fitness

Aging Parents and What it Means for Our Own Fitness

I have mentioned a few times in previous posts that one of my motivations for being active was to avoid some of the health issues I see in my parents.

I inherited Mom’s varicose veins, slow thyroid and tendency towards osteoporosis. Lately I have also been getting some twinges of arthritis too, though thankfully nothing like what has led her to have three hip replacements.

Mom and me from a few years ago.

Keeping myself fit and mobile was all I needed to worry about, until very recently. Dad has always been capable, and Mom is stubborn, so elder care mostly involved visits, and occasionally helping with a meal. Then Mom had a fall and broke several ribs.

Luckily, I had booked six weeks of vacation and live in the same city, so I will be available to take care of cleaning, meals, supervise physiotherapy exercises between visits, and help with personal care.

So far, I have sitting with her or with Dad, trying to get answers from hospital staff, and making sure I have the necessary arrangements in place for once she gets home. I treasure the moments brushing Mom’s hair, and don’t mind sitting quietly for hours while she naps, but at the end of the day that non-activity leaves me more ready for bed than a a physically demanding day.

If ever there was a time for meditation, yoga, or an early morning swim, it is now. I am not one for traditional meditation; I prefer to cook instead. Some nights, there is a lot of cooking.

I am pretty comfortable thinking about my own health – how to maintain it, accepting certain limitations as I age. And I knew there would come a time when my parents would need more care. What has been a surprise was exhausting it would be.

For the next few weeks, I plan to do some early morning gardening or go for a swim before heading off to do elder care duties. I will take advantage of every offer of assistance from my sister. I will keep some sort of craft on-hand to work on rather than doom scrolling. And I will work on getting enough sleep. More than ever, I want to be alert and avoid injury myself.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.

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Sleepless

One of the stereotypical beliefs about aging I recall learning as a kid is that older people don’t need as much sleep. Now that I am an older person, I am questioning this – a lot!

I am sleeping less, but definitely not because I need less sleep. Most days, I am physically quite active. I’m well past the stage of waking up because kids need feeding (or are late getting home).

I stay up too late and wake up too early. Sometimes I can blame the cats demanding food, but not always. There are other reasons too: arthritis pain, tiny bladder, muscle cramps, the state of the world and what that means for my kids (because you never stop worrying even when they are grown).

Sam’s solution of middle-of-the-night Wordle doesn’t work for me. Wordle just leads to Globle, Worldle, Nerdle, Waffle and Flaggle, and then eventually to social media, on-line solitaire, news from around the world, and sometimes Duolingo.

I know from experience that if I could just get myself to bed earlier, I would have a better chance of longer sleep. I get really sleepy in the early evening, but then perk up and stay awake until midnight if I don’t go to bed right away. The 5 am wake-up is constant.

But how to do that? Some of my exercise choices can’t be moved because evening classes are the only option. A book or magazine can help, if it isn’t too interesting – but why would I read a boring one? Camomile tea works well, despite the risk of tiny bladder consequences.

How I feel in the morning, surrounded by some of the things that help and hinder my sleep. Image is of my grumpy-faced cat, sprawled over a beige stuffed animal on a pillow, with a dull book on the bed.

Dear readers: help! What are your suggestions for building an earlier bedtime habit?

fitness

Biking Accessibility

A few years ago, my workplace started undergoing a major refit, including a completely renovated cycle parking area. Cycling was a popular option because there is extremely limited parking, and the bus schedule can best be described as “whimsical”.

The stated goal of my workplace was to encourage cycling as part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. To do that, we needed something much better than the old open area with bicycles crammed in higglety-pigglety.

Employees were consulted several times. At each of the sessions I participated in, someone raised the issue of accessibility and the importance of doing a GBA+ assessment. GBA+ is an analysis of gender, race and accessibility implications for a planned policy or activity. They are mandatory in my work. More importantly, they are welcomed as a way to help us identify both positive and negative impacts of what we propose to do, design strategies to avoid or mitigate the negative ones, and measure the results.

Based on the reaction of those leading the consultations, we were not confident that our concerns about the bike area design where registering, or that a GBA+ analysis would be done.

Fast forward past the pandemic and today I finally experienced the results of those consultations.

I bonked my head on the security gate as I struggled to keep my bike upright while swiping my ID card and then get through a weird combination of revolving door and bike gate. Fair enough; I do work in a place where security is a concern.

Then I got to the second set of doors and swiped again. The doors don’t open so I can walk my bike through; I need to pull them open with one hand, while trying to roll my bike through. Sure, that’s not much worse than getting my bike into its storage spot at home, but the work doors are much higher and heavier than my basement door, and it would have been easy to install an automatic door opener as the default.

