fitness

Exercising in a winter wonderland

I am not a natural winter-lover. I hated winter when I was a kid. Summer remains my true love. I partially attribute this to being born at the end of June. It was how I was acclimatized from an early age 🙂

I have been told stories of how I used to cry my head off when I had to put my snow pants on and go outside in the winter. As many Torontonians my age will say, winters were harsher back then. We had lots more snow. Or is it just that we were smaller and it seemed like more snow? I do remember a constant pile of snow lining Bathurst St., where I grew up, all winter long. It was MUCH taller than me all winter. Or at least it seemed it. We have had snowy winters in recent years, but there are many winters where we’ve had hardly any.

A photo from 1971 (I wasn’t born yet) of a Toronto blizzard. A person is pushing their car out of a snow bank. This is how I picture winter as a kid in Toronto.

As a teenager, I remember being too cool for hats and other winter accessories and running to the store at lunch with friends, and freezing, because we weren’t dressed properly. Not winter’s fault!

I don’t ski or skate. I am not good at things where my brain has to relinquish control to my feet. Particularly, on uneven surfaces. For this reason, typical winter sports didn’t helped me enjoy winter.

When did I start appreciating winter more? When I started running. I started running many years ago, in September. It was late summer, early fall, and I had just returned from a trip to British Columbia, where my aunt running head of me, while I walked, inspired me to start a running program when I got home. My first “race” was a 10K run in Ajax, a small city east of Toronto, in December. It was aptly called a “Chilly 10” or something like that.

So, my running program forced me to learn how to dress for, and embrace running outside, as the weather became colder and snowier. By the time I finished that first 10K, I was hooked on running and wanted to start training for my first half marathon. And while I hadn’t, yet, developed my aversion to running on treadmills, I preferred running outside. I enjoyed going places. Having a start and finish. Finishing at one of my favourite places for coffee is a delight.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that when I was dressed appropriately, running in the winter was pretty lovely. One of my favourite traditions which started that year, was running on Christmas morning. It’s always so quiet. And often, there is lightly falling snow. It feels so magical. Look at what a little “winter-lover” I became.

Is it Christmas morning? Not yet. This was Sunday morning at the park and those are tracks in the snow from my running shoes.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t choose summer over winter. I prefer summer, followed by spring, early fall and then early winter. I do not enjoy late fall because I find the adjustment to the darker days, harder and sadder, and I know what’s coming. By late winter, the joy in the season is getting old and I am ready for spring. Plus, in early winter, I can relish the idea that the days are starting to get longer, even if it is doing so at a snail’s pace.

My acceptance of winter running has spilled over into other areas of winter activity. When I was still going to the office for work, I walked most days. Even in the winter. People always found this surprising. But as long as it wasn’t exceptionally messy on the sidewalks (which isn’t typical in Toronto these days) and not one of the -30C with the windchill days, I’d much prefer dress for, and walk outside, than pile on to the stuffed streetcar. That’s just me. Although if we ever go back to the office, after this pandemic is over, I doubt I will be alone in this sentiment.

It’s old news that the pandemic has made exercising inside more challenging. In addition to running outside, I have been enjoying my outdoor park workouts with Move fitness club. There is a much smaller group partaking in these workouts these days. It’s not desirable to many. Each to their own.

A picture of our small group, between EMOMs (every minute, on the minute), in the park, last Sunday.
This day was not snowy but it was cold. And, I ‘m doing “pallof presses” which is the kind of thing that is good for you, but that I would never do on my own.

According to this article from Harvard Health, there are advantages to exercising outside, in the winter, including:

  1. “In colder temperatures your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.”
  2. “Winter workouts help you get exposure to sunlight, which may help ward off seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that some people experience during the winter months.”

The article also talks about things to be cautious about in the winter, including “While cold-weather exercise is safe for most people, if you have certain conditions, such as asthma or heart problems, check with your doctor to review any special precautions you need to take based on your condition or medications.”

Here are some tips for cold weather exercise from the article:

  1. Wear layers (I agree, this is crucial as it keeps you warm and gives you flexibility as you warm up to de-layer).
  2. Protect your head, hands and feet (where heat will escape most easily).
  3. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin (face). Yeah it’s cold but you still risk getting a sunburn, especially around snow.
  4. Stay hydrated.
  5. Choose a safe surface.

A tip I would add is to not expect it to be the same as working out in the summer. You may have to modify your workout. You won’t be sprinting up hills or doing step ups on slippery steps. But there are good alternatives (running on the spot and high knees) and change can be good for you brain, in addition to your body.

In my mind, there are pros and cons to exercising outside right now. They are (not an exhaustive list):

Pros

  • the ability to feel like you have “mettle”, “grit”, “tenaciousness” (good, old-fashioned, bragging rights – which is what Insta was made for, no?)
  • once you are warmed up, you realize “it’s not that bad”
  • it can be beautiful if there is snow, sun, other outdoor elements that you might not appreciate if you were not working out, outdoors
  • in the case of a group workout in the park (spaciously distanced, etc.), you get the camaraderie and incentive derived from others
  • you are working out! movement is good any time of year!
  • there are winter days that are definitely challenging. But slightly cold weather can be easier to work out in than 30 degree celsius summer days.
  • you get to wear cute winter hats and other gear

Cons

  • it’s not summer
  • you may get a little damp from doing things in wet snow
  • you are not snuggled inside with your book, coffee and dogs
  • you will become one of those people who post “post-workout” pics, when your endorphins are pumping, and you can’t help yourself
  • you may have to resignedly admit that some winter days are just as nice, if not nicer, than some summer days
  • you have to do more laundry, because there are more layers that need constant washing

I wholeheartedly assert that people should embrace winter movement, in any way, that they are able. What about you readers? Do you enjoy exercising outside in the the winter?

