Halfway there… Or is it a new year already?

As a professor the start of a new year can sometimes feel like a brand new year. But for me it always feels a bit betwixt and between – my heart feels the hope and possibility springing forth in a new semester while my brain is singing “whoa, we’re halfway there… whoa, we’re living on a prayer…”  

The start of a new semester always brings up a feeling of reflection for me. I am thinking about previous semesters, wondering how our alums are doing out in the world, prepping courses and making changes to update the curriculum, etc. It’s also a good time to think about fitness for me.  

I typically prep my schedule for the first few weeks in advance, as much as is possible. I block out time for workouts, mental health breaks, and time with supportive friends and loved ones. And then week one hits and I have to remember the old saying “(wo)man plans, God(ess) laughs.” Week one hits and it feels like we are off to the races.

In my new-ish role as department chair I spent a lot of that first week getting other folks (students, faculty, etc) settled into the semester. There are also an incredible amount of meetings coming back into those first weeks, especially if you’re somewhere that faculty are “off contract” (aka not paid to work) over the summer.  

For me, the absolute best thing to do is to hold to my schedule and get some movement in to each day, whether it’s a walk around campus or a workout in my basement gym. It helps me feel grounded and keeps some of the “things still to do” doom-loop at a minimum.  

You know where this is going, right?! I have done almost no intentional movement since school started 10 days ago. I showed up for a scheduled workout with my trainer and I virtually “met” a friend for a spin class over the weekend. After each of these sessions I felt good. Strong. Clear-headed. I told myself that I wanted more of this feeling and I needed to protect more time to get movement into my day. And then I promptly laid down to take a nap.  

It is what it is, friends. Some days are hard. Some weeks (months and years too) are hard and we need to get through them however we can. I know that intentional movement will come back to me. When I look at bike mileage stats from previous years I often see a dip for Sept and a surge from October through the end of the year. I feel fine giving myself a little grace right now.  

a koala napping in a tree
Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash

As we discuss here all the time, fitness has many elements. Sometimes we prioritize rest to get the best improvement in our overall health, and sometimes we prioritize movement. My anecdotal data tells me that it is hard to prioritize both at the same time, but it is a goal I keep trying to meet.  

How is your September shaping up? Are you settling in to a new routine as fall approaches or is it same as always in your world?  

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


June is for Gardening

If you’re like me your annual interest in gardening just kicked back in. I’m not a gardener… I don’t pour over seed catalogs in the winter, I don’t draw out maps of what my garden should look like or put too much thought into what varietals I want to plant each spring. But when my friends start talking about their garden, posting pictures of early blooms and cursing about the vicious bunnies who eat their new buds…. Well, I get FOMO (fear of missing out).

A couple weeks ago that FOMO feeling settled in and I started talking to my partner about what we should do with our front yard. I’ve long lobbied to pull the grass up and make it something pretty. Some friends have done a lot of research into pollinator gardens and I absorbed some of that knowledge through conversations with them. Suddenly we seemed to be in agreement on what to do, and poof – the grass was gone. Just kidding… it was hours of hard work, all of which was blissfully done by my partner.

It seems I’m not alone in getting the garden bug around this time of year. The National Garden Clubs, Inc. has designated the first full week of June as “National Garden Week” and The National Wildlife Federation has declared June to be National Pollinators Month. Noting that pollinators are crucial in supporting our food ecosystem, the National Wildlife Federation notes that pollinators are responsible for 1 of every 3 bites of fruits and vegetables we consume!

A yard filled with various green and red shrubs with black mulch in front of a tan house.
Our work-in-progress pollinator garden

Thinking beyond fresh food consumption, gardening itself can offer a lot of health benefits. National Day Calendar recognizes June 6 as National Gardening Exercise Day, and says gardening is not just therapeutic but also builds muscles. Activities such as weeding, planting, pruning, and mowing offer natural forms of exercise and strength building, along with stretching and flexibility. Exposure to sunlight and fresh air also offer health benefits by increasing our Vitamin D and boosting our immune systems.

National Calendar Day also recognizes June 13 as National Weed Your Garden Day. This day, they say, is intended to remind gardeners to take an extra 5 or 10 minutes to weed the garden(s). My informal survey of gardening spouse and friends reveals that weeding is not considered a fun activity, but it does provide a chance for lots of good movement with all of the stretching and bending involved.

