accessibility · aging · fitness · inclusiveness · strength training

Sam wonders about balance: How to applaud aging and weight training for functional fitness without shame and blame for those who can’t

There’s a very moving ad making the rounds about a grandfather strength training for Christmas so that he can lift his granddaughter up to put a star on top of the tree. I got teary watching it and likely you will too. You’ve been warned.

I love his grit and determination. I also love his smiles.

It’s called Take Care of Yourself and it’s the Doc Morris Christmas Advert for 2020.

I also love its message of functional fitness and strength training as we age for all sorts of very practical reasons.

I share a lot of ‘keep strength training as you age’ motivational material on the blog’s Twitter and Facebook page.

See, for example, 5 key steps to build muscle and its many science-backed health benefits.

“A small 2013 study of people between the ages of 88 and 96 years old found that those who performed strength-training exercises for two days a week over a 12-week period showed improvements in balance and a lower incidence of falls when compared to those who didn’t exercise. “It’s safe and important for older people to include strength training,” Jackson says. “Even simple bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and dips can help with strength and muscle building.”

See also What Older People May Be Missing in Their Exercise Workouts

Answer, “As people age, they often focus on cardio. They shouldn’t forget strength training.”

I’m not here to criticize the beautiful and moving strength training grandad commercial. Don’t worry. But I do worry that the focus on strength training for independent living buys into the message that physical dependence is a necessarily a bad thing. I hope to put off the time when I need assistance with everyday household tasks and personal care as long as possible. But I also hope when I need help that I and others can accept it without thinking I ought to have done more kettlebell swings or that it was a moral failing of mine to not care enough about my own health and strength.

I worry that our affection for the weightlifting grandfather is connected to a kind of ableism that celebrates movement and blames those who move less, even when we have no choice. In my own case I’ve talked about that in the context of becoming a non-runner and slower walker.

Regular long time readers will know that it’s hard to hold these two thoughts in balance. You’ll know that it’s something I struggle with.

After all, I wrote both Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice? and What does 74 look like? And how much choice do we have really?

Balance

Thought 1 is that older people are encouraged to slow down. It used to be that when people retired we bought them reclining chairs and told them to ‘relax.’ After all, they’d worked hard their whole lives. Not so much now as times are changing but it’s still true that gyms and fitness culture generally are geared towards young, fit, able bodied people. Older women worry they’ll look foolish exercising. If all of our fitness culture is geared towards aesthetics and maintaining beautiful youthful bodies, no wonder older people feel like they don’t belong.

We see this in the ad above when his neighbour looks to be judgemental of his fitness efforts. She seems puzzled about what he’s doing and why.

And yet, there is a huge cost in losing muscle, losing mobility, and increasing our risk of falling if we don’t continue to exercise–including weight training–as we age.

Older people have far more at stake than the young. The young can get away with a lot. They recover quickly if they are injured. And they bounce back from time off fitness efforts pretty speedily too. All of this gets more difficult as we get older. Indeed, if gyms should be there for anyone, it’s for the elderly.

Thought 2 worries that some of our dislike of old age is a tangled mess of ageism and ableism.

The thought here is that we engage in blame about the failure to age successfully when lots of people encounter the kinds of illness and injury in old age that can’t be overcome with kettlebells and powerwalking. In my post about what 74 looks like I talked about my very fit and physically active mother-in-law who used a wheelchair for mobility in the time after her diagnosis with ALS.

If you’re an academic reading the blog have a look at Christine Overall’s Old Age and Ageism, Impairment and Ableism: Exploring the Conceptual and Material Connections in the National Women’s Studies Association Journal.

See Valuing Old Age Without Leveraging Ableism by Clara W. Berridge and Marty Martinson. They argue that our medical model of “successful aging” without disability sets up the majority of the population, especially women, for failure. Berridge and Martinson write, “Phrases such as “70 is the new 50” reflect a “positive aging” discourse, which suggests that the preferred way of being old is to not be old at all, but rather to maintain some image of middle-age functionality and appearance.”

We want to encourage ourselves to keep moving and to stay strong. At the same time we need respect and compassion for those who can’t move and lift in the same way. It’s a battle I feel personally as I struggle to accept my physical limits without self-blame and still push myself in those areas of physical fitness where I can push. Wish me luck!

I’d appreciate your thoughts about keeping these two thoughts in balance, the push to stay fit and strong and mobile, on the one hand, and the understanding and acceptance when it’s not.

One thing I would say, going back to the video that began this post, is that I wish he wasn’t lifting alone. I wanted a community centre for him to go too. I wanted peers for him to lift with and walk with and drink tea after. We need to do better as fitness communities making inclusive spaces for those who are aging, those who move in different ways, and those for whom both these things are true.