Nicole P. with her toque and women’s 416 run neck gaiter, on her way to her winter park workout.

fitness

Transgender Week of Awareness: Jordan at the gym

I recently became aware that it is Transgender Week of Awareness in Canada, which takes place during the week of November 13-19 this year.

Transgender Awareness Week brings trans people and their allies together to learn more about advancing advocacy.

I am committed to being an ally, and educating myself about how to do so in the best way, to any group that is seeking equality and facing oppression. This is not limited to being a trans ally. But this topic is near and dear to my heart, because one of my favourite people is a transgender woman. I was 22 when Jordan was born and she was one of the first babies I spent a lot of time with as an adult. Jordan gave me the nickname “Auntie Uh-Uh” because I sang Barney’s “if all the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops, oh what a rain it would be”, and then you stick your tongue and sing “uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh”. Jordan liked to do my hair and play along with the children’s TV show Comfy Couch.

It has been a privilege to watch Jordan grow up and discover her true identity. She has always been an old soul and we have always had a special bond. When she told me that she is a transgender woman when she was 19, it did not come as a surprise to me. I believe I said something to the effect of “you are Jordan and I love you”. And then she told me more about her self-discovery process.

Jordan is now 26 and she is more inspiring than ever. I have watched, with admiration, as she has taken steps to become more comfortable in her body. She has done so with grace, determination and maturity beyond her years. I also know that it has not always been easy. I am sadly aware of the discrimination she can face, on occasion, from people who do not understand, or who “other” people they do not understand. In this respect, my instinct is to make sure she is OK and support her. I also feel it is partly my responsibility to help educate other people, when they are willing to learn, about the transgender experience. I would like to help people understand that transgender people are just like your friends and family members who you have known your whole life and who are the same people inside, regardless of how they express their gender. There is nothing frightening or strange about it if you take the time to understand. If nothing else, I hope people can learn to lead with kindness when facing something they do not understand and respect the wishes of the people involved who are asking for respect.

A beautiful picture of Jordan in an off-the-shoulder white sweater.

When I thought about writing something about Transgender Week of Awareness, for this blog, naturally I thought of Jordan, but also that the post should relate to the topic of the blog, which of course is feminist fitness and wellness. The gym is not always a comfortable or safe place for the trans community. This is an issue that has inspired many gyms across North America to create LGBTQ2-positive spaces. Alistair wrote about fitness as a trans man, for the blog, earlier today.

I asked Jordan questions about her experience at the gym and also if there is anything she would like to say about Transgender Week of Awareness. She graciously answered my questions below.

Nicole: How has your experience been at the gym?

Jordan: As a transgender woman going to the gym, my experience hasn’t always been easy…It has taken me years (four to be exact) to get to a place where I felt comfortable as well as familiar with my surroundings. At first it was really hard, because I wasn’t on hormones, I was a little more aware of my body, the gym clothes I could wear in comparison to other girls, and the right amount of makeup that I felt I needed to wear to feel passible while still appropriate for the gym. Over the years, since I have started on hormones, I can wear less face makeup and also have become a bit more familiar with my surroundings, so the novelty of being there and being transgender has faded. I like to keep to myself mostly at the gym, but I have acquired a few acquaintances in the changeroom – women who wave and we chat about our lives briefly – none of them caring about the news of my transgender-ness , just happy to see a familiar face – as it should be.

Nicole: Are there thoughts you would like to share about Trans Week of Awareness?

Jordan: Its great that Trans Week of Awareness exists, to help educate and shine light on the needs of the community. I am happy to live in a world where I am seeing change – slowly but surely – through lived experience as well as though the media. We have come so far as a group of people and a culture, being visible and accessible. However, there is a lot of work to be done still in the world.

I thank Jordan for sharing her thoughts for the blog.

If people are interested, here is a link to some great resources from The519 about being a trans ally: https://www.the519.org/education-training/training-resources/our-resources/creating-authentic-spaces/being-an-effective-trans-ally.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She’s running outside, cycling on her indoor bike and doing outdoor HIIT classes, and otherwise, hunkering down for this pandemic winter.
fitness

Nicole’s evolution in eating, from pre-pandemic times to now

Before last March, when I was going to the office every day, my eating habits looked something like this:

Americano misto from one of my favourite indie coffee spots on the way to work.

Breakfast at my desk: either a muesli/yogurt combo I brought from home or a turkey bacon and egg white breakfast sandwich from Starbucks (with sriracha).

Lunch – “sometimes” I’d bring lunch from home, which would typically be leftovers from dinner since I’m not a sandwich person at lunch. A lot of time, I’d buy “nutritious” options from the food court – bowls from iQ, veggies and tofu with half the usual portion of rice from the Japanese place, bowls from Freshii, etc.

Dinner – before I was partnered off, I often ate salad and hummus or tuna, for dinner. With canned dolmades dipped in tzatziki. Or a lot of the toppings and half of a small pizza with sun dried tomatoes, green olives and hot peppers. I like to cook, but I saved it for company or weekend projects. But since living with another human being, I’ve typically made dinner most nights. Turkey meatballs in a glaze over rice with salad with a tangy vinaigrette. Noodles in a peanut, orange, garlic, soy sauce, with tofu or chicken. Roasted fish with roasted potatoes and/or other roasted vegetables.

Glazed turkey meatballs, roasted potatoes, broccolini and carrots and a quinoa dish.

Brunch on the weekend has always been my favourite meal. Shakshuka (eggs in an aromatic tomato sauce, sometimes with goat cheese on top and spinach) or breakfast sandwiches with interesting combinations or Pamela’s gluten free pancakes with a fruit coulis and yogurt and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

A picture of shakshuka.

When the pandemic hit and we were home every day, avoiding the store as much as possible, I was cooking every meal. Like most people, I was baking more. Figuring out homemade sourdough bread. Sourdough bagels. Homemade pasta. Time-consuming dishes that I didn’t have time to make when I was out of the house for 12 hours a day. . Then when we could order takeout again, we started ordering special meals once a week. Or more. Seafood paella in May when we were supposed to be in Spain. Meals finished at home from a local French bistro. French onion soup. Decadent. Comfort food. Sushi, Thai and Vietnamese and Indian food. Delicious, fancy pizza.

