aging · fitness · health

How Bettina learned to stop worrying and love the physio (well, maybe ‘love’ is a strong word)

My mother has back problems. And shoulder problems, neck problems, and arm problems. In short, she’s a chronic pain patient. It started when she was in her early fourties. One day, her shoulder started hurting and never stopped. The rest came as she went along. She tried cycling, she got back problems. She tried swimming, she got elbow problems. Knitting, lifting anything even remotely heavy, too much yoga (and you never know in advance what “too much” is), sitting anywhere with even the hint of a draft, are all out of the question. Being my mother – one of the most strong-willed people I know – she soldiers on. She’s now 71 and still does light yoga, a lot of hiking, and a huge amount of daily physio exercises.

I’m in my mid-30s now. Needless to say, one of my main fears is that I will run into the same issues. Granted, I have a few things going for me that might, at least, buy me some time and at best, prevent me from ever having the same amount or intensity of issues. My mother was born in rural post-war Germany, when good nutrition wasn’t a given. As the daughter of farmers, she spent a lot of time crouching in potato fields when she was young. She worked as a nurse for years and did a lot of heavy lifting. She didn’t really exercise regularly until she was middle-aged.

I, on the other hand, started swimming when I was in primary school (at the insistence of my mother, because it was supposed to be good for my back). I’ve always exercised regularly. I was well-nourished from the start. I’ve never worked a physical job. And yet.

So, in anticipation of Really Bad News, I postponed visiting the orthopaedist for a Really Long Time. But earlier this year, fear finally got the better of me, so I went. “I don’t want to end up like my mother”, I told him, and asked what I had to do to prevent it. “Are you in any pain?” he asked, which I happily denied. He looked at me slightly funny, but gave me a thorough examination. Apparently apart from a tendency to hunch and wonky hips, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. But just so my insurance could get its money’s worth out of the visit (by paying more money), he prescribed me five sessions of physiotherapy.

Photo of a bendy wooden doll. Bettina is trying to get her body to stay that flexible.
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I went to the physiotherapist and got similarly quizzical looks. It seems like if you’re not in pain, you’re not supposed to be there? I was surprised. And I realised my privilege of being relatively young, fit and “healthy”-looking has a consequence I hadn’t really considered much: people mostly concerned with healing don’t expect me. That was an interesting experience.

Luckily, my physio is awesome and adaptable, and was happy with damage prevention rather than control. He realised quickly that I actually do a fair amount of sports. So in the first session, we did a test that’s normally administered to athletes to discover their musculoskeletal weaknesses.

My lower back, hips, and shoulders are my weak points, with the lower back being the weakest. So my physio has been giving me exercises to do at home to strengthen it, and I’ve been trying to incorporate them into my routine. Honestly, I don’t enjoy them much. They’re exhausting, which probably means they’re working, and fairly boring. But that’s why I went, wasn’t it? To do things to hopefully prevent me from being in pain. So I’m going to take a page out of Sam’s book and try to do my un-fun physio exercises regularly. I’m also trying to focus on yoga routines that centre on my “problem areas” and incorporate asanas that are similar to the exercises I’m supposed to do, like Warrior 3, or chaturanga.

So what’s the verdict after four out of five sessions? I have a better awareness of my weak points and how to correct them. I have a bunch of exercises I can do at home. I’m curious to see if they will bring long-term improvement. Watch this space to find out how long my newly-found love… er, tolerance of physio lasts.

Do any of you have experience with physiotherapy? And how to be disciplined and make it stick, even if the benefits aren’t immediately obvious?

aging · cycling · disability · hiking · running

Aging Ungracefully (Guest Post)

By Mavis Fenn

About a month ago, my son and daughter ran the Round the Bay 30 km road race in Hamilton. A brutal course, complete with Grim Reaper. I never could have completed it. As I stood at the finish line, I marvelled at those crossing: varied in age, gender, race, and from a range of provinces and countries. Some finished strong, some not so strong, and some struggled to make that final footstep. And my heart hurt as the waves of runners crossed the line.

