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.

aging · blog · blogging · fitness

J. Lo and Shakira: Sam reaches out to some new readers

I blogged about it here first, Women’s bodies and football and racism and being a babe at 50.

And then someone suggested I write about it for The Conversation. Thanks Sandy!

What’s The Conversation? Their tagline is, Academic rigour, journalistic flair. Which I like. I started as a journalist and then went back to school and completed a PhD.

Here’s what they say about themselves: “The Conversation Canada launched in June 2017. The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public. Our team of professional editors work with experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public. Access to independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversations.”

Here’s what I wrote for The Conversation, written in English and they translated it into French:

J.Lo’s body: Distressing or inspiring for mid-life women?

Oh J.Lo ! Source d’inspiration ou de détresse pour les femmes ?

Since then it’s been read more than 40k times. The English post has been shared more than 2k times on Facebook and lots on Twitter too.

I love the traction it’s gotten on Twitter! In the piece I talk about women athletes whose careers have taken off in midlife.

“Kristin Armstrong, for example, only started racing at the age of 27 and won Olympic gold medals at 43. She is the most decorated American female cyclist of all time and the best time trial in the history of the sport. ( She won three Olympic gold medals, six national championships in the United States and was a two-time world champion .)”

She likes being in the same article with J. Lo and Shakira. Turns out Selene Yaeger was a late starter in endurance sports.

I love our blog community and our Facebook page and our growing group of Twitter friends, but sometimes it’s nice to reach out and meet some new people and connect with them about feminist fitness themes. Thanks to The Conversation!

aging · beauty · fitness · normative bodies · objectification · racism · sex · stereotypes

Women’s bodies and football and racism and being a babe at 50

I know you might have been watching the game. But me, the only bit I’ve watched was the amazing halftime show put on by J. Lo and and Shakira. Did you see it? So good. They performed a medley of their music along with some amazing choreography and wore gorgeous costumes. It was fun and beautiful and I loved it.

But no sooner had I enjoyed it than the commentary began. Do you know that J. Lo and Shakira are 50 and 43, respectively? There was a lot of commenting about that. There was also a lot of commenting about their “sinful” costumes. And should they really be wearing so little clothing? (Sometimes said, sometimes implied, “at their age.”) Isn’t this just the objectification of women’s bodies?

A friend said on Facebook, earlier in the day, about football, that it was a good principle in general to “let people enjoy things.” I think the same thing is true about the halftime entertainment.

There was an awful lot of critical commentary. So many words about women’s bodies. A conservative Christian mother of three took to Twitter to liken the halftime show to pornography and Twitter responded about as expected.

To give you a flavour of the anti-halftime show Christian comments, here’s Rev. Franklin Graham, “I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children. We see that disappearing before our eyes. It was demonstrated tonight in the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show — with millions of children watching. This exhibition was Pepsi showing young girls that sexual exploitation of women is okay. With the exploitation of women on the rise worldwide, instead of lowering the standard, we as a society should be raising it.”

USA Today weighed in, Empowering, not objectifying. Amen. Thank you USA Today. Argument: They’re adult women and this is about choice.

This blog’s frequent guest Sarah Skwire had the best response. I laughed during a university meeting reading it.

Sarah wrote. “I gather some women had bodies on television last night. This, of course, never happened when I was a child. Certainly not during prime time, when we watched clean and healthy shows like Wonder Woman, Buck Rodgers, Logan’s Run, Three’s Company, Baywatch, and Love Boat which never sexualized women’s bodies, or made scanty outfits a central point of their plots, or exposed young children to sexual situations..

When I was a child, women in entertainment all dressed like Edith Bunker.”

Why so much policing of women’s bodies? Did it make a difference do you think the women’s bodies in question weren’t white? Did it seem especially sinful/sexy and in need of control because they were brown women dancing? Was race a factor?

Read Dear White People: The Super Bowl Halftime Show Wasn’t Too Sexy, You’re Just Racist if you want to hear the arguments.