A picture of sourdough bagels Nicole was making not too long ago.

Since I’ve been home my once or twice a day Americano misto has become 3 or 4 from our beloved (and fairly new) Breville espresso machine.

A black poster with a white coffee cup and white lettering that says “I Like Big Cups & I Cannot Lie”

Throughout the summer, we stopped drinking alcohol in our house. I was never a big drinker but that was a bit of an adjustment, in terms of cooking with alcohol and periodic glasses of wine when relaxing or with a nice meal.

Then my husband “really” got into gelato and we were snacking on delicious gelato from Death in Venice many nights. Add to that my monthly “candy nights” where I’d have a bag of sour kids and he’d have a bag of wine gums.

Then, my husband found out his sugar was a bit high about a month ago. Nothing alarming, but we decided to cut back on the snacking, lower sugar intake and refined carbs. I won’t get into that too much, because I know this can be a boring and annoying topic. I am not providing advice about what anyone else should do. But this obviously has changed our eating habits for now. And I love talking about food and what I am making.

I am still making sourdough bread about once a week, but I’ve replaced much of the regular flour with rye and spelt. These loaves don’t rise as much and are not as pretty but they are pretty delicious. Especially if you enjoy Scandinavian-style bread, which it reminds us of.

I’ve experimented with “cloud bread” which is made from separated eggs and a bit of cream cheese and have the consistency of meringue when freshly made, but become a bit firmer over the next couple days. We enjoy them as a sort of “BLT” with turkey bacon and an over easy egg and tomato. There are many ways you could use these.

A cloud bread sandwich with scrambled eggs and veggies.

Most days I start the day with oats cooked with a little frozen fruit and flax seeds and I add yogurt after it’s cooked, and sometimes banana, sometimes coconut or peanut butter or a tiny bit of honey.

Lunches are usually leftovers from dinner or big salads with the usual add-ins (tuna or egg or hummus, pickled beets, or hot peppers, onions, basically whatever tasty things are laying around).

Dinners are usually roasted salmon or cod or chicken or tofu. There are always a lot of vegetables – squash or cauliflower or wild mushrooms or eggplant or rapini. One big hit recently was “Lemon chicken piccata” which is breaded in a mixture of almond flour and tapioca flour and the sauce is made from coconut cream and lemon juice and grainy mustard and capers. I don’t have a picture of that, but I do have a picture of a big salad with pan seared scallops that was quite tasty.

A big salad with roasted veggies and scallops.

I’ve experimented with lower sugar baking too. I recently made cookies with coconut, almond flour and monkfruit sugar, that were delicious and a big hit.

One of the sites I discovered recently that is my new favourite is “elavegan.com”. I made delicious and super easy spinach tortillas from this site. They consist of spinach, tapioca flour, water and chickpea flour. I am not exaggerating when I say they were extremely simple to make. And they had a “foldy” tortilla texture and the taste from spinach was delicious. I used these with my own “waldorf-style” chicken salad which I made with pomegranate seeds, apple, almonds and walnuts, garlic powder, parsley, a little grainy mustard, mayo and greek yogurt, lemon juice and salt and pepper. It was one of my favourite recent brunches.

A collage – top is the chicken salad before blended. Bottom left is the spinach tortilla in the pan. Bottom right is the spinach tortilla filled with chicken salad.

My annual holiday cookie baking is coming up. I plan on making some of the usuals (rugelach, biscotti, macaroons) and experiment with the monkfruit sugar for some.

Has your cooking or eating changed during the pandemic? What are you enjoying these days?

Nicole with straight hair, which is a rare occurrence, especially during the pandemic.
fitness

Looking for bliss

There are moments when I’m working out that feel blissful. Often that happens somewhere in the mid-to-end portion of a long run. When I realize all parts of my body are working in sync. There’s no stiffness in my legs. A knee that may have felt a bit pinchy in the beginning is fine. My mind is clear and lost in the meditative motion of my legs moving systematically ahead. I’m grateful for the moment. The ability to do this thing with my body that makes my mind feel good. It’s bliss.

Nicole in a black and white tank top and white ball cap after a spring run that included feelings of bliss.

Who can’t use a feeling of bliss in their life? It’s the type of salve that helps heal the stressful effects of worrying about the pandemic, politics (although there were some wins this past week) and loved ones’ health concerns. Bliss and similar emotions also help with those of us who feel the negative effects of changing from summer to the shorter, darker days of autumn. Am I the only one who feels more tired these days?

Bliss, not limited to occurring during a workout, often feels like a combination of tension, hard work, doubt, and existential dread, being released and replaced with lightness, ease of motion, ecstatic vibes.

A tattoo of people dancing in bliss on Nicole’s back.

Years ago, I went to a spinning studio several times a week. In the final stretch of a 45 minute class, there would be a final push. The spin instructor would encourage us to give it our all. After a class of rolling hills, challenging intervals, sometimes, clunky feeling legs, I would put my head down, stretch my arms back, turn down the tension, and give it my all. Those few minutes, eyes closed, body pushing, pulsing music, energy from the spinners around me in sync, were bliss.

I love my conditioning and strength workouts. There is a wonderful feeling of contentment after the class is over and my body feels exerted, my head and lungs feel clear. I love that feeling of contentment. It’s not quite the same feeling of bliss provided by my body and mind being aligned during continuous cardio movement.

Seeking that bliss is why I still go for a run when I feel tired. When I’d rather stay in bed. When it’s cold out.

