Many small choices, big impact on health


About a year ago, I wrote a post urging people to “make your day harder,” arguing that making small choices like taking the stairs instead of the elevator could make a big difference to your overall fitness and mobility. Now, researchers have released a study confirming that sporadic bits of activity during the day that add up are as effective for overall heart health and mortality as the same amount of exercise in a single burst.

Researchers analysed activity and mortality data from nearly 5000 people over a 7 year period, and concluded that a goal of a total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week made a difference to how long people in the study lived. The new information here is the confirmation that these 150 minutes don’t need to be in 10 minute or longer episodes, but can be accumulated in shorter increments. The duration matters less than the total. A full description of the study implications can be found here: “your half assed attempts at exercise are still really good for you.

I’ve written before about how counting steps and episodes of exercise is a motivator for me, so I was glad to read this. It’s good to know that the days where all I manage to do is hit my step target “count” for something as much as the days where I do a ridiculously intense two hour spinning class (don’t even get me started). It also fits with my big hobbyhorse about staying as mobile and active as possible as we age. Not everyone needs to be doing long bike rides or triathlons, but everyone can aim at hitting 150 minutes of activity in a week.

More than mobility, though, I’m glad to see affirmation that small healthy choices can be super meaningful. We were passing around another piece in the blog community this week about new data from the UK about the causes of preventable cancers (only about 43% of all cancers, which is a whole other topic).

According to this data, the most significant cause of preventable cancer is smoking, followed by diet and exercise. As one blogger wrote about it, “The person who eats healthily, avoids alcohol and keeps active, yet struggles with their weight, is less likely to get cancer than the skinny couch potato living on bacon washed down with gin.”

I don’t fully agree with that blogger’s interpretation of the data — weight is still a meaningful factor according to this information, right behind smoking, diet and exercise — and I would add “avoiding the sun” to any list of healthful practices. But I do fully agree with her strong message that healthful choices come from making smart decisions about what you put into your body (whether ingested through the lungs or through your mouth), and from recognizing that food really is fuel for a body that moves and functions well, both internally and externally. Trying to lose weight through fad diets or starving yourself is not a healthful move.

silBG Grain bowls-2

I think what all of this adds up to for me is that yes, that yummy grain bowl with tons of kale and orange veggies is a smart thing to do and can have a long term impact on health — and yes, we can “eat the damn cupcake.” At the end of the day, if your goal is to live with a body that works as well as your personal body can, we should be making small choices continually to move throughout the day, and we should be paying serious attention to what we put into our bodies. Take the stairs, listen to your nagging fitbit to walk a few hundred steps every hour, take a brisk walk around the block when you have 5 minutes, fit in that short workout that might not seem worth it; eat almonds instead of that meeting cookie, have a grain bowl instead of a burger, savour that piece of organic dark chocolate. Our choices don’t have to be “perfect” to matter — but making small healthy choices adds up.

athletes · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · inclusiveness · racing

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Small Victories (Guest Post)

Over the past two weeks, I’ve shared posts regarding my transition into cycling as a woman, as well as some of the day-to-day microaggressions I’ve experienced over the past 18 months. I know other cyclists have been in this sport far longer than I have, and I thank them for paving the way for women such as myself to join the ranks and to continue this important discussion on gender disparities.

Although the prevalence of women in cycling differs by country, the pattern is the same: we need a more diverse field, whether it pertains to commuting via bicycle or racing competitively. The percentage of cyclists registered with USA Cycling who identify as woman is only 15% as of March 2018. Triathlon fares a bit better, with 38% of members identifying as women based on USA Triathlon’s 2015 report. If we want to shift that dial to 50%, we have a lot of work ahead of us. I can only speak to my own experience as a white cisgender female, but I imagine women of color, gender diverse athletes, those with limited financial means, and those with other marginalized identities will continue to experience even more setbacks than I have over the past 18 months–and many of them may not be as subtle as what I’ve experienced.

If our community wants to address gender disparities in cycling, I think we need to have some difficult conversations and figure out what women and gender diverse athletes experience on a daily basis. Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are all susceptible to also engaging in some of these behaviors due to our own biases, assumptions, and cultural identities. Cycling is a very white and very binary sport with very little racial or gender diversity. We need to listen to each other and practice cultural humility in order to make room for others. Those of us who are truly passionate about diversity in the field can and will also make mistakes and will engage in microaggressions. And when we do, we need to own our actions, take responsibility for them, learn from them, and work to do better. In other words, our work is never over and it is essential for us to continue to learn from one another in order to create the shift that is needed. As Ayesha McGowan notes, “representation matters.”

