A one-month check-in with 2016 resolutions

Today is January 31, and I thought I’d take a moment to visit New Year’s resolutions and see how they’re doing.  I didn’t blog with my explicit resolutions for this year, but they are roughly these:

  • stop driving to/from work and take public transport instead
  • do more errands on foot or bike or public transport (again, leave the car in the driveway)
  • train on the bike for an active cycling season, doing the 6-day Friends for Life Bike Rally with Samantha, Natalie and other bloggers and friends.
  • get certified in scuba, going somewhere warm for open-water certification dives
  • eat more healthy (to me) food, cooking more

Before I give an update on each of these, let’s take a quick look at resolutions in general. I found a handy stats website here but I’d take this information for entertainment purposes only (don’t make medical or financial decisions based on them, as they say…). Their top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2015 were these:


Of course, weight loss is at the top of the list. Our bloggers have covered this topic a lot, including this great recent guest post.

So, moving on, my next question was “what happens to resolutions in the course of the year”? The handy stats folks have some data for us below.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 9.42.15 AM

Their data seem rather optimistic to me. I poked around the interwebs, and found this poll from the Guardian newspaper:


And Forbes magazine is even more pessimistic—they cite data that only 8% of Americans keep their resolutions.

Of course, all this is no news really. Laying down tracks for lasting behavior change is hard. Really hard.

I’ll now turn back to my own resolutions to give y’all a one-month update.

I’m delighted to report that I have been taking public transport to work some days.   This is no mean feat—I have to walk to the bus stop, take a bus for 10—12 minutes, transfer to the subway, take a 20-minute ride there, and transfer to the commuter rail, whereupon I ride/work for 45 minutes, then walk 10 minutes to my office. In comparison, it takes me an hour to drive to work, and about an hour and 15 minutes to drive home. Yuck.

I should add that this semester I am teaching half-time, so I have to be at school 2 days a week, plus one other day sometimes for meetings. It’s a real privilege to be in this position, and I’m very grateful and aware of my good fortune. Even so, it’s not been easy to institute this change. However, I’m getting used to the different cadence, and enjoying the stimulation of being out in the world, rather than encased alone in my car.

Similarly, walking or taking the bus or cycling to do errands is happening, too. Not all the time, but several times per week. Again, I’m trying to pay attention to the good feeling I have both during and after this activity. Reducing the stress of driving in traffic plus the extra everyday exercise makes me feel like I’m doing something good for myself, which in fact I am.

Now, to the bike training: it just hasn’t happened. Yet. I can give some excuses—my contractor is STILL not done with some of my home renovations, so my house is not put back together yet—but really I just haven’t made the psychic space for it. I’ve ridden some on the road and bike commuted some. But that trainer is just sitting there, waiting for me. I’ve got to make some space in my house and life for this, so this is my February resolution.

The scuba certification will happen, mainly because I’ve purchased plane tickets to Puerto Rico for spring break, with the express purpose of doing my open-water certification dives. Next week I plan to start my online course, and I hope I can get scheduled for a pool course during the month of February. Fingers crossed here…

With respect to eating, cooking and eating more healthy meals is a constant struggle for me. I’ve kept food logs off and on, and for me it really helps when I’m consistent and honest about what I am eating. So for February I want to gather more data; just the recording influences how we eat—there’s loads of evidence for this claim, including here.

So, that’s me. Did any of you make resolutions for 2016? How are you doing? What have you rejected, reframed, struggled with, or crushed with astounding success?











Sat with Nat

Handicraft, repetitive stress injuries and keeping nimble fingers

Two years ago I started getting numbness in my right hand. More than twenty years of doing office work paired with a ton of smartphone use had started to take its toll. One of my friends had suggested switching my mouse at work to the left hand. It took a couple weeks to get used to but it really helped. 

Manual dexterity may not seem like a big fitness issue but think of all the basic things that require reliable grip strength: food prep, eating, computer work and a big one for me is all the things I make. 

I knit, crochet, sew and do needle point of all kinds. Chopping vegetables for all the yummy dinners sometimes makes all those tendons and muscles ache. 

It turns out repetitive stress injuries can be prevented by doing a variety of tasks. I once chatted with a woman who hand sews theatre costumes. She told me many folks couldn’t keep practicing their craft after a certain age. She had no problems with her hands, attributing it to her production knitting in the off season. 