I didn’t understand the heartache. I haven’t run for years due to a meniscus tear and arthritis in my knees. I have large velcro braces for both knees when I need to walk for some distance, and will be trying gel injections by the end of summer. My knees are always stiff, and frequently painful. I lift weights, do yoga, and Zumba Gold (now Aqua). I intend to ride my bike this summer. My life is still an active one; why the heartache?

After some reflection, I realized that I had not yet given up the idea of running. In the recesses of my mind was the idea that I might run again if: I lost some weight, got some heavy duty running braces, and so on. That won’t work for me due to other issues. I am not a runner now and I will not be a runner in the future. That’s it.

The wave of runners crossing the finishing line destroyed my “magical thinking.” I was experiencing grief. The death of an ability; the death of something that gave me great pleasure; the death of part of my identity; indeed, the recognition that I was dying. I have experience with grief. I let it into my heart and embraced it. Grief brought with it remembrance of my father who lived until 94. He did what he could as long as he could. When a door closed behind him, he opened another one until there were no doors left. I have closed the door marked “running” behind me. I have not paid enough attention to the doors in front of me, biking and walking.

Time to move on. I will always enjoy watching that wave of people crossing the finish line at the Round the Bay but I am content not to be one of them. I am working on my fear of bike riding, and slowly increasing my walking. Endurance is the key.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

accessibility · aging · fitness · yoga

Sam has become “that person” in the fitness class!

Years ago I remember watching a woman in a yoga class at the Y who seemed to be just doing her own thing.

The instructor would tell us what to do and sometimes free spirit lady followed along and at other times not. I was puzzled. Why even come to class if you’re not going to do the thing the instructor is doing? What’s that even about?

Zoom ahead twenty years and OMG I’ve become that woman in yoga class. I was at bike-yoga at the university. The instructor kept demonstrating postures I can’t manage. Some are ones I’m positively told not to do. Instead whenever the pose was one of the forbidden/impossible ones I did my own thing.

My knees were happy. I was having a good workout. But some of the university students looked at me in a funny way. I think they thought I didn’t hear or see what I was supposed to be doing. And then it dawned on. I was free spirit yoga lady.

I’m okay with that. I’m with Cate that knowing your body and what it needs and doing that is one of the joys of aging.

How about you? In group fitness classes do you ever do your own thing? How does it feel?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
aging · competition · fit at mid-life · running · training

The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

One month ago, I signed up for the Shape Half Marathon in New York on April 14. I haven’t run a regular road half-marathon in about a decade. I do still participate in the occasional trail running event, but some years ago I decided that I’d run enough road races. To compound my dread going in, I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to start training until March 14th(literally only 30 days before the race). Sure, I would be cross-country skiing for the weeks before then, so not out of shape, but certainly not in running form. I only signed up because a friend asked me to. The race is on her birthday, so … Before I could second guess myself, I registered.

Well, I’m remembering why I don’t do road races anymore. My head. My head. My head. I know I’ll be slower than my last half-marathon, yet I don’t want to know. I’m aging. I didn’t start running seriously until I was in my late 20s. It took me a while to find my strength. Which means that I had the good feeling of beating my younger self until I was well into my forties. Not so anymore.  A lot of days I don’t think anything of my generally slower pace. When I’m not training for a race, I’m able to think: How lucky am I to still be running? How good does it feel to travel on my own two legs? How strong am I? But these days, when I’m out for a training run, I think: Why am I so slow? Why am I so tired? Where’s my spring? Where’s my lightness? My zip? 

Pile of old wooden wall clocks, by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The looming race screws with my sense of self-worth. My mind turns on me and I can’t access my gratitude. Sigh. There’s no joy in the training. Thank you, Sam, for pointing out earlier this week thatwe are not always going to have fun in our workouts. Though I want, as Tracy pointed out, to have some kid-like funwith my body. I am not having fun with this training. I’m having frustration and self-recrimination instead. 

