ADHD · fitness · self care

Go Team 2023! Add Extra Kindness

Hey Team,

After a couple of months of external stresses, I’ve been feeling extra worn-out lately.

Not an incredibly serious type of worn-out, not burnt-out or done-in, just an ordinary sort of worn-out. Maybe frayed at the edges but still functional and repairable.

Everything I have to do is not staying done (more details and questions pop up after decisions have been made), or it’s more complicated than it seems, or I need information/resources that aren’t available yet.

And on top of that, some of the stuff my past-self scheduled for the not-now turns out to be happening in my now.

Even though it is only March 14, I kind of feel like I am Ron in this episode of Parks and Recreation:

A clip from the TV show Parks and Recreation in which the character Ron Swanson gets some bad news about today’s schedule from his assistant April Ludgate.

My ADHD instinct is to put my head down and keep trudging through task after task until stuff gets done. My brain tries to convince me that if I just work hard enough – no breaks, extra effort, work all the time – I can do AllOfTheThings and then I can have a nice long break.

Of course, if I fall for my brain’s nonsense I will be working extra hard for an extra long time on this stuff and then other things will pile up.

By the time I get thorough this stuff, those other things will have become urgent and my brain will be telling me to ‘just’ get those things done and THEN I can take a real break.

You can see the pattern, right?

Instead of getting a long break, I’ll just be in an endless cycle of working hard to catch up.*

I’m getting tired just writing about it.

So, instead of trying to work extra hard, I’ve decided to be extra kind to myself.

I wrote down everything I could think of that I felt like I needed to do.

I took out everything that could be done by someone else or be done later.

I scaled down as many things as I could.

And then I added in extra kindness for myself.

I have been choosing to pause for an extra cup of tea.

I have been setting my timer to remind me to stretch.

I have been taking time to journal.

I’m choosing to meditate a few minutes at a time throughout my day.

I’m taking time for exercise, for yoga, and for lying on my mat staring at the ceiling.

And choosing the path of extra self-kindness is making a difference in how I feel overall.

I no longer feel like bedtime is me skidding to a stop.

My shoulders have moved down a little from my ears.

I’m seeing spaces in my day that are about taking care of myself instead of getting stuff done.

I know, you’d think I’d be better at this by now.

After all, I am fully aware of the dangers of overscheduling, and of the way that all the things I need to do get in the way of the things I want to do.

I am a cheerleader for self-kindness but, still, I forget.

And I bet you do, too.

I think it’s because sometimes we all have extra-busy weeks, or times when things are complicated, and we do just need to push through, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, and forge ahead. In those weeks, we might put aside some of our usual self-kindnesses in favour of getting through a rough spot.

But, if we have a few weeks like that in a row, it starts to feel like ‘this is my life now’ and it is tricky to take a step back and reassess. It’s way easier to put those self-kindnesses into the not-now and assume we will get to them when we have more time.

We don’t need to blame ourselves for falling into the busy trap – our whole society is set up to lure us into that one – instead, we need to notice when we have fallen in and be extra kind to ourselves as we make our way out.

So, Team, if you are feeling worn out and frayed at the edges, I invite you to think about these two questions:

1) How do you *want* to feel right now?

2) What self-kindnesses can help you feel that way?

I know, there may be lots of things in your life that you can’t change right now. There are probably all kinds of difficult things that you can’t avoid.

I’m not saying that self-kindness is a magic cure that will make those things go away.

However, if you can do a few things that help you feel better, that help you feel more like yourself, whether that is exercise, rest, time with a friend, writing in your journal, watching a favourite show, listening to a novel while you drive, it will be at least a little helpful.

You will take up more space in your own life, you’ll remind yourself that you matter, and you will feel a little more prepared to take charge of the other things that you have going on.

So, Team, even when time is tight, please go ahead and set up your mat, boil the kettle, put on your sneakers, find your knitting, or whatever the hell else you like doing. You don’t need to wait until you have everything else done and you don’t need hours of time.

Even a few extra minutes of self-kindness can make a big difference.