On Facebook Kristin Wolf had this to say:

“White people:
I see your posts about how their bodies and their dancing made you uncomfortable.

Did you notice the Latinx kids in cages singing BORN IN THE USA and LETS GET LOUD surrounded by an illumined Venus symbol? Did you notice the foot work? Did you notice the rope Shakira tied around her body while belly dancing? Can you think more deeply about what that image meant? Did you notice bilingual songs and two of the hottest Raggaeton artists as guests? Did you notice the 🇵🇷? Did you notice that sex work is legitimate work and the pole wasn’t about you?

Y’all save your righteous anger for the weirdest stuff. I wish y’all were as uncomfortable about kids in cages as you are about brown bodies.

STOP POLICING BROWN BODIES.”

So there’s sex and there’s race, but there’s also an age angle. So much talk of their age. Did you know J.Lo is 50? Did you know Shakira is 43?

The New York Times had this to say: “Well, on Sunday Ms. Lopez showed the world what 50 looks like — at least her version of it.” Read The Power of 50.

But that prompted a lot more spilt ink about being 50 and looking like J. Lo.

From the New Yorker article THE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW, AND THE AGELESS COMFORTS OF J. LO : “Magazines and Web sites regularly publish articles that promise to reveal the secrets to Lopez’s continued youthfulness (how does she look so good at fifty?), and her ability to maintain a firm-skinned foxiness is a key part of our fascination with her. (I can’t purport to guess how she does this, though I would imagine that a punishing exercise regimen and diet, and access to top dermatologists and perhaps plastic surgeons, form at least part of the answer.) But Lopez’s still-point-of-the-turning-world quality goes beyond her physical appearance. There is something reassuringly unchanging about her presence, too. “

A friend lamented that J. Lo’s existence, looking that amazing, puts pressure on the rest of us 50 somethings to look like that too. It’s not realistic, said the friend, to expect the rest of us who aren’t J. Lo to chase that standard.

That’s the worry, right. If she can do it, why can’t I? It didn’t help that a personal trainer chimed in and commented on my friend’s status said yes, we could all do that if we wanted to. It wouldn’t even take much time or money. He said we just needed dedication, commitment, a gym membership, and an hour a day. I remain skeptical about the hour a day part. I’m also skeptical that any amount of exercise would do it.

We’ve worried about this before here on the blog. A a few years ago Tracy asked Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off, so can anyone, right?

By the way, she’s still at it now at 65. See Christie Brinkley, 65, lights up Instagram with holiday swimsuit photoshoot.

Tracy asked then, “Is there not an age where we can stop thinking about whether men think we look hot in a bikini? It may be that the Christie Brinkley photo shoot, rather than addressing ageism, just raises the bar for older women (like: why don’t you look like Christie Brinkley in a bikini?).”

Do you you find J. Lo’s looks at 50 inspiring or worrying? If the former, you’ll want to watch the video below.

Here’s J. Lo’s workout routine to get in shape for the show in case you want to start training.

aging · fitness · health

Health and wealth and years of happy living

I’m staying at a beautiful resort in Tucson, Arizona. I love it here in the desert. I’ve come here twice to ride my bike in the winter. See here and here.

But this year I’m not here to ride my bike. I’m here for the annual Workshop in Normative Ethics, hosted by the Philosophy department at the University of Arizona. It’s a great conference and it’s at this very lovely resort/conference center. Thanks Mark!

While I’m staying here this came across my newsfeed, Rich people don’t just live longer, they also get more healthy years.

From the article, “According to a new study, wealthy men and women don’t only live longer, they also get eight to nine more healthy years after 50 than the poorest individuals in the United States and in England.”

“In both countries, wealthy women tended to live 33 disability-free years after age 50 — eight to nine more than poor women, the study found. Wealthy men tended to live 31 disability-free years after 50 — eight to nine more than poor men.”

Wealth mattered more than education and more than social class.

