fitness

Catching lotuses with my vagina

Remember last month, when the bots started flooding me with ads for leak-proof underwear and dire warnings about the need to improve my pelvic floor strength?  And then I wandered into the territory of vaginal atrophy?  (Very much a “dear god, this parachute is a knapsack!” moment, leading to all sorts of people giving me Advice about my Vagina).

Well, that first step in that little obsession with something that — frankly — I had literally never thought about before, was an ad for a little device called a “perifit,” a game-ified way to work out your pelvic floor muscles with a cute little blue-toothed app for your phone.  From what I could tell, it looks like a sex toy, but promises something far greater than mere momentary pleasure — it strengthens your pelvic floor, prevents incontinence and prolapse, and boosts your intimate wellbeing.  It promises a lifetime of pleasure!

Well, sign me up!

I wrote to the maker of perifit, explained the blog and linked the post I’d written.  Cyril and Berenice loved it.  I asked if they’d send me one to test out.  For the good of the community.

(Note:  I’m not actually sure what I meant by “good of the community.”  We talked about this at my Friendsgiving dinner, and got all excited about having Races, but I wasn’t sure if we were all going to share one and pass it around, like hippie feminists of ye olde days, or sit around in the same room, each of us kegeling on our own and staring at our own phones in glum silence, or maybe just some sort of fitbit-like community where we were collectively counting squeezes.  There was a lot of wine and pie and general merriment).

Anyway, Berenice sent me one.  She’s really nice.

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It was beautifully packaged — like unboxing a new iphone — and just as intuitive.  (I mean, intuitive if you assume that your first impulse upon receiving a small pink phallic device is to put it in your vagina.  Although you shouldn’t do that until you follow the directions.  You’ll note none of the directions say “put it in your vagina.”  That’s not on the box.  But I’m ahead of myself).

Of course I had to test it out right away, and I rushed off to chase butterflies with my vagina.

Getting it started was easy — the app is functional and really easy to follow, and it blue-tooths itself when you’re in the app. (The white thing that looks like a string is an antenna).

The app is also full of seductive promises about how awesome and fun your life is going to be with this little lass.

(I think that’s the same model from the Rebel Asana app.  All I can tell you is those abs didn’t come from squeezing her vagina.  But she did make me feel all warm and motivated.)

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Right away, there’s a little test so you can decide what workout mode you need.  I threw in a few more problems than I’m really having (Which:  again:  NOT ACTUALLY HAVING ANY PROBLEMS, bots and people giving me vagina advice!).  I ended up with Mixed Incontinence, which made me weirdly panicky for a moment.  (EVEN THOUGH I HAD MADE STUFF UP).

So I followed all of the directions, and lubed it up (water based lube only) and stuck it inside me and started the program.  First it made me practice three big squeezes to test my force (I got a number that didn’t mean anything to me but I felt cocky anyway), and then started a program.  The one that appeared had me chasing lotuses with a butterfly for two minutes.  The lotuses would be on the ground, boop boop boop, and then suddenly they’d be in the air and there would be a moment of intense ferocious squeezing then boop boop boop SQUEEZE.  (I don’t know why I’m making up boop noises — the thing is a bit eerily quiet).

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Here’s the thing (whispering):  it’s actually a little boring to lie there squeezing your vagina for two minutes.  I wasn’t rolling around or running on the beach with the nice lady, chasing lotuses together — I was lying on my bed, ignoring the cats who were staring at me, just squeezing lotuses.  Silently.

Turns out, lifting weights with your vagina isn’t inherently more interesting than lifting dumbbells with your arms.  You’re working out a muscle.  There’s a point to it.  I could feel it work, get tired.

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The app does give you all sorts of data I haven’t really figured out yet.  I really like this one little graphic, but I think it doesn’t have enough information about me yet to really put me on it.  (I don’t see my red vagina dot?)