While National Calendar Day isn’t able to provide the origins for either weeding day or gardening exercise day they do offer some reasonable sounding suggestions for getting started and managing this type of movement (

1. Start slowly. Just like any new workout program, small steps.

2. Use the right and left hands equally.  When raking or shoveling, switch hands every 5-10 minutes to give each side a good workout.

3. Make sure to breathe. Deep, cleansing breaths bring oxygen to those working muscles.

4. Lift with your legs! When lifting, bend your knees. Don’t lift with your back.

5. Drink plenty of water.

6. Enjoy your garden. Visit it often!

Specific to weeding they add the following tips (

1. Committing to regular weeding to reduce weed growth.

2. Weeding after a good rainfall while the soil is soft makes it easier to clean by the roots. 

3. Weeding your garden with a friend to makes the job go faster and feel more like a celebration!

4. Rewarding yourself with tall glass of something iced and refreshing as you admire your weed-free garden.

How about you – have you been bitten by the garden bug or are you just enjoying your neighborhood blooms?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


Dear Body, I’m Listening

“I don’t feel sick but I don’t feel great. Something is wrong.”

That’s what I said to my partner a couple weeks ago. It had been a long week of high-stress situations. By the end of the week I was struggling to just stay afloat, and was facing another busy week ahead. Some old anxieties had kicked back up, stuff I normally didn’t give too much space. It felt like a storm was brewing in my body.

The next day I started with a sore throat, and the day after that I tested positive for covid. Finally the brick wall I had run into made some sense. Since the incubation range varies so widely I don’t know when I was exposed, but based on my mood and heightened sense of… I don’t even know what to call it… I feel like I could almost pinpoint it to the moment.

All is well now, and although I am still recuperating in some ways, I feel a million times better. The anxiety level has dropped significantly and due to some covid cancellations my schedule has loosened up. I was fortunate that my symptoms were mild and I could socialize and work remotely to help ease the loneliness of those isolation days.

What am I taking away from this experience? A few different things, but mostly that I know my body and how I typically feel. For a long time I have felt disconnected from my body. I’ve been told that I’m a “motor moron” (ie there’s a disconnect between my brain and my motor skills), that I’m clumsy or uncoordinated, etc. And I’ve been believing those things about myself. About my body, but also about the ways that those ideas limit what I can or should be doing. This isn’t to say I’m about to tackle some new crazy challenge I didn’t have faith I could complete before, but it is a good reminder to trust how I feel. Even when I don’t know the reason I feel a particular way, I can still give myself grace and ease as I work through those feelings or experiences.

“I don’t feel sick, but I don’t feel great.” How many times has a woman said that to her doctor? To her family? To anyone who would listen? And how many times have folks brushed aside her comment, saying she probably just needed to do XYZ thing (sleep, eat, lose weight, etc). A lot of us have been taught that our bodies are separate from our being. That our bodies are traitors who wont act how we want them to act as we age or experience other changes. I often hear friends say they “just don’t feel like themselves” after their bodies have changed, but they’re not able to quite pinpoint why that is. If our bodies are tired or sore we’re told to work through “the pain” but not to go so far as to ignore “real pain.” When did tiredness or soreness stop being real and instead become something to push through? If we’re disconnected from our bodies how can we determine what real pain feels like?

I’ll be continuing to grapple with some of these questions, but I will also come back to this post to remind myself that I am connected to my body. I can know and feel things without having the answers for why they are there. I can trust my body.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


Taking It Outside

Spring has sprung in New England! Or at least some version of spring where we start to see flower buds and sunshine at regular intervals. Here in my little corner (near Boston, MA) we did not see much snow this winter. That is not true for all of my neighbors, but my coastal city doesn’t follow any weather rules, thanks to the ocean just doing what it wants.

Funny meme showing different seasons, including some made up ones. Arrow pointing to indicate we are in "spring of deception" now.

Last weekend my partner and I went to Stowe, VT for a few days. Our first night there it snowed and we were awed by the delights of seeing snow fall in/on the mountains. The following morning our walk to breakfast was cold and windy, but by midday it was 60 degrees (15.5 celsius) and sunny. We did a fair bit of wandering around in the sunshine, capped off with our first outdoor brewery visit of the season. We remained awed by the snow on the ground in the warm sunshine (we may be easily entertained.)

