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.

health · mindfulness · motivation · self care

Christine is letting an app boss her around

I have been receiving the Action for Happiness newsletter for years. I usually read it at the beginning of the month, glance at the included calendar, and occasionally I refer back to it a few times over the following weeks.

Here’s the ‘Self-Care September’ calendar:

a multi-coloured Action for Happiness calendar with cartoon drawings of a clock, a person looking at photos, two people hugging, and a kettle, tea and cookies around the edges. This month's theme is 'Self-Care September' and each block of the calendar has a different prompt for self-care.
Image description: a multi-coloured Action for Happiness calendar with cartoon drawings of a clock, a person looking at photos, two people hugging, and a kettle, tea and cookies around the edges. This month’s theme is ‘Self-Care September’ and each block of the calendar has a different prompt for self-care. An accessible PDF is available here. Image source

This month, though, something made me give it a closer look and I finally noticed that Action for Happiness is on Instagram and that they have an app.

And even though I usually avoid letting apps send me notifications, I impulsively agreed to let them interrupt me. And I am really glad I did.

I am now on my third day of being bossed around by this app and I LOVE it.

It’s such a cool thing to get a reminder of one simple way to be kinder to myself today (I mean, that’s my kind (ha!) of thing anyway but it’s fun to get a prompt that I didn’t come up with.)

For example, here’s yesterday’s prompt:

Image Description: an embedded image from the Action for Happiness Instagram feed. There is a pink background and a simple drawing of a person with beard washing dishes in a sink. There are several dishes on the counter beside the sink. The caption says ‘Notice the things you do well, however small.’ The bottom right corner of the image appears to be folded back so there is a red triangle in that corner. A small white banner at the bottom reads ‘Action for Happiness.’

When I got that on Thursday morning, I actually took a moment to think about the fact that I’m good at remembering everyone’s schedule and that I was happy with the drawing I had made the night before. Without the prompt, I still would have known those things but I probably wouldn’t have taken the moment to consider them and I would have missed out on that feeling of satisfaction.

I’m looking forward to a whole month of being bossed into moments of happiness.

I think it will be really good for my brain and that has to be good for the rest of me too, right?

PS: If this kind of calendar seems vaguely familiar, it’s because I wrote about them before.

fitness · health · strength training

YouTube Rabbitholes and Squatting Advice

Usually I set up a playlist of YouTube videos to watch while I zip back and forth on the rowing machine but one day last week I forgot and just clicked a single video.

The resulting rabbithole of videos brought me to this useful video about deep squats.

I haven’t given much thought to squats because I’m pretty good at them. I usually only overthink exercises that I struggle with (Ha!) and I wouldn’t have searched for a video on squatting.

So, except for YouTube’s algorithm I wouldn’t have seen this video and then I would have missed out on some intriguing advice.

Taro Iwamoto has solid incremental progressions for getting into a deep squat which are useful but the real gem for me here was his advice about when to use squats.

He says not to think about squats as an exercise but to think about how to make them part of your daily routine. In particular, he suggests reading or watching TV or eating a meal while squatting, starting with short periods and increasing when you’re ready.

I have often thought about my fitness in a functional sort of way, considering how my efforts could help make my daily activities easier. But I don’t think I have connected my exercises and my activities the way he is suggesting.

I’ve already started squatting for a few minutes while reading (and I’ve written part of this post while squatting on my yoga mat) and I am intrigued by the idea of incorporating more stretching/strength training type movements into other parts of my day.

I’m not thinking of this in a multitasking sort of fashion and I’m not trying to ‘sneak in’ some extra exercise.

It’s more like exploring what ELSE I could be doing instead of sitting or standing in one spot for routine tasks.

I think it will be interesting for both my body and for my busy brain.