Sam’s biitmoji lifting weights

Often when I start thinking about inclusion and fitness I search for an older blog post by Krista Scott Dixon that always makes me smile, All are welcome in this house that strength built.

“So give me your poor, your tired, your weak of spine and crumbling of bone. Give me your mushy of muscle and burbly of digestion and bored of treadmill-hamstering.

Give me your old and young and everything between early bipedalism and death. And while you’re at it give me your non-bipedal: your limps and gimps and wimps and wheeled and caned and casted and bandaged. Untangle your sweaty hospital sheets and IV tubes and tentacles of fear and shame and move whatever isn’t strapped down. A finger, a leg, an eyelid. Whatever you can move, keep moving it. Next week, add some weight to that.

Give me your saggy, your baggy, your faggy, your haggy. Give me your freaks and geeks; steers and queers; sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, preppies, jocks, stoners, poindexters, punkers, rockers, hicks, drama dorks, superstars, homebodies, farmers, New Wavers and socs.

Give me your bodies wracked with life’s whims; your hormonally challenged; your rattling bottles of pills like morbid maracas; your diseases of disuse. Your old knee injury from when you tried drunken trampolining.

Give me your your shit-talkers and funk-walkers; the voices in your head who sing the Rocky training montage; your sniveling inner toddler who stamps and says “No!”. Leave your inner critic at the door, or do five pushups every time you speak to yourself seriously in her voice.

Give me your clueless big-eyed newbies and grizzled gray-prickly veterans. Give me your squashy and scrawny. Give me your chickenshits; you people hunting for your fighting spirit and tending the tiny flame of Yes we can inside your ribcage.

It doesn’t matter who kicked the sand in your face. Spit it out and let’s get to work.”

There’s more…go read it. And I love how it ends, “Wherever you are in your journey of strength, you are welcome here. This place is for you.”

aging · feminism · inclusiveness · stereotypes

I Chose Not to Have Children and I Belong Here, Too

Today, I hit 2 years straight in my daily meditation streak. When I started, I set myself the goal of 30 days. As time passed, I kept moving the goalposts. I feel good about my accomplishment (and I’ve written elsewhere about what I’ve learned). And yet, as soon as I sense those first inklings of pride, I hear the voice: “Well, you don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to meditate every day.” That’s the collective voice of women I’ve known, friends even. It’s also the voice of our society, which has insinuated itself into my psyche, passing itself off as my own judgments of myself. Every accomplishment I might celebrate is diminished by this subtext, “You don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to …” Write a book. Run an ultra-marathon. Start a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and one-on-one facilitations.

Not only do I not have children, I am one of the extreme few women who are childfree by choice. 6-10% by some estimates, but that number sounds high to me; especially given that the total percent of women without children is 15.4%, which includes women who tried without medical success or would have had children, if partnered. In other words, I neither tried, nor was I circumscribed by circumstance. Oh, and my decision is irreversible at this biological point in my life. That’s right, I’m also over fifty. What a disgrace! I’ve allowed myself to age and I did not contribute to society’s diktat of the highest and best use of my female body—having children. Not that our overburdened, beleaguered planet is in need of more carbon footprints. But it turns out that I’m the carbon footprint the world can do without. I am surplus. Not even worthy of pity, because I chose my condition.

How many times have I heard variations on the phrase, “you can do that because you don’t have children”? How many times have I watched a mother’s face cloud over when she asked me if I had children and I answered? How many times have I been told that children keep you young? How many times have I endured pronouncements and opinions prefaced with “as a mother”? How many times have I been told that one has to be unselfish to have children? How many times have I heard that a woman can only truly know love once she has children? How many times have I heard during COVID that it’s the grandparents who can’t see their grandchildren who are suffering most?

The subtexts of each of these statements are demeaning and hurtful.

How about this? –A friend once said that I could (and should) make the effort to buy a fuel-efficient car, but that she could not, because she had children. Not only is it my responsibility to pay school taxes (which I absolutely 100% want to do!), but apparently it would also be helpful if I reduced my consumption, to allow for more by people with children. 

This is the moment when I make the disclaimer: No, I don’t hate children. In fact, there are children I love a whole lot. Same as most people, regardless of their procreative status. More, I enjoy cooking for people and engaging in other standard nurturing activities. And, it distresses me to have to have to clarify these points; in case people think I’m the Wicked Witch for not having children.

Playful sign on homey porch that reads: “Beware the Wicked Witch Lives Here”.
Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

This is a caveat to my disclaimer: Children’s parents can be self-important and insensitive.