This brief exposure to warmth left me excited for upcoming days on our new back deck. I wasn’t the only one, because we weren’t home more than an hour from our weekend trip and my partner was taking the tarps off our deck furniture. Seems we both have the bug. With the furniture uncovered we’ve both been able to take some of our virtual meetings out there, and our dogs are getting acclimated to lounging on the deck (versus the many other places they lounge.)

Sunset over the ocean next to walking path with a metal railing.
King’s Beach facing Red Rock Park
Lynn, MA

All of this has me thinking about what types of movement activities I can take out on the deck this season. The desire to be outside is a relatively new one for me, so while so many other FIFI contributors have written about their outdoor adventures I have never really enjoyed those types of activities. I was a bookworm kid who hated the feel of grass of my bare feet (still do,) one who sunburned easily (still do,) and one who craved alone time in a cool, dark room (still do.) But now I also have this craving for sunshine, to feel the warmth on my back while enjoying the views and the nature going on around me. I notice which of the plants, flowers, and shrubs have buds, and I am excited for their blooms. And I think about what, besides reading and zoom meetings, I can enjoy on the deck. Here’s my list of things to try this spring:

– yoga

– stretching

– barre classes

– resistance band strength training

– meditation

None of these will surpass my one true outdoor summer activity, open water swimming, but they will be great pre- and post-swimming activities, or just good on their own.

What outdoor activities are you excited to try or get back to this season?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · sleep

The Joy of Napping

A cozy bed with fluffy pillows and freshly laundered sheets… a comfy couch with a four-legged friend curled up behind your knees… a hammock hoisted up in a sunny patch… a beach lounger with your toes tucked into the sandy beach in front of you… there are as many ways and places to nap as your imagination allows!

A sea lion napping on a bench. Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash
A sea lion napping on a bench. Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash

We’re no stranger here at FIFI when it comes to talk about naps and rest (a small sampling of earlier nap/sleep posts: Sam, Martha, Catherine). I started thinking about this a bit ago when I realized that February 28 was National Public Sleeping Day. Winter has (finally) arrived in New England and I was dreaming about being in a place with suitable weather for outdoor public napping. Short of taking a snooze on a mall bench public sleeping isn’t usually an option for me in February, given our chilly weather. Of course we can’t tackle a silly (probably made up) “holiday” like sleeping in public day without thinking more about who is allowed to snuggle up on a park bench for a short respite and who would be penalized for doing so. It also started me thinking about where most of us would feel comfortable sleeping in public. I’ve had a couple jobs where I could close the door and grab a short nap, but I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that in the employee break room. I’ve napped at the beach, in my car, and on a blanket in the park. I’ve fallen asleep at the movies, and once in a department store while waiting for someone to come out of the dressing room. It wont come as a surprise after reading this to know that I’m a big fan of sleeping and naps.

Are you dismayed that National Public Sleeping Day has passed for the year? Never fear – Napping Day is just around the corner on March 13. According to the linked site, napping day was created to mitigate the lost hour of sleep from the “spring forward” shift due to Daylight Savings Time. That’s a “day” I can get behind, especially since my dogs can’t tell time and insist on sticking to their same breakfast time. We’re all a little tired after the switch and a day of napping is a welcome reprieve.

I almost never napped as a child. I used to drive my babysitter wonky because I would keep all the other kids up at nap time. Eventually she started bringing me into the sitting room with her, where she would close her eyes and listen to Days of Our Lives (it was the 70s!). I would ask her if she was sleeping and she said “just resting my eyes.” I napped a little bit more as a teen, but I didn’t really come to love naps until my 30s. These days I nap pretty regularly, even if it’s just a quick 10 minutes before moving on to the next part of my day.

How and when is your next nap coming? Will you be outside laying in a patch of sunshine? Curled up with the family pet? Face down next to your lunch container at your desk? Where ever you end up, I hope it is a wonderful snooze!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · new year's resolutions

Getting Outdoors in 2023

I’m not sure where the month of January went, but it seemed in a hurry to get there. Time flew right by, at least for me. In the spirit of New Year, Same Me I added very little to my plate related to challenges or resolutions. I picked my WOTY (create) and set some yearly goals that support my vision for the year.

Through that process (and this blog) I came across one new habit I wanted to add to my life. It takes me a long time to build a habit, and so I try to avoid stacking too many new ones together at the same time. The new habit I’m trying to adopt is Gretchen Rubins “Go Outside 23 in 23” – the goal of this challenge is to spend 23 minutes outside every day in 2023.