Then a third door (more of the same) before finally arriving at the glory that is our new bike area. I am reasonably tall (5′ 8″) and fit. I have some upper body strength from swimming. I worked up more of a sweat trying to get my bike onto the lowest of the racks than I did cycling to work.

Row of bikes stored vertically. Mines is the blue and white CCM in the middle, about 4 inches off the ground.

There is no way that someone smaller or less fit that me could manage this. I felt ready to cry with frustration. After I finally got it in place, I noticed that some people had abandoned the racks altogether, and parked their bikes in the few free areas.

Bicycles parked in a row in an area mated by yellow paint.

So if I were a cyclist with a cargo bike, ebike, tricycle, trailer for my kids because I dropped them at daycare on the way, where would I park? Those with physical limitations would struggle with using the racks even if they could use a regular bicycle.

My building doesn’t need anything like the 8,000 bicycle spaces in this Utrecht, Netherlands parking garage, but it could certainly have used something like the system where bikes are rolled into place and then lifted up to various heights. Accessible and even more space efficient!

Two cyclists parks their bikes in the world’s largest bike parking garage in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Aug. 21, 2017. (Michael Kooren/Reuters)

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Walking, Walking, Walking

Last week, I finished my medieval walking challenge. 183 miles over two months. By the end, it wasn’t even that difficult, despite the challenge of finding enough time.

Happily, my last big walk was 8 km in late medieval Flemish clothing, while at an event in the pretty town of Campbellford Ontario.

Me in a white linen cap and top, enjoying the dirt walking trail, surrounded by trees and with a cloudy grey sky overhead.

So now what? I am definitely back into walking, in a way I haven’t been for ages. I did a Challenger walk last year. Kirsten likes them but they aren’t really for me.

I think I’ll start doing Volksmarches again. Volksmarching is a popular walking activity that started in Germany in 1968. When I lived there as a teen and young adult, they were a great way to visit villages and the countryside throughout much of Europe.

These walks, usually with either 10 or 20 km distances were deliberately non-competitive, and usually ended with a big tent serving sausages on a bun, fries and even beer. Often there would be an oompah band.

Everyone participated, as most were very accessible. For a while I did two a day – running a 10 km with an older family friend, then walking a second 10 km with his wife and young kids. I distinctly recall being passed by little old ladies still dressed in their church clothes and sensible shoes, with a handbag on their elbow.

I nearly missed my high school graduation because I was desperate to get three walks in that day, and ended up several hours from home (in the pre-internet days, I had literally pieced together a route by finding upcoming events on three separate flyers with little maps, not drawn to scale).

Why do that? Like the Challenger walks, there was bling. You kept a little booklet that got stamped with your distance. Every time you did the required distance (minimum 500 km), you would mail it off for a hat pin and badge to sew on your vest or backpack. Plus there were completion medals you could collect, reflecting local history, clubs, landmarks, festivals or agriculture.

My volksmarch medal collection – junky, silly, and yet still hanging in my home office.

When I moved back to Canada, volksmarching was in its infancy here, but I participated in quite a few events. Then I got busy, and stiff, and out of touch. I’m ready to give it another go now.

Over time, the Canadian sport has evolved. There are shorter walks for people who don’t feel up to doing 10 km. Medals have fallen out of fashion. In many cities, you can do self-guided walks and stamp your booklet yourself, using the honour system. Canada isn’t alone in that; I once spent four days in London, sightseeing on foot via the four volksmarch maps I downloaded before traveling.

You can find more about upcoming walks in Canada using this link. From there you can also connect to clubs in other countries.

It turns out I could have done a slightly different walk that day in Campbellford and gotten credit for it. I’ll remember for next time. And Kirsten, there is a club in Kingston, along with three year-round walks. Maybe I can join you for one this summer?

Have you ever been part of a walking club, or volksmarched? What appeals to you? What would make it better?

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Fitness that’s “not really fitness”

Full confession: I hate housework. And I totally agree with Catherine’s thoughts about the very unfeminist aspects of counting housework as fitness.

But I do like gardening, at least at the beginning of the season when I am still full of hope that things will grow. And I love my mom, who likes to have a garden, but can no longer maintain one herself.

Hopeful spring garden from a previous year. Pinky and purple hyacinths in the foreground with yellow narcissus and a few red tulips in the background. There are green weeds everywhere.