I am a little dismayed at the score with my deep vaginal strength — because — [whispering] that’s the one that matters for intimate pleasure.

I’ve only had the device working for two sessions, so this is really a sneak peek.  I will say, it does tap into my competitive need to Count Things.  And honestly — reading about the relationship between weight lifting and incontinence — and the number of people who’ve come out of the woodwork to talk about their prolapses or peeing issues since I made that post — made me realize just how common an issue it is.

So I’m going to keep fiddling around with it.  (It needs a name.  It kind of looks like Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde, but Elle sounds like the name of the kind of birth control they advertise to young women on the backs of bathroom doors in bars and colleges.  Maybe Reese is better.  Reese it is).

I’m doing this for my own pelvic floor, but really, I’m doing it for public discourse.  What do you want to know about kegels?  incontinence?  vaginal prolapse?  this really quite nifty device?

Off to try the Intimate Wellbeing setting.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and squeezes in Toronto.

 

 

 

219 in 2019 · fitness

Workout #300 (and 301 through 305.5)

 

Tuesday this week, I had a super long day ahead of me, with really challenging work.  Somehow, I got out of bed and went to a 6 am spinning class.  (Then I might have been really annoying about it on FB).

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I’m not a crack of dawn worker-outer — but something in me just knew that this class was a thing I would need for my day. And my day was hard, but I navigated it with a certain amount of ease.

That spin class was workout #304 for 2019.

Not that long ago, I wrote about hitting my 250th workout for 2019.”  In that post, I reflected on how taking on the “217 in 2017″ challenge nearly three years ago had transformed my relationship with working out — and in fact in some ways, has actually transformed my identity.  I used to be a person who worked out often, but there was a lot of negotiation and whinging about whether I really “felt like it” or not.  More times than I can count, I got as far as putting on running gear but never getting out the door.  (Christine wrote about this kind of exercise procrastination last week.  It’s definitely a thing).

Somewhere in the past two years, I turned into a person who works out every day, pretty much, unless something seriously prevents me.  I’m not sure exactly when or why it happened — in 2017, I had to stretch to hit my 217th workout on Christmas day.  In 2018, I hit 218 by August, and kind of gritted my teeth to reach 300 before the end of the year (302 in total).  This year, I sailed past 300 last weekend, and felt confident about setting a goal of 350 by the end of the year.

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Cate pictured in the middle of a 5km run, on a trail under a painted metal bridge last Saturday, workout #300

A casual observer might think that reaching for 350 workouts this year might be a slightly obsessive manifestation of my weird affinity for counting things.  (For a very non-data-driven person, I take an unseemly satisfaction from hitting cumulative numbers of workouts, steps, kilometres ridden, streaks).  But I had a realization last week that it’s something a lot different than that — working out in some way almost every day this year has had a pretty profound effect on my emotional landscape.

I have been bleating about the relationship between exercise and mental health for years now.  It’s a proven thing, so familiar it’s almost a cliche.  Exercise can prevent or help manage depression, lessen anxiety and stress, and just generally lighten your mood.  I’ve “known” this for decades.  But I’ve never felt it in such a steady, persistent way before.

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My new yoga studio set up for a restorative class. Bliss

A couple of months ago, my business partner commented that I seemed so much more patient these days.  And despite some intense work stress and considerable lashings of perimenopausal PMS and hormonal swings, I’m actually feeling an emotional buffer — dare I say emotional regulation — that I’ve sought most of my life.  Since I was a small child, I’ve had a lot of anxiety and stress. (Picture poor little 7 year old me crying on the couch, clutching my stomach and freaking out my teenage babysitter, because we were about to move.  Then multiply that for countless other experiences throughout my life).  Most of my adult life I’ve had a tendency to impatience and irritability, with a fair bit of volatility at the worst points in my life.  I’ve taken anti-depressants, run marathons, meditated, yoga’ed, and done a ton of “inner work,” as they say.  All of those things have helped steady me — along with the magical seasoning of being past 50 — but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as in balance as I do right now.  Stressful stuff still happens — and I feel it — but I can hold it at arm’s length, breathe through it, detach from its power — in a way I never have before.