My plans are a little less grand. I’m not someone who does well with an “every day” challenge. I miss a day or feel overwhelmed trying to shoehorn something in and then get resentful and annoyed at whatever the task is. Or disappointed with myself that I “couldn’t even get that little thing done.” So I’m taking a more gentle approach to this outdoor habit/challenge.

I’m aiming to spend 23 minutes outside on MOST days in 2023. And by 23 minutes I really mean some amount of time I wouldn’t normally spend outside on any given day. My lowest time spend for January was only 5 minutes, but it was a struggle that day to get those minutes in and so I am counting them.

So far I’ve got a fairly good split of 23+ minute days and days in the mid-teens. And more than a few days of 0 minutes. I love winter, but I’m not a winter sports person, therefore my outdoor winter wear is fairly limited. January in New England was a mixed bag of bitter cold, downright balmy, and rain. So much rain. I also ushered the new year in with a nasty cold that refused to take leave, so spending longer than necessary in the cold, wet weather didn’t seem wise on some of those days. All told I checked off 16 days in January that I added outdoor time into my routine.

Rubin recently made a blog post titled “Tips for Going Outside in Cold or Wet Weather” which included strategies from podcast and social media followers to get more outdoor time into their days. I was glad to see there were many folks taking compassionate measures and modifying in ways that best suited their lifestyles. Some comments shared:

– determining what temperature is too cold (“23 in 23, above 23 degrees”)

– heated socks and gloves

– investing in comfortable cold weather clothing, such as a snowskirt

– turning a garage space into a recreation area where the doors can be open even on inclement days

– spending time looking outside from a sunny window when it isn’t feasible to get outdoors

This habit appealed to me as someone who works from home quite often. I also have a home gym where I do most of my fitness-related activities, and overall I was feeling like I needed more fresh air and time in nature. Last year we added more outdoor space onto our home, and I want to build my practice of spending time outdoors and enjoying those spaces more.

Are you doing the “23 in 23 challenge” or something else similar? Any tips for getting outdoors on those days where you just don’t want to put pants on (I just layer up in my pjs and go stand on the deck with a warm beverage)?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · habits · Happy New Year! · new year's resolutions

New Year, Same Me?

Every new year’s season we face the onslaught of marketing telling us that a “New Year, New You” is possible. A few years ago a friend and I started saying this phrase sarcastically, which then morphed into “New Year, Same Me,” sometimes with a few curse words added in for healthy measure.

As someone who tries to adopt a growth mindset in most areas, I really struggle with both ways of framing the new year. I’m not going to become a “new” person. And I’m not likely to stay the same, either. I hope to grow and change in ways that meet the current challenges and joys in my life. I don’t want to feel “stuck” with my old ways of doing things, but I am not going to be a new person at the stroke of January 1. I’m not going to get fitter, leaner, or smarter at the stroke of midnight.

Photo by Jess Bailey from Unsplash. Rose gold pen resting over an open yearly planner book.
Rose gold pen resting over an open yearly planner.

And yet there is a strong pull to believe that could happen, thanks to the layers upon layers of marketing that tell us it could be so. And then there are the headlines! Oh, the headlines. “It takes 21 days to build a habit” “Resolution-makers unlikely to stick with resolutions” “Resolution-makes do better with habit-building than those without resolutions” and on and on they go, each one contradicting the next.

Here’s what I know about me… your mileage may vary – I like the fresh hope a new week/month/year bring when thinking about habits or changes. I like to pause and reflect on the previous time span, thinking about how I met (or didn’t) meet the goals I put forth, what things brought me joy, and what changes I could make to get more of those experiences. I like to dream up fun ways to challenge myself and new experiences I could share with my loved ones.

I also know it takes me way longer than 21 days to build a habit. The last habit I intentionally adopted took me 6 months to adopt, and another 2 months before it felt like a natural part of my routine. Sometimes I do better with starting on a “new” block of time, but other times I’ll just randomly start a “streak” on a Tuesday afternoon and keep it going for some period of time.

I know I only have the resources to focuses on one or two new things at a time. I cannot drastically increase my fitness time and my writing time simultaneously. I can’t take up a winter outdoor activity without updating some of my outdoor clothing and gear, which may conflict with a “low-spend” resolution. I do better when I can plan some of these conflicts ahead of time. Maybe I’ll do a low-spend period with the exception of outdoor gear updates. Or I’ll decide in advance that I want to prioritize my writing over anything else when I run short of time and/or energy. My brain likes knowing what the plan is before the conflict happens, even if the plan doesn’t always get followed as written.