Image description:  a GIF  from the animated series ‘Pinky and the Brain’ in which The Brain, a large-headed, white cartoon mouse with pink eyes and ears is asking Pinky, a skinny white mouse with blue eyes and pink ears, one of his regular questions “Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
Image description: a GIF from the animated series ‘Pinky and the Brain’ in which The Brain, a large-headed, white cartoon mouse with pink eyes and ears is asking Pinky, a skinny white mouse with blue eyes and pink ears, one of his trademark questions “Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?”

So, if you drop by my place and I’m reading a novel while in downward dog or I am washing dishes while standing on one foot, you’ll know what’s up…or down, I guess. 😉

What aspects of your exercise routine could you incorporate into the rest of your daily life?

fitness · health · interview

Christine Interviews Her Personal Fitness Icon: Her Cousin Kathy Noseworthy

A silhouette of a person doing yoga on a beach at dusk.
Image description: Kathy is doing a standing yoga pose at dusk on a beach. Only her silhouette is visible against the darkening sky.

Maybe *your* mental image of an athlete is someone famous but *my* mental image of an athlete is my cousin, Kathy Noseworthy.

She has always been the fittest person that I know and most of my memories of her involve her being in motion.

I can remember being around 3 or so and she would come to dinner at our family’s apartment before going to practice on the field behind our house. I remember being impressed by all the sports awards she won (I still am!) And I have a clear image of me and my Mom looking after one of Kathy’s baby daughters so she could go out for a run. It was the first time I realized that having a baby didn’t mean that everything in your life had to be all about the baby (an important lesson for a young teenager.)

Kathy turned sixty last year and her Facebook posts are as action-oriented as ever. Her activities have changed but the way that fitness shapes her life has not. (And she’s every bit as inspiring to me now as she has been all along.)

Kathy is a retired Physical Education teacher who teaches yoga at Modo Yoga St. John’s and I was delighted when she agreed to chat with me about fitness, exercise, and the changes she has made so her body keeps feeling good about her activities.

My questions/comments are in bold.

Tell me a bit about yoga – your teaching and your personal practice.

Right now I’m just teaching yoga virtually, and I’m about to take July and August off. I’m going into my sixth year teaching yoga so this is a much needed break.

I’ll do my own practice. I’ll usually do yin, that’s what my body needs mostly. Because I get the yang part of my fitness in my other activities. I need to do yin yoga to keep up my flexibility, my agility, and you know, all of that stuff. And yin does that for me at this stage in my life. That feels the best in my body.

I love that as a measure, what feels best. 

To me, that’s the piece that people miss, no matter what they’re doing. They’re so goal-oriented or just like, “I’m just going to do it, it doesn’t feel good but I’ve just got to do it. I know I got to do it.” And I’m like, “Well, if it doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to keep doing it.”

So aside from yoga, what are your other activities?

Well, I do a fair bit of biking. I run but not as much as I used to, because that no longer feels good in my body. So, on a good week, if I run three times when that would be it.  But I’d say, on average, maybe twice a week.  The distance would depend on how I’m feeling, I never have a set distance in mind. 

I generally don’t go less than five but I rarely go more than eight anymore. That’s where I am with that and that feels ok. 

The thing I am probably most adamant about these days are weights because of my age (60 and I don’t want to lose my muscle mass. Even though that’s kind of inevitable but not if you want to work hard enough at it. I just lift weights to retain what I have, I’m not really that interested in becoming super strong, I just want to be functionally strong. 

So, I lift weights and again, my goal is three times a week. 

I walk, I do a lot of walking. 

The new thing I’m doing now is pickleball. That’s a cross between badminton and tennis, I guess. It’s a great sport, a paddle sport that you play with a wiffleball. I’ve been playing since last fall and I love it. 

Oh, and paddleboard. For me, that’s just a leisurely activity out on the water. It’s so nice, so relaxing.  

A woman stands on a paddleboard, floating on a body of water. She is holding an oar.
Image description: Kathy is smiling while standing on a paddleboard, holding an oar, floating on the water. There are trees and houses in the background.

So, how have your activities changed over time? You don’t play frisbee any more, right?

