Small steps, big gains

Last week I made a quilt. It wasn’t a quilt with a fitness theme, but I did get my fit on. I deliberately set up my cutting mat on a table quite far away from my sewing machine, and I positioned my ironing board equally far from both the mat and the machine.

The end result, I easily got my 10K steps in. I had previously noticed that when I spend time on housework, I get my 10K steps in be it going up and down stairs, carrying baskets or vacuum cleaners, cleaning, sweeping and the like. I tend to think of sewing as sedentary, but last weekend I realized the only sitting I did was when I bound the quilt.

The next day I felt in my shoulders the effort required to push three layers of a 70 inch by 50 inch lapquilt through the sewing machine. Upper body workout for the win!

I work as a writer so I am often at my laptop for long stretches. Generally though, I try to move around in between those stretches. I’m glad to find out that even without my regular workouts (suspended during this winter’s lock down), I’m reasonably active.

Now that the weather is better, I aim to get outside more frequently as a walk outside beats housework any day!

Luckily for us, lockdown has been lifted and I’ll be back training with my socially distant, but no less enthusiastic trainer this week.


March mood: Martha feels meh

It’s March, and we’re in between seasons, when it is neither winter nor spring in my part of the world. Every day is a challenge. Should I wear boots or sneakers? Do I need a hat and mitts or a windbreaker? Put things away too soon and a winter storm dumps 40 cms of snow. Keep the winter clothes in the closet and all we need is a sweater. Decision-making becomes a chore and predictability, at least for a short time, looks appealing.

Every year I think it will be different, but nope. Yesterday SamB shared this graphic:

Image shows four blocks with a frustrated anxious-looking bird: Everything feels so gross!! My discomfort is vague and broad. My grumpiness is vast and directionless. The world is an ill-fitting shirt and I have nothing to change into!!!

I actually felt better. While I couldn’t put my finger on a specific irritant, I felt seen. The fact is while I am not bored, nor am I hungry or thirsty, I am feeling disenchanted, discomfited, and dare I say it, disturbed.

To disturb means to interfere with a normal arrangement or the smooth functioning of a process. To feel disturbed then is to feel ruffled, much like a cat rubbed the wrong way.

This cat can’t even any more. Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

The pandemic has left many of us disturbed. Our usual arrangements have indeed been interfered with, and none of our processes are smooth, and in some cases, they are definitely non-functioning. We may feel very much like my favourite Baby Yoda gif, wanting to hide in our comfortable travelling cradle, sheltered from the annoying sharp pointy bits of life in pandemic time.

In military parlance, a retreat can be a strategy and not a defeat. In wellness circles, a retreat is an opportunity to withdraw to a place of shelter or seclusion for reflection and renewal.

Last year in the late summer, I went on a retreat. A friend lent me her little house around the bay. As we start on our second year of life in pandemic times, I realize I need to retreat more than once a year. The batteries need recharging as the demands of daily living and working remotely, without regular contact outside our bubbles, drain them more quickly.

Self care strategies can be immeasurably helpful when we feel less than optimal, and in more severe situations, counselling and ongoing support can offer necessary lifelines. A friend going through a rough patch has embarked on a course of anti-depressants.

The key is to pay attention, to notice, to examine, and yes, to retreat. It may be the pandemic, it may be the never-ending winter, it may be your last nerve, or it may be something that needs more than a cookie, a cup of tea, or a hug. Be well, stay well.

MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s where it often feels like spring will show up in the first week of June.


When you zoom, you can zoom zoom

I don’t know how many people remember the car ad from a few years ago where an adorable little tyke watching a sleek car drive into the distance whispers with awe “zoom, zoom.” I think of the kid a lot as I log into yet another Zoom meeting and imagine our teams zooming along the Internet highway.

Recently I facilitated a two-hour session on line and the next day I got a note from one of the participants who thanked me for including a ten minute break in the session. It was the first time they had attended an online session with a break built-in. I was shocked. I asked a few of my friends and several confirmed it had been their experience too with some meetings.