Here’s your gold star for your efforts:

At the top of a piece of dot-grid paper are the words “To Do: Draw Gold Star For Go Team Post” with a checkbox next to them. The box is checked off and there is a drawing of a gold star with a happy face below the text.
No, this isn’t my whole list. It’s an important part though! Image description: At the top of a piece of dot-grid paper are the words “To Do: Draw Gold Star For Go Team Post” with a checkbox next to them. The box is checked off and there is a drawing of a gold star with a happy face below the text.

*that presumes that there is actually such a thing as being ‘caught up’ but that’s a whole other discussion.


Five Body Weight Movements and Modifications

I (Nicole) have prepared the attached video on Five Basic Body Weight Movements (and modifications) for a presentation I am working on (unrelated to Fit is a Feminist Issue). It’s meant to be very short and it’s meant to be a quick overview, not an expert video. Let me know if you enjoy/find it helpful/would be interested in more (similar) videos!

fitness · injury · motivation

Putting some fitness in the bank

So I’m riding longer and getting faster and it all feels great except it’s all going to come to a screaming halt on April 11th when I have my second knee replacement surgery. After that, it’s no more riding.

It’s weird the effect that has on me. My life is very busy and I have to make some hard decisions about my time. Usually I’m good at giving priority to exercise but this makes me feel like I should just throw up my hands and stop bothering. Why exercise now when I won’t be able to ride my bike again in a month’s time? Why keep it up when rehab begins all over again in a month?

I’ve got lots and lots of other things I could be doing.

And yet I know the more fit I am come surgery, the better the recovery will be. I know going into surgery, it’ll be better to be strong. It helped me last time having just ridden the Friends for Life Bike Rally Toronto to Montreal the week before knee replacement.

I’m trying to motivate myself by thinking about it as putting fitness in the bank before surgery. The first month after surgery is just a lot of physio, followed by ice and elevation, rest and then more physio. So I’ve doubled up personal training for the month before surgery. I’m going to try to ride more as well. I’m really hoping for some nice weather so I can even get an outdoor ride or two in. See Please let Sam have some good (even passable) bike riding weather before surgery!

I’ve also put out a call for friends to visit. It’s lonely just hanging at home doing physio all the time and the only time you get to leave the house is for more physio. I’m also going to max out my time in the hot tub etc while I can do that. We’ve even booked a spa day.

The other reason to keep working out is that it helps with all the pre-surgery stress and jitters. Really, this isn’t the month to stop moving!

close up photo of pink piggy bank
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

Get out of your fitness rut and try a new thing this spring

Normalize learning new physical skills like ballet, gymnastics, ice skating etc… as an adult. Not everyone has had the privilege to be able to do those extracurricular activities as a kid, it’s okay to start as an adult but people pretend like it’s impossible.

Occasionally we share something on our Facebook page that gets lots of people excited. The tweet above certainly did. More than 500 people liked it. So many comments! In many ways it’s one of the key ideas of the blog and of the book that Tracy and I wrote. In the book I describe myself as an “adult onset athlete” and Tracy talks about triathlon as her big, new thing in her run up to her 50th birthday.

Along with “start small” and “do something you love,” “never be afraid to learn something new” is one of the persistent themes of the blog as well.

I’ve blogged about rowing and team sports as new things for me.

Catherine’s recently blogged about the A-Z gym classes she would definitely take.

Learning new things is a bit of thing for me. This year I even chose “growth” as my Word of the Year: “I want to expand in lots of different ways. I want to learn new things, make some new friends, discover some new music, travel to new places, read some new authors, and think about new problems. I want to challenge myself to think big and take risks. I’m not sure yet what the specific fitness applications of this new focus will be but I’m open to ideas.” For more WOTY choices in 2023 see here.

What’s on my “new things” wish list?


Facebook page followers who commented say they want to try gymnastics, basketball, cross country skiing, rugby, roller derby, ballet, sailboat racing, martial arts, tap dancing, and swimming.

How about you?

Learned something new today

family · fitness

Bowling with the family!

This week was my spring break, which I spent in South Carolina with family– my mother, aunts, uncle, cousins, and of course my sister and her kids. Last week I posted about my goals for the week, which included low-key nature walking in state and town parks. I did that, and will blog about those adventures this week.