Switching up activities gives muscles and connecting tissues a chance to rest and build up strength with the new activity. 

I joke that knitting and crocheting helps me turn my ball of anxiety into lovely items. I think of my mom making  Anj and I socks, sweaters, hats and mitts. One of my favourite memories is how Mom would knit two socks at the same time until she got to turning the heel. We’d then visit Grammie who would smoke and turn the heels while chatting with us. Every time I turn a heel of a sock I think of her. She taught me how to cast on by doubling the yarn. It looks great and never rolls. 

While I’m not a skilled quilter I love how you get to paint with fabrics.  More than that it reminds me of my late Aunt Linda who never wore a bra and made amazing quilts with stunning colours. 

Lately I’ve dusted off some needle point started by my Great-Aunt June. The repetition of the needle through the canvass making little diagonal stripes of colour is very soothing. 

So when my hands start giving me grief doing one thing I switch things up by doing a different handicraft. 

The trick is sewing and typing on the computer have the same posture so I have to be sure to sub in the other things. I’m hoping to keep my  fingers nimble for many years to come and I love how making things connects me to memories of great women in my life. 

Guest Post

Dane Axes? I Thought You Said “Danishes” (Guest Post)

by Abby E

So, the re-enactment group that I joined is preparing for its first show of the year, and even though I won’t be fighting in this one, I crossed the city for a practice session that was delightfully indoors. Usually we practice outside in a public park, which can result in the freezing off of backsides as well as some rather curious social interactions. For example, a couple of guys in full Viking costume tried to photobomb a wedding party last fall, but the bride and groom ran away. Seriously? Who wouldn’t want to have their wedding crashed by Vikings? I have no idea what was wrong with those people. Anyway, for this week’s practice, I brought back the shield the group had recently loaned me so they could use it in the next practice, and of course, I have the bruises on my hands to show it. The weight of of the shield always ends up resting on the metacarpal bone closest to my thumb, and just hauling the thing around creates bruises from the pressure. You can imagine how much worse it gets when I’m using the thing to block a hit. Apparently, I really am a delicate feminine flower.

At this practice, I met M and B, who are from another group. B hung out with some other folks who were mostly observing, but M came out to fight, and he wields a Dane axe. The Dane axe, occasionally referred to as a two-handed axe, is perhaps the ultimate widowmaker of Viking weapons. It’s an axehead on a pole and in a real battle, you sure as hell would not want to receive a blow from one. Even though the axehead was on a haft one metre long or more, it was not clumsy or unwieldy, and it could be used in hand-to-hand combat or from behind the protection of a shield wall. The long haft meant that your opponent’s axe could reach far enough back to rip your shield out of your hand or come down on your head with tremendous force. A helmet may not have been sufficient to save you from serious injury or death, and some Viking fighters may not have even worn helmets, which would have been expensive. (Swords were also pricey and generally the weapon of choice for wealthier men. A man of modest means might simply use his axe or knife, which werecommon household tools but could double as sharp stabby weapons.)

That's me on the left, looking all authentic and holding an axe WAY too far down the haft.
That’s me on the left, looking all
authentic and holding an axe WAY too far down the haft.

This was my first experience fighting an opponent wielding a Dane axe, although M used it more like a spear most of the time. This is just as well, since I probably don’t have enough experience to defend myself safely, even though M is a well-trained and highly experienced fighter. I think he swung at my shield a few times and even stabbed at it with the top of the haft, but mostly I practiced fighting against him up close. M held the axe defensively so that the haft was almost vertical and the axehead was pointed to the ground. All he had to do was swing the haft from side to side to block me, which is a great defensive move and all the more so given that M was probably a little over six feet tall and had really long arms. He did teach me how to use my shield to shove the haft aside and block his defense so I could get a body strike in, but that was a lot harder than it looked.

It seems I actually managed to kill M and had just enough time to savour my victory before I died with his dane axe lodged in my gut. Not bad, really.
It seems I actually managed to kill M
and had just enough time to savour my victory before I died with his dane axe lodged in my gut. Not
bad, really.


