fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · traveling · walking

Stepping on it …

By MarthaFitat55

 

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Image shows a chart of steps achieved in a week.

 

 

Last month after almost eight months without a fitness tracker, I bought a new one just a day before I went on holiday. I had been missing my fitbit, which readers may remember that I used to track sleep, and with a return to swimming, I thought it would be good to get one that was waterproof too.

As with anything I undertake, I made sure I had a couple of “regular” days to see how I was doing stepwise, and then I was off. My average step count — if I do not think about moving in an active way– is about 5000 steps. When I travel, the count goes up since I tend to rely on public transportation or my own two feet.

I was happy to find that the counts steadily increased with each day, and about three days in, I was easily making the recommended 10K step count. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, getting 10,000 steps a day helps you feel better, have lower blood pressure, and more stable blood sugar levels. These days though, the thinking is that we should aim for 15K because:

More recently, some researchers have suggested 15,000 steps might be even better. A snapshot study of Scottish postal workers found that individuals who walked an average of 15,000 steps per day had normal waistlines, healthy cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Well, on my travels, I saw those Scottish postal workers and I raised them to 20K levels. In Fitbit language, when you make 5000 steps, you get a boat shoe award. Hit 10K, and you get a sneaker award, and 15K will net you the urban boot award. I collected those and in my last week and half, I was regularly collecting between 20K and 25K steps a day.

I did a rough calculation at the end of my trip and learned I had walked more than 300,000 steps in my three weeks, a record for me. But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. The first couple of days I experienced a wee bit of soreness in my feet as I ramped up the number of steps, but as time and I rolled on, that eased.

Since I have been back, my step count hasn’t been quite so stellar. And I have more stiffness and less flexibility. Part of that might be attributed to my return to more formal footwear, but I am inclined to think it is because I am moving less.

I also have a fairly sedentary job. As a writer, I don’t move around a lot, and that means I have to think about making sure some fitness activity is a priority for me every day. Enter the Fitbit again: I can set reminders to take a wallk or go up and down a flight of stairs.

The reality behind hitting your step quota is that more movement is better, and increasing the challenge or intensity of that activity is wonderful. Since I have been back from my break, I have been looking for ways to keep moving, whether that means bypassing the front door parking spot when I visit clients, taking the stairs both up and down, or taking a brisk walk of ten to 15 minutes.

The weekend after I returned, Fitbit sent me a message that I had achieved the Great Barrier Reef distance badge, or a total distance of 1600 miles. Totally I chuffed, I looked up the next badge, which is Japan, equal to another 289 miles. I may not get on a plane any time soon for my next hoiday, but walking to Japan virtually will be the next best thing.

— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s. She, in fact, owns several pairs of sneakers, one pair of hiking boots, and a lovely pair of cherry red rain boots, but not a single pair of boat shoes.

fitness · Martha's Musings · meditation · yoga

When the humidex is high and the will is low

By MarthaFitat55

 

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Image shows a body of water with ripples formng a series of circles. Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

We have had high humidex levels in my part of the country we call Canada. Some people think it’s all snow and ice all the time, but nope, we get heat here too. The past few summers we have seen increasing periods of humidity, the kind that I only ever encountered when I lived in Ontario in the mid 80s.

I’ve been lucky too that my training times up to now in previous summers have managed to avoid the periods of extreme heat. This year though, it’s another story.

That’s because the gym has been hotter than the gates of Hades. In fact, several times my trainer has deemed it too unsafe to train, it’s been that ridiculously hot.

When it is so warm that breathing causes you to break out into a sweat, what’s the next best option to keeping the wheels turning on the training train?

For me it has been swimming and yoga. I’ve written about my swimming adventures here, here, and here. But my return to yoga this summer after almost four years away has been a revelation.

My former yoga instructor offered an eight week yin yoga summer program, and despite the heat some evenings, I, in fact, found it quite lovely and rejuvenating.

First off, though, there were no goats nor kittens, nor were there beers or bottles of wine. This was not hip yoga, unless you mean the kind that would help me keep my hips in good nick so I can keep walking and climbing stairs.

Yin yoga is sometimes described as a passive practice because you tend to hold poses for longer periods (thus doing fewer of them in a session), but it is this holding which allows muscles to stretch and fascia to relax.

It is my favourite form of yoga because it brings you in touch on a deeper level with your breathing and your core. It also means you have to focus on stilling the distractions that keep knocking on your mental front door.

The yogi chose a different quotation from her collection to guide our practice each night. One night she chose this one: I am my strongest when I am calm (Yung Pueblo). Even though summer yoga has been finished for almost three weeks now, that quotation still rings in my ears.