In addition to the crappy experiences, we need to remember the good times. The good times have kept me here, and I have no intention of leaving this field anytime soon. Here are some of the wins I’ve seen, all of which mean more to me than any spot on the podium:

  • The feeling of teammates and other really strong cyclists supporting and mentoring me over the past 18 months has been irreplaceable.
  • We have announcers who give it their all by showing their enthusiasm for cyclists every weekend in season, and by remembering as many athlete names as possible. One of my favorite rivalries this year was with a Clydesdale* athlete of a similar ability to me, and listening to the announcer provide commentary as the two of us raced each other was one of the most fun and entertaining races I’ve had.
  • We have officials who respond to late night emails with questions as promptly as possible.
  • We have race teams and organizations that put on events specifically for trans*, femme, and women competitors.
  • We have events like Dirty Kanza that launch initiatives such as #200Women200Miles, and prioritize women entrants to increase field sizes.
  • Race registrations are beginning to appear with registration options other than “male” or “female.”
  • Just last week, I received an email from the president of our cycling federation asking for feedback on the timing and placement of the women’s Athena* division for next year’s cyclocross season. The email was so well thought out, and they expressed genuine interest and enthusiasm in recruiting more Athenas for races next season. As a result of the discussion, the federation will be providing an Athena division held in the same field as the beginner (category 4/5) women, allowing women a field to themselves.

*Athena/Clydesdale is a cycling category for women over 160 lbs and men over 200 lbs.

These are the experiences that keep me going, that show progress, that motivate me to be a stronger woman, role model, and cyclist. So thanks to all of you out there who support us. Despite these little victories, my greatest fear is that other women and/or gender diverse cyclists have experienced similar constraints that I have, have felt the same way, and have left the sport in an effort to find support, community, and inclusion elsewhere. And if that’s the case, I truly hope they’ve found it. But I want us to stay. We belong. And by staying, we can work fiercely to support one another and build each other up. Whether it be high fives or fist bumps, standing up for others who receive degrading or objectifying comments, sticking with each other during the most difficult of events, inviting one another to rides, hosting free community cycling clinics, or providing a simple “You’re not alone,” I think we can all make a difference to show another human they belong. The work’s not over. We’ve got plenty to do.

This month, I launched an international research project for women (cis and trans) and gender diverse cyclists (including but not limited to non-binary, gender queer, & two spirit folks) who have raced over the past 5 years. Through this research, I will be able to shine a light on the experiences of athletes who are typically underrepresented in competitive cycling. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued and included in their cycling communities. After recruiting 250 participants, I’ll donate $500 to a non-profit organization (Cycles for Change) that works toward gender equity and accessibility in cycling. Findings will be presented in the community and submitted as empirical journal articles. Ultimately, my goal is to better understand the gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.

If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows:

Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, wife, and cyclist. When she is not working, she trains for new cycling adventures, eats, laughs, and spends time with loved ones.

fitness · motivation

Making Big Challenges into Small Ones

Along with Cate and Catherine and lots of others, I’m in the Facebook group in which people have committed to working out 218 times in 2018.

We’ve blogged about it lots.

Here is the official description of the group:

WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2018 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to workout 218 times in those 365 days.

WHY: (1) Consistently doing deliberate exercise is one of the most important factors in developing good health and fitness. (2) Choosing to complete a workout or not is something we can control.

HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also count. Do what inspires you to move your body. (2) Use a spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or a notebook and give yourself a check mark for every workout you complete. (3) Share your progress with the group.

Let’s get cracking!

Image result for 218
Black text on yellow plate. Numbers “218.” Also ,a black border.

But 218 is a big number. It can all feel a bit overwhelming. Here’s the way I’ve broken it down. Instead of thinking about 218 workouts in a year, I did some math. If I worked out 20 times each month I will have definitely overshot the mark for 218. So my goal is to aim for 20 times a month, knowing that some months that might be a bit much.

So 20 times a month is roughly 5 times a week. So instead of focusing on the 218 times a year I focus instead on the 5 times a week. That gives me two rest days. I’m not sure why but it seems easier to think about than 218 times in a year.

Do you ever break down big challenges into smaller pieces? What’s an example from your life? The biggest one I can think of other than working out is dissertation writing. I advise my graduate students as well to focus on chapters rather than the entire thesis. It seems to help a bit.


Aging as beautiful #ThoughtForAThursday


“You could see the signs of female aging as diseased, especially if you had a vested interest in making women too see them your way. Or you could see that a woman is healthy if she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows into her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of ‘serious lesions’ or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life and it shows. When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold.”

– Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth


Just eat the damn cupcake! (#tbt)

As Tracy and I plan our launch events and order cupcakes, we’re really hoping you enjoy them and that no one talks about not “deserving” a cupcake or about being “bad” for just one night! That reminded me of this old post about eating and enjoying cupcakes!

dogs · hiking · walking · winter

Winter Camping with a Beast (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

A few weeks ago, during March Break, I went winter camping! It was a short 24-hour trip due to an extremely busy life and getting our house ready to sell.

It was me, my younger brother, and our dog Cheddar. It was Cheddar’s first time camping and he was the best-behaved camping beast you could expect! We were the only people I saw in tents, everyone else was in a yurt or a trailer. When we first arrived we set up our tent and put Cheddar on a long leash to explore our campsite. We put a tarp on the ground for him to lay down on during the afternoon (he slept in the tent with us at night).

Then we went hiking. It’s always interesting to see what the parks look like in winter- frozen ponds and lakes, snow, ski tracks.

After hiking, we had a campfire and cooked our dinner. All our normal camping dishes were in storage so we cooked using no dishes- we roasted veggie skewers with vegetables, smoked tofu, halloumi cheese (which has a higher melting point so it doesn’t melt when you toast it). Then, of course, s’mores for dessert! As soon as it got dark (~8:30pm), Cheddar decided it was bedtime. He started circling us, going into the tent and looking at us (“Are you coming?”), coming back out to get us. We gave in after about ten minutes of this and curled up in the tent with him. It is very helpful to have a warm, furry beast in your tent. Especially a Cheddar-beast who loves to be as close to his people as possible and loves sleeping under the covers with you.

When we woke up in the morning and got up (12 hours later), he was still sound asleep in the tent and even looked at us as if to say “Do we have to get up yet?”. But he cheerfully got up once we got his leash out for a W-A-L-K (if you have a dog you know why we need to spell that word!). A couple hours more of hiking and we headed home. A successful 24-hour camping trip with a beast.

Mallory Brennan is many things. She’s the daughter of Samantha (and Jeff!), part-owner of Cheddar the dog, lover of the outdoors, hater of shoes, singer, conductor, and traveler.


Swim. Run. Done.



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Find out more here.

diets · eating · eating disorders · sports nutrition

Chocolate: A yummy delicious treat

I’ve had a bag of these in the house for awhile as my go to treat in lieu of dessert. They’re delicious.

Unlike Tracy, I haven’t broken up with chocolate.

But while the chocolates are often the yummiest part of my day, chocolates are not necessarily the healthiest thing I could eat. That’s fine by me. I didn’t choose them for health reasons. I was looking for the yum. They’re a treat

Chocolate isn’t evil but it’s not exactly a health food ether. Here’s the nutritional facts.

So these are an occasional treat, not a health food. I don’t eat them as meals. They’re pleasure. An indulgence.

Maybe that’s a bit fast. Isn’t it dark chocolate supposed to be good for all that ails you? I have friends who eat dark chocolate to help with the common cold. Others who swear it helps with arthritis.

Is it really good for you? The Guardian weighs in this week.

They talk about the rebranding of chocolate as a health food and how that occurred.

“Recent years have seen chocolate undergo another transformation, this time at the hands of branding experts. Sales of milk chocolate are stagnating as consumers become more health-conscious. Manufacturers have responded with a growing range of premium products promoted with such words as organic, natural, cacao-rich and single-origin. The packets don’t say so, but the message we’re supposed to swallow is clear: this new, improved chocolate, especially if it is dark, is good for your health. Many people have swallowed the idea that it’s a “superfood”. Except it isn’t. So how has this magic trick-like metamorphosis been achieved?”

So chocolate is supposed to help with blood pressure, dementia, stroke risk and the common cold but the problem is the quality of the research which is almost all funded by the chocolate industry. Go read the Guardian story for details.

James Fell in his anti dark chocolate rant gets it right, I think.

…If you’re buying into the health washing while rationing nibbles as your reward for sticking to a soul-destroying diet, just stop. Eat a mostly healthy diet, and then when you feel like eating chocolate, you eat the shit out of it. None of this “I’ll just have a square of dark chocolate now and then” bullshit. Get some fucking Turtles, or a Caramilk bar, or a Crispy Crunch, or one of those triangle shaped Toblerone things. Get a Jersey Milk and dip that sucker in the Skippy peanut butter and say, “Mmmm … G-M-Oh-my-God-that-tastes-good.” Eat your favorite chocolate and LIVE, DAMMIT!

