Whether you are just finishing up the end of the year or you are getting ready for the holidays you celebrate, you probably have some extra items on your to do list this month.
When you combine that with the ambient time pressure that December generates, you end up not only having more to do but you feel like you have way less time than you need to do it.
When that kind of pressure happens and something’s got to give, we usually sacrifice something personal like our fitness activities, our meditation, or any breaks we might take to look after ourselves.
I wonder if you can avoid that trap this year (or at least not get caught so firmly) by making some space for yourself in your own head…and hopefully in your own schedule.
Maybe you won’t have time for your usual fitness routine but perhaps you could make space for some stretches.
Perhaps there will be too many people around for you to meditate, perhaps you could take a short walk, or do some doodling, or anything else that will put you firmly in the moment, for a moment.
Or maybe you can even go the other way and instead of shortening your time for yourself, you can find a way to create space to add extra personal time to your schedule. Committing to some yoga first thing in the morning or some meditative colouring right before bed might help you feel more at ease during the rest of the day.
I know some of you are reading this and despairing that there is no way for you to keep up any sort of a routine and you definitely can’t add anything to your day.
If that’s how you are feeling, then I’d like you to create space by letting yourself off the hook. Try to avoid telling yourself what you *should* be doing or feeling this month and embrace the feeling of running around. Sometimes it’s the disconnect between what you think you should be doing and what you actually are doing that causes the most distress.
If you can say ‘December is utter madness and I am just rolling with it.’ things may go more smoothly.
Really, I just want you to be kind to yourself, whatever form that might take this month, or at any time.
2. Books: Reading fiction makes me happy but I struggle to find the time. In November I got deliberate about making it happen, even investing in better reading lights so that with my bad eyesight I can still read into the evening. I also followed Christine’s lead and got myself a bluetooth toque so I can listen to audiobooks while walking Cheddar.
3. Coffee: November is not the month to try to cut back on coffee consumption. Indeed, I might even have bought more lattes than usual.
4. Bright lights: One the first things people recommend for combatting seasonal sadness is bright lights. I’ve got both a light alarm clock and very bright desk lamp. Do they work? I’m not sure. But I like them and they can’t hurt.
6. Friends: We can see them again, in person, sometimes even inside. And we did! Lots. So many dinners and visits with friends. One weekend we saw four different groups of people. Much hugs and many smiles.
7. Fashion: While in other circumstances I might enjoy the aesthetic challenge in wearing the same dress for 100 days, one thing I’ve loved about being back in the office is dressing up for work again. I’ve missed my work dresses and jackets and shoes and jewelry. I take a lot of pleasure in clothes and even though I’m not seeing very many people, I’ve been the ‘back to the office’ selfie queen, playing with the #OOTD hashtag.
8. Plants: Aren’t they beautiful? My son Gavin got me started. My office has great light too.
9. Cozy: This is the month of flannel PJs, warm jackets, and toques.
10. Sleep: It goes without saying that sleep matters for mood. In November I made sure I got enough.
How did it go? Well, it went. There were many bright moments, some sad ones, some silly ones. I got over feeling self-conscious about doing the things that make me happy. After all, it’s necessary. It’s November. But soon, in a matter of days, it won’t be November any longer. There are Christmas lights up and plans to spend the days with family, walking Cheddar in the snow, playing cards, and eating great food. Life is good.
How about for you? Do you suffer from the lack of light in November? What tricks have you developed for making it through the month?
There are so many questions we don’t have answers for. Some are extremely important, like “what will life with COVID be like in 2-5 years?” Others are less serious but perhaps more urgent, as in “should I keep those bananas around another day in hopes of actually making banana bread, or give up and throw them out?”
Another area where we spend a lot of time and money searching for answers is human longevity. How long will we live? What will help us live longer? What will help us live better?
In 2018, a study of half a million middle-aged people found that lung cancer, heart disease, and all-cause mortality were well predicted by the strength of a person’s grip.
