aging · fitness

Adventures in buying compression socks and confronting my own ageism

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.

I remembered that Sam had posted about wearing compression socks on a plane, and I thought– yes, that’s the solution!  And I hear that athletes wear them now, which means it’s okay for me to wear them, too… 🙂

A female relay runner with baton, wearing blue compression socks that match her shorts and top.
A female relay runner with baton, wearing blue compression socks that match her shorts and top.

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.

There are a lot of very good reasons to wear compression socks.  An upcoming long flight is just one of them.  There I was, in the presence of people with compelling medical reasons to buy the same thing I was buying. All I could think was:

Words saying Yeah that's not me

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:

A woman with long brown hair, running in a field, with the words "just run away".
A woman with long brown hair, running in a field, with the words “just run away”.

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:

A package of compression socks, called "Flight socks".
A package of compression socks, called “Flight socks”.

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:

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.


Pretty patterned compression socks (these are marketed to nurses, fyi).
Pretty patterned compression socks (these are marketed to nurses, fyi).



aging · fitness

On exercise, love, anxiety and identity

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:

  • continued therapy
  • 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!



accessibility · aging · disability · injury · motivation

An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

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.

See When exercise isn’t fun.

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.

aging · disability · health · injury · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the May version

May! Finally warm weather. The best thing about May is riding my bike. It was 50 km the first week and 60 km the next . Weekdays I’ve been exploring my new home, Guelph, after work and running errands on bike. That’s what’s up. It feels great.


Not so much “up” is my left knee. It doesn’t feel great.

I met with the knee surgeon again. Total knee replacement still looks far away. At least I hope so. See 9 Things No One Ever tells You About Getting a Knee Replacement for details. We’re still seeing how things go with the goo injections and the brace.

I’m wearing the brace for walking. I’m doing physio still. And I’m riding my bike. That’s all good.

The surgeon and his team are busy telling me that all the activity I’ve done isn’t responsible for my knee osteoarthritis. They do also tell me never to even say the word “running” again. Fine. See Sam struggles not to run, ever!

But they do say I’d be in less pain if I lost weight. More seriously they say that losing weight would help me put off total knee replacement. That’s big.

Now they used to also say that knee patients should lose weight first, before the surgery. See Researchers Find Weight Loss Not Necessary for Joint Surgery

But if you think you must lose those extra pounds before a knee or hip replacement, think again, as researchers with UMass Medical School found long-term relief from joint replacement surgery was almost the same in obese and non-obese patients.

“The conventional wisdom is that the lower your body weight, the lower your body mass index, the better you will do in joint replacements, and there has been an increasing push to say that if you are obese you should not have joint replacement – either knee or hip replacement,” Dr. David C. Ayers, chairman of orthopedics and chairman and professor of orthopedics and physical rehabilitation at UMass Medical School, said Thursday.
Dr. Ayers is the co-author of a study reporting the findings published last month in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

“What this study shows is that people who are overweight and are obese get the same type of pain relief and improved function that non-obese patients do,” he said.

Surprise! Fat people are people. Fat bodies are bodies. And knee pain hurts a lot no matter what your size.

The old wisdom sounds just like, “You’re fat so must pay the price! Suffer! No knee replacement for you!” Doctors can be jerks.

But in my case we’re not talking about weight loss before surgery. The issue is weight loss to put off the necessity of joint replacement. Total knee replacement is worth avoiding. Right now knee replacements last 20 years max. So if all goes well, I might need a second one. It’s big painful surgery with a very lengthy recovery time. I don’t want to do it twice.

See here. Point 1: “For many, weight loss is a basic but crucial way to help avoid knee surgery. Shedding just 15 pounds can cut knee pain in half. And should you need arthritis knee surgery later, you’ll decrease your risk of complications and reduce strain on your knees, which will make your rehabilitation go more smoothly.”

So, what to do?

I’m reading a lot about knee pain and weight. No surprise there!

But I’m also researching weight loss for medical reasons. Maybe like me you thought that weight loss is hard but once you’re told you need to lose weight for medical reasons, you just do it.

I’m here to tell you the sad news that it’s not so simple. Your body doesn’t care what your motivation is. It’s not like it ignores the diets for beauty’s sake and pays attention to the diets for urgent health reasons.

I think when I was younger I even thought it would be good to have a medical reason to lose weight because then you’d be serious about it and just do it. I could be a feminist and be skinny because I was dieting for health reasons. Bah.

Now I have very good reasons, I’m being serious about it, and I’m still struggling.

Tracy and I were chatting today about whether it ever makes sense to talk about weight and weight loss on the blog. It’s not something we talk about much. It’s a blog about fitness not weight and shape and we’re very keen to distinguish these things. In this case though weight loss isn’t a goal that I want to result from my fitness efforts. Weight loss may be necessary to keep me active.