Our pace of life is one that is managed by multiple demands on our time from family, friends, work, community. I had returned to yoga because I wanted an alternative for the weight training hiatus. The effort of focusing reminded me how often those demands were like tendrils winding themselves tighter and tighter, sometimes even cutting parts of ourselves off from the whole.

I am my strongest when I am calm. As I write this sentence here, I feel the stress of my day leak away.  It reminds me I don’t have to be buzzing madly like a bee from one flower to another. I can pick a moment, or a pose, and lean into it, think about what’s happening, and noticing the little changes that emerge or arise the longer I hold the pose.

Those eight little words are profound. It’s made me think again about what strength means. For me it’s been about asking for help, stepping back, pausing to breathe, feeling the moment, accepting a change in plans, approach, direction. These days, it has also meant I rest with an idea to see what happens, to understand what emerges from the stillness, and to feel the surety that comes from embracing the balance that comes from both the push and the pull.

I’ve learned that it is also more than figuring out how long I can hold it (hey there dragon pose), or if I can push it (nice to meet you flying dragon), or if I need to release it (thank you child pose). It’s about recognizing the power I have within and knowing it will still be there when I go back into the gym once it is cooler.

I am my strongest when I am calm. Yes. Yes, I am.

— MarthaFitat55 is embracing her best self and best life through movement and fitness.

 

Fear · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation · training · weight lifting · yoga

Little steps leading to big leaps

This past month has been one focused on change. We went from a relatively cool June to a muggy July seemingly overnight and training in the heat has been difficult.

My trainer and I have been experimenting, from shifting when I train so I can manage the heat to trying different deadlift and bench approaches. I am still following my trainer’s lead regarding my program, and it’s a relief to let someone else take the reins of planning and directing. People hire me for my expertise in communications and let me take the lead all the time, so I’m perfectly fine relying on my trainer’s knowledge and experience to show me the way forward in the gym.

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Picture shows a person wearing flowered gym tights and grey sneakers in the sunshine

 

It’s a choice that has let me successfully continue with powerlifting as a training focus for almost five years. In that time, I’ve managed recovery from a hyperactive hip joint, a shoulder with attitude, and a knee that constantly whined for attention.

So when Vicky said let’s try a few things, I said okay and we carried on with me lifting heavy things and putting them down, albeit in some very different, challenging variations. We used bands, blocks, pins and posts. We took apart processes and put them back together, and not always in the same way.

I wasn’t always excited about change in the gym. I really worry about reinjuring various parts so I tend to look at new moves with suspicion and a decided lack of enthusiam. However, I trust my trainer and when she proposed deficit deadlifts, I said yes. When she added bands, I said yes, and kept my fingers crossed they wouldn’t snap mid lift. When she proposed pinch presses for bench, I said yes and hoped like heck it didn’t mean I was the one who got pinched. (I wasn’t).

Each shift made the lifts more challenging and I quickly mastered the new ways of lifting, despite how weird it all felt. Each shift meant I had to change the way I carried out my work compared to the traditional approaches.

I find deficit lifts challenging as everything tends to get squished the closer you get the floor and it isn’t so easy breathing either. I quickly discovered I needed a new way to fill my lungs as the heavier the bar the more energy and breath I needed.

I tried a couple of different moves and workarounds until I felt as comfortable as I would ever feel shifting a lot of weight around. I had to do the same thing with bench presses and squats too.

Well, those tiny changes had a big impact. After three weeks of tiny steps, Vicky brought me back to traditional deadlifts and bench presses. I’m thrilled with the results — new personal records in bench and deadlift for four repeats at 100 pounds and 200 pounds respectively.

When I think on it, all my progress has come from tiny steps: from making that first decision to hire a trainer and actually walk into the gym to the actual nurturing of trust in the process, the trainer, and myself.

Each stage builds on the next, creating a space where gains in strength and comfort are possible. Most importantly, I have seen changes in how I have made fitness a part of my life. I added swimming last year when my neighbourhood pool reopened and this summer I took up yin yoga.

When I did the latest survey on my Carrot app, I was delighted to see how much time each week is now devoted to a specific physical activity. The old joke asks “how does one eat an elephant? The answer: one bite at a time. Or in my case, one step at a time, consistently.

— Martha lives and trains in St. John’s.

 

body image · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · stereotypes · training · weight stigma

Weight bias and obesity interventions: no easy answers

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A person wearing a black swim dress and pink flip flops gets ready to swim.

By MarthaFitat55

A while ago I had reason to consult with an anaesthetist. We went through the risk assessment and had a chat. The clinic nurse had told me the team might have some questions because of my weight.