Yes, how hard you can squeeze a grip meter. This was a better predictor of mortality than blood pressure or overall physical activity. A prior study found that grip strength among people in their 80s predicted the likelihood of making it past 100. Even more impressive, grip strength had good predictive ability in a study among 18-year-olds in the Swedish military on cardiovascular death 25 years later.
So what’s going on here? Grip strength is standing in as a proxy for muscle strength and (possibly erroneously) fitness in people as they age. Muscle strength decreases as we age. There’s not overall consensus on how, at what rates, where, for whom, and why, though.
More importantly, health science doesn’t know to what extent muscle loss is genetic or the result of physical activity and nutrition. In this Washington Post article, one researcher even says that grip strength doesn’t necessarily change with exercise. If that’s the case, then why are these articles using this correlation to admonish us to get out there and exercise more (including, I assume, grabbing lots of heavy things)?
This Atlantic article does have an answer. But first, a few words about the potentially prognosticatory properties of pushups.
In a study done on firefighters, researchers found that pushup tests were better at predicting cardiovascular disease than a standard treadmill stress test. Some experts think this result could extend to the general population.
“Push-ups are another marker in a consistent story about whole-body exercise capacity and mortality,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic whose work focuses on the limits of human performance. “Any form of whole-body engagement becomes predictive of mortality if the population is large enough.”
Hmmm… I guess this means we can just set up hula hoop testing at the local registries of motor vehicles and polling places, and then we’ll know all we need to about people’s overall health?
What makes health expects so psyched about these sorts of one-and-done health tests is that they are 1) cheap; 2) quick and easy to administer; and 3) believed to offer a snapshot of someone’s overall physical capacities, says the Atlantic article. But do we know this, above and beyond the broad population correlation studies (which have their own limitations)?
We do know, for instance, that grip strength declines over time in the absence of disease. We know that osteoarthritis and lots of other common physical conditions interfere with pushup abilities. We don’t know how lower grip strength in younger populations correlates with anything. And, we have no idea whether these statistically significant mortality risks are clinically significant (that is, whether the increased risk will translate into diagnosed clinical conditions).
We do have a lot of evidence that physical activities of many sorts are good for us. They can feel good, they can help us feel good after doing them, and they can bring us together with other people, which also feels good. That’s good.
One last question, Magic 8 Ball: will I make banana bread with those overripe bananas in my kitchen?
Readers, what do you think about these one-and-done overall life expectancy tests? Are you working on your grip strength while reading this? Let me know what you think.
I’m a big fan of intuitive eating and try to practice it in my daily life. I have blogged about it often, making commitments and recommitments to it over the life of the blog. It’s an approach to eating, championed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, originally in the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, first published in 1995 and now in its fourth edition. They also have a great website that outlines the main principles of this approach and provides basic information about it through a blog, links to the books, and an active online community that people can join.
I had to smile when Sam sent me this “intuitive eater’s holiday bill of rights,” by Evelyn Tribole, self-described as “The Original Intuitive Eating Pro.” The festive season is upon us, and with it many holiday events with food, glorious food, as a focal point. I for one love the seasonal favourites, from sugar cookies to Christmas cakes jammed with dried fruits, nuts, and bursting with flavour. I love vegan cheese boards and special hors d’oeuvres that no one much takes the time to make at other times of year. And I’m a big fan of cozying up with a mug of hot cider made extra yummy with cinnamon and cloves.
Last year most of us had many fewer gatherings, if we gathered at all (I didn’t). So we have the added bonus this year of being in a COVID lull (I won’t say we’re on the other side of COVID quite yet because I don’t want to tempt the heavens) that enables us to gather with friends and family, not just in homes, but also at restaurants.
So…there will be food and people. And where these two come together, so do the mixed messages, the pronouncements from people about how “they really shouldn’t,” the pressure to eat this once-a-year thing that [insert rarely seen member of the family] made just for you because you’ve loved it since you were a kid, a table abundant with choice and more than you can possible comfortably eat, and maybe even food police who ask “should you be eating that?” It challenges even the most skilled intuitive eaters among us. The Bill of Rights will come in handy.