The last thing we did that day was train with knives, or seaxes. Viking men often carried seaxes around in sheaths attached to their belts so that they hung with the blade parallel to the ground. I suspect this just made it easier to grab if you needed it to cut something – or someone – in a hurry. Here’s where things got a little dirty. We didn’t use any shields for this exercise, just our seaxes and our wits. With no shields, we were not protected, but we were not burdened by any extra weight, either. Being able to duck and dodge was crucial, but you had to move fast and get in close and while you didn’twant to accidentally grab the seax, you could grab or block your opponent’s arm. Most of my seax fights ended with me bearhugging my opponent, at which point I figured I might as well cut out his kidneys since he was just going to kill me anyway. We also played stealthy assassin, which would be fun for a show. Basically, you’ve got your standard bored sentry hanging around and looking in entirely the wrong direction (of course) while a scout or thief sneaks up behind them and slashes their throat. To do this, you quickly but gently wrap a gloved hand around the victim’s neck and then draw the seax over your own hand so you can’t accidentally hurt the other person with the blade. I got to slash a throat or two, but no one slashed mine. Not sure why –maybe it was goddamned chivalry. Perhaps I should have jumped around, waving and shouting “Me! Me! Kill me!” Oh well. Next time.

J takes down M while I casually observe from the sidelines. #vikingredshirt
J takes down M while I casually
observe from the sidelines. #vikingredshirt

At one point, I ended up being in – and then somehow immediately out of – a three-way seax fight, and for reasons I can’t explain I was the last person standing. (I’m not really sure what happened there – did I get killed and not realize it? Tsk tsk. Bad form.) Anyway, while I stood to the side, one guy managed to kill the other, but then the survivor ended up on his knees. He didn’t seem to notice that I was still there, so I nonchalantly walked up behind him and cut his throat. So much for being delicate.

PS. Photos courtesy of my Jarl. This is very generous of him, given that I snuck up and murdered him from behind like a Hel-bound scoundrel.

PPS. That’s not a typo. Hel is the daughter of Loki and the keeper of the not-so-fortunate dead. She receives those who die of illness, accidents, old age, or who are just such dishonourable sacks of shit that Odin doesn’t want them.

Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.

body image · link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #67

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?


Our second annual Love Your Body cover story features an inspiring and diverse mix of Torontonians willing to bare (almost) all for the camera to promote body positivity. Since its release (on January 7th) the story has been going viral on websites all over the world. Check out some of the coverage below:

12 People Pose Nude To Show How Diverse Bodies Really Are –Buzzfeed

11 Activists Posing Nude to Prove Diverse Bodies Are Beautiful – Distractify

Why NOW Toronto Featured 12 Beautiful Everyday Canadians Posing Nude –

Magazine’s Nude Editorial Highlights The Beauty Of Body Diversity – Huffington Post (USA)

“Ama il tuo corpo”: la diversità è un punto di forza –La Repubblica (Italy)

Transgender women, a wheelchair-bound athlete and a pregnant mom lead a group of twelve people who posed NUDE to promote body confidence in a Canadian magazine –Daily Mail (UK)

Naakte lijven met een bijzonder verhaal: ‘Ik schaam me niet’ –Linda Magazine (Netherlands)

Transgender Burlesque Performer, Wheelchair-Bound Basketball Player and Pregnant Activist Pose Naked for Body Positivity –People Magazine (USA)

These people got naked to show that every body is beautiful – Metro (UK)

This Nude Photo Shoot Is a Beautiful Rebuttal to All Those New Year’s Body Pressures –

Meet the naked trans women, disabled athletes and human rights activists telling the world to ‘Love Your Body’ –The Independent (UK)

Activists And Athletes Pose Nude To Highlight The Beauty Of Body Diversity –Huff Post (UK)

Toronto went viral with a body positive campaign, Bowie songs, and winter beach sculptures –Yonge Street Media

These naked Canadian bodies will remind you that everyone is beautiful

NOW Toronto’s “Love Your Body” Issue Is The Best Body-Positive Way To Start The New Year –Bustle

Pessoas tiram a roupa para mostrar que amam seu corpo em ensaio emocionante –Comportamento

Sophia Banks: cisnormativity hurts everyone

Cisnormativity is when people think of cis as the default. When you say only women get pregnant that’s cisnormative because men get pregnant and non-binary people can get pregnant. The default assumption that cis bodies are everyone’s bodies kind of erases trans people.

