aging · flexibility · health · illness · injury · nutrition · planning · schedule · self care · training · weight lifting

Sam gets frustrated with midlife precision and the complications of fitting it all in

There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.

Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.

Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.

Bitmoji Sam pointing at the word “lies”

It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.

As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.

I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.

Sam’s bitmoji lifting weights.

So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?

Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.

There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.

All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.

Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”

So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.

First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.

See Recovery and aging athletes: A guide to train smart and stay strong

A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.

In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”

The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.

From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”

When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.

Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.

I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.

What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.

Wish me luck!

(Update: I see Catherine just purchased a training program that works in all the elements including rest. That’s one solution to fitting it all in. Go Catherine!)

Bitmoji Sam is holding a pillow. The text reads “rest up.”

Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.

There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.

See Muscle loss is in the news again for more details.

Bitmoji Sam ponders her lunch options

Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.

Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.

Bitmoji Sam on a purple bean bag chair with a red book and a mug.

How about you? How do you fit it all in?

advice · aging · fitness · sailing

Meet 25 year old Sam: She got some things right but others very much not when it comes to fitness

Sunday we hosted an end of summer BBQ in our backyard. That meant Saturday we were cleaning the basement putting some summer things away, taking out others.

Okay, we were drying and putting away sails for the season. After Jeff’s DNF due to rudder failure during the Lake Erie solo challenge, Tin Lizzie is home in Guelph for the season.

Drying sails in our backyard

In the middle of cleaning I got carried away with a box of old photos and correspondence, as one does. I found a letter to my parents from 25 year old grad school me in Chicago, a relic from life before children. Also back before email and social media. I would write letters on the computer, print them, add physical photos and mail them off to my family in Nova Scotia.

What was striking about this letter though is that it captured the beginning of my fitness journey. Boy did I get some things right. Boy did I get others things wrong.

At 25 I wrote to my parents to say that:

1. I was hanging out with a 55 year old faculty member who still, at her age, rode a bike and played squash. At her age! Geesh, 25 year old me, get a grip. Now I’m that 55 year old professor who still rides a bike. I’m wondering what the 25 year old grad students think. Still!

Miss you Dorothy!

About 14 years after grad school, my daughter Mallory and I visited Dorothy in New Zealand. She was still super active, hiking, dancing, and playing tennis. I began to see the advantages of an active life.

2. I was riding my bike pretty regularly on the Lake Shore bike path, sometimes riding as far as 26 miles. I aspired to ride a century, 100 miles. There was a ride called the Chicago century, Chicago to Wisconsin, and I told them I hoped to do that the following summer. This is notable because I was riding a pretty heavy hybrid bike back then. Also my beginning cycling ambitions were about to be interrupted by baby 1. Hello Mallory! It would be about 15 years before I rode a 100 miles. I didn’t do it on a hybrid either. The funny thing is until finding this letter I had no memory of distance ambitions prior to getting my first road bike in my 40s.

I couldn’t find any grad school pictures of me on a bike. No cell phone cameras yet. But here’s sleepy me and baby Mallory.

3. I was doing aerobics classes in the gym in our building, River City, three times a week and between that and bike riding feeling pretty fit.

“I surprise people a lot in the aerobics class because I’m far from skinny, a pretty constant size 14, but I can do the full 90 minutes with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Some new people, about half my size can’t, and I think that shocks them. I’ve heard women behind me making comments to that effect. I think it’s good to break the tight association between being thin and being fit.”

Go 25 year old Sam! Size 14 then, same now.

4. I was out on the water pretty regularly on boats of various shapes and sizes and configurations due to Jeff working for Sailboat Sales in Chicago. I went lots of years in the middle without sailing and now with Snipe racing at Guelph Lake and sailing Tin Lizzie, it’s back in my life again. A special surprise finding this on a day I’m busy flaking sails once again.

Dear 25 year old me: You will eventually ride a century. At 55 you’re still singing the “fat can be fit” song. And your views about aging will change.

