aging · fitness

Drinking vs. exercise for longer life: check the fine print, please

Popular news outlets just cannot let much time go by without publishing a story about some way to live longer.  For a while now, we’ve been seeing news articles touting the benefits of alcohol consumption to reduce mortality risk for heart disease, cancers and other causes of death. Here’s US News and World Report, in an article from the winter:

Study: drinking alcohol more important than exercise to living past 90. Instead of an apple a day, try a glass of wine.
Study: drinking alcohol more important than exercise to living past 90. Instead of an apple a day, try a glass of wine.

Whoa.  Is this true?

Of course not!
Of course not!

But but but— why did they publish this?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, other than “it was close to the deadline, and someone wanted a catchy headline”. But here is another question: what does the research mentioned in the article actually say?

Ah, that one I can handle. There’s a big study, called The 90+ study,  that is following a cohort of 90-plus year-olds to try to find out what allows people to live to 90 years and beyond. Here are a couple of  things they have found so far:

  • People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol OR COFFEE lived longer than those who abstained.
  • People who were overweight in their 70s lived LONGER THAN normal or underweight people did.

The news article also mentions that the researchers found that taking up a hobby or doing REGULAR EXERCISE contributed to longer life. Hmmm… I thought the headline said that drinking alcohol was more important than exercise.

This is why we gotta read the fine print. Or in this case, just the actual print of the article.

Feel free to stop reading here if you have other things to do.  I feel duty-bound to add a few technical bits — TL:DR version is “science is complicated”.

technical bit one: There is a totes legit controversy in health research over the question of whether light alcohol consumption reduces all-cause mortality. Some recent fancy meta-analyses say yes, and other recent ones say that, when you fix the methodological problems with the studies, no. If you want to dive into this, start here and here and here.

technical bit two: There is totes legit unanimity among everyone even remotely connected to health care and research that engaging in physical activity reduces all-cause mortality.  This is true regardless of, well, anything. No matter who you are, where you live, etc., physical activity confers longevity benefits.

technical bit three: in science, when we find some association between A and B, we feel more comfortable asserting it if we have some underlying theory that helps explain why A and B are associated. For instance, ice cream sales go up in summertime.  This makes sense– it’s warmer outside, people are going out for recreation, and ice cream places tend to be conveniently located near recreation areas (or so it seems to me, as I pass at least 4 yummy ice cream stands on my road rides).  Here is one of them– I love their retro charming facade:

Windows at old-fashioned ice cream  place along the route of one of my road rides. Yes I do stop sometimes.
Windows at old-fashioned ice cream place along the route of one of my road rides. Yes I do stop sometimes.

But as far as I can tell, researchers don’t have a theory for why light alcohol consumption would lengthen life. By the way, this isn’t just wine– the results are for any kind of alcohol.  Even the main researcher for the 90+ study, Dr. Claudia Kawas, was quoted in that news article as saying this:

“I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” Kawas said in her keynote address.

On the other hand, we have loads and loads of scientific theory explaining the myriad ways in which exercise confers longevity.  Or, as this article puts it:

A plethora of epidemiologic evidence from large studies supports unequivocally an inverse, independent, and graded association between volume of physical activity, health, and cardiovascular and overall mortality.

So where does this leave us?  Well, science will do its thing and we will find out more about aging, activity, eating, disease and mortality risk, etc., in due course. In the meantime, my money’s on physical activity, because it’s fun for me and it seems to make me feel good in the moment (at least a lot of the time), and in general (most of the time). It’s your call.

Two women crouching, preparing to run.  One has white hair, and one has dark hair.
Two women crouching, preparing to run. One has white hair, and one has dark hair.

 

cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Riding over rocks and an appeal (Guest post)

Hello, Fit Is A Feminist Issue readers, this is my first time writing to you. So I’m excited about that! I want to share something I learned from a rock and then I’m asking you for some help.

I love to mountain bike. I didn’t always. It took me a long time (like 20 years) to get past the fear that stood between me and making progress in my technical skill.

Then about nine years ago I committed to getting better. I have the good fortune to ride on trails in the Sierra Mountains, in California, for 6 weeks every summer. The trails here are a School of Rock. I struggle to learn how to maneuver around particular rocks or clusters over successive summers.

