body image · disability · fat · fitness · health

Reflections on the exercise pill by a reluctant desk potato (Guest post)

The exercise pill is in the news again. We’ve talked about before (here and here), as has Fit and Feminist (here). The pill made the headlines again this week because of new experimental results that the drug allowed mice to run on a treadmill for 270 minutes before exhaustion set in (compared with 160 minutes for untreated mice).

Here’s a quick explanation of the experimental drug from The Guardian:

Scientists led by Ronald Evans at the Salk Institute in San Diego made the discovery after they set out to explore what endurance meant on the molecular level. “If we really understand the science, can we replace training with a drug?” he said.

They turned to a drug known as GW501516 which had previously been shown to improve stamina and burn fat faster. Through a series of tests with mice on treadmills, Evans found that the drug changed the activity of nearly 1000 genes. Many of the genes that became more active were involved in the breakdown and burning of fat. But other genes were suppressed, including some that convert sugar into energy.

The result is a pill that reproduces some of the effects of endurance training, with some other downstream effects, such as less weight gain and better control of blood sugar levels.

I listened to a discussion of the new results on CBC’s The Current this morning. The conversation inevitably turned to a discussion of who might benefit from the drug – athletes, folks with limited mobility who aren’t able to do endurance exercises, couch potatoes. At that point, the interlocutors chuckled at the notion of someone who could exercise taking a drug instead. LOL. Just imagine being such a couch potato that you would take an exercise pill!

That got me thinking about the ways in which we moralize health and fitness. I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sedentary these days, owing to advancing arthritis, injuries, and an out-of-control work schedule. (Really, I’m more of a desk potato than a couch potato.) And I feel guilty about that, as if it’s some kind of moral failing not to work out.

As I listened to The Current, I found myself both thinking that it would be great if I could take a pill and thereby acquire some of the benefits of endurance training, and feeling guilty for wanting to take a “short cut.” What the heck? Exercising is fun, and can support good health. But surely it’s not a moral duty.

I mean, we’re not opposed to short cuts in other domains: we take them when we’re driving, and we adopt tons of conveniences to make our lives easier (pre-fab food, dishwashers, motorized lawn mowers…). So, it can’t be the very notion of taking a short cut that prompts my feeling of shame when I think about how great an exercise pill would be. If there is a moral tinge to the notion of an exercise pill, that element must come not from the short cut part but from the exercise part.

But what makes exercise a moral obligation? Plausibly, the moral valence that we seem to attach to exercise and fitness is an side-effect of fatphobia. (Sam talks about similar stuff here.) Regular readers of this blog are well aware of the ubiquity of fat-shaming. When folks are pressed on their fat-shaming (and sometimes even when they’re not), they associate being fat with being lazy and therefore not exercising. Of course, no one makes corresponding judgments about skinny people who don’t exercise. They’re not lazy; they’re just lucky. This is pretty similar to the way in which a fat person with a milkshake is mocked (a standard trope on social media, alas) but a skinny person with a milkshake is celebrated for not being obsessed with dieting.

I don’t know if the exercise pill will ever make it to market, whether it will be safe, and whether it will be affordable. But I’m going to declare here and now that if there is ever a legal, safe, affordable exercise pill, I’m not going to let internalized fatphobia and accompanying moral double standards cloud my judgment about whether the pill is right for me. And neither should you.

A light skinned woman wearing glasses. She is standing in front of a window, smiling slightly.

Shannon Dea is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Waterloo. Her research areas include (among other things) the metaphysics of sex and gender, and applied issues related to sex and gender. Before she became a desk potato, she was an avid runner. 

disability · fitness · injury

When exercise isn’t fun: Sometimes it’s boring and repetitive, painful, and not the least bit joyful

My new physiotherapist tells me that I’m tough. She also says I’m determined.

That’s the kind of praise I need these days.

Because contrary to our usual message, I’m not exercising these days because it’s fun or joyful or at all social. I’m doing a lot of boring, repetitive, sometimes painful exercises, mostly by myself, in order to regain basic knee function so I can do things like climb stairs and get out of chairs without grimacing. I’m also making time for it when I am super busy and when the exercising part doesn’t feel like a reward at the end of a long day. It’s more like punishment.

