fitness · Guest Post

Step Counters and the Guilt Triangle: Food, Friends, and Fitness (Guest Post)

After a few years of participating in our employer’s annual team-based “step challenge,” Tracy decried step counters on Facebook. I then boldly announced that I would provide a counterpoint blog entry in defense of them. (Spoiler Alert: Did I actually think she would be wrong about something?)

My teammates and I (“Ahead by a Century”) have been stepping for just over 25% of the 100-day “Global Challenge.” This initiative involves teams of 7 combining their daily fitness activities tracked by step counters. A mobile app encouragingly shares the team’s progress, releases virtual badges for achievements, provides health information, etc.

Having done this challenge before, I knew there would be highs and lows in using a “stepper” (as I started calling it while being thoroughly searched by US airport security guards after forgetting to remove it for the metal detector/x-ray thingy). So, to prepare for this blog entry I have kept a brief journal. Over the past 31 days I have occasionally ranked my stepper as a motivator, with 1=not motivating, 2=somewhat motivating, 3=highly motivating. From my 15 entries, my stepper shows an exercise motivation level of an average of 1.8 so far.

Stepper

With each entry, I have described how and why I reported that particular rank. Let’s compare my first, middle, and final entries:

First Entry: Went for a walk at night to get to 10,000 steps. Stretched after soccer, smelled lilacs, and walked off the Wendy’s Frosty I bought!

Middle Entry: At day 11 I have noticed that my pattern seems to be guilt to exercise from either the bad food I eat or the fact that my team is counting on me. The stepper itself is not motivating, but it keeps me honest in a way that I probably would not be without it, especially at 11:30pm at night.

Final Entry: Many, many days of <10,000 steps. Will walk today. Guilt.

Certain patterns have emerged in my 15 comments. These include:

Getting to a certain number of steps: 7 mentions
Mention of food or beverages: 6 mentions
Statements of criticism or guilt: 5 mentions
Statements of affirmation and satisfaction: 3 mentions

Early in the step challenge, I noticed that “I enjoy the exercise when I do it, and it offsets my guilt or gives me something to enjoy.” However, mid-way through I also noted that “when my frustration or tiredness is stronger than my guilt I do not exercise.” On some occasions I expressed frustration with the stepper itself, such as on a travel day I wrote: “Dropped it and it slid into the airport bathroom stall beside me, and I almost didn’t say anything to get it back.”

There were days when I cut myself more slack, such as when I spent half of a day in a hospital’s emergency room. “Getting sick puts the step challenge off the table,” I wrote. “I feel like I’ve let my team down when my exercise for the day is walking to and from the various rooms of the hospital building (but at least I didn’t take the wheelchair!)”

A quarter of the way through my step challenge, I have determined that my friends (challenge teammates, soccer team, etc.) push me to exercise, and guilt over food or drink often pulls me. I describe myself exercising just to work off the pizza I had, or running in circles in my bedroom just before midnight just to get to an even number of steps.

In conclusion, because I have been so focused on achieving a certain number of steps, rather than associating the exercise with my health, so far overall I have not been motivated by my stepper in positive ways to increase daily activity levels. I’m not sure that this is what the Global Challenge folks had in mind, but at least this added “mental exercise” has given me pause for reflection on my current habits.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I have to finish this post and get off my computer to go for a walk, as I’m only at 3000 steps and it’s already 5pm.

Elan Paulson is soon to be newly employed, and is an occasional FIAFI blogger.

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accessibility · cycling · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

eBikes: Moderate Exercise for the Un-Stationary (Guest Post)

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Elan Paulson is a moderate, unstationary exerciser.

You know about the health benefits of cycling, but you don’t prefer to exercise indoors and on a stationary bike. You also know about economic and environmental benefits of outdoor cycling, but unlike your cycling-obsessed social media friends (it’s the shorts, isn’t it?), you’re maybe not quite ready to commit to battling hilly terrain on human- rather than horse-power.

