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

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

aging · cycling · injury · walking

Celebrating things I couldn’t do four months ago

Exhibit A: Since I hurt my knee in November my walking has been pretty limited. But I’m getting better. This weekend I attended the university’s Campus Day with my son. Look how much we walked! More importantly, no knee pain after.

Exhibit B: I haven’t ridden my bike outdoors since November either. I did ride in French Polynesia with Susan but that was on cruiser bikes with coaster brakes in the sunshine. Today, I rode to work. I’m still smiling.

Still doing a lot of physio. There’s still the reality that I’m managing symptoms and that I can’t grow new knee cartilage. I’ll never run again. But I’m so happy that I can walk and ride my bike that right now none of that matters. Whee!

aging · cycling

Want the health of a 20 year old at the age of 80? Ride a bike!

The big health and fitness headline this past week concerned the release of results of two studies of senior citizen cyclists. For those of us preaching the health benefits of exercise, it was amazing news.

There’s a New York Times article on the study that covers the main points: Exercise Can Keep Aging Muscles and Immune Systems ‘Young’.

The NYT piece begins by noting that our understanding of aging might be radically mistaken because so few older adults get any exercise at all.

“Exercise among middle-aged and older adults in the Western world is rare. By most estimates, only about 10 percent of people past the age of 65 work out regularly. So, our expectations about what is normal during aging are based on how growing older affects sedentary people.”

We’ve written about that before on our blog. One of our earliest posts was on aging as a lifestyle choice.

Again from the NYT story: “The two sets of scientists then dove into their data and both concluded that older cyclists are not like most of the rest of us. They are healthier. They are, biologically, younger. Their muscles generally retained their size, fiber composition and other markers of good health across the decades, with those riders who covered the most mileage each month displaying the healthiest muscles, whatever their age.”

Wow.

I’ve had lots of thoughts about these studies and about the good health of these elderly riders.

My first thought was that I’m really happy that I love to ride my bike.

Second thought, should people who don’t like cycling take it up? Should I be urging friends and family whose health I care about to get on their bikes? That’s not so clear. These aren’t studies that took people and assigned them to one of two groups, those who ride a lot and those who sit at home. Instead, it’s a study of those older adults who choose to ride. They’re a special group who chose not to stop riding big distances. Did their good health make their riding possible or did their riding cause their good health? We don’t know which direction the causation goes–maybe it’s a bit of both, a kind of virtuous circle, where one supports the other– but the results are pretty remarkable regardless.

Third thought, this is so not a moderate message. These cyclists were averaging 100 miles a week. That’s a lot of riding. At my best I aim for 5000 km a year. They’re averaging 5200 miles! Further, the benefits depended on dose. The riders who covered the most mileage each month displayed the healthiest muscles. You see them setting out for a 5 1/2 hour ride in the video above. This isn’t like the health messaging that says to go for a walk everyday. These guys are working super hard for hours at a time. They’re riding big distances year round.

They also love it.

From a BBC story on these cyclists:

Aged just 64, Jim Woods, is a comparative youngster in the group. He averages 100 miles a week on his bike, with more during the summer. He said: “I cycle for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”

Fourth thought, we don’t know if this holds true for other forms of exercise. Maybe it’s riding bikes that’s magic and nothing else matters? Seems unlikely. It’s true though that cycling is something you can keep doing as you get older. Lots of older adults move from running to cycling at a certain point.

So lots of questions, but still, remarkable good news. The Fit is a Feminist Issue cyclists–hi Susan, Catherine, Cate, Kim, Nat!–should start planning riding trips for the big birthdays, 60, 70, 80, 90 etc. And maybe we should move somewhere warm for the winters. A fit feminist roving commune with lots and lots of bike riding. I’m in!

Photo by David on Unsplash

See also Lessons on Aging Well from a 105 Year Old Cyclist.

aging · athletes · cycling · injury

Bonus mini blog post: Sam sees some hope when it comes to her knee and riding a bike

I know many of you have been following the saga of my knee with interest and concern. I feel like I’ve got a whole community watching out for me and wishing me well and cheering me on.

Tonight something really good happened.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook.

Feeling hopeful. Really hopeful. First time on the spin bike without any pain when pedaling while standing. No pain while using big gears either. Phew. There’s hope.

The last time I went to a spin class I could spin in easy gears well enough but it hurt to put resistance on and it hurt to stand. So I didn’t do those things.

But today, nothing. It felt fine. I kept stopping, expecting it to hurt but nothing. I did sprints. I did hills. I did max wattage drills. All felt good. Well, except for the getting sweaty and out of breath part.

It was only a 45 minute class, not the 90 I’ve usually been doing over the winter but I walked home after feeling happy and strong.

And actually I felt so good I stuck around for the 30 minute core workout after.

Yay! There’s hope.

aging

We’re all going to die but do we need to be reminded? Sam says yes

In Bhutan they say that contemplating death five times a day brings happiness.

5 times a day? That’s a lot. I know because I recently added the app WeCroak to my phone and it reminds me of my morality five times each 24 hour period.

Here’s three sample texts I received.

I believe that you’re here on Earth for a short time, and while you’re here, you shouldn’t forget it.

