As I noted on Monday we’re on a bit of cold weather/outdoors swimming kick around the blog. Here’s some of the videos I’ve found. If you have any that you recommend, that I’ve missed please let us know in the comments!
Month: April 2021
Fit is a Feminist Issue, Friday Link Round Up #99: Wild Swimming Resources
As I noted on Monday we’re on a bit of cold weather/outdoors swimming kick around the blog. Here’s some of the resources I’ve found. If you have any that you recommend, that I’ve missed please let us know in the comments!
Wild Big Swim: “One of my greatest passions is swimming in cold and ice water, there’s really nothing quite like it! I’ve put together a series of articles based on my personal experiences, to share what I’ve learned over the years with others – use this information responsibly, and at your own risk. Don’t forget to seek the advice of your doctor if you’re thinking of taking up chilly swimming, to be sure it’s right for you!”
Swimming in Cold Water Has Done Wonders for My Stress: “There’s a scientific rationale for why some people find swimming in the freezing cold to be so invigorating.”
The health benefits and risks of cold water swimming: “Cold water swimming may seem like an odd pastime to the uninitiated. But while you might question the sanity of those who decide to take an open-water dip in the depths of winter, research has shown there are actually a host of health benefits – both mental and physical – to taking the plunge. The joys of such a pursuit are well noted – both anecdotally and scientifically – but there are of course risks. Here, we reveal the reasons why you should dip your toes (and more!) into cold water this winter, and explain how to do so safely.”
Swimming in Very Cold Water Keeps Me Sane: “I’m standing with two friends in the 39-degree air on the edge of a lake in northeastern California in just our bathing suits. A lone fisherman in several layers of outerwear stares, drinks from a bottle of Racer Ale and says, “Tell me you ladies aren’t going in that water.” We go in that water. It’s probably 56 degrees. It’s not the coldest water in the world currently being swum, not “My Octopus Teacher” cold — that guy swims in 48-degree water all the time, but hey, he’s in love with an octopus. What do you expect?”
The subversive joy of cold water swimming: “Britons are skipping the heated pool and rediscovering the pleasures of lakes, rivers, and seas—even in winter.”
Women cold water swimming in Gower to help menopause: “A group of cold water swimmers have said that plunging into sea temperatures as cold as 6C is helping with the effects of the menopause. Some also reported improvements in their mental health.”
Tell Me It Will Be Okay
There are a lot of wonderful things about exercise in mid-life. We talk about them all the time on this blog. Fun with friends (my biggest motivator), overall health and longevity, quality of life, crushing the patriarchy etc. There is one thing that I do not like, Sam-I-am, and that is injury, especially a nagging, chronic, endless vexing type. The flavour of this season is bicep tendonitis. It’s been building for some time and I do believe it started with my 30 day yoga journey with my best virtual friend, Adriene. It’s not all flow but there is a lot of that sort of thing and I was really trying to increase my skill and my capacity to do more than 4 push-ups. Unfortunately, my bicep tendon was having none of it.
So, here I am, injured, in pain, prone to keep trying, then making it worse, then backing off and doing nothing and getting depressed and unmotivated and stiff and sad. It’s a cycle I endure over and over and sometimes it feels like it overshadows my gains.
I know that isn’t true.
I am doing my best to care for it, getting to the root of the problem maybe with my new chiropractor is a big part of it (my beloved osteopath is still not allowed to work in Ontario because of the way our pandemic rules are). He’s a beefy guy who likes to stick needles in me and zap them with electricity. I’m up for that sort of torture because I’m at my wits end with this baloney.
I think that I’m extra distressed this time because I feel the precious nature of my strength, balance and mobility more keenly with every passing year. When I was 40 and I injured my knee running, it didn’t feel like a big deal, I would just back off and it would heal and that would be that. But this year, perhaps because of the acute sense of fragility in the world, I’m just feeling defeated and a little scared. If I can’t do a downward dog any more, what does that mean about me? What if I can’t portage a canoe? Or wait, not even that, how will I paddle? All these things that are so precious, I know they will eventually slip away, but not yet damn it! It feels weirdly close right now, the end. It seems that bicep tendonitis has triggered a bit of an encounter with the existential givens.