I was moved to write this after reading this interview with Jody Day, psychotherapist, author and founder of Gateway Women—I’m losing my shame. Day talks about the pernicious pronatalism of our society, which tells a woman without children, “You’ve failed, you’ve got nothing to offer, you don’t fit in.” This message crashes up against what Day points out is our all too “human desire to be generative.” After all, aren’t children the ultimate generativity? Of course, that standard only applies to women.

I have been struggling lately with feeling generative. Because Day is right. I want to contribute to our society. I want to have a positive impact during my time here on earth. My last book came out in July 2019. I don’t have another one underway … yet. Early this year I founded a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and individual facilitations. We launched right as COVID hit, so we’ve been pushing uphill against all those obstacles. I don’t have a regular pay cheque, so I suffer the psychic degradations of an uncertain income. On occasion, in desperate fallow-feeling moments, like now, I think, “If I’d had children, this would be okay; because I could point to them as my raison d’être.” My children would be my accomplishment, my meaning. Instead, I have to stand in my own shoes. Live my own purpose. Find my own meaning. Offer my own grace.     

To do so, I need to overcome the explicit and implicit negative messaging that assaults me from all sides. Women should not be shamed or feel shame for choosing not to have children. One last quote from Day’s interview: “… [J]ust being a childless woman living shamelessly as you age is already radical enough.” Radical? I feel more generative already. I embrace that label. I don the cloak of radicality with insouciant pleasure. I slip it on over the cloak of invisibility assigned to me by society when I reached a certain age without children. My shoulders could feel crushed beneath the weight of the double cloaks. Instead, they feel lighter, looser and easier. The lens through which I’m looking at my life shifts. Free of society’s shoulds and musts, I feel the vitality of energies that want to flow. I remember that I made a conscious choice to be who I am. That choice was a generative act. A decision to share my energies beyond the borders of home and family.

Women without children are abundant; a radiant, radical power source. Let’s plug into our own energy shamelessly, so we can fulfill our highest and best purpose.  

aging · athletes · covid19 · fitness · illness

Some stories of active people and COVID-19 recovery

CW: There’s some discussion of weight and weight loss in these stories.

Here on the blog we’ve written lots about exercising from home because gyms are closed and about other indirect effects of the pandemic on how we workout. I’ve also written about exercise and how it might affect one’s immune response.

But I’ve been wanting to write about exercise and people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. I was reminded of it again when this passed through my newsfeed: Exercise After Covid-19? Take It Slow.

Jordan D. Metzl writes, “For the past 20 years, when patients asked me about exercising while recovering from a viral illness like the flu, I gave them the same advice: Listen to your body. If exercise usually makes you feel better, go for it.

Covid-19 has changed my advice.

Early in the pandemic, as the initial wave of patients with Covid-19 began to recover and clinically improve, my colleagues and I noticed that some of our patients were struggling to return to their previous activity levels. Some cited extreme fatigue and breathing difficulties, while others felt as if they just couldn’t get back to their normal fitness output. We also began to hear of a higher than normal incidence of cardiac arrhythmias from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart and, in rare cases, cause sudden cardiac arrest. Other complications like blood clots were also cropping up.

What was most surprising is that we saw these problems in previously healthy and fit patients who had experienced only mild illness and never required hospitalization for Covid-19.

In my sports medicine practice, a cyclist in her 40s with recent Covid-19 symptoms had leg pain that was abnormal enough to warrant an ultrasound, which showed near complete cessation of blood flow because of arterial and venous blood clots in both legs. Thankfully, our team caught these early enough that they didn’t spread to her lungs, which ultimately could have killed her. Recently, a college student in Indiana with Covid-19 died from a blood clot that traveled to her lungs. As the pandemic has evolved, we’ve learned of a much higher risk of blood clots from people who contract the virus.”

That’s just an except. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.

What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends in their 40s-60s. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.

At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.

I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.

Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19

Here’s the first two:

Patricia is 62, lives in London, Ontario and she rows, skis, golfs, plays tennis, trail runs and cycles. We know each other through masters rowing.

“I was surprised that I got it. I took all precautions. I had a mild case according to the Health Unit. I thought my allergies were playing up. My eyes were sensitive to light and I had a tightening in my chest. I had night sweats (I thought menopause was rearing its ugly head yet again). Apparently I had a low grade fever. I developed a cough that lasted about a month and lost my sense of taste and smell. I found I was winded easily and that lasted for months. My sense of taste and smell have never fully come back yet. I was in direct contact with an individual who had Covid on March 18th. My cousin passed away from it at the end of March.”

Heather lives in Kansas City, USA and she’s a 46 year old Triathlete/Road Runner/Mountain Climber/Zwift Racer/Cyclist. She’s on Sarah’s Zwift bike team.