The first persistent rock I figured out was maybe the size of an upholstered footstool. The rock menaced me for three summers. The trail winds around the rock in a sharp-ish turn, flanked by thick tie-your-bike-up mountain shrubbery. I always balked at the last minute, and put a steadying foot down. Then one day, I approached my rock-nemesis with more calm than usual. What was the worst? –A tumble in the bushes? –A chain ring in my calf? Been there. Done that. I glanced at the rock. Every other day, I stared in dread, but this day my eyes were friendly. The rock seemed to soften, the path to widen. Around I went. No force. Just flow.

I felt my energy slow down. Not sapped or diminished, rather, my energy gathered inward, moving toward my center, that place of balance, which can never be achieved through pushy frustration.

That beautiful zenergy is followed, of course, by the all-important woohoos of delight and mini-party on the bike with helmet-loads of imaginary glitter-confetti.

That rock is the headmistress of them all. She was the first teacher who showed me the key, which I use to this day to unlock the puzzle of so many rocks.

For a couple of years I rode around my headmistress. Then one day, as I approached, she delivered a new insight. Instead of the complicated maneuver around, I could simply ride right over. Light and easy.

I could not have ridden straight over as an opening gambit. I wouldn’t have had the courage. I needed to develop the skill and confidence to ride around. Only then could I trust my ability to ride over.

Often, I feel the same way about making my way in the world as a woman, as a feminist. So many complicated and fraught issues, going around is easier than figuring out the flow and finding my place inside it. But when I have confidence in my intelligence and right to be present, I can be more curious. There’s more room for different approaches. I trust myself to neither defer, nor be overly confrontational. Light and easy. Thank you for opening the door for me. No, your hand is not welcome there, nor am I a “honey” or a “Mrs.”.

Sometimes doing things the hard way builds the confidence to do those same things the easy way.

Of course, my progress (on the bike and as a feminist) is not a straight line. Just this morning I approached a small-ish boulder from below and, in an excess of confidence, instead of going around I tried to ride right up the side and over. Well, that didn’t work. I’m nursing quite a few scrapes and bruises and am very thankful for my helmet.

A few hours later now, I’m thinking—maybe I just needed to gear down sooner and increase my speed. I might try again, or maybe I’ll go around.

The biggest boulder I’m trying to ride around and over at the moment is a book I’m writing. I’d love your help. Run Like A Girl 365 Days A Year: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes (May 2019) follows from my 2011 book, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. I’m looking at the ways in which our athletic pursuits nourish and inform how we live our lives; the challenges, the transformational moments and how our athletic self enables us build a life of purpose and meaning. I am speaking with women about their experiences. If you are interested, send me an email at minasamuels@yahoo.ca. I’d love to hear from you.

Mountain biking in an aspen grove

Mina is a writer, performer, fableog-ist, citizen, traveler, enthusiast and author of Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives, plus other books. http://www.minasamuels.com

fitness

Moving through the world alone

IMG_1747I wrote last week about trying to move my body intentionally every day in July as a way of “breathing in unison with the world.”  After a pretty stressful couple of weeks, I needed a really restorative weekend — a kind of shivasana from work and the news and a family loss.  Saturday I didn’t leave my house — I cleaned and did yoga and read and lay in my hammock — and then Sunday, after making a quick breakfast for a friend, I left the city and went for a 60km solo bike ride.

It was hot and it was perfect.  The route meant I only had to stop two or three times, very briefly, and I just rode and felt the road, bumpy and smooth, felt my hands hold me safe. I got home and though my body was hard-worked and I had to sit at my desk and do some work-work, I felt perfectly happy, perfectly restored.

While I was riding alone, I was thinking about a conversation we’ve been having among the blog writers about traveling alone.  When I was on my way back from Bhutan in May, Catherine commented about how comfortable I seemed traveling alone, and asked how I’d learned to be that comfortable.  I get this kind of question a lot — when I ran into someone at a Hannukah party last year I had only “seen” that year via social media, she gave me a huge hug and immediately asked how I was brave enough to travel alone.

I’ve written a few times about my evolution from being a person who was anxious about everything to being a person who has traveled alone in many many countries where I don’t have the language or even the most basic understanding of How it All Works.  For me, it really parallels why I needed to ride by myself last Sunday — I need the restoration of moving my body completely at my own rhythms, through space and time and whatever is swirling in my soul.  When I am with others, no matter how much I love them or enjoy being with them, I’m orienting myself to what they need, adjusting my rhythms to theirs.  There is something profoundly selfish and beautiful and grand and life-giving about orienting myself to just what I need.