You have the right to savour your meal without cajoling or judgment, without discussion of calories eaten or the amount of exercise needed to burn off said calories.
This, like all the items on the Bill of Rights, would seem to go without saying. After all, we are adults. And adults get to choose their food, their portions, and the speed with which they eat it. If I want to savour a thing, I savour it. That is the whole point of festive foods! To be enjoyed. Enjoy!
2. You have the right to enjoy second servings without an apology.
No worries there in my family. We are big on second servings at family dinners all year round and I’m thankful for that. As an intuitive eater, knowing that a second portion awaits if I want it translates into taking a moderate first portion that allows me to check in with how I’m feeling and making an informed decision about whether I want more and what I want more of.
3. You have the right to honor your fullness, even if that means saying “no thank you” to dessert or a second helping of food.
You know that feeling of having had enough (or too much) and not having room for dessert. When the food is as delicious as it is this time of year, that can happen. Sometimes we deal with this in my family by making a group decision to have dessert later, when we are likely to enjoy it more because we have space. But regardless of what others are doing, I know that’s always an option for me. And though it is sometimes are to put off for later what everyone else is enjoying right now, it is really hard to truly enjoy, savour, and taste something when I’m already at 9/10 or 10/10 or 11/10 on the “fullness scale.” I would rather disappoint a “food pusher” (thankfully I don’t have any in my immediate family or circle) than stuff myself beyond what is comfortable.
4. It is not your responsibility to make someone happy by overeating, even if it took hours to prepare a special holiday dish.
We are all adults here. Food is a lot of people’s “love language,” but that doesn’t mean we have to eat when we don’t feel like it.
5. You have the right to say “no thank you,” without an explanation, when offered more food.
I see a recurring theme here — “no thank you” is good enough. Indeed, given how many people explain their “no thank you” by food-shaming themselves or moralizing their decision or literally talking about their weight or their diet, I wish more people would say “no thank you” without an explanation.
6. You have the right to stick to your original answer of “no” even if you are asked multiple times. Just repeat “No, thank you, really.”
Really! Usually I meant it the first time and I do not appreciate being cajoled.
7. You have the right to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast.
Or whenever. Or whatever.
What I like about this is that it dispels some myths about intuitive eating, which is that if we release ourselves from the “diet mentality food rules” we will eat all the time, and always be reaching for desserts. That hasn’t been the case for me, and it’s not the way it goes for most people who find that intuitive eating works for them (it’s not for everyone, and Sam has blogged about some of its shortcomings). It’s as much about knowing when to say “no,” based on what you feel like eating and your own inner fullness meter, as it is about knowing when to say “yes,” also based on what you feel like eating and your own inner fullness meter.
Another issue that comes up for me during the holidays, also related to intuitive eating, is that eating isn’t an act of defiance. If I approach the holiday spread with an “I’ll show you!” attitude, I am once again being motivated by external forces rather than internal guidance. Chances are, I will eat more than I want and will not pay any attention to what I actually feel like doing. I may also shame others who are holding back, not respecting their decisions (again, when others get into the calorie/diet/food moralizing explanations for their own choices it’s hard, but I try not to engage).
Since embracing intuitive eating, I approach the holidays with confidence, eager anticipation, and sincere gratitude for the privilege of abundance in my life — not just food, but also friends and family and opportunities to gather. But that doesn’t mean some of these situations aren’t fraught. The Intuitive Eating Bill of Rights is a great set of principles for navigating some of that fraught-ness.
I’m driving on the Gardiner Expressway headed to the East end of Toronto. Just me, in charge of a car, going 95km/h on a busy highway. I start to feel this sensation in my chest, a tightness, a banging, “It’s nothing” I say and will it away. I take deep breaths and focus like I do in yoga to slow my heart rate. “I’m not actually dizzy. That is just my anxiety telling me I’m dizzy”. I don’t know, is it?