Too Sexy for Playboy?

“Out There” sex and relationships writer Maya Jordan considers herself a “talking head for kink & anti-slut shaming.” She’s done everything from stripper to licensed, accredited counselor and she even had her own show on Playboy Radio. But after she talked about being a sexually liberated woman (and not just a passive, cute toy to be picked up by a man), she found herself out of the latter job. We talk about this controversy, orgasms, breast implants, how book learning about dating affects real life relationships, crazy childhoods and much, much more.

I Tried Being Extra Body Positive On Social Media For A Week & This Is What Happened

Over the past seven days, I sought to be my most body positive self in the form of tweets, shares, and comments. And let me tell you, it was no easy feat. When I initially took upon a challenge to be body positive on social media for a week, I didn’t think it would be very hard. That was until I realized that, although I am chock full of body positive messages and the desire for all queers to love themselves, much of what I usually post has nothing to do with those things.

I normally don’t take such great lengths to spread body positivity on my social media accounts. In fact, I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pretty sporadically, regardless of what I’m talking about. But I noticed that when I do, the majority of my posts are usually negative. As an angry feminist and genderqueer person, I can’t help but criticize and call out problematic behaviors and representations in media. However, when all the content you’re producing is critical, it starts to make the environment feel a bit more militant than you might want, especially for someone who writes almost exclusively about loving yourself.

After participating in this experiment, I definitely want to apply some of what I used and learned over the past week to help make my social media presence that much more positive and encouraging. So without further ado, here is how my seven-day body pos journey went, and I what I learned along the way.

Angela Buron’s Surreal Self-Portraits Reclaim The Female Body


feminism · fitness

Fitness, Feminist Style

Feminism-is-for-Everybody---Women-s-Premium-T-ShirWhat does it mean to pursue and promote fitness as a feminist? With a blog named “fit is a feminist issue,” that’s kind of what we are trying to do. And the blog has evolved and taken on a life of its own, becoming more than Sam or I ever imagined it would be.

I like to think that at least part of the reason for the blog’s consistent growth is that people like the idea of bringing feminist values to fitness, and that’s what’s going on here.

Here are a few ways of doing fitness, feminist style:

Don’t make it about weight loss.  If you want to find stuff on the internet that equates fitness with weight loss, there’s plenty out there. Hardly any non-feminists who embark on a fitness program have the slightest clue that it doesn’t have to be about weight loss.

Whatever else could be the point? All sorts of things–you could want to see what your body can do, discover a new passion, feel a new sense of energy, boost your confidence, meet people. None of these have anything to do with weight loss. Notice that I didn’t say, “don’t try to lose weight” (though I’m tempted to say that too). Maybe you want to lose weight. It’s not necessarily unfeminist to do so (though I have worried about that. See here.). We have choices, of course. But please, if you’ve received one clear message from our blog, let it be that weight loss does not equal fitness.

Find community, and if you can’t, create it. We feminists care a lot about solidarity. Creating and being a part of communities that sustain us, support us, and make us feel good about who we are (as we are, not if we were different) is a solid feminist value.  One of the most unanticipated gifts Sam and I have received from the blog is the community that has grown around it.  We’ve got a whole raft of guest bloggers, regular commenters, and thousands of readers. This is not what we expected! And that’s just on the blog.

Feminist fitness means seeking out those communities in person, too. We don’t have to workout alone on treadmills in sheds. Since starting to explicitly enact feminist principles in my fitness pursuits, I have come to value the power of community in a whole new way. I run with a group of women regularly and feel like we’re out for a coffee date. My lane mates in the pool keep it fun and fresh. Bike class is tough but the camaraderie makes it fun at the same time. There are all sorts of fitness communities that put the focus on performance or fun, not weight loss and looking a certain way. Find those communities and if you can’t, create your own.

Get strong (but not because it’s “the new skinny”). Few things build confidence more than seeing measurable increases in the weight room. It means I’m getting stronger. Woo hoo! Why does that matter? Definitely not because “strong is the new skinny.” That’s an oppressive message because, just like “the old skinny” it tells us we have to be a certain way to attain an ideal. The confidence boost from getting stronger spills over into the rest of our lives, beyond the weight room. Strength is great because we can carry our own groceries, portage our own canoes, lug our own bags of topsoil.  It also helps us avoid osteoporosis as we age.