Tell me it will be okay. I think everyone needs a little of that right now.
According to Days of the Year “Dance is one of the ultimate activities to destress, lose inhibitions, meet new people, and boost physical health.”
Whether it is classical ballet, Bollywood, square dance, Zumba, Jazzercise, ballroom, hip-hop, folkdance, or any of the multitude of other dance forms, today is the day to put on some music and be joyful while you move. Bop around your kitchen between meetings. Shake your bootie if that’s what makes you happy.
I love to dance. I love everything about the experience, no matter what the dance form: the music, the challenge of executing each movement perfectly, the chance to pretend I am a prima ballerina or the star of an old movie musical. Sometimes it’s an excuse to get dressed up in something sparkly and show off. It is a source of several valued friendships. It’s a fantastic way to improve posture, and build strength and flexibility. The memory work involved in learning dance patterns is also great for your brain; combined with the social aspects and the physical exercise, it may even help fight off dementia.
These days, I do an average of three dance classes a week. I would do more if my schedule permitted. In fact, I love dance so much I also celebrate World Ballet Day on October 29. I’m definitely not your stereotypical ballerina, but neither are my classmates. We are mostly middle aged or older, and many – like me – started dancing as adults (I was in my mid-40s).
Who inspires me as a dancer? Sonja Rodrigues, a mother of two who is still a prima ballerina at age 50. The dancers of Pretty Big Movement, a New-York based full-figured dance company that specializes in hip-hop, jazz, African and modern. Debbie Allen, the dance teacher in in the movie and TV show Fame, who is still teaching and performing at 71. And every one of my ballet, lyrical, modern, English country, Renaissance, belly, Bollywood and powwow dance teachers over the years. You taught me how to push myself to be strong, expressive and joyful.
Happy international dance day! Everybody dance now!
Diane Harper lives and dances in Ottawa.
Catherine discovers parkour, and it’s fun (if harder than it looks)
Today is National Parkour Day, so 1) feel free to leap onto your bed or sofa in its honor; and 2) take a look at my blog post from 2019 about a 50+ parkour class I took. It was much more rigorous than I expected, but I enjoyed it. Another thing to return to as we venture out into the world more.
Covid vaccines and vaginas: a link round up
I had a follow up mammogram a couple of weeks ago, and the first thing the tech asked me was if I’d had a vaccine yet. I thought she was making conversation, but it turns out that vaccines can cause inflammation in the lymph nodes, resulting in inaccurate results.
I tucked that information away, but started noticing a lot of buzz about whether there is a relationship between any of the covid vaccines and fertility (apparently a lot of healthcare providers are not getting their vaccines because “I haven’t had my family yet”), and more recently, vaccines and periods. Is this all just noise? Or is there anything to it?
First — and the most important thing — is that researchers haven’t yet really studied the relationship between the covid vaccines and the menstrual cycle. There’s a whole long patriarchal history behind this, but as this New York Times piece outlines, researchers just don’t study (or understand) menstruation well enough. But there does seem to be some increasing anecdotal suggestion that many period-having people have some disruption in their menstrual cycles following vaccination, either skipped periods, breakthrough bleeding or heavier, earlier periods. So what does that mean? Should we be worried about the intersection between vaccines and reproduction?
To try to unpack this, I turned to The Vajenda, my favourite source of gyne-related info, written by Dr Jen Gunter, an OBGYN and pain physician. (It’s a substack, so you have to subscribe, but there is a free option that gets you about half the posts.)
Here is her definitive post on the vaccine and menstruation:
The covid 19 vaccine and menstrual irregularities
Here are two related posts:
Don’t blame bleeding after menopause on the COVID-19 vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine and mammograms
And my favourite:
The Covid-19 vaccine is a vaccine, not a spell — no, it can’t affect other people’s reproductive cycles by proxy. More on this below.
I’ll distill the key takeaways from these posts — with the most important being that even if scientists haven’t fully studied menstruation and vaccines — and they SHOULD, hello patriarchy — we can still use science to do some thoughtful and factual analysis of what might be happening.
