I’m celebrating my birthday today. Happy 54th birthday to me! I’m reminded that we started the blog when we were 48. The blog has been going for six years now. That’s really old in blog years.
But I’m not just celebrating today. I’m making a weekend of it. A long weekend. It actually began yesterday while I was still 53 with a visit from Tracy. We had lunch and that’s a big deal now we’re living and working in different cities.
There’ll be three days of cake. Today, my actual birthday, will be a low key thing. Maybe we’ll go out to eat. Maybe a movie. There’ll be a 54 km bike ride on Saturday to mark the occasion. Sunday my family is taking me tubing. We’re doing the “Glen Morris to Paris Area… 11km paddle with easy splash (3-4 hrs)” For details, see here.
I’m all for spreading birthdays out. For me, it’s also a time of year that needs parties.
My friend Ange writes, “Agreed! I am a mere 9 days into the 41st festivus of Ange (also knows locally as Angemas). Angemas goes for the number of years of my age – this year – 41 days. I can’t wait until I’m 92 and can rock it for 3 whole months!!”
How about you? How much birthday celebrating do you do?
I read two news stories that came across my social media newsfeed today that seemed to me to be strongly connected.
First, Feeling young and living long explored the finding that people who feel young for their age actually live longer. What’s it all about? Feeling young turned out to be about control. People who feel in control of their lives live longer.
“Studies suggest that feeling younger may actually help you live to be older. Now, new research points to a way to keep that youthful state of mind, at least for elderly adults: feel in control. “On days when you felt above your average control perceptions — you felt more controlled for you — you tended to feel younger,” says Jennifer Bellingtier, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany, of her findings, which she presented her research at the recent annual American Psychological Association (APA) convention (and which have not been published in a scientific journal)”
Second, Longevity and wealth gap in Canada explored the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor in Canada. It’s striking the amount of the effect in Canada, a country where health care is covered by taxes.
“A C.D. Howe study of life expectancy in Canada finds men in the highest earning group can expect to live eight years longer than men who are the lowest earners. For women, the gap in longevity between the richest and the poorest is much less, just three years. The richest can expect to live to 86, compared to average life expectancy of 83 for poor women. For men, the highest income earners — roughly the top 20 per cent — have a life expectancy of 83, while the lowest income workers can expect to live to 75.”
Why? Of course the rich have vacations and can buy better food but it’s not just that. See the first article, the rich are also more likely to feel in control of their lives, it seems to me.
Dear readers, I’m delighted to share with you one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite bloggers, Coach Aruni. I took her mindfulness in eating course at Kripalu in western Massachusetts, and she gave me some tools for thinking differently about body image, self-acceptance, self-love and eating in more satisfying ways (to me).
Biking was freedom. As I kid, I couldn’t get home from my school, John James Audubon #42, fast enough to shed my school clothes and wiggle into my play clothes. Dragging my bike out of the cellar, up into the back yard, awkwardly sprinting with it through the narrow walkway separating our house from Mrs. Eisner’s next door, with the two sitting lions guarding her entry, onto the street, Arthur Avenue, and whoosh, into Nay Aug Park, across from our house. I would lose myself in the spiraling bumpy paved paths there, biking and weaving and pretending I was a Royal Canadian Mountie, out to save the beautiful damsel in distress. (It was my era of Sargent King of the Yukon—I was infatuated with the uniform.) School, it’s stressors, my aloneness, my stuttering, all faded as I biked onward, peddling toward glory and that well-earned kiss.
As childhood passed, my biking receded, as did my obsession with the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounties. Time and life went by. It all changed.
However, once in the ashram, biking had its resurgence. We were an active lot back then and my then- fantasy-crush, my now-wife-of-decades, was one of the most active of all us “sisters”. Biking, hiking, swimming, we were committed to the unity of body, mind, and spirt. The Berkshire Hills were not daunting for me; fueled by sisterhood, spiritual longing, carnal lust, and a plain, ordinary desire to fit in, I biked and biked on.
While courting and married, biking continued its role as primary activity in our burgeoning family life, the hub of vacations, amazing day trips, great adventures big and small. This continued for a long while, years upon years, until it didn’t.
It all changed. Why does it shock me when things change? Everything always does.
