fitness · health · illness · self care

The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck

Last year, I wrote about how my neck gets stiff when I am anxious and about how I get anxious when my neck gets stiff so it’s hard to parse which came first.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.

For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.

I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.

However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.

My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology,  has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.

She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.

The author, a middle-aged white woman with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a black shirt and glasses is not looking directly at the camera. She is sitting in a room with green walls and there is a white door behind her.
I just happened to take this photo the day before my conversation with M. I was participating in a web chat about writing and I was having trouble concentrating. I was tired, I knew I was going to have a headache the next day because of the specific way that my neck was aching. I did some stretches and took some ibuprofen in hopes of warding it off but it didn’t work – it never does, actually but I always try it.

I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**

I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.

M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)

Timeline graph of migraine symptoms. The background is purple and the timeline is orange. The graph illustrates that there are a few hours or days of symptoms that precede a migraine, the migraine itself lasts from 4-72 hours and there there is a 24-48 hour recovery period.
I had no idea that things like concentration and difficulty sleeping could precede a migraine. This graph was found here: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/timeline-migraine-attack/

Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.

This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.

With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***

Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?

Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.

Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.

I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.

And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.

I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’  As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.

Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.

And that’s not fit.

For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.

*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.

**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.

***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.

aging · fitness · health

How Bettina learned to stop worrying and love the physio (well, maybe ‘love’ is a strong word)

My mother has back problems. And shoulder problems, neck problems, and arm problems. In short, she’s a chronic pain patient. It started when she was in her early fourties. One day, her shoulder started hurting and never stopped. The rest came as she went along. She tried cycling, she got back problems. She tried swimming, she got elbow problems. Knitting, lifting anything even remotely heavy, too much yoga (and you never know in advance what “too much” is), sitting anywhere with even the hint of a draft, are all out of the question. Being my mother – one of the most strong-willed people I know – she soldiers on. She’s now 71 and still does light yoga, a lot of hiking, and a huge amount of daily physio exercises.

I’m in my mid-30s now. Needless to say, one of my main fears is that I will run into the same issues. Granted, I have a few things going for me that might, at least, buy me some time and at best, prevent me from ever having the same amount or intensity of issues. My mother was born in rural post-war Germany, when good nutrition wasn’t a given. As the daughter of farmers, she spent a lot of time crouching in potato fields when she was young. She worked as a nurse for years and did a lot of heavy lifting. She didn’t really exercise regularly until she was middle-aged.

I, on the other hand, started swimming when I was in primary school (at the insistence of my mother, because it was supposed to be good for my back). I’ve always exercised regularly. I was well-nourished from the start. I’ve never worked a physical job. And yet.

So, in anticipation of Really Bad News, I postponed visiting the orthopaedist for a Really Long Time. But earlier this year, fear finally got the better of me, so I went. “I don’t want to end up like my mother”, I told him, and asked what I had to do to prevent it. “Are you in any pain?” he asked, which I happily denied. He looked at me slightly funny, but gave me a thorough examination. Apparently apart from a tendency to hunch and wonky hips, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. But just so my insurance could get its money’s worth out of the visit (by paying more money), he prescribed me five sessions of physiotherapy.

Photo of a bendy wooden doll. Bettina is trying to get her body to stay that flexible.
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I went to the physiotherapist and got similarly quizzical looks. It seems like if you’re not in pain, you’re not supposed to be there? I was surprised. And I realised my privilege of being relatively young, fit and “healthy”-looking has a consequence I hadn’t really considered much: people mostly concerned with healing don’t expect me. That was an interesting experience.

Luckily, my physio is awesome and adaptable, and was happy with damage prevention rather than control. He realised quickly that I actually do a fair amount of sports. So in the first session, we did a test that’s normally administered to athletes to discover their musculoskeletal weaknesses.

My lower back, hips, and shoulders are my weak points, with the lower back being the weakest. So my physio has been giving me exercises to do at home to strengthen it, and I’ve been trying to incorporate them into my routine. Honestly, I don’t enjoy them much. They’re exhausting, which probably means they’re working, and fairly boring. But that’s why I went, wasn’t it? To do things to hopefully prevent me from being in pain. So I’m going to take a page out of Sam’s book and try to do my un-fun physio exercises regularly. I’m also trying to focus on yoga routines that centre on my “problem areas” and incorporate asanas that are similar to the exercises I’m supposed to do, like Warrior 3, or chaturanga.