- The point of a vaccine is to engage the immune system to teach it how to fight a foreign interloper that looks specifically like the thing you are being vaccinated for. A critical part of the immune system is lymphocytes, which produce the cells that make up the antibodies your body needs to fight to off any illness or infection. You have lymph nodes — small glands that produce and filter lymphocytes — all over your body, but very noticeably under your armpits.
- About 10 – 15% of people experience swollen lymph nodes after any vaccines, which is totally normal, because it means the immune system has received a signal that something foreign has happened and it is marshalling its little knowledge system to figure out how to respond to it.
- These swollen nodes can show up on mammograms as an irregularity, which can mess up mammogram results — so if you are going for a regular screening, try to put it off for “at least four to six weeks” after your last vaccine dose. But don’t put off scanning for any problem you might be experiencing.
The first thing Dr Gunter underlines is that there may actually be no link between vaccines and period weirdness — it may be something people are connecting because it’s happening anyway and they just happen to be paying attention to their bodies in a more heightened way, or there may be changes caused by stress. But IF there is actually an impact for some people, there are different hypotheses for why this might be true. All of them come back to the relationship between the uterus and the immune system.
I have to say, I’m pretty interested in menstruation — I’m well known around these parts for a post on menstruating well into my 50s that shows up in the top 10 almost every month — and even I did not know that there are “a lot of complex immune system interactions in the lining of the uterus that are also involved in menstruation.” In other words, your period isn’t just a thing happening out there on its own little agenda, it’s highly intertwined with all of the other things going on in your body around health and your general experience of immunity. This is why stress and fatigue and colds and other illness can affect menstruation.
Dr Gunter outlines three different mechanisms for how the vaccine could possibly interact with the menstrual cycle:
- nitric oxide, which is produced when the immune system is activated, also has a role in causing endometrial tissue breakdown — so it could accelerate a ‘normal’ cycle
- vaccines can trigger the release of inflammatory cells called “mast cells”, which also relate to the enzymes that break down the lining of the uterus
- proteins called “toll-like receptors” (Tlrs), which play an important role in regulating the essential functions of our uterus and ovaries, are also sensitive to changes in single-stranded RNA; COVID-19 is a single stranded RNA virus, and the Pfizer and Moderna are RNA vaccines.
I could go down a rabbit hole here, but the basic upshot is: menstruation is intertwined with the immune system; vaccines trigger the immune system; ergo, just as we may experience immune responses like chills, fever, fatigue, etc after a vaccine, we may very well experience effects in this menstrual part of our immune system. And as Dr Gunter underlines, actually CATCHING COVID-19 is likely to have an even more powerful impact on your menstrual cycle.
So. Don’t put off getting vaccinated because it might mess with your period: serious illness will mess with it more. Do, however, pay attention if you bleed after the vaccine after menopause — that IS something to pay attention to. And if you want to participate in the first research to track the relationship between vaccines and your period, here is a link to a brand new study:
Now, what about fertility?
First, studies have been done on the relationship between pregnancy and vaccines, with the conclusion that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for pregnancy, not associated with miscarriage, and does not damage the placenta. And again, it’s more dangerous to actually get COVID while you’re pregnant. The province I’m in added pregnant people to the list of vaccine priorities last week because of ICU admissions for pregnant people.
I do understand anxiety about something unknown and pregnancy — someone very close to me didn’t even want general anesthetic when she had to have her appendix out during a pregnancy for fear of what it might do to the fetus. (The surgeon, appropriately, said no, she needed the anesthetic, and both she and the baby were fine.) Pregnancy can be an anxious time, and this is new. But again, the science is helpful here.
There is a full, great explainer of how vaccines work here in the New York Times. But the basic takeaway is that once either type of vaccine has done its work of teaching your immune system how to specifically respond to the spike protein on the surface of the COVID-19 virus, it disappears. It has one job, just like every other vaccine. It shows up, livens up the party, does a little dance, and leaves, leaving you with a temporary hangover.
So yes, it’s possible that the parts of your reproductive system related to the immune system might be triggered during the time you are actually responding to the vaccine — but that goes away. There is no reason whatsoever — no hint in the science, no hint in the research, no hint in the logic of how vaccines work — to think that there will be any more impact on long term fertility than any other vaccine. For more in-depth understanding, read the piece linked above in Nature — it details how the rumour about mRNA vaccines and fertility got started, and why the science completely counters it.