Fair enough. I could hardly fault them given what’s involved in going under, so to speak. But I was cautious because context is so often missing when numbers are thrown around, especially numbers relating to the Body Mass Index (BMI).

According to that scale, one originally developed by insurance companies, I am obese. Anaesthetists aren’t fond of having to deal with obese people. So we had a chat and it was actually quite good.

Here’s the thing: I eat reasonably well, with almost all the required fruits and veggies, high fibre foods, lower fat choices, more fish and legumes, and less red meat and alcohol, our health system deems the better diet to follow.

I’m also pretty active. At the time of the chat, I was weight training twice a week, swimming two to three times a week, taking a trail walk lasting more than an hour weekly, and looking to get my steps in on a daily basis.

The doctor asked me about the weight training, and I ran through the numbers: bench was around 48kg, deadlift was around 105kg, and squat was 97.5 kg. So those numbers tipped the deal. If I could do all that, then I wouldn’t have any trouble, they concluded.

It made me think though. For the past ten years, I have acted on the guideline about eating less junk and focusing more on whole foods while being more more mindful about how active I am.

Truth is, I’m not prepared to starve nor am I prepared to add any more hours of activity (in fact I am at or past the threshold for the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week already).

At the back of my mind, I always believe I should be able to do more, and yet I can’t. It bugs me when I hear facile comments repeated in every weight loss inspiration story shared by the media. We all make choices, but some times even the good choices don’t make that much difference.

When SamB shared an article about how such tag lines like “Eat less, move more” contribute to weight bias, I was intrigued.

And I felt vindicated. Despite all my efforts in the gym, in the kitchen and yes, in my own mind, when I ran up against health professionals, who looked at numbers like BMI as reliable indicators of health, I felt my work was not enough, nor good enough, to make the difference society expected in my body shape.

Nor am I the only one. Canadian Obesity Network researcher Ximena Ramos Salas looked at obesity prevention policies and messages. She tested the messages with people living with obesity and what she heard was illuminating.

The short form is those messages don’t work. They are neither helpful nor accurate.

“Saying obesity is simply an issue of diet and exercise trivializes the disease. It makes those living with obesity feel like it is a lifestyle or behavioural choice, and therefore their fault. This causes them to feel judged and shamed, and to internalize the stigma of weight bias.”

Ramos Salas also reported “People told me that the public health messages were not relevant to their experiences. They didn’t relate to the messaging, they felt it didn’t consider other factors that contribute to their obesity that are unique to them, like genetics, mental health, medications and so on. It did not reflect the challenges that they faced while trying to manage their weight on a daily basis.”

I think these are two useful insights that should get more attention. But the best message arising from the research Ramos Salas is engaged in is this: “Not everyone who is big has obesity. People come in different shapes and sizes, so the idea that we categorize people based on their size as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ is not accurate.”

I was fortunate I met with a health professional who was open to hearing about my numbers intead of relying on a flawed indicator to make a decision about my health status. Too many people though do not and some actually close that door themselves because they are not confident they will get the care they need.

For me, my conversation with the anaesthetist helped validate my choices about the fitness path I am on even though assumptions about weight and health by others may have forced the issue. I may never meet the biased image for health and fitness such weight stigma imposes, but I know I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. To suggest otherwise is limiting and dismissive.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.

body image · diets · eating disorders · fashion · fitness · Martha's Musings

We are more than a collection of parts

 

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Women being active and not worrying about thigh gap, or hip cleavage, or any other nonsense Photo by Kyle Pham on Unsplash

It’s tiring to be female in this world. I can only speak from a cis-perspective, of course, but it occurs to me, that howsoever you come to identify as a female, there is an endless list of things you must have or prevent if you are to present acceptably as female.

 

First it was thigh gap, that space between a woman’s thighs — the wider it is, the thinner and more desirable the women. Then it was the concave navel. Now we have a new one: hip cleavage, or what I knew as high cut underwear or swimsuit bottoms to show off the hip bones.

We are all familar with the term cleavage as associated with breasts. Plunging necklines in dresses are designed to show off cleavage. There are right ways and wrong ways to show off cleavage in the upper body.

Too much in the wrong way means you end up with sideboob reveals; too much in the right way means you may risk a wardrobe malfunction and subject unsuspecting bystanders to a glimpse of the “girls.” These days, the focus, and perhaps the parts in question, has shifted to the underboob (I can hardly wait to see if there is an upper boob!).