So when Tracy wrote yesterday that “our number one piece of advice for anyone is to find activities that you enjoy” I admit that I kind of flinched. Because my life isn’t like that right now. Right now I am doing a lot of physio. My knee hurts. I’m resolute and determined to get back on my bike even though I’ll never run or play soccer again. Aikido? Maybe. I’ve got hope for cycling. We’ll see. I’m in mourning a bit for my former self!

In my Facebook memories newsfeed a happy photo came through of the Run for Retina 9 years ago. It’s me and cousin Tara doing the 5 km. Look at our smiles! Look how happy we are!


I’m not sure why I am telling you all this, except to find company and to reassure those of you, who like me, who are in pain, that you are also not alone.

I do exercises to support my knee function to my pain tolerance and then it’s all ice and ibuprofen after. I’ve missing the Fowler Kennedy game ready ice and compression thingie. I want one for home!

Yesterday, I was balancing and marching and doing squats on a bosu ball. See here for how that helps.

So contrary to our usual message of “if you don’t love it, don’t do it,” this is me saying, it’s not always fun or joyful or social and sometimes you need grit and determination and you do it anyway. That’s part of my character, a big part of who I am.

What was Tracy’s message last week, life on life’s terms? Something like that.

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 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:

Thanks for listening!

A pretty white bike against a yellow wall with a wooden basket and flowers. Thanks Unsplash.
aging · Aikido · disability · injury · monthly check in · running

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

I’m very happy to have a plan for my knee. I’ve had my first monovisc injection. Felt weird but it seems to be helping. I’m continuing physio. And I’m getting a custom unloading knee brace, being fitted March 2.

I’m trying to come to terms with the upshot of all this knee news. No Pride Run this year? Okay. No Pride Run ever? I’m bursting into tears. No more Aikido ever? That also makes me super sad. Of course, then I feel like a baby given how much worse others have it. You know this cycle, I’m sure.

It’s okay to have big feelings. It’s okay to be sad. I know.

Just because others have it worse that doesn’t my situation go away. It’s still sad. It’s still real.

What might help take my mind off all the sad things? A cruise! I’m going on a cruise in the South Pacific with my sister-in-law Susan who blogs here from time to time. She has her own big health news to deal with and I’m sure we’ll talk lots. I’m looking forward to that. But we’ll also snorkel, and drink fruity drinks by the poolside, and look at beautiful islands. Why hello Bora Bora!

I’ve never gone south in the winter before except to ride my bike. And Arizona, while a lovely temperature for bike riding, isn’t exactly steamy and warm. I’m excited. With the new big job, I’m ready to get away and relax.

Before the big trip, I’ve got a work trip to Vancouver. I’m going to fundraising school for academic leaders.

The upshot of all this busy travel is that there’ll be no personal training in February though I’m sure there’s a weight room and a swimming pool on the boat. I’m looking forward to giving pool running and maybe aquafit a try.

When I come back my March focus will be selling my house in London and buying one in Guelph.

Bye bye beautiful old London house!

People keep telling me that moving is one of the most stressful events in life, right after the death of a spouse. Turns out though that that’s not true. When it comes to stressful life events buying and selling houses and moving doesn’t even make the top 20. See here. But it is a lot of work.

And then April is the publication of our book and a lot of launch related activity. I’m gearing up.

Check out my Amazon author page!

So much going on!

[Drawing of a purple rabbit on a small brown boat on water. The rabbit says “I will learn to navigate this new part of my life.” in a pink speech bubble.] By EMM, not Emma.

accessibility · aging · athletes · cane · disability · inclusiveness · injury · Uncategorized

Sam learns a new trick, walking with a cane, and worries about her own ageism and ableism

Wizard with long white hair and beard, stern expression, side view, holding wooden walking staff

I resisted it at first. When the physiotherapist helping me with my injured knee first suggested walking with a cane, I shrugged him off. “It’s not that bad.” But the truth was, it hurt. I just didn’t want to use a cane.