Enter the eBike! (“e” is for “electric.”)

I watched a bunch of Youtube videos about how they work, and I recently spent 4 hours riding one around the coastal city of Wellington, New Zealand. So, I am by no means an expert on eBikes (except to verify that it makes very good sense to own an eBike in this lovely but hilly, windy city).

eBikes sell for between $1000-3000. Apparently there were over 32 million of them sold in the Asian Pacific in 2016, compared to about 150,000 in North America. In 2017, Buddy from Forbes was fairly impressed with his eBike experience, describing lightness, ease of use, good top speed, and rain-proofing. As with all batteries, eBikes have a defined life cycle (Buddy reports 2-4 years, about 500 charges).

My report on eBikes, based on my limited but quite fun experience, will be simple:

  • EASY: With all the same gears, brakes, pedals, etc., it’s literally so easy it’s like riding a bike.
  • CHEAP: This is likely true if comparing money invested in both cars and gym memberships.
  • GOOD OUTDOOR EXERCISE: Go not with the throttle type but the type whose motor engages only when you pedal, and you can actually cycle in all types of weather.
  • FLEXIBLE INTENSITY: If you’re not feeling the burn on any particular day (or part of the ride), you can instantly toggle between electric gears to get a moderate to high “boost” when you pedal.

Just like any other device of convenience, you’ll have to remember to plug it in. And you may have to put up with jibes from your purist cycling-obsessed friends when you’re out on the trail together. (But when you’re passing them up the next steep incline, who will be laughing then?!)

Above: eBiking. Scenery and vistas will vary.

Have you used/owned an eBike? What was your experience? Are there any downsides I have not considered?

fitness · team sports · winter

We Do Us: A Fun Run in the Snow (Guest Post)

Previously I have blogged about the 2016 Mudmoiselle as an example of the “party run phenomenon” and how a completing a winter obstacle course helped me to “find my tribe”.

This year, wearing our red winter finest, Team Freezer Burn made its return to the Polar Rush obstacle challenge (and fundraiser for Sick Kids) at the Horseshoe Ski Resort North of Barrie, ON. Set up along a zipline and golf course adjacent to the resort, the event had participants run the 5km without disrupting the skiers and snowboarders on the hill. The untimed race had wall and hill climbs, slides, and balance activities that were completed individually, or cooperatively if someone needed encouragement or a hand.

Freezer Burn Team members, including the Spicy Chicken and I, Tonya.

Afterwards, our team celebrated with an evening of hot tub soaking, food, and games at the hotel, during which we recounted and laughed about the day’s events into the night.

Over breakfast at Timmie’s the next morning, my roomies and I discussed some of the reasons why we enjoyed this all-lady, team-based activity:

  • It made 2 hours of exercise more fun;
  • Some work (and exercise) indoors, so the outdoor activity was a welcome change;
  • Running as a team, everyone was supported, and no one was left behind;
  • Everyone’s comfort levels were accepted–“You do you,” as my roomie, Jordan, put it.

Together we reflected on how this winter fun run provided a situation-based activity that we felt were different other women-folk event. Jordan compared it to (the often but not exclusively male) relationships that develop while watching sporting events or poker nights, which don’t revolve around exclusively talking for its own sake. While complaining, gossiping, or other types of chit chat over coffee or wine have their place, such socializing often involves sharing about our own separate lives. In contrast, the chat following our obstacle course run involved enjoying memories made together–a life experience that friends, old and new, had shared.

This post is titled we do us because for me it describes our fun run in two ways. First, the team’s vibe was inclusive and supportive, but we also honoured our differences. Based on our various levels of fitness and interests, team members could opt in or out of any obstacle or social activity—with absolutely no judgement. Second, we weren’t just being together—we were doing together, which meant participating in a shared experience, even as we were each experiencing it differently.

