aging · fitness

Aging, Activity, and Myths

I saw this on Twitter and love the assignment and the results.

Here’s Number 1: Frailty is “Inevitable”

I especially love the tips about avoiding self-identifying as frail.

Follow the full thread for the others myths, such as “older adults are not crucial members of society,” “Older adults should skip exercising to avoid injury,” “All older adults should skip strength-based exercise,” and more.

Nice work Healthy Aging students! I’m busy grading my own students work but these all look like As to me.

Help share if you’re still on Twitter.

ADHD · aging · birthday · fitness · motivation · planning

A low-key start for Christine’s birthday month

This post is a group of loosely connected thoughts in a blogpost-shaped trench coat but let’s just roll with it.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a lawn chair on my front lawn awaiting trick or treaters – Khalee is too much of a chaos agent for me to easily answer the door over and over so I take the treats outside and drink tea while waiting for the kids.

I’m so spooky and mysterious. Also I think my pumpkin lights are shy – none of them would face the camera. Image description: a nighttime selfie of me in front of the tree in my front yard. I’m wearing my jacket and a plaid shirt with a necklace of tiny glowing skulls. My hair is pulled back in a bandana, I have my glasses on, and I’m smirking. There is a string of pumpkin lights behind me, each pumpkin on the string is about the size of a tennis ball.

Tomorrow, or today by the time you read this, is November 1, just a little over a week away from my 50th birthday.

A few months ago, I thought I would have a good fitness routine by now. I thought I had a solid, low key plan. 

Turns out, I was still trying to do too much at once and I have basically been kind of ambling along trying to figure out my how and when, exercising more some times and less other times.

At the beginning of October, I thought I would have a straightforward month with two challenges to work on, but I was plagued with migraines and frustration and never really found my groove.

One tiny part of my brain is telling me ‘You should be more disappointed in yourself, don’t you think?’

But another part is reminding me that the word should is at least 90% evil and that, at almost 50 years old, I don’t have to put up with people being mean to me – especially if that person is me.

So, instead, I’m thinking that I must not have found the easy thing. I must have had too many steps or too many decisions, I must not have smoothed the path, I must not have included enough fun. Oh well! Too late to worry about those past plans now.

I’m not trying to revamp them, though, I’m just focused on what’s ahead of me.

I’m looking forward to my birthday month with the goal(s) of finding more ease, seeking more fun, and looking for ways to move more often on any given day.

There’s no overarching plan, there’s no big idea, there’s just me experimenting with trusting myself in the moment. Let’s just hope my brain will cooperate.

It took me a couple of Halloweens of trying different things before I figured out that I could circumvent the stress of the dog-related chaos by taking the treats out to the kids but I was making little changes in my approach the whole time.

I’m hoping the same is true for this whole figuring-out-routines thing, that I *am* making adjustments and learning as I go, even if it’s hard to see while I’m still in the middle of it.

PS – In case you have a tendency to worry: I am completely ok, by the way. I’m mostly just interested in how and why I feel so at ease with not having done what I had set out to do. And why I don’t feel the need to poke into what went “wrong.” I like the fact that instead of my brain leaning into the meanness, I veered off into the ‘try this’ of taking things moment by moment. I’m observational and reflective, perhaps a little melancholy, but I’m not sad, not upset, and there’s nothing wrong.

aging · beauty · feminism · fitness

“Taking care of ourselves”–taking back this phrase

This ad just came across the FIFI social media outlets (thanks, Nicole, for bringing this to our attention). It shows a bunch of 46-year-old white women in an ad for Geritol. The fact that all of them are the same age is supposed to be shocking to us. What separates them, the ad tells us, is that some of the women “take care of themselves”, while others apparently don’t.

This vintage ad came across the FIFI social media feed (thanks, Nicole for bringing this to our attention)– it’s for Geritol (a vitamin and iron supplement later pulled off the market; more on this below) featuring a bunch of 46-year-old white women. The ad singles some of them out, although it doesn’t say which ones. But it’s got some concerns:

A bunch of 46-year-old white women, posing for a misogynistic snake oil ad. It's for Geritol, which I talk about in the post.
A bunch of 46-year-old white women, posing for a misogynistic ad for snake oil.