But what I didn’t expect was that I would go bowling. But I did that, too, with my sister and two of her kids. It was fun. Actually, it was very big fun. How could it not be fun? After all, bowling includes:

  • funny shoes
  • multicolored balls to throw at things (sorry, correction– roll at things)
  • Graphic animated signs showing how you did in your most recent frame
  • a snack bar
  • 80s soundtrack playing in the background
  • other like-minded souls acting as if they don’t mind your loud enjoyment of the game

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t bowled since college. Even then, it was just the occasional group outing where I didn’t worry about my complete lack of knowledge or technique. I recommend adopting this same attitude, as it promotes enjoyment.

However, if you’re feeling ambitious, you could watch this video on 3 bowling tips for beginner bowlers that my niece Gracie found after we got back from our bowling expedition.

To save you time and effort, the three tips are:

  • buy an expensive custom bowling ball, as the bowling alley-provided ones are bad and don’t really work;
  • hire a bowling coach and bowl all the time;
  • practice kneeling at the line of the lane and doing a spinny thing with your hand and the ball– unclear for how long.

None of us found that advice helpful.

My niece Gracie, who plays volleyball a lot, had the best form of all of us.

Gracie in the classic post-ball-release form, about to get a strike.
Gracie in the classic post-ball-release form, about to get a strike.

My form, copied from my memories of Laverne and Shirley TV show episodes, looked more like this:

Still, I managed to get the hang of it after a while. Luckily, none of us needed to remember how to score– it was done automatically, along with graphic indicators:

My sister won the first game, and I won the second. I think we both forgot about deference to the kids in the heat of competition. Gray was trying out his own technique of holding the ball (rather than gripping it using the finger holes) and spinning it down the lane. Had we played three or more games, I think he would have beaten us all. Gracie, who had the best form, decided to be experimental and lost interest in actually knocking down the pins. My sister and I mainly concentrated on not falling down.

I highly recommend a family or friend bowling outing. For $41.97 for four people, it was a good deal. I do admit to walking creakily for a while post-bowling but it was short-lived. And maybe bowling shirts will make a comeback. These always looked great on Laverne and Shirley.

Laverne and Shirley, in lavender bowling shirts, Laverne’s with her omnipresent script L.

So, readers, do any of you bowl? Did you have a bowling heyday? Have you tried it lately? Are you tops in your league? Let us know.

body image · boxing · fitness · weight stigma

The world is changing its perception of larger active bodies but not Garmin

So it turns out, according to Garmin, that my fitness age is 74. My fitness is poor and I’m in the bottom 5 percent for my age bracket.

Colour me shocked.

I thought it was because of inactivity due to knee replacement surgery. Garmin doesn’t track my weightlifting or my physio so all it knows are my steps per day, heart rate, rest, and numbers of kilometers ridden. And yes, it’s true I’m just riding 50 km a week on the trainer right now. That’s down from my usual 100 or 150. My step goal is in the 5000-6000 range and I meet it most days but that’s down since I had knees that worked.

Still it seemed wrong. I wouldn’t think that someone who rode their bike 50 km each week and walked more than 5000 steps each day would be in the bottom 5%. My resting heart rate is in the low 60s and that’s pretty good too.

It’s true I’m not my usual fitness self but bottom 5%?

So I googled how Garmin calculates fitness age and I remembered one more piece of information Garmin has, my weight.

Argh. Argh. I should have guessed. I should remembered Nicole’s blog post about this. And in her case there was only a two year gap. The gap between my actual and Garmin’s fitness age for me is 16 years.

Good gravy.

Bundling weight into the definition of fitness doesn’t even make sense to me. You can no longer ask about the relationship between fatness and fitness because on this way of measuring fitness, the weigh scale is built in.

I was embarrassed at first to blog about this. I shut off the Garmin app and stormed around the house a bit. I did some chores in a loud grumpy fashion. But the more I thought about it the more I realized it’s their problem, not mine. I’m going to write and ask them about. I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.

Not me but a woman with pink boxing gloves who kind of looks like I feel.