I do have worries when I travel or ride alone — I’m not experienced at bike repair, so when I rode my bike alone across Latvia and Estonia last year, I said a little Tire-God prayer every day when I reached my resting place and I hadn’t had to deal with a flat or broken spoke.  And sometimes, when I travel alone, I go to places that I wouldn’t go if I was considering the safety of a companion — the most obvious example being a trip I made to the Democratic Republic of Congo two years ago.  (That’s a whole post in itself, but I had been traveling to places adjacent to the border for ten years, it was a pocket of momentary calm, and I wanted to see the contrast with Rwanda and Uganda, which I know fairly well.  But when I found myself in a tent at least 50 m from anyone else in the forest, rehearsing how to say “can I please put my clothes on before you kidnap me” in french before I went to sleep, I did wonder at my decision-making. And had to take a sleeping pill to get through the night.  And in fact, that park was closed to tourists in May this year after 12 rangers were killed and two British tourists were kidnapped by rebels).

When I ask other people why they like to travel alone, I see my own experiences reflected back. One friend said “What I like most about travelling alone is that I have only myself to rely on. As part of a couple for the past 30 years, you sometimes forget the “you” that existed before the “them”. You forget how naturally resilient you are, how curious and how open to adventure. Travelling alone gives me an opportunity to reconnect with those parts of myself I have not seen in awhile and to recognize my own abilities. Travelling alone brings me back in touch with my mind and my body – but most importantly, it gives me glimpses of my soul.”

Another friend — also married — echoed her. I like the quality of time when traveling alone. It seems to pass more slowly/fully (in a good, not boring way) and I tend to reflect more in real time when traveling along.”

When I ask other people why they are reluctant to travel alone (or why they think I’m “brave,”), some of the responses are what I expect — “I’m afraid of trying to navigate in another language and not being able to figure it out” or  “I like having a shared experience to continue to discuss and reflect on again and again after an adventure” or “I don’t know what to do with myself at night, when I don’t really feel safe going out alone in strange places” — but others really touch at the most tender parts of ourselves — like fear of assault or a fear of being judged as “less than” for being seen to be alone in the world, encountering one’s own deepest shame or sadness at being single.

Those tender parts of me do get evoked too, but for me it’s a kind of anxiety-driven crankiness that can show up in incredible impatience in the transitional points of travel — finishing the Estonia trip and tripping over a very unhelpful young hotel worker who made it very difficult to store my bike, dealing with a pugnacious woman in the security queue in the airport in New Delhi who kept pushing my backpack from behind and loudly denounced me as “holding up the line by reading.”  (I was reading and moving, trying to be patient with the long queue).  I am not at my best in these encounters, and sometimes I think I like to travel alone so the people I care about don’t witness this part of me.  (Ask my exes about this sometime ;-)).

But that’s just a fraction of my experience — and probably a fractal of my real life as well.  When I travel alone, I am reminded that I am comfortable being seen to be single in the world. There are many many reasons to value being partnered and to have companions weaving through the years with you — but that isn’t how my life has unfolded, and some of the comments I get from other women I encounter while traveling who really envy my freedom remind me that I have something precious too.  I get to be an Auntie in a global sense, and I get to carve out my own adventures on this unpredictable gorgeous planet.

When I was in Luang Prabang in Laos last year, in my five (delightful!) days alone between organized bike trips, I wandered into a small monastery and came across this post-it note on an old painted door.

img_1398
Image of old yellow and red painted door with two post it notes, one in Lao and one in English: “if you want to [be] strong learn to be alone please”
Traveling alone, riding alone — this is the way I’ve learned to be alone.  And at this middle aged point in my life, this is how I keep discovering my strength.

What about you?  Do you travel alone?  What version of yourself do you live into?

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is based in Toronto but planning a trip to Uganda and Kyrgystan next month.

 

Fear · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation · training · weight lifting · yoga

Little steps leading to big leaps

This past month has been one focused on change. We went from a relatively cool June to a muggy July seemingly overnight and training in the heat has been difficult.