Want to know more about chocolate? There’s a talk on the chemistry and physics of chocolate by the University of Guelph’s Prof. Alejandro Marangoni in Waterloo, Ont., by the Royal Canadian Institute for Science on April 18.

Enjoy the talk and the occasional chocolate. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a health food. Or worse, don’t eat dark chocolate in a medicinal manner not enjoying it at all.

fitness · motivation

Why did you hit the gym? Our readers have some excellent reasons

We shared this on our Facebook page and asked followers why they go the gym. We got some excellent responses! Enjoy!

Can lift bigger dogs
Fight the power
Being able to manage my autistic son during meltdowns (he’s very strong for only 4!)
So I can just keep going.
To break up a day where I have to sit still a lot. And to enjoy the feeling of stretching warm muscles!
Train to defeat zombies in case of apocalypse
Catch up on my fave shows.
Impress children with totally unnecessary but obviously cool ninja-type moves
Another reason to wear comfortable yoga pants.
To keep up with my kids. We all get older. They get stronger. So I work harder.
Use the shower there if you are “between homes”.
Carry more boxes of wine, farther
Carry big bags of food for my ratties upstairs
Improves your mood!
Can pretend you’re in a movie montage
Water pressure is vastly superior at the gym
Manage my anxiety and depression.
Load my own bags of dirt/dog food.
Swimming feels fucking GREAT.
It helps fight depression.
Conditioning for snowboarding.
So you can squat more! And more! And more!
Watch Netflix.
Still walk upstairs in my own house when I’m 90.
Get your brain to turn off for a minute
Keep up with my nieces and nephews (and one day the grand versions) on the playground. Have energy to do stuff as I get older. Be able to haul around all the heavy-ass weights I need to cold water scuba dive. Impress the young things when I can keep up in the pool/on the trail
Manage my own luggage when I overpack
Carry silly large loads of groceries into the house in a trip
Continue to hike, bike and tri as I get older
Continue to be the person who can climb into the back of a packed minivan or wagon
Change the bottle on the water cooler
Push my behemoth of a boyfriend back to his side of the bed when he rolls over to my side in the middle of the night. Also, escape this horrific family history of heart disease and diabetes that’s coming for me.
Rage Management, being strong enough support a person making life, my own mental health, role modelling active living for my family. Not in that order.#remindmetogotothegym
Being able to move injured people in an emergency if need be, climbing mountains, being in shape enough to do my outdoors-y job, defending myself when necessary

Any other reasons?

athletes · body image · fitness · stereotypes

Fat Inspiration or Larger Body Representation? What do you think?

This video came across my newsfeed the other day and really caught my attention. Why? I guess I had conflicting reactions.


Who is it? Maria Odugba also known as asap.yogi on Instagram. You can also follow her on Facebook here. And her yoga website is here.

I love seeing larger bodies do all this hardcore stuff. That made me smile.
So on the one hand, you go girl. She’s doing amazing athletic things. On the other, so many of the people who commented (I know, I know) had things to say about weight loss.

She’s smashing fitness stereotypes though I do worry sometimes about why larger bodies are supposed to be extra inspirational.

I also don’t like the anger she directs toward herself for missing workouts and getting behind.

Part of me is thrilled to see fitness videos with a better representation of bodies.

Part of me wants to say, of course people with large bodies can do this! So many people commented  “if she can do this, what’s my excuse?” And people talk lots about the obstacles she overcoming. It reminds me of the way in which wheelchair athletes are supposed to be extra-inspirational.

But not everyone shares my worries.

On our Facebook page Jennie had some good rejoinders in favour of the extra-inspirational claim. I asked permission to share them here.

Says Jennie, ” I do think it’s extra inspirational for a few reasons.

1. Representation is crucial, seeing people like her working out inspired me and let me know that fitness is for us bigger ladies too.

2. It is more difficult, if I’m running 5 miles my muscles are having to carry an extra 4/5 stone in weight compared with someone my height with a bmi in the promoted weight range. So when I see someone doing awesome stuff and doing with extra weight I’m impressed and inspired.

3. It is more difficult because she’s had to overcome any number of social/emotional barriers to do what she does. Again that’s more inspirational to me than watching someone who fits the expected profile.

4. In addition, it’s not just carrying the extra weight, when I do yoga or Pilates my tummy and it boobs often get in the way. A lot of these positions and techniques are designed for a different type of body shape.

A bigger person working out has had to overcome extra barriers to fitness hence to me extra inspirational.”

Number 3 rings true to me.

I certainly couldn’t do a lot of this and I think she’s amazing to watch. Go look! You decide and tell us what you think.