The 305.5 workouts I’ve done so far this year are a melange, ranging from a brisk 4 km walk or hour of restorative yoga to 7 hour bike rides and cross-fit classes.  Turns out, for more emotionally regulated, balanced me, it’s not about intensity of any given episode of exercise, but about a steady stream of them.  I don’t know exactly what brain/metabolic process is being triggered here, but it’s definitely a good thing.

This realization doesn’t mean I’m going to grimly trudge through a prescriptive roster of movement, for my own good. 95% of time, I fully enjoy whatever exercise I’m doing, once I’m doing it.  It’s the starting to exercise part that has always been a source of avoidance and irritation.  Somehow in the past three years, it’s stopped being optional — it’s just is a thing I do. This realization about the impact just reinforces that shift.

What about you?  Can you actually feel the difference for your mental and emotional health of regular movement?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works out in Toronto.

 

 

 

fitness

Movement, breath, intention: an accidental foray into Qi Gong

IMG_1367Two weeks ago, at my Saturday morning cross-fit class, I pulse-squatted a baby.

Like, a real baby.  A cute one.

I did it partly for the cuteness and because she laughed in such a delightful way, and partly because the class was a bit tense because of some gym drama earlier that week, and I wanted to lighten it up a bit.  But, it turns out later, the joke was on me, because I clearly was doing something weird in my hips when I was holding her safe.

Then the next day, I got all Energetic and instead of running my planned 5km, ran 11km, which I hadn’t done for a while.  It was a beautiful day, and a great run.

Then my knees hurt.

And then my quads hurt.  And my hamstrings.  And lower back.  And neck.

I tried to switch up my workouts, do more yoga, stretch, just walk for a couple of days — and then I seemed to mysteriously pull a muscle in my groin.

I yearned for the Monday evening yoga class that used to be part of my regular week, but my studio recently switched things up, and my favourite instructor has gone missing on the schedule.  Instead of Flow Yoga with Farley Monday at 5, it was Qi Gong .

I’d heard of Qi Gong, and knew it was mostly an energy practice (Qi translates as chi, or chee). I had some notion that it’s one of the things Chinese people do in parks.  It didn’t seem outwardly “vigorous” — so I decided maybe getting in touch with my chi might halt the rampant disarray in my soft tissues.  (I also scheduled a therapeutic massage).

With no idea what to expect, I hauled myself over to class.

The instructor — a white guy named Mike — was super welcoming to newbies, and explained the purpose behind the practice as he guided us through a few sequences.  Qi Gong is basically intersected with Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is designed to balance the different matrices of energy in our body.  If you’ve ever had acupuncture, it’s aimed at the same meridians — to open up the flow between them.  Or, in western terms, increasing the flow or oxygenation of synovial and lymphatic fluids and blood.  There is an increasing body of evidence (in the western way of knowing) for the value of Qi Gong (and the sister practice of Tai Chi) for bone loss, immune function, physical function and agility, anxiety and cardiopulmonary function.   

The movements were deceptively simple — what might look like from the outside like a stretch, or a reach, or a gentle twist, or an undulation — but I noticed heat building very quickly in my body, and difficulty really focusing on the full range and balance of some of the movements.  Mike led us through three versions of each movement or sequence, starting first with the simple movement, then adding breath, then adding intention.

One of my biggest challenges was following the note that we should be the only ones who could hear our own breathing.  I’m used to Ujjayi breathing in yoga, or focused pilates breathing, both of which become an energy of their own.  In this Qi Gong practice, it was supposed to be attentive and focused breathing following my own energy — but quietly.  That was surprisingly hard for me.

This video illustrates dragon whips its tail better than I can describe it:

Mike looked really graceful doing it.  I did not.