“My health story really began when I was a young woman (22).  I was taking birth control pills and ended up throwing a blood clot to my brain, it was misdiagnosed as a migraine and ended up hemorrhaging causing a major stroke.  Being at risk for blood clots is something that is always in the back of my head… too much weight -can  cause blood clots.  Smoking – can cause blood clots, drinking too much – can cause blood clots. Having babies, having too low a heart rate, being too inactive… pretty much all can lead to blood clots.  So when COVID-19 came out to show that every autopsy of those who died with the disease had blood clots throughout their system, I felt I could really not do well if I get it.

In May (3 months into the pandemic) I decided that sitting on the couch and stress eating my way through the lock downs was not going to set me up for successfully fighting COVID.  I started really focusing on dropping the extra 20lbs I had acquired and strengthen my body to give it a fighting chance.  I used My Fitness Pal to track my calories and used the input vs output method of dieting.  I started signing up for challenges that pushed me – 30 day cycling challenge to complete 500 miles.  Climb Mt. Everest Challenge to climb/run/hike or bike 29,029 ft. In 50 days… These challenges along with the calorie watching allowed me to take off the 20lbs and get strong.  My doctor put me on a prophylactic low dose blood thinner in anticipation of getting COVID and I just continued to be as healthy, fit and strong as I could be.


I ended up contracting COVID 19 in the first week of October.  Coming in, my fitness level was strong.  My doctor advised that I not push my heart rate past zone 2 for the 10 day isolation period.  That was a long and hard 10 days of being sedentary.  I rode one Zwift race and I kept my heart rate down under zone 2 and it took me twice as long to finish as the rest of my team (but I got them a point!). 

My case was a mild case.  I had a total of 3 hours of low grade fever, nasal congestion and the typical loss of taste and smell.  After 10 days I felt like I was good to go.  My doctor gave me the green light to get my heart rate up again and when I did I found the result was as if I didn’t have any fitness built up.  My max heart rate was nearly 20 points higher than it had been 2 weeks prior.  I struggled holding speed and stamina and began to think maybe COVID did affect me.


It has been 5 weeks since I was released to work my body as hard as I want and it has been a slow come back.  I race twice a week and ride two more times a week.  I walk and run hills and with every effort I am watching what my heart is doing.  It is slowly coming down and I am able to hang on longer, recover by dropping the heart rate faster and push the way I want to push.


I consider myself lucky to have had a good outcome having had COVID and would caution any athlete to not fight through this one by pushing your body.”

Heather on her bike

This afternoon Michelle Goodfellow shares her story about testing positive for COVID-19.

aging · beach body · beauty · body image · fitness · swimming

Take your batwings and fly far far away

There’s an ad in my newsfeed that seems to greet me each morning. It’s an ad for very modest bathing suits targeted to older women. Each morning it makes me grumpy.

The bathing suits are fine. They’re not to my taste. (That phrase makes me smile because it’s what my kids used to say, when young, and served with a dish they didn’t like.) So no judgement, you wear one if you want, I won’t say a thing. They’re just large and drape-y and cover a lot of skin.

I’m not the only blogger getting such ads in their social media newsfeed. It’s almost as if active women over fifty were their targeted demographic. Catherine blogged in September about women over fifty wearing whatever we want in the water. And just last week Martha blogged about an ad campaign that shows naked bodies of all ages and shapes moving in a variety of ways. She also commented on the bathing suit ads.

Writes Martha, “It’s sad because not ten minutes after I started searching for a link, I got an ad in one of my news feeds for Bathing Boomers swimwear, swimsuits marketed to mid-life and older women to camouflage their “lives well lived.” The web copy says the goal of the company is to help women feel dignified, stylish and confident by hiding all the problem areas (the jiggly bits and bumps).

Here’s a newsflash: you don’t make women feel confident by saying parts of their body are a problem. I think I’ll add Nova’s ad to my happy video stream just as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful in their own way and we don’t need to hide anything regardless of how we are shaped.”

Now there are all sorts of reasons for preferring more coverage, protecting against sun exposure being an excellent one. But that’s not the reason this company offers. Instead, their pitch is making life more relaxing by covering up our aging flesh.

The ad reads: “It’s a long overdue gift for women of a certain age who are ditching the denial and diets and now can look at a glass of wine without seeing 300 calories in every pour. We are all on board for a concept that embraces aging bodies, bat wings and all.”

A gift? Last I checked they’re for sale and we buy the swimsuits.

Bat wings? Older women don’t have batwings. We have arms. Some are large and some small and they come in different shapes. Arms don’t need labels. They’re arms. That’s all.

See Cankles, more broken body parts you can feel bad about, or please let’s just stop and Bingo wings and dinner plate arms: Let’s put our wit to work elsewhere.

