Fit Feminists Answer · fitness

Christine Asks. The Fit Feminist Team Answers.

I generally know the what and the why of fitness-related things but I often get tangled up in the how. I overthink it or consider too many options or I just can’t figure out how to make all the pieces fit together.

So, I’ve taken to circumventing my brain loops by bringing my questions to the rest of the blogging team here at Fit is a Feminist Issue. I have gotten terrific and helpful answers that are based in how real people, living real lives, make these things work.

After reading everyone’s answers to a recent set of questions, the Team thought that our readers might find them useful, too. So, over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of my questions and answers here on the blog.

The author, a white woman in her forties, with short light brown hair and wearing cat's-eye glasses looks bemusedly toward the camera.  3 questions marks are shown above her head and there is text that reads 'Christine Asks: Fit Feminists Answer'
When I bought these new reading glasses, I had to make the most of them by goofing around a little.

Here is the first part of a set of questions that I asked back in August. That was a while ago, so members of the team may have some updates for you in the comments. Please feel free to jump into the comments with your answers, too!

Is exercise automatically part of the rhythm of your day or do you have to ‘make time’ for it?

Natalie: Movement is, high intensity is not and if I don’t schedule it, it doesn’t happen.

Sam: I have three spots available for exercise–morning break, lunch, evening–and I usually use one or two of them.

Mina: Working out is almost like eating and sleeping for me now, so it is definitely part of my rhythm. I take one day off a week, but I’ll often “move” that day, if I know I’m going to be encountering a day when I absolutely can’t fit a workout in. 

Cate: A combination of both.  I assume I’m going to work out every day, but I don’t know what that will look like from day to day.   I schedule slots for Alex’ morning virtual superhero workout (830 M, W F and 730 on Tues) into my weekday calendar so no one books colliding meetings; I decide the night before if I am going to do it or not (I usually do).  I fit random other workouts in when I can – a run or yoga between meetings, a long walk before bed.  Covid means that I have to book things like spinning in advance, whereas in the past I did more of “hm, there’s a class at 530, I think I can fit that in today.”

Marjorie: I schedule my lifting days in advance.  And then in the morning, as I’m planning out my day, I decide where in the day I need to fit it in.  If I don’t do this, I will skip my lifting, now that’s it’s less fun and at home.  (Pre-pandemic, the risk was getting overscheduled, so I had to plan in advance or risk having no time to get into the gym.)  I schedule which mornings I will run, too, and that always happens after breakfast.  I take a daily walk, and I have no trouble making this happen almost every day without much planning on my part.  It is what I do before dinner.  

Tracy: It’s part of the rhythm of my day but I make a rough plan the day before of when and what I plan to do the next day.

Nicole: I have scheduled exercise into my days/weeks for many years. Because it has been scheduled as such, it has become part of the rhythm of my day. So a bit of both.

Martha: I believe I was a sloth in a former life. As a result, I have to make time and schedule it otherwise I don’t do it.

What things do you put in place in advance to make sure you can exercise when you want/need to?

Natalie: A clean space, the right clothes (go all day leggings!) and a plan

Sam: I schedule rides and races on Zwift as the fixed points on my schedule and work around those. I lift weights, use resistance bands, or TRX at lunch. Walk Cheddar in the morning. Yoga is always an evening thing.

Mina: Moving my day off, as I mentioned above. I have the luxury of being able to have a say in a lot of what gets scheduled in my day, so I make sure I leave time. But if I get squeezed, then I’ll get up extra early.

Cate:  The most important is making sure the people who manage my calendar don’t book over the class times I might want to do, so I have recurring times in my calendar whether I work out in them or not.

Marjorie: On lifting days when I feel myself dragging, I will put on my lifting clothes far in advance.  I feel silly wearing tights and a sports bra for hours without any purpose, so that makes it far more likely I’ll get it done.

Tracy: For an early morning workout I set my clothes out ahead of time to make the morning easier.

Nicole: I am all about routine. I book classes in advance on the days I usually do certain classes and I mentally book certain days/times that are my usual times for certain things – i.e. Saturday mornings are always Conditioning workout. Sunday mornings are always my long run day.

Martha: I block out the time in my calendar four months in advance.

When do you exercise and why did you pick that time?

Natalie:  The morning before I run out of self discipline.

Sam: It’s the time I have! My workday starts at 8 and I’m often working until 7 or 8. Long days. But I always take lunch and I usually take breaks in the morning and afternoon.

Mina: I’m a bit all over the place, because I have a flexible schedule. I love a workout before breakfast, but I also like sleep, so that’s not always possible. And when I’m signed up for a class (now on Zoom), I worry less about a workout later in the day, because I know the class-ness (and cost)  of the workout will inspire me to attend.