My trainer and I have been experimenting, from shifting when I train so I can manage the heat to trying different deadlift and bench approaches. I am still following my trainer’s lead regarding my program, and it’s a relief to let someone else take the reins of planning and directing. People hire me for my expertise in communications and let me take the lead all the time, so I’m perfectly fine relying on my trainer’s knowledge and experience to show me the way forward in the gym.

IMG_5893
Picture shows a person wearing flowered gym tights and grey sneakers in the sunshine

 

It’s a choice that has let me successfully continue with powerlifting as a training focus for almost five years. In that time, I’ve managed recovery from a hyperactive hip joint, a shoulder with attitude, and a knee that constantly whined for attention.

So when Vicky said let’s try a few things, I said okay and we carried on with me lifting heavy things and putting them down, albeit in some very different, challenging variations. We used bands, blocks, pins and posts. We took apart processes and put them back together, and not always in the same way.

I wasn’t always excited about change in the gym. I really worry about reinjuring various parts so I tend to look at new moves with suspicion and a decided lack of enthusiam. However, I trust my trainer and when she proposed deficit deadlifts, I said yes. When she added bands, I said yes, and kept my fingers crossed they wouldn’t snap mid lift. When she proposed pinch presses for bench, I said yes and hoped like heck it didn’t mean I was the one who got pinched. (I wasn’t).

Each shift made the lifts more challenging and I quickly mastered the new ways of lifting, despite how weird it all felt. Each shift meant I had to change the way I carried out my work compared to the traditional approaches.

I find deficit lifts challenging as everything tends to get squished the closer you get the floor and it isn’t so easy breathing either. I quickly discovered I needed a new way to fill my lungs as the heavier the bar the more energy and breath I needed.

I tried a couple of different moves and workarounds until I felt as comfortable as I would ever feel shifting a lot of weight around. I had to do the same thing with bench presses and squats too.

Well, those tiny changes had a big impact. After three weeks of tiny steps, Vicky brought me back to traditional deadlifts and bench presses. I’m thrilled with the results — new personal records in bench and deadlift for four repeats at 100 pounds and 200 pounds respectively.

When I think on it, all my progress has come from tiny steps: from making that first decision to hire a trainer and actually walk into the gym to the actual nurturing of trust in the process, the trainer, and myself.

Each stage builds on the next, creating a space where gains in strength and comfort are possible. Most importantly, I have seen changes in how I have made fitness a part of my life. I added swimming last year when my neighbourhood pool reopened and this summer I took up yin yoga.

When I did the latest survey on my Carrot app, I was delighted to see how much time each week is now devoted to a specific physical activity. The old joke asks “how does one eat an elephant? The answer: one bite at a time. Or in my case, one step at a time, consistently.

— Martha lives and trains in St. John’s.

 

fitness

The ultimate body and gender, or FFS!

As you know I’ve been nagging everyone to review our book on Amazon. See Please review our book! 

Why? Well, books that have more reviews, good reviews, are more likely to appear as recommended titles for people who use the biggest of the online book retailers, Amazon. So, please do us a big favour and review our book. See Why reviews matter.

Even if you didn’t purchase your book from Amazon, your review will help ensure others find out about Fit at Mid-Life
How to review Fit at Mid-Life:
  • Click https://www.amazon.com/Fit-Mid-Life-Feminist-Fitness-Journey/dp/1771641673
  • Scroll down to the Customer Reviews Section
  • Take a look at the existing reviews, and click on “Helpful” below any positive reviews you find helpful
  • Click on “Write a Customer Review
  • Select your star rating
  • Write a few words on what you liked (or loved) about Fit at Mid-Life

Thinner! Leaner! Stronger!

One of these things is not like the other. The strongest women aren’t thinner or leaner. They’re big. It’s why there are weight classes for lifting events. But forget that.

Our book has 6 reviews now and I was starting to feel better about the book’s visibility. But then I made the mistake of seeing how many reviews TLS has. 1484. Yikes. That’s a lot.

So I was feeling kind of ticked off about that since it’s a book all about looks and thinness.

But then to add fuel to my anger the men’s version of the same book came into my view. What’s it called? “Thinner” isn’t in the title. No, it’s called Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body.

BIGGER! And it’s got 3301 reviews.

The ultimate female body is thin and lean, I guess, and the ultimate male body is big and strong. And that’s a much more mainstream popular view than feminist approaches to fitness. I guess I knew that. But it’s still depressing.