Also Let’s label all the body bits and have fun with it! and Sam rejects your ‘amazing arm shapers!’

I am not going to buy anything that use body shame as a marketing tool.

Unless you meant bathing suits for actual bats.

That I’d like to see.

Bats, sleeping, upside down, as they do. Photo by Rodrigo Curi on Unsplash
aging · beauty

#NoFilter isn’t really a thing: Selfies and self-image

I’m looking at new phones. I’m considering the Galaxy Note 20. And I’m reading reviews on the internet, as one does. I came across this criticism which piqued my interest.

“Sadly, the selfie camera’s penchant for smoothing faces even when I’ve turned off every possible filter is also predictable. I wish Samsung would get on board with Google’s call to eliminate these defaults for good because they’re potentially harmful to people’s self-image.” From the Verge review of the phone which otherwise mostly says nice things except it’s too pricey and you should wait.

I am the Selfie Queen and I don’t mind filters. But I like obvious filters that make it clear you’re using a filter.

Compare these two photos. You can move back and forth between the two photos using the bar in the middle.

No filter on the left, filter on the right but it’s obviously a filer. Also, there are flames!

So my worry, my objection isn’t to filters per se. It’s a worry about filters that are an improved normal, when you can’t tell if a filter is being used at all.

A few us here on the blog have been chatting about filters in Zoom meetings. The other day I was in one and I was pretty sure all the women were using the beauty face/improve my appearance option and all the men were not. We look all blurry and glowing. They look all craggy and serious. Not sure if this is better or worse than the women wearing make up and men not! Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

Here’s how it works:

Touch up my appearance

  1. In the Zoom desktop client, click your profile picture then click Settings.
  2. Click the Video tab.
  3. In the Video Settings dialog, click Touch up my appearance.
  4. Use the slider to adjust the effect.

I tend not to use it because my main video-conferencing tool is Teams, which lacks “touch up my appearance.” I tried it on Zoom and then switched to a Teams meeting recently and thought I’d suddenly gotten ill, or old, or tired, or all three. Until I remembered.

All of this got me thinking about filters, what’s real and what’s not.

There’s no neutral of course since all representations involve choices. So the hashtag “nofilter” can never really be true but some filters are worse than others.

See Philosophical Reflections on Phootgraphy in the AGe of Instagram from Daniel Star writing on the blog Asthetics for Birds: “….(M)y point is that camera and smartphone manufacturers must make decisions about how colors and details will be represented: in effect, each manufacturer provides its own filter that affects, for a start, white balance, color saturation and contrast. Manufacturers must make aesthetically relevant decisions with respect to the interpretation of sensor outputs in digital cameras, the film constitution and development process with analog film, and many complex aspects of camera lens design. The color profiles that come with digital cameras and smartphones vary, and they are, to a large extent, the product of conscious, proprietary decisions made by different manufacturers, with viewers and consumers of various kinds in mind.”

So while #nofilter is never really true, I’d like to keep my wrinkles thanks.

I think I like playful, deliberate filters but not beauty “improving” filters that make it harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Silly filters!
aging · athletes · fitness · racing

On turning 56 and thinking about age and speed

I’ve been 56 for almost a month now! And as is the case when each year ticks over, I seem to spend some time thinking about aging and what it all means. Today’s musings are about speed.

There’s a thing that people say about older athletes. They say you lose your peak performance, your top end speeds, your ability to sprint.

You keep your endurance. The older athlete can go forever. We just can’t go as fast.

That’s the received wisdom and you hear it from masters athletes themselves.

But the problem is that this isn’t quite true. Studies show that older athletes who lose top end speeds do so because because they stop training for performance at those speeds. They keep the long rides and long runs but drop the speed training. Almost nobody keeps training at 60 as much as they did when they were younger. When they conduct studies and test older athletes responsivity to training, older athlete do make the same kinds of gains they did when they were younger. They just don’t feel like doing it.

What’s missing, it turns out, isn’t the phsyiological ability to respond to training. What’s missing is the desire to train hard.

As I’ve noted elsewhere that doesn’t necessarily make it an easier problem to solve or understand.

In one of my very first blog posts–Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice? (written 8 years ago!)–I reviewed Gretchen Reynolds’ book The First Twenty Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.

In discussing her chapters on aging, I wrote: “What exactly is the connection between exercise and aging? The old view was that muscle loss and a decline in aerobic  capacity were inevitable with old age. We slow down with age and become more frail, starting in our 40s, it seemed. But new research suggests the connections may run the other way. We become slower and more frail because we stop moving. Older athletes get slower and less strong, not because they’re older, but rather because they train less than younger athletes.