My wife hurt her knee. I tried biking that first summer without her. It didn’t stick; I missed walking the dogs and being in the family unit. Solo-pleasure seemed unwarranted, undeserved. A few more bike-less summers passed. I got older and slower, with less energy. I hurt my shoulder. We got a new president. I gained weight. Blah-blah. And blah. Not only was there no biking, there didn’t live in me the willingness to take the risk and get out of there and try. I knew I was no longer able to—to what? To get up the hills? To feel that free in my body? To relax into that level of bliss?
The Berkshires Hills were now, for me at sixty-eight, truly daunting.
Until Boomer. Who is Boomer, you might wonder? Boomer is my one-month-old bike-friend, my new e-bike. E stands for electric; she, unlike me, is fueled by a battery. When I need the assist in moving forward, in getting up the hill, both literal and metaphoric, I put slight pressure on the throttle, and WOOSH, I am carried forward.
I now have a throttle. I didn’t even know that I needed one. A friend initiated me into the world of the e-bike. I had no clue about my need or any potential response or solution.
Realizing I now have an externally provided throttle is my fighting back against aging, giving my middle finger to mortality; nothing can stop me now. I’ve had a profound month, biking around, getting use to Boomer’s larger, stockier frame and relaxing into my relationship to that amazing apparatus, the throttle. Initially I had some shame; some still lingers. She’s so Cute, that bike, so fancy and upscale. Shouldn’t I be able to do It all myself? Obviously, the answer is simple. No. I need help.
I can ask for help. Clearly, I need it. I didn’t realize how vulnerable and tentative I have felt, so distant from accessing the energy of moving up the hills of my life. But now, there is a throttle. As I engage it, support is right there, at my fingertips.
Why is it so hard to acknowledge change? How come asking for help often doesn’t even exist on our radar? What strategies can we use to imagine creating support, manifesting an “external throttle” to get up the steep slopes of our lives? Please come on over to this week’s blog as we explore this arena of life. At the blog, too, you’ll find a of picture of Boomer and me in our new partnership, sixty years after the above picture of me in the land of Biking Bliss, 1956. I also will post a snap from this morning’s glorious Berkshire ride. (here it is!)
Aruni is a writer, teacher/facilitator, and life coach. You can read more about her and from her on her blog here.
Popular news outlets just cannot let much time go by without publishing a story about some way to live longer. For a while now, we’ve been seeing news articles touting the benefits of alcohol consumption to reduce mortality risk for heart disease, cancers and other causes of death. Here’s US News and World Report, in an article from the winter:
Whoa. Is this true?
But but but— why did they publish this?
I don’t have a good answer to that question, other than “it was close to the deadline, and someone wanted a catchy headline”. But here is another question: what does the research mentioned in the article actually say?
Ah, that one I can handle. There’s a big study, called The 90+ study, that is following a cohort of 90-plus year-olds to try to find out what allows people to live to 90 years and beyond. Here are a couple of things they have found so far:
People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol OR COFFEE lived longer than those who abstained.
People who were overweight in their 70s lived LONGER THAN normal or underweight people did.
The news article also mentions that the researchers found that taking up a hobby or doing REGULAR EXERCISE contributed to longer life. Hmmm… I thought the headline said that drinking alcohol was more important than exercise.
This is why we gotta read the fine print. Or in this case, just the actual print of the article.
Feel free to stop reading here if you have other things to do. I feel duty-bound to add a few technical bits — TL:DR version is “science is complicated”.
technical bit one: There is a totes legit controversy in health research over the question of whether light alcohol consumption reduces all-cause mortality. Some recent fancy meta-analyses say yes, and other recent ones say that, when you fix the methodological problems with the studies, no. If you want to dive into this, start here and here and here.
technical bit two: There is totes legit unanimity among everyone even remotely connected to health care and research that engaging in physical activity reduces all-cause mortality. This is true regardless of, well, anything. No matter who you are, where you live, etc., physical activity confers longevity benefits.
technical bit three: in science, when we find some association between A and B, we feel more comfortable asserting it if we have some underlying theory that helps explain why A and B are associated. For instance, ice cream sales go up in summertime. This makes sense– it’s warmer outside, people are going out for recreation, and ice cream places tend to be conveniently located near recreation areas (or so it seems to me, as I pass at least 4 yummy ice cream stands on my road rides). Here is one of them– I love their retro charming facade:
But as far as I can tell, researchers don’t have a theory for why light alcohol consumption would lengthen life. By the way, this isn’t just wine– the results are for any kind of alcohol. Even the main researcher for the 90+ study, Dr. Claudia Kawas, was quoted in that news article as saying this:
“I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” Kawas said in her keynote address.