Cate: I am not an early morning person – my ideal time to work out is like 11 am, after I’ve been awake and fed and digested and mobilized for a while and need a little break.  However that rarely works – sometimes I can fit a run in then.  So I compromise with pre-work virtual classes (730 still feels early most days), runs throughout the day if I can fit them in and post-work classes.  I rarely manage to actually work out in the evening if I don’t book something or commit to it with a friend.  

For me food is kind of tricky – I need to have some food in me, but I think I digest slowly, so I can’t eat lunch and go for a run or spinning an hour later.  Similarly if I’m doing a class at night I can’t eat dinner first – I end up feeling nauseated.

Marjorie: (answered in part in Q1 plus the following comment) Cate, I really relate to what you say about timing exercise around food! I have to do it just right to feel good–enough food to give me energy, not too much (or too soon) or it can lead to indigestion. Running requires the most care, so I always do it the same–eat a lower fiber, lower fat breakfast (less fruit, butter, etc, than usual), then wait until my body tells me it’s digested enough that I can safely head out without distress.

Tracy: I like to exercise first thing, at 6 or 7 or 7:30 a.m., the earlier the better. I do that because it gives me a sense of accomplishment before I’ve even had breakfast. And also, with running, I go early in the summer because otherwise it’s too hot. But I can and do exercise at different times of day, like at the end of the work day or at lunch.  The only time I don’t workout is in the evening after dinner, unless a wind-down yoga class.

Nicole: I prefer working out in the morning, or earlier in the day, whenever possible. I find it benefits me for the rest of the day if I exercise in the morning and I like the feeling that it is done for the day. If I can’t for some reason, I will schedule it later in the day, but that is a back-up. One exception to this is a long walk at the end of the day. It’s “easy” and therefore welcome at the end of the day.

Martha: I prefer the mornings. If I have it in first thing, it gets done.

body image · Fit Feminists Answer · fitness · You Ask

Is my menopausal belly something to worry about?

We love it when we get questions from blog readers.  This one came in last week:

There’s a general recommendation that women keep their waist circumference to 35 inches or less, because of associations with metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. It seems at mid age this becomes more of a concern.  What’s Fit is a Feminist Issue’s perspective on this?

Kitty inspecting her waistline

 

Here’s how I read this question:   we’ve all heard that carrying more of your weight in your middle (“apple shaped”) is a bigger risk for heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic issues than carrying your weight in your hips, bum and thigh (“pear shaped”).  This belief has been around for a while — I’m old, and I remember learning this in high school.  So I think the questions are — Is there evidence behind this recommendation?   When we hit menopause, we tend to accumulate more fat in our middles — so are we at bigger risk for cardiovascular disease at menopause?  Is there a specific guideline?   Is there anything we can to do manage our fat distribution with an eye to preventing heart disease?

Turns out, this is a super not easy question to answer. 

Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.28.46

I went down a few rabbit holes here, but I’ll try to break it down.

(But first, a quick note about gender terminology.  When I write about menstruation, menopause, vaginas, etc, I try to be conscious of recognizing that there are a lot of vagina and uterus-having people who don’t identify as female, and to de-gender my discussion as much as possible.  I’m finding this hard to do in looking at this research, because it’s strongly correlated to hormones that are categorized as male and female.  It’s also taken decades for science to begin to study gender differences around issues of cardiovascular disease at all, and I have yet to see one define what how they ascribe gender to their participants.  Given all of that, I’m going to sometimes use “women” and “female” here, because it’s what the research refers to, knowing that I am generally referring here to people assigned female at birth (AFAB), who are not taking testosterone and who are experiencing a naturally occurring menopause at mid-life).  

Why does where your body stores fat matter?

  1.  The apple/pear thing is technically called Gynoid-Android fat distribution patterns
    Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.54.47
    Lizzo is a great example of a pear shaped body
    Gynoid — or pear — is, as you would discern from the name, more typically associated with women, with the belly-prominent fat storage (Android/apple) more associated with men.
  2. Gynoid fat distribution is controlled by female reproductive hormones, and android fat storage by testosterone.  
  3. Gynoid and android fat patterns aren’t just about where they show up on the body but where they show up in relation to your organs.  Android fat storage can compress and restrict blood flow to your vital organs and can be a risk factor for both insulin resistance and heart disease.

 

How does menopause affect fat storage?

As a general rule, as AFAB people reach menopause, they tend to gain weight.  A large percentage of this weight tends to shift to an “android” pattern, because hormonal changes make it harder to store fat around their hips and butt.  In other words, even if you didn’t have much of a belly before menopause, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll develop one after.  On average, people accumulate abdominal fat after menopause twice as fast as before.

Does post-menopausal waist size correlate to cardiovascular and metabolic risk?