What exactly was I afraid of? Being seen as old, frail, weak? But that’s not what I think when I see other people walking with canes. Or is it?

Clearly I needed to confront some internalized ableism and ageism here!

A week went by. A friend who’s just had hip replacement surgeries, first one, and then the other, offered me her cane. She’s a fitness instructor at GoodLife. We chatted a bit about rehab and recovery and bonded over “being good at it.” We’re both compliant sorts. We do all the exercises, ice all the things. So why not the cane?

I took it to physio and asked for instructions. I already knew the counter intuitive thing. You use it with opposite arm to the injured knee. That makes sense since that arm swings with that leg.

I still wasn’t entirely at peace with it. I posted on Facebook that I probably chose a bad month to let more of my grey and silver hair show! The cane and the silver seem a bit much. I’m still struggling a bit with self-image here.

I’m channeling Marion whose birthday it would have been last week. She called her cane “nuisance.” Mostly she used it to direct people around and point at things. Could I work at being a bossy cane user? Probably not.

But the thing is it, it helps. I can walk further without knee pain. I’m slowly healing. Also, people are super helpful when they see the cane. I was worried that strangers would start engaging me in conversation about my injured knee but so far, people have just been super smiley and helpful.

The other day I even did a search for stylish canes! The two sets of cane imagery that resonate with me are wizards and their staffs (see above) as well as top hats and canes (see below)

How about you? Have you had experience walking with a cane? Love it or hate it?

A model, front view, on the runway. She's wearing a black suit with turtleneck and a top hat. Posing with hand in pocket holding a silver cane

disability · Sat with Nat · traveling

WisCon41 all the feels about disability 

I had a great time at WisCon last year and was delighted when David had offered to go together.  It’s a long drive from London, Ontario to Madison, Wisconsin but totally worth it!

This year I brought my swimsuit, running shoes and yoga mat. I did swim Thursday night to stretch after the drive down.

The rest of the weekend I managed to get 8-10 thousand steps a day. I’m not sure how but it may have been going further afield for food.

a thick brown pottery plate from the 70s is heaped with thick slices of golden french toast. This is topped with strawberries, blueberries, pecans, powdered sugar and creme fraiche
My new love, giant French toast

I slept much better this time around, largely due to not submitting for writing workshops which had made me a twinge nervous. I am committed to putting writing in next year though!

As last year, I loved the panels. I attended so many great sessions on everything from food and culture in sci-fi to unpacking portrayals of mental health in fiction.

Due to a mix up on my part I ended up in “Beyond the Fix or How Do I Live this F***ing Life?”

the photo is of the event schedule that indicates the topic is in the Feminis and Other Social change Movements stream of the conference. The panel short description: When you know there's no fix, your disability's never getting better, might get worse, and acceptance is the only possibility, it's time to share aka vent. On this panel we'll air our pet grievances, exchange survival strategies, and discuss the challenges - both surprising and predictable- of a life with disability. We'll also share the stories we've used to keep going. #beyond the fix
Friends, there were so many feels as folks shared their experiences of coming to understand disability and how it has impacted their lives. Many people in the audience were coming to realize that “disability” was a word that described their life too.

My favourite moment was when Jesse the K spoke about how she learned to shift her identity from an independent woman to being interdependent and connected in community.

I reflected on my privilege of living with Major Depressive Disorder and being able enough to stay fully employed. I thought about how my morning routine of stiff joints may hold greater mobility challenges in the future. I thought about my unilateral hearing loss and how my head tilts to put my good ear to a person talking. I thought about my intermittent vertigo. The stories shared by the panelists were on the continuum of ability and disability and I shift along those lines, mostly invisible.

There is a piece about fitness that I don’t talk about, the part where age & ability turn and mean I won’t get faster, better, stronger. Sometimes my goal is to simply slow the slide or manage pain.

It was humbling to really grapple with what my future will hold, especially around chronic pain, and I’m grateful for the mix up that lead me to sit in on this panel in particular.

The absolute best part was that I met even more of David’s lovely librarian friends, some of whom read this blog!

The weekend was just what I needed.