I don’t know about you, but these women all look around the same age to me. But, the ad implies that some of them clearly look older, and it’s THEIR OWN FAULT. Why? Because they are not “the ones who take care of themselves”.

(Parenthetical comment: props to the woman in the blue jacket for pioneering resting bitch face in a good way. She’s having none of this.)

(One more parenthetical comment: the product in question, Geritol, was marketed as an iron and B-vitamin tonic in the 1950s. It was supposed to relieve tiredness, and was 12% alcohol. It was pulled off the market because of risk of diseases associated with too much iron, and also because Geritol engaged in “conduct amounted to gross negligence and bordered on recklessness”. The FTC ruled them as making false and misleading claims and heavily penalized with fines totaling $812,000 (equivalent to $4.96 million in 2021 dollars). See their Wikipedia page for more details.)

Back to the main rant. According to the fine folks at Geritol, women who “take care of themselves”:

  • Never eat too much or too little;
  • get a good night’s sleep every night;
  • exercise every day;
  • do all the things that women leading busy women’s lives in the mid-20th century have to do, regardless of income;
  • and of course take Geritol every day.

But how, pray, can we tell which women are “taking care of themselves” and which women aren’t? By how they look, of course! Aren’t you silly…

I have to say that just writing about this nonsense is getting me a little worked up.

Image of person fishing on smooth lake, saying you are where you need to be. Just breathe.
Yeah, that’s a little better. I hope it helps you too.

Okay, I’m back. Here, in no particular order, are some problems with a culture in which this ad is just one little horrid illustration:

  • “Looking your age” or “better yet–younger!” is assumed to be a universal imperative for women.
  • The markers for “looking your age” or “better yet– younger!” are based on classist, racist, misogynist and (I might add) boring and bland criteria, which are unattainable by most women (even the ones who made it in into that ad, for goodness’ sake).
  • The notion of “taking care of yourself” (subject to same influences as “looking your age”) censures all women whose busy lives involve burdens of family care, domestic labor, paid work, and endless waking and working hours, with no time for bridge club, facials or golf.
  • Geritol was harmful alcoholic snake oil, marketed by lies, targeting consumers with money but also vulnerabilities.
  • The idea that “taking care of yourself” is, for women: a) a lifelong obligation; b) something whose success can be read off women’s faces and bodies is false and also vicious.

How can we take back the notion of “taking care of ourselves”? I think we’re doing it already– right here on this blog, out in the working and playing and political world, in our homes, and with our friends and families. And what are we doing in this updated version?

We prioritize ourselves as best we can, given our constraints and connections and interests. That means choosing– as we can– the aspects of our lives to focus on. And, in cases where we currently can’t choose (e.g. reproductive health and safety in the US right now), we speak up, fight back, disobey, organize, and act. Oh, and vote, too.

We set boundaries– again, as best we can– so to protect time and resources for activities of our own choosing. Where the boundaries aren’t there, again we work to change them.

We dare to love ourselves as dearest members of our families (sometimes, families of one). We do this all the time– or as much as we can.

But who am I to go on and on about self-care? Let me step aside for someone who said it better.

Words from poet and activist Audre Lorde. "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
Words from poet and activist Audre Lorde. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” From A Burst of Light, 1988.

Readers, how do you understand the phrase “taking care of yourselves” these days? What do you do? I’d love to hear from you.

aging · health · injury · menopause

Menopause, depleted estrogen and increased rolling of ankles

By Martha

A few weeks ago, I ran into my house to retrieve a beach rug and I ended up rolling my ankle severely. While it wasn’t bad enough to warrant a visit to urgent care, I wasn’t my swiftest either.

Having dealt with the sprained ankles of others over the years, I knew I had to rest, ice, apply compression and elevate my injured ankle.

I was curious though: over the last few years, I have rolled my ankle just slightly enough to pause but never enough to feel pain.

As someone with ovaries and estrogen, it occurred to me maybe this might be connected to menopause. Our bodies change in response to depleted estrogen (cessation of periods being one symptom and hot flashes being another.

Turns out our ligaments are affected by menopausal hormone changes including increases in swollen tissues in our feet. Good foot care is important at this stage of life as recovery from sports related injuries such as sprains in feet and knees can take time.