No, not anymore.

Now, I’m more concerned with maintaining a healthy body. Because I don’t think I would be a very nice person if I ended up getting injured and couldn’t do the things I want to do.

I’m very particular. I gauge the activity in terms of whether it’s going to be worth it to me,   and what’s the cost if I get injured? 

So, I stay away from things that I can’t control. Team sports, I don’t play team sports anymore because you don’t have control over everybody on the field so I tend to stay away from that. 

I’ve definitely shifted from team sports, which is, a total shift because that’s all I ever did. The traditional sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, even frisbee. I used to really enjoy it but now I’m just a bit more of a loner in terms of what I do. 

That’s how I’ve shifted and that’s more toward protecting my body. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the sports, it’s just about what makes sense at this point in my life. 

What about what about non physical benefits from your exercise? How do you think it helps your mental health, for example?

Oh, that’s so huge. I rarely take a day off but when I do try to take a day off, by mid-afternoon, I need to do something. It’s a mental thing.

That just might be a walk. I don’t consider that something that I couldn’t do on a day off.  

I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have activity as my outlet. 

I almost don’t know how to answer this question because I have never not exercised. It’s almost like something that just happens to me naturally. It’s not something I have to force or motivate myself. 

I mean, sometimes I have to motivate myself to go to the gym or go for a run. But, generally speaking, if I’m feeling like I don’t want to do anything, that’s when I need to do something because once I move, that inspires me to move more. 

But if I sit on my butt all day and do nothing, it just doesn’t put me in a good place. 

Once I start moving, I’m like, “Ok!” And I want to move more.

A woman is standing and holding up her bike in a wooded area with a body of water behind her.
Image description: Kathy on her bike on a sunny day. There is a body of water and trees in the background.

How do you feel about the idea of fitness as a feminist issue, as part of women feeling empowered?

It’s funny that you asked that because I was saying to my friend last week, just as it pertains to lifting weights, when you feel strong physically, you feel strong mentally. I think the benefits there, I wish more women could take that on more.

I think some women are like “I don’t want to have muscles, I don’t want to get big.” but they don’t understand how hard you would have to work to get big. But knowing that when you touch your arm, you feel the muscle, you feel strong, that translates to you mentally. It’s hard not to feel empowered when you have that strength.

Lifting weights empowers women.

I didn’t always feel that way, I didn’t even think about it, really.

But now, I see women at the gym, lifting weights, and they are just so confident, the way they carry themselves, they just like how they are.

That’s empowering.

***********

Thanks for the great chat, Kathy!

fitness · health

Pushing for Equality on World Health Day

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated April 7 as World Health Day and calls for us all to reflect on health, the conditions need for good health, health care, and access to that care.

The theme for 2021 – Building a fairer, healthier world – is about recognizing that good health and good health care is something that everyone deserves, not just some people in some places.

This is, obviously, a complex issue. We could (and do!) have a lot of discussions about what ‘health’ means and we could (and do!) discuss the myriad of ways that bias and prejudice affect access to health and health care, even in the wealthiest parts of the world. But the complexity of the issue doesn’t mean that we cannot begin to address it.

I like how the World Health Organization has structured this year’s campaign to both acknowledge the inequalities and to call on the world’s leaders to improve access to health care.

Their phrasing about the unequal access to the conditions for good health applies just as much to changes needed for health care in remote villages as it does those needed to assist a marginalized person seeking health care in a wealthy city:

This [inequality] is not only unfair: it is preventable. That’s why we are calling on leaders to ensure that everyone has living and working conditions that are conducive to good health.  At the same time we urge leaders to monitor health inequities, and to ensure that all people are able to access quality health services when and where they need them. from the World Health Day website

Image description: a poster with a light blue background featuring a  sketch of an exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads "hello world.  we agree that health is a right, not a privilege. it's time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere." The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image.
Image description: a poster with a light blue background featuring a sketch of an exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads “hello world. we agree that health is a right, not a privilege. it’s time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere.” The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image. Source: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2021

While their campaign extends to equity in health care of all kinds, there is also a special focus on access to resources and treatments to fight COVID-19.

