Cold fingers and female athletes

knit-mittens-pinecone-snow-white-Favim.com-173366_large

There’s a line that makes me want to punch people. “You know what they say, cold hands, warm heart.” Yeah, that line.

For many years, I was just fine with winter. I love the snow. My first years in Canada–my family moved to this country when I was four–were spent in cold, snowy Newfoundland. I didn’t even mind, as a young person, the shorter days. I mind them now.

And then I started to get seriously cold and for a few years I spent most of winter inside. That drove me a little bit bonkers. I love the outdoors. So I started running. And cross country skiing. The really neat thing was that exercise kept me warm in a way down coats never could. I love being active outside in the winter. I love the outdoors and moving fast meant I was warm enough finally.

But then a new problem emerged, Raynaud’s phenomena. Or that’s what my doctor tells me it’s called. Since they can’t do anything and it’s more an inconvenience than a danger, modern medicine doesn’t have much to tell me other than a name. Thanks doctors. But I’ve been poked and prodded an investigated and that is what I have.

I’d start skiing and work up a good sweat but then my fingers would start to get really cold. They’d get lumpy and hard and I knew frost bite would soon happen. I had a few really scary run ins with frost bite. I’d be skiing and find myself with hard frozen hands miles from anywhere. I’d be running, even with the best gloves on, and start to get pain in my hands. Once I considered knocking on a stranger’s door and getting in out of the cold.

Now it happens even in just a few minutes, in the walk in from the parking lot at -5 for example. I’ve even had it happen indoors.

I have battery operated mitts for skiing. Oddly, the mitts themselves never feel warm but your hands never ever get cold. I also started skiing in loops around a fixed point so I’d never be too far away from warmth.

What is Raynaud’s phenomena?

A condition of unknown cause in which the arteries of the fingers become hyperreactive to the cold and go into a spasm. It is more common in women than men, and may affect up to 10% of otherwise healthy female athletes causing them great difficulties in cold environments. Warm gloves and calcium-channel blocking agents may relieve the condition. Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/raynaud-s-phenomenon#ixzz2lVB3LK7c

Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon and sometimes simply Raynaud’s, is a condition that causes some areas of the body to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or emotional stress, caused by a problem with the blood supply to the skin. Raynaud’s disease is a vasospastic disorder – spasms in the blood vessels lead to vasoconstriction (narrowing). What is Raynaud’s?

There’s not a lot you can do. My doctor’s advice: Plan to retire somewhere warm. Gee, thanks.

There is some concern that outdoor, winter exercise makes the condition worse. See here.

“Exercising may shift blood away from the skin to the muscles. During exercise, body parts, including the hands, are in need of more blood. Even though you may feel warm, if your skin is sensing cold, then the shift to the muscles and other parts of the body may be exaggerated.Exercising in a warm environment is recommended for people with Raynaud’s, and people with severe disease may not be able to safely exercise in the cold. To help, it is important that the central body and brain sense that it is warm, even if you are in a cold environment. This is done by using layers of warm clothes, including a hat to cover the head as well as gloves and socks for the fingers and toes. After exercise, it is critical to warm the central core temperature, and not just the fingers. Swinging the arms in a wide rapid circle can force blood to the fingers.”

I now spend more money on mittens that just about any other item of clothing. Maybe footwear is the only thing that costs me more. I read online reviews of mitts and I have alerts set up for medical literature on Raynaud’s.

I’m not going to stop playing in the snow. The photo below is from a trip to Algonquin a few years ago. Love it.

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Your Kid is Not in the Wrong Weight Class (Guest Post)

I was inspired to write this post based on this article about why parents shouldn’t worry so much about their kids’ weight. I’m not a parent, but I do teach taekwondo to kids and have done so for a while. And in that realm a few things come into conflict with each other. I think martial arts are fabulous for kids, and more kids should do them.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging kids to try out martial arts competition, including sparring competition (and I have a personal soft spot for times when the sparring turns out like this). But just as with other combat sports like wrestling and boxing, taekwondo has weight classes.

In practical terms, that means that kids generally need to register for competition at a particular weight, and will have to weigh in before that competition. So it really is a good idea for someone, whether a parent or a coach, to keep track of a kid’s weight in order to know how to register them.

scales make you cry But it’s also part of the culture of these sports generally to want to be in the lowest weight class possible. Lots of athletes cut weight, much to the horror of, well, lots of people who want them to stay healthy.  It should be obvious that kids shouldn’t cut weight, and fortunately, these extremes aren’t foisted on junior competitors so often.