So I spent many hours on Sunday working in both my garden and my mom’s. It wasn’t particularly intense exercise, but there was definitely some walking as I took my poor overburdened push mower over my little patch of grass repeatedly (it turns out that no-mow May leads to knee-high grass). And lots of bending and lifting as I hauled out lawn furniture, pulled weeds, dug holes for flowers, and carried yard waste bags (the heavy lifting with bags of dirt and planters happened a couple of weeks ago).

You do woman in a colourful T Shirt pruning a mass of large green plants. Photo by Mary Jane Duford on Unsplash

I was pleased that there were no twinges at all the next day.

But I have been thinking ever since about how slowly Mom walked through the gardening centre. She didn’t even feel up to pushing the cart (usually something she insists on). And Dad, who usually joins me to putter while I garden, spent most of the afternoon working on his puzzle books inside.

They are both in their mid eighties, so the slowing down is understandable. But it is also a sharp reminder of why I got active in the first place. I didn’t want to end up suffering from arthritis like my mom, and I wanted to be a good role model for my kids.

As I near the age they were when I made that decision, I’m adding a new goal. I want to age at home. I want to be comfortable walking to the grocery store in my eighties, doing at least basic gardening, and maybe even still riding my bicycle (or electric bicycle or tricycle).

Two older woman sitting in front of houses in Amsterdam. One clearly rode there on her bicycle, which sits to the right. There is a tiny garden on the left. Photo by Laura Thonne on Unsplash

I still won’t be smiling about the housework, or counting the calories I burn washing dishes, but I will be living independently on my own terms. That’s about as feminist as you can get.

fitness

Days When You Have no Bones

Recently I have had a few tough swims where I felt like I had no bones. It was a feeling of complete complete exhaustion and uncertainty about whether I could make it to the end of the lane, let alone the end of the workout.

I don’t recall where that expression first arose. I’m pretty sure it was used by my son on days when he was being goofy. I know I used it to describe his ability to fall and never get injured; he never stopped moving! Maybe that was the connection I made with my own tiredness, trying to keep up with him.

Then I found an old note to myself about Noodles, an internet sensation last year. Noodles was then a 14 1/2 year old pug who would get his picture on TikTok each day. His pal Jonathan Graziano would help him up each morning. If he stayed up, it was a bones day. If he slumped back down into his comfy bed, it was a no bones day.

Elderly pug on a beige dog bed, with a man in a dark shirt behind him, hands in the air as if cheering.

What is a no bones day? “Bones Day” means you wake up feeling great, ready to take charge of the day and live your best life. A “No Bones Day” is a day for self care, taking a nap or playing it safe. The concept is similar to that of having enough spoons.

Ironically, there are numerous journals based on Noodles, so you can track appointments, water I take, or whatever. I want to laugh about them, and yet…

My fist instinct is to try and figure out how to get things done on no bones days: dancing around the bedroom to lively music, or taking a walk while working on my Duolingo German course.

I want to be more like Noodle. As the description from the children’s book about him says: Noodle isn’t sick or sad. Today, all he needs are extra snuggles and belly rubs. Jonathan soon learns that not every day can be a Bones Day, and sometimes a No Bones Day is exactly what you need to get through the week.

I don’t often have the luxury of napping, but I can work on getting to bed earlier. And like I did on Monday, I can get out of the water even though I haven’t pushed myself as hard or far as possible. Sometimes a swim can just be for fun – a wet belly rub, if you will.

White woman in a blue bathing cap and goggles, with water, trees and blue sky in the background

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

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Happy Hump Day

I don’t particularly like that expression – I like to think that Wednesdays are no better or worse than any other day. However, I have decided that this week needs every bit of celebration I can find.

Last week I had bad allergies and spent a lot of time fussing about whether it was COVID. My walking challenge is starting to wear on me. The weather suddenly went from freezing to being hot enough to kill half my poor seedlings when I put them outside to start hardening off. My lanemate and I were both in the world of “I’m too old for this sh*t” after Sunday’s swim practice. We will not even discuss the state of the world, which has me filled with crone rage on many fronts.

So Happy Hump Day: a made-up internet hope that things can only get better.

My allergies are feeling better, so I have more energy. I updated my tetanus booster, donated blood, and will get my second COVID booster on Saturday, so I feel that I am doing all I can to be healthy.

At swim practice, I learned a fun new drill, something that rarely happens after nearly 20 years of swimming with a club. And at Saturday’s practice I got the comment that I have a very respectable butterfly and natural freestyle stroke for long-distance swimming (coach was commenting on technique, as I am not fast). Every little bit of positive reinforcement feels good, even at my age.