It’s 7:30pm and I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. My heart is slamming inside me again and my temperature is erratic, or it feels that way. We are going out to dinner with friends. In this second, I’d fail a COVID screen. “Cate, can I have a thermometer?” My temp is 36.5 degrees Celsius on three different thermometers (no, I don’t know why she has three). I look at my pulse on my watch, 65 beats per-minute. I eat an apple. I’m okay. We go to dinner.
I wake up at 3am, heart slamming again. I try square breathing. I slow everything down to one second at a time. I scan myself for other indicators. It’s so mysterious and awful. Is the world ending? I fall asleep.
The next morning, as she makes lists for some huge trip, I’m tapping my chest like my student does in group process when she is freaking out and needs to stay in the room, stay present, not dissociate into some abyss. There is no reason for this. I am safe, I am happy, all is well, I want to cry.
Later that evening, I’m home and still, every 15 minutes or so, my heart pounds. I idly wonder “am I having a heart attack?”. I ask Dr. Google, she isn’t sure but she can’t rule it out. It’s different for women you know, diffuse symptoms, tightness instead of pain, back ache, anxiety, neck pain, cold sweats. . .check check check. . .I’m through the looking glass now. I wake my son with the news “Your peri-menopausal mother needs to make sure she is peri-menopausal and not having a heart attack.” We drive 5 minutes down the road to the hospital.
I enter with this particular shame. What is the nature of this shame? That I am a bother. That I am bonkers. That I have enough education and whiteness to state my case with the expectation I will be taken seriously, while still constantly undermining my symptoms. They are reassuring. “You did the right thing coming to check.” I am treated with care and my kid puts on a brave face. I know that if it’s true, I will get treatment and if it isn’t, we are both taking the day off the next day anyway. Win-win.
The doctor comes in. He is maybe 10 years older than my child. He could be my child. He is handsome and perky and maybe on Aderal? Who knows what these guys do to keep going these days. He explains my blood work, it was good. My heart monitor looks good. “What about those big blips when I feel that slam in my chest?” They were right there on the screen. My son saw them too, sullying the otherwise regular beats of my little heart, a resting rate of 57bpm. Pretty good. The machine beeped at my because my breathing was too slow for it’s liking. It doesn’t understand I do yoga. “Heart palpitations. Totally normal. Hormone changes can cause them”.
I leave with a requisition for a stress test and a monitor, just to be sure. In this moment, there is no heart attack but that doesn’t mean this body belongs to me any more. It is off on its own, engaging in some process without my consent, devoid of any agency belonging to me. It just flips out whenever it wants to, in spite of my mindfulness and my coping and my measured breathing and my telling myself I am fine. I am fine. But I’m changing and there is nothing that can be done about this presently, only 79 days into the latest pause in the meno.
The wave after wave of palpitations has settled down now. Perhaps my sputtering ovaries are giving it a last go, a little respite? Who knows? No one knows. I don’t know. . .Is it?
(If you want to laugh about this more, take a look at this gem from Baroness Von Sketch.)
Last month, I got on an airplane. For the first time since December 2019.
For me, this is a big deal: usually, in The Before Times, I’d travel (for work and for me) several times a year, doing at least two round trip long haul journeys (family overseas; work all over the place). Since COVID, like so many of us, I’ve grown home-bound and weary, and wary of being adjacent to humans I don’t know. But we cannot live inside the pandemic’s trauma-inducing reality forever. And I had a voucher for British Airways to use before March 2022.
So I got on a plane one cool October evening, and flew overnight from Toronto to London.
Normally (aka “Before Times” normally), going to London for me is going to my second home. I bring my bike; London and southeastern England is where I fell in love with road cycling, so I do lots of rides. I keep a swimsuit, cap and goggles in my travel bag, and I like to hit at least a couple of my favourite London-area pools with UK swim friends (London Fields Lido!!!). I walk a fair bit too, because London is a fabulous walking city, and sometimes I head to the Surrey Hills for organized hikes with family or other pals.