So what’s the verdict after four out of five sessions? I have a better awareness of my weak points and how to correct them. I have a bunch of exercises I can do at home. I’m curious to see if they will bring long-term improvement. Watch this space to find out how long my newly-found love… er, tolerance of physio lasts.

Do any of you have experience with physiotherapy? And how to be disciplined and make it stick, even if the benefits aren’t immediately obvious?

fitness · fitness classes · Guest Post · habits · health · Metrics · motivation · Tools · trackers

A WayBetter way to exercise? (Guest post)

Elan Paulson is an exercise-curious, occasional guest blogger on FIAFI.

The world of business has many concepts to describe how it sells things to people. One is innovation. According to Clayton M. Christiansen here and in other places, there are two main kinds of innovation.

  • Sustaining innovation refers to how businesses with many resources (those that dominate the market) make a product better for their target consumers.
  • Disruptive innovation refers to how businesses with fewer resources explore new ways of meeting the demands and interests of new or underserved consumers.

According to Christiansen, sustainers focus on improving a product, while disruptors challenge sustainer dominance by focusing on changing processes (of product creation, distribution, etc.). Disruption occurs when the innovation becomes mainstream.

There’s more to say about these concepts, including my critique of them as lens for sense-making, but for the moment I want to use them to understand WayBetter, a subscription service that has emerged in the health and wellness app industry.

In its About section, one of the WayBetter co-founders describes its services as “a whole category of games that help people stick to their commitments” because “life is better when you can turn work into play.”

This is what he means: Users bet their own money that they can accomplish a specific time-bound exercise goal. After the allotted time, users who achieved the behaviour-based goal receive back their own money (through a point system) as well as a cut of what was ponied up by those who did not meet the goal. Picture-taking and sync-ups with exercise tracking technology are put in place to minimize cheating.

In Christiansen’s terms, WayBetter is a disruptive innovation for how it has found a new process to promote exercise behaviours. (Its name suggests that it has literally found a “better way” to exercise). While other companies sell on-site, group-based fitness memberships and training services, WayBetter offers the flexibility of anytime, anywhere activity as well as the support of a group. WayBetter emphasizes how the process is fun: pay yourself for exercising. WayBetter has developed a market not in exercise programming but in exercise motivating.

However, WayBetter is a disruptor not because it turns “work into play” but because one could regard this as a betting service, or a form of gambling. (Waybetter). On one hand, the “game” is betting on yourself, and getting back your money simply by doing the exercise that you said you would do. On the other hand, an enterprising exerciser could choose “runbets” that other exercisers might be less likely to complete, thus maximizing their chance of a higher return than what they initially bet. WayBetter turns exercise into a game of predictive markets, and exercisers into investors.

So, it’s possible to think about WayBetter as a disrupter not for how it reaches underserved consumers (read unsuccessful/unmotivated exercisers) but for how it has created a new market—one of venture capitalism. Motivate yourself not simply to do exercise but to earn money off of the failure of others to motivate themselves to exercise.

At the moment, WayBetter’s dietbet claims 700,000 users, and the runbet website boasts that users have logged over 1,677,000 miles. I don’t know details about its income, but WayBetter takes a rake of each bet and uses third-party advertising. With no compensation, stock, acquisitions, or other company information currently available on Bloomberg, it’s not fully clear whether WayBetter’s disruptive innovation will become a sustained innovation.

But I believe it will become a sustained innovation because the value of its ability to change behaviour pales in its ability to change in mindset about exercise not (only) as a game but as a financial investment. WayBetter’s legacy may very well be how it and other services like it will change the very meaning of exercise by casting it (explicitly or implicitly) in market terms.

And, whether consumers win, recover, or lose their money, WayBetter still comes out Way Ahead.

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · health · overeating · self care · tbt · weight loss

Metabolic Health Is a Feminist Issue #tbt

For #tbt posts I like to go back to the same month in a previous year. Today we go back six years, to February 28, 2013, when I posted about metabolic health. Reading posts from the early days helps me to see how far I’ve come since we started the blog over six years ago. In this post, I finally “got it” about why it’s important to eat enough.