This vibe may not be for everyone, but it allowed this particular group of women to have a lot of fun. And winning the team award for Best Costume—that was pretty fun too.

Elan “Red Cheat-Ah” Paulson of Team Freezer Burn, which won Best Costume at the Polar Rush!

Elan Paulson works at Western University, and she is a converted Fun Runner. She thanks Jordan P., Deb V., and Mary Lou G. for thoughts that contributed to this post.

fitness

Indoor Climbing: Reality vs The Web (Guest Post)

By Sarah Rayner and Elan Paulson

On the weekend, seven middle-aged women (ranging from 39-57) go rock/wall climbing at the Junction Climbing Centre. Virtually none of us have prior climbing experience. We walk in, get harnessed up, and with our two young but experienced instructors we get safety and climbing instructions. In no time, we have all had our first climb to the top under our belts and quite happy with ourselves. We continue climbing different walls with different levels of difficulty….We were doing this and looking good!

At first, we were all apprehensive of the climb up: finding finger and foot holds and letting go of the wall and repelling down. You were really aware of your space on the (high!!!) wall and problem-solving how you were going to continue the climb up to the top. The experience was scary, but thrilling at the same time.

After the climbing we went next door to the local craft brewery and had a couple of beers, chatted and laughed about the experience and the fears that some of had to overcome. We then started talking about our next adventures as a group…Polar Rush, Yurting in Tobermory, some personal adventures like Peru Machu Picchu, Nepal, Hawaii and Kilimanjaro.

Post climb, we looked at a random selection of web pages about climbing, which has become a multi-million dollar industry for men and women. Here are some of the online messages that, based on our experience, we say to women who are new to climbing, either Heck Yes or Look Away!

Heck Yes!

  • The physical benefits (fat-burning, muscle toning, etc.) of climbing. We concur: even with only one time out, we agreed it was a tiring but rewarding sport!
  • The equality of male and female climbers, as women’s “strength-to-weight” ratio offsets any lack of power and reach. The ratio of men to women at the Junction was easily 50/50, and we went just before “ladies night” started.
  • The fact that climbing is a form of “active meditation,” requiring focus but also heightened mindfulness. We found this is true, if for no other reason that if you aren’t paying attention you will literally fall off the wall.

Look Away!

  • The focus on climbing and women’s physiques: “If you’ve ever seen female rock climbers, you know exactly the effects climbing has on the body.” No. We saw greater climbers with body types of all shapes and sizes.
  • Over-expensive climbing clothes that seem only marginally related to the sport. Just wear light clothing that breathes.
  • Photo galleries of extreme climbing. They are often awe-inspiring photos, but for novices they can be intimidating or heighten your fear. These pics may not represent your goals, and that’s totally okay.

Here are a few “tips for new climbers” that we probably should have looked at before we climbed (and recommend to others interested in trying out this sport):

One thing we also strongly recommend–and this didn’t show up on many climbing advice web pages–is finding a group of people who will continually cheer and encourage each other on (in climbing, as well as in every aspect of life). In the climbing gym, we were (by far) the loudest group in the building, hooting and hollering as each of us climbed. Whether experts or novices, our climbing buddies gave us pride in our personal strength. We can’t wait for the next adventure!

Sarah Rayner is a hiking goddess. Elan Paulson is a defence soccer diva.

fitness

Attempting Bathroom Yoga (Guest Post)

I just returned from a fantastic yoga retreat weekend at Camp Queen Elizabeth up in Ontario’s Georgian Bay. I have some lower back/hip flexor muscle tightness (as does virtually everyone who works in an office job), and the time that I spent for a full hour each morning stretching and sending out blessings to the universe gave me a happier body and mind for the rest of the day.

But Monday I awoke NOT meditating at dawn near still waters as I felt the sun rise, but with an alarm buzzing about the day’s meetings, a partner already halfway out the door, and two cats meowing in my face for breakfast.