On the other hand, we have loads and loads of scientific theory explaining the myriad ways in which exercise confers longevity. Or, as this article puts it:
A plethora of epidemiologic evidence from large studies supports unequivocally an inverse, independent, and graded association between volume of physical activity, health, and cardiovascular and overall mortality.
So where does this leave us? Well, science will do its thing and we will find out more about aging, activity, eating, disease and mortality risk, etc., in due course. In the meantime, my money’s on physical activity, because it’s fun for me and it seems to make me feel good in the moment (at least a lot of the time), and in general (most of the time). It’s your call.
This summer finds me taking a few longer-haul flights, to and from the western part of the US. Yes, this is not bad compared to European flights, or even longer, to Australia or Asia (where, for one trip, I logged 38 straight hours of travel door to door).
But these days, just getting on a plane and sitting in that cramped space for a couple of hours or longer is not just unpleasant, but also bad for my body. My ankles get really swollen on flights of more than a few hours, and this week I’m nursing a vaguely injured foot/calf muscle that I pulled incidentally while moving through life. Sigh.
Yeah, this is totally the vibe I’m going for (in my head).
Enter reality. I was pressed for time to buy the compression socks, so I didn’t go to a cool sporting goods store or order some really interesting colored or patterned socks for my upcoming flight. Instead I went to my local medical supply store, which is a 3-minute walk from my house.
When I walked in, I was confronted by, well, medical supplies. Adjustable hospital beds, portable toilets, canes, walkers, gadgets and devices of all sorts, and also a bevy of older customers, some of whom were there to try on and buy compression socks.
A salesperson approached me as soon as I walked in, and when I asked about compression socks, he pointed to a rack with beige and black color choices. He said, “the ladies prefer beige ones because they look like knee highs”. My first thought was:
Trying not to lose my cool, I asked about other colors. He looked puzzled, and then I said I was getting on a plane and wanted them for that. Then he went, “oh”, and pointed toward the cash register. There, in 4 colors (blue, brown, charcoal and black– nothing cool, but I’ll take it), were the socks I was looking for. They looked like this:
Okay, maybe I won’t be able to imagine myself as a cool athlete, but at least this package tells me that these socks are for a practical purpose: airline travel. Buying them doesn’t challenge my views of myself as 1) not old (whatever that means to me); and 2) able-bodied (again, addressing my inchoate notion here). More on this in a sec.
I bought them (selecting the charcoal ones), put them on, and headed for the airport. I was wearing long pants for flying to Tucson, AZ, so I could wear them in stealth mode. You can see them here:
Compression-sock-wearing me, same sneakers.
Me, just wearing long pants and sneakers.
I can report that the compression socks helped. My left ankle and calf are still a bit swollen, but it didn’t get much worse, and my other ankle didn’t swell. Success!
What else I learned: I’ve got an ageism problem. In that store, I was seeing older people, in particular older people in search of devices to address medical and functional conditions, as something to be feared. Also, I was seeing them as different from me. I am not old (well, not very– 56 is the new… what? isn’t that silly?). I am also able-bodied (although I mentioned my recent injury and worries about swelling joints and limbs while flying. Hmmm– should I rethink all this?)
This whole experience has given me pause. I see that fearing and distancing myself from aging and the needs/conditions/accoutrements that come with it is probably not the way to go. I don’t know if I’ll take to wearing my airline compression socks with a skirt, but maybe it’s ok. I mean, they’re socks. Still, I would like some in pretty colors.
On Monday, Sam posted to say she’s sorry for saying that we have to love exercise. She related some of her recent experiences here (edited for excerpts):
Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement…
…Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.
Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.