We’re all about staying fit and strong in midlife and beyond. That’s the overarching message of our book. But given my knee and the state it’s in, staying active may mean losing weight. I’m trying. I won’t post much about my successes and failures. I know that’s too much for those of you with histories of disordered eating. Even though I’m one of the larger bloggers here, that’s not me. I like food and my relationship with it. But I also feel the need to be honest on the blog about what’s up with me fitness wise.

Have you had or contemplated having knee replacement? Have you struggled with medical reasons to lose weight? Tell me your story


Also, hello May, I’m tentatively making plans. There are plans afoot for bike/boat holidays, for canoe/camping trips, for long bike rides. I love the summer and I’m going to enjoy it.

aging · health

Healthy habits, long lives, and elderly spiders

This is a blog post in three parts.

Part 1. It begins when a big study announces something that seems kind of obvious. The five habits that can add more than a decade to your life, from the Guardian.

In short, don’t smoke, drink only in moderation, exercise, control your weight, and eat your vegetables if you want to live a long time.

Researchers at Harvard University used lifestyle questionnaires and medical records from 123,000 volunteers to understand how much longer people lived if they followed a healthy diet, controlled their weight, took regular exercise, drank in moderation and did not smoke. When the scientists calculated average life expectancy, they noticed a dramatic effect from the healthy habits. Compared with people who adopted none of them, men and women who adhered to all five saw their life expectancy at 50 rise from 26 to 38 years and 29 to 43 years respectively, or an extra 12 years for men and 14 for women. “When we embarked on this study, I thought, of course, that people who adopted these habits would live longer. But the surprising thing was how huge the effect was,” said Meir Stampfer, a co-author on the study and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

2. And then a very old spider died making the point that not all lifestyle changes are changes worth making. “Number 16 built her burrow in the North Bungulla Reserve in southwestern Australia, when she was young. Like all female trapdoor spiders (mygalomorph spiders), she was a homebody, never leaving her burrow.”

Luckily none of the healthy habits involved never leaving the house.

3. Finally, health journalist Andre Picard points out that the healthy habits might not be enough. He tweeted, “Here are 10 other things that are probably more important to a healthy life than lifestyle choices.”

from Picard’s book “Matters of Life and Death,” p. 268

aging · athletes · fitness · training

The retirees’ advantage? Time to train

I’m coming up on that odd stage of life where I am still working furiously and passionately, but other people in my life, friends, and family, not so much. A bunch of people close to me are counting down to retirement or moving to part-time work. I’m super engaged with my work and on balance, I don’t think I’d want what they have.

Different strokes, as they say. Or, you do you.

I love my job but come spring, there are twinges of “their grass is greener.”

Why? More time to ride bikes and to travel. Our recent post on very old cyclists made me smile. I also wished I had time to ride more than 100 miles a week. I do actually but for the Canadian climate and the lack of winter time daylight. I’ve often thought about how nice it would be to go somewhere warm and ride through January-March.

I wrote about this a few years ago in a blog post called, Silver spoons and the advantage of wealth in the context of time to train and youth sports.

‘When my partner Jeff was young he raced small sailboats, lasers, pretty competitively. But he never had a chance against some of his friends who made it all the way. Not for lack of talent. Instead, the dividing line was money. The wealthy kids had all the equipment, of course, but more than that they had time to train.

There was no pressure to work and they could sail all summer. Now that’s just part of the story but it was striking to watch those who never had to work make their way through university, keeping up in their sport along the way. And it’s true for lots of sports. I once complimented my son for making the provincial rugby team. He quickly pointed out that he wasn’t the best, just the best of those kids whose parents could afford the registration fees and commit to all that driving. Smart kid.”

It’s true in youth but it’s also true in midlife. Again, those for whom early retirement or part time work is a choice there are training advantages.

More from the older post:

“We thought that once parents stopped supporting their kids that the playing field would level out a bit. Not so much. I wrote earlier this week about working part-time and early retirement. I approached the question from the perspective of health and overall well-being but you could also ask it from the point of view of sports performance. Each spring I struggle to balance end of term grading with the start of the cycling season. It’s tough. I’ve got a friend who is a tax accountant and she struggles too. Tax time is peak early season training time.

While we struggle, I’ve also got friends who post their “Retired Guys Rides” on Strava and Facebook. They’re time flexible. They can wait for the sunshine and warm weather. They can ride everyday if they want. Sometimes I’m jealous.

Some of these same people also go south in the winter and ride. Why not?”

I’ve been wondering for awhile how much work is healthy. See Working hard or hardly working?

Retirement is associated with all sorts of bad health outcomes. And I think it’s be very bored. Given the number of dependents in my life I can’t afford it either. My favorite? Less work for everyone. I’d love to see the 4 day workweek.


Aging as beautiful #ThoughtForAThursday


“You could see the signs of female aging as diseased, especially if you had a vested interest in making women too see them your way. Or you could see that a woman is healthy if she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows into her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of ‘serious lesions’ or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life and it shows. When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold.”

– Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth