health · sleep

Christine Goes Medieval On Her Sleep

When my kids were babies, they never quite got the knack of sleeping. For 5 years of my life, I was awake every 90 minutes (or less) until they both were finally (mostly) sleeping through the night.* Ever since then, it takes only the smallest interruption in my sleep pattern to throw my mind back to that time when I was doing the best I could, managing on very little sleep, and just feeling a little out of it all the time. Even a single night of weird sleep sends some part of my brain into a spin about getting stuck in that situation again.

A few years ago, I was having trouble sleeping and I figured out that using a sleep mask was the solution to getting better sleep and feeling more rested. I’m still using a sleep mask but I’ve been through a few different ones since then. My current favourite is an Alaska Bear sleep mask which is not shaped like a bear, covered in a bear print, or made of bear fur and it neither transports me to Alaska nor does it turn me into a bear but it does, despite all of that, it help me sleep.

I’ve been having a good go of it with my sleep since the sleep mask discovery. The occasional bad night, like everyone has, but no recurring issues. Until the last month or so when an external factor has been weighing in.

A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’​
A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’

The Situation

One of my family members semi-regularly needs my help with a minor but persistent health issue at some point between 1am and 2am. It’s not every night but it may be a few nights in a row, or every second night for a while, or a couple of times in a week. You get the idea.

Technically, I *could* let them deal with it on their own and just get my sleep. But it’s really important to me to be able to support the person who needs my help. And the whole thing is temporary so I’d really rather be there to help and just figure out how to minimize the effects on my sleep until the situation passes.

Solution Attempt #1

Since, under normal circumstances, I go to bed at 11:30 or 12, I tried just staying up later and just managing with less sleep.

That was not ideal.

A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to ​land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’
A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’

Apparently, I need at least 7 hours sleep to be relatively human the next day and for my ADHD meds to work the way they should. My meds do make things better even when I am sleepy but the sleepiness is an added obstacle that I do not need while I am trying to focus on the work of the day.

Solution Attempt #2

Then I tried taking what I was calling ‘a nap’ from 10:30 or 11:00pm and getting my family member to wake me when they needed me.

This worked a lot better. I was getting enough sleep overall but I was finding it challenging to get back to sleep once I was up. (I think this is a carry-over from when the kids were small. 99% of the time, once I am up for more than a few minutes, I am AWAKE and I could stay up for hours.)

A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’​
A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’

Even with being fully awake shortly after going to sleep, it was still better than staying up extra late. And I figured out how to optimize that nap – doing some of my before bed routines earlier in the evening so I could shorten the time between ‘I should go to bed’ and actually lying down, making sure that I had the right weight and texture blankets, using my mask but leaving a small light on so I slept well but not too deeply and so on.

Basically, I was using one of my most useful skills – making the best of a tricky situation – and applying it to a temporary challenge.

All The Feelings, Damn It

But, I was still finding it a bit tricky. I didn’t love the fact that, when I settled in at 10:30 or so, I was going to be interrupted so soon.** It didn’t often stop me from falling asleep but it made me feel a bit cranky about the whole thing, even though I have willing signed on to support my family member. I didn’t want to feel cranky and I certainly didn’t want them to think that I resented their need for help.

Obviously, my feelings are valid and I can feel however I feel about the situation. But I didn’t want to get so caught up in those feelings that I generated any extra distress – not for me and not for my family member.

A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.
A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.

After all, I can’t choose my feelings but I can choose how I act on them. I knew I needed to reframe how I was thinking about the whole situation so I could act more effectively.

Samantha To The Rescue

On Saturday, Samantha saved the day by posting this BBC article about bi-phasic sleep by Zaria Gorvett: The forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’

The funny thing is, I have read about bi-phasic sleep before. If *you* had told me that you had to sleep in two chunks and that you felt weird about it, my brain would have tossed enough facts from that old article at me that I could have used them to help you reframe your thinking.

My brain did not choose to cough up those facts for me until I saw Samantha’s post.

But as soon as I read ‘bi-phasic’ sleep, I thought ‘OH! That’s what I’m doing!’ and my brain immediately began to reshape the story I have been telling myself about how I am sleeping.

Suddenly, I wasn’t having interrupted sleep, I was having bi-phasic sleep.

I had gone medieval and I didn’t recognize it!

A GIF created to look like a ​medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.
Okay, so I’m not thinking of being awake at 1am as a party but recognizing it as a possible sleep pattern is helpful. Image description; A GIF created to look like a medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.

I was getting up after my first sleep to support a family member and perhaps do a little reading or drawing before starting my second sleep.

That reframing puts a whole new slant on things.

It takes away the idea of the interruption as a problem and makes it a structure for my night’s sleep.

And, as mentioned in the article, it removes any anxiousness about being awake in the middle of the night. This is probably not how I will sleep forever but it is one way that people *can* sleep. I’m not sleeping ‘wrong’ and I am not doing something detrimental.

I’m just practicing bi-phasic sleeping at the moment and, by framing it that way, my brain can settle in around the pattern and stop trying to solve the ‘problem’ of being awake at 1:30am.

A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.​
A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.

*If you are warming up your fingers to type some advice about what I *should* have done back then, save your energy because I won’t play. I tried everything. I did all kinds of research. There are all kinds of things you can do to encourage sleep but sleep is neurological thing and sometimes all you can do is wait for the situation to change or a baby’s brain to mature a bit. If you know someone whose baby is not sleeping, don’t give them advice, give them support. Zip over there early in the morning so they can get back to sleep before they fully wake up for the day. Stay late at night so they can grab a nap before the evening circus starts. Run errands for them. Take the baby for a walk so they can do some yoga nidra. Just don’t offer more damn advice. They have tried it already and all the advice is starting to feel judgmental and aggressive. Trust me on this.

**I imagine that everyone hates interruptions and I can’t speak for how the neurotypical brain deals with them. For someone with ADHD, knowing that you will be interrupted (whether that interruption is scheduled or just impending) can put you into the dreaded ‘waiting mode‘ which prevents you from immersing yourself in what you are doing because you know that you are going to have to switch tasks.

ADHD · cardio · fitness · goals · health · motivation · self care

Christine is aiming for better than average

I have picked a word for the year – spaciousness – but I hadn’t really settled on a fitness goal until this weekend when I found a new category of information in my Fitbit.

In my average week, I’m moving a fair bit. I take the dog for a walk or two each day, I usually have two TKD classes in a week, I do a bit of yoga and some stretches and a bit of strength training.

A light haired dog rests on bedsheets folded back from where someone got up.
Here’s Khalee supervising while I do yoga. She has such a hard job! I am really a lot of trouble. Image description: Khalee’s head, shoulders and front pays can be seen as she lies on the crumpled top sheet and blankets from my bed. She is facing the camera and her chin is resting on the blankets where they were folded back from when I got up. Her eyes are half-closed and she look looks restful but observant.

Lately though, I have come to realize that I am not really moving the metaphorical needle on my fitness level. I’m maintaining what I have but my efforts are not particularly focused and I’m not feeling any sort of expansion in my capacity.

Part of this is due to my issues with my toes/heel/calf/knee, of course, and luckily that situation is improving steadily. And, up until now, I have been juggling about three things more than I had capacity for at any given time – I could manage to hold most things in the air most of the time but that was it.*

However, some combination of ADHD and personality also factors into this. I never really know when and how to push myself, it’s tricky for me to judge my capacity and energy levels at any given time, and I am never sure if and what I should measure.

I’ve been keeping an eye on my resting heart rate over time but since I don’t wear my Fitbit when I sleep, apparently that’s not a very accurate measurement.

And I check off the box for daily movement but my effort levels vary from day to day. I’m not criticizing myself for that but it does mean that I am maintaining rather than expanding my capacity.

However, this weekend, I accidentally nudged a different part of my Fitbit screen and discovered that I can get more information about my cardio fitness above and beyond just my heart rate.

This puts my numbers in context. I LOVE context!

Fair to average isn’t bad but I’m sure with a little more focused effort, I could get to good and maybe even beyond.

So, in a move that is probably startlingly obvious to anyone who doesn’t live in a ADHD time/pattern soup, I looked up how long it takes to improve cardio fitness and what kinds of exercises will help me see a little progress ASAP. (I know that you can’t rush results but I also know what my brain needs.)

So, now I know that I need to make some of my workouts HIIT workouts and, in about two months, I should see myself inching toward that next blue bar.

In the meantime, I going to try not to check this screen every day hoping for a magical shift. I’ll post about it once a month though, just to keep myself on track.