If you like goals, make them about performance, not looking a certain way. This kind of goes back to why weight loss is not a great goal in and of itself. It plays into assumptions about normative bodies that need to be challenged. Sam wrote about athletic versus aesthetic values. And we’ve seen the variety of athletic bodies in The Shape of an Athlete. Like getting stronger, it feels good to get faster, learn a new yoga move, or finally be able to run a kilometre, then another kilometre without stopping. These are worthy goals that a feminist can get behind.

Think inclusively about activity and fitness; reject and contest messages about the normative body. Here’s where a bit of activism can come in. The images we see representing people engaged in sports and fitness activities mostly represent young, slender, lean and muscled, nondisabled white men and women (though men and women are represented differently). That can send a message that if you’re not a member of that group, you don’t belong. Cultural messaging has a subtle power because it seems so natural that it just slides into everyday thinking. We need to challenge the messages about who “belongs” in the spaces we associate with fitness and athletics–the gym, the pool, the soccer pitch, the hockey rink, the volleyball court. In so doing, more people will feel welcome.

Recognize that fitness is an issue about social equality. Did you know that the gender gap in sports starts at a really early age, where boys are encouraged to be physically active, girls not so much? Given the potential for sports and activity to increase confidence and self-esteem, the gender gap in sports, coupled with the sexualization of women in sport, has broad repercussions for social equality. I hesitate to use the word “empowerment” but I will: fitness is a form of empowerment. And although it’s not the whole solution, it can help take us closer to social equality. Feminist issues are not just women’s issues. They are social issues for all.

Say something! If you get an opportunity (and there are plenty of them) to challenge the dominant discourse about fitness, do it. Debunk the myth that fat=unfit or that skinny=fit. Talk about the truth when it comes to dieting. Find something different to say when people are looking for compliments about their weight loss. I like Carly’s suggestion of “How does that feel to you?” And don’t assume that people who have lost weight are trying to. Remember, “you lost weight, you look great” is not a compliment. Talk about your own experience of pursuing fitness as a feminist.

Add to the list. No doubt there are tons of ways of pursuing and promoting feminist style fitness that I’ve not mentioned. Please feel free to add yours to the list by leaving us a comment.

And for what it’s worth, here’s our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, explaining that people–men or women–shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the word “feminist” and that men have an important role to play as feminists, too.

In solidarity!






Oh, yoga girl!

Like Catherine, (Hello again, yoga– I’m back!) I’ve returned to yoga. I’m a big fan of hot yoga. Well, actually I’m mostly a fan of the heat. Mid-winter I often feel like I could just move into the hot yoga room. I arrive early. I leave late. I walk home hot and steamy through the snow. I love it.

There’s a bit of an age gap between me and most of the women in the hot yoga studio. That’s usually okay. I like young people. But the instructors are also pretty young and sometimes it can be grating.

I’d had a really tough week. My father died last month, I’ve got teenagers coming and going and struggling to plan their lives, I’ve got a partner about to have major surgery (not life threatening but still) that involves possibly two weeks in hospital and a couple of months off work recovering, and things in general aren’t ticking along the way they usually do. I’m not my usual resilient cheerful self.

After a super tough weekend that followed the tough week–exercise was all that was helping and I’d already been for a run, done a two hour bike trainer class and thrown people around and been thrown around at Aikido–I decided to end the weekend on Sunday with an 8 pm Power Flow class at the hot yoga studio. Stretch and bend!

I nearly laughed out loud though when the 20-something yoga instructor began her speech about intention setting for the class. “You’ve been putting on a good face on a horrible week and now is time to put that mask away and be honest and open with your feelings. You can bring all your emotions to the mat and really get in touch with the true you. You don’t need to pretend anymore. Be honest with yourself and feel those emotions.”

No, actually, just no.

You have no idea who is in your class and what they’re going through. I did a quick headcount. 32 people. And I thought, you really don’t want 32 people getting in touch with their true feelings in this very small, very hot room.