I am trying to find that bliss on my new indoor bike. Cate talked about how much she loves her new bike here. I decided to buy the same bike, as I want to make sure I have easily accessible exercise in the colder months ahead. I like the bike so far. I haven’t found that bliss on it yet. To be fair, I’ve only done a few workouts on it. I’m still figuring out which apps work best for me, for the type of workout I’m craving. The one that ends in that blissful feeling.

What workouts or other activities are giving you a feeling of bliss these days, Readers?

Side note: Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. Remembrance Day reminds me to be grateful for the people who fought for freedom. I do not take freedom lightly nor the sacrifices they made.
This is one of my favourite quotes about freedom from Aayan Hirsi Ali:

“I lived in countries that had no democracy… so I don’t find myself in the same luxury as you do. You grew up in freedom, and you can spit on freedom because you don’t know what it is not to have freedom.”

This freedom we enjoy in Canada allows us to have wonderful discussions about what kind of Canada we want today and how to build on the great foundation we enjoy:

A video link to a TED Talk: Canada’s Multiculturalism – Worth Defending – Amira Elghawaby
Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs (one, Miggy, is in this pic).
fitness

In Praise of the Community Gym

On Saturday we did EMOMS in the park. That’s “every minute on the minute” in fitness speak. Before, during, and after, alternating side lunges, push ups, pulse squats to burpees, band rows and bicep curls with sprints (pant!) x 4, the 9 of us greeted each other with the familiarity of a close community. Socially distanced, of course.

In March, I wrote about Community and the Gradual Change of Normal. The world has changed in so many ways since March. For example, we are now at a point in the pandemic where seeing people in TV shows and movies who are close together and not wearing masks, seems weird! Social distancing and mask-wearing for every day activities were not part of most of our experiences before March 2020. There’s a joke going around that says “Today marks 5 years we’ve been in 2020.”

Black lettering on a pink background that says “Today marks 5 years we’ve been in 2020.”

The anxiety of living through a pandemic, regardless of one’s personal situation, is heightened for most people. Many people have lost their jobs, couples have split up, people are struggling with their mental health in a myriad of ways. And we are just at the beginning of the long winter ahead in the northern hemisphere. It’s common knowledge that a sense of community is a vital part of maintaining a healthy outlook. I can confidently state that almost 9 months into this pandemic, the community provided through my workouts with MOVEfitness Club, has helped me maintain some semblance of normal. It’s no secret on FIFI that one of the main the reasons I work out regularly and consistently is to regulate my moods. It’s not just important “that” I work out, but also “how” I work out. Having a day or two with my MOVE community is a vital part of my tool chest. Being amongst other people, with a great coach, always makes me work just a little harder. It’s so important to me that I hope I can bundle up and continue the workouts in the park through most of the winter.

There has been much talk about whether boutique gyms should be open or not. Cate wrote about the importance of local small gyms here. Last week, the Ontario government said that dance studios could open in hot spots. It does make me wonder whether the people making these decisions understand how boutique gyms work in comparison to dance studios. They probably look very similar, in that they have less than 10 people in a class at once. They each have their own work station and they don’t share equipment. They also have to pre-register for classes and are screened for Covid before entering the class. I can say from experience, the classes are typically filled with the same cohort of people, class to class.

I am not going to get into whether boutique gyms should be open inside or not. Even us fitness enthusiasts have slightly differing views about how gyms should look during the pandemic. What doesn’t differ is our love for our community gym. While I have stayed outside since the beginning of the pandemic, I recognize the benefits for others and risk analysis they make, when choosing to go inside. And, if nothing else, a clear, consistent, and fact-based message from our government officials and health experts seems a reasonable request.

What does “boutique gym” mean? For some, “boutique” may sound chic and a little extravagant. But there is nothing extravagant about the sense of community that exists at MOVE. When one first enters MOVE, they may notice the fancy weight rig and the Kiehl’s cosmetic products in the washroom. The longer you stick around, you might be struck by the comfort that members have with each other. You may also notice the encouragement when someone does a lift they’ve never done before or hits a PR. Or the supportive small talk between sets. Not to mention the positive words about women’s strength and focusing on encouraging women to make the most of their own strength rather than on society’s definition of a healthy body. “Boutique” in this sense means community to me.

As someone who never felt comfortable in larger gyms, no matter how confident I felt with my workout, I have found my community in these types of gyms for several years. I have been going to MOVE for about 4 years now and I can say that the ties made with people I work out with on a regular basis, in a smaller setting, are important for my overall well being. Some people may get this benefit from other communities, it doesn’t have to be a fitness one, but for many of us the fitness community is crucial.

In the case of MOVE, it happens to be a women-only space. I didn’t purposely seek out a women-only space. But I do feel that I benefit from the comfort and camaraderie that is found amongst women of varying ages, and varying sexual and gender identities. When I did work out in mixed gender gyms, I felt a little uncomfortable if I had to cut in on the weight rig if there were hyper-masculine men working on the rig. Warranted or not, it is how I felt. Also, I do see value in being among other women testing their strength and stamina. I’ve had women I don’t know all that well give me a (consensual) hug if they overheard me mention someone I love was in the hospital, waves on the street and smiling faces in local stores, that I wouldn’t otherwise experience in a busy urban area.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the virtual and outdoor park workouts have kept me connected to this community. While I currently have a Bowflex spinning bike on order, which I am confident will help me maintain my cardiovascular health, along with my running practice (currently excited about the Toronto Women’s 416 Run Challenge – thanks for the tip, cousin Nancy!), I know they won’t replace the positive benefits I derive from my workouts with my community at MOVE.

I am not the only one that feels this way. I have asked Kelly, the owner of MOVE, and a few other women to provide a little bit about what MOVE means to them.

Kelly, 45, says “As a woman in fitness, I am beyond grateful for my less than ideal journey to where I am today. My struggles with all of the toxicity in the fitness space have made me relentlessly focused and crystal clear on what type of experience I need to ensure I provide to women, and what I long to be part of. An experience that holds space for women to focus on becoming strong, empowered and recognizing all that their bodies can be capable of and forgetting the pressure that can have us believe our weight determines our worth. Community for me, means being a part of something that lifts your spirits, shifts your focus to a higher purpose and bring a collective of likeminded humans together, that all long to be part of the same movement.”