A screen capture from a Fitbit app showing that the user's cardio fitness is between fair and average.
Image description: A screen capture from my Fitbit app that indicates my cardio fitness on a multicoloured bar with numbers ranging from 24.6 to 39.5. My fitness level is indicated at Fair to Average 27-31 and is in a blue segment of the bar. Text at the top of the image reads: Heart Rate. Cardio Fitness. Your estimate is between Fair and Average for women your age.

PS – I undoubtedly knew some or all of this before. And I may have put some pieces together before. If you had asked me, I probably could have told you that improving cardio fitness is a good idea and that things like HIIT would help. However, when I want to take things on for myself, I always need to have proper context in order to hold on to or apply the information I have. For some reason this chart gave me the right container for the information and let me make a plan. The new level of ADHD meds I started in early December are probably helping this whole process, too.

*Yes, I know that is not an idea situation to be in but I knew it would be relatively short-lived and the effort to juggle was far less than the effort to adjust all my other routines so I just got help where and when I could, took breaks whenever possible, and just juggled the heck out things the rest of the time. And, finally, as of mid-December, a few things finished up and I was back within my capacity and mostly in charge of my schedule. YAY!

fitness · habits · health · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · stretching

Making Space: Day 23

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it’s going to be tricky to find a little space during these next three days.

And for those of us who don’t, you will still be facing similar challenges as you try to maintain space for yourself amidst the commitments, activities, and obligations of a full life.

The pressures might be different in each case but the results are the same – very little room to take good care of yourself.

I hope that you can figure out a way to make a little space today. Maybe with these videos, maybe with something else.

I know that I often feel like I don’t have five minutes to spare but later in the day I will realize how often I checked my phone or scrolled through social media posts.

Hanging out on social media isn’t a bad thing, as long as it feels like a real break and you feel like you are connecting with the people whose posts you see. But, I often find that when I feel ‘too busy’ to do a short exercise video or ‘too agitated’ to meditation, I’ll hop on social media to get a break and it won’t feel good. It will add to my feeling of busy-ness, it will amplify my agitation.

In those cases, social media feels like an easy way to take a moment for myself but it’s not really taking a break, it’s just kind of checking out. It would be better for me to take just a minute and breathe deeply or to do a few neck stretches and then make a decision about how to proceed through the rest of my list, rather than numbly scrolling through Facebook and losing track of time.

Now, I am speaking from my own experience, I am not criticizing you and I am not condemning social media. Social media is a great tool in many ways. And you know yourself best, you can tell if you are taking a break or just checking out. And I hope you can do things in the way that serves you best.

If you have decided that movement or meditation would be good for you right now, here are your videos for today.

Remember, you can do just part of them if that makes sense for you. Please be kind to yourself about this and about everything else. (Your gold star is below the videos.)

I really enjoyed this back stretch routine. It’s straightforward and clear and made my back feel quite relaxed.

Here’s a lower back stretch video from physiotherapist Michelle Kenway’s YouTube channel. The still image shows the instructor in exercise clothes lying on a purple yoga mat. The camera angle shows the top of her head and her raised knees and her left arm extended out to the side. The words ‘Back Stretch Routine’ are visible on the upper right.

And here’s our meditation. This one felt really short to me today, I hope that’s a good sign for my subconscious state of mind.

A 5 minute meditation from the Goodful YouTube channel. The still image is a cartoon drawing of a person with long hair, wearing a link shirt and black shorts sitting crossed legged in a classic meditation posture. In the background are drawings of leaves, branches and shapes in shades of blue and white. The background colour is light green.

Whether you try these videos, do your own making space thing, or just take a view deep breaths while you drive, you type, or you cook, I hope you have a little room for yourself today.

Here’s your gold star for your efforts: ⭐️

fitness · health · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · stretching

Making Space: Day 20

I’m a bit under the weather today so I need to make as much space as I can for rest.

I’ve pared my to-do list down to the absolute necessities and I have selected these very short but still useful videos.

And I am keeping this post short, too.

Here is your star for your efforts today: ⭐️

May you have ease.

A morning stretch video from Megan Livingstone’s YouTube channel. Still image shows a person in a tank top and leggings stretching on a bed in a room lit with natural light.

A very quick meditation today, just a short wish for you to bless yourself with.

A less-than-2-minute LovingKindness Meditation from an interview with Sylvia Boorstein from the On Being YouTube channel. Still image shows the dark green outline of a triangle against a lighter green background. Text beneath the triangle reads ‘May I feel strong.‘
fitness · habits · health · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · self care · yoga

Making Space: Day 17

When I committed to writing this posts for December, I thought I understood the value of making space for yourself during a busy time. And I would have sworn that I knew the rewards of small exercise and meditation practices.

