aging · fitness · health

Health and wealth and years of happy living

I’m staying at a beautiful resort in Tucson, Arizona. I love it here in the desert. I’ve come here twice to ride my bike in the winter. See here and here.

But this year I’m not here to ride my bike. I’m here for the annual Workshop in Normative Ethics, hosted by the Philosophy department at the University of Arizona. It’s a great conference and it’s at this very lovely resort/conference center. Thanks Mark!

While I’m staying here this came across my newsfeed, Rich people don’t just live longer, they also get more healthy years.

From the article, “According to a new study, wealthy men and women don’t only live longer, they also get eight to nine more healthy years after 50 than the poorest individuals in the United States and in England.”

“In both countries, wealthy women tended to live 33 disability-free years after age 50 — eight to nine more than poor women, the study found. Wealthy men tended to live 31 disability-free years after 50 — eight to nine more than poor men.”

Wealth mattered more than education and more than social class.

I guess I’m not shocked. Here in Arizona, I was struck by the very fit seniors staying at this resort. I listened in on their tennis lessons while reading some conference materials outside. Nice to have a keen coach giving you advice on your serve. But there’s not just tennis here. There’s also golf. And swimming. And biking. And hiking trails. And a gym.

The other thing that’s got me thinking about wealth is my knee replacement. I’m waiting nearly a year and a half for it in Canada. I know people in Canada who don’t wait. They travel south to the US for joint replacements. I even looked up prices. It was easy to look because I’ve posted so much about it on social media that there are many ads in my newsfeed for American hospitals marketing their wait free services to Canadians. $49,500. Wow. Guess, I’m waiting.

The knee replacement will be covered fully by my province’s health plan when it happens. Note though that none of the conservative strategies–injections, knee brace, physio–are covered by that plan. Instead my workplace benefits paid for that. I’m very grateful.

But if I were an American without health insurance or if I had benefits didn’t cover the full cost of knee replacement and I was trying to juggle launching three twenty somethings with my own pain and lessening activity levels, chances are I’d wait for surgery longer than the wait here in Canada. Waiting means, for most people, being less active.

I’m wealthy by most measures but I’m not “fly to the US and pay out of pocket for joint replacement” wealthy. I am “knee brace and physio” covered by workplace benefits wealthy. But it all seems very clear to me that in terms of staying active, wealth makes a difference.

And I guess I’m not surprised that wealth means both more years of life and more healthy years but the number of years did surprise me. Colour me naive. I know. Also, I’m curious to see what the results would be in Canada.

aging · dogs · health · mindfulness · new year's resolutions · self care

Kim’s 2020 wellness goals, beyond the bike

Here at FFI I’m one of the “bike bloggers”; along with Cate, Sam, and Susan, I get jazzed about the riding. We all have different styles and prefer different kinds of riding-based holidays, but the bike is our collective thing.

As a committed (and pretty darn talented) road rider, usually my yearly wellness goals revolve around bike training, club riding, and trip planning. This year I still have some of these – I hope to go to my regular South Carolina training camp in March, and I’ll be taking my bike to the west of Ireland in July, while I’m there for a working holiday – but mostly my wellness goals this year are about other things.

Specifically, they are about long-term joint health, and about long-term mental health.

Here I am in South Carolina last March, posing for a selfie in green helmet and orange gilet. I am smiling because RIDING. I’m posing with a sign that says “East Fork Baptist Church”.

First, the joints. I have an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which if untreated can cause incredibly painful skeletal distortion as I age. I’m lucky to work in a town and at a university with an incredible teaching hospital network, and I have a wonderful rheumatologist, whom I trust and appreciate, following my condition.

(I’ll never forget my visit to her the day after the November 2016 presidential election. We had a brilliant chat, woman to woman, about how  dreadful we were each feeling before we talked about my hips. That visit also inspired one of my very favourite FFI posts, “What Women Weigh”; if you’ve not had a chance to read it, please click here.)

Alas, this past year I’ve noticed an uptick in my symptoms. I’ve had too many instances of anterior uveitis (a correlative condition – basically the inflammation of the iris, REALLY), and my hips have been stiff and sore more than usual. I don’t want to have to shift my A.S. treatment, because the next step up is to begin taking immunosuppressant drugs, which I’m very anxious about. (I WORK WITH STUDENTS #petridish) So, instead, I’m committing this year to making more time for yoga at home, as well as at my beloved Iyengar studio, and perhaps I’ll also fold in some sports physiotherapy.