Grrrr!

Lizards cheer me up sometimes. Here’s a cute one.

david-clode-477774-unsplashPhoto by David Clode on Unsplash. Image description: A bright green lizard on a branch against a dark background.

fitness

Dancing for your steps (and other ways to make up steps at the end of the day) #tbt

Looking back at last July for something that might be relevant still today, I found this. Thankfully, I’m not counting steps this year. But last summer I was in the thick of it. And dancing still strikes me as a perfectly wonderful way to hit that target every day. And I may do it still this year, not to hit the target, but to keep active on the boat. I’m heading to Newport on Friday and my crystal ball tells me that sailing and dancing are both in my near future. Enjoy! (Tracy)

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

I’m on the sailboat visiting Renald this week and that means one of two things on any given day. Possibility 1: I’m out and about on land, covering lots of ground and hitting my step challenge target (if you’re wondering why I’ve got a target for daily steps, here’s the story of how FOMO got me to commit to another 100-day step challenge). Possibility 2: I’m boat bound (which is not always a bad thing in a general sense) and it’s tough even to get 5000 steps because everything I need is fewer than 20 steps away).

Sometimes there’s a mix of these two, where we go to shore but we park really close to where we plan to go. In any case, the upshot is this: it’s easy to get to the end of the day and fall short of my 13500 target (which I made a conscious…

View original post 392 more words

fit at mid-life · fitness · meditation · training

The power of the pact

Image description: low angle street shot of Tracy and Sam with a building and stop sign behind them on an overcast day. Tracy is standing, dressed in running gear, wearing sunglasses. Sam is on her bike, standing, left foot on the ground, right foot on her bike pedal, wearing black workout shorts, a black tank that says
Image description: low angle street shot of Tracy and Sam with a building and stop sign behind them on an overcast day. Tracy is standing, dressed in running gear, wearing sunglasses. Sam is on her bike, standing, left foot on the ground, right foot on her bike pedal, wearing black workout shorts, a black tank that says “FEMINIST” and sunglasses.

During the media around the book, someone, somewhere described Sam and my Fittest by 50 Challenge as a “pact.” Maybe it was that time we were on TV.  We’d never described it quite like that ourselves, but it was a pact. Our challenge was to be the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50. We made the pact when we were 48.

Now, there were lots of factors that kept us going through the challenge — not the least of it was the public accountability of the blog. But looking back, I think one of the most important factors was that we made a pact with each other.  The dictionary definition of a “pact” is a formal agreement. It involves a kind of mutual commitment to do something.

Having that commitment in place made it harder to back out. It didn’t exactly have the moral weight of a promise. But it still had some binding force or at least a sense of accountability.  In other words, the pact became a motivating factor in our fittest by 50 challenge. It also provided a framework for mutual support and encouragement. And a sort of shorthand for what we were undertaking to do — i.e. “planning to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives by the time we turn 50.”

We weren’t doing it for each other, but we were doing it together.

I realize that I quite like pacts. I’ve got a meditation pact going with a friend right now. We’re both committed to getting back on track with meditation. I started out on my own, deciding that I would do 90 meditations in 90 days. I’m on day 15 now. I mentioned it to my friend last week and he liked the idea. So we made a pact. Now we check-in daily–usually by text–to say we’ve done our meditation. And we agreed to have an actual conversation at least once a week about what our experience of meditation was that week–what shifts we might have noticed; what challenges we might have faced; anything we want to share about the previous week of meditation.

The pact has helped me stay on track, and has also given me a nice way to connect with someone with a shared commitment.

That idea of connecting with at least one other person who is trying to do exactly the same thing, even if not in exactly the same way, has power. Samantha and I each did very different things for our fittest by 50 challenge — she dedicated herself to training for the Friends for Life Bike Rally. I dedicated myself to training for an Olympic distance triathlon. Similarly, my meditation friend and I haven’t given any ground rules for what style or length of meditation we need to do each day. We might do quite different things and experience it completely differently. But having the pact means that we are more likely to do it, to report to each other about it, and to feel a sense of camaraderie about it.

So pacts aren’t just about being accountable. They motivate more by fostering a sense of connection and common purpose. I love a good pact!

Have you had any experience with pacts?