From their website: “COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, but its impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.

Image description: a black background featuring a  sketch of a blue exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads "hello world.  we must make covid-19 vaccines tests and treatments available to all. it's time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere." The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image.
Image description: a black background featuring a sketch of a blue exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads “hello world. we must make covid-19 vaccine tests and treatments available to all. it’s time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere.” The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image. Source: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2021

There are lots of groups and activists who have been raising awareness and taking action on these issues throughout the world. Still, the general perception is that health (and access to proper health care) is an individual issue/problem or accomplishment. In that system of thinking, individuals are blamed or judged for their health status.

I hope that this campaign and others like it helps more people to see the systemic issues and misguided policies that fuel the inequalities in health and health care around the world.

Since this issue is so complex, and since the call is to world leaders rather than to individuals, it seems difficult for one person (especially those of us with little political clout) to take any action to make a difference.

But, just like with any change, we have to start small.

If you know of a resource, a petition, or an organization that is seeking change in access to healthy living or working conditions for people anywhere in the world, or if you know of one that is working for change in health care access, please share it in the comments so others can find out about it and take whatever action they can.

fitness · health · weight loss · weight stigma

6 things Sam hates about seeing doctors, as a larger person (#reblog, #bloglove)

I’ve been putting off making a doctor’s appointment. Don’t worry. I will, eventually. But here is part of the story about why.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

None of this is true about my current set of health practitioners. But they took awhile to find. Right now I’m halfway between jobs and cities and I’m looking for a new family doctor to start. It’s tough. And here’s why!

1. They believe ridiculous things about me. See this article about doctors and bias against larger patient. “Much research has shown that clinicians have biases related to overweight and obesity, conditions that affect more than two-thirds of U.S. adults, Dr. Gudzune said. “[With] the magnitude of the effect of obesity in our country, a substantial number of people are experiencing health care disparities as a result,” she said. Studies have consistently shown that physicians associate obesity with such negative attributes as poor hygiene, nonadherence, hostility, and dishonesty, Dr. Gudzune said. “These types of attitudes are pervasive. It’s not just in the U.S. … [but] physicians across the world…

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fitness · health · planning · self care

Christine H says yes to Holidays but no to Holi-daze

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, or some Christmas-like event, or at least for those of us who end up on a different schedule between December 24 & January 1, we are currently at the time of year when the days all run together.

Routines are off kilter – meals happen at weird times, we’re eating a lot of different foods, and our sleep patterns have gone out the window.

This is when we lose all sense of time and end up in a holi-daze.

An especially dangerous thing for those of us on Team ADHD who have a tenuous grasp on the concept in the first place.

Two drawings of stick people. The one on the left is wearing a red santa hat and has the words '1st-26th Dec' above their head and the word 'Festive' as a caption below. The one on the right has a piece of cheese in their hand. The words '27th-31st Dec' above their head and the words 'Confused, Full of cheese, Unsure of the day of week.' as a caption below.
I’m more likely to be full of raisin cake than cheese but this is the feeling I mean! Image credit: Hurrah for Gin

In this odd year, that out-of-phase feeling has been recurring for most of us. The things that give shape to our year have been changed and time has been expanding and contracting around tasks/plans/activities as they mostly moved online.

I think, though, that having that out-of-phase feeling recur so often this year has made me realize (Re-realize? Possibly!) how important schedules are for my mental health.

In previous years, this week would find me with all kinds of lofty ideas about just letting the days progress in any old way, seeing what might appeal to me to do at any given time.

