advertising · aging · body image · Fear · health · meditation · mindfulness

Why Is The Wellness Industry Growing By Leaps and Bounds?

The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!

I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.

Have we gone too far?

Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.

photo-1512867957657-38dbae50a35b
amber tincture bottles on a desk with books and decorative straw ball

As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.

In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.

Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.

I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.

We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.

We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.

We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.

I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.

I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.

We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.

accessibility · aging · fitness

We don’t need a war on walkers

But a fitness class for those who use them might be a good idea anyway. Just don’t call it the “war on walkers” class. Why not? Well, it’s not a war and some people need walkers. for someone with balance issues using a walker can be the difference between independence and getting out and about safely. A walker with wheels, a seat and storage makes it possible for someone fragile to be far more active. It’s needlessly pejorative to call it a “war”. That said, maintaining core and leg strength to stand up out of a chair is huge and is a big indicator for fall avoidance. I like the starting where you are approach and not writing older people off. It can be a tough balance to get right.

Here’s this from a promo for the class called “War on Walkers”:

“War against the Walker class is starting to show real results. Getting up on her own is almost a reality. Introduced the modified push-up this morning. This entire assisted living population has been written off as either a lost cause or too much work. We totally disagree with this sentiment. We will train anyone in any condition, that’s what we do.”

aging · athletes · meditation · running · soccer

I Had A Midlife Crisis and Didn’t Realize It At The Time

Extreme Athleticism is The New Mid-Life Crisis provoked me to wonder if a series of ultra-running events I did when was 44-45 were motivated by fear of aging.

At the time they felt organic. Not like I was trying to outrun my aging or shore myself up for the years to come, as the article suggests. More like I had been trail running for some years, enjoying increasingly longer distances and then thought, “Could I run one of those ultra distances?”

To be clear—I’ve never run more than a 50k, though the trails add challenge to that distance. The longest event, time-wise, was in Cape Town, South Africa. Three Peaks Challenge runs up and down the three smallish mountains that push that city toward the sea: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. That 50k run took me 9 hours.

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Mina running down rocky steps on Table Mountain in Cape Town

I went into the longer distances as someone who had run marathons, done half-ironman triathlons and even the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times (a two-day, 100-mile cross-country ski). I wasn’t a stranger to the borderline extreme.

Yet, before I did any ultra-runs, I thought that anyone who undertook such an endeavor was trying to avoid something they didn’t want to think about (not just aging). Even when I did the ultras, I felt like the extremes I participated in were just the right length. Anything longer had a whiff of desperation. Yes, that was highly subjective, probably wildly inaccurate and judgmental. I was thinking like that old joke about the driver who thinks everyone driving slower is an old grandpa and everyone driving faster is a danger-on-wheels. (A side note: Who decides what’s extreme? One person’s extreme may be another’s daily dose in these times of ever more punishing activities.)

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m avoiding the question I opened with. You’re right. Until I wrote this, I didn’t want to think that I had a mid-life crisis (more judgment). Looking back now (at a distance of seven years), I see that maybe I was. I had published two books and still felt like a struggling writer. My marriage was not in the best period. I was looking for some way to feel special and strong. When I finished ultras, I felt invincible.

My foray into ultra-running was sidelined by Morton’s neuroma, a nerve inflammation that feels how I imagine an electric cattle prod applied to the ball of my foot would feel. I finally had surgery to remove the neuroma about 18 months ago.

Summer 2017 was my first back running in the mountains. I was cautious (and elated just to be running at all without extraordinary pain). This past summer, I did quite a few 3 to 4 hour runs, including the Sierra Crest 30k I wrote about in this post: Compare and Despair. As I was training, I kept asking myself, “Do I want to be doing more of these longer runs? Do I want to aim for another 50k or even something longer?” Right now, the answer is no.

Unless I live quite a long time, I’m probably past mid-life. Is that why I don’t feel a zeal for the extreme? According to the Medium article I mentioned at the top prime time for the uptick in extreme athletics is 40-49. I hate the thought that I’m not doing the extreme runs anymore because I’m too old or I can’t. Anyhow, I know that’s not true.

Have I accepted my mortality? I’d like to think that I have after much meditation (plus silent retreats, plus a vision quest), but I’m also sure that I have not achieved such equanimity.

What I do have are other challenges on my plate—finishing my book, my first ensemble play being produced at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2019. I don’t feel like I need the extra scare of an ultra run on the horizon, too. I’m enjoying my sleep and time to read novels on the couch on the weekend with my partner.

I’m happy. I don’t feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m strong. I am.

But … I also love running for long stretches of time in the mountains or forest. Another ultra-run is not out of the question. So, if I’m not in midlife anymore, then maybe I wasn’t running far because of a crisis in the first place.

