s message seems super-clear: 6 minutes is not a huge commitment, the exercises are tough but doable (for some people– more on this later), and sticking to them for a while may well open up in us the possibility of incorporating more exercise into our daily lives. This is a total win.

At least you would think so. Not all the NYT commenters agree.

But before I get to those, here’s what the 6-minute workout is. There are actually three different 6-minute workouts, each to be done once a week (in theory).

Workout 1 is here. It consists of:

  • Jumping jacks
  • standing lunges
  • kneeling push-ups
  • forearm plank

You’ll repeat them twice, giving you a total body workout. Each exercise is 30 seconds long. Do them at your own pace. You’ll rest for 15 seconds after each exercise.

Workout 2 is here. It consists of:

  • Stand and box (standing– punch forward with left and right arms)
  • side squats (moving from standing, left and right to a squat)
  • kneeling push-ups
  • bird dog (on hands and knees, lifting opposite arms and knees front and back, respectively– I hope that makes sense)

Workout 3 is here. It consists of:

  • march in place
  • squats (with arms outstretched front)
  • push-ups with twist (after pushing up, lift one arm to ceiling, repeat other side)
  • bicycle crunches (arms by side, palms down, you know the rest– ouch)

There are no real surprises here. I happen to love bird dog– we do this in yoga– and I like holding the pose for a while. Standing lunges are hard for me, so I don’t dip so far. And there’s no way to sugar-coat bicycle crunches. They put the work in workout.

So you would think the comments would be sparse and fairly bland, since this is not a revolutionary exercise suggestion.

But no. They had a whole host of complaints, including:

  • didn’t like the vocal tone of the narrator
  • preferred pulling-movements to pushing movements (so pushups back, row good)
  • pointing out that reading about the workout is much easier than actually doing it
  • didn’t fit their very specific physical needs and exercise preferences (followed by a detailed description of the aforementioned)
  • all they care about is filling in the green ring in their Apple watch; would this do that?
  • this is a total wuss workout– instead people should do e.g. 40 plank pushups, 80 static lunges (40 each leg) with extra weight, 50 squats with extra weight, and a 2:00 min. straight plank (there were many such suggestions)
  • DON’T do this if you: have bad knees, are over 50, just ate, didn’t eat, have a last name that begins with M, and so on
  • Given that many workout wardrobe changes (12 in total), this would likely take more than 6 minutes (this one I concede has humor, if not merit)
  • People who don’t exercise more than this are in part responsible for global warming
  • Where’s the “mature” version of this (hmmm… do they mean naked version? I know, they mean older people, but really, “mature”?)
  • What can I sub for… fill in the blank (As former wait staff, I know that Americans do love their substitutions!)

And then someone just posted a picture of Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt, former president of the US.

Okay, that’s actually their profile picture, but I thought it was jarring and funny.

Of course, a lot of commenters thanked Tara Parker Pope for posting, and sung the praises of the 6-minute workout.

My favorite of these compliments was this one:

Thank God. I tried the 7-minute workout last year, but really, who has time for THAT?

And my favorite responder to the “this workout is nothing and makes people too complacent and contributes to national ill health” complainer:

Nothing’s stopping you from making them more strenuous– maybe incorporate a pogo stick? While dodging a robotic vacuum that moves faster and faster? With a cat on your head?

Yes, dear responder. But I do think exercising with a cat on my head will take more than 6 minutes. We should ask this woman.

Woman attempting to exercise with three cats swarming around her.

Readers, what do you think about these 6 or 7-minute workouts? Have you tried them? Did they do anything for you? I’d love to hear your stories.

food · gender policing

Harley Quinn’s Fantabulously Emancipating Egg Sandwich (Guest Post)

By Quill Kukla

Love for “Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” seems to be dividing up roughly along gender lines, with women/non-men generally adoring the critically panned movie, despite its blatantly terrible editing and pacing, and the fact that it feels like it ran out of budget two thirds of the way through and was turned over to someone’s high twenty-year-old art history major niece to finish in exchange for a bag of Molly. 

What does this have to do with fitness, and the themes of this blog? Let me start by saying that by the end of the movie, I NEEDED an egg sandwich. Not just an egg sandwich, but a greasy one, with runny yolks and gooey cheese, and I would need bacon on it too if I hadn’t truly forsworn eating my pig friends. This is because a major narrative focus of the movie is Harley Quinn craving, ordering, watching being cooked, losing, and finally eating (but never paying for, of course) the world’s most appealing and beloved egg sandwich.

A couple of points are obvious. First, with Joker having ditched her, Harley is very pointedly single in this movie, and it is the sandwich, not a man, who plays a narrative role akin to a lover – the desire, seduction, meeting, loss, and re-meeting with the happy romantic ending. After decades of PhD-educated Harley reduced to a boy-crazy Joker appendage, seeing her turn her love to a sandwich is gratifying; women don’t need men! We need really good sandwiches! (Yes, nerds, I know Harley is bi and there have been women in her life too, but her primary role in the DC universe is as Joker’s sub.) Second, it is nice to see a woman who is supposed to be sexy and interesting enjoying greasy f*cking food for once. That sandwich is full of fat and salt and it looks delicious and she is there for it. 