Text above the image reads 'Me, during that weird time between Christmas and New Years where I don't even know what day it is:'  and the image is of the free-spirited character of Phoebe from the TV show 'Friends.' She is wearing a striped onesie and drinking a pink drink through a long straw while she lies on the floor with her head on a pillow.  She is being asked 'Do you have a plan?' and she responds ' I don't even have a pla.' "
Phoebe, from the TV show ‘Friends’ might be able to get away with a lack of structure in her days but I cannot. Image source

I have encountered some fun days that way in the past but mostly, I end up feeling a bit scattered and let down by the end of the day.

Because, as much as the idea of spending a day drifting from task to task might have appeal, in reality, I know that I won’t drift pleasantly from task to task.

Instead, I’ll spend the whole day feeling vaguely dissatisfied and with a looming sense that I should be doing something else.

So, I create a plan for my week and then a shape for each day so my atemporal brain won’t leave me in the in-between with a feeling of frustrated sadness.

Making a loose plan for my week and then giving each day a shape makes me choose how I am going to spend my time. It helps me notice if I am trying to cram too many different things into the time that I have. And creating that shape lets me do important preparatory things like saving enough time to actually make the meals I plan to eat or to drive to the places I want to be.

And, yes, giving my days a shape does include a (fairly flexible) schedule and some rough time limits for my chosen activities.

I know to some this will sound like ‘Christine doesn’t know how to relax.’ but this approach is actually the key to my relaxation.

Khalee, a medium-sized, light-haired dog, sleeps on a  blue flannel pillowcase decorated with frogs , crowns and hearts.
My dog, Khalee, does not need a schedule in order to relax. She apparently just needs to sleep on my pillow when I run downstairs for some pre-bed ginger tea.

For starters, these plans and shapes do not necessarily involve work. My plan for the week includes holiday activities, some special meals, and hanging out with people on Zoom. My shape for a given day might be to read a book for an hour after breakfast, to do some drawing for 45 minutes before lunch, and then to take a long walk at 3pm.

And having that plan, that schedule, is actually restful. It means that time won’t gallop away from me.

It means that I won’t spend the whole week figuring out when to do which activity. And I won’t spend each day continuously trying to decide if now is the ‘right’ time to read, to draw, or to head out for a walk.

And, having that plan, that shape, lets me make stress-free decisions when someone asks me if I want to do something else. If my plan is to go for a walk at 3, and someone asks me to watch a movie at 2, knowing the shape of my day means that I can more easily decide whether to change the time of my walk or to say no to the movie.*

If I know that I have enough time for the things that I really want to do, that I won’t run out of time, that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing at any given time, my brain will stop looping around ‘Now? How about now?’ and give me some ease.

And if that’s not a recipe for a holiday, I don’t know what is.

A small, green, holiday tree is sitting on a white shelf. It is decorated with gold star lights and has a gold star topper. Two points of a large cardboard star can be seen to the right side of the photo and part of a ukulele decorated with the image of a Polynesian-style statue can be seen to the right.
The gold stars on this tree celebrate my self-care efforts this holiday season.

*Perhaps, to the Neurotypical, this may look like overthinking, or as if I am making a big deal out of something simple, but for my ADHD brain, a holiday schedule is a relief. And, I thought that anyone who finds themselves in a holi-daze might borrow some of these ideas for themselves.

covid19 · eating · fitness · habits · health

Taking Stock of Healthy Habits

What are your healthy habits?  What do you do to take care of yourself that requires very little consideration or intentionality?  The pandemic disrupted my healthy habits for a while, but over the last several months, I’ve been able to create new routines, and I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot right now.

What makes something a habit or routine?  These are the things I do just because “it’s what I do.”  If I were to place intentional behaviors on a scale of zero to five, zero meaning they require no thought at all (brushing my teeth in the morning), five meaning they require a conscious effort and a fair amount of discomfort to follow through (signing up for a new activity I have no experience with, like joining a rock climbing gym), habits fall in the levels of 3 or less.  I like to keep my healthy habits in the 0-2 range on this scale, as I am far more successful when they require very little thought or discomfort.  Although those 3 level habits are a place of growth, so I don’t mind that they show up now and again.