River City. One of the places I lived in Chicago while attending graduate school there 1988-1993.
25 year old me, sailing.
25 year old me waking up on the boat, peeking out of the companionway in the morning.
Continue reading “Meet 25 year old Sam: She got some things right but others very much not when it comes to fitness”
aging · Dancing · fitness

Regrets, Sam’s had a few

This morning, on Facebook, one friend said that the most disturbing aspect of growing older is the closing down of possibilities conjoined with the pressure of time. Ouch. But they’re right.

And the other posted this.

Cheerful, but I think wrong. Sometimes you are too old and it is too late.

I guess I’m trying to be realistic when I say that there are things for which it’s definitely too late, I’ve blogged before about my commitment to stop saying, it’s never too late. I won’t give birth to more children, for example. I’m not sad about that but it’s obviously true

I’m thinking about limits and aging this week as yet another friend is being forced to give up soccer and running because of knee problems. It’s so hard. I still miss soccer and running and Aikido.

So all of this got me thinking what can I do now that I might not be able to do later? What opportunities should I seize because possible now and might not be later?

I’ve written about my regret that I didn’t play team sports until late in life. As it turns out by the time I started there weren’t many years left. See my older post on team sports and childhood regrets. What else might be like that? What should I start now?

Regret is one thing we might think about when making decisions. Yes, we want to maximize our future happiness. We might also think about minimizing future regret.

What all I regret if I don’t do it now?

I started thinking about this as two other bloggers here posted about dancing. Christine is doing a 100 days dancing challenge. Catherine recalls her dancing days and her ongoing status as a dancing queen, even if it’s in her kitchen.

I’d love to be able to dance. My current dancing style has been described as “sexy Muppet.” I’ve got some work to do.

Maybe this is me! Maybe I don’t have actual learning to do. I just need to find more opportunities to dance.

aging · cycling · fitness · traveling

Cycling into one’s retirement years

As you likely know three of the regular bloggers here–Cate, Susan, and me– plus occasional visitor Sarah and friend David, spent the last ten days on a Newfoundland cycling adventure. I’d done it before. See here.

But I loved it so much I wanted to do it again and share it with friends. This time I loved that it rained different days of the trip and so I got to endure and enjoy different sections of the journey. Labrador looks different when it’s not foggy and rainy!

There’s lots to write about: the lovely people we rode with and met along the way, the rugged beauty of Newfoundland, the hills, the wind, the rain. It was hard and challenging and rewarding.

Me, David, and Sarah holding our bikes above our heads in front of the Newfoundland and Labrador sign

One of the things that always hits home on these bike trips where the majority of the participants are in their retirement years is the scope of what’s possible in the second half of life.

There’s Pixy who at 63 isn’t just biking the Nfld trip. She’s riding all the way home to Connecticut, solo, carrying all of her own stuff. Keith and John were both 72 and looked like they belonged on their bikes. Now they might be older than me but they have one big advantage, time to train. They expressed admiration for those of us working full-time, getting out on our bikes in the evenings, early mornings, and weekends. But still, thinking of the trip’s retirees, there’s something lovely about having that fitness, that drive to train, later in life when there’s time to enjoy it.

One way to tell this story would be to focus on the bus that accompanied us every step of the way. Not our sag wagon and gear truck. The seniors’ bus tour that was visiting all the same places. Writing this post a few years ago I might have contrasted the seniors on the bus tour with the seniors on our bike trip.

I’m less sure what to make of that contrast these days.

What 70 looks like isn’t just a matter of choice. Things happen. My knee has made me painfully aware of that. I also started thinking about the 30 somethings on our bike trip. Most people their age couldn’t do this trip either. It’s a matter of choice, of luck, of training, and of interest. I’m not sure that that’s different for seniors than it is for 50 somethings and 30 somethings.

You’ve got to want to travel this way. You have to think the rewards outnumber the hardships. And you’ve got to train and get ready and make cycling fitness part of your life. That’s true for all of us.

The whole bike trip crew boarding the ferry to Labrador

aging · Sat with Nat

Nat realizes she is high maintenance!

Honestly, I forget I have a high maintenance body. It’s only when I meet new people and see their genuine shock at what I do to keep my body feeling good that I realize I’m high maintenance.