Laura, 30, says “MOVE workouts have been so important to me throughout the pandemic. Not only has exercise helped me mentally and physically, being able to see so many amazing women on a regular basis (even if it’s on a screen!) has made me feel connected to the community. I have made great friendships through the gym and getting outside with these women has been such a silver lining this year.

Cate (fellow FIFI blogger and who I met at MOVE), 55, says “For me, the small fitness spaces are a critical part of what makes my neighbourhood vibrant and connected. MOVE, Torq and Mend Physio have all supported the fundraising for the project I run in Uganda, underlining that they understand what’s important to us about community wellbeing in general, not just physical fitness. I understand who is in my neighbourhood and what’s important to them when I show up to local yoga spaces, gyms and spin studios. Their owners live in my neighbourhood, care about their members, support independent shops, and are a essential part of what makes it home.

Lesli, 49, says “Much like my own family, my fitness family is where I feel supported, encouraged, uplifted – it’s where I belong. My MOVE family has meant the world to me over the past four years, but especially during this pandemic. I am beyond grateful to this community for their support of both my physical and mental health. Whether we are coming together indoors, outdoors, or virtually; our connection is strong. We will get through this together as a community/family.

Kristy, 42, says “My workout is a time to get away from the stress of my life (this includes the constant barrage of corona news), move my body, be with like minded people and challenge myself to get stronger and be healthier. They give me a sense of purpose, something constructive to work on as the time slowly passes by. Without them my mood is low, I am not with people, my body doesn’t feel as good. I have to work harder to feel accomplished.

Brittany, 29, says “Since COVID began, prioritizing my mental and physical health has been challenging (as I know it has been for many). While MOVE, the women’s gym I once frequented 3+ times a week, had to temporarily close its physical doors, Kelly and team soon began offering live virtual and outdoor classes. Honestly, I credit the classes and community for keeping me sane these last 8 months.

Whether I take a virtual strength-based class at lunch or an evening class in the park to get my sweat on with ladies I love, it’s a chance to connect, boost my mood on days I need it most, stick to a routine and stay active. Bring on the snow suit, I’m ready to break a sweat outdoors all winter long!!!”

While we prepare for the winter ahead, I (Nicole) think it is a good idea to consider what community means to people and if they are not able to participate in their usual community activities, they may be grieving that loss for good reason. It’s another opportunity to be kind and supportive, even if it’s simply a matter of acknowledging their feelings.

Nicole P. is tired, but happy, in this picture, following an early morning park workout with MOVE.
fitness

My Metabolic Age is WHAT??

CW: This post discusses weight, body fat measurements, etc.

As a general rule, I don’t get on the scale very often. I haven’t thrown it out and I can’t say I never get on it, but I consciously try not to go on too often and put too much stock in it. Last time I was at the doctor for my physical, when asked to get on the scale so that the nurse could measure my BMI, I explained why I didn’t think it was necessary. I don’t believe it provides a good picture of the condition of my health and there’s good scientific information widely available, to back me up. The problems with BMI have been written about many times in this blog. So many times, that I can’t link to all of them. I do like the simple advice, derived from an article in the Seattle Times that Sam points to in this post:

Regardless of weight the people with these four healthy habits had the lowest risk of early death.”

Take away: If it’s health that’s your goal work on these habits not your weight.

The four? Eat your vegetables. Don’t smoke. Drink in moderation only.  And exercise.”

So with that in mind, my husband purchased a new scale the other day. His sugar is slightly high and he’s exercising more, eating more vegetables, etc. and interested in these things right now. This scale measures body fat – RENPHO Bluetooth Body Fat Scale BMI Scale Smart Digital Bathroom Wireless Weight Scale. I was curious. Here is some information about the accuracy of these types of scales: https://www.healthline.com/health/body-fat-scale-accuracy.

To use the scale to its full effect, you have to download Renpho’s app on your phone. Then when you step on the scale it measures your weight, BMI, Body Fat, Muscle Mass, and a whole bunch of other fat and muscle measurements. And, it tells you your Metabolic Age.

The first time my husband received his stats, he read them off to me. I did mine and said I would read everything to him except the weight. I still have an ingrained habit of keeping my weight a secret. I mean, I don’t want to have a lengthy discussion in person about my weight. There’s a difference in my mind having a discussion here and sharing information, and having a verbal conversation about it afterwards. I feel that way about a lot of my blog posts. But there was something in my “stats” that bugged me just a little. And instead of only sharing that part. I’m going to share it all. Because, I truly believe they are just stats. They are not indicators of good or bad or my worth in any way. In short, they are a not a big friggen deal! So the pics of these stats are below.

Yeah, I am well aware of what my weight and height mean in terms of BMI (not taking into account my athleticism, bone structure, etc.). I enjoyed all the green stats (whether I should or not) and then I saw the Metabolic Age number. 50. But, I’m 48, I exclaimed to Gavin!

Not that it matters, but when setting up the app, you enter your birth date. Like any good “savvy” person, I didn’t put my EXACT date. It’s off by 6 months. So the app already thinks I’m 6 months older than I am, but STILL. The app thinks my Metabolic Age is OLDER than I am?? I’m supposed to be good at this type of thing, I thought, quite irrationally and non-sensically.

Despite all the green and dark green, the orange in my weight/BMI make my Metabolic Age higher than my actual age. Should I care? Well, according to this article, “currently, there aren’t many peer-reviewed studies of metabolic age. It’s not a data point in research. Metabolic age isn’t something we talk about in the medical community. It does give insight into how you compare to others your age. The marker of the ultimate definition of health it is not.” Also, “Metabolic age is more of a fitness term than a medical one. It’s a way to compare your basal metabolic rate (BMR) to other people your age.”