Make sure you eat regularly, stay hydrated and manage stress

If you’re like me and you have a night terror (first time in decades) or you start having night headaches (throbbing, stabbing around 2 am) which you are certain are related to your path towards menopause, you look at Dr. Google to see what information is out there and if there is anything you should know. Even though you know it’s not wise and you may come across things that are unnecessarily worrisome, you look, because, there may be one or two tidbits that help you with your current concern.

black samsung tablet display google browser on screen
Calling Dr. Google – photo of a iPad type device with the Google search engine open

More often than not, the advice given is “make sure you eat regularly, stay hydrated and manage stress”. Gee, thanks. While this is good general advice for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s pretty vague. I eat regularly. I’ve never been one to forget to eat. It has just never happened. I wake and know that after my workout I’ll have Bob Mill’s Muesli heated with frozen fruit and topped with flax and yogurt. If it’s the weekend, I know I’ll probably make buckwheat pancakes or eggs and turkey bacon and hash browns. Every day, meal to meal, I consider what to have for the next meal. If I feel hungry I consider what I might need at the moment. Same with hydration. I hydrate. I see other runners without hydration belts, but I find it impossible to go for a run or a workout and not drink a lot of water. I refill my water bottle throughout the day, in between coffee. I don’t think I can consider drinking more water before bedtime, because I already get up 1 to 4 times a night to pee. Getting up more isn’t going to help my stress levels. In terms of stress, exercise helps. I am currently unemployed, and so, I do not have work-related stress. Perhaps, “OK, it’s time to move on to the next job and I hope that happens soon” stress. There is always stress in life. Navigating aging parents’ concerns at the same time I am noticing significant changes in my own stage of life, has a level of stress. I find myself thinking of our mortality a lot. A friend recommended a book which I am looking forward to reading on this topic – Pema Chodron’s “How We Live Is How We Die”. It claims to be about “learning to live with ease, joy, and compassion through uncertainty, embracing new beginnings, and ultimately preparing for death with curiosity and openness rather than fear.” and that sounds just grand to me at the moment.

dj performing music near signboard all we have is now
Photo by Marlene Leppänen on
DJ performing soundboard near billboard that has red letters saying “All We Have Is Now”
Something that I found very compelling during the pandemic:

When I was a kid and I would wake up screaming with night terrors, my Mom would come and calm me down and (based on their recollections) my family would be jarred and have trouble falling asleep. As is the case with night terrors, I would have a vague memory of my heart racing, but I wouldn’t have trouble going back to sleep. I didn’t wake the next day and do research (at the library because Dr. Google didn’t exist) about the causes of my night terrors.

When it happened a couple weeks ago, I felt compelled to look for potential causes to, perhaps, prevent them. When I started noticing an increase in the mid-sleep headaches, I again felt the need to find potential causes and solutions. The advice I found to “make sure you eat regularly, stay hydrated and manage stress” didn’t provide the answer I was looking for. The causes suggested in both cases were vague. Unsurprisingly, particularly in relation to the perimenopausal headaches, there’s not a lot of research. That’s not just my opinion. Writing on the matter says so. There isn’t enough incentive (money) for studies on perimenopause and menopause even thought its effects – affect – more than half of the population.

I probably shouldn’t be looking for answers anyway. Part of me knows that I’m already doing what I can do. Seeking stress relief through fitness, rest, being a hedonist of simple things, eating foods that work for me, oh yeah, and drinking all the water. Perhaps, lessons learned from reading Chodron’s book and observing other similar wisdom available, even through talking to friends (my book club had a lively discussion about meditative practices last week), by learning to live with ease…through uncertainty, etc., I’ll stop feeling the need to look for answers and just go with the flow (there’s a pun in there I will refrain from).

Nicole P. lives in TO with her husband and dogs. She enjoys running, HIIT-style workouts, walking everywhere in the city and enjoying simple things.
fitness · sleep

The Joy of Napping

A cozy bed with fluffy pillows and freshly laundered sheets… a comfy couch with a four-legged friend curled up behind your knees… a hammock hoisted up in a sunny patch… a beach lounger with your toes tucked into the sandy beach in front of you… there are as many ways and places to nap as your imagination allows!