Something in my body recognized that I was doing … something… that opened up… something.  Especially in the dragon tail bit.  I didn’t feel like I was “getting it,” exactly, and the aforementioned groin issue didn’t love the stance.  But something… was happening, and I liked it.

We finished the class with what Mike described as a “qi shower” (lots of tapping and slapping different meridian points), and then a yin practice of holding a “ball” of energy between our curved palms.  I didn’t feel much in the qi shower, but the ball of energy became surprisingly real.

I’m still a little bemused by it — I think I still have a block about the value of any kind of exercise that unfolds from the inside of the energy rather than from more aggressive movements.  I.e., — is it a workout if there’s no potential to hurt myself?  And the moments where I felt any kind of flow were — not surprisingly for a first foray — few.  But there was … something.

If I can get over my notion that being deeply present to my body “isn’t exercise,” I’ll give it another try. And in the meantime, here is a good video for a beginner practice.

 

Have you done Qi Gong or Tai Chi?  How was your experience?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and overuses her fascia in Toronto.  

fitness

Circus without running away from home (Guest Post from Renee)

image2This weekend I spent an hour hanging upside down from a steel hoop (covered in hockey tape for ‘padding’) while simultaneously trying to pull my foot behind my head. On Tuesday I practised climbing up two pieces of stretchy fabric and wrapped it with my body to make human-fabric pretzel combinations.

It took several years to work up the courage to take my first aerial class, but once I did it quickly became a major passion in my life.

Aerial is a type of acrobatics performed from a hanging apparatus. These pictures illustrated aerial hoop and aerial silks – which has been my main source of body movement for the past 5 years. Over that time I’ve increased my fitness, become part of an incredible community and learned to do some pretty neat looking tricks often while hanging upside down. All without the need to run away from home.

Aerial is just one kind of circus training discipline. One of my favourite things about circus training is the diversity of options ranging from gymnastics type floor work like acrobatics and handstands, to manipulation disciplines like juggling, clown (of course) plus many new ones emerging all the time.

It’s the diversity of circus that has kept me interested for so long. When I get bored, injured* or am travelling and can’t get into the studio I work on something else. Most circus disciplines take a lot of practice to become skilled at so I’ve learned to make peace with being a beginner in lots of things. I love aerial and have developed a decent skill set in hoop and silks, but I’m also proud to be a beginner juggler, cyr wheeler and unicyclist.

So when I wanted to develop better flexibility I turned to contortion. Initially, I just worked on assuming the standard flexibility positions like pushing up into bridge, sitting in splits, pancake (straddle sit with chest/belly to floor) or whatever position I wanted to work on and tried to relax into the stretch (yeah right). After injuring myself doing splits last year I bought a few contortion books and videos to improve my training. What I’ve learned from them has been very surprising. Adult flexibility training is mostly about building strength!

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Take back bending for example. I already knew that that developing core strength is a critical factor for overall fitness. And so I’ve done planks, mountain climbers, sit ups, V-ups, straddle ups and more planks. When I started contortion training, I realized that all of that work I’ve been doing has made me strong in contraction, but that as soon as my core muscles stretched out long they quickly lost all their power. The same thing happened with my legs and hips. Attempting to move my legs around in extension without the contraction power of quads and glutes felt like a puzzle just trying to figure out which muscles to use at all. This has become a weird source of frustration and enjoyment as I discover muscles in my own body that I’d swear weren’t there before.

My other favourite thing about circus is that it is an artistic practice rather than competitive. Beginner skills done with artistry and technique can be much more interesting to watch than the most dangerous high level skills executed poorly. I’m counting on this aspect to keep me going as I get older. There are limits to what my body can do when it comes to doing difficult tricks, but I can always improve how I do the skills within my capability. Professionals combine all three but there is also a world of recreational circus students out there ready to welcome anyone wanting to give it a try. We all start somewhere, so if you’ve been thinking about trying one of the circus disciplines I strongly recommend that you find a studio/school/club and give it a whirl.