I guess I’m not shocked. Here in Arizona, I was struck by the very fit seniors staying at this resort. I listened in on their tennis lessons while reading some conference materials outside. Nice to have a keen coach giving you advice on your serve. But there’s not just tennis here. There’s also golf. And swimming. And biking. And hiking trails. And a gym.

The other thing that’s got me thinking about wealth is my knee replacement. I’m waiting nearly a year and a half for it in Canada. I know people in Canada who don’t wait. They travel south to the US for joint replacements. I even looked up prices. It was easy to look because I’ve posted so much about it on social media that there are many ads in my newsfeed for American hospitals marketing their wait free services to Canadians. $49,500. Wow. Guess, I’m waiting.

The knee replacement will be covered fully by my province’s health plan when it happens. Note though that none of the conservative strategies–injections, knee brace, physio–are covered by that plan. Instead my workplace benefits paid for that. I’m very grateful.

But if I were an American without health insurance or if I had benefits didn’t cover the full cost of knee replacement and I was trying to juggle launching three twenty somethings with my own pain and lessening activity levels, chances are I’d wait for surgery longer than the wait here in Canada. Waiting means, for most people, being less active.

I’m wealthy by most measures but I’m not “fly to the US and pay out of pocket for joint replacement” wealthy. I am “knee brace and physio” covered by workplace benefits wealthy. But it all seems very clear to me that in terms of staying active, wealth makes a difference.

And I guess I’m not surprised that wealth means both more years of life and more healthy years but the number of years did surprise me. Colour me naive. I know. Also, I’m curious to see what the results would be in Canada.

aging · dogs · health · mindfulness · new year's resolutions · self care

Kim’s 2020 wellness goals, beyond the bike

Here at FFI I’m one of the “bike bloggers”; along with Cate, Sam, and Susan, I get jazzed about the riding. We all have different styles and prefer different kinds of riding-based holidays, but the bike is our collective thing.

As a committed (and pretty darn talented) road rider, usually my yearly wellness goals revolve around bike training, club riding, and trip planning. This year I still have some of these – I hope to go to my regular South Carolina training camp in March, and I’ll be taking my bike to the west of Ireland in July, while I’m there for a working holiday – but mostly my wellness goals this year are about other things.

Specifically, they are about long-term joint health, and about long-term mental health.

Here I am in South Carolina last March, posing for a selfie in green helmet and orange gilet. I am smiling because RIDING. I’m posing with a sign that says “East Fork Baptist Church”.

First, the joints. I have an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which if untreated can cause incredibly painful skeletal distortion as I age. I’m lucky to work in a town and at a university with an incredible teaching hospital network, and I have a wonderful rheumatologist, whom I trust and appreciate, following my condition.

(I’ll never forget my visit to her the day after the November 2016 presidential election. We had a brilliant chat, woman to woman, about how  dreadful we were each feeling before we talked about my hips. That visit also inspired one of my very favourite FFI posts, “What Women Weigh”; if you’ve not had a chance to read it, please click here.)

Alas, this past year I’ve noticed an uptick in my symptoms. I’ve had too many instances of anterior uveitis (a correlative condition – basically the inflammation of the iris, REALLY), and my hips have been stiff and sore more than usual. I don’t want to have to shift my A.S. treatment, because the next step up is to begin taking immunosuppressant drugs, which I’m very anxious about. (I WORK WITH STUDENTS #petridish) So, instead, I’m committing this year to making more time for yoga at home, as well as at my beloved Iyengar studio, and perhaps I’ll also fold in some sports physiotherapy.

I know this will mean dialing back on “regular” workouts to fit in more joint-focused, low-intensity stuff. I find dialing back on cardio and weights hard – #endorphins – but if I want to keep doing that into my old age, I need to reprioritize.

A group of seven ordinary humans practice ‘hanging sirsasana’ (supported headstand) at a rope wall in an Iyengar Yoga studio. Iyengar uses a wide range of props to ensure all students are safe and supported in poses, which means they can receive maximum stretch benefits without any risk to joints.

Second, the mental health stuff.