What about you? Have you had or are you in the midst of a mid-life crisis? What does that look like for you?

aging · nutrition · weight lifting

Muscle loss is in the news again

A rock, painted white, with the words “as strong as a wolf” painted on it. Seen outside the athletic centre at the University of Guelph.


But this time with a weight loss angle.

See my past posts: Protein, age, and muscle loss.  and Want to keep muscle after 40?: Eat all the protein and lift all the things

It’s a thing that I care about. 

And I hate the idea that some people, especially women, might welcome it, because it means weight loss.

From an article in the Globe and Mail, by Alex Hutchinson, We need better guidelines to deal with age-related muscle loss.

“You might be relieved to hear that the creeping weight gain of middle age – a pound or two (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a year starting in your 20s, on average – eventually grinds to a halt. By the time you’re in your 50s, you’ll typically start slowly shedding weight. Don’t celebrate yet, though. There’s a good chance that the weight you’re losing is muscle – precisely what you need to hang onto to stay metabolically healthy and independent into old age. “

Why does this happen? Partly because we exercise less but that’s not the whole story. The article talks about ‘anabolic resistance.’ Our bodies no longer, as we age, respond the same way to strength training and protein. Like insulin resistance in diabetics our bodies no longer respond as effectively to protein and to exercise. We need more of both, not less, as we age.

There’s also a concern about the kinds of protein and when we eat them.

Writes Hutchinson: “It’s not just how much you eat. There’s some evidence that spreading your protein across three meals triggers more muscle growth than just downing a massive steak at dinner. And protein quality matters too, with certain amino acids such as leucine playing an outsized role in muscle growth. That means animal proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy tend to pack a bigger punch than plant proteins, although Oliveira emphasizes that variety is also important.”

It’s a challenge to eat the 1.0 to 1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight per day that’s recommended. 

What about exercise? What should we do to stave off muscle loss?

“The overall picture from existing research is that full-body resistance training with loads that get progressively harder over time, two to three times a week, is optimal for older adults. One study published last year found that two harder workouts plus one easier one produced the best results, perhaps because older strength-trainers simply couldn’t recover quickly enough to do three hard workouts each week.”

See you at the gym! Maybe we can go for a protein shake after? 

accessibility · aging · cycling · disability · fitness

Bikes as mobility aids: Another reason to prioritize cycling infrastructure

I came across this article the other day on “rolling walking sticks.” It’s about the number of disabled people in Cambridge who get around on a bike.

From the article: “Riding a bike may be easier than walking for two-thirds of disabled cyclists, but they often remain invisible to society. Many don’t realize that more than a quarter of disabled commutes in this university city are made by bike.”

Lately I’ve become one of those people for whom riding is much easier than walking. I ride my bike sometimes when walking isn’t an option. I often find myself wishing I had my bike with me. Lately I’ve even been shopping for a foldable, take anywhere bike. It would be nice to have a bike to ride between meetings, that I could easily take into the meeting when I got there.

In Australia, at ANU, the philosophy department had a bike for riding across campus. It had wide tires and a big basket on the front. Since all university departments had them there was never a need to lock it. Maybe Guelph could go that route?

My first experience riding with someone with a disability was very striking. While in Canberra, Australia I rode bikes with Michael Milton, a world record holding cyclist with one leg. Milton’s a serious athlete. He also holds the world speed record for downhill skiing. We were both members of the Vikings cycling club.

Here’s his impressive Wikipedia bio: “Michael John Milton, OAM is an Australian Paralympic skier, Paralympic cyclist and paratriathlete with one leg. With 6 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals he is the most successful Australian Paralympic athlete in the Winter Games. ”

He’s also a really nice person to ride with.

One of the interesting things about Milton is that he doesn’t have a prosthetic leg for riding so when you’re riding bikes and you stop for coffee, he still gets around by bike. The bike comes wherever he goes because in addition to a go fast cycling machine, it’s also his main mobility aid. It goes in schools and shopping malls.

On a bike trip a few years ago, I noticed that the two oldest riders in our trip had a very hard time walking. They limped. They couldn’t do stairs. Off their bikes they barely looked mobile. But on their bikes, whoosh!

We jokingly called them Statler and Waldorf. They arrived each night for dinner in PJs. One was a widower and the other’s wife wasn’t well enough to holiday anymore. So the two joined forces and took biking holidays together. They had great stories of trips they’d done together through the years.

We were riding 70-100 km a day, including some serious hills, and they had no problem. I started to wonder how many seniors with walking issues might do well to switch to two wheeled transportation.

Again from the article on bikes in Cambridge: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around.”

It seems to me it’s another reason to put priority on bike infrastructure. If there are people, like me, riding because walking isn’t an option, then we need to make riding safe and accessible for all.

See Elly Blue on bike riding, disability, and infrastructure.