These words really struck me. You see, I’ve taken pride and comfort in and felt gratitude about my identity as an athlete. I first sat on a horse at age 2.5 (I had some help getting up), played tennis at age 7, started team squash at 22, rode bikes intermittently my whole life, and took up cycling as a major pursuit at 43. Along the way I’ve canoed, kayaked, swum, walked, done yoga, tried to run (which just doesn’t work for me), downhill skied, skated, cross country skied, tried scuba (which does work for me but is too expensive), and ridden horses whenever I got the chance.
I’m an athlete, I tell people.
Fast-forward to now, at age 56. I don’t love exercise. I mean, I love the feelings of movement–these days I focus on yoga and cycling– but it’s so much harder for me. Why? A combo of things: with menopause has come a huge wave of ever-present anxiety. About everything. I’ve always had anxiety, and lately been taking medication for it. However, the meds no longer are doing the trick of lowering the anxiety to a manageable level.
Also, menopause has brought on other symptoms, like insomnia, feelings of increased heat (not hot flashes exactly, but I just run hotter), more fatigue, and also did I mention increased anxiety?
Then there’s the increased weight, brought on by– what? Menopause? Anxiety-provoked eating? Less exercise because of fatigue/anxiety/etc.? Less self-care in feeding myself? At any rate, it’s here.
I am doing all the things in response to this state:
just started HRT
seeing about changing up meds
harnessing social connections to do more movement
trying to be accepting of my body now and what it can and wants to do
work on self care as I can
But it pretty much sucks.
In January, I made a big list of physical activity goals, including some charity rides and long organized rides with friends. I honestly don’t know if I can do all of them. My very nice friends see this and are being sensitive and helpful (thanks, friends!). But it still sucks. Just saying.
My first charity ride is June 10, for Bikes Not Bombs. I love this organization, and I love this ride. I’ve done it several times and it is really fun and collegial.
So I’m doing it. My plan is to do the 30-mile ride. I have ridden about 30 miles at a time this spring, and I know I can do it. It’s a matter of how long I take and how non-fun it will feel. But I’m an athlete– I do physical things even when they are not fun. Why? Because movement makes me feel so very good at some point in the process. These days, that point tends not to be during, but after. Okay. I’ll take it. And I’ll post to let you know how it goes. And as always, thanks for reading– you are the best!
My life has changed a lot since we started the blog and the fitness challenge. There are things I say when we’re promoting the book that now strike me as wrong or at least not as simple as that, or maybe even naive.
Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement.
It’s hard to get a more nuanced message across when you’ve just got four minutes on television so I’ve been sticking with the simple story but the truth is I know it’s not so simple. I’m not staking out a position here or defending a claim other than than claim that things are messier than I thought. I do know the blog can handle more complexities than the media buzz around the book can take. So you blog readers get the messier story.
Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.
Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.
Why am I doing it? Not love of the thing itself that’s for sure. Partly to be sure it’s instrumentally justified in terms of continuing to do things I love. Canoe camping, hiking, biking. I want to keep these things in my life.
But it’s also instrumentally justified in terms of basic movements, like walking to campus, between meetings, getting in and out of chairs.
To suggest that we approach all exercise from this “loving it” perspective comes from an incredible place of privilege. I had that privilege. I don’t anymore and I’m sorry if I sounded insufferable, naive, and smug.
I saw it again today, by the way, in an online body positive fitness community of which I’m part. Someone offered the advice to another community member to do whatever brings joy to your heart. And the thing is I too reject the imperative that we all have to do joyless exercise to tame or unruly, overweight bodies to keep them in line. I also know though that life is complicated.
Just as Tracy rejects body positivity as just one more demand, I’m coming to feel that way about “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” No one loves knee physio. It’s okay not to like it and to do it anyway.
It’s okay to be angry and sad and roll your eyes at people who say they just don’t feel like running this morning. You don’t get to yell at them that at least they can run and tell them to just go do it because you can never run again. Just say it in your head. That’s what I do.
It’s okay to think, “I’m tough and I’ve got this” instead of I’m doing this because I love it . Because that’s what’s true: I’m tough and I’ve got this.
Maybe that’s true for you too. I’m sorry for saying you have to love exercise. You don’t. Right now, a lot of the time, I don’t. And that’s okay too.