I’ve been going to Jungian, talk-therapy based psychotherapy for about 18 years, on and off. My doctor in Toronto is covered by our provincial health insurance (YES to medicare for all, friends! It is literally life-changing!), and he more or less saved my life in the mid-2000s. But after all this time, last summer I realized that I’d learned most of what I could learn from him about the traumas of my past, and yet I was still feeling sadness and far too much unexplained rage.

I chatted with Susan about this on a long dog walk last Christmas. She agreed that I sounded like I’d plateaued in my learning with Dr A, and she suggested I give a different kind of therapy a try to see where it leads me.

(Susan, in addition to being a bike person, is our resident “why dog walks are critical fitness activities” blogger. My favourite of her posts on the topic is here. IT IS HILARIOUS AND PROFOUND.)

Susan’s lab Shelby, in Christmas bow and posing with bedecked tree; this snap is from a post a few short weeks ago. Everyone needs more Shelby.

Thanks to Susan’s advice, I’ve now begun a course of EMDR therapy here in my home city. It’s been remarkable so far: I’m learning to revisit certain of my past traumas in safety, and to dissociate the feelings I carry about them from my traumatizing memories. Already I feel lighter, I have more compassion for those who previously enraged me, and I’m looking forward to making more discoveries in 2020. I know there’s a way to go yet, but I also see that the end can be filled with light.

This therapy is not government-covered, nor does my private work-based insurance cover it (beyond a measly 15 bucks a session. WHATEVS). And it is not cheap.

After factoring it into my working 2020 budget (I paid off my car, and redirected the money from the car payments toward it), I realized that I will also need to scale back some other fitness spending to accommodate it. So I may or may not get back to rowing, as I’d hoped, in 2020; we’ll see. And while I need a new saddle, I think I’ll also need to rely on my fantastic partner for more cycling-related presents throughout the year, rather than let myself wander into any bike shops on whims.

The cover of Bike Snob NYC’s 2010 book, “systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling”. It’s a grand cover, with hand drawings of a variety of nifty bikes around a kind of cycling “crest” with the title in it. It makes a superb Christmas present! Thanks, sweetie.

So, in sum from Kim:

Fitness = anything we do to help our body-minds feel better, move better, move safer, be lighter. Yes this is bikes, and weights, and runs; it’s also dog walks, and mental health work, and joint support, and rest. As we try not to fall into the badgering temptation of the proverbial “New Years resolution”, let’s keep this range of wellness options in mind!

What about you, friends? What are your wellness hopes for the new year? And a happy one to all!

 

aging · fitness · habits · holidays · motivation · new year's resolutions · season transitions

Words and Challenges for the New Year

Four days in, I’m still adjusting to this fresh start of a decade. We’re living in the 20’s now. A decade that makes me think my word for the year should be … ROAR.

My cousin introduced me to this word of the year practice about 10 years ago. Our guest blogger, Anne Simpson, wrote about her Word of the Year a few days ago. The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.

Vortex of black letters on white background
Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

Last year, I had some pretty definitive plans for 2019 related to one of my plays and my book that was publishing in July. I wanted to remind myself not to get too caught up in expectations. I also challenged myself to meditate every day. My word was PRESENCE. In 2018, I was immersed in book writing and my personal challenge was to not shop for clothes or shoes for the whole year. My word was ATTENTION. 

A quick note about these challenges I mention. I’m not one for resolutions. Or maybe I just don’t like the word, in the context of the New Year. There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over. You can bet I’ve shopped for some new clothes since 2018 finished.

This year feels largely unknown and fluid. Scary. I have some specific events I’m looking forward to–talks I’m giving in Princeton at The Present Day Club and San Francisco at The Battery; another reading of my play at Missouri State University; plus a new workshop series I’m planning with a friend of mine. I don’t know what any of these will lead to. I don’t know what my big project for the year will be. A new book? Another play? Rolling out the workshops? Plus, there’s my challenge for the year—no buying anything (except books/tv/film) on amazon. I may also go back to an alternate month no-shopping practice, because the prospect is peaceful to contemplate.