All that is to say…. I’m both overwhelmed with possibility and exhausted by the same. I’m embracing the quiet and cold season to reflect and rest. I’ve chosen my word of the year (create) but I haven’t really landed on what that means just yet.

How about you? Do you have plans to become a new you? The same old you? A mildly different you? What is your plan for the new year?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


On Gamifying Streaks

Last week I was reading Culture Study’s interview with Adrian Hon about the gamification of “streaks.” I’m writing this on the day of The NewsGuild of New York (representing journalists and other staffers for The New York Times) strike, and am seeing lots of social media posts about folks breaking their Wordle streaks in solidarity with the workers today. I’m also writing it just after completing a quick meditation on a certain app, which was useful to centering myself before moving on to the next task, but was also motivated by my desire to keep my daily streak going in that app.

We talk a bit about streaks on this blog, and I always see folks in my personal life mentioning when they are on a new streak or hit a milestone in a streak they are in. As Adrian Hon says in the Culture Study interview, the gamification of streaks is prevalent across many platforms lots of us use in our daily lives.

Hon talks about how platforms are using gamification to draw users in and keep them active in the platform with the use of streaks. I’ve been thinking more about how streaks come to a halt. Choice versus chance. Today many of us are choosing to break our Wordle streaks. I often choose to break my sleep meditation streak when I’m on vacation. Sometimes I choose to break a fitness streak if completing the workout for the sake of the streak starts to feel a bit obsessive. Other times I break my outdoor walking streak because it is raining and I am not a duck.

On the flip side, I often break ongoing streaks due to chance. By chance I mostly mean that I forgot to do the thing. Maybe it was a subconscious choice. Maybe I fell asleep reading before I started my nightly meditation. The day may have just gotten away from me and the streak activity completely slipped my mind. The gamification wasn’t strong enough to keep the activity front of mind, or the plan to execute didn’t go as intended.

One thing I found most interesting in the Hon article is the discussion of small, or analog, gamification versus bigger gamification that removes human judgement. Hon says:

Your mom’s marble system is a good example of smaller “analog” gamification, which can help structure activities and set goals and measure progress, especially when that progress is hard- won and toward a journey whose end is more abstract. My swimming lessons had similarly low-tech gamification, where we got badges for being able to go 25m without stopping, or for being able to pick a brick up from the bottom of the pool. These kinds of achievement badges and scores can be genuinely useful as training wheels for things we really care about doing. 

A virtue of small-scale gamification is that it’s easily customised and involves human judgment. Your mom could easily change the goals or give you more marbles for extra effort. It’s a human who decides whether a goal has really been achieved, like the swimming instructor who made sure I wasn’t pausing for too long between laps on a test. 

The problem is when gamification — the use of ideas from game design for non-game purposes — expands beyond the bounds we consciously set. It’s one thing to buy Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure to intentionally gamify your home exercise. It’s another to buy an Apple Watch because it’s the only smartwatch that Apple allows to be fully integrated with the iPhone, and you start getting notifications just before midnight badgering you to “close your rings” by going for a run, or to always be offering shiny achievements for increasing your calorie burn month after month. This kind of scaled-up digital gamification quietly substitutes the goals of corporations (maximising engagement and profit) in place of our own goals. Worse, it removes human judgment entirely; there’s no-one at Apple who can decide you deserve a day off your calorie goals. 

What offends me as a game designer, however, is how so much gamification made by corporations simply isn’t fun. Instead, it’s the thinnest, most thoughtless layering of aesthetics and mechanics from game design onto an unappealing activity. I hated cross country running at school, and I’d still have hated it if my teachers made us use Strava to get virtual achievements and compete on a digital leaderboard. But I loved playing five-a-side soccer with my friends every weekend – and we only kept score so that if things got too lopsided, we’d swap players. 

This whole section reminded me that I am actually terrible at pre-determined streaks, and I am much more successful when I control the parameters. I don’t try to “streak” my daily meditation, but instead I ask myself to complete a meditation, yoga session, or some other mindfulness practice (drawing, coloring, knitting, etc). This lets me ask myself what activity will work best for me and supports the “streak” of habits that support me throughout my day(s).