I know this will mean dialing back on “regular” workouts to fit in more joint-focused, low-intensity stuff. I find dialing back on cardio and weights hard – #endorphins – but if I want to keep doing that into my old age, I need to reprioritize.

A group of seven ordinary humans practice ‘hanging sirsasana’ (supported headstand) at a rope wall in an Iyengar Yoga studio. Iyengar uses a wide range of props to ensure all students are safe and supported in poses, which means they can receive maximum stretch benefits without any risk to joints.

Second, the mental health stuff.

I’ve been going to Jungian, talk-therapy based psychotherapy for about 18 years, on and off. My doctor in Toronto is covered by our provincial health insurance (YES to medicare for all, friends! It is literally life-changing!), and he more or less saved my life in the mid-2000s. But after all this time, last summer I realized that I’d learned most of what I could learn from him about the traumas of my past, and yet I was still feeling sadness and far too much unexplained rage.

I chatted with Susan about this on a long dog walk last Christmas. She agreed that I sounded like I’d plateaued in my learning with Dr A, and she suggested I give a different kind of therapy a try to see where it leads me.

(Susan, in addition to being a bike person, is our resident “why dog walks are critical fitness activities” blogger. My favourite of her posts on the topic is here. IT IS HILARIOUS AND PROFOUND.)

Susan’s lab Shelby, in Christmas bow and posing with bedecked tree; this snap is from a post a few short weeks ago. Everyone needs more Shelby.

Thanks to Susan’s advice, I’ve now begun a course of EMDR therapy here in my home city. It’s been remarkable so far: I’m learning to revisit certain of my past traumas in safety, and to dissociate the feelings I carry about them from my traumatizing memories. Already I feel lighter, I have more compassion for those who previously enraged me, and I’m looking forward to making more discoveries in 2020. I know there’s a way to go yet, but I also see that the end can be filled with light.

This therapy is not government-covered, nor does my private work-based insurance cover it (beyond a measly 15 bucks a session. WHATEVS). And it is not cheap.

After factoring it into my working 2020 budget (I paid off my car, and redirected the money from the car payments toward it), I realized that I will also need to scale back some other fitness spending to accommodate it. So I may or may not get back to rowing, as I’d hoped, in 2020; we’ll see. And while I need a new saddle, I think I’ll also need to rely on my fantastic partner for more cycling-related presents throughout the year, rather than let myself wander into any bike shops on whims.

The cover of Bike Snob NYC’s 2010 book, “systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling”. It’s a grand cover, with hand drawings of a variety of nifty bikes around a kind of cycling “crest” with the title in it. It makes a superb Christmas present! Thanks, sweetie.

So, in sum from Kim:

Fitness = anything we do to help our body-minds feel better, move better, move safer, be lighter. Yes this is bikes, and weights, and runs; it’s also dog walks, and mental health work, and joint support, and rest. As we try not to fall into the badgering temptation of the proverbial “New Years resolution”, let’s keep this range of wellness options in mind!

What about you, friends? What are your wellness hopes for the new year? And a happy one to all!

 

aging · fitness · habits · holidays · motivation · new year's resolutions · season transitions

Words and Challenges for the New Year

Four days in, I’m still adjusting to this fresh start of a decade. We’re living in the 20’s now. A decade that makes me think my word for the year should be … ROAR.

My cousin introduced me to this word of the year practice about 10 years ago. Our guest blogger, Anne Simpson, wrote about her Word of the Year a few days ago. The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.

Vortex of black letters on white background
Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

Last year, I had some pretty definitive plans for 2019 related to one of my plays and my book that was publishing in July. I wanted to remind myself not to get too caught up in expectations. I also challenged myself to meditate every day. My word was PRESENCE. In 2018, I was immersed in book writing and my personal challenge was to not shop for clothes or shoes for the whole year. My word was ATTENTION. 

A quick note about these challenges I mention. I’m not one for resolutions. Or maybe I just don’t like the word, in the context of the New Year. There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over. You can bet I’ve shopped for some new clothes since 2018 finished.