But obviously there are levels of understanding when it comes to this stuff because I am thrilled with how different I feel from doing (and writing about) these things daily.

I hope that you are getting at least some of the same effect.

It can be really easy to dismiss a short practice in anything, whether it is meditation, Taekwondo, piano, or deep breathing. The truth is that those short practices are not only surprisingly good in themselves but their cumulative effect is delightful.

For a little more delight today, here’s Joelle with some lower back reset yoga in a beautiful setting.

(It’s really cold here today so seeing this summery scene was extra lovely.)

A short yoga practice for the lower back from Yoga with Joelle. In the still image, Joelle is outdoors ona dock with lush greenery and water in the background. She lying on her back on a yoga mat with her knees curled up toward her chest and her arms wrapped around them.

And for some restful breathing today, here’s a short meditation to try:

A 5 minute guided meditation for mindfulness from the Declutter the Mind YouTube channel. Image description:?The still image is of a waterfall surround by rocks and trees. The name of the video ‘Short 5 Min Guided Meditation for Mindfulness’ is in the foreground in white text.

As always, I wish you ease and space in your day.

And here’s a star for your efforts: ⭐️

fitness · habits · health · holiday fitness · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · yoga

Making Space: Day 9

I have a busy day today and it doesn’t feel like I will have much time to work with but I’m in the habit of making space for my daily practices. Now and I don’t want to break it!

Here are two short videos, five minute chair yoga and a 1 minute breathing exercise.

I hope, no matter how busy you are today, that you have time for at least 6 minutes to yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you spend those 6 minutes with these videos or doing something else that you enjoy, just do whatever you can to make space for yourself.

Here’s a star for your efforts – ⭐️

And here are our videos:

A 5 minute office yoga break video from the Yoga with Uliana YouTube channel. Still image features Uliana, dressed in a white shirt and dark pants, sitting on an chair in a white room. There is a potted plant on a table in one corner.
A 1 minute breathing exercise video from the Calm Sage YouTube channel. The still image shows a light green circle in the foreground with rippled water in the background.

fitness · health · holiday fitness · meditation · mindfulness · motivation

Making Space: Day 5

Let’s start with awarding a gold star for your efforts so far.

A gold-coloured glass​ star-shaped ornament lies flat on a wooden tabletop. The gold paint on the ornament has a crackled effect.
Image description: a gold-coloured glass star-shaped ornament lies flat on a wooden tabletop. The gold paint on the ornament has a crackled effect.

Even if you haven’t managed to make any space for yourself yet, you have been trying to find that space and your efforts count.

Changing patterns and getting into the habit of making space for yourself make take time, and that’s ok.

Maybe today is the day you can fit in one or both of these videos, or even part of one.

Everything counts!

I love this warm-up from Fitness Blender. It’s short, it’s straightforward, and it has enough variety to keep me from getting bored.

A warm-up video from the Fitness Blender YouTube channel. The still image features a person with long blond hair in black workout clothes standing with one foot on the ground and the other foot raised behind her in mid-kick against a white background.

And as for meditation, I thought we’d check out a waking meditation today.

A walking meditation video from the MyLife YouTube channel. The still image is of a light green circle against a darker green background. Text I’m the circle reads ‘Mindful Walking’

Whether you try these videos, try other videos, or try something all your own, I wish you ease, peace, and space today.

fitness · health · research

Are pushups and grip strength the Magic 8 balls of longevity?

There are so many questions we don’t have answers for. Some are extremely important, like “what will life with COVID be like in 2-5 years?” Others are less serious but perhaps more urgent, as in “should I keep those bananas around another day in hopes of actually making banana bread, or give up and throw them out?”

Comic with old  banana saying it will be banana bread, and other banana (who is smoking) says "nobody is ever banana bread".
I never knew some bananas smoked.

Another area where we spend a lot of time and money searching for answers is human longevity. How long will we live? What will help us live longer? What will help us live better?

Chickens discussing bucket lists. One said that chickens don't do that because of the whole KFC thing.
Apparently, bucket list comics are a whole sub-genre.

A few years ago, I wrote about the sit-rise test, a candidate predictor of life expectancy. Sam wrote about it before me (we keep track of these things, so you don’t have to).