Now we are almost a year away from the anniversary of the WHO calling the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but even when we had face-to-face meetings, we had breaks to refresh, refill beverage containers, or get a snack.

Online meetings aren’t any different, even if you are wearing pyjama bottoms or leggings for most of them. Here are some ideas on how to make your next meeting more energetic and less draining:

Think about your meeting format — Does it have to be an online video call? If there’s only one person and it’s someone you see regularly, consider picking up the phone instead. You’d be surprised how much shorter telephone chats can be compared to online video calls. You can always take your call standing up too. Consider using chat, texts, emails or direct messages to focus your conversation. Having to type or dictate can also make meetings brief.

Consider how long your video session should be — If your meeting is an update on project activities, consider a walk and talk if people are able to do do so and it’s not chucking down with rain or snow. Assign each person five minutes to focus their update. If you can’t get outside to walk, have everyone stand for the meeting if they are able. Heaven knows we sit enough through the day. There’s an added benefit: meetings where people stand are shorter by 25% according to Forbes. Just because you are online doesn’t mean you have to sit for the whole of it.

Turn the camera off — Last month I started work with a new group and we don’t use our cameras at all when we have our meetings. It’s been quite freeing as no one knows if I am standing, stretching, or lying on the floor with my foam roller.

Build in different kinds of breaks — If your meeting will go for an hour, build in a stretch break at the 30 minute mark. If you are planning a working session between two and three hours, build in a five minute break for every hour online, and make the break at the halfway point at least ten minutes and up to 20 (depending on how many time zones you are working with).

Breaks can be anything you like. Most people want to refresh their coffee, tea or water; grab a snack; or have a bathroom break. I sometimes play a song for the break; that way, people know when the music stops, it is time to come back to work.

I like including a specific activity break because it reminds people that they need to move in a conscious way and not just to fetch something. A group activity can bring people together by boosting energy and shifting gears from one agenda item to another. Here are some things you can try:

  1. Chair yoga (doesn’t require standing). This video (Chair Yoga with Adriene) is an especially nice one to do and at six minutes is a good length for a mid-session break.
  2. Shake it out (can be done standing or sitting). Have participants turn their camera off. Starting with your right arm, tell people to shake it out five times, then move to the left arm and do the same. Repeat with each leg. Then repeat each cycle, counting down from four to one and picking up the pace with each number.
  3. Play a happy bouncy song and ask people to move in whatever way they like to the music (again with cameras off). This is one of my favourites.

Finally, think about blocking out parts of your week as meeting free zones. Or limit yourself to only one or two online meetings a day if you can. Look at your energy levels and your productivity. If you can’t avoid online meetings, make sure the agenda includes breaks including one using movement. What are ways you are incorporating activity in your online meetings?

MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.


It’s World Yoga Day

Image is a cartoon by Sandra Boynton celebrating World Yoga Day. It shows various creatures in different yoga poses.

I came to yoga late. I think it was because I associated it with looking a certain way and being a certain size. A friend introduced me to hatha yoga about 15 years ago, and I quite liked the mix of bodies and levels of experience represented.

My favourite is yin yoga. I have very tight, cranky muscles and ligaments. This yoga practice helps me focus as it stretches me out. Throughout the pandemic I have heard of many people picking up yoga for relieving emotional tightness and anxiety. My friends have found online yoga classes to be helpful.

If you are new to yoga, look for someone who is wiling to provide modifications for various body types and abilities. It is perfectly acceptable to use props like blocks and bolsters to get you in the position. No one starts off being able to get into crow position or reach a headstand. Begin where you are, even if you start at breathing.

Be well, stay well.


Here we go again … Lockdown 2.0 2021 edition

We are socked in lockdown mode in Newfoundland and Labrador. We had been doing well. Fewer than 390 cases around the 1st of February, and then boom — almost three weeks later, we doubled that number with an outbreak of COVID-19 variant B. and the number of cases on Feb 18 is at 803.