This year feels largely unknown and fluid. Scary. I have some specific events I’m looking forward to–talks I’m giving in Princeton at The Present Day Club and San Francisco at The Battery; another reading of my play at Missouri State University; plus a new workshop series I’m planning with a friend of mine. I don’t know what any of these will lead to. I don’t know what my big project for the year will be. A new book? Another play? Rolling out the workshops? Plus, there’s my challenge for the year—no buying anything (except books/tv/film) on amazon. I may also go back to an alternate month no-shopping practice, because the prospect is peaceful to contemplate.

All in all, I feel open. Excited. Super daunted. And sometimes a little frustrated, because shouldn’t a woman in her 50’s be looking forward to a steadier, more settled year? That’s my voice of insecurity having her say. But she does not get to decide my word! So, given all that, what is my word?

I like ROAR , but that’s not it.

Here’s my always evolving list of possible words: illuminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.

In that spirit, this year, I choose BECOMING.

What’s your word or challenge?

aging · habits

Starting to stop exercising – people seem to do it at 41, but why?

A couple of weeks ago, a new study made the rounds: apparently people think they are “too old” to exercise at 41. A survey of 2,000 adults turned out that that’s the average age at which people think they aren’t young enough any more to exercise regularly. That seems… early! The Internet was surprised and unimpressed by this and other reasons people gave for not working out.

I couldn’t find the original survey and whether they did a breakdown by gender, but I have a hunch that this tendency is probably stronger in women than men. Where does my hunch come from? Admittedly, my own personal experience (fine, we have a small-n problem here), but even at a young age, girls move less than boys, and it gets worse for teenagers. So the gender gap in regular exercise is a thing.

For me, in my mid-thirties, 41 is still a few years – though not that many – off. For now, exercise is something that I make part of my regular routine. I normally work out at least 3 or 4 times a week, and try to aim for even more. But I see this play out in my own environment. In the races I’ve run recently, I’ve done well in my age group because my age group tends to be tiny. On my swim team, I’m the oldest women by a difference of about 10 years (!), whereas there’s a number of men my age or older. For full disclosure, there’s a group of older swimmers in our club – considerably older – that consists almost exclusively of women, so they do seem to bounce back at least somewhat. But it’s complicated. I can see how it can be demotivating for people to continue exercising when everyone else seems to be a lot younger, and if that’s the case, 41 seems a reasonable age to feel like you’re outside of the target group. And that’s even before we’ve discussed adverts for everything from gyms to sports clothes that are full of young, conventionally attractive people and make anyone who doesn’t look like that feel like an outlier.

Backside view of an elderly man in running gear with a race bib pinned to his back.
Photo by sporlab on Unsplash

Around 41 is the age when people are really feeling the crunch, too. It’s when people have children that still need them, parents that start needing them, and more often than not, professional responsibilities that weigh on them. It’s easy to see why people don’t have time or are too tired to exercise, which were actually the most common reasons respondents to the survey above gave. I don’t have children and my parents are independent, but some days between work and life admin, even I am feeling the crunch. Right now, if I had to add more responsibilities to my life, I would definitely have to scale back on my exercise routine, and I’m among the most privileged individuals around: white, affluent enough, educated, with a supportive partner, etc. It’s easy to see how people who aren’t as privileged as I am face much higher barriers.

That’s also why I think some of the Internet responses were a bit unfair and condescending. Yes, fine, it’s never too late to start working out and I reckon most people are hypothetically aware of the many benefits exercise brings. But that doesn’t invalidate their reasons for not working out, or make it a case of just bucking up, finding a running buddy and “doing it”, as a popular sports apparel brand would have it. The author of the Guardian article linked above in particular makes a point that he has a job and three children, but yet has somehow managed to fit in 10 ultra-marathons in the past three years. Good for him, but he doesn’t actually explain how he’s done it. I have so many questions. How many hours of sleep does he need at night to be functional? Is his partner also an ultra-marathoner – or even a regular exerciser at all -, and if so, how do they juggle taking care of the kids to accommodate each other’s training and race schedules? Does he, or his partner, have elderly parents who need them? What are his work hours? Does his partner work full time? Do they have household help? And so on.

I wish the people who write these articles would consider that not everyone might have the things that are necessary for making regular workouts feasible for adults in the middle of “the crunch”: time, the resources to buy time, and a social environment that encourages exercise. The thing is, it’s not just about individual choice, it’s about society and how its structures constrain us.

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.