But life expectancy prediction science has moved on to other things, namely grip strength and pushups. What is their current revealed wisdom?

Magic 8 ball image saying "concentrate and ask again".
Magic 8 ball image saying “concentrate and ask again”.

Okay. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT GRIP STRENGTH AND PUSHUPS AS PREDICTORS OF LIFE EXPECTANCY? (I thought louder might help).

In this 2019 Atlantic article, the author cites several studies that suggest grip strength is associated with mortality risk:

In 2018, a study of half a million middle-aged people found that lung cancer, heart disease, and all-cause mortality were well predicted by the strength of a person’s grip.

Yes, how hard you can squeeze a grip meter. This was a better predictor of mortality than blood pressure or overall physical activity. A prior study found that grip strength among people in their 80s predicted the likelihood of making it past 100. Even more impressive, grip strength had good predictive ability in a study among 18-year-olds in the Swedish military on cardiovascular death 25 years later.

So what’s going on here? Grip strength is standing in as a proxy for muscle strength and (possibly erroneously) fitness in people as they age. Muscle strength decreases as we age. There’s not overall consensus on how, at what rates, where, for whom, and why, though.

More importantly, health science doesn’t know to what extent muscle loss is genetic or the result of physical activity and nutrition. In this Washington Post article, one researcher even says that grip strength doesn’t necessarily change with exercise. If that’s the case, then why are these articles using this correlation to admonish us to get out there and exercise more (including, I assume, grabbing lots of heavy things)?

The Magic 8 Ball says, "don't ask me".
The Magic 8 Ball says, “don’t ask me”.

This Atlantic article does have an answer. But first, a few words about the potentially prognosticatory properties of pushups.

In a study done on firefighters, researchers found that pushup tests were better at predicting cardiovascular disease than a standard treadmill stress test. Some experts think this result could extend to the general population.

“Push-ups are another marker in a consistent story about whole-body exercise capacity and mortality,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic whose work focuses on the limits of human performance. “Any form of whole-body engagement becomes predictive of mortality if the population is large enough.”

Hmmm… I guess this means we can just set up hula hoop testing at the local registries of motor vehicles and polling places, and then we’ll know all we need to about people’s overall health?

You've got to be kidding. I'm with you, Magic 8 ball.
You’ve got to be kidding. I’m with you, Magic 8 ball.

What makes health expects so psyched about these sorts of one-and-done health tests is that they are 1) cheap; 2) quick and easy to administer; and 3) believed to offer a snapshot of someone’s overall physical capacities, says the Atlantic article. But do we know this, above and beyond the broad population correlation studies (which have their own limitations)?

No, says Magic 8 Ball.
No.

We do know, for instance, that grip strength declines over time in the absence of disease. We know that osteoarthritis and lots of other common physical conditions interfere with pushup abilities. We don’t know how lower grip strength in younger populations correlates with anything. And, we have no idea whether these statistically significant mortality risks are clinically significant (that is, whether the increased risk will translate into diagnosed clinical conditions).

We do have a lot of evidence that physical activities of many sorts are good for us. They can feel good, they can help us feel good after doing them, and they can bring us together with other people, which also feels good. That’s good.

One last question, Magic 8 Ball: will I make banana bread with those overripe bananas in my kitchen?

All signs point to yes, or maybe no.
All signs point to yes, or maybe no.

Readers, what do you think about these one-and-done overall life expectancy tests? Are you working on your grip strength while reading this? Let me know what you think.

health · self care

World Kindness Day: Make Kindness the Norm

It’s World Kindness Day and I thought it would be a good idea to post some resources to help you explore this year’s theme ‘Make Kindness the Norm.’

a promotional image for World Kindness Day that reads 'Kind People Are My Kind Of People' in the center and 'World Kindness Day 2021' in the bottom right.
Image description: Multi-coloured text in the center of the image (against a white background) reads ‘Kind People Are My Kind Of People.’ In the bottom right corner is black text that reads ‘World Kindness Day’ and orange text that reads ‘2021’ with the url inspirekindness.com in black and orange beneath. The black letters in ‘World Kindness Day’ look as if they were cut from an image of the sun rising behind planet Earth. Image source

Encouraging people to be kind to themselves is one of my favourite things to do. I have a whole series of Go Team! posts here on the blog and I wrote a post about self-kindness this time last year.