Bea Arthur

bea

And day to day, life is a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful earth is, is to see it from the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.

Ursula K. Le Guin

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.

Martin Heidegger

heidegger_4_28196029_cropped

What’s the idea? You might think of the person who thinks about death as somehow stern and heroic, staring bravely into the abyss. Or as a person neurotically obsessed with their own mortality.

But that’s not the idea. Instead, it’s that people who are comfortable and familiar with death, are happier.

See To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death and Thinking about death and mortality is healthy and makes life more fun .

Now, I still think death is a bad thing. And frankly, I’m terrified about it some of the time. My experience is though that I can either contemplate mortality somewhat calmly in the light of day or it wakes me up in the middle of the night in terror. Give me the former any day. Not thinking about it all doesn’t seem to be an option for me. Damn philosophy education!

Thinking about death has unexpected other benefits too. The fact of my death is connected to my comfort in a two piece bathing suit. Put simply: Life is really horribly short. Who cares what others think?

I’ve written before about death. See here and here and here and here. (It’s a bit of thing with me.) I’ve taught courses on Philosophy and death and I’ve coedited a textbook on the subject.

My thinking about death is connected to my body positivity. This really is the only skin we’ve got. Enjoy it.

Here’s a cheery memento mori that’s hanging in my office.

Image description: A painting on wood of a grinning reaper with bright green teeth.

I think memento mori serve another purpose too. They make us realize this isn’t a trial run or a dress rehearsal. We make better decisions, so the argument goes, if we make them in knowledge of our deaths and the deaths of others in our lives.

It doesn’t mean living each day as if it’s your last. That could lead to some very bad choices. It does mean paying attention to how much time we have.

Imagining your life in weeks is often helpful. See here. Tim Urban writes, “Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got. Given that fact, the only appropriate word to describe your weeks is precious. There are trillions upon trillions of weeks in eternity, and those are your tiny handful.”

How will you fill them? In the Tail End, Urban, writes about the effect of thinking of his life in weeks. He thinks about how many times he’ll go swimming in the ocean, eat a pizza, or read a book.

But more starkly and importantly he thinks about relationships.

“What I’ve been thinking about is a really important part of life that, unlike all of these examples, isn’t spread out evenly through time—something whose [already done / still to come] ratio doesn’t at all align with how far I am through life:

Relationships.

I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood.

Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.

When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life. If I lay out the total days I’ll ever spend with each of my parents—assuming I’m as lucky as can be—this becomes starkly clear…

It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”

Go read his posts. They’re here and here. I might even order his “your life in weeks” wall calendar.

Sometimes I need that reminder on holidays.

I have the tendency to treat my visits to places as scouting expeditions. I’m just here to plan the second trip. It’s skulking rather than experiencing. Next time, you might say, I’ll take part in that Tahitian dance lesson. This time I’ll sit out.

There may not be a next time. This is it. I may never visit French Polynesia again, as much as I’d like to. Think twice to saying no to new experiences. Live life now. Go go go! I’m a person who needs that reminder. No dress rehearsal, this is our life, to quote Gord Downie.

David Benatar begins his book The Human Predicament this way, “We are born, we live, we suffer along the way, and then we die—obliterated for the rest of eternity. Our existence is but a blip in cosmic time and space.”

Unlike Benatar whose view about the time we do have is largely gloomy, I’m interested in making the best of my blip. Thinking about how short that blip passes focuses attention and it makes it easier not to bother with trivial things. Dance, love, connect, sparkle, and shine. Make it a great blip.

aging · disability · injury · monthly check in

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

What’s up? Obviously my wonderful holiday complete with swimming and biking.

Biking on Bora Bora
Biking on Bora Bora
Swimming in the South Pacific

There’s also our book. That’s exciting!

Fit at Midlife

In the middling category, I was fitted for a custom unloading knee brace. See here for a knee update. I considered flashy red but in the end went with matt charcoal. I’ll actually start wearing it in April and I’ll report back then.

An X-ray showing osteoarthritis of the knee. Getty Images

Knee brace. Bulky but if it helps with pain and lets me hike again, I’ll wear it.

In the bad news dept I’m still driving back and forth to London each week getting the house ready to sell and then looking at houses in Guelph. It’s not really bad news, just hard to get time in for exercise these days. But it’ll be short lived. House goes on the market here in just three weeks. I’m really looking forward to riding my bike in Guelph.

In the meantime I’m still doing lots of knee physio and personal training.

That little taste of riding in French Polynesia has me anxious to get my bike out and start riding.

First up, the Tour de Guelph in June.

My next planned thing after that is the one day version of the bike rally.

On July 29, 2018 I will be cycling 108km in the very first PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally from Toronto to Port Hope to raise money and awareness for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA).

PWA provides practical support programs and services to people in Toronto living with HIV/AIDS. The Bike Rally is their annual sustaining fundraiser and critical to the agency. Find out more about PWA by visiting their website at www.pwatoronto.org. I’m going to need all the support I can get to reach my fundraising goal and I hope I can count on you. Make a secure online donation using your credit card by clicking on the link to my personal fundraising page below:https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=3883724&langPref=en-CA

Thanks for listening!

A pretty white bike against a yellow wall with a wooden basket and flowers. Thanks Unsplash.