Regardless of the terminology, the prinicpal issue is that women continue to be divided into parts. Perhaps it’s the legs (although it and the toes had cleavage back in the day). Let’s not forget the butt or the breasts, with fashion dictating whether they were perky, ample, lean or sleek.

When I used to deliver media literacy sessions to high school students, we would talk about the techniques used to separate, disconnect, and isolate girls and women from their bodies. Instead of being seen as whole, unique individuals with our own kind of beauty, women and their bodies are broken into parts and given meaning and value by others.

The obsession with thinnness as a beauty standard has fueled anxieties and nurtured the development of eating disorders; sadly, girls and women continue to starve themselves to fit a largely artificial construct of “female” beauty.

In Canada, those of us who work in health promotion talk about the vitality message — eat well, be active, live smoke free, and support mental wellness. Being active offers tremendous health benefits and it makes me sad to see fitness being used negatively to coerce women into creating and maintaining a body shape that is not natural to them.

 

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Another picture of fabulous women not caring about articifial body constructs. Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

 

Focusing on hip cleavage is just another stick we use to bash away at ourselves. It’s a stick handed to us by the arbiters of fashion and trends (I keep meaning to ask, who died and made them the rulers of the universe?) and quite frankly, I’m tired of it all.

We need to rewrite the script and start talking positively, frequently, and loudly about all the good things we can with our bodies: how strong our legs are to drive our bikes and our feet on our runs; how powerful our arms are so we can lift, wheel, and strike; how big our chests can be to ensure we can take in the oxygen we need to keep going; how wide our hips can be to birth children or to cuddle them.

We are enough as we are. In fact, we always were. Let’s remember that.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.

 

 

addiction · advertising · alcohol · fitness · Martha's Musings

What’s wine got to do with it?

by MarthaFitat55

As someone who has been exploring different ways to be fit, healthy, and happy,  the question of alcohol comes up often.

Usually the question from the fitness point of view focuses on the calories in alcohol or avoiding overindulgence vis a vis athletic performance.  When it comes to health, the issue is more about consuming too much alcohol.

Two articles of late have been making the rounds on my news feeds. The first one surveys the literature on alcohol and its link to cancer. Mother Jones writer Stephanie Mencimer began looking at this link after her own diagnosis of breast cancer even though she didn’t fit the profile as someone at risk for cancer.

The article is extensive and covers a lot of ground,  but what leapt out at me was data on women’s drinking generally. As a rule, Mencimer reported, women don’t drink a lot. But that is changing, and rapidly, because of concerted marketing campaigns pitching drinking to women: “Ads and products now push alcohol as a salve for the highly stressed American woman. There are wines called Mother’s Little Helper, Happy Bitch, Mad Housewife, and Relax. Her Spirit vodka comes with swag emblazoned with girl-power slogans like “Drink responsibly. Dream recklessly.”

But it isn’t just ads selling specific types of alcohol. There’s a whole bunch of memes and cartoons online and on clothing doing this. Consider this popular image and concept. The image shows two women running. One woman tells the other her fitness tracker calculates how many glasses of wine they have earned  through exercising.

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The image equates exercise as a means to earn food or drink rewards. Run five miles you get a glass of wine; run ten miles and you get two.

That’s not how exercise works, and yet the message is seen as lighthearted and true. It doesn’t work if you think of two men running and saying it calculates how many beer you can have.

Then there’s this one:

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With this meme, readers who are watching their weight are advised to sublimate food cravings by drinking wine. It goes further to suggest that thirst can only be quenched by alcohol.

I find this one really bothersome because the idea of moderation is dismissed out of hand. Forget having a glass of wine, drink the whole bottle. As for seeing how you feel, I doubt anyone who has drunk a whole bottle by themselves has the capacity to engage in any deep thinking.

Then there’s the marketing push from stories like this one on farm fresh vodka (made with kale!) and the latest marathon fad which includes 23 stops for wine.

I think though the worst idea for drinking came from a fitness apparel line:

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We’ve come along way since Mick Jagger sang about Mother’s Little Helper (Where’s the sarcasm emojii when you need it?). There’s so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start.

Perhaps it’s the idea that a strong woman needs help with parenting a strong girl. While parenting help is often undersold, are girl children that problematic that even a strong woman can’t cope? Or is it that the only way to cope is to indulge in strong drink (usually meaning hard liquor)?

I prefer my strength to come from lifting weights and from focusing on the ways I can cultivate resilience rather than on relying on drink to give me strength to face the challenges I have.

These memes are often shared because people find them funny but in fact, they normalize excessive drinking. Let’s take a look at what that is.

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as more than four drinks on any day or 14 per week for men and more than three drinks on any day or seven per week for women.