I also love encouraging people to be kind to others but I tend to do that more in person (and I hope by leading by example) than I do in writing. However, given this year’s theme, I thought I would try to write a bit more about being kind to others.

With the way things are structured these days, it often feels like we are rewarded for snarkiness or snap judgements. There is a sense that we are in constant competition and that it is everyone for themselves.

It takes some effort to look beneath that dominant narrative and see the everyday kindness and the big-picture-positive projects that are happening all around us. It’s worth the work to find them though and once you start noticing them, you will begin to see them more and more often.

Obviously there are a lot of bad things going on in the world and a lot of things that need to change. I would never suggest that you ignore those issues but while we are working on them, we can also work on creating more kindness in the world.

Please don’t get caught up in the idea that kindnesses that you can perform and participate have to be grand gestures and huge tasks. Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in one person’s life and making a small contribution to a bigger project can have a wide-ranging effect.

Kindness at any scale is incredibly powerful.

Image description: a sepia photo of a country road extending into the distance with trees and bushes on both sides. White text in the center reads ‘Do small things, with great love.’ and a small read triangle beneath the text attributes the quote to Mother Teresa. image source.
An image of a tweet from the UN (@UN) that reads: During times of difficulty, love and solidarity can help us stay strong. Saturday’s #WorldKindnessDay is an opportunity to demonstrate how small acts of kindness can create a better world for us all. The tweet includes an image from artist Margaret To which shows multicoloured dots arranged in rows with a yellow heart as the centre dot. The text in the image reads ‘Your kindness is contagious’

I’m not at all suggesting that you flip a switch and turn into a selfless person who operates only from kindness. Instead, I’m inviting you to make a difference for everyone involved by choosing the kindest option whenever it presents itself.

I think it would be good for the health, wellness, and brain space of everyone involved.

Note: a quick google search will produce tons of articles showing how being kind to others benefits us, I like the idea of letting go of that expectation and being kind for its own sake. I’m not suggesting that you dismiss the good feelings that may arise from kindness, those are terrific, but I think that having those feelings as our goal can lead to disappointment.

If you want some specific suggestions for kind actions, here’s a great list from the Random Acts of Kindness website:

An image from Random Acts of Kindness that has a list of kindness ideas featured on a white rectangle against a background of a flower with multicoloured petals. The text on the image reads '7 ways to start making kindness the norm in your daily life 1. send an uplifting text to a friend or family member. 2. Let that guy merge into traffic with a wave and a smile. 3. Include intentional moments of kindness, laughter and delight in your daily routine. 4. Go slightly outside of your comfort zone at least once a day to make someone smile. 5. Share a complement with a coworker or friend. 6. Reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. 7. Treat someone to a cup of coffee a friend, a stranger, or even yourself.  Larger text under the white rectangle reads: Make kindness the norm. #WorldKindnessDay #BigKindnessTheNorm www.RandomActsofkindness.org
An image from Random Acts of Kindness that has a list of kindness ideas featured on a white rectangle against a background of a flower with multicoloured petals. The text on the image reads ‘7 ways to start making kindness the norm in your daily life 1. send an uplifting text to a friend or family member. 2. Let that guy merge into traffic with a wave and a smile. 3. Include intentional moments of kindness, laughter and delight in your daily routine. 4. Go slightly outside of your comfort zone at least once a day to make someone smile. 5. Share a complement with a coworker or friend. 6. Reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. 7. Treat someone to a cup of coffee a friend, a stranger, or even yourself.  Larger text under the white rectangle reads: Make kindness the norm. #WorldKindnessDay #MakeKindnessTheNorm www.RandomActsofkindness.org
 

I also found these great resources for you to explore:

Unconditional positive regard is an ongoing kindness that can strengthen our relationships.

Download a Kindness Calendar

Some Ways to be Kind to Yourself

How to be More Kind

More Kindness Resources at Random Acts of Kindness and at Inspire Kindness

A small kindness challenge from Greater Good Science Center.

This embedded video from the MyLife YouTube channel is entitled ‘Kindness Meditation (Strengthen Happiness)’
This embedded YouTube video is from the Greater Good Science Center and is entitled ‘Being Kinder to Yourself’
fit at mid-life · health · interview

Walking Her Talk…And Her Writing: An Interview With Author Ann Douglas


I first ‘met’ Ann Douglas around 20 years ago when my information-seeking pregnant self picked up her Mother of all Pregnancy Books at Chapters. I loved her writing – she wasn’t the expert talking down to the novice, she was the experienced friend giving you some perspective on whatever you were dealing with right now.