I have many excuses that prevent me from practicing my ideal version of slow, quiet, and private morning yoga at home. My place is small, and exercise requires moving furniture around. Getting up an hour earlier means going to bed an hour earlier, thus sacrificing other treasured bedtime rituals. Some days there are youths loudly preparing for school in common living areas. Considering these factors, I’ve convinced myself that I don’t have the space and time for morning practice, leading me to deprioritize stretching and meditation as an “inconvenience” in my typical busy life.

(And of course, I am aware that this “typical busy life” is also one of privilege, in which as a middle-class white cis-woman I can ponder the “inconveniences” of stretching and meditation, and have the means to afford a yoga weekend, in the first place. I also recognize the complex issue of cultural appropriation of Eastern belief systems and practices. Though both worthy of discussion, neither are discussed further here.)

So, as I stood in my bathroom the day after yoga camp, trying to calculate how I could incorporate meditation and stretching into all of my busy-ness, in front of the mirror I started focusing on my breathing and rehearsing a few of qi gong I liked the most from my weekend.

While I certainly didn’t recreate the serenity of a yoga weekend, after a few minutes of intentional stretching and breathing I did feel looser and more energized. Then I thought—hey, the bathroom is the first place I go in the morning, and the bathroom is a quiet, private place where I won’t be bothered (not even by cats if I shut the door quickly).

So, I have posted on my vanity a note with a few simple Qi Gong and yoga-inspired stretches and breathing meditations. I shall attempt to practice some morning “bathroom yoga” to see if this is a small but valued shift that I can make in my life.

We’ve seen some good posts on this blog about family yoga, office yoga, and goat yoga. Where and how else can we practice stretching and meditation to fit it into our busy lives?

fitness

I scored on my own goal (Guest post)

So, the other night I scored on my own soccer goal. Then we lost the game.

But more on that in a moment. First, I would like to point readers to a recent online article, Google Spent 2 Years Studying 180 Successful Teams. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits.

A summary of a summary of a study conducted by the ubiquitous Google, this article looks like prime click bait. But after the game, when I was feeling pretty down on myself for contributing to our team’s loss, I clicked.

The article explains the most successful work team traits are dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, impact, and…the fifth (you first have to scroll past an advertisement on the page for added drama) is psychological safety. Apparently it’s superfun to work at Google, which strives to cultivate environments where workers feel safe enough to take risks and ask questions so they will be “less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately…more successful.”

This list of successful work team traits list was good for me to read that night. Everyone fights their own inner battles, and fear of letting the team down has always been mine.

It’s not a unique problem, I know. Nor might it seem like a big deal. A more confident player would say, “Who cares? It’s only a game. It’s only rec sports. Everyone makes mistakes. Just think positively for next time, and get over it.”

“Getting over it” may be a matter of perception, but when one has fear her perception can be all that matters. I don’t have another Google study to back up my thinking, but I believe that fitness gurus who promote a healthy lifestyle through physical activity insufficiently address the psychological component: there may be a large number of folks (like me) who avoid or leave exercise for fear of failure, inadequacy, and judgment. Easier not to show up than to risk letting others down.

Until recently, this fear of mine, irrational and silly as it may seem, had been strong enough to keep me from joining sports teams (which is already out of my comfort zone) well into my adult life.

So, when my very greatest sports-related fear had come to pass, I turned the corner when I realized that I did have “psychological safety.” I DO (or should) feel safe to fail around this group of amazing women, whom I blogged about previously when it came to “finding one’s tribe.”

And, later in the evening, when one team member checked in with me, and another texted to make yoga plans, my clearer thinking was reaffirmed. A non-soccer friend (with whom I was commiserating) suggested that being self-aware about our fears and inadequacies can help us to re-examine with greater clarity how we perceive the judgments of others.

Now here I am, showing no lack of awareness of my private fears as I blog about them publicly on a fitness site that has recently reached 10,000 Facebook likes.