And then she continued telling us that when we got home we don’t have to do the dishes, we don’t have to pack that lunch, and we don’t have to do our homework. It’s okay just to focus on you, she said.

At that point I wanted to raise my hand and say that actually I did have to do the dishes and pack lunch. And homework? How old are these people? Probably they did really have to do that homework.

I think I’m ready for masters yoga. Middle age lady yoga. Or even silent yoga. I’d do naked yoga if it was quiet. Music would be fine. BUT NO TALKING! Yoga with no sermons and intention setting. I like my yoga light on metaphysics, I knew that, but it also turns out that I like it without life advice!

How about you? Are you inspired or annoyed by yoga sermons?

I might be grumpy enough these days for Angry Yoga.





Looking for an indoor activity that’s good for you? How about knitting?

knit veggiesIt’s winter and you want to hole up inside and hibernate until the thaw comes, right? There are all sorts of things we can do inside — curl up with a good book, play Scrabble with the family, cook up some thick soup and bake bread, catch up on the seasons of Mad Men you missed when things got too busy two years ago.

But if you’re looking for an indoor activity that, researchers say, is really good for your health, try knitting. Yes! You heard that right: knitting is good for you!

I’m a knitter.  I do it because it lowers my stress level the way repetitive activities are known to do. I go into a sort of meditative state when I knit. But lately, I’ve been worried about my left hand and a strange, new-to-me pain that shoots up to my elbow. There are lots of reasons to worry about mobility in the hands, but the first thing that I feared was that I might need to give up knitting.

And that would just completely change my happy vision for my life when I’m a very old woman. I have always pictured that time of my life as revolving around books and yarn, tea and cake. You see, I don’t have lots of time for these things at the moment (well, maybe for the tea and cake), so the luxury of time to knit and read is something I feel I’ll have earned by the time I’m in my eighties.  So that pain lurking around in the left lower arm and hand threatened my very future.

How relieved I was to read this article about “The Health Benefits of Knitting.”  The author, Jane Brody, is a knitter herself, and yes, she covers the usual ground of stress relief from repetitive action:

Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

And you produce a tangible product as a bonus — socks, sweaters, afghans, hats, mittens, scarves, shawls — the seasoned knitter has knit them all. That, the author says, can boost self-esteem (“look what I made!”).

Those benefits have prompted the Craft Yarn Council to launch a “Stitch away Stress” campaign to go along with National Stress Awareness Month. But those benefits aren’t all.

Brody points out that knitting can help people quit smoking by giving them something else to do with their hands. And trust me, if you’re spending time knitting something, you don’t want it to smell like smoke, either. Keeping the hands busy can also stop people from mindless snacking.  From personal experience, I can attest too that I’m less likely to reach for potato chips when I’m knitting not just because my hands are busy but also because I don’t want to touch my handiwork with greasy fingers.

A study at the University of British Columbia found that knitting helped with the treatment of anorexia nervosa:

38 women with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa … were taught to knit found that learning the craft led to significant improvements. Seventy-four percent of the women said the activity lessened their fears and kept them from ruminating about their problem.

Not only that, the focus that knitting involves has been found to help people manage chronic pain. And people with depression found that it helped with their mental anguish. According to the study, “the brain can process just so much at once, and that activities like knitting and crocheting make it harder for the brain to register pain signals.” Read more about this research on the therapeutic value of knitting at the Stitchlinks website.

And finally, to my great relief, Brody reports that:

I’ve found that my handiwork with yarn has helped my arthritic fingers remain more dexterous as I age. A woman encouraged to try knitting and crocheting after developing an autoimmune disease that caused a lot of hand pain reported on the Craft Yarn Council site that her hands are now less stiff and painful.

I don’t know if that niggling pain is the beginning of arthritis, but it’s good news that knitting can help with dexterity. Fingers crossed that I my future self will still be able to use those needles! And there’s some suggestion that knitting, like Sudoku, can help keep the mind sharp into the later years of life. Also good news!

Of course, it’s not quite the same as getting off the couch and going for a run or taking a yoga class, but the health benefits of knitting are such that, if you’re going to stay on the couch, it’s a pretty good option.

Maybe this winter I’ll finish that second sock I’ve been working on since 2014.