The geese along my walk to work are hatching, the trees are coming into leaf, and I may just combine one of my walks this week with a trip to the pond for an early morning or lunchtime swim.

Adult Canada geese swimming with many babies on blue water, a dead branch in the foreground.
The pond, a popular conservation area and swimming spot near my home. Clear water surrounded by trees just staring to turn green and blue sky with whispy clouds above. The trees and sky are reflected in the still water.

I haven’t yet figured out how to channel my crone rage effectively; that is a feminist rather than a fitness issue, but I’ll keep working on it.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

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Heart Health Update

It has been over a year since I checked in my heart health and cholesterol, and my aim of managing without medications. In news that will surprise exactly nobody, I failed. But that’s okay.

I have been learning to cook and enjoy more meatless meals. I have switched to whole wheat breads and pastas as part of an overall effort to increase my fibre intake. I probably have more salt than I should because I can a lot of my own vegetables when they are in season, but I’m okay with that because I like growing and preserving food too much to give it up.

I am not as diligent about eating late any more, because I often struggle fit food in before dance class, especially now that I am going to the office semi-regularly.

I started taking cholesterol medication; even at a low dose, it was enough that my blood pressure meds were cut in half. Better living through chemistry!

I am still fat. I am also very active. And I am as tall as ever, which the technician at my most recent bone density scan says is a good thing.

Me walking to work in the snow, wearing a blue hat and with my glasses covered in melted snow.

In summary, I’m doing as well as could be expected. I could probably do a little better, but the extra effort isn’t worth it to me. I may remember to check in again at some point in the future, but likely only when there is a major change.

How about you dear readers – have you tried to fight off some aspect of aging but now are at peace with it?

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is starting to look forward to retirement so she can do more things she enjoys.

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Spring is my Time for Walking Challenges

Some people start fitness challenges in September, the start of the school year that somehow feels like the real start of the year to many of us. Others go with the more traditional January start. It appears I like April. I wrote about it last year.

This year my workplace is doing an activity challenge for the month. It doesn’t have to be walking, but that happens to fit with another challenge I’m also doing. I like the fact that getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water are also goals.

The other challenge is with one of my medieval groups, where we are aiming to walk 183 miles by the end of May. Why 183 miles? I have no idea! There is probably a very logical reason that I have forgotten, or missed completely in my enthusiasm to join up. Whatever.

The challenge works out to about 5 km a day for me. I used to do 10 km walks regularly, but haven’t done one in at least 15 years.

Sometimes I go out late in the evening, and catch the light near dusk. I am lucky enough to live near two large rivers, so there is always plenty to see.

Lights reflecting on the Rideau River, with a bridge and Highrisers in the background.
The Ottawa River where it is joined by the Gatineau River, seen through a tangle of trees.

I feel blessed to live in a walkable part of the city, with a real variety of landscapes.

The Macon Marsh, a small protected wetland just off a busy street. It’s mostly brown now, but the tall grasses beyond the water were filled with red-winged blackbirds.
A yard with several colourful bird houses, with apartment blocks in the background.

I don’t do 5 km absolutely every day, but I am getting the distance done each week. My walks are getting longer, I am going into the office as an excuse to knock off an easy 6 km, and on Easter weekend I walked for 10.6 km.

Best of all, the chronic hip flexor pain is gone. Apparently I needed to get out of my chair a lot more than I realized. And I am learning to enjoy my own company, just wandering and admiring the views.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.

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Returning to Normal at the Pool

I have been swimming regularly since pools reopened after the most recent wave of COVID. I’m still a bit nervous, but I know everyone in my lane is vaccinated, we do our best to maintain distance, and we all still mask except when in the water. Last week, our Saturday swim time changed to accommodate the restart of lessons.

By going an hour earlier, we met up with another masters club just leaving the pool. Such a nice surprise after months of going into an empty space! People who shared our hobby! Even some people we knew!

After our practice, the pool deck and change room were full of parents and kids getting ready for the first lessons offered in well over a year. There was a woman in a beautiful burquini with built-in skirt and a matching hijab, her friend who wore a fairly standard tankini outfit, and a new mum in a one-piece with a plunging neckline and her four-month old baby going for his first-ever swim in a pool. One little girl asked her mom about why some people were not covered in the breast area, and mom explained that some people like to show more than others and everyone gets to wear what they like. It all made me smile.

I swim because I enjoy how it makes me feel strong, but it is also a huge safety issue for me. Along with all the children, I was delighted to see many adults and teenagers were there for learn to swim programs too. I hope they all get as much joy out of the water as I do.

Swimming pool with masked swimming instructors and people in the background waiting to start their lessons