We age because we stop moving, on this way of thinking about the connection. It’s as if aging is something we choose to do. That’s a very intriguing idea. What’s positive about this is we could choose differently. We could choose to keep moving and avoid some of the physical decline we associate with old age. But what’s less clear is why older people slow down and take to their rockers. It may be that the psychological urge to rest is stronger than Reynolds and the researchers think. If aging brains are the problem, then slowing with age still might be inevitable.”

But lately I’ve been wondering more about aging athletes and what gets in our way. I don’t think the psychological barriers aren’t real. I just think they’re not the whole story.

Our older bodies are just more demanding, higher maintenance, fussy! Cate described some of this in her post on generative aging. Reading about her aches and pains, I felt recognition. Oh, me too! I’m not alone in this.

I need the right amount of sleep, the right kind of sleep. I have to eat a certain way before I ride my bike. I need to stretch. And most annoyingly, I need to rest after riding hard before I can do it again. It’s a scheduling nightmare. I’m only sort of joking.

In addition to the onging saga of my knees, I am always nursing small aches and pains. Goddamit, I even have arthritic toes and toe physio. In the before times, I had physio appointments and massage therapy appointments. I still have daily knee stretches I need to do to feel okay just walking the dog.

I can’t just do what I want when I feel like doing it. I laugh when people say, listen to your body, as if it spoke with one voice. There’s an order, a schedule, and lots of moving pieces. My toe wants no pressure on it. My knee needs movement. My stomach wants food an hour before I ride, not twenty minutes before, and two hours before won’t do either. Part of me wants yoga but it has to be the exact right kind of yoga to match my aches and pains!

So while it’s true that age shouldn’t be the only factor determining what exercise you do, it definitely plays a role. Age complicates things. Sports training won’t be tucked into the corners of your life. If you take it seriously as you get older it takes a lot of time and mental energy in addition to the physical exertion. It’s why I think middle age is extra tough. We can envy the resilience of the young who barely need to sleep or eat and the older folks who are retired and who have time to train. Guest blogger Mary Case makes it look tempting.

A good guide to speed after 50, by the way, is Joel Friel’s Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life. It says “racing” and the cover features a bike but that’s bad marketing. It’s really about peak performance across endurance sports and it’s not just for those who keep racing.

Why care about speed? That’s a different question, of course.

There’s the health argument that interval training and intense efforts are good for us, at all ages. But you can aim for intensity without caring about speed.

Let’s just take it as given that some of us do care about speed, that it’s an aesthetic thing that doesn’t need an explanation, like preferring chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream. You can say what you like about chocolate but that doesn’t give reasons for the vanilla ice cream lover to switch.

That said, lots of us do care about speed and keep caring about speed as we age. From that point of view, this is mostly good news. Training still works, you can keep your speed, and slowing down isn’t a physiological necessity. Yay! There are bad news bits. Getting in that much training and the right kind of training becomes a lot more complicated. You don’t just have to care, you have to REALLY CARE. And there’s the rub.

I’m going to blog later about what I like about racing and speed. My pitch for chocolate ice cream as it were. I want to be clear what it is I’m doing when I do that. I’m describing what I get out of it, and what you might like about it too, but there aren’t reasons or arguments. It’s totally okay not to care and like what you like.

Boy riding on bike near shore
aging · athletes · fitness · racing · running

Older women runners are the fastest growing running demographic

While I’m not able to run, it’s exciting to read about the changing demographic of the running community. In cycling I’m often the oldest woman rider and I spend a lot of time riding with men my age and older. That’s been true for be since I started riding. It’s true even in Zwift.

It’s okay. I like riding with men. But still I wonder, where are the women my age? Clearly, they’re running

Running, or at least the race community, is doing something right. Or women runners are doing something right. They’re keeping at it as they age which is lovely to see

40+ demographic takes lead in largest study of runners

“Among other things, the research revealed that the United States has the highest proportion of female runners; that the 40-49 year-old age group is fastest and most popular; that Slovenia, Iceland and Ukraine are fastest countries; and that the Boston Marathon boasts the fastest average run time of “popular races.”

“But perhaps the most encouraging finding for older adults is that those in the 90 to 99 year-old age group are the fastest growing population of runners today, increasing 39% from 2014 to 2017. Researchers called that particular finding “staggering.””

How demographics are affecting the running scene

For decades — a century, almost — road racing was a world of competitive men. Since emerging from the first running boom, however, the sport has quickly evolved. The competitive core is still there, leading the pack. But now that core is being chased through the streets by thousands upon thousands of new runners, many of them motivated by very different factors.