The final thing I want to just briefly touch on is the lunacy that people who have been vaccinated could affect the reproductive cycles of other people. There are alarming pockets of the world who believe this, including a private school in Florida that has forbidden people who’ve been vaccinated from interacting with their students. That’s just plain bonkers. As Dr Gunter wrote, it’s a vaccine, not a spell. And it’s a terrible indictment of people’s complete illiteracy about basic biology.
So the bottom line: of course I’m not going to tell anyone what to do. But if you’re hesitant, spend some time dwelling in the science. Even though these vaccines are new — we didn’t even know this virus existed 18 months ago! — the science behind them is tried and sound. Reassure yourself. And protect yourself. And everyone else.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is an amateur immunologist. Here is her vaccine selfie, for which she is very grateful.
Back on our bikes! Six thoughts on spring riding and training (#reblog, #blogluv)
It’s spring! Right now it’s sunny and the temperature is in the teens. Here’s my things to remember about riding outside in the spring. Enjoy!
In these days when gyms are closed and exercising alone at home can be dull, I have discovered the joy of virtual fitness challenges.
The first one I heard about was Ottawa Race Weekend, to replace events that had been scheduled for late May 2020. It is on again for this year, with more than a dozen different running challenges for kids through to team events. Both it and the Canada Army Run, which runs in September, are going virtual again this year, and you must complete events during the weekend or week that they would normally take place in person. There also a couple of virtual triathlons, but, oddly, I couldn’t find any bicycle events in Canada; there are virtual cycling events in other countries.
The first challenge I tried was offered by Masters Swimming Ontario, to get swimmers into open water when all the pools were closed last summer. We could do any or all of four distances from (1, 3, or 10 km) by Labour Day. I did three of the four distances, but didn’t feel ready to try 10 km in the river because of the current. Maybe this year, if I can get a friend to provide support from a boat.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been playing along on UK-based Henley Swim Brass Monkeys challenge. This series of cold water swims, which must be completed before April 30 in any unheated outdoor water, has distances ranging from 50M to 1500M, in water temperatures from under 6C to under 14C. There are 18 possible swims, with difficulty rankings from Plucky through to Intrepid. I completed the 1,000M swim on Saturday.
I’m also tempted by the Lake George Virtual 32 Mile Open Water Swim, for the months of July and August. Lake George, in the Adirondacks, normally hosts a major open water swimming competition in August each year. My friend Nadine did a virtual double crossing of this virtual swim last year. She says she knows full well she could just swim it on her own, but the virtual swims through an event are uplifting and the support on social media is a bright spot for her.
Many of these events are fundraisers for local causes, and all seem to have fun swag. That’s great if it’s what gets you motivated. It doesn’t do much for me though.
I walked Hadrian’s wall through a very large organization called The Conqueror Challenge. You can do any distance-based exercise to complete 20 virtual trails on virtually every continent. The medals are gorgeous, and there are even social media groups so participants can connect and get advice or share successes. It was okay, but not has fun as I had hoped. I was disappointed by all the chat about weight loss. It was, however, the first one I encountered that was great for people with mobility issues because there is plenty of time to complete each challenge, and assistive devices such as wheelchairs are an option.
The one I am focused on right now is Walking to Mordor. It is delightfully low-tech, and perfect for this unsocial hermit. The distance achievements are simply locations along the route from Bag End to Grey Wood, as laid out in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That’s 3,109.17 km in total, a very satisfying walk. There is no swag; there are no completion medals. It’s just a simple distance log with the feature of being able to follow your friends along the way. The best part is that it gives me a great excuse to re-read the trilogy, something that will probably be as gratifying as completing the walk.
Has Pandemic Weight Gain Helped You Notice Your Own Fat-Phobia?
Feature photo credit: GR Stocks via Unsplash
CW: Talk of weight gain, negative body image, and the potential for intentional weight loss
I’ve put on some additional body fat this year. I’m not totally ok with it. I mean, I’m OK in the sense that my world isn’t coming to an end, but I was more comfortable in my body when it was smaller. And the habits I had that kept me at that smaller size were absolutely healthy, sustainable habits for me. Until they weren’t for a while.