So, to the anxious late-to-the-gamer like me: find a team that will make you feel safe, and stay aware of your feelings so that you can push through them to get yourself out to the next game.

And, to the other Confident Connies playing group sports: By making failure safe for others on your team, you also enable fearful folks to play at all. For me, that win is better than any scored goal (on one’s own net or otherwise).

More feminist than fit, Elan Paulson works at Western University and plays rec soccer in London, Ontario.

fitness · Guest Post

Athleticism and Fashion in Wonder Woman (Guest Post)

by Elan Paulson

Even the “god killer” Amazonians can still be slaves to fashion.

I am certain that the writers of the new Wonder Woman film made it a top narrative priority to get Diana Prince into a dress store in suffrage-era America. Her fellow shopper exclaims with that Diana has tried on over 200 dresses, but viewers know she is looking for the outfit that will enable her to blend in as well as fight. The film makes clear visual contrasts between the strapless gold dress that Diana kicks butt in on Themyscira and the dark, high-necked piece that is trying to “choke her” in 20th century Britain. On one island women do the killing, on the other women’s fashion does.

And yet, even in the outfit Diana settles for—a simple black dress with a white shirt resembling a masculine suit—Diana’s femininity/sexuality is still not covered up enough. Barely concealing his attraction to her, Steve Trevor decides she needs fake glasses to further obscure her distracting beauty. Shortly after, the camera fixes on Diana’s glasses, stomped on and broken in the street, following her first back-alley fight. There are a plethora of “gaze” metaphors that I won’t unpack here.

The film makes easy retrospective social commentary: the clothing designed by men for women that restricted their movement is an allegory for their oppression, whereas clothing designed for movement, presumably designed for women on an all-women island, symbolized liberation.

And yet, there are still other moments in Wonder Woman that complicate this easy distinction. When Diana needs a fancy dress to sneak into a Nazi gala, she finds an unattended female party-goer who has impatiently decided to walk to the gala (another fellow “empowered” 20th century women, though far overshadowed by Diana).

But rather than dragging her into the bushes to steal her clothes right away, for a full few seconds Diana walks alongside the woman, sizing her up to see if the dress fits. There are few men who take the time to size up soon-to-be stolen clothing for fit. It stands out as both reinforcing a female stereotype (something that men wouldn’t do) but also showing Diana as a discerning female shopper. Where will she hide the god-killer sword in such a form-fitting number? (Spoiler! She uses the sword’s hilt to accessorize the dress.)

In an interview, Director Patty Jenkyns writes that “To me, [Wonder Woman] shouldn’t be dressed in armor like men […] It should be different. It should be authentic and real – and appealing to women […] It’s total wish-fulfillment […] I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time.”

Wishes may be had in Wonder Woman, but what isn’t different between the experiences of the goddess Diana and regular mortal women is the need to continue to navigate the complicated relationship between athletic and fashionable clothing, to achieve the often culturally-imposed desire to fight badass and look great at the same time.

For me the two pieces of clothing that serve the most meaning do not serve fashion at all. First, Diana’s gauntlets (or as Wikipedia informs me are “bracelets,” which are apparently an allegory for emotional control) are activated early in the film, revealing the first hints to Diana that she is more than a regular warrior princess.

Second, Diana’s headband (which the internet also corrects me is a “tiara”) has a more complex comic book backstory that is either downplayed or rebooted in favour of representing not only Diana’s status as royalty but also a connection to her family, particularly her Amazonian mentor, aunt Antiope, who trained and sacrificed for Diana.

So, while even bracelets and tiaras may suggest that women’s power lies in accessorizing, I appreciate how the film embraces (rather than avoids) women’s ongoing negotiation of athleticism and fashion, the clothing that (literally and metaphorically) liberates and constricts. May the jewelry women inherit from their female family members be continued reminders of the challenges that fashionistas past—both real and fictional—have had to face.