I was lucky. I bought new shoes, acquired some fancy compression socks and regularly applied a topical pain reliever. I’m back to walking lengthy distances without post walk aches. However I’ll keep practicing my ankle exercises (flexing, pumping, and writing the alphabet with my toes) while also stretching my upper leg muscles which compensated for my injury.

So if you are a pre, post or experiencing menopause person, maintain your weight bearing exercises for strong bones and remember to pay attention to your ligaments and soft tissues in your feet.

MarthaFitAt55 likes learning new things about how our bodies work.

aging · body image · fitness · normative bodies

Thoughts about Nicole Kidman and her Biceps

Perfect magazine and Nicole Kidman

See Nicole Kidman Shows Off Her Ripped Guns In High-Fashion Perfect Magazine Photoshoot.

She looks amazing.

But not all feminist commentators had positive things to say.

Fab abs, writes Yvonne Roberts, in the Guardian, but this frantic effort to look half your age is frankly demeaning. Her piece about Nicole Kidman is making the rounds on social media and I’m amazed the range of reactions to the Roberts’ piece and to Kidman’s transformation.

One friend wonders why the focus on age, writing “There is nothing about muscles that indicates trying to look half your age. and there is nothing about hard core fitness that is demeaning to anyone. I feel like this is peak body shaming. remember when strong was the radical feminist move? Remember when it was transversive to lift heavy weights?”

A common theme in the comments was just leave women alone and stop talking about our bodies, “Judging women for how they look is so, so predictable and boring. There are so many ways to be. Leave each other the fuck alone.”

Many people talked about how looking amazing was part of Kidman’s job and no one judges men in the industry for their body building efforts. Seen The Rock lately?

I get all that. I really do. I lift weights and I don’t do it to look younger. I want to be stronger.

But still.

Tracy wrote, “My first reaction is ‘ffs please let me age in peace.’ Is there no age where we can stop chasing the oppressive aesthetic of youthful normative femininity?”

And I get that too.

The issue isn’t Nicole Kidman’s guns or her age really. The issue is about expectations that we all do that, that all women make looking young and buff our goals.

Some friends commented about how much time Kidman spends in the gym and then said maybe they could do that in retirement. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure that’s how I’d choose to spend my retirement time.

What’s attractive about retirement for me is reading more, spending more time with family, travel, but also bike trips and boat trips, long back country canoe trips and yes also, time for the gym.

For me time in the gym isn’t primarily about looks, though of course obvious muscles are a welcome side effect. Really though I go to the gym to support my other activities. I want to keep doing long canoe trips and bike trips. Being strong lets me keep doing the things that I love.

So the issue isn’t really Kidman and her biceps. It’s the norms that weigh down on women’s lives. It’s making Kidman a standard by which we judge all women. Kidman could have her biceps and her gym life. We could celebrate her achievements. The issue for feminists is Kidman as fifty-something role model for the rest of us.

I know we’ve all been thinking this past week about the representations of women in the media in light of Bell Media anchor Lisa LaFlamme’s firing from Bell Media arguably in light of her decision to stop colouring her hair during the pandemic.

[Here is an aside from Tracy, who Sam said could add things as she proofed the post: “Nicole Kidman can do what she likes. What bugs me is 1. That this is news because it makes it seem like a miracle that a 55 year-old woman could look good. 2. That looking good is in itself seen as a newsworthy achievement for older women — that is a good indication of where our value still lies. 3. That the standard is now set by a multimillionaire whose business it is to look good (and according to the normative standards of youthful feminine beauty). I frankly would rather admire Judy Dench and Helen Mirren and Lisa Laflamme who at least don’t mind looking older.” End of Tracy’s aside.]

We need a more diverse range of older women as role models including women with grey hair and without sculpted guns. Then I think we’d all feel better applauding Nicole Kidman for the way she looks and the work it took her to get there. [Tracy: hear hear!]

aging · challenge · cycling · fitness

Bike rally reflections: Fittest by fifty eight?

In a recent chat Tracy reminded me that the bike rally was my main fittest by fifty challenge. That’s along with getting stronger, thanks CrossFit, and trying something new, thanks rowing.

“Fittest by fifty”is the challenge that started the blog (now coming up on 10 years ago) and the book Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey.

Tracy said she was impressed that I could still do the thing that was my challenge as we approached the big 5-0.