I’m going to say some things that I know aren’t in alignment with everyone in this community, starting with the fact that I’m ok if you have decided you’re more comfortable in a smaller body. I don’t think that feeling is always problematic. However, I do think we need to examine the reasons why we are more comfortable and make sure we’re being honest about what we have control over and that our reasons for wanting to be smaller that are based upon our own values, not someone else’s.
After all, what if you do some soul-searching and realize you have a belief that being a bigger size makes you less successful? What if you feel less attractive or less worthy in a bigger body? Most likely, these are not beliefs that stem from your own values but rather a reflection of internalized fat-phobia. So, when you notice this bias, approach it with curiosity, and then decide how you want to live your life and what kind of world you want to live in. If it’s important to you to address this internalized fat-phobia, then there are things you can do to counteract it. One of them isn’t being mean to yourself for realizing you have work to do. I think unlearning fat-phobia and misogyny are lifelong processes, just as unlearning and dismantling our complicity with White supremacy will require a lifetime of attention and learning. I’m ok with that. These are complicated challenges, and we are co-creating new societies and cultures. That work will take time, and it is appropriate that it does.
So, I’m not gonna get down on you, or myself, for noticing some shame about the changes in our bodies. I’m also not going to say that the only solution is learning to accept our bodies larger. We can choose that solution. It’s on the table to do absolutely nothing to intentionally change size and to instead focus on feelings. In fact, if you or I decide we aren’t ok with this larger size, we will still need to deal with these feelings in order to find a healthy, balanced approach to changing things. The lifestyle and habit changes that come from a place of shame or self-judgement are not going to be changes anyone would want to sustain. Who wants to live in perpetual self-punishment?
Doing the work of learning to accept ourselves without judgement, even when we’re currently uncomfortable in our bodies, will likely take some time and reeducation. We must notice our feelings. Question the beliefs that they stem from. Learn to reframe our thoughts. It will take time and patience for this process.
I am bigger that I was a year ago and for a long time, it was really uncomfortable for me–physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I found myself feeling like I’d failed, like I was less valid.
However, I’ve been working on building up my healthy habits again and finding new mindsets that help me see the work I’m doing, not just a measurement against some false finish line. One of the biggest lies of diet culture is that the only changes that matter are big changes and the only changes in our bodies that matter are dramatic transformations. I’ve been working on noticing my internalized fat-phobia–how often I’m so much harder on myself than I would be to anyone else, expecting myself to make big, dramatic changes, and I’m working on counteracting this narrative in my head. As a result, I’m feeling pretty good right now. I’m a tetch smaller than I was a few months ago, but that doesn’t compare to how it feels to being able to move again without pain in my joints. It doesn’t compare to how it feels to be eating in ways that gives me more consistent energy–not bouncing between loaded down and overfed, and hungry and undernourished. I’ve made this progress because I’ve given myself credit for the work along the way, even when it seemed small or “insignificant.”
For me, this work is about how I feel in my body every day and having the freedom to pursue the life that I want to live in this world. Feeling good IN my body is helping me feel better ABOUT my body. It’s helping me counteract my internalized fat-phobia, showing me the strengths of my body rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses.
It’s ok to notice that you’ve internalized fat-phobia. In fact, the only way we can address it is by acknowledging it. Shaming yourself, or someone else, for participating in the dominant culture isn’t going to lead to lasting, healthy solutions. Do the work to learn to accept yourself, your body, and your thinking as you are right now, as a work in progress, and then find solutions that work for you from that place of love.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found questioning her beliefs, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
From Days of the Year: “World Burlesque Day celebrates the dance form that is burlesque. Burlesque is a form of entertainment similar to a cabaret. The type of burlesque that people talk about these days closely resembles the kind of shows that were made popular during the early part of the twentieth century which would consist of strippers, comedians, and a master of ceremonies.”
To celebrate we’re sharing some past posts about our burlesque experiences:
Sam has fun at body positive burlesque (Sam Brennan)
Building Confidence Through Burlesque (Diane Harper)
Burlesque: bawdy body positivity (Catherine Womack)