I strive to walk every day. My walking commute helps me manage my stress and incorporate movement in my life in a manageable way. My partner is also a fan of a post-evening meal stroll. I also walk on my Wednesday lunches with two dear friends who happen to be colleagues. We laugh, catch up and enjoy the beautiful park near our work.

I play rec league soccer once a week with other colleagues. I play defense and am the second oldest player on the team. (Right Sue?)

Lately I’ve been back on my bike on the weekends in preparation for our local MS Bike Tour. I love cycling. It’s the one activity I do that gives me a big endorphin boost. These days 40 km is enough to get that lovely feeling.

Twice a week I’m doing weights at lunch with another colleague at the little gym onsite. We joke about how pumped we are getting. I’m trying to manage some tennis elbow & shoulder pain that has been nagging me.

Sometimes, not as much lately, I go to yoga on Sundays. In the nice weather I’m much more likely to be out in my garden digging, dividing and weeding. Turns out it’s a lot of squats and wheelbarrow dead lifts!

With all this movement surely I look like a shredded, buff, lean woman? Oh heck no. All this movement is just enough to support my mobility and mental health. I’m so high maintenance!

I’m very thankful I can do all these things that involve movement and often great company. I feel confident in what my body can do and don’t really feel any compulsion to abide by anyone else’s ideas of what I should or should not be doing.

I joke with friends that in my mid-forties I get to choose: pain from lack of movement or pain from working out. The working out pain has a different texture and flavour. I feel kind of badass as I limp around the day after soccer.

I’m fairly sure I can only achieve this level of activity thanks to regular massage, chiropractic, a night guard, good footwear, blood pressure medication and a CPAP machine.

Have you ever been surprised by others reactions to your activity level? I’d love to hear about it. Natalie smiles into the camera without makeup or jewelry

What high maintenance looks like!
aging · fit at mid-life · injury · motivation · running

I Recommitted To Running, But There’s Been A Bump

I want to renew my running vows. I want me and Running to hold hands and skip through a flurry of confetti in great outfits; the way we did back at the beginning of our relationship 25-years ago. 

As some of you know, I did a half-marathon in April (The Half Marathon I’m Dreading). I was not proud of my time. I self-sabotaged. My training was not exemplary. My head was not in the right place. Not the first time. The run made me realize—I love you, running, but I’ve let our relationship go stale. I love you more when we spend quality time together. When I pay more attention. When I push, even a little. When I commit. I have let the inevitable slowdown of age interfere with our joyful communion. Time to do something. 

Early in May, a friend invited me to join her Hood to Coast team. Hood to Coast is a 199-mile (36-leg) relay with teams of between 6-12 members. My partner has done it four times. But with a men’s team. I prevaricated. I said I needed the weekend to decide. I went hiking in Joshua Tree National Park with my partner. Side note: the Mojave Desert is spectacular. I hemmed and hawed. I decided, no. Wednesday, I hit reply to my friend’s invite. Started to type, “I’ve thought about it and I’m not going to join.” Instead I typed, “Sure. Sign me up.” 

What? Where did that come from? I’m a writer. My fingers often come up with words all on their own. But my fingers don’t usually take over decision-making. Sunday night, a few days after I signed up, I told a friend I was upping my game. The strategy of public commitment. My goal: To find the enthusiasm and focus of my years-past beginner’s mind. And at the same time, be mindful of not burdening that focus with performance pressure.   

Monday, I went for the first run with my new Warrior Queen headspace. My IT band hurt so much. I had to abandon my run. 

Aaargh. 

If you run and you have never had IT issues, you are extremely lucky. The iliotibial band is a big tendon running down the side of the leg from pelvic bone, over the hip to the knee. Pain usually manifest on the outside of the knee. In my case, pain is around the hip bone.   

But I’m committed. The Internet of Things delivered recovery plans. There’s time. I dusted my exercise ball.  I can cycle to stay strong. I replaced the exercise band I apparently threw out in a fit of optimism. I’m having fun doing short bursts of strengthening exercises throughout the day. I work at home, which makes that easy.  