Side note on injury and danger: I’ve been injured many times, but never from falling. Bruises and overuse injuries are common, but falling in aerial is not. Because many circus disciplines (aerial and acro especially) involve height and inverting it is important to learn under the supervision of a qualified instructor. Good teachers care deeply about student safety. Learning skills low to the ground with safety mats and proper progressions are critical. The good news is that under these conditions, falling is something I’ve never seen happen at the beginner level.

Renee Frigault is a professional engineer and recreational aerialist. She works and trains in Toronto, ON.

fitness

Running my way through election anxiety

Today is a federal election in Canada.  It’s a tense time for progressives.  Our relationship with our high school boyfriend Justin didn’t survive the first few weeks of university — he kept drunk-texting us and not showing up when he promised — and we were ready to break up with him by Thanksgiving.

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But the alternatives aren’t obvious.  There’s your tough, smart and committed aunt who’s off doing fabulous things and doesn’t make it to the family holidays, your sister’s mean and sullen boyfriend, the nice guy your cousin is bringing to dinner for the first time, the brother who is always off in the other room playing some super complex strategy game, and the drunk racist uncle who won’t shut up.  Canadians seem to be all over the map, it’s been a pretty ugly campaign, and the only thing for sure is that on Tuesday morning, we won’t feel anymore like the only major western country that can sit comfortably (and slightly smugly) knowing that we’ve resisted the tension and polarization that’s shaped politics for the past four years.

There is a lot of anxiety swirling in the air.  So how do we breathe through it?

Well, my first thought was yoga.  I haven’t been doing as much yoga lately, being obsessed with my feminist cross-fit style gym, punctuated by a couple of runs a week.  But the day before a tense election seemed like the perfect time to re-engage with Iyengar yoga.  So I looked up the schedule for the studio across the street, paid for a new set of class passes (ignoring the pang over realizing that my last set expired with a couple of unused classes), and trotted on over, mat over my back.

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I signed in, collected the pile of props iyengar usually demands, and lay down to quiet myself.  A few minutes later, I suddenly became aware that the room was filling up with people who weren’t grabbing mats, and then one of the studio owners came over to check in.  “Isn’t this Iyengar?”  “No, Cindy’s away.  This is a EATT training workshop.”  I stared, stupidly — “but I signed up online?”  “The website was wrong.”

(Note I’m not even sure he apologized — he’s not the reason I go to that studio).

The person at the desk did apologize and said they were giving me an extra class credit, and I slunk out of there, my mat under my arm, feeling foolish.  Nothing like lying on your back in the wrong class to bring back all the high school angst.

So much for breathing through the election tension.  But lesson learned:  there will be frustration, and unexpected detours, and moments where I’m going to have to bite my tongue.  Got it.

An hour later, that lesson showed up for real, when someone in my life told me they’d voted conservative in the advance polls, parroting a reactionary discourse about too many immigrants, liberals limiting free speech and giving in to identity politics, and oh, the debt!  “Why would you do a thing like that?” I said mildly.  Direct and clear.

I had work to do, but the angst was still swirling. It was the perfect October day, about 12 degrees, windless, sunny.  My body was a little sore from all the squats and suchlike all week, but I decided a run would shake out the anxiety.  I mentally planned just half an hour, just enough to breathe in some oxygen.

I started running and then…  I just kept going.  Over to the valley, and up through the secret pathway through the city.  I felt strong and I felt present.  The ground was under my feet, and my body and my soul let me put one foot in front of the other.  Step, step, step.

 

At my turnaround point, there was a lesson on the bridge:  LOOK BOTH WAYS.

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Got it.  There’s more than one perspective.  Other people have reasons for the choices they make.  Vilifying them isn’t going to help anything.

I let the familiar rhythm of running overtake me until an hour and 11 km had passed.  The longest run I’ve done in a few months.  Me, at my essence.

I ran up from the valley trail at Queen Street, where the Bridge of Wisdom had another lesson:  “the river I step in is not the river I stand in,” it says in comforting iron.  Every moment will pass. No moment will be the same as the one before:

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Got that lesson too.  Whatever happens, it will pass.

I got home, knees sore, body tired, and sunk into the tub.  Grateful for my body, grateful for my neighbourhood and my city, grateful to be reminded that I have the fortitude and clarity I need for anxious times.

(And PSA for Canadians still undecided:  this site aggregates different projections and identifies the best way to vote in your riding if you want to vote strategically:  https://votewell.ca/ Vote well!

**

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who voted in the advance polls, and changed her mind just before she made the X.

 

 

 

body image · Fit Feminists Answer · fitness · You Ask

Is my menopausal belly something to worry about?

We love it when we get questions from blog readers.  This one came in last week:

There’s a general recommendation that women keep their waist circumference to 35 inches or less, because of associations with metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. It seems at mid age this becomes more of a concern.  What’s Fit is a Feminist Issue’s perspective on this?

Kitty inspecting her waistline

 

Here’s how I read this question:   we’ve all heard that carrying more of your weight in your middle (“apple shaped”) is a bigger risk for heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic issues than carrying your weight in your hips, bum and thigh (“pear shaped”).  This belief has been around for a while — I’m old, and I remember learning this in high school.  So I think the questions are — Is there evidence behind this recommendation?   When we hit menopause, we tend to accumulate more fat in our middles — so are we at bigger risk for cardiovascular disease at menopause?  Is there a specific guideline?   Is there anything we can to do manage our fat distribution with an eye to preventing heart disease?

Turns out, this is a super not easy question to answer. 

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I went down a few rabbit holes here, but I’ll try to break it down.

(But first, a quick note about gender terminology.  When I write about menstruation, menopause, vaginas, etc, I try to be conscious of recognizing that there are a lot of vagina and uterus-having people who don’t identify as female, and to de-gender my discussion as much as possible.  I’m finding this hard to do in looking at this research, because it’s strongly correlated to hormones that are categorized as male and female.  It’s also taken decades for science to begin to study gender differences around issues of cardiovascular disease at all, and I have yet to see one define what how they ascribe gender to their participants.  Given all of that, I’m going to sometimes use “women” and “female” here, because it’s what the research refers to, knowing that I am generally referring here to people assigned female at birth (AFAB), who are not taking testosterone and who are experiencing a naturally occurring menopause at mid-life).  

Why does where your body stores fat matter?

  1.  The apple/pear thing is technically called Gynoid-Android fat distribution patterns
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    Lizzo is a great example of a pear shaped body
    Gynoid — or pear — is, as you would discern from the name, more typically associated with women, with the belly-prominent fat storage (Android/apple) more associated with men.
  2. Gynoid fat distribution is controlled by female reproductive hormones, and android fat storage by testosterone.  
  3. Gynoid and android fat patterns aren’t just about where they show up on the body but where they show up in relation to your organs.  Android fat storage can compress and restrict blood flow to your vital organs and can be a risk factor for both insulin resistance and heart disease.

 

How does menopause affect fat storage?

As a general rule, as AFAB people reach menopause, they tend to gain weight.  A large percentage of this weight tends to shift to an “android” pattern, because hormonal changes make it harder to store fat around their hips and butt.  In other words, even if you didn’t have much of a belly before menopause, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll develop one after.  On average, people accumulate abdominal fat after menopause twice as fast as before.

Does post-menopausal waist size correlate to cardiovascular and metabolic risk?