All in all, I feel open. Excited. Super daunted. And sometimes a little frustrated, because shouldn’t a woman in her 50’s be looking forward to a steadier, more settled year? That’s my voice of insecurity having her say. But she does not get to decide my word! So, given all that, what is my word?

I like ROAR , but that’s not it.

Here’s my always evolving list of possible words: illuminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.

In that spirit, this year, I choose BECOMING.

What’s your word or challenge?

aging · habits

Starting to stop exercising – people seem to do it at 41, but why?

A couple of weeks ago, a new study made the rounds: apparently people think they are “too old” to exercise at 41. A survey of 2,000 adults turned out that that’s the average age at which people think they aren’t young enough any more to exercise regularly. That seems… early! The Internet was surprised and unimpressed by this and other reasons people gave for not working out.

I couldn’t find the original survey and whether they did a breakdown by gender, but I have a hunch that this tendency is probably stronger in women than men. Where does my hunch come from? Admittedly, my own personal experience (fine, we have a small-n problem here), but even at a young age, girls move less than boys, and it gets worse for teenagers. So the gender gap in regular exercise is a thing.

For me, in my mid-thirties, 41 is still a few years – though not that many – off. For now, exercise is something that I make part of my regular routine. I normally work out at least 3 or 4 times a week, and try to aim for even more. But I see this play out in my own environment. In the races I’ve run recently, I’ve done well in my age group because my age group tends to be tiny. On my swim team, I’m the oldest women by a difference of about 10 years (!), whereas there’s a number of men my age or older. For full disclosure, there’s a group of older swimmers in our club – considerably older – that consists almost exclusively of women, so they do seem to bounce back at least somewhat. But it’s complicated. I can see how it can be demotivating for people to continue exercising when everyone else seems to be a lot younger, and if that’s the case, 41 seems a reasonable age to feel like you’re outside of the target group. And that’s even before we’ve discussed adverts for everything from gyms to sports clothes that are full of young, conventionally attractive people and make anyone who doesn’t look like that feel like an outlier.

Backside view of an elderly man in running gear with a race bib pinned to his back.
Photo by sporlab on Unsplash

Around 41 is the age when people are really feeling the crunch, too. It’s when people have children that still need them, parents that start needing them, and more often than not, professional responsibilities that weigh on them. It’s easy to see why people don’t have time or are too tired to exercise, which were actually the most common reasons respondents to the survey above gave. I don’t have children and my parents are independent, but some days between work and life admin, even I am feeling the crunch. Right now, if I had to add more responsibilities to my life, I would definitely have to scale back on my exercise routine, and I’m among the most privileged individuals around: white, affluent enough, educated, with a supportive partner, etc. It’s easy to see how people who aren’t as privileged as I am face much higher barriers.

That’s also why I think some of the Internet responses were a bit unfair and condescending. Yes, fine, it’s never too late to start working out and I reckon most people are hypothetically aware of the many benefits exercise brings. But that doesn’t invalidate their reasons for not working out, or make it a case of just bucking up, finding a running buddy and “doing it”, as a popular sports apparel brand would have it. The author of the Guardian article linked above in particular makes a point that he has a job and three children, but yet has somehow managed to fit in 10 ultra-marathons in the past three years. Good for him, but he doesn’t actually explain how he’s done it. I have so many questions. How many hours of sleep does he need at night to be functional? Is his partner also an ultra-marathoner – or even a regular exerciser at all -, and if so, how do they juggle taking care of the kids to accommodate each other’s training and race schedules? Does he, or his partner, have elderly parents who need them? What are his work hours? Does his partner work full time? Do they have household help? And so on.

I wish the people who write these articles would consider that not everyone might have the things that are necessary for making regular workouts feasible for adults in the middle of “the crunch”: time, the resources to buy time, and a social environment that encourages exercise. The thing is, it’s not just about individual choice, it’s about society and how its structures constrain us.