Sam does the most Canadian thing ever

Huffington Post says, “You’re not Canadian until you’ve skated through a forest in the dead of winter.”

And while I’m not ready to go that far, forest skating did feel pretty Canadian.

Being able to skate at all feels very Canadian to me. I learned to skate when I started school, just after moving to Grand Falls, Newfoundland, Canada from England. My father learned with me but shortly after that I was zooming around the rink leaving him behind. Like most Canadian kids, I skated with school for physical education classes, trundling over to the rink carrying our skates. I took figure skating for a few years until it got too fancy, dance-y, and frilly.

Later, with my own kids, I started skating again. I’m not very good, a bit wobbly, but I still love it. When we were on sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand, and we wanted to feel competent at a sport, we went skating. They have ice rinks, they rent skates, and there we felt like stars on ice. Our average Canadian skating ability put us in pretty elite group at a family skate in the southern hemisphere.

But back to skating in the woods this weekend, without kids, not in a skating rink. Instead, outdoors! The woods! My favorite place to be.

See Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail In Muskoka Allows Canadians To Skate Through The Forest.

What is it? It’s an ice trail through the forest. So cool. They’ve flooded a road connecting campsites and they maintain the ice surface with a zamboni.

There’s an outdoor fire place where you change and outdoor lockers to store your boots.

I loved the woods which seemed to block the wind. Previously my outdoor skating had been on open lakes, ponds, and rivers and so wind was definitely a factor.

The slight inclines, both up and down, presented a new challenge. I’d never skated up or downhill before. Also, no boards to hang on to when you’re taking a break or retying your laces.

There was a great range of ages. Lots and lots of little kids but also some speedy senior citizens whipping around holding hands.

Jeff and I ended up skating in part because our cross country ski plans were set back. We arrived at the park on the day of the Muskoka Loppet, a cross country ski race, and all the ski trails, the easy ones anyway, were in use.

So we skated for a bit instead.

Some evenings they light the trail with by tiki lanterns so you can skate through the woods after dark. I’d love to do that!




aging · fitness

Why fitness really matters: Brain health, memory, and imagination

Why should you care about fitness? What reasons speak in favour of caring? Again, it’s okay not to care all things considered. You might have reasons against and other things that matter more.

But before you decide where you stand after weighing considerations on both sides, make sure you’ve got an eye on all the different reasons for pursuing a physically active lifestyle. There are lots of reasons in favour that have nothing to do with sports performance, on the one hand, or appearance, on the other.

Last week I posted about functional fitness, keeping the kind of skills that enable you to live independently without pain as you age.

But here’s another reason, one that speaks especially to academics. You should care about physical fitness because you care about your brain.

I often think about how high school, for me, got it so very wrong. Then you were either a bookish, smart sort (that was me, surprised?) or a jock. You couldn’t be both. The only sports were team sports. Individual athletic sports like running and cycling weren’t on my radar at all. Years later I see with my kids that things are a bit better but not great. One kid who excels in team sports was frequently questioned about his advanced academic standing. People didn’t believe he could be both gifted academically and play team sports. That is, I think, until the football coach started also teaching advanced math.

And it’s not just true that you can do both. Academic and athletic performance are frequently connected. See Top athletes aren’t just faster and fitter, they’re also smarter. Maybe the ancient philosophers had it right about the unity of the virtues after all.

Plato: “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these means, man can attain perfection.”

Socrates: “No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

I’ve been thinking about this lately for three different reasons. I mentioned the first one at the start, questions from academics who hold physical activity in disdain, or who more neutrally, see no reason to do it. The second one comes from teaching sports ethics. Most of my students were athletes of some sort and who felt that sports and physical activity were an important aspect of life lived well. We had some really good conversations. And finally, the third reason. The link between brain health and physical activity has been in the news a lot lately.

Here’s this from The latest research shows that all of us can pump up our brainpower by exercising regularly:

Rarely do you find neuroscientists, psychologists and physicians agreeing unequivocally on anything. But here’s an exception: They all say that exercise is hands down the single best thing you can do for your brain.

“If we had a pill that could do what exercise does, its sales would put Viagra’s to shame,” says Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and author of A Long Bright Future.

 Aerobic exercise “keeps cognitive abilities sharp and slashes your lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s in half,” says John Medina, an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and author of Brain Rules.