But third and less obviously I think, the sandwich plays an unusual role in the film that bucks a major and toxic cultural trend. In my recent article, “Shame, Seduction, and Character in Food Messaging,” I argued that people – and very much especially women – are caught between two contradictory and unsustainable sets of cultural norms around eating. 

One set of norms treats eating anything other than austere, ‘healthy’ food in small quantities that don’t risk making you fat as shameful – as a transgression for which we should always feel guilty. We talk about being ‘bad’ and ‘letting’ ourselves have dessert, or of treating ourselves off limits food as a ‘reward’ for having exercised or starved ourselves for a week. Remember when Huma Abedine’s emails were subpoenaed and we found out Hillary Clinton wrote to her about being “bad” and splitting (splitting!) a crème brûlée? In this framework, all food that is not eaten for health and skinniness reasons is framed as ‘junk’ food that is inherently worthless.

The other set of norms sexualizes or, I argued, pornifies the consumption of food that is not ‘healthy.’ In this framework, hot women and ‘real’ men indulge in meat and pie, as a form of seduction and as metonymic for sex, while people who are austere about what they eat, like vegans or people who avoid gluten, are portrayed as less fun, desexualized, boring, and repressed. 

Of course, both these stories are sexist and oppressive, and they leave us, I argued, with no good way to eat. Our choices are to be transgressive and eating ‘junk,’ and hence be blamed for our weak character and insufficient self-discipline, or to strictly regulate what we eat and stick to ‘healthy’ foods, while being treated as unsexy and not sufficiently bold or pleasure-seeking. Or perhaps, finally we can get away with eating some ‘junk’ food if the performance of doing so is sexualized and porny and as long as we are skinny.

Re-enter the egg sandwich. On reflection, what I loved most about the scenes featuring it is that this sandwich broke all these rules. Harley Quinn, as the movie subtitle tells us, has been Fantabulously Emancipated. She is emancipated from her man, and very clearly emancipated from social norms more generally, as she is not at all ‘well-behaved’ in the movie. But she is also emancipated from the tyranny of our messed up diet culture, healthist culture, porn culture, and impossible eating norms.

As she tells us in voice-over, the egg sandwich is the first thing she wants after she frees herself by blowing up the chemical plant where she and Joker had their first big date. And who can blame her; it looks f*cking delicious. Her eating of it is not sexualized at all. When she finally gets to it, she chows down unceremoniously. What she is enjoying is the food, not any kind of metaphor for sexual indulgence. We see her chewing, her mouth moving, the sandwich dripping messily. How often do we see scenes of women just tucking in in movies and other mass media, aside from fat women who are being shamed or mocked? Harley does not take herself to be doing anything bad, and the sandwich is not framed as an indulgence for which she should feel guilty. It is framed as a glorious act of freedom and pleasure. It doesn’t matter whether it is ‘healthy.’ It matters that it is yummy, and that she is eating for herself, because she wants to. It matters that it is framed as a masterpiece of egg sandwich making, and not as ‘junk’ or as low quality food. It matters, I think, that she gets some guy to cook it for her too, so it is not a reward for her gendered domestic labors. 

The day after I saw the movie, I recognized how much I crave seeing healthy scenes of women just eating good things and liking them, and how very rare they are. To quote Janelle Monae, watching Harley enjoy her sandwich, you could tell she was a “free-ass motherf*cker”, and I did indeed feel fantabulously emancipated by it all. 

And now I need to try again to find a sandwich as delicious as hers was. Runny yolk, extra grease, extra cheese, just a splash of green onions. Wish me luck.

Quill Kukla is Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, and also a Humboldt Scholar at Leibniz University Hannover. Their forthcoming book is entitled City Living: How Urban Dwellers and Urban Spaces Make One Another. They are also a competitive amateur boxer and powerlifter


Getting in the groove of personal challenges

Last fall I participated in a work place challenge with a team. I had a lot of fun and I wrote about it here.

Young female in blue polka dot dress twirls in a living room with a piano and couch in the background. Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

Over the holidays, I thought about the things I wanted to do this year from a fitness POV. Coincidentally, I saw a post about from blog co founder SamB talking about being part of the 219 workouts in 2019 group.

Hmm, I said to myself, that sounds like fun. So I joined the group for 2020 and the goal is to make 220 workouts this year.

I’m at 20 which averages 10 a month for me to date (and February is not over yet!). There are lots of people in the group who have double, triple and even quadruple that number, but it doesn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because there are others like me, just finding ways to keep moving, especially during the dreary days of winter.

What I love about this activity, and I’m not much of a tracker, is that it’s a gentle nudge to keep moving because daily I see all the fun things people are doing to move.

There’s been walking, skiing, biking, yoga, skating, hiking, swimming, running, cross fit, weightlifting, zumba – the usual. But there’s also been playing with toddlers, wandering in the woods with dogs, laundry, housecleaning, bellydancing, shoveling, stretching, aerial hooping, tennis, roller derby practice, and a whole variety of movement classes and personal routines with handweights.