A sea lion napping on a bench. Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash
A sea lion napping on a bench. Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash

We’re no stranger here at FIFI when it comes to talk about naps and rest (a small sampling of earlier nap/sleep posts: Sam, Martha, Catherine). I started thinking about this a bit ago when I realized that February 28 was National Public Sleeping Day. Winter has (finally) arrived in New England and I was dreaming about being in a place with suitable weather for outdoor public napping. Short of taking a snooze on a mall bench public sleeping isn’t usually an option for me in February, given our chilly weather. Of course we can’t tackle a silly (probably made up) “holiday” like sleeping in public day without thinking more about who is allowed to snuggle up on a park bench for a short respite and who would be penalized for doing so. It also started me thinking about where most of us would feel comfortable sleeping in public. I’ve had a couple jobs where I could close the door and grab a short nap, but I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that in the employee break room. I’ve napped at the beach, in my car, and on a blanket in the park. I’ve fallen asleep at the movies, and once in a department store while waiting for someone to come out of the dressing room. It wont come as a surprise after reading this to know that I’m a big fan of sleeping and naps.

Are you dismayed that National Public Sleeping Day has passed for the year? Never fear – Napping Day is just around the corner on March 13. According to the linked site, napping day was created to mitigate the lost hour of sleep from the “spring forward” shift due to Daylight Savings Time. That’s a “day” I can get behind, especially since my dogs can’t tell time and insist on sticking to their same breakfast time. We’re all a little tired after the switch and a day of napping is a welcome reprieve.

I almost never napped as a child. I used to drive my babysitter wonky because I would keep all the other kids up at nap time. Eventually she started bringing me into the sitting room with her, where she would close her eyes and listen to Days of Our Lives (it was the 70s!). I would ask her if she was sleeping and she said “just resting my eyes.” I napped a little bit more as a teen, but I didn’t really come to love naps until my 30s. These days I nap pretty regularly, even if it’s just a quick 10 minutes before moving on to the next part of my day.

How and when is your next nap coming? Will you be outside laying in a patch of sunshine? Curled up with the family pet? Face down next to your lunch container at your desk? Where ever you end up, I hope it is a wonderful snooze!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

competition · fitness · fun · soccer

Officiating in the Women’s “Chill” Soccer League (Part 5)

I sat down with Kayla Marcoux–a skilled soccer player, coach, and referee–who has officiated some of our Sunday “chill” rec soccer games. Kayla agreed to discuss her views on aggressive soccer and her experience as an officiant in our league. Note that we discussed our own views, which are not those of the BMO Center, Ontario Soccer, EMSA Referee, or Canada Soccer.

EP: Can you tell me a bit about your soccer career?

Kayla with the ball and goalie gloves

KM: I’ve played for 25 or 26 years now. I have played as striker, and I currently play as goalie. I am super passionate about soccer. I’ve also coached for 15 years.

After playing and coaching I figured the next thing to do was start reffing. I knew there weren’t a lot of female refs, and that didn’t sit well with me. Now, my friend and I and maybe one other are the only women refs who officiate in leagues at the BMO Centre.

EP: Can you describe simplywhat is aggression in soccer? When I think about what is aggression in soccer, I notice that sometimes more and less skilled players may see the other as being aggressive, for different reasons.

KM: It’s not a simple definition. For me, aggression is done with intent and has a lack of regard for the safety of themselves or the other player(s). It makes perfect sense to me that if players from different levels of skill play together, that the player who has less skill or experience could interpret a higher skilled or experienced player as making an aggressive play or challenge occasionally.

Since we cannot determine someone’s “intent,” we must consider their actions: are they trying to “run through people” or are they using their body to shield the ball and gain possession? Running through someone, kicking at their ankles or shins wildly trying to get the ball are examples of what I consider to be “aggressive.” Shielding a ball or going shoulder to shoulder chasing a ball down to me would constitute normal soccer play and not be deemed aggressive. Just because I see it that way, it doesn’t mean someone with less experience than me will see it that way. Opinions will differ for everyone which is why I find this hard to define.

EP: In a poll of the team captains in our “chill” league, some felt like there were too many calls on rough play. How do you call aggression in our league?