Over the last few years, my thinking and practice has shifted completely. Rarely do I worry about “eating too much,” unless in the sense of eating to physical discomfort, which simply doesn’t feel good. I think my metabolism has recovered from any damage I did in my decades of chronic dieting with the weight loss-gain roller coaster that comes along with it. Besides the idea of Intuitive Eating, this concept of Metabolic Health really helped me get to where I am today. If that’s of interest to you, read on….

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

campfire[Note: I am by no means an expert on metabolic health. I hardly know anything about it. I just know it’s an idea with major liberatory potentialFor more information about it, check out some of the links below]

Recently, after blogging about the thigh gap and taking Go Kaleo‘s recommendation to read Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery 2, and then reading Caitlin’s post that reminded us that, hey, we actually need to eat, the penny finally dropped for me.

Yes! I finally understand that metabolic health is a big deal. Huge. Bigger than the next fad diet, bigger than any particular training program, bigger than aspiring to have ripped abs or a thigh gap.

After we posted about fitness models earlier in the month, we noticed some fascinating discussion on a figure competitors’ discussion boards about ways to train smarter with more calories. Sam drew…

View original post 1,140 more words

eating · food · health

Sam Tries Cauliflower Crust Pizza and Doesn’t Die

Image description: A Cadbury creme egg against a blue background. There is text which reads, “Does anyone have a recipe for these using cauliflower?”

Making things with cauliflower as a substitute for various carbs is a thing. I think I first encountered it with cauliflower rice but since then it’s spread.

It’s especially hot with those following high fat, low carb diets. It’s also often taken to extremes, see the Cadbury creme egg joke above mocking the trend. And for those reasons I’ve avoided it.

Are you like that all? When people give reasons for a thing that you don’t agree with, you ignore the thing even if there are other reasons for trying it that might speak to you? I often have that reaction to food associated with extreme diets even if they’re foods I might actually like for reasons of taste and eating more veggies.

Sometimes however ignoring a thing because others like it for reasons you don’t agree with means missing out on something good.

I came across cauliflower crust pizza in the frozen pizza section of the grocery store. On sale. So I bought two. Verdict? Yum. I liked it. My mother liked it. Would definitely buy more. But the thing is it’s still grocery store frozen pizza. There’s only so good it can taste and only so good for you it can be.

Image description: pizza box which reads “pizza your favorite vegetable.”

It didn’t taste the same as crust made with flour but it was pretty yummy. I like cauliflower. I might even try making one at home. See the great picture below.

Here’s a recipe for a vegan version.

Have you tried it? What did you think of cauliflower pizza?

Image description: a Cauliflower Crust pizza with rainbow vegetables

fitness · health · Martha's Musings · motivation · research

Guilt-free heart health for women

By MarthaFitat55

February is Heart Month and there are lots of messages across multiple platforms on how to be heart healthy. In the past two decades, we’ve seen a lot of attention being paid to heart health and its links to obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.

The messages fall into three camps: what to eat, how to exercise, and why it all matters. There are multiple diets focusing on optimal cardiac health, an almost equally dizzying array of guidelines on exercise, and tonnes of research on the risks and genetic factors present in 21-century populations.

In more recent years, there’s been significant work looking at women and heart health. We are often misdiagnosed, we don’t get the right treatments, and we are less likely to have the better outcomes. In its landmark report in 2018,  aptly named Ms. Understood, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation said the following:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada (dying before reaching their expected lifespan).
  • Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women.
  • Every 20 minutes a woman in Canada dies from heart disease.
  • Five times as many women die from heart disease as breast cancer.
  • Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men.
  • Women who have a heart attack are more likely to die or suffer a second heart attack compared to men.

Why this matters became even more critical this year when the the Foundation released a new piece of research demonstrating the link between heart disease and increased rates of dementia. The report (found here as a PDF) says its research “mapped the connections between heart, brain and mind diseases and conditions for the first time and found even stronger links and a much greater impact than anticipated. People managing these conditions are overwhelmed and the system is overloaded. This is a crisis and it is not sustainable. We need to find solutions now.”