I’m going to keep this post short, because that’s how much time I want to spend thinking about this matter. It’s interesting, but it’s not all that important. It’s one tiny nugget of information amongst many other bits of information.

Bottom line – I’m not going to focus on how these stats make me feel, good or bad. And now, I’m off to do my virtual workout and will let those stats flow through my brain like a butterfly that enters and then keeps flying away.

Have you used one of these scales? Thoughts?

Nicole P. is taking it day-by-day during this pandemic and trying not to be annoyed by people, while working, exercising, cooking nutritious meals, reading good books, and watching a lot of tv.
fitness

Actions in the moment

There’s been an unintentional theme in my blog posts lately about living in the moment. I guess it’s how my brain is processing the inability to plan too far in the future during a pandemic. I see it as a positive way for the controlling part of my nature to handle emotions about situations over which I have little control.

I think sometimes about most of my 20s into turning 30 and how paralyzed I was by not being where I wanted to be in many areas. I think about my late teens, where I must have been similarly paralyzed my emotions I didn’t know what to do with. Paralysis that made me stagnate in my studies. Stagnate in my love for myself. Stagnate in thinking I deserved more. I don’t think being in the now is a reason to stagnate though. Rather, it’s a way to make the most of that moment. Those versions of Nicole (or Nic as many people used to call me and I wonder why that changed too. I wonder a lot), or even the much more balanced late 30s, early 40s version of myself, wouldn’t have believed that I would be content in my late 40s. That I would believe I deserved things. That I still think I have time. That I’d have a partner who sees me and appreciates me. I believe I partly have a more content life because I learned to make the most of the current moment along the way.

Nicole at 21 in Cuba. Living in the moment with early 90s fashion and probably a bit stagnated inside.

In the spirit of allowing ones self to be in the moment. Here are some suggested actions for different moments. Of course, they mostly involve some form of movement.

A drawing of a girl with a blond ponytail and red ribbon, wearing red dress with blue accents, blowing bubbles that read “live in the present moment”.

Are you having a good day? Jump for joy. Literally, do a few jumping jacks.

Are you mad at the government? Raise your arms, if that’s all you can do. A few times forward. A few times backwards. Go crazy and and do a few to the side.

Did you see a friend today outside and it lifted your spirits? Do a sun salutation or two, in thanks. Possibly a flow that includes Warrior 2 and 3? Those are good warriors, in my books.

Were you able to say what you wanted in that meeting, without anyone interrupting you? And people said they got what you were saying. They heard you! Does that make you feel like doing some push-ups?

Are you sad because your local boutique gym was closed again due to the pandemic? Missing the camaraderie around the rig? Do they have outdoor offerings and virtual classes in the meantime? Try those options out.

Are you missing a friend or relative, and their hug that used to engulf you? Scream. Punch a pillow a few times, or ten.

Did you get bad news? I’m so sorry. Cry, if you want. Or watch a movie that will let you think about something else for an hour or two.

You disagreed with someone about how to go about responding to this pandemic. Someone you usually agree with. Find some common ground. Maybe on a different topic.

Did you hit your stride on your jog today? Smiled at joggers passing in the opposite direction? Let the smiles settle in your soul.

Were there extra-annoying people at the store today? With their mask maddeningly falling beneath their nose? Or yelling into the coffee shop, maskless, spewing their aerosols about? Did you want to hate them for a second? Walk extra slow on the way home. Let those negative emotions dissipate in the air. Don’t take them home with you. Don’t direct them at someone else to keep the negative chain going.

Did your child learn something today that they didn’t know yesterday? Maybe they’d like to go gather leaves in the park or the yard and jump in them in celebration?

Was today the day you didn’t feel like getting up? You weren’t sure why? Take an extra-long nap. The other things can wait.

Are your knees creaky? Your lower back bothering you? Are you able to do some chair yoga? Or read a book that takes your mind on an adventure.

Was your patience thin today and you said something to the overworked pharmacist who was giving you your flu shot, that you wished you hadn’t? Apologize and make a point of breathing more and walking away for a few minutes the next time you are finding your mood needing a reset.

Were you worrying about the future today? What will be next week? Next June. Next September? Do what you can today. Day by day.

Readers, I hope you have actions in the moment that help you and don’t leave you feeling stagnated.

Nicole P. lives with her husband and two dogs. She’s working at home, working out at home and at the park or running on the sidewalks (distanced from others) and living in the moment.
fitness · mindfulness

Alternatives to doomscrolling

I am addicted to my phone. No doubt about it. I start my morning by checking all the usual social media, including the newsfeed app built in to all of our phones. Most of it’s not a downer. But there are the obvious offenders – Covid-19 – big announcement of the day! and how much life has changed indefinitely; Trump/US Election/the end of democracy as we know it; Climate Change; fires; other ways we can get sick or die, besides Covid; the economy; another icon has died; and so on. The news often scream out for a meditation break.

A cartoon (from NY Times) of a woman in a red top and black pants in a seated meditation pose.