KM: Yeah, that’s interesting. It depends on the league. Every league has different calls. It can be a challenge to adapt to varying degrees and levels of play, especially in a league like yours.

Our role as officiants is to watch the temperature of the game but let play happen. Contact is a grey area, one opinion vs another. We normally watch for 50/50, but because there are so many variables we have to try to abide by the rules.

EP: I am afraid I need you to explain to me what you mean by “50/50.”

KM: 50/50 is two players from opposite teams who each have an equal chance of obtaining possession of the ball. But it’s not easy to judge what is equal because players may be of different speeds, sizes, and skill levels when they challenge or defend their possession.

EP: So you are reffing our games with that 50/50 idea in mind?

Kayla Marcoux at the London Optimist Sports Centre

KM: Yes, but that balance of power can change to 60/40 at any time. And that’s what we are looking for. If a player is defending very well, it might seem like a shift in power but really it’s just skilled play. They know how to move their bodies to their advantage. If a player is getting really frustrated, and their frustration builds up, it can also change how they play. They can start with elbows out or throw their body in the way, and that can lead to a collision. That becomes a safety issue. Body types can affect 50/50 challenges, but skill level and emotions can too. I’m not sure if that answers your question because it’s delicate. There are a lot of variables we are watching out for.

When I was asked to referee for your league for the first time, I was told that your players were really just out to get exercise and have fun, and that you didn’t want competitiveness and aggressive ball challenges. We were told this league was no contact at all. 

And then I reffed several more games, and I found that the teams were all kind of different. We don’t want there to be complaints for players not following the rules, but there should be some flexibility.

EP: Would you play in our “chill” rec league?

KM: No. Players should be classified appropriately for the leagues they play in. Me, I play in Second Division. I know that I don’t have the ability to bring it down. I would be considered an aggressive player in your league. So I’m better off to find people that are playing similar to me.

You can’t control what other players do. The onus is on the player to say to themselves, “Do I belong in this league or not?” If people aren’t getting what they want, there are many other leagues available at the BMO Centre that can allow players to find the level of play they are looking for & comfortable with.

But I did tell my mom about this league. “They are actually chill and very calm,” I told her, “and they’re here just to exercise and have fun.” If she were interested in playing soccer, she should come out to this league to play! 

EP: What do you think of reffing in our league?

KM: I’ve only reffed a handful of games so far. Everyone seems to be having a really good time. I’m on the field, laughing with everyone. I enjoy the games because there’s so much fun. I haven’t really seen any issues.

I like to talk to the players on the field, and have them talk to me because then I can keep an eye out for what they see as too much aggression. Of course, humans are going to make mistakes, but we as referees can respond to requests, so talk to us.

EP: What can refs do to support fun rec leagues like ours?

Kayla officiating a soccer game.

KM: Keep up with training. Stay on top of the IFAB rules and not become complacent. The rules change every year. Put player safety above all else. It’s our number one job.

Bring in referees that are like-minded and that want to officiate games at this level. Give them examples of situations that have happened, explaining what is okay and what is not okay. This can help us help you and your league.

It’s also a good idea to bring the officiants into the conversation. If you tell me what to look for, I’ll adjust my position to make sure I have a better view, and if I have to call something your team isn’t okay with, I’ll call it, no problem. For the most part, we’re all really easy to talk to.

EP: What can our league do to ensure its continued success in future seasons, in your opinion?

KM: A good conversation is easily had before it starts to get a sense of the team’s level of comfort with contact and what contact means to them. Identify what you are not comfortable with, and then bring it to the attention of the referee. If two teams are comfortable with a certain level of contact, then explain it. We want players to have a fun and safe environment but also be heard and feel like the officiant cares. Conversations can bring aggressiveness and animosity down. Even if teams don’t initially agree, they can come to a better understanding if we all talk and share our perspectives.

Maybe as well as make sure everyone else is signed on. Everyone signs something at the beginning of the season that says, this is what we all agree on.

EP: [Joking] Is it this complicated to be a referee for male soccer players in their leagues?

KM: In my experience, women are respectful and appreciative of having a female ref. I’ve had no grief or cattiness in this league at all or in any others.