Also, I did not ease into my training. I decided that with only a month to train, I’d start with a 14-mile run. You don’t need to tell me how ridiculous that was. Plus, I wore not just new running shoes, but a new kind of running shoe I’d not tried before. So smart. Turns out the new shoe style did something nasty to my calf, which has taken a full two weeks to almost heal. Two weeks during which I continued to run haphazardly, because how could I not do at least four 2-hour runs before the race? More like 2-hour lopsided slogs through a haze of discomfort. Last week I was only able to run once after my long run, because my body was in pain and exhausted. And I’m not even sure that my “long” run was actually a long distance, because I was in Illinois, running somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t track distances. All I know is that I was running for more than 2 hours; who knows how far or not far. 

You get the picture. I’ve done a lot wrong to prepare for this race. I might have done better to rest for the full month and then run on the day in my old, familiar running shoes. Am I self-obstructing so I have an excuse (other than time and years) for a poor result? And by “poor” I just mean relative to my own past results.

I’m writing this with 10 days to go before the race. Here’s where I’m at: I know I can run 13.1 miles. That’s not the challenge. The real obstacle is my thinking. I’m competing with my younger self and that’s a losing battle. I need to make the mind shift. As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!). But that doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I know that how I think and what I think are choices. That’s step one. Step two is actually implementing that knowledge. 

So hard. Working on it! 

Anyone else slowing down? I’d love your thoughts and insights on how you’ve come to peace with the new normal.  

aging

Tracy enters the grey zone

It’s funny how sometimes you just know you’re ready for a change. Somewhere back in January I had a strong desire to do something different with my hair. When your hair is short like mine, the only thing you really can do is grow it. But it was also blond, and I was starting not to like the blond anymore. Apart from the three hour costly appointments at the salon, I just felt like the regular bleaching wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.

I told my stylist about my decision and she got positively excited. So, slowly over the past couple of haircuts, we’ve been cutting out the blond. And last Thursday was the end of it. No more blond:


Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short cropped grey hair, smiling, wearing a black hoodie with purple writing on it, abstract painting in the background

I mostly like it. It has made me feel liberated from a beauty regime that has taken up hours of my life for the past 20 years. Instead of being in the salon for three hours, I now only need to be there for half an hour. And that is likely going to reduce further because now that the blond is all gone and I’m back to my natural colour, I’m going to grow it a big (I said I needed a change!).

It’s definitely going to take a bit of getting used to. Of the many friends I have who are my age, the vast majority colour their hair or bleach it. I only know a handful of women in their 50s who let their hair go natural. I do see this as something of a political issue, in the sense that if we are all thinking we need to keep ourselves from going grey we stigmatize grey hair.

On the other hand, apparently there are people who pay good money and go to great lengths to have grey hair. Young people, even, if this Glamour article is any indication of the demographic. And there is a much-followed Pinterest board called “women who rock grey hair.” And on that board, most of them are “of a certain age” and they look awesome with their grey hair.

I hope more women in my circle decide to go for it too so I have some company in this. But meanwhile, that’s where I’m at these days where my hair is concerned. I know that there are many reasons people colour their hair. For me, it was simply to fend off the grey. And that runs counter to my resolve not to worship at the alter of youth, but instead to accept that as I age, I can expect to see some physical changes, and the natural colour of my hair happens to be one of them.

Anyone else out there gone from colouring or bleaching to allowing their natural grey (if it is grey) to shine?

accessibility · aging · inclusiveness · injury · weight loss

Sam is checking in for February, #monthlycheckin, cw: mention of weight loss

Good news!

My knee survived a week in Europe with many days of mega steps. I paid a lot of attention to how it felt, wore the knee brace sometimes but not at others, took anti inflammatory medication regularly, and stretched lots. Sarah helped lots too.

Now that I’m back home physiotherapy continues, massage therapy continues, personal training continues, and I’m back to my bike on the trainer, bike commutes, and dog walks. All of that counts, except the massages, on my quest to workout 219 times in 2019.

I’m so happy to see all the hard work paying off.

Next up: NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour in May.

After that, lots and lots of training before our 10 day bike tour of Newfoundland in June.

Bad news!

Weight loss is hard. (We all know this.) You might think that if you had a serious medical reason to lose weight, then you’d do it. But your body doesn’t know your motives. It doesn’t care what your intentions are. It’s super hard.