I waded through a sea of science to try to get an answer to this, and the bottom line seems to be:  maybe.  probably.  sure.  What is true is that women tend to develop cardiovascular disease on average 7 – 10 years later than men — but it’s the highest cause of death in women over the age of 65 years.  Estrogen seems to have a regulating effect on several metabolic factors, which lessens at menopause.  So menopause is associated with a greater risk for heart disease and metabolic syndromes.  And women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than men with diabetes.

But it is not entirely clear whether this risk is generally due to aging and changing hormones, or fat distribution patterns.  

Do I have to worry that my middle aged belly is going to cause heart disease or diabetes?

I am not a doctor (except of patterns of words), but from what I can tell, the size of your tummy is a bit of a red herring — except that visible changes in your metabolism are a reminder that cardiovascular risk increases as we age, and women’s profile for that risk is different than men’s. 

Historically, women don’t tend to know their own risk of heart disease, and clinicians tend to under-recognize symptoms and risks in women.  So it’s important to be aware that risk rises at menopause and pay attention to things like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.  They’re imperfect but important indicators of changes in your body.

What about hormone replacement therapy?

HRT in post-menopausal woman does help protect against intra-abdominal fat accumulation — but there is no evidence at this point that it reduces menopausal cardiovascular risk.  So it might make you feel better in different ways, but it doesn’t change your risk. 

So what do I do?

As we preach often on this blog, weight is not the issue to focus on.  If you want to lower your risk for heart disease as you reach menopause, the biggest “bang for your buck” seems to be:

 

Until I did the reading for this post, I didn’t really know how much risk of heart disease changes at menopause.  What was news to you?

IMG_8319

 

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and jumps around in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cycling · Fit Feminists Answer

You ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Soft pedaling, why do cyclists do that?

We have a thing here that we do from time to time, and that’s “you ask, fit feminists answer.” It goes like this — you ask, we answer (as best we can).

This question came from a new cyclist friend, what is soft pedaling and why do cyclists tell you to do it?

First, what is it? Soft pedaling is the act of turning over the pedals without applying any power.

Like my friend, I first encountered it when riding closely with others in a group ride. Sometimes I would coast and was told instead to soft pedal. Just shift to an easier gear and keep pedaling even though it has zero effect on your speed.

Okay but why?

Reason 1: “When riding in a group you often find that small changes of speed can mean that you do not need to pedal when the group slows down and have small bursts of power when the group speeds up. By soft pedaling when the group slows down your legs will already be spinning when its speeds up again. All you need to do to speed up is shift.” (from what’s the purpose of soft pedaling? )

Reason 2: Coasting is bad form in a group ride because it signals to the people behind you to slow down. If you can keep soft pedaling everyone will keep moving and you don’t get those big differences in speed between the front and the back

Reason 3: You avoid coasting which is also bad for your legs on a long ride. Your legs will be much happier if you keep spinning even with no resistance. You can read the posts of the late Sheldon “Coasting Is Bad For You” Brown and he’ll try to talk you into riding a fixed gear bike. With a fixed gear bike you can’t coast and it certainly breaks the habit. But you could just try coasting less without going that route.

Soft petals from Unsplash
Fit Feminists Answer · running

If you don’t run, what kind of workout footwear do you wear and why? (Sam wants your opinions!)

So we have a feature here called Fit Feminists Answer where readers email in questions and we try, to the best of our ability, to answer them. We also often get help in the comment threads. Thanks wonderful community of fit feminist readers and commentators!

But today I have a question and I want your advice. This is “fit feminists ask” rather than”fit feminists answer.” I have been told by my very nice knee surgeons in white coats with serious faces to never ever run again. They say I shouldn’t even say the word “running.” And as readers know I’ve struggled. I said a sad goodbye first to soccer and then to running.

I’ve decided that it would be easiest if I made a clean break. Like lots of people I tend to wear my old running shoes to the gym. They’re no good for running but they’re fine for rowing machines, the elliptical, weight lifting etc etc. But looking at my old running shoes makes me sad. I think it’s time to say goodbye to them. What to get in their place? Clearly not new running shoes.

Now I’m no longer running I no longer need pricey running shoes, but what do I need? I’ve thought about lifting shoes but that seems like overkill. I’m not that serious. I feel the same way about lifting shoes as I do about deadlifting socks. They’re cool and all but really? Do I need them? Do you wear special shoes for weightlifting/strength training? What kind and why? Do you recommend them? How serious to you have to be to wear them?

This fall I ordered custom University of Guelph Adidas though the soccer team for me and my athletic U of G attending son. I thought that might be good. As Dean I could wear them to official events and still be comfortable. Sadly it was one of those deals where they needed to get enough orders to make them and that fell through. No red, black, and gold sneakers for me. So that option is out.

What about the rest of you non-running gym goers? What footwear do you wear to the gym and why?

Help me out here!

Pride sneakers?