Mostly all this talk of streaks reminds me of my favorite streak from childhood…

A black box with white text that reads "Some of y'all never read 100 books to get a personal pan pizza and it shows"
Text reads: Some of y’all never read 100 books to get a personal pan pizza and it shows

How about you? Do you enjoy streaks or find them frustrating and easy to obsess over? Something in-between?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness · menopause

Book Review: Next Level

by Stacy T. Sims with Selene Yeager. This is the follow-up book to Sims Roar, and focuses specifically on physically active women approaching or in menopause. I was interested in this book after I saw numerous women in triathlete and cycling groups singing its praises. Before I go further into the review I want to note that I found the book covertly fat-phobic and would not recommend it to anyone with disordered eating (or in recovery) or to anyone who just generally doesn’t want to be told repeatedly that maintaining or improving body composition is a key reason to remain active. I’d also add that the book discusses only women, and does not recognize that some people who menstruate/experience menopause do not identify as women.

Part One of the book offers a detailed overview of menopause. What it is, what it does within the body, and the possible impacts it may have on people experiencing perimenopause and menopause. I found chapter 3, focusing on hormones and symptoms, especially useful for breaking the whole process down into simple language and explanations.

Part Two of the book moves on to performance. It is probably useful to note here that this section is geared toward athletes. While this includes recreational athletes it does not feel as inclusive of folks who are regularly active but not “athletes.” There is no definition of the difference between those two levels of activity, but my personal sense is this book is not written for someone who spends their days chasing kids around a playground or someone who does a medium-intensity 30 minute workout a few times a week. The schedule templates and descriptions are more in line with someone who is training for an event, who works out 6-7 days per week, often with an endurance (multi-hour) session or race included. Though you would not discern it from the title “Next Level: Your Guide to Kicking Ass, Feeling Great, and Crushing Goals Through Menopause and Beyond” this book is not written for an inactive or low-activity person.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 focus on the specific types of activity Sims recommends: HIIT, SIT, lifting “heavy shit,” and pylometrics and jumps. She gives an overview of different high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprint interval training (SIT) structures (tabata, hill sprints, 20/10, 40/20, etc). Here’s where the language about “performance-boosting body composition changes” comes back up, along with Sims belief that HIIT and SIT strengthens and increases amount of energy-producing mitochondria, improves insulin sensitivity and lowers fasting blood sugar levels, triggers anti-inflammatory response when done regularly, stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) keeping gray matter healthy and improving cognition and working memory. Sims is a big believer in “lifting heavy sh*t,” citing benefits in strength building, increased metabolic rate (waking up more muscle fibers which requires a lot of energy to exist), improved posture and stability, stronger bones, better blood pressure control, maintenance of healthy body composition (defined as maintaining lean muscle, reducing fat gain), and fewer sick days (improves immunity). She also includes tips for lifting heavy sh*t, including warm-up moves and basic heavy lifts. Finally, Sims discusses information about jumps and plyometric moves, citing research that supports plyometrics being beneficial for improved muscular strength, bone health, body composition, posture, and physical performance. This chapter also includes a guide to these movements, working in phases from beginner through intermediate levels.

The next 10 chapters focus on aspects that can impact athletic performance, such as gut health and microbiome balance, diets and proper nutrition fueling, nutrition timing, hydration, sleep and recovery, stability and core strength, bone strength, exercise scheduling, and supplements. Many chapters include descriptions of athletes Sims has coached during the menopause transition, offering a description of the concerns of each athlete and the training (including each of the above elements) plan Sims developed for the athlete, and the outcome of each case.

CW: body weights discussed here — Throughout the book Sims offers examples using body weight as a guide (ex: macro calculations for a woman weighing xxx lbs.) These numbers are often quite low, as are the body weights of the athletes Sims describes in her case study sections. The average woman in the U.S. weighs 170 lbs, but the women Sims writes about or uses for sample information weigh significantly less than that. Further, there is little discussion about how to manage macros for larger athletes, which may feel daunting to the many athletes at or above the “average” range. Lastly, I would note here that Sims uses some calculations that include BMI without further discussion about the problematic development and history of the BMI (although she does note that the BMI is less useful for some athletes and that there may be more useful tests.)

The final chapter offers different templates for putting all of this information into practice, including macro targets, training plans, and symptom tracking.