I had long understood housecleaning as exercise because there is lots of movement, but how much movement? Could I quantify it in some way?

The next time I set to do the laundry – the sorting, the washing, the hanging up, the folding, the putting away – I tracked my steps. In the first hour, I logged more than 3000 steps and I realized that in spite of momentary pauses when setting the washer or dryer, I was non-stop. I was up and downstairs, I was lifting and setting down baskets, I was bending, stretching, walking, and in some cases jogging from one place to another.

Laundry won’t replace my yoga, swimming and lifting sessions but I am more conscious about how often I sit in the run of a day and how often ordinary activities related to daily living can add movement.

I’ve also been inspired to see what else is available in my community. I may not try aerial hooping, but there may be a whole bunch of other things I can try. I won’t know unless I look.

What about you, our readers? What things have you tried that bring fun and movement to your life every day?

— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s.


“Motion is lotion”: why you should move when you’re sore

I wrote last week about how I turned 55 and immediately hurt my SI joint and started hobbling around going “oh my hip” .  I saw my chiropractor twice right away, who repeated the phrase “motion is lotion” a few times as she did all sorts of magical things to mobilize me.

As anyone who has experienced joint or muscular crankiness knows, your first instinct is to lie on the ground demanding that people bring you frozen grapes. And then to put those grapes on the part that hurts, sitting still until everything eases up. Or seizes up.

I did that for half a day. Then I did a whole bunch of yoga and stretching and the things my chiropractor told me to do. I was such a good client she made a video of me doing TRX squats, ferociously tracking my knee over my toes to set new patterns.

That’s the thing: a lot of the time, if you do some sort of soft tissue damage, it’s not the thing you hurt that’s the problem. It’s the result of some other pattern of all those interrelated tissues. With me, it all began with poor ankle mobility, which goes WAAAAY back to 1999 when I trained for a marathon too quickly after a sprained ankle.

So my new mission: mobilize my ankle, learn to squat with the force of rotating my inner thighs, re-engage in form.

Over the week, I did some yoga, some more stretching and some light running. And then by the time I had personal training a week later, I was ready to let Alex boss me around again.

She started with some very intense hip and leg mobility, squishing every painful fascia and adhesion and overused muscle one by one against the hard handle of a kettlebell.

A friend wandered by when I was in that position and later said, “you looked like you were in so much pain I was ready to push her to the ground at your signal.”

The thing is, it did hurt like hell. But then it all released. And I had the good endorphins, and I was sweating. And 15 minutes later, I was doing this.

Wall walks give me a lot of pleasure. And for the whole day, my body was looser and calm and whole. No pain at all.

Coincidentally, another friend posted on facebook this week that she had hurt her back shoveling snow. Her feed was immediately flooded with injunctions to rest, drink tea, put her feet up.

“No resting!” I thought. “Motion is lotion!”

Then I started wondering what the actual evidence was for movement vs. rest. I have been thinking about mobility and aging and what it means to keep moving through the long list of discomforts as my body develops whole new ways to show its fatigue. Should we always “move through the pain?” When is it a good idea to keep moving our bodies, and when should we rest?

Turns out, of course there is no easy answer.  The bottom line seems to be:  of course your body needs rest and recovery, and you shouldn’t act as though muscular or fascia pain doesn’t exist.   BUT slower movements and thoughtful stretching are an important part of both healing the injured area and preserving your mobility in the rest of your body.  This applies to normal muscle soreness from an intense workout as well as muscular, fascia and joint pain. 

For my immediate issue, my sacroiliac joint pain has tons of evidence to support easing the pain through stretching and movement.

But more important, to me, is that when we hurt, we have a strong tendency to stop moving.  And then it’s a lot harder to start moving again.  And if we don’t start moving again, all of the issues of aging and mobility stack up quickly.  And then we just… stop moving.  And then everything else in our lives gets smaller.

There is a lot of evidence that movement helps the pain and stiffness of arthritis, and reduces your risk of developing any number of chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease to parkinson’s. This is well trodden territory for this blog.

And as several of us have posted many times, movement as simple as walking preserves mobility as you age, and eases pain, and it’s never too late to start.

There is growing evidence around physical exercise as a non-pharmacological treatment for chronic pain,  including how to support people who are reluctant to move because it hurts, to overcome their fears for the ultimate benefit. 

So I go back to what I’ve been preaching all along:  listen to your body, and keep moving.  Take the stairs, and walk places, and do things that give you joy.  And now I have a new layer: focused, intense mobilization as part of my workout constellation.

Alex made me a little video of all of my stretches.  And I now have this kettle bell torture program all laid out for me. And what the excellent chiro taught me.  And what the stretch therapist I saw a month ago taught me.  To stay mobile, I need to keep mobilizing.  Sometimes, it IS the workout — not the prelude to the workout.  

That’s a paradigm shift, but I’m slowly learning it.

How about you?  Do you frame activities like stretching, physio, mobilization, yin and restorative yoga as workouts in themselves? 


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who wants to still be able to stand on her hands when she’s 85.