But still, even in recreational competition, the mentality of “lighter is better” is pervasive. This is not completely unjustified, since there are benefits to being taller and having more reach, as well as having the power that tends to go along with size. But I’m among those who are somewhat skeptical that it matters so much at the non-super-elite levels. And anyway, that’s not the point.

Now, I’ve worked at plenty of tournament weigh-ins. My former team would put on a tournament every spring that could easily get 500 competitors, the majority of whom were kids. I was always one of the people in charge of making the divisions by gender, age, belt level, and weight. So I was always right there when a kid did not weigh in at their registered weight and had to be moved to a higher weight class. And I dreaded it every single time. Not just because it was a bunch of extra administrative work for me, but because I never knew what the parents would say. Some of them were great.

They just apologized to me for the hassle and moved on. But some of them would give their poor kids hell for being too heavy. Making their kids, male and female, feel awful for not being the weight that they had written down a few weeks prior. It was heartbreaking. All I ever wanted to do in those cases was take those kids aside and tell them that they were fine, that there was nothing wrong with them, that the number didn’t really mean anything except maybe what time their first match would be. I know some of those parents were monitoring their kids weights like crazy. And fostering the mindset that pounds gained were bad. Never mind that kids are supposed to gain weight. I mean, that whole growing thing.

I recognize that monitoring these kids’ weights is necessary to some extent. And I’ve talked about the practical reasons why, because I think that kids should be able to compete in sports that have different weight classes. But their weight does not have to have an evaluative component to it. Why should we teach kids, especially at such an early age, that the number on a scale measures how well they’re doing at anything? They’ll get that message enough in their lives from the mass media. Let’s try to make their participation in sports a way for them to feel good about what their bodies can do, not another way for them to feel as though they don’t measure up.

Hunger Games Start Fitness Trends

SC_D20_04883CWith the popularity of the Hunger Games and its inspiring heroine, Katniss Everdeen, it’s not surprising that the  best-selling book and blockbuster film franchise have given rise to some fitness trends.

You can expect girls this year to be asking not for Barbie dolls but for bows and arrows and time at archery shooting ranges. Katniss Everdeen is supremely skilled as an archer, and so the girls who want to emulate her are drawn to the sport.

This is a good thing. Archery has many health benefits. Archery is a physically demanding sport that requires upper body strength, coordination, balance, and mental focus.  At the competitive level, “archers can walk as much as 5 miles while performing common tasks at the archery range and moving from one position to another.”

And according to this article, the benefits of archery go beyond the physical. For example, archery is a wonderful example of an inclusive sport.  Nondisabled and disabled people can both participate.  It’s also financially accessible for those wishing just to have fun (though costs go up at the competitive level).

It not only improves mental focus, it also allows people to practice patience. And though we may not all be able to bring down the Capitol, archery can have a positive impact on self-confidence.

Maybe archery isn’t for you, but if you belong to the New York Sports Club you can take a “Train Like a Tribute” fitness class.  The class subjects participants to challenges like: Katniss Killers, Peeta Pull-Ups, Finnick  Trident Presses,  and Peacekeeper Battle Ropes.

It’s not quite the apparently gruelling 5 months of workouts the actors playing tributes actually endured, but it’s a nice way to get devoted fans into the gym for a fun, challenging workout.  Here are Sam Clafin and Jena Malone talking about the training:

Jennifer Lawrence: Body Image Role Model for Girls and Young Women

catching-fire-jennifer-lawrence-05I’ve thought highly of Jennifer Lawrence ever since I saw her in the film Winter’s Bone. But lately, with her popularity as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games film series and the exposure she’s received since winning the Oscar for her performance in Sliver Linings Playbook, I’ve become a serious fan.

The thing I love most about her is her conscious, explicit, and vocal rejection of the body ideal of thinness so prevalent in Hollywood.  In a wonderful interview with the BBC, Lawrence said that she faced some pressure to lose weight for her role in the Hunger Games because, after all, her character is supposed to be from a district where people are actually going hungry.

Lawrence says in the interview that in the face of that pressure, she told filmmakers that they had an opportunity to control the image that young girls and young women were going to see.  Girls see enough of the unattainable body, subjecting them to unrealistic expectations. Since Katniss would be their hero, says Lawrence, they (she and the filmmakers) should use the film as an opportunity to rid ourselves of the uber-thin body as ideal.

Instead, she prefers a stronger, healthier look because, face it, “Kate Moss running at you with a bow and arrow just wouldn’t be scary.”

And while she is articulate and serious in this BBC interview, according to another report from earlier this fall, she takes a hard line these days if it’s suggested (as it was earlier in her career) that she ought to lose some weight:

“If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet, I’m like, ‘You can go f**k yourself,” she said.