I also think of habits as having layers like those Russian nesting dolls–foundational habits create the space to hold a lot of smaller, supporting habits within them.  The stronger my foundational habits, and the less effort they require, the more supporting habits can fit within them and help me build a healthier lifestyle overall.  If you struggle with creating structure and healthy habits, these would be the habits you need to find for yourself–it’s the “big rocks” that make a greater impact on improving your overall health.  Here are some examples of what works for me.

Food/nutrition.

Under the category of eating well, the big foundational habit for me, and this has been true for many years, is sitting down on Saturday to plan my meals for the week and make a grocery list.   With this habit in place, there are many other food-related routines and habits that I give very little thought.

Sunday: Food prep day.  I prepare breakfasts, lunches, and afternoon snacks for the week.  It matters to me to make sure there’s plenty of washed, prepared fruits and vegetables, and I cook protein (eggs, chicken, and turkey most often) to make prep of the individual meals fast and require very little thought.  I cook a big dinner Sunday night, and we eat the leftovers for the next 2-3 days.  Sometimes I prep desserts and place them in the freezer so they’re available when I decide I want some.

Any day:  I like 4 meals a day.  I eat my meals at pretty much the same time of day every day.  I rarely snack or nibble outside of meals.  When Sunday dinner is eaten up, it’s my husband’s turn to cook.  We rarely eat “out” anymore.  I eat most meals either at the table or on the kitchen island.

Fitness/Activity.

I think the foundational habit for this one for me is scheduling my lifting sessions into my calendar for the week.  I look over when I have meetings, and I make sure I have 3 lifting sessions scheduled in addition to the session with my trainer on the weekend.  I choose the date and the time in advance (before work, in the middle of the day, or possibly afterwards).  When I have them scheduled, I don’t have to decide to lift that day, which really helps on days that I’m tired or feeling especially busy.  I also schedule a run on whichever weekend morning I don’t work with my trainer.

When I lift, I log my workouts in a little paper journal.  I track the exercise, weight, and reps.  I try to pick up more or do more reps each workout.  I find it very rewarding to see the numbers go up over time!

In addition to these activities, I take a walk nearly every day.  This has become an essential part of my wellness during the pandemic, and it is so rewarding, I’d call it a 1 on my “intentional activity scale.”  I stop work, put on my shoes, download a podcast or two onto my phone, and out I go.  The route is habitual, too, more or less.  I walk pretty much the same neighborhood streets each time.  I like going on autopilot, spacing out, listening to my podcasts, getting some time in my head at the end of the day.

Rest/recovery.

Foundational for me is getting enough sleep.  I try to go to bed within the same 30 minute window each night (9:15-9:45).  I get not quite enough sleep during the week, waking up at 6:30 most weekdays, and I “sleep in” to maybe 7:30 or 7:45 oftentimes on weekends.  My daily walks could just as easily fall into the rest/recovery category, as they serve as much-needed introvert “alone time” in this era of constant homeboundness.  I make the bed and journal every night before I turn out the lights , and then I put earbuds into my ears and listen to an audiobook set on a timer. I use a sleep mask to cover my eyes.

Early in the pandemic, I lamented the disruption to my healthy habits.  I rely upon these habits and routines to take care of myself without having to use much “motivation” or “inspiration” to get things done.  Now that working from home has become the norm for me, my habits have been reestablished, with some tweaks to address changes in the times.  I feel so much more at ease these days, knowing that I’m taking care of myself in so many important ways without much conscious work.  It really helps me feel more like myself and better taken care of.

What habits have you established/reestablished in these challenging times?  Which ones would you consider foundational to building a healthy lifestyle for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found cooking shredded chicken in her crockpot, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

family · health · Seasonal sadness

Sam is making a conscious effort to acknowledge gratitude, #NationalGratitudeMonth

November is not my favourite month.

That’s an understatement at the best of times and now there’s a pandemic on.