After all, we’re both turning 58 this summer.

At first I kind of dismissed the praise. I’m a road cyclist, adding distance isn’t a big deal really. But then I recognized that dismissal of a thing I’d achieved as a thing lots of women do, and had second thoughts.

It is remarkable.

What’s remarkable is that through the pandemic and through the first few years of my very demanding job, I’d kept that distance up. It was a remarkable thing to do at 50 and it’s still remarkable that I can do it.

I can still do it because I kept doing it.

We did our big Newfoundland cycling adventure. We went riding in Florida twice and in Illinois once. We did the Simcoe County Loop Trail and lots of bits and pieces of the Guelph to Goderich trail.

When it wasn’t possible to ride outside on road bikes we played in the snow on our fat bikes and we Zwifted. So much Zwifting.

So against my instincts I’m not going to dismiss it. I’m going to say “Yay me.”

Thanks Tracy for the reminder.

Yay me
aging · cycling · fitness · injury

Bike rally reflections: More thoughts about knees!

Me: I’m in my prime, my knees: the fuck you are

So this month I both rode my bike in the Friends for Life Bike Rally and I’m having total knee replacement surgery.

I didn’t plan it this way at all–I signed up for the bike rally a long time ago and I just got the call about knee surgery a few weeks ago.

I’ve been amused at the variety of reaction I’ve gotten for this and I have some thoughts of my own.

My favorite reaction was from the massage therapist at the rally. She laughed when I told her my knee was sore but not from riding. It’s just always sore. We focused on my back and ignored the knee. “You don’t owe that knee anything, ” she said. “It’s nice that you don’t have to baby it through the bike rally. You’re just going to finish the rally and then say goodbye to it.”

My regular everyday ongoing knee physio people are impressed. They talk about the important of strengthening the muscles around the knee prior to surgery and that riding a bike is a good way to do that. We never waste time in physio sessions bike riding since I also ride my bike to get there. They’re keen to get me back at physio within days of surgery. Currently surgery is Monday and my first physio appointment is Friday. But I won’t be biking there that time. Or driving either. My mother likely will be taking me.

Lots of friends are confused about my ability to ride my bike so far. “But I thought you were having knee replacement surgery?” Yes. But it’s never been about riding my bike. It’s that once I get off the bike I can barely walk around the block and I can’t stand for very long. That’s true even if I don’t ride my bike at all. My knee actually feels better when I’ve ridden my bike.

For a few years now I’ve come to rely on cycling. Sometimes I ride around campus. I travel with my folding bike so I can get around a new place without walking. At first it was a matter of giving up on other athletic activities–soccer, running, Aikido etc. But lately it’s been a matter of giving up more everyday stuff. For example, I wait in the car while Sarah goes grocery shopping. Cheddar just gets short walks around the block. And I carefully plan my trips up and down the stairs.

The bike rally was a good example of how limited my life is outside of cycling. Yes, I could ride my bike 110 km each day. But once I got to camp I needed Sarah to put up the tent. The walking around the campsites wasn’t easy. I’m really looking forward to being able to do more, besides ride my bike, as much as I love it.

Mostly I’m looking forward to long walks, hiking, and canoe camping with long portages. But also everyday things like sleeping through the night without knee pain and being able to get groceries and put them away.

Wish me luck. Surgery on the left knee is one week! Surgery on the right is 6 months to a year after that.

aging · fitness · injury

Sam is “getting orthotics for my cycling shoes” years old today

I’ve written before about my one seriously arthritic toe. One! What a weirdo toe. It’s the same toe that kept losing the toe nail at even the hint of strenuous activity. It’s a toenail that sees cross country skiing in its future, turns black, and falls off. The same, of course, for running. It’s my Bad Toe, and I’ve even been prescribed toe physio for it.

I confess I haven’t been keeping up with my toe physio. And issues with my knees felt more pressing and that felt like physio enough.

Until my feet started hurting while riding my bike. Toe cramps bad enough to make me want to get off my bike. Ouch! I wear orthotics in my running shoes and in my everyday boots. But until now I thought of cycling as an activity that didn’t require orthotics. The keywords are “until now.”