We started chatting back and forth on blogs back in the day and I volunteered to be interviewed for some of her other parenting books, and, in the process, we’ve become good friends. I’ve only seen Ann once in person but we have stayed in touch with phone calls, Zoom chats, and email.

A few years ago, Ann took up the habit of long daily walks and it has been life-changing for her so I thought that Fit as a Feminist Issue readers might enjoy hearing about her routine and about her other projects and interests.

  Image description: Two middle-aged adults in life jackets smile for the camera. Ann, on the right, has curly grey hair. Neil, on the left, has short grey hair and a moustache and he is wearing sunglasses. The deck of a boat and some lake water can be seen behind them.​
Ann Douglas and her husband, Neil, on a boat ride this summer. Image description: Two middle-aged adults in life jackets smile for the camera. Ann, on the right, has curly grey hair. Neil, on the left, has short grey hair and a moustache and he is wearing sunglasses. The deck of a boat and some lake water can be seen behind them.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous bestselling parenting books and she is currently
writing a book for and about women at midlife. She lives on a lake in a rural area outside of Bancroft, Ontario.

What are some of your current projects (fitness-related or otherwise)? 


I’m hard at work on a book for and about women at midlife, I’m doing a lot of volunteer work related to electoral reform, and I’m taking full advantage of the precious and time-limited gift that is a Canadian summer. For me, that means going for twice-daily walks on a rural road and paddling in my kayak a couple of times each week.



I know that walks are an important part of your daily life. Can you tell me when that started, some details about your routine, and what benefits you have found from incorporating walking into your routine? Does it help your peace of mind? Your feeling of well-being? Your writing?


Walking is a key ingredient in the recipe for a happy, healthy me. I started walking back in 2013, after being completely sedentary for most of my life. And when I say “sedentary,” I mean sedentary. Even a 15-minute walk around the block triggered debilitating foot pain. (I was morbidly obese at the time and my feet were having difficulty dealing with the additional weight I was carrying.) The clock was ticking (I was about to turn 50) and I knew that I needed to find a way to be physically active on a regular basis if I wanted to reduce my risk of developing some of the serious health problems that tend to run in my family, including heart disease and diabetes.


When I started walking, I had physical health goals in mind. What I hadn’t counted on was the impact that regular physical activity would have on my mental health. My twice-daily walks not only help to put the brakes on my anxiety: they also help me to sleep better at night which, in turn, helps to control my anxiety and boost my mood. This has proven to be a complete gamechanger for me, in terms of my mood and my overall quality of life. (I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 years ago.) Getting enough sleep and physical activity are the glue that holds everything together.


Walking has also helped me to manage another major health challenge. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease: a balance and dizziness disorder that, in my case, is characterized by really acute attacks of vertigo (the kind where you end up throwing up for a couple of hours straight). I quickly figured out that walking as soon as possible after a vertigo attack helps to reset my vestibular system; and that walking regularly helps to maintain the health of my vestibular system. Walking is a key strategy for minimizing the impact of my Meniere’s disease (along with getting enough sleep; minimizing my intake of salt and caffeine; and avoiding alcohol). I also try to minimize stress, but that can be a little hit and miss.


However, the walking helps with that, so even if I’m more stressed than I’d like to be, at least I have a strategy for dialing back the level of stress.


I’m really lucky that I live in a naturally spectacular part of Ontario, so walking automatically means spending time in nature, because I’m surrounded by nature the moment I step outside my front door. That’s a huge benefit: being able to nurture my life-long love affair with nature while I’m nurturing my body at the same time.


You were asking about the impact of walking on my writing. I deliberately take the first of my twice-daily walks at lunchtime, midway through my working day. It’s a way to recharge my mental batteries, just as they’re starting to lose their charge. And often when I’m out for my walk, a solution to a writing-related problem will pop into my head. (“Wait a minute: Chapter 4 should actually be Chapter 1!”) It’s pretty magical, how that works.

Image description: a rural road extends around a curve. The ground is covered with snow and there are snow-covered trees on​ either side of the lightly-plowed road.
A scene from one of Ann’s walks this past winter. Image description: a rural road extends around a curve. The ground is covered with snow and there are snow-covered trees on either side of the lightly-plowed road.


How do you feel about fitness as a key element in self-care?