Image result for adidas pride sneakers 2018
Chuck Taylor All Star Pride High-Top Sneaker - Men's
Women's UA HOVR™ Sonic - Pride Edition Running Shoes, Black , , Black

Fit Feminists Answer · nutrition

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Do you have to start eating more food if you exercise and get muscles?

This is the fourth in a new series where we answer readers’ questions. If you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.

Cate: I think the feminist answer is “you don’t HAVE TO do anything” 😉

Christine: My immediate (non-expert) response is that you may find that building muscle leaves you feeling hungrier. If it does, you may want to change what/when/how much you eat.
The goal would be to ensure that you have the energy you need so your body can do what you need it to. Eat in whatever way serves that goal best, but please don’t get caught up in the ‘shoulds’ of eating.

Kim: I agree with Christine: exercise and muscle-building generally takes more energy than you’d otherwise expend (if you are doing it correctly, it will tire you out and make you hungry), which means your body needs fuel to recharge and rebuild. Listening to your body here is a good idea, but at the same time my own experience has been that I sometimes over-eat when I’m fatigued and really hungry from exercise. So listening to your body when it says it’s hungry is good, but so is listening to it when it’s full (even if you might not immediately think you could or should be full yet). I’d also say that shifting or beginning an exercise routine is a good time to have a look at what you’re eating, and to ask yourself if you’re eating the best things to help your body recharge well and build muscle. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to do consult someone about nutrition choices, and about the best choices you can make given all of your lifestyle factors. (There’s no one easy solution or plan.) But finally: yes, eating more will happen, and yes, that is a proper, good thing!

Tracy: I think the short answer is “no,” you don’t have to eat more food but sometimes when people start working out seriously they start to think of food differently, as a way of fueling their workouts for optimum performance. It’s also often recommended (though this doesn’t make it a “have to”) that people follow a resistance training session with a protein rich meal.

Sam: I think it depends on what you’re doing. Cyclists need to eat while riding and often struggle with consuming enough calories on the bike. After riding you might be ravenous but you don’t need to eat as much as you might think. It takes awhile to work this stuff out. Ditto with what you eat. Experiment. This stuff varies between people so figure out what’s best for you.

Okay, blog community, over to you… What’s your answer?

Donuts covered in fruit slices
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Fit Feminists Answer

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Why is my average cycling speed so slow?

This is the first in a new series where we answer readers’ questions. I got thinking about it the other day because a reader, also a health care professional, commented on what amazing resource we are. She says she directs her patients–mostly women in midlife, who are interested in getting more physical activity in their lives–to our blog. “You’re so relatable,” she said. Though I don’t much like that turn of phrase, I know what she meant. If we can do it, you can too. She also said that we cover between us all an amazing range of activities: hiking, cross country skiing, kayaking, running, swimming, biking, Highland Games, weight lifting…So if you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.

Here’s the first question, from a new-ish cyclist who has just acquired a bike computer.

Why is my average speed so slow? I’m riding along above 20 kph, often above 25 kph, the entire time but when I get home and look at my stats my average speed is always in the high teens. What’s up?

*******************************************

Hey, I know that feeling. I have on my first Garmin screen just a few things displayed. In the largest boxes I have speed and average speed and I often have average speed goals in mind when I ride. But it’s a challenge. I’ve often wondered about that exact same thing.

Here’s some of what’s going on:

Do you look at your speed when you’re going slow? I don’t. I look at my speed when I’m zooming downhills or  going fast in a big gear with a tailwind. Slogging uphill? Not so much. So I think the feeling of going fast and not going slow just reflects what we pay attention to.

Does your average speed include your warm up and cool down? That can, for obvious reasons, drag down your average speed.

How do you get out of town? For me, it’s either through traffic (slow) or on a multi-use pathway (there’s a speed limit, which I follow.) When I was working with a cycling coach he’d ask me to turn my Garmin off for those stretches. They don’t count.

Do you have our bike computer set to autopause so time at traffic lights and stop signs doesn’t count towards your average speed? You might also consider setting it to something above zero since cyclists often come to rolling stops to avoid unclipping.

Even if it’s set to auto-pause at 3-5 kph stop signs and traffic lights affect average speed because we slow down in advance of them. Cyclists don’t tend to race up to stop signs and red lights. We noodle and wait for the light to change, right?

Finally, you are spending less time at the speedier speed.  Consider a 20 km stretch of road with a very strong headwind/tailwind and you’re riding out and back, 40 km total distance. If you cover half the distance at 20 kph into the wind and half the distance at 40 kph with the tailwind, your average isn’t 30 kph. Your total time would 1.5 hours. Speed=distance/time so it’s 26.6 kph. Not s speedy as you might have thought.  Ditto for hills. Slow up and fast down means you spend more time at the slower speed. 😦

So cheer up and take heart that these things affect all of us. Happy riding!

For more on getting faster see