In fact, the biggest trend in exercise science in 2015 was the link between brain health and physical exercise. To stay sharp mentally, we need to move. See Fit Body, Fit Brain in the New York Times.

See also Does exercise keep our brains young?

I was especially excited to see that not all the studies were on men. This study from the University of British Columbia looked at the effects of weight training on the brains of women.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers analyzed 155 women ages 65 to 75. In the group, 54 subjects showed through MRI scans some evidence of a type of brain lesion, a common indicator of aging.

The team followed the women for a year while they started to do three types of exercise program: lifting weights once every week, lifting weights twice weekly, and stretching and balance training (only as a control).

The researchers made another scan of the women’s brains at the end of the year. The control group was found to exhibit progression of brain lesions in both number and size. However, slowed progression of the lesions was discovered in those who lifted weights twice weekly.

Study author Teresa Liu-Ambrose, UBC physical therapy professor and the laboratory’s director, said this is one of the first to show weight training benefits on the brain.

And increasingly research is showing that exercise in childhood aids brain growth and development. Even if we just care about intellectual achievement and development, we ought to fund school sports and provide children with regular physical activity and opportunities for movement.

Again, it’s okay not to care about any of this. You can say that you don’t care about looks, sports performance, functional fitness, and brain health. Let me say it again, you do you!

My point is though that there are lots of different reasons for getting exercise beyond performance (I want to run 5 km faster!) and beyond looks (I want defined quads cause they’re hot.)

If you care about your brain, get your body moving and lift the heavy things.



fitness · yoga

Hello again, yoga– I’m back!

My relationship with yoga has been off-and-on since 1993, when my friend Deb and I (having both just been liberated from grad school) decided to take a class together at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.  Cheryl was our teacher, an older (to us, then) woman who made yoga accessible and even humorous.  I discovered later that her lack of solemnity was a bit unusual for yoga instructors (in my experience at least).

Deb and I used to joke that between us we made a pretty good yoga student.  I was naturally flexible in forward bends, and Deb could balance and do head stands effortlessly.  What I liked best about yoga was how it revealed to me in detail what my body was like– in general, that day, in every part of me.  Yoga also reminded me that what we’re “good” at vs. “not good” at is really not up to us.  Yes, we can practice and make strides and improve and deepen poses.  But we work within our own anatomy, and (with good instruction) there’s always a way to modify a pose or movement that will work and feel right.

It’s been 8  years since I last took a yoga class, but when a new yoga studio– Artemis Yoga— opened up near my house, I decided to check it out.  It’s less than a 10-minute walk away, they had a $29 for 30 days introductory deal, and my friend Norah was also joining.  All of this made it irresistible.  So off I went.

My body now is different in a bunch of ways from my body 8 years ago.  I’ve had some surgeries (rotator cuff, gall bladder, hernia) and am perimenopausal.  The latter is most relevant, as my ambient temperature tolerance has really shifted.  Pretty much any yoga feels like hot yoga to me these days.  So I dress very lightly and try to accept that sweating is just a natural bodily function, nothing to be ashamed about (see Tracy’s recent post on this issue).  But it also requires some planning and response to circumstances.  The studios at Artemis are beautiful and brand-new– lovely spaces for yoga.  But I learned at my first class that practicing anywhere near a heat vent simply didn’t work for me at all.  For the next class I got there early and put my mat as far away from the vents as possible, which made all the difference in the world.  My friend Kathy (who’s a yoga teacher herself, and joined me for a class, as it’s walking distance from her house, too) gave me some tips on dealing with sweaty hands and feet on yoga mats.  Our instructor also suggested we put our hands on blocks on the mat for some poses, which would steady us if we were slipping on the mats.

All this detail above is to say that many (well, all) problems we might encounter in a yoga class are just problems to solve, not barriers to participation.  Sweat happens, age happens, injuries and illness happen.  I’m enjoying the change of movement, change of location, getting there under my own power (thus Making My Day Harder— thanks Sam for that post ), and interacting with a new and different group of people.  It’s also a great supplement to bike training, which is my main activity.

I’ll report back in a few months with any new revelations.  In the meantime, what have you learned from yoga in this or other stages of life?