In my opinion, women are superior players because we just go out and play and get the job done. When I officiate, most of the time everyone is respectful, but if I do get grief it is usually from the men. [Smiles]


Fit is a Feminist Issue – and an Infrastructure Issue

I have been involved in a lot of conversations about active transportation in the last few weeks. And about the reasons both kids and seniors may be less active than they would like. And Mount Alison University geograph Professor Leslie Kern talking about her book Feminist City (my copy is on order).

And far too many rants where cyclists were blamed for being struck by cars, articles were written about pedestrians hitting cars (the cars drove away – never the drivers – and the pedestrians were hospitalized). The worst was blaming an older man for daring to go for on walk on a bare sidewalk in regular shoes, after he broke his ankle when trying climb over a windrow left by a snowplow.

What if we designed our living spaces so that more of us that are enticed to walk, bike and take transit, because the more that they do, the better it is for everyone?

Women in Urbanism Canada points out that women make up more than half of Canada’s aging population, so building age-friendly cities must be gender-inclusive. Women are more likely to outlive their partners, live in poverty, earn less, own less property, and have children and grandchildren to care for. They are more likely to suffer from mobility-related disabilities and physical impairments. They may also outlive their ability to drive. They need affordable and well-connected public transportation, areas to exercise and socialize and homes that allow them to live, independently, and with easy access to services resources and community amenities.

And the city of Ottawa, in a zoning review paper currently under discussion notes that “the impacts of car-dependency are most acutely felt by women, youth, elderly people, low-income people, and people with disabilities, as these are all people who are less likely to have access to or afford personal vehicles. A mobility-rich neighbourhood is a 15-minute neighbourhood where kids can walk to school and recreation, where people have the option to run a quick errand on foot, and people of all incomes can affordably access their needs.”

So what would that activity-friendly neighbourhood look like? It would have public transit, wide sidewalks and bike spaces (maybe even car-free), with benches, bathrooms, trees for shade, meeting places and playgrounds, plus a variety of shops and services close to home.

Click on this link to see a short video of what I think is a practically perfect active living space.

A street with dense housing, trees, playground, bike racks, and people of all ages walking or cycling. The drawing comes from The cover of Curbing Traffic, a book on the human case for fewer cars by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett.

For winter in Canada, I would add ploughed sidewalks and bike lanes. Sweden has already led the way on this. Following a gender analysis of its street clearing practices, Swedish cities began clearing sidewalks first, because they discovered that women were more likely to walk. There were three times as many injuries from falling on slippery streets as there were from driving, and the cost of treating those injuries far outweighed the city of snow clearing.

For millions of short journeys, the right tool for the job ought to be walking or cycling, but the way too many streets are designed makes this a difficult choice. Cars go too fast, there are no safe spaces for bicycles, and sidewalks have obstacles including high curbs, unsafe crosswalks, and buttons to beg for a pedestrian light that my not even be accessible to all users.

That’s a shame, because person on a bicycle can go three to four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. Equipped with this tool, humans outstrip the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well (Ivan Illich, Energy & Equity, 1973).

Brent Toderian, the former chief planner for the city of Vancouver, has written that “the recent Paris transformation of key streets to add bike infrastructure is intensely pragmatic – more mobility choice and more trips using a lot less space, lower public cost, lower emissions, less pollution, better public health, etc.”

The Tyee wrote last year about how various people with disabilities were using bike lanes and how the lanes could be even more accessible. I found it really eye-opening.

All this infrastructure is not just a feminist concern. It can also have a real impact on our health. Recently there was a meta-analysis of the impact of moderate physical activity on health. According to the report I read, about one in ten deaths could have been prevented with a little as eleven minutes of moderate physical activity a day. I’ll leave it to Catherine Womack to assess the claims; why I thought was important for this blog was the final quote:

´Dr Leandro Garcia, of Queen’s University Belfast, emphasised that moderate activity did not have to involve what people normally thought of as exercise, such as sports or running. “For example, try to walk or cycle to your work or study place instead of using a car, or engage in active play with your kids or grandkids,” he said.´

Imagine if we had safe and accessible places to do that…

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She has been a commuter cyclist for over 20 years.