Serious mood improvement measures are called for. In Cate’s blog post about self-care, I even mentioned candy. I’m bringing out the big guns. I’m also trying to get more light in my life.

A few of my friends do a November gratitude thing. They consciously acknowledge and share each day some things for which they are grateful. I figure it can’t hurt and it might help. I’ve been enjoying reading their gratitude posts. So far I’ve noticed that turning my mind each day to the good bits makes me smile, and even on bad days, there’s always something I’m grateful about.

Here’s a few of my first posts:

“Today I’m grateful for teamwork and getting things done. This weekend we managed to cover the boat in shrink wrap for the winter and move the shed so my mother could have more light in her window. Thanks Jeff and Sarah for working to keep boats and houses in order.”

“November is gratitude month and today I am grateful for working with very smart and hard working colleagues, for Sarah who made dinner while I zoomed the day away, and also for a mother who came home from the doctors with oat cakes.”

“Continuing with theme of gratitude, tonight I am thankful for my smart, generous, creative and caring graduate students, for warm sunny fall days for outdoor in-person office hours, and for the technology that allows us to meet as a group safely online. “

I read up on National Gratitude month too.

See National Gratitude Month is an annual designation observed in November.

“Gratitude is more than simply saying “thank you.”  Gratitude’s amazing powers have the ability to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Everything in our lives has the ability to improve when we are grateful. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing. On average, grateful people tend to have fewer stress-related illnesses and experience less depression and lowered blood pressure, they are more physically fit, they are happier, have a higher income, more satisfying personal and professional relationships and will be better liked. “

It seems everybody has good things to say about gratitude.

See 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round.

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.

And if 7 weren’t enough benefits, this list has 28!

See 28 Benefits of Gratitude & Most Significant Research Findings. Is there anything gratitude can’t do?

I also read a thing from the Harvard Medical School about the health and mental health effects of gratitude. Again, there’s a lot of perks for the grateful person.

It’s good for everyone, it seems. Well, almost everyone.

“There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.”

Have you tried a gratitude habit/practice before? What do you think? Did it improve your mood/well-being?

#deanslife · covid19 · habits · health · nature · season transitions · self care

It’s just another pandemic Monday!

For some reason, Mondays are harder in pandemic times. I usually like Mondays. I’ve always liked the ‘back to the office’ energy, getting down to making lists and schedules for the week ahead, ‘how was your weekend? convos with colleagues, a bike ride the office, and lots and lots of coffee. These days there isn’t much of that. Instead, I look at my calendar, think ‘wow, we’re still doing this’ and start my first videoconference at 8 am.

My last public speaking event was March 5, 228 days ago. March 10 my calendar just says, ominously, “cancel all flights and hotels.” My first COVID-19 contingency planning meeting/conference call was March 13, 220 days ago.

Ever since I’ve been here in Guelph, working from home. This is a helpful reminder of the real date.

In July I wrote, “There are no boundaries any more. Life is one big blur of working at home, exercising at home, and relaxing at home. I occasionally look at my shoe collection in puzzlement. Will I ever wear real shoes again? I still have underwire bras hanging off a doorknob, neglected, and I’m wondering why I ever thought they were a good idea. These days only my comfiest of sports bras are in regular rotation.”

In light of the No Boundaries and the Great Big Blur, I’ve been thinking about restructuring my work week a little. Lots of things are busy during the weekend, out in the world, and I’m often working on the weekend. I’m wondering about taking some weekday time to ride trails, take Cheddar for hikes, and appreciate the outdoors. That’s the weekday/weekend trade but there’s also the daytime/nighttime swap. Yes, lots of work hours are fixed but if I am working into the evenings anyway, why can’t I squeeze some outside time in the sun into my day?

It’s hard to start work when it’s dark and finish after it’s dark again. Why not get out for a ride or a walk in the middle of the day?

Are you still working from home? How are you coping? 220 or so days in, are you making any changes to your schedule?