This time around, I knew this movement landscape would be radically curtailed. Though it’s still riding weather in the UK right now, bringing the bike, on top of all the other COVID-related travel admin and anxiety, was just too much to think about. Swimming is still by-booking-only at many pools, so I had to think well ahead about when I’d swim and how I’d get to where I was going. Those pools that accepted walk-ins made me nervous (no UK vaccine mandates in place at pools or gyms), so I knew I wouldn’t want to do that. Hiking would have been grand, of course, but everyone is 120% busier with getting back to life now that COVID is “over” but not, well, over – and many folks are still reticent about getting involved in day-long excursions with people outside their households.
What did I do instead? How did I navigate the moving-while-traveling-under-COVID reality? How did I cope with residual COVID anxiety?
First, I doubled down on walking. I did an average of 5-8km a day, some days much more, some days less. I brought my comfortable, light-as-air walking shoes (I like Solomon Speedcross, though your mileage may vary!), and I made sure my orthotics were always in. Instead of taking the tube (more below!!) I strutted across Mayfair into the West End and across to the South Bank; on other days, after journeys to the south coast for work, I strutted along the beach in Brighton.
My foot injury still flared up, though, so I tried as much as possible to stretch; I bought an inexpensive yoga mat and blocks to keep at home with my UK family, and I also tuned into my regular Iyengar class on Zoom. I had a plan, as well, to keep up with Alex Class as much as possible, but the time zone difference got in the way more than I would have liked. I had my bands with me, though no weights, so when I did tune in for Alex I managed a light, largely body-weight, workout. That was, as it turns out, perfect given the accelerated walking regimen.
So much, so self-propelled movement; in (public) transit things were harder for me. In the UK, there are no mask or vaccine mandates in place, and cases are still pretty high. I experienced culture shock over my first couple of days – Canadians, as Cate reminded me, are perhaps among the most COVID-compliant people on earth, and pretty anxious about it! – but I found I adjusted surprisingly quickly. To keep myself safe, I wore N95 masks whenever I was in close proximity to more than a couple of dozen people (on the subway; at the theatre), and if I woke up with a sniffle or scratchy throat I took a rapid test. (In the UK these are free and widely accessible, which is brilliant, though I would have preferred a mask mandate much more.)
My big take-away for moving safely and happily while in COVID transit? Trust your body, and know that whatever movement you manage is good movement. Trust your (high quality) mask, and if you are vaccinated know you are very safe. This is not forever; you’ll get back to running/riding/swimming hard, lifting heavy, standing on your forearms while traveling soon enough. You’ll also get back to a feeling of relative safety in transit soon enough! Movement during travel is about keeping joints limber, moving with joy, keeping things loose and free, and combining movement with pleasure as much as possible. It keeps our brain cells healthy and our cortisol levels under control, too.
We know this is American thanksgiving, and lots of folks are traveling at the minute. So, tune in over the weekend for more ideas and thoughts from some of our regular Fit Feminist travellers. We hope we can offer a few options to help make the most of moving your body and staying safe and well while also moving about this holiday season.
And if you are celebrating this weekend – enjoy!
Readers, what are you doing to stay safe and move well in transit? Let us know!
Recently, the Toronto Star published this article on “winter vagina” and the general reaction from other FIFI bloggers was FFS(!). The author had a similar reaction, thankfully. But he did cite other articles about the “condition” so I had to Google.
It turns out lots of journalists think that winter vagina is – if not exactly a thing – an easy way to get published at the expense of some cheap laughs about yet another way to make women feel insecure about their bodies. I will not link to any of those posts because I can’t stand the idea of them making money off such clickbait.
Vaginal dryness is a real thing, but it is not a seasonal issue. The British National Health Service states the menopause, breastfeeding, childbirth, lack of arousal before sex, certain contraceptives and cancer treatments can all cause vaginal dryness. And another expert, Canada’s own Dr. Jen Gunter, points out that vaginas function quite well in all seasons. ‘The vagina maintains a steady temperature because it is inside your body and human body temperature only rises with the outside temperature when someone is suffering from heat stroke.’