The photo is a headshot of Natalie, with her sunglasses sitting up on top of her head. She is outside waling to breakfast, smiling, wearing a necklace that is the anatomical structure of seratonin.
I feel great and, unlike last year, no mobility or pain from my travels. Just a wince at re-entering a patriarchal society.

accessibility · competition · disability · Guest Post · Rowing

Row Row Row Your Boat Out of Your Semi Existential Funk (Guest post)

by Samantha Walsh

I would like to thank Fit is a Feminist Issue and specifically Samantha (who shares my name) for the opportunity to write a guest blog post.  Over the past two years I have been looking for, and thus experimenting with, new sports and new challenges. The impetus for finding new fitness activities was a neck injury that changed the way I have to participate in sport and activity.


A little bit about me

To begin a little info about myself: I am 33, I am doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. I have held positions in both non-for-profit as well as post secondary institutions. I identify as a feminist and have an interest in social justice work.  I also have a condition called cerebral palsy which effects my coordination and ability to walk. I use a wheelchair to get around.   Much of my research and written work focuses on the social position of disability as it relates to class position and intersections of identity.  This blog post will venture in a new direct as a personal reflection on shifting your paradigm and identity.  I hurt my neck two years ago, and had to give up many of the activities I really liked, for a time.  I have been cleared to go back to most of them but, still really struggle to get back to the level of fitness I once had. It was the pursuit of new activities that brought me to rowing; and rowing which shifted the way I think about my own situation.

Row Row Row your Boat But, Wait There’s More

I took a “Learn to Row” from the Argonauts Rowing club in Toronto last year (2015). A “learn to row “is a beginner program where you literally learn to row; I was introduced to some of the rowing lexicon. I was taught how to row with the most efficient form.   During this time I had the opportunity to row a single.  I was also taught about the different adaptations that can be made to a boat to support a disabled rower. For example: A fixed seat so the rower is using their torso and arms, if they do not have coordination of their legs.  In competitive adapted rowing it is my understanding that rowers are classified based on their ability and then their times are compared.

It was also at this time, I learned the beloved childhood song “Row row row your boat”, is delightfully inaccurate, as it should likely include the phrase “Legs, back, arms” or “Oh my hamstrings”. Rowing was a full body workout and unexpectedly profoundly challenging.  I had befriended some varsity rowers during my undergraduate studies and had always thought the sport was neat.  I had wanted to try but, really struggled to find a rowing club that would accommodate the fact I have cerebral palsy and cannot walk. I had shelved the interest until a neck injury, mentioned above, made it difficult for me to participate in my usual fitness activities.  I was looking for something: that was a full body workout; that was social; not a team sport; could be done recreationally and able to be adapted.

Finding a New Sport Not So Easy When You Have a Disability

I started googling…An ongoing challenge I find as a disabled person whom is interested in their own fitness and recreation but, not interested in competition or team sports, is that I really struggle to find opportunities that provide: a challenging and comprehensive workout with a social component.  I find it is difficult for me to simply enroll in a sport ’n social league or other recreational things because, they often assume the participant will be able-bodied. The able body is almost compulsory for joining any sort of recreational sport.  For example: I have able bodied friends who are learning how to curl.  This seems like a great winter sport. It’s a fun game with the tradition of a beer after.  I know there is Wheelchair Curling. I have seen it on TV. However, I cannot find a league near me which supports wheelchair curling, so I do not curl.

I find often when I do find mainstream activities that welcome me and are reflexive to adaptation it is through a friend, a fitness instructor or coach who is excited to have different bodies in their class. I still find that the most common refrain for finding adapted sport is to rely on a team based program such as wheelchair basketball or a rehabilitation initiative. Moreover, adaptive sports equipment is often double or triple what an “able bodied” athlete would pay. For example: Running shoes versus the cost of a Racing Wheelchair. I long to be able to join beer leagues, workplace softball teams and drop in yoga classes. I am at a point in my life where my leisure time is limited. I am not interested in the lonely pursuits of excellene or segregated sports (these of course have their place). This is why, I was impressed to see the Argonauts advertised an adapted learn to row on their website. I was able to join for a fee and with very little self disclosure of my disability.  While rowing is a sport which typically favors those of higher socio-economic status it was a pleasant surprise to find out that the club had an open-door policy in regards to ability. However, I do recognize that it is my own privilege of being employed and having a disposable income that made my adventure in rowing possible.