Our chief medical officer of health was swift and decisive. Once we knew there was a significant outbreak the city locked down in what the MOH called a circuit breaker. Two days after that, once the variant was confirmed, the whole province shut down.

Black and white image shows a weight bar with two plates, one on the bar and one on the floor. Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Yes, we had been doing well. I had returned to working with my trainer in the summer. I had missed the gym during our first wave. I missed the weights. The bar. The bands. All of it. I was glad to go back with just me and my trainer, six feet apart. Doing all the right things.

And now I am not in the gym and I expect that will be on hold for a while. What isn’t on hold is my training. No, I did not invest my own set of plates and barbells. I gathered up the various bits and bobs I have collected over time — a skipping rope, a yoga belt, TRX bands, an ab wheel, some kettlebells etc, and in a scene reminiscent of the film Apollo 13, I sent a snap to my trainer and said here’s what I have — what can we do with it? In another, I sent a list of all the exercises I could remember to do without prompting.

And now, I’m back. My trainer built me a plan, even using the odd terms I adopt to remind myself what an exercise looks like. I have a checklist, I have a plan, I even have two small portable whiteboards that I can write out my activity work for each day. I also have a good supply of dry erase markers in different colours so I can tick things off with joy and funky colours.

Image shows a table open to a planner app with a blank page. Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

It’s the little things, and the big things. When I saw how likely it would be for Lockdown 2.0, I noticed I was stressed, but I was not anxious. Unlike last March when we had so little information, now we have a lot. Lockdown still isn’t a picnic but we have tools and we can make do quite well. It’s not the same, but it’s fine for what we must do to be safe and well. And I’ll take getting closer to fine over anything else. Even if I have to use a foam roller to get me there.


Tiny habits for the win …

A month ago I wrote about creating tiny habits to increase my activity. I chose the word activity on purpose. Lots of times in January, we hear people talking about their fitness goals. I have fitness goals too, but this year I wanted to try something new. Rather than think about fitness as the ultimate goal, I wanted to focus on activity.

Image shows the cat-like demon Lucy jumping in and out of its cell.

My thesaurus defines activity as action, hustle, motion, movement, and my personal favourite, goings-on. Adding more activity means I tend to focus on getting out of my work chair and doing something that requires me to move. These days that means stretching, doing modified mountain climbers and high knees, and going up and down my three flights of steps as many times as I can in a day.

I’ve been tracking steps for a while with my Fitbit, and my objective analysis shows I’ve added 2500 steps a day more with adding an activity when I do three things: get a beverage (coffee or water), get a snack, and go to the washroom.

But there’s more (isn’t there always?). I have a wonky hip joint and it occasionally likes to complain. In December, I was feeling out of alignment. I have a couple of exercises I do when I feel the hip getting cranky, but I wanted a way to check it was still in place. I also brought back what my original trainer called high knees — I march in place bringing my knees up as high as I can. When I first started adding them at random times as part of three tiny habits, the hip was twitchy. Now it is not. Yay tiny habits!

I still have specific fitness goals (increase my deadlift weight by 5% for example) but I’m not going cracked trying to squat in 30 and 60 minute specific fitness sequences daily. What is happening is I am getting in about 30 minutes through five and ten minute slots. Some days I get in more, and that’s a good thing. I’ll keep the current pace until the end of the first quarter, and then we’ll see what’s next.

What are some of your activity hacks that you are trying this year? Let us know in the comments!


Get your fit on with a shovel!

I know there are other months that have 31 days but there’s something about January that seems to make it twice as long as any other month. Even though we are now closer to spring than we were to fall when the days started to get darker, it still seems like spring will take forever to arrive.

I am reminded in the dim days of this longest month of Allan Bradley’s evocative description of time stretching endlessly. In one of his lovely Flavia de Luce series, the author sends his hero off to boarding school where Flavia notes despondently that “The hours trudged by with chains on their ankles.”

The thing about January though is that it brings snow. Heavy, wet snow, and usually there lots of it. It certainly can feel like chains when you look at your drive and sidewalk.