It’s a huge deal for me. My younger self would be amazed to know that I grew up to be an adult who is an active living evangelist. I hated gym class when I was a kid. Like really hated it….


Being physically active on a regular basis has also given me some newfound body confidence. I’m willing to try new things that I simply wouldn’t have been willing to try before I became physically active. Two years ago, I bought myself a kayak and now I love kayaking. Younger me would have been convinced I wasn’t athletic or coordinated enough to go kayaking. Midlife me knows better!


You are writing a book about women at mid-life and the founders of this blog, Sam & Tracy, have written a book called ‘Fit at Mid-Life.’  I’m interested to know if fitness came up in your research as an important element for women at mid-life. If so, could you tell
me a bit about that?


It definitely came up a lot—and a lot of these conversations were about guilt: the guilt women felt for not being able to be as physically active as they wanted to be. Midlife is crunch time for a lot of women—a time of life when they’re asked to juggle an impossible number of responsibilities and to live up to sky-high expectations of what it means to be living well at midlife. Sometimes important things fall off their to do lists, simply because there isn’t enough of them to go around. That isn’t something that they should be feeling guilty about. It’s something our culture should be feeling guilty about—for asking so much of women that they don’t always have the capacity to take good care of themselves.

As a parenting author, did you find that fitness was a concern for the parents you interviewed or who sought your advice? If so, could you share a bit about that, too?


This definitely came up in the research for my most recent parenting book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. Once again, there was a lot of guilt as well as frustration with the very real barriers that can prevent parents from exercising as often as they’d like, and for some parents more than others. For example, if you don’t live in a safe and walkable neighbourhood, being active can be a huge challenge. Ditto if you’re a single parent who doesn’t have anyone else available to give you a break so that you can go for a walk by yourself. (Sure, you can walk with a child, but research shows that exercising with kids doesn’t necessarily reap the same fitness benefits as exercising on your own, as anyone who has ever tried to go for a walk with a toddler can attest. You’ll get to see a lot of dandelions, but you might not get a very robust workout.)


But back to the guilt—both guilt for not being able to take time for yourself so you can exercise and guilt for actually taking that time.


I think the best way to deal with that guilt is to simply ask yourself, “What’s reasonable and sustainable for me right now?” and to look for a way to start with something. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment. It doesn’t have to happen every day. And maybe you can mentally frame it a way that actually feels good: as a nice thing you’re doing for yourself as opposed to yet another obligation to add to an already too long to do list. (“I get to go for a 10-minute walk around the block” as opposed to “I have to….”)

Image description: a bright blue fibreglass kayak is tied up at a small floating dock on a lake. The kayak cover rests on the dock and we can see the water all around the dock and the kayak.
Ann’s kayak awaits her next paddling adventure. Image description: a bright blue fibreglass kayak is tied up at a small floating dock on a lake. The kayak cover rests on the dock and we can see the water all around the dock and the kayak.


The name of this blog is Fit is a Feminist Issue. Does the connection between feminism and fitness resonate with you? If so, how?


Yes, and on so many levels! First of all, in terms of body love and self-acceptance. Being
physically active on a regular basis has allowed me to feel good about my body in ways that I didn’t even think were possible, given the toxic cultural messages women are given about their bodies. A lot of the women I’ve interviewed for my book have been quite explicit about the need to break up with the patriarchy—how that is a path to liberation for them, both personally and politically—and I couldn’t agree more. Gender roles as prescribed by our patriarchal culture make it more challenging for women to find the time or to have the other resources necessary to take good care of themselves. And, of course, those challenges are intersectional, with some women being impacted so much more than others. My rage about these issues intensifies as I grow older. I just want things to be better, and not just for women like me (a cis, heterosexual, white middle class woman). I want things to be better for all women. Because we deserve nothing less.

Is there anything you would like to talk about that arose from other questions but that I didn’t directly ask about?

I guess I’d just add a quick note about self-compassion. There’s a lot of research to show that women who treat themselves with self-compassion are more likely to recover from an exercise setback (for example, an injury, a family emergency, or something else that disrupts their plans to be physically active). Instead of beating themselves up for having to put their workouts on hold, they simply treat themselves with the same kindness as they would show to a friend who was facing a similar challenge. Instead of feeling like giving up, they feel like they can re-engage with their exercise goal. Learning about self-compassion was life-changing for me, which is why I’m always talking about it.