I am a practical person. So I am not looking to cut out doomscrolling completely. How else will I have interesting things to talk about during virtual coffee breaks with colleagues? But I do think it would be valuable for me to make a concerted effort to interweave activities that are good for my mind and soul. Here are some options:

Not a complete list, but some ideas:

  • read a book (currently reading Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo)
  • go for a run or walk (practice active meditation)
  • prep a meal
  • tidy up (not my strong point these days)
  • do some push-ups
  • complete a task for work
  • call someone on the phone (voice calls are having resurgence during the pandemic)
  • take a hot bath (and read a book)
Drawing (from @mylittleparis on Instagram) of a woman in a bubble bath surrounded by a basket of fluffy towels, a stack of books, a glass of wine – optional – I prefer coffee these days – and candles. No mobile device for doomscrolling in site.)
  • go workout in the park (the winter doesn’t scare me, I will dress for it)
  • watch a show (endless streaming can result in watching crap shows. I recently watched a German series called The Last Word, that was quirky and touching and more up my alley). I also caved and added Crave to my subscriptions.
  • have sex (no partner required if one is self isolating!)
  • or just snuggle
  • trim my nails and remove some of the calluses from my feet and try to ignore the worsening bunions
  • shave my legs, but really, I let that go a lot these days too
  • start a sourdough bread or bagels
A picture of a batch of my sourdough bagels (I couldn’t resist)
  • clean out the fridge
  • sort out the clothes closet
  • clean the floors (I hate cleaning floors and we have two dogs, so that is not a good combo)
  • listen to music!
  • check in on a friend and try to make them laugh
  • do some jumping jacks
  • kiss my dogs
  • take a nap
  • do Sun Salutations
  • play Sporcle
  • practice my deep squat, do the “couch stretch” for my quads, do “up dog” stretches for my lower back, roll on my foam roller..
  • make plans for a socially distanced walk with someone not in my bubble

What activities do you enjoy between, or instead of, doomscrolling?

Nicole P. is trying not to doomscroll too much.
fitness

Sisters Running

I’ve written many times about how pivotal running has been in my life. When I started running in my early 30s it provided me with confidence in other areas of my life, mental clarity, a true sense of fitness and a feeling of appreciation and acceptance of my body that I didn’t have before. The drawer full of medals from full and half marathons has not always minimized my Imposter Syndrome, but the medals have contributed to my ability to redirect that part of my brain to more worthwhile endeavours.

I always love hearing about other people who’ve caught the running bug and how running has contributed positively to their lives. It’s especially sweet when it’s people I care about.

Ashley and Carly are my nieces through my brother-in-law of several years. They are 31 and 29, respectively. They are both very smart. PhD smart. Ashley has a PhD in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology and Carly has a PhD in Microbiology and is currently working on a post-doctorate in San Francisco. They are also very sweet and interesting. So, I loved hearing recently that they were both newly hooked on running! And, they’ve been inspiring each other, even though they don’t live in the same city. Carly’s actually the one that introduced me to Strava to track my runs. She has run a couple of half marathons on her own in San Fran and Ashley recently completed her first 10K.

Aside from being interested personally, I thought it might be inspiring for others to hear about their running journey so I asked them some questions, and not surprisingly, they provided very thorough answers! Without further ado, let’s hear about Carly and Ashley’s running journeys.

Ashley

A photo of Ashley hiking in Ferris Provincial Park in Ontario (an activity she did regularly before taking up running)

When did you start running?
I started a structured running program for the first time ever in June of this year. Before that, I had done very short runs here and there, but no schedule ever stuck for a long period of time.

Why did you want to start running?
The most significant motivator for me was a desire to be heart healthy in the face of health anxiety. As I’ve aged out of my 20s and into my 30s, the growing realization that my body will not last forever has increasingly highlighted the inadequacy of what used to be my very sedentary lifestyle. Over time, I realized more and more that adding an exercise routine to my life would not only improve my physical health, but would also act as a way to combat my health fears. I knew that if I was actively doing something to make myself healthier and stave off illnesses associated with an inactive lifestyle, that I would feel less anxious about potentially developing those illnesses.

Did you have challenges? What were they?
Yes, I had many challenges (probably unsurprisingly), and I would categorize them as physical and mental. I personally found the physical challenges (including but not limited to sore ankles, a nasty blister, and the fatigue you feel when you push your personal limits) the easier ones to overcome; the real difficulties came with the mental challenges. First, it was a big challenge to incorporate a new routine into an otherwise busy life, and to stay true to a new schedule without deviation. My days had seemed full to the brim before adding 3 runs a week, and sometimes the idea of fitting a run into a busy, eventful day seemed overwhelming. To overcome this challenge, I really had to focus on my end goal (improving my health) and continually remember that the only way to achieve it was to stick to my schedule. It also helped to remind myself of my priorities in life – since becoming healthier was always the obvious top priority, it was easier to accept when other things had to take a backseat. Second, even once I had committed to stick to my schedule and start a run, I still found it mentally challenging to get through a run to completion, especially for the long ones – it seemed daunting to face running for 60, 90, 120 minutes while becoming increasingly drained and exhausted minute by minute. In order to stop myself from checking the clock every single minute, I had to find ways to distract myself. For me, I found that watching something on TV worked well (I often did my runs on a treadmill). For others, I know that other distractions such as podcasts or listening to music work well too.

What did you like about running in the beginning, if anything? What do you like now, if anything?
Ever since the beginning, I’ve loved the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a run. It has always been so satisfying to know that you’ve overcome whatever personal challenges stood in your way to achieve something that you wanted to achieve. That feeling of accomplishment has only grown as I’ve continued a solid running schedule and is a huge positive aspect of running.

What tips have people given you that have helped your running the most

Set a schedule and stick to it.

My sister is an accomplished runner and I was lucky to have her guidance and support through the entirety of my first full running training programme. Some of her tips throughout the way included:

  • If you miss a run in your schedule, don’t beat yourself up too much and don’t let it be a reason to give up and stop. Reschedule that run and try again another day.
  • Try to learn the difference between the feeling you get from strengthening a body part, and the feeling you get from injuring a body part. If you feel like you’re injuring a body part, stop and try again another day.
  • Do your research to find a good pair of running shoes that works for you.
  • Run outside, if you can – it’s a good way to enjoy nature (I completely ignored this advice because a treadmill with a TV worked better for me – so to each their own!).
  • Most importantly for me: there is nothing physically stopping me from achieving this. My body can do this. The biggest hurdle is mental, and once I overcame that, I can achieve anything.

Although not a tip that my sister directly gave me through words, one major lesson I did learn through her actions was the benefit of having a support system to give you these types of tips along the way. Even if your support system isn’t there to give tips, it’s so helpful to have someone to just to lend support and encouragement. Knowing that my sister believed in me and knew I could do it made me believe in myself as well.