The numbers really began to change in the early 1990s when aging running boomers filled out the masters ranks. By 2000, 44 percent of marathon finishers were 40-plus. Growth of the women’s division was even more dramatic. Just 10 percent of marathon finishers in 1980 were female. That figure is now 40 percent, while women now make up more than half the finishers at many shorter distances.”

Running demographics

More women than men (53-47%) and the average of women runners now 38.6

aging · blogging

Silver Sam

Tracy and I often joke about all the things we have in common. We’re both immigrants to Canada who came here with our parents when we were young. We’re very close to the same age. We both have American PhDs. We wrote disserations in ethics. We started our careers in the Philosophy Department at Western in the early 90s. And we’ve had a multi-decade friendship and conversation about body image and physical fitness in our lives and the lives of women more generally. Then there’s the “fittest by fifty challenge,” this blog, and our book.

“[Fit at Mid-Life] reinforces the message that fitness can and should be for everyone, no matter their age, size, gender, or ability.” ––SELF

What if you could be fitter now than you were in your twenties? And what if you could achieve it while feeling more comfortable and confident in your body? 

Here’s what we looked like when our book was published. Promotional photos are from the Amazon site. Thanks Ruth! (Ruthless Images)

Now we’re aging and going grey together. Tracy first! See Tracy enters the grey zone. Tracy’s move to grey/silver was deliberate and planned and involved hair salons. Mine was accidental and a result of COVID-19.

I love Tracy’s silver hair and think it looks beautiful. I confess that silver envy is part of my motivation but I am not sure mine will look as good.

Luckily Sarah owns clippers and has been tidying up my undercut as it grows. Here’s my latest bikes and boats haircut. Gradually there’s less and less blonde and more and more of my hair’s natural colour.

But the thing is I never was someone who coloured her hair to cover grey. Here’s 80s me with a similar haircut and colour scheme. In wilder times it was also pink and purple. I’ve also never coloured the undercut bits and hiding my age was never part of my intention. I’ve always thought of hair colour as fun. I like tattoos rather than jewelry because they can’t get lost. And hair colour rather than make up because you don’t have to put it on and take it off each day.

And yet.

Here am in, in my 50s, in an administrative role as an academic, frequently sitting around tables with men in suits and women in dresses, almost of the women my age with blonde streaked hair. It’s ubiquitous.

I know why we do it. It’s easy. Highlights aren’t that expensive. The blonde is easier on your complexion. It’s closer to the lighter colour your hair is naturally turning. It’s forgiving in terms of growing in. It’s flattering.

But what if it no longer feels fun? It looks (except for my secret graying undercut) mainstream. What if it starts to feel mandatory?

Blondness is also complicated.

Apparently just 2 percent of adult white women in North America are blonde naturally. You wouldn’t guess that looking around campus or at the mall.

I hadn’t thought of blondness as connected to normative identities and whiteness until I read this article, The Pursuit of Blondness.

“Blondness, then, exists as a complicated form of self-expression. It can signal youth, beauty, privilege, and conformity. But it can also represent rebellion, independence, and the demand to be looked at and respected. It’s a choice that’s both distinctly personal and deeply intertwined with what society has taught people to value. Rankine and Lucas have a term for that: complicit freedom.

Anyway, I’m growing it out because of #PandemicHair. Maybe I’ll keep it its natural colour. Maybe I’ll revert to blonde. It’s easy to do. It’s shockingly more dark than I remembered!

Cheddar, by the way, is a completely natural blonde.

Sam and her yoga dog

What are you doing with your hair colour during the pandemic? Any post pandemic hair colour plans?

aging · fitness · training

Sam’s max heart rate is slowing down but that’s okay, she isn’t

A beating cartoon heart

So I’m back training again. I’m riding and racing on Zwift. I’m working with a coach. Hi Chris! And that means I’m paying attention to data.

I’m also paying attention to some comparative data. Because I’ve been riding and using a Garmin and Strava for years, some things are interesting to track over time.

My ftp has gone up. (FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and represents the highest wattage number you can expect to average over an hour.) All good. It’s fun. I like measuring and tracking progress.

Yay!

Except what’s striking is that my maximum heart rate has gone down, like way down. A lot. Fifteen years ago when I used to race crits, do short distance duathlons and do flying laps at the velodrome, I had a max heart rate of 182.

Here’s younger Sam racing in a crit. Thanks Greg Long for the photo.

Now my max heart rate is 164 or so. I used to do time trials at 168. Now my time trial heart is more like 150. That’s the highest heart rate I can maintain for a good chunk of time without blowing up.

Remember the old formula? 220 minus your age? That’s pretty much right for me now. I suppose I shouldn’t care. My top speeds haven’t gone down and neither has my power output. But what’s it all about?