Health Canada defines low risk drinking as “no more than two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions.”

But limits aren’t that simple. The second article I read this week focused on the life-shortening effects of alcohol. The article reported on new research which found “people who drank the equivalent of about five to 10 drinks a week could shorten their lives by up to six months.” 

It gets worse: “The study of 600,000 drinkers estimated that having 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week could shorten a person’s life by between one and two years. And they warned that people who drink more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives.”

Contrary to those memes, the research supports a new limit for light drinking or for encouraging abstinence from alcohol completely if one wants to pursue a healthier and happier life.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer getting her fit on in St. Johns.

 

body image · diets · eating · fat · fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

The new health target of the century: kids

The news made the rounds of the health at every size (HAES) contacts I have in my social networks. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Weight Watchers was offering free six-week memberships to 13 year olds, and yet I was.

Shortly after that, I learned the makers of FitBit were launching a fitness tracker for children. According to TechCrunch, the makers of FitBit are targetting the eight- to 13-year-old market because as the Telegraph noted, we need to do something about getting “couch potato kids” off the couch and into the gym.

Because child obesity y’all. (Insert eye roll here.)

I’ll admit I’ve been on diets, and I also have used a FitBit (see this post for how I use mine). I went on my first diet with WW when I was 14 and I needed my mom to sign for me. I can’t say it was a success because despite an endless variety of diet plans, I have continued to be my own fun-sized self and not the one society said I should be.

I stopped dieting when I reached my 40s. I read the literature, I looked at the research, and I considered the methodology of the studies. These days I try to eat most of my fruits and veggies every day, be moderate about my meat consumption, and add more whole grains, beans, pulses, and fish to my plate.

I still eat chocolate, potato chips and ice cream treats on occasion, but I am more mindful about my daily choices. And when I really, really want the chocolate bar, I go for the good stuff and thoroughly enjoy it.

Diets are all about deprivation, regardless of how they are marketed. And they don’t work. The problem with marketing to teens, especially teen girls, is they already have a decade of misdirection on what a female body is supposed to look like behind them. All those messages have been accumulating and Weight Watchers is stepping up to take advantage of the anxiety-fertilized soil to grow their market.

Ultimately, the only thing the plan will do is teach girls deprivation is the norm, their bodies at 13 are unacceptable, and it is on them to change their bodies rather than society change its expectations for the form expected for women.

At first blush, there shouldn’t really be an issue with creating a tool for kids. However, there are many people who see the number of steps reached as tacit permission to indulge. Weight Watchers for awhile had an exercise component that allowed users to collect food points through exercise and then spend them on either more, or fun type foods.

Many of these exercise tools track not only steps or other types of activities but also calories and weight. If you want off the diet train and onto the gym track, it can be very hard to find a gadget or tool that doesn’t link weight and fitness. In fact, it is one of the reasons I and my trainer make a point to track personal records that are strength based instead of scale based.

Whatever your size, age and body type, we are, at least in North America, a more sedentary society. Television, junk foods and in house gaming systems are factors in the higher weights we are seeing. But the problem with marketing fitness gadgets to kids is that after awhile the appeal is going to fade. While gamification of anything works effectively in the short term for setting goals, once kids and youth get where they want to be, there isn’t a point to doing it anymore and it stops being fun.

A co-blogger on this site shared with me some thoughts she and her sister had about the Fitbit and they echo mine: “My experience with fitbits with grown ups is they don’t understand the correlation between steps and food so it almost gives them more ‘permission’ to eat that piece of cake or whatever. I only know two people who use it in the way it was designed (make sure I get in my steps to stay fit) and they are both people who would be fit anyway. For kids, it’s a good awareness raiser and a ‘game’ but if it becomes the gadget it kind of loses its function.”

My co-blogger’s sister also made an important point that links to unpacking, resisting, or creating a new culture around fitness: “Fitness especially in kids comes from values, habits, home discussions, role modelling, fun activities, and doing things that don’t seem like fitness to the kid.”

Doing things that don’t seem like fitness are often more fun when you don’t have the “must” factor. Even I think it is more useful to say to myself: “It’s a gorgeous day out — let’s go for a walk!” instead of “I need to get 2500 more steps in to meet my time for today’s fitness.”

While I think the offer from WW for 13-year-olds is more problematic than FitBit’s plan to extend its market share by focusing on kids, I do believe we need to think carefully about how we look to change the behaviour of children when it comes to eating and moving.

Because in some respects is not how we change the behaviour, but why we feel it is necessary in the first place.

— Martha enjoys getting her fit on with powerlifting, swimming, and trail walking.