Wish me luck.

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · monthly check in

54

Today’s my birthday. I was going to do a big reflective post like I did last year.  Turns out, last year I  was full of gratitude for my life.

I still am.

But I don’t feel quite as reflective.  I’m good.  It’s February, and I am tired, and I’m still recovering from the flu.  But… I’m good.

I got home at 7 pm last night, and was super tired, but I went out for a short run and pondered what it means to be 54.  And I realized that 54 is really mid-life.  The things I’ve been working toward for decades — intentionally and just by wandering through my life — have come together. I am known for what I do, and I’m doing harder, better, more challenging and far-reaching work than ever before.  I’m on the edge of seeing the end of a volunteer development project with kids in Uganda I’ve been working on for 12 years.  I have the resources to have a home I love and to do all the travel I want.  I got serious about saving for my future a few years ago and don’t feel quite as panicked as I once did. I have the perfect cats. I have community and family I know and trust and care for.  My body moves the way I want it to, most of the time. I like my shoulder and calf muscles. I can do 108 sun salutations and ride 100 km. I have history and experience, and I’m living the fruits of that.

And the middle means… being stretched by aging and waning on one end, aging that just is, isn’t mindset or a construct, but just is.  My fingers are knobbled with arthritis that wasn’t there two years ago — I catch sight of my finger poking at my phone sometimes and am taken aback.  How is that my finger? That is an old person finger!  I’m fatigued, often — by unrelenting menopause, and disrupted sleep, and just less physical resilience than I used to have.  I had the flu in January and briefly caught sight of what it means to be frail and to live alone and to have your sink back up when you’re fighting a fever of more than 39.  I can feel hints of fragility and physical limits — and these are new.

And at the same time — 54 means still being tugged at by novelty, and adventure, and possibilities.  I still haven’t written all of the things that are in me, or learned swahili, and I know there are stories of who I am that haven’t unfolded yet.  There are chapters to be lived I haven’t even imagined yet, people to be loved and known I haven’t met yet, oceans to bob in and coasts to walk and roads to ride on.

54 is knowing myself. Knowing that even though I was tired when I got home last night, what my body and soul needed was a run from home to Coxwell and back. It’s knowing that I’ll sleep better and feel more satisfied in my soul if I scrub the kitchen before bed. It’s having a trusted spidey sense about what’s the right thing to do for myself — whether that’s yep, I need to do this work right now, there’s no other time to do it, or yep, yoga is what my body needs right now, not a spinning class, or yep, this is the right person to go on this date with, or yep, this is a good time to have a glass of wine. Or knowing that I am going to have a complete sugar crash that will mess with my life if I eat this brownie at this moment in time — and I don’t eat the brownie. It’s a knowing that comes with deep listening to myself, to what has unfolded because of the choices I’ve made in my life.

At 54, some pathways are off the table.  I’m not going to go to med school, or have a baby, or a 25th wedding anniversary, or, with this body and its various aches and vulnerabilities, run another marathon. Some things, you just time out of. And part of being 54 is being okay with that, in a way I wouldn’t have been five years ago.

For me, 54 is more about stretching myself more fully into the spaces I already know I love — rather than taking big leaps in new directions.  It’s getting better at the work I already do, and stretching into new niches. It’s embracing my role as Auntie Cate, for my own nieces and with various other people who wander into my life. It’s knowing that traveling alone truly feeds me in ways nothing else does — and finding every possible option to do that.  It’s going deep into yoga and shaping myself into forms I’ve never even seen before.

Like this one, from my Iyengar class on Wednesday.

51454859_1993339414054876_4207737317672091648_n

I don’t even know what that’s called — some kind of advanced fish pose. It was… exhilarating, opening in new ways. We spent about 45 minutes of that class in various forms of trikonasana.  It was intense, and hard, and focused.  And my body found new alignment, new edges.

That’s what 54 is.  Joy in going deep and full into the self I already am.

I’ll take it.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and practices yoga in Toronto.  She likes to count things, and notes that this is her 90th post for Fit is a Feminist Issue.