Image shows a large Husky type dog staring grumpily at the photographer while snow is falling. Photo by Kateryna Babaieva on

As I write this, the forecast is calling for a big storm here on the East coast of Newfoundland, and while not quite reaching the epic proportions of last year’s Snowmaggedon, it’s enough to close schools, offices and other places of business and break out storm chips and other cozy, warming, and cheery things.

Perhaps you too live in a place where there is snow, and lots of it. The problem with snow as an adult is that it often requires removal. Here we also get wet snow, which is heavy, clumpy and when ploughed off the street, also liberally laced with chunks of ice.

So my Fit Feminist pals, let’s look at getting our fitness on with snow removal. Yes, there has been research. Mostly on men. This study from 1995 (!) had nine men either push or shovel snow from an accumulation (or snowfall) of between a foot and a half to two feet.

The researchers didn’t note the amount of energy expended but they did conclude the following: manual clearing of snow in conditions representing heavy snowfalls was found to be strenuous physical work, not suitable for persons with cardiac risk factors, but which may serve as a mode of physical training in healthy adults.

Most of the available research on snow shovelling and cardiac risks focuses on men because men are the ones traditionally doing the shovelling. Snow shovelling works your arms, your shoulders, your back, your legs, and your core. You will breathe hard so if you are the slightest bit asthmatic, you will need a face covering as well to warm the air going into your lungs.

However, some researchers suspect cardiac events may be fewer in women than men because women shovel snow differently. Until there’s actual research looking at it though, we have to accept snow removal is hard work, regardless of sex, and while there’s no appreciable difference in the exertion used with either a shovel or a pusher, you have to be careful regardless of what tool you use.

Here are a few tips for health and safety, should you not be someone who owns a snowblower or who doesn’t have a kind neighbour with one:

  1. As you would with any other strenuous exercise, warm up your muscles before you start.
  2. Dress appropriately. Dress in layers as you will sweat. Wear a hat to keep heat in.
  3. Assess any potential danger (piles of snow on the roof of your porch, your car, or trees). Also look at where you plan to throw your snow. Be kind to your neighbours.
  4. Use a shovel that works with your height and use one that is not too heavy to start with.
  5. Take frequent breaks, stretch, and hydrate.
  6. Remember to watch your back: Bend your knees and engage your abs when you’re lifting that shovel full of snow! (Thanks to Irene for posting this safety tip below!)

After you are done, pat yourself on the back. Have a hot shower or bath to soothe your muscles. Admire your handiwork. Remember, while you will probably have to do it all again in a few days, it beats the gym any day.

MarthaFitat55 has her own shovel and knows how to use it.

fitness · WOTY

Martha’s word of the year: hold fast

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of choosing a word to define my year. It’s a popular practice, with some using it to define their art practice, some to guide their planning for the year, and some others to explore the meaning and impact of that word in their daily life.

Mina and Cate have shared their thoughts on their word of the year in the last couple of days. I thought I would share mine because it represents a departure for me. Previous years I have used create, imagine, focus, and dream. This year I chose hold fast, not one word but two.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash Image shows a blue rope with a knot against a yellow plank.

Hold on its own felt too much like I wanted to put life on pause, and heaven knows, I had had enough of that feeling in the spring. A nautical term, hold fast means to stay the course, but it also means to maintain the strength of your convictions, or to align yourself to something that will help you keep moving forward.

Last year, I felt like I was often stuck fast, firmly held back by conditions or needs not within my control, most of them arising from the pandemic. This year, it seems natural to look at all the ways I can hold fast to what really matters and why. As I work better with questions, I wrote a few down in my calendar to act as prompts for the year ahead.

  1. How will I maintain my practices in fitness, work, and home?
  2. How do I maintain my focus, keep moving forward, and still hold true to my values?
  3. When must I stay the course and when must I let go?
  4. How committed or invested am I in an outcome?