So we know what’s happening, and we know what we are supposed to do. But are we actually doing the work we need to prevent and reduce the risks? Well, there is another piece of research, this time at the University of Alberta, which challenges some of our assumptions on the messages we use in promoting heart health.  Says one of the co authors, Tami Oliphant: “Women are told they need to exercise more, they need to lose weight, they need to be social and all these heart-healthy activities, but we found that these messages made the women feel guilty, like they had caused their heart disease,”

We know we should reduce the stress we feel, but hey, women deal with a lot of stress. Reducing it isn’t necessarily an easy option. Many of us can’t afford some of the more common stress reducers recommended to women. And then there is the social pressures women face in keeping family and community together, let alone taking time for themselves.

While I am a big fan of the concept behind putting my own mask on first so I can help others, it’s a bit of a juggle and for some, a bit of a fight. Not being able to meet those recommended guidelines can pile on guilt which leads to more stress, etc etc etc.

The research at the U of A suggests we tailor our health messages to the needs of different audiences. That means creating different messages for women compared to men.The symptoms for heart attack in women are different, so the messages building awareness have to differentiate between male and female experiences of cardiac disease to be effective.

It also means letting women know what the alternatives can be for reducing risk. As one of the researchers noted, if you hate running and you can’t find something else in the “sports” field to get your 150 minutes of cardio in a week, what else is there? Ordinary activity for one. Vacuuming is a form of activity and while it may not help you run marathons, it does keep you moving.

The most positive aspect of this focus on women’s experience of heart disease is the empowerment of women. For quite a long time, we have not had control of many aspecs of our health, especially reproductive health. Researcher Oliphant said: “Women’s bodies are perceived as problematic, post-menopausal, whereas when you’re treating men for heart disease it’s about efficiency and getting them back up to speed. So women are diagnosed later, they delay treatment, they can be disbelieved and sometimes they’re even discouraged from seeing a health-care practitioner.”

There is some work on understanding the experience different groups of women will have with heart disease. What else can we be doing to support heart health in women beyond the healthy weight, be active, live smoke-free messages?

Image: A red heart on a square yellow sheet of paper clothespinned to a strong and hanging on a white wall.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
health · nature · snow · winter

Sam Goes to a Spa. Yes, Really.

So I went to a spa. First time ever. First pedicure a couple of years ago (never since!) and now the spa.

What next? What’s the world coming to?

I’m just joking (sort of). In my mind spas aren’t meant for me. Like pedicures, I think of spas as a THING RICH PEOPLE DO.

It’s not that I don’t spend money on luxurious things, like expensive bicycles, I do. And it’s not like I don’t spend $60 (the price of spa admission) on meals or concerts pretty regularly. I do.

But for reasons of family background in the first part of my life and resisting normative feminity, in the second, spas have never been on my radar. I’m the kind of person who didn’t have nail polish or make up for my own wedding. I did my own hair and it was touch and go whether I’d shave my legs.

I resisted getting a hot tub at our old house for years but then loved it and used it lots. I love sitting outside, in the heat, surrounded by snow and ice. I loved soaking after long rides and tough Aikido classes. My highlight of my holiday in Iceland a few years ago was soaking in a hot river after a long hike.

We went to the Scandinavian Spa on the Sunday of our weekend at Mount Tremblant when it was too cold and icy to ski or fat bike. I loved how much of it was outdoors. I really liked the steam rooms and the sauna and the hot tub but probably my favorite thing was relaxing in front of a fire outside wearing a bathrobe while covered in a giant warm fuzzy blanket. I loved basking in the sun, surrounded by trees and snow.

Some quick observations:

I loved wandering around outside in a bathrobe and bathing suit in the middle of winter. I love the outdoors and I’m almost always happier in the sun.

I’m so glad it was a silent place. I realize that I’m quiet anyway but I was so glad I didn’t have to listen to other people’s conversations. I found that really relaxing. I didn’t mind the other people there with everything quiet.

There are a lot of beautiful bodies out there. But it’s mostly the women who are on display. That’s no surprise but I forget that sometimes. I saw a lot of women in thong bathing suits with men in baggy board shorts. What’s with that?

I loved the idea of swimming in the river in the freezing