It’s a great attitude and it’s amazing that Jennifer Lawrence has taken her fame and her influence on girls and young women seriously.  With two more films to go (they’ve divided the third installment of the trilogy into two parts), she’s got plenty of opportunities to keep working on the culture shift. As a role model for girls and young women with tremendous reach, Lawrence’s tough stance against the tyranny of thinness in Hollywood may just be a game-changer.

Here’s more of the BBC interview:

[photo credit: FameFlynet Pictures]

Kids These Days!

active_kidsBig news last week: worldwide, today’s children are less fit than their parents were at their age. What the news report said:

An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world finds they don’t run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 per cent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.

Most kids just aren’t getting out and about as much as is recommended. Children over the age of six are supposed “get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day. Only one-third of American kids do now.”  And the news is not much different in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia:

The new study was led by Grant Tomkinson, an exercise physiologist at the University of South Australia. Researchers analyzed 50 studies on running fitness — a key measure of cardiovascular health and endurance — involving 25 million children ages 9 to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010.

The studies measured how far children could run in 5 to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a certain distance, ranging from half a mile to two miles. Today’s kids are about 15 per cent less fit than their parents were, researchers concluded.

“The changes are very similar for boys and girls and also for various ages,” but differed by geographic region, Tomkinson said.

The decline in fitness seems to be levelling off in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps in the last few years in North America. However, it continues to fall in China, and Japan never had much falloff — fitness has remained fairly consistent there. About 20 million of the 25 million children in the studies were from Asia.

Other research discussed global declines in activity.

Fitness is “pretty poor in adults and even worse in young people,” especially in the United States and eastern Europe, said Dr. Ulf Ekelund of the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

World Health Organization numbers suggest that 80 per cent of young people globally may not be getting enough exercise.

In 2011, Statistics Canada said only seven per cent of six- to 19-year-olds were active enough to make health gains.

On Monday, the “Active at School” campaign spearheaded by Canadian Tire and supported by the federal government launched to get schools to devote at least an hour a day towards physical activity for students.

A report on Canadian children specifically finds them to be “woefully inactive.”

I remember childhood as a time when I was on my bike or swimming all summer. It was routine to spend an entire summer day in the lake or the pool, or riding our bikes all over the neighborhood, roller skating up and down the cul de sac around the corner. Come fall, we raked leaves and went on hikes to see the colours. In the winter, we flooded the yard to make skating rinks, went cross country or downhill skiing, built snowmen and forts. And as soon as spring came, out came the bicycles again.

Even when we were indoors, there was a lot of running around the house playing tag, or staging dance shows that took hours and hours to choreograph. I was never much of an athlete, but I really loved my dance lessons and put them to good use.

So why are kids not getting the activity they need? This article says:

Children are much less likely to walk, bike or skate to school than they were in the 1970s, at least in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Neighborhoods are increasingly suburban, especially in Asia, and people are driving more.

And from the 1970s till now, the number of global households with TVs, VCRs, computers, Internet access and video games has soared.

Aerobic fitness is suffering because of more screen time, less time in active play.  The researchers also linked the difference between kids today and kids a few decades ago to an increase in childhood obesity. Before we start sounding the alarm bells and pressuring kids to lose weight, let’s remember that not all messaging is equally successful in getting people to be more active. See my post about that here. It would be super-sad to see this news turn into an opportunity to fat-shame our children.

If we agree that fat-shaming and throwing up our hands about “the obesity crisis” is not the way to go, then we just need to get the kids moving more. None of the activity I remember as a kid ever had anything to do with weight loss or maintenance. It was all fun.

One thing we can do for our kids is be good role models. Aviva guest posted about her amazing mother earlier this summer.  If we stay active, that sends a good message to the kids.

We can also take it a step further, not just aiming to be role models but also doing things together as a family.  I have great family memories of swimming together, going on ski trips, and lots and lots of walks (we still go for walks together today whenever I see my parents).

Sam posted about families and fitness last December. See what she had to say here.

And as we like to say on this blog, it’s got to be fun.  It might not be fun every single second, but we need to find activities that we enjoy, and kids are no different. Some kids will prefer dancing to soccer, so let them dance!  Others would rather dive than swim.  Participaction has a “bring back play” campaign to try to promote 60 minutes of physical activity a day for kids.

I love this idea of bringing back play, and of doing things together as families, and helping our kids find activities that they can enjoy and feel good about.  Let’s hope that in twenty years, we’ll see that this downward trend was just a blip and that we can revive the idea of active play.