You Are Only New Once…Or In The case of Rowing You Are New For Almost Two Years….

As mentioned above, I took a “learn to row” in 2015 and then returned for a second year of rowing in an adaptive program in 2016. I was really focused on rowing as a way to get a full body work out. I chose to row a single with a sliding seat that was comparable to an able bodied rower.  The single had pontoons on it as almost a training wheel system while, I learned to balance.  At the end of the 2015 season, I met another rower, Bill  (who was an single leg amputee) at an end of season party.  He offered to row a double with me.  In 2016, I practiced rowing both a double and a single.  While I had really enjoyed rowing a single; I liked the coaching I was receiving and really appreciated the solitude that rowing a single occasionally brought (other times it was a lot of trying not to row into things).  Rowing a double was a bit of a game changer for me.

 The Little Voice in the Back of your head, Or  If You Row the Person Speaking To the Back of Your Head

I had been very happy rowing a single.  The coaching style of the rowing club was one of positive feedback and constant things to build on. I felt like there was an assumed mutual respect. I was not in a subordinate position but, rather someone happy to learn from another person whom was happy to teach. This coaching style was in part why I looked forward to rowing, it was a happy add on to the beautiful scenery and comprehensive workout. Rowing a single though had not yielded me very many social opportunities. I did not know very many of the other rowers and often only spoke with my only my coach on the dock.  Additionally, early on I had told the club I was not interested in racing or competitive rowing. That I would be rowing just to get back into shape. Pleasantly, everyone seemed to respect this. To be fair though a novice rower does not usually compete.

The first night I rowed a double with Bill he made a point to introduce me to everyone he knew on the dock. Each person we encountered he would have a little story for. He would always introduce me with a little quip about losing a bet and having to row with him; or some interesting fact about me. I met a lot of different people very quickly.  In the boat Bill sat behind me doing a lot of the balancing and steering. He gave me feedback on my rowing.  He told me I was fast. He said I was always improving. Bill would go out in any kind of weather. Every time, I said the weather was bad, he would say something about the perfect day never comes. Often, I went with him on whatever adventure course he was set for.  He introduced me to more people. He talked to the coordinator and coaches about my progress.  He told me I should race. An interesting nuance or at least how I understood it.  The idea of racing was not to seize elite status but, to race for myself. Race as a challenge; a way to get more involved in the club; a way to meet more people. Everyone around me was receptive to this idea. I started to work on race starts, and being able to row racing distances.

Race Day

The regatta Bill and I enter was a recreational one hosted by our club. The water was awful that day.  It was windy and choppy.  At one point a coach remarked we would likely not be in the water but, it was a regatta.  But, remember, if you wait for the perfect day you will never go rowing. We rowed. It was too choppy to do a race start. The only goal was to make it to the end and not flip the boat. Just keep rowing!  We made it to the finish line. There was apparently an issue, our time was lost. I am pretty sure we lost. I was not really focusing on other boats just my boat and moving to the finish line.  When we got off the water there was a reception with social to follow.  I rowed a race, I met some new people and I left feeling better than I had in a long time.

Changing the Tide: Rowing as a metaphor for life

As someone who studies the workings of societies and social dynamics it is hard for me to believe that an individual’s success is not the collective sum of their social position and the resources they have access too.  I understand concepts of “positive thinking” or that individuals have total control over their destiny to be deeply flawed mired with classism and an erasure of systemic oppression. While I maintain these assertions to be true; acknowledging that even the opportunity to both try, and then continue rowing is made possible through a complex network of my own privilege and resources. I am forever, grateful that the opportunity to row and to race with Bill has reminded me: not to limit myself through my own expectations. Not to wait for the perfect day to try something and despite the choppy water and the ups and downs to keep rowing best you can; even if you are scared, even if you have to stop for a time. Rowing reminded me of my own resilience and ability to change courses even when the water is rough.  I am forever grateful to the great coaching staff and my doubles partner.