Dr. Gunter has an entire hilarious blog post devoted to debunking winter vagina (and another on the related problem of summer vagina). She knows a lot about vaginas and winter: “I’m not a winter vagina expert because I am the Internet’s favorite gynecologist. We Canadian girls just really know how to take care of our snow forts, that’s why our national animal is the beaver.”
So if this is so thoroughly debunked, why do I want to contribute to the winter vagina “science”? For the shopping and swimming, and avoiding my overheated office, of course.
You can buy winter vagina leggings here or a winter vagina backpack here. Both are made by Mounds of Venus, which specializes in nipple and vagina art. Or wool underwear like this:
Apparently long hot baths are bad for our winter vaginas, but there is no info on what happens with a cold dip. So far my vagina hasn’t suffered any ill effects, but I’ll keep you posted if that changes.
I was frustrated at myself in Taekwondo class last week.
This problem with my heel/toe/calf is making it extremely hard to properly execute my patters because I can hold my leg in the right position. And because I can’t put my leg in the right spot, my hands for get what to do. And then I end up facing the wrong direction and…so on.
I was feeling especially annoyed because I wanted to be preparing for my next belt test but this injury is really slowing my progress.
I’m the midst of all that annoyance, I had a flash of insight.
My physical practice is pretty limited right now but I could be studying my TKD theory. I could be practicing how to describe my patterns and how to teach them. I could be watching videos and observing technique.
But, instead of doing all of that work that is freely available to me, I had been focusing on the one thing that wasn’t available to me right now.
Once I had broken that spell, I started to see all the other ways I had been letting my toe/heel/calf pain get in my way.
I’ve been able to walk each day but a lot of other cardio exercises aggravate my heel so I have been largely avoiding them.
When I started thinking in terms of what I *could* do instead of what I couldn’t, I remembered the seated cardio I did after an injury a few years back. I did a quick search on YouTube and have the one below a try – I really enjoyed it.
I haven’t turned into Merry Sunshine. I’m still annoyed about my toe/heel/calf but I feel good about this change in focus. it better for my brain and for my body.
Have you benefitted from a chance in focus like this?
I know that not everyone likes holiday fitness challenges. For some of us I know it just feels like too much, one more thing, and added stress over an already action packed, frazzly time of year. If that’s you, look away! I get it. I get that challenges of this sort aren’t fun and motivational for all. I am not interested in changing minds. This morning, I want to preach to the choir.
I like holiday fitness challenges for providing some structure through the chaotic holiday season. I enjoy taking part in them.
A friend sent me the rowing challenge–100 km or 200 km in a month. She’s about 6000 metres away from hitting her 5 million metre mark!
Since I usually only row 2-5 km at a time, that’s quite a bit of rowing for me, given how much I also ride my bike on the trainer. Yes, there are bike ergs but that’s not my thing really.
If you’re a runner, there’s always the holiday running streak.
No, not this kind of streak.
I used to love my holiday running streaks. See here and here and here. I’ve tried to do bike versions but my heart wasn’t in it really. It just made me miss running.
But for you, if you’re a runner, here are the details about the holiday run streak.
See This Is the Winter Challenge You Need to Stay Motivated: “The rules are simple: Run at least one mile per day, every day, starting on Thanksgiving (November 25) and ending on New Year’s Day (January 1). That’s 38 consecutive days of running. You don’t need to officially sign up anywhere. Just go out and do it. Five of our editors have committed to joining you out on the roads and trails through the ice, snow, darkness, and turkey-induced comas.” #RWRunStreak
It’s a more compressed time period. When I rode at the track we had a training camp that week. But this year I’ll likely be heading south for a combo biking and boating holiday that week. So no Festive 500 for me.
The upshot is that none of these challenges fit really.