Active-kids-pic4[photocredit top: Federation of Sports and Play]

[photocredit bottom: Justrec Healthy Living, Keep Your Kids Active]

Take it easy: Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 1

I’ve written before about the need to go faster if you want to get faster. And Part 2 of this post will be on heart rate training and going hard.

But today’s post is about the other end of the spectrum, the need to go easy, and how working with a heart rate monitor helps with that. Like my post for beginning cyclists who want to get faster this post isn’t aimed at those who already use a heart rate monitor for training or who are experienced athletes. It’s pitched at beginners who are curious about heart monitor training.

I’m a big fan of the No Meat Athlete, and I agree with him when he says: “If you’ve never measured your heart rate while you run, I can almost guarantee that your “Easy” pace isn’t easy enough.”

When you first start running, riding, rowing or whatever you pretty much have one pace, the pace you can run, row, ride at. And left to our own devices that natural pace is the one we tend to stick to. Changing up the pace is a great reason to get out there with other people. I actually have never really bothered with recovery rides. Bad cyclist? I’m not so sure. I commute often enough and ride often with people who are slower than me that I don’t worry about getting easy rides in. But running is another matter.

The Runner Academy has this to say about easy runs, “Of all the things runners find most difficult, performing an easy run is at the top of the list for most runners. If you don’t think this is true for you, it is even more likely this is the case. That’s right, easy runs are anything but easy. On it’s face this does not make sense, but failing to properly execute easy runs are often the culprit for injuries, poor performance in harder workout sessions, falling short of expectations on race day and not reaching your potential as a runner.”

One of the problems is that in order to know that the run is easy, you need evidence. Yes, you can chat with other people and run deliberately with a slower group than you usually do, but the best way to see that it’s actually easy for you is with a heart rate monitor.

I know there are some of us who think that weighing, measuring, and tracking suck the fun out of everything. And I agree there are times that the heart rate monitor strap can seem like one device too many. Tracy has blogged about mediated exercise versus intuitive exercise here.

So we all know that training programs typically have easy, hard. and moderate days in the mix. And even without a heart rate monitor I think we all have a good handle on “moderate” versus “hard” workouts. But “easy”? Not so much.

When you’re wearing a heart rate monitor that makes a noise when you’re outside the easy zone, it’s a truly humbling experience. I did it first with running some years ago. It was a shock to me that to keep my heart rate in the target zone I had jog so slowly that my walking pace was faster. Sometimes I just opted for walking. Later, as I got fitter, I could still run in the recovery zone. And it was a real eye opener for me to finally get to the stage where there were different possible running speeds for me.

Running slowly is apparently something elite runners do a lot. In Train Slower, Race Faster Matt Fitzgerald explains why: “Because they run a lot, and if they ran a lot and did most of their running at high intensities they would quickly burn out. But you can also turn this answer upside down and say that elite runners run slowly most of the time so that they can run a lot. Research has shown that average weekly running mileage is the best training predictor of racing performance in runners. The more we run, the faster we race. Keeping the pace slow most of the time enables runners to run more without burning out.”

On the bike, it was better, less humbling, though some coasting was involved. But still there were hills I couldn’t climb and stay in the “easy” zone.

In my post on why I recommend starting to ride a bike in the fall, I talked about how hard it was for “the fast guys” to ride with the slow  group in order to stay in the recovery zone.

I wrote: “My slow group of the faster cycling club in town even had some of the racer guys riding with us one fall. The racer guys were in strictly regimented training programs with coaches requiring them to submit speed, distance, and heart rate data and they were under orders to ride slow and keep their heart rates down in the off-season. Nothing like having a young man with the physique of a greyhound yell “ease up” to the chubby, middle aged woman at the front of the group. It warmed my heart and made me smile. For us, we were on a different agenda. We were finally fit and fast after a long summer of riding and the cooler weather made riding fast fun. “Suffer,” I thought about the young, fast racing guy though I did eventually slow down, just not right away.”

Heart rate training is tricky at both ends, the high and the low. See this article on heart rate training on the bike and the challenge of going easy.

“The problem with HR training is that it requires discipline. The bigger problem is that it demands even more humility. Last September, when I embarked on what I’d decided would be my final attempt to use an HR monitor properly, I was only a few weeks into my programme when I very nearly threw the towel in. I was doing a four-hour base-building session and trying to keep my HR between 121-131bpm when I heard whistling behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to see a bloke on an ancient Dawes touring bike complete with tatty old panniers coming past. Then I noticed the sandals…”

With me, it’s the 70 year old speed walkers in the park!

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