The word of the year opens up lots of possibilities for thought and for action and I am excited by the power that offers for change and growth. What else might you be thinking of doing in this new year ahead? Let us know in the comments.

MarthaFitat55 writes from wet and windy St. John’s.


Big rocks, tiny habits

Last year before the old year ended and the new year began, I wrote about making my priorities the big rocks that got placed first, and then using the remaining space to fill in with other activities.

Photo by Gelgas Airlangga on Image shows a tiny seedling.

I was successful with some parts and not so successful with others. It’s been a strange year with the pandemic so I am not surprised some stuff I wanted to do went off the rails. However, I am not spending any time on whatifs or should haves. Instead, I am looking at what I have learned and how I can change up some of my practices and habits.

I’ve gotten into scheduling and specificity, something Christine Hennebury has written about here. Then Sam reminded me about habit-making, and I remembered a post TracyI wrote back in 2016 in which she reported on a study that debunked the 21-day rule to form or break a habit. In fact, the research says it takes about 66 days to make a new habit stick.

Sam’s reminder came in the form of an article and audio piece talking about BJ Fogg and his latest book, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything. Fogg, a behaviour scientist at Standford, has developed a framework that supports the hacking of human behaviour to make changes stick.

Fogg describes the foundation of his Tiny Habits framework thusly: There are three things that come together at the same time for any behavior to happen.There’s got to be motivation to do the behavior. Second is the ability to do the behavior. And the third is a prompt. The prompt is anything that reminds you or says, “Do this behavior now.” And when those three things come together at the same moment, a behavior happens.

At its simplest, Fogg’s theory about looking at your goals, breaking them down into the small steps, and identifying the tweaks (tiny habits) you can make to get you there. In his example of wanting to read more, he recommends first scaling back the goal to its smallest point: reading a paragraph a day. As it is so small, there’s no excuse to avoid it.

Second, he says to find a natural place in our daily lives to make this happen. Maybe reading is something you can do over breakfast, on the subway, or in the bath. Third, associate the successful completion of the activity with a positive emotion. It could be a little dance, a fist pump, or singing a chorus of your favourite song.

Reading this article came at the right time for me as I work on my plan for the coming year. I’ve been looking at why (motivation) I want to do certain things, I’ve been trying to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) about the objectives, and I have been really looking hard at the prompts and rewards.

I’ve reupped my participation in the 221 in 2021 Challenge; in light of my desire to make activity a daily habit, I’m looking at Fogg’s principles and seeing where and how I can add a little more movement every day naturally.

What might be some tiny habits you will adopt this year to help make positive changes?

MarthaFitat55 lives and works and moves in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.


Dec. 26: Wellness Calendar (Collected Edition)

I’ve collected all the posts in my wellness calendar for you to keep handy. Wellness and self care steps are not just useful for the holidays. The winter will be tough in many places as we go through our second, third, or even fourth waves of the pandemic. There will be other holidays, other sets of expectations to manage. Please remember though, you are enough. You are doing your best. You have value and worth. Be well, stay well.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash Image shows a stack of rocks.

Dec. 25: Make yourself a priority

Dec. 24: Read a book

Dec. 23: Enjoy a cup of tea

Dec. 22: Stuff the turkey not yourself

Dec 21: Embrace the light

Dec. 20: Feel the feels

Dec. 19: Get in touch with your senses

Dec. 18: Get close to water

Dec. 17: Try something new

Dec. 16: Unplug

Dec 15: Make a doodle

Dec. 14: Get dressed

Dec. 13: Have a cuddle

Dec 12: Take your meds

Dec. 11: Delay gratification

Dec. 10: Pick one thing

Dec. 9: Stomp, stomp, stomp

Dec. 8: Stretch, stretch, stretch

Dec. 7: Laughing is good for you

Dec. 6: Get some fresh air

Dec. 5: Move with music

Dec. 4: Take a nap!

Dec. 3: Remember to eat

Dec. 2: Stay hydrated

Dec. 1: You are always enough