So far, I’ve done:

  • squats,
  • single leg squats (a serious balance challenge), 
  • wall sits, 
  • abductor and adductor exercises with the band and ball, 
  • foot and arch strengthening exercises, and
  • a hamstring exercise, which involves lying on the floor, putting my feet on the exercise ball, elevating my hips and then doing repeats of pulling the ball toward me with my heels and pushing it away. The ball is squirrely, so there’s a lot of readjustment in every set. 

I’m also rolling on a trigger point tube. I can feel a big, painful bloop, halfway between my knee and my hip, as I roll over the muscle just behind my IT band. Plus stretching, but lightly. Plus acupuncture. Plus a Traumeel injection.

Silver crown on white background. Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

Fingers crossed; I heal with time to train. Patience. If I don’t heal, I still have my new WQ headspace for other sports and life in general. I feel a particular need for mental-emotional strength, because my new book, Run Like A Girl 365 Days a Year, is coming out in a month (featuring interview material with Samantha and Kim of this fabulous blog!). In one of those poetic convergences of life strands, the book is about the transformative impact of sports in women’s lives, just as I am living many of its questions with this latest injury. So, while I aim at WQ mind, I also know that if I don’t heal in time, I’ll probably be pretty disappointed. It will test my re-commitment. For now, I will ride the wave of renewed intention.

What’s your experience with renewing vows with a sport or other life activity or habit? 

aging · fitness · training · weight lifting

An Old Woman and Her Weights (Guest Post)

by Mavis Fenn

I joined a mainstream gym in August of 2006. I had been a gym member before but not for a long time. I was a ‘cardio’ woman. Faithfully, I mounted the treadmill and ran: warm-up, steady, peak, and cool down. That was me. Walking around on my way to and from the change room I would see these women lifting free weights. I didn’t know how to do that. I tried the machines. They were ok, a nice addition to my running. But, it seemed to me at the time, that they weren’t quite ‘it.’

There were a couple of women who were as regular with weights as I was with running. I was afraid, afraid I would injure myself or, in the case of kettle bells, others. Finally, I decided I wanted to try free weights and would ‘spring’ for some sessions with a trainer so I could learn how to use them properly and safely. My first trainer was nice but not happy where she was; most trainers don’t realize there are sales involved and there is always pressure to sell. She left for work in a factory.

They asked me to choose with whom I would like to work. I had seen a petite, well-muscled woman who always looked so serious and focused (at least to me). I pointed and said, “her.” The woman looked slightly puzzled, perhaps wondering why a mature woman like myself would choose an obviously serious trainer. “Alison, why?” she said. “Because I want to make her laugh,” I replied. For over a decade now, there has been lots of laughter along with lots of hard work. I learned that I was in control of the weights and the only limits were either genetic or self-imposed. Alison taught me how to overcome those self-imposed limits. When my, “no, I can’t” was based in fear, she pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. I did because I trusted her to know me, emotionally, intellectually, and physically, aside from my insecurities. For me, training is a team sport.

Nothing has empowered me more than lifting weights. It has enhanced my self-esteem, made me more independent and adventurous, and in control. I have a sense of pride in my ability to manipulate heavy objects and my body to lift them. Make no mistake, I am not good at it but I am a certified “gym rat.” Others recognize my determination and acknowledge my efforts. I belong. I have learned through experience at several gyms Alison and I have trained in that it isn’t really about the size or shape of your body, it’s about your dedication.

A few years have passed since I began training, thirteen as a matter of fact. I am old now or older if you prefer. My training has changed too. It is still about challenging myself and doing the best and most I can. The focus though has shifted to building muscles to protect my arthritic knees, to allow me to get out of a chair gracefully, to be strong enough to stand upright and firm (and throttle a fantasy purse snatcher). I may be old but I refuse to be vulnerable.

I will continue to do as much as I can, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And Alison will be right there beside me to keep me from toppling over. And occasionally, there will be Queen (We are the Champions) and 200 pound deadlifts.

Thanks to Alison for allowing me to use her name. If you are looking for her, she’s at https://www.facebook.com/pg/alison.push/posts/?ref=page_internal

Image description: blue kettlebell in the green grass

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