See Heart rate and age: “The relationship between the heart and exercise has been studied for more than six decades and the research is clear: Max heart rate—the highest heart rate you can safely hit during exercise—decreases with age regardless of lifestyle or level of fitness. Why the drop? The reasons aren’t completely known, but a 2013 University of Colorado Medical School study found that one reason could be slower electrical activity in the heart’s pacemaker cells. Basically, “your heart can’t beat as often,” says Roy Benson, running coach and co-author of Heart Rate Training.
However, a lower max heart rate may not necessarily affect your splits. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that a decrease in heart rate max means a decline in performance,” says Joe Friel, coach and author of Fast After 50 and The Triathlete’s Training Bible. “That’s a very common but unsupported view of athletes who are ill informed about the science behind heart rate. They assume a high heart rate means a high level of performance. Not true.”

I started to go down the rabbit hole of reading journal articles about why max heart rate declines. But really, do I need to know? I am still puzzled about why it doesn’t seem to matter as much as I thought it might.

I’ve written about heart rate training before.

See here:

Take it easy: Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 1

Go hard! : Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 2

Obviously, I need to open up my Garmin/Strava settings and put in some new numbers.

Do you track heart rate while exercising? Have you noticed it dropping with age?

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash
aging · fitness

Livestrong won’t live long with this bogus exercise advice

CW: mention of diets and quoting of bogus articles’ judgy and false statements about body sizes and ages and (oddly enough) heights.

I don’t necessarily hate internet exercise advice; often I can pick and choose the good stuff from the bin of otherwise useless or ill-fitting or totally-not-for-me tips, and go about my merry way.

Not today, though.

Nope, not today.
Nope, not today.

Why not today? I came across (courtesy of Sam), a pair of totally bogus 2019 exercise articles:

An exercise guide to get a 40-year-old woman fit (I kid you not on the title); AND…

How do short women stay in shape? (their tone of incredulity was, at the very least, surprising)

First of all, what’s with the titles? The first one seems to be enlisting unnamed third parties for rounding up the 40-year-old women and subjecting them to fitness-inducing procedures. Thank goodness I’m no longer 40 is all I have to say about that.

Of course that’s not true; I have a lot more to say about that.

I'm just getting started...
I’m just getting started…

And the second article– is it curious that such a thing (namely, short women “staying in shape” — ew!) is possible? Or is there a darker tone of skepticism here?

Moving on… I have to tell you, these writers really know how to hit you with the lede. Here’s the over-40 article opener:

If you’re a 40-year-old woman who wants to get in shape, it’s crucial to do workouts that are targeted to your changing body and slowed metabolism levels. As you age, it’s normal to experience muscle loss, stubborn belly fat and reduced energy levels (hurrah, getting older!).

It’s a miracle I had the energy to keep reading.

The short-women article opens with encouragement:

Every woman should strive to stay in shape, no matter her height.

Well, that’s a new twist on fitspo. Then, there’s some carefully couched phrasing about exercise and eating (did they call in the lawyers on this?):

In general, shorter women will need to aim for a lower weight than taller women, which may mean that you need to exercise more or eat less than they do.

This woman isn't sure what's coming, but she's not happy.
This woman isn’t sure what’s coming, but she’s not happy.

Both articles start from the premise that “getting fit” (which also means for them getting thin) is going to be, at best, a grim uphill battle, involving lots of hard workouts and very restricted eating. Both articles make false statements about how exercise will help reduce belly fat (BO-GUS!) and how exercise will result in lowered body weights (DOUBLE BO-GUS!).

The worst part of the getting-women-over-40-fit article is this: it assumes that 40-something women aren’t or can’t or wouldn’t otherwise be athletes, or physically active, or functionally able to do all sorts of vigorous sports and activities. So it offers a grim regime of exercises, all aimed at staving off the dreaded belly fat. This makes me sad.

Luckily, none of what that article says is true or necessary. We of the over-40 women’s roundup group have loads of fun activities open to us. Just look at our blog for ideas. Or these recent pictures of me (in my mid-50s) attempting all sorts of moving-around-things:

Can all sorts of activities be done over 40? Yes.

Will there be belly fat? Yes, probably.

Does that inhibit movement and render one incapable of activity? No.

You know what? I’m going to go out on a high note here and not talk about the short-women screed. Okay, I can’t resist sharing this one totally bogus tidbit:

Short women will do well in Ashtanga yoga, which requires you to move from pose to pose in the space of one breath to the next. Your compact shape will enable you to move in and out of poses more quickly than taller women.

I’ve taken a lot of yoga classes, and must say I don’t recall shorter colleagues moving in a blur around me. If you are either a) shorter and move with ninja speed; or b) have witnessed examples of a), please do share your story with us.