So I now have orthotics for my cycling shoes, in addition to my running shoes, and they seem to help. Aging bodies and activity seem to require a bunch of extra work and resources. I’m feeling extra grateful for my benefits these days.

Cycling shoes and running shoes with socks sticking out
aging · cycling · hiking · injury · sleep

Memories of the knees I used to have just 7 years ago

Mostly, these days, I don’t mourn the things my knees used to do. I’m forward looking, thinking about knee replacement and about long hikes. Also, dancing. I’m excited about having dancing in my future.

Running is a thing of the past.

Four years ago I wrote that not being able to run made me sad and I admitted that sometimes I cried about it.

Now, I am anticipating dancing. I think often about long walks. I can’t wait until I can sleep without pain. But running? Meh. I no longer cry about missing it.

Still, I’m shocked at how fast all this has happened.

A few people asked if I was doing the Pride Run this year. Nope. No more Pride Runs.

I remember getting the running reprieve from the knee surgeon when we first met. He asked how much I liked soccer and if I was okay with giving it up. I was. But running short distances fast? (Well, fast-for-me.) That could stay.

Here’s my Facebook status update from May 15, 2015, “Knee surgeon appointment was uneventful. As you might wish for with a knee surgeon. I don’t, as yet, even need any of the pre-surgical options. Keep doing physio, stay pain free, ride my bike as much as I want, keep running short distances (5 km) and revisit in a year. Bye bye soccer. But we knew that. And it’s fine to work on running 5 km faster.”

And here’s Mallory and me at the Pride Run 7 years ago.

Mal and Sam post Pride run

What’s on my list of things that I can’t do now that I hope I can do in the future?

  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Walking around new places when I travel
  • Backpacking and back country camping
  • Sleep without pain… That’s a biggie
  • Walking around campus all day without worrying I’m doing too much
  • Standing up at social events and convocation
Thanks to J Williams for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 
aging · body image · cycling · fitness · Zwift

The MAMILs have met their match, the OWLs!

The OWLs

I’ve written a lot here on the blog about men and body image. See here and here and here. There’s more too, if you search around.

I hate all the teasing men in lycra get, so many MAMIL jokes.

What’s MAMIL stand for? Middle aged men in lycra. And lots of the jokes are about men’s bodies in fitted cycling clothes. I hate them.

Here’s a light hearted one, less mean than most.

Goodbye Kevin. I could look the other way with the boozing and the skirt chasing but I didn’t sign up for bicycle clothes.

But on the other hand, at least older men in bike clothes are recognized to be a phenomena. There aren’t as many older women. See Sam is racing with the guys and wondering, where are the women her age?

However, I came across a Facebook group recently for OWLS! That’s Older Women in Lycra. Here’s the group’s description: “Designed to EMPOWEROWL.bike (Older Women in Lycra) made with ❤️ for women cyclists UCA age 55 and older. OWLs are changing societal messages on aging…one ride at a time!”

There’s also this article: Say hello to the ‘owls’ – older women in Lycra

From the article, “Such men have acquired their own acronym, and it’s entered the language. Mamils – middle-aged men in Lycra – are a recognised demographic who are a target market for advertisers, with considerable buying power and much to enjoy spending their money on, from beautiful carbon-frame bikes to stylish cycle-wear. But the Mamil only tells half the story. There are also what I call Owls – older women in Lycra – and we enjoy all those things just as much. And if that makes us objects of satire as much as the Mamils are… then fine.

British Cycling, the sport’s umbrella organisation, confirms that women ­cyclists – including a significant number of older women – are rapidly on the increase. BC’s women-only Breeze Rides – its scheme to encourage women to take up cycling – have attracted more than 13,000 women since the beginning of 2015. Of these, 59 per cent are aged 35 to 54 and 29 per cent are 55-plus. In the 50 to 59 age group in last week’s Ride London 100 – the biggest sportive in Britain – an impressive 26 per cent of entrants were women. Next month no less a 51-year-old than the Countess of Wessex is taking part in a charity bike ride from Edinburgh to London. A few years ago I cycled from London to Edinburgh myself, and it’s a hell of an undertaking.”

The OWLS race on Zwift and while I can’t join them yet–they race in the afternoon spot for the TTTs–I do appreciate that they’re there.

Might also be nice to just have a mature riders group for all people, including those who don’t identify as men or women.