Carly

A photo of Carly running in San Francisco. Photo credit: Jacob Portukalian

When did you start running?
I’d run on and off for the past several years, no more than maybe 15-20 minutes at a time on days I felt like switching up my exercise. More seriously I picked up running again in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit, with the goal of running a half marathon.

Why did you want to start running?
Originally it was a bit practical – I was tired of paying $90/month for the gym to lift weights, which I had felt like I was plateauing on, and wanted to take on a new challenge. I also noticed that I was lagging in my hikes and while skiing with friends, and I wanted to improve my cardiovascular health. When the pandemic hit, and I couldn’t use the gym anyway, I took that as a new opportunity. Running was always something “I couldn’t do”, so I liked the idea of seeing what I was capable of. I found a beginner 12-week half marathon training program online and immediately scheduled all the runs on my calendar. I wasn’t able to travel for that time, so it was the perfect timing.

Did you have challenges? What were they?
When I first started, I had really bad knee pain in one knee. Within the first few weeks of training I got a new pair of shoes and insoles, and over time the pain stopped. I think it was a mix of becoming stronger and the better shoe support. I’ve also struggled on the mental side: with self-image while running, feeling like I’m not a “real” runner because of my pace, or having self-doubt about what distances I could handle.

What did you like about running in the beginning, if anything? What do you like now, if anything?
I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and I love how running brings me into my body. It’s a great de-stressing tool for me after work, to clear my head. It also helps me sleep better. Now, I like that it’s always right there and immediately available to me – I can always put on my shoes and go out for a short run. I know the routes around my house and the relative distances of each. It feels like another skill I have added to my arsenal.

What tips have people given you that have helped your running the most?
Mostly to stay consistent. That if you have a run scheduled, and something else gets in the way, to always, always try to go. To just put on your shoes and step out the door, and run as far as you can, even if it’s not as far as you’d hoped. Creating a routine in that way really pushed my running to the next level.

On a more practical note, some things that have really helped me are new, well-fitting shoes and insoles, a fanny pack for holding my phone and keys, a pair of Bluetooth earphones and electrolyte cubes. Seriously, I probably eat an entire pack of those on my longer runs.

Anything else you would like to add about your running experience.
It’s been extremely empowering to wear a sports bra while running outside and feel like a “real” runner. All it takes is consistency, and confidence will follow. If I can do it, anyone can!

Dear Readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed Carly and Ashley’s stories and tips about running and if you run, or are interested in taking it up, I hope they have inspired you.

Nicole P. is currently running in shorts and a tank top, but this picture reminds her what is coming!
fitness

What is our personal responsibility?

The second wave is upon us in many parts of Canada, according to Justin Trudeau and others in the know. In Ontario, our numbers were in the high 400s earlier this week, which is the highest they’ve been since May.

I’ve been working out mostly at home since March. Twice a week virtually with my regular gym studio. I also run outside once or twice a week and I attend a small group fitness class at a local park (also run by my gym). These options have felt safe, socially-distanced, low-risk, given what we know about transmission of the Covid-19 virus inside vs. outside. In all honesty, I am starting to get a bit bored with the virtual workouts. I do love the park workouts and I will always love my long runs. But being bored with my virtual workout hasn’t been enough for me to go inside the gym. Even when I see videos of my gym buddies happily doing bench presses and back squats with the barbell. Activities I miss. But simply, for me the risk isn’t worth it. Not for me, personally. For the people around me, for the larger community. I am sincerely not judging those that are doing these things. We all have different choices to make.

I feel as though when assessing the risk of doing something during this pandemic, it helps to think of it as “picking my candy”. I am working from home. It’s just my husband and me at home. We have been very careful with social distancing visits with family and friends and have yet to eat indoors, even though it’s allowed. The risks I feel are worth taking for me are the park workout (even though outside, there’s still risk amongst a group), going to the odd store in my neighbourhood with my mask on to get household items I need and seeing my family and friends in backyards and other outside locations. I don’t want to spread my risk around too much. If I started going to eat indoors once in awhile, or working inside the gym, I wouldn’t feel as safe going to see my parents, even outside, since they are in the high-risk category. But beyond my personal choices, with the numbers going up, what is our personal responsibility when making these choices, so that we are not contributing to the increasing numbers and the risk for others?

Everyone has different reasons for their risk. If kids are in school, that would be a priority. You’re an essential worker? Your job is a priority. And so on.

“Thank you to Essential Workers”

It’s not clear at the moment what our governments are going to mandate for this second wave. In Ontario, we are getting new information about their plan(s) on a daily basis. I don’t envy their responsibility with making these decisions. There is no easy answer. We all understand the economic effect another lockdown can have on vulnerable businesses such as gyms and restaurants. So if the government is not going to tell these businesses to scale back (perhaps, to Stage 2), what role do individuals and businesses have in making these decisions? Should gyms be continuing to expand their indoor offerings? Should restaurants continue to add back indoor dining? Is it even helping them by prolonging the inevitable?

My sense is that we shouldn’t wait until we are told to scale back. I saw a Coca-cola billboard ad the other day that said “Staying apart is the best way to stay united.” Coke doesn’t need the publicity but I thought it was a good ad (good ad agency). We are all in this together and as painful as it may be, we may need to make some hard decisions about our activities and what may be contributing to the increasing numbers. We owe it to those front-line workers, high-risk individuals, and anyone else that may be significantly affected by this virus.

Coca-Cola – Staying apart is the best way to stay united.

What are your thoughts on these difficult questions? Are you still going to the gym to work out? Are you planning to throughout the fall and winter? How does this fit into your risk plan? Are things different where you live? If you are doing virtual workouts in a small space inside your home, how are you beating off the monotony of it?

Nicole P. is still living in Stage 2 of the pandemic.