Final thoughts: I found the book to be informative in many areas, and I’m glad I read it. That being said, I don’t see a lot of implementation in my future, although I plan to talk to my trainer about lifting more heavy sh*t. As someone who Sims would likely categorize as active but not an athlete I’m much more focused on functional fitness (like getting my 70 lbs dog in/out of the hatchback), but I’d gladly take some relief from perimenopause symptoms, some of which are hitting me hard. I think Sims falls down in two areas in this book, the first (fat-phobia and body weight) I’ve already covered. The second is Sims reliance on relatively small studies to strengthen her claims, which she (accurately!) says identifies a lack of research done with people who menstruate/experience menopause. Where I think Sims shines in this book is her ease in breaking down medical/scientific terminology into layperson terms, and in her encouragement to start small/slow and work up to the plans she includes here. This type of staggered implementation may help readers avoid overwhelm and injury.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · meditation · mindfulness · sleep

A Year of Meditations

Last October I jumped on the Peloton bandwagon. A lot of my friends have one of their bikes and it felt like folks from all different areas of my life were happy with the classes. I don’t have a Peloton bike, but I am able to set up my bike with trainer to be able to take some of the Peloton classes using their app (I don’t get Peloton metrics with this set-up, but I have Zwift and Garmin metrics and am happy with those.) I learned that Peloton offered an “educator discount” on their app and off I went with a whole new world of strength, yoga, walk/run, and bike classes to try out.

A neon "breathe" sign on a background of greenery. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash
A neon “breathe” sign on a background of greenery. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Peloton offers a lot of “programs” which are classes they string together in a series. You need to complete class one before moving on to class two, etc. I quickly noticed that they had a two week meditation program called “The Power of Sleep.” As someone who struggles with both falling asleep and staying asleep, I was intrigued by this series.

I have always liked the idea of meditation, and some parts of the meditation practice, but my attempts at regular meditation had been met with a lot of mental resistance and feelings of failure for not being able to “get out of my own head.” I’ve come to understand that those feelings are common and part of the process itself, but it took me some time to get there. Soon after I downloaded the Peloton app I began exploring their meditation classes, seeing which instructors I liked and what types of meditations were available.

Once I discovered “The Power of Sleep” series I decided to give it a try. The meditations were short, most of them only 5 minutes in the first week. My partner and I go to bed at different times most nights, so I would do the meditation just before going up to bed. I found them to be a nice transition from whatever I was doing before that (usually tv or reading), but I still had chores to do after the meditation, such as letting the dogs out and teeth brushing routines. I completed the two week series and went back to my previous on/off cycle with meditation for another week or two, but I noticed it was more on than off.

My partner was away one night and I put a sleep meditation on while I was in bed, just about ready to fall asleep. It worked so well and I fell asleep almost as soon as the meditation was over. I began to brainstorm how I could listen to meditations without disturbing my already asleep partner, and I discovered a headband with headphones built-in. I was already a sleep mask wearer to block out extra light, so wearing something on my face/eyes wasn’t something new to get used to… the headband was a little more compressive, and the on/off buttons hit right on your center forehead (or over your eyes if you are pulling it lower), so that did take some adjustment. Being able to listen to sleep meditations as I drifted off to sleep made the adjustments worth it, and I quickly fell into a nightly habit.

Over the past year I’ve experimented with a variety of meditation classes and instructors. I’ve narrowed my favorites down to about 3 instructors and a strong preference for “body scan” meditations. I don’t mind taking the same class many times, but I do have to rotate my most favorite so I don’t take the same class too many times in a row – that causes my brain to think I should memorize the whole class. Instead I have about a half dozen classes that I rotate through each week, and I always try new classes to see if they will make the rotation.

Pink sky with a rainbow over a lake
My spot when I need a “nature meditation.”

I have not meditated daily for the past year, but I have been way more consistent with meditation this last year than ever before. I will often reach for a short meditation during the daytime hours now too, usually when I arrive at my office and am getting settled in to a busy day. I appreciate that my sleep practice makes meditating at other times of day easier, as my brain and my body know what to expect and I can settle in more easily without a lot of mental resistance.

We talk a lot about meditation on the blog (and in our world) and at times I have felt frustrated that I wasn’t “getting it” or able to do it right. I’m glad this was something I kept trying until I found a way that worked for me… maybe that means there is hope for my yoga practice too!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.