In my own case, it’s part of an evolving love story between me and bicycles. It’s been about transportation, about fitness, about friendship, and about performance. What’s new is thinking about bikes as mobility aid that help me get around when walking just won’t work.

aging · fitness · motivation · training

Are you a nine-ender? If so…

Image description: Tracy on the right Sam on the left, both smiling, wearing caps and sunglasses, medals around neck, people, trees, and sky in the background, after the Kincardine Women's Triathlon in 2013, when they weren't quite yet 49.
Image description: Tracy on the right Sam on the left, both smiling, wearing caps and sunglasses, medals around neck, people, trees, and sky in the background, after the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon in 2013, when they weren’t quite yet 49.

If you’re a nine-ender in age–that year before a decade birthday–you are more likely than members of any other age “demographic” to want to make big changes. This is especially true if you’re in a middle age nine-ender year, before 40 or 50 or even 60. And even more so if you’re a man, according to this news report in the National Post.

What are the most popular sorts of changes? No longer is it motorcycles, fast cars, and reverse highlights. No. The most popular changes are cutting back on or cutting out alcohol, going vegan, and engaging in extreme sports like Tough Mudders. Men often wait until their 40s and 50s. Women sometimes kick into gear on health changes at 30. Regardless, a looming new decade can be a great motivator.

When Sam and I started our “Fittest by 50 Challenge,” which was the instigator of this very blog, we were 48. Fifty seemed clearly in sight already by then for some reason, and we decided to take a two-year run up to it instead of a one-year run up to it. I am really grateful we did. Not because 50 is some magical age by which we absolutely needed to be our fittest, but because fitness is a process. If I’d coasted along the same way as I had been for one more year, I wouldn’t have attained my Olympic distance triathlon goal by my 50th birthday.

It took me close to a year to decided on triathlon as my goal and then another year to train for the Olympic distance that challenged me to train harder and without regard to anything other than performance goals. It also completely took my mind off of the upcoming birthday. And by the time I got there, it changed my view of what it meant to age.

I couldn’t have predicted at 48 just how transformative the challenge would turn out to be by the time I hit 50. On my 50th birthday, I posted about what it felt like to be fit, feminist, and 50. When I re-read that post it fills me with joy. And gratitude because mostly these days I have that sense of general contentment. Not that everything always feels fantastic, but overall, life is just so wonderfully good. I think the challenge had a lot to do with it.

So if you’re at a nine-ender year, or even if you’re not, and you have decided to set some new health and fitness goals for yourself, and you go at them in a consistent and sustainable way, maybe you too will experience that sense of transformation that I did. I’ve done lots of cool things to date, but I think the fittest by 50 challenge and all that has flowed from it is definitely among the most significant.

To all the nine-enders considering a big change, go for it. Choose something that excites you and chip away at it. It’s much more satisfying than a motorcycle (I know this  because I did the motorcycle thing too, in my early forties, and it didn’t do nearly as much for me as the fitness challenge did!).

If you’re in or have recently gone through a nine-ender year, did it prompt any changes? Tell us about it in the comments. We’re all ears!

aging · fitness

Happy 54! Celebrate Sam’s Birthday Season

Image description: Black text on a white background that reads, “Girls can never just celebrate their birthday on ONE day, they need the whole month, 6 outfits, 2 dinners, a holiday, and 3 cakes.”

I’m celebrating my birthday today. Happy 54th birthday to me! I’m reminded that we started the blog when we were 48. The blog has been going for six years now. That’s really old in blog years.

But I’m not just celebrating today. I’m making a weekend of it. A long weekend. It actually began yesterday while I was still 53 with a visit from Tracy. We had lunch and that’s a big deal now we’re living and working in different cities.

There’ll be three days of cake. Today, my actual birthday, will be a low key thing. Maybe we’ll go out to eat. Maybe a movie. There’ll be a 54 km bike ride on Saturday to mark the occasion. Sunday my family is taking me tubing. We’re doing the “Glen Morris to Paris Area… 11km paddle with easy splash (3-4 hrs)” For details, see here.

See This 13-km Lazy River In Ontario Is The Coolest Place For Tubing.

Again, more cake probably with bonus ice cream.

I’m all for spreading birthdays out. For me, it’s also a time of year that needs parties.

My friend Ange writes, “Agreed! I am a mere 9 days into the 41st festivus of Ange (also knows locally as Angemas). Angemas goes for the number of years of my age – this year – 41 days. I can’t wait until I’m 92 and can rock it for 3 whole months!!”

How about you? How much birthday celebrating do you do?

Image description: Against a purple background there are three arms holding up the letters H, B, and D. The letters are pink and white. The first arm is brown skinned and has a wrist watch. The second arm is white skinned and is wearing a pink sweater. The third arm is brown skinned and is wearing a white shirt.