I waded through a sea of science to try to get an answer to this, and the bottom line seems to be:  maybe.  probably.  sure.  What is true is that women tend to develop cardiovascular disease on average 7 – 10 years later than men — but it’s the highest cause of death in women over the age of 65 years.  Estrogen seems to have a regulating effect on several metabolic factors, which lessens at menopause.  So menopause is associated with a greater risk for heart disease and metabolic syndromes.  And women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than men with diabetes.

But it is not entirely clear whether this risk is generally due to aging and changing hormones, or fat distribution patterns.  

Do I have to worry that my middle aged belly is going to cause heart disease or diabetes?

I am not a doctor (except of patterns of words), but from what I can tell, the size of your tummy is a bit of a red herring — except that visible changes in your metabolism are a reminder that cardiovascular risk increases as we age, and women’s profile for that risk is different than men’s. 

Historically, women don’t tend to know their own risk of heart disease, and clinicians tend to under-recognize symptoms and risks in women.  So it’s important to be aware that risk rises at menopause and pay attention to things like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.  They’re imperfect but important indicators of changes in your body.

What about hormone replacement therapy?

HRT in post-menopausal woman does help protect against intra-abdominal fat accumulation — but there is no evidence at this point that it reduces menopausal cardiovascular risk.  So it might make you feel better in different ways, but it doesn’t change your risk. 

So what do I do?

As we preach often on this blog, weight is not the issue to focus on.  If you want to lower your risk for heart disease as you reach menopause, the biggest “bang for your buck” seems to be:

 

Until I did the reading for this post, I didn’t really know how much risk of heart disease changes at menopause.  What was news to you?

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and jumps around in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fitness

Should I be worried about vaginal atrophy?

Last week I wrote a post about how the Bot Ad Overlords and my friends crowdsourced me a new anxiety: incontinence. I alluded to another worry that’s coming close on its heels: vaginal atrophy.

Or, as the New York Times recently called it, “the incredible shrinking vagina.”

What exactly is vaginal atrophy?

Essentially, as your estrogen levels drop during menopause, the “skin of the vulva and vagina become thinner with a loss of elasticity.” Labia minora can also shrink. And all of this is commonly accompanied by dryness, or, other symptoms during sex, “loss of lubrication, an uncomfortable sandpaper-like sensation, pain, difficulties achieving orgasm and even tearing of the vagina or vulva. There is also an increased risk of urinary tract infections.” Oh — and also according to the NYT — “as estrogen is crucial to maintaining the bacterial colonies of the vagina, there can also be a change in the type of bacteria, which can lead some women to notice a change in their typical smell.” This delightful array of symptoms is formally known as “genitourinary syndrome of menopause” — or GSM.

I think I speak for all of us when I say:

So what to do? What to do?

That link to the NYT piece has some basic suggestions, including obvious things like unscented soap, lube and vaginal moisturizers. But these are about managing symptoms — to try to do any prevention, you need to explore with your doctor about whether different pharmaceutical options, like vaginal estrogen creams etc., are a possibility.

This is where the feminist piece comes in for me: short of asking me “are you still having periods?” my doctor has never raised or mentioned anything about peri-menopause, my aging uterus or dwindling hormones — let alone my shrinking vagina. (I’m working hard here not to start to mentally distance myself from my discomfort here by using terminology like “my petrifying pussy” or “languishing ladygarden.” I never use those kinds of terms, but my inner voices are all like, eek must make this a joke!) It’s one of those not-talked-about things.

We were talking about this NYT piece the other day and Susan pointed out that if things are going to shrivel, by the time you become symptomatic enough for a doc to treat it as a thing, things are already shrunken, and you’re managing symptoms, not preventing anything.

So this is my little feminist rant for this: older vagina-having people are sexual beings, and it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to want to preserve your juiciness. Docs aren’t going to offer anything until it’s a problem. Topical estrogen seems to be a (relatively, of course) safe option to prevent shrinkage. Seize your own destiny on this.

What’s up next in the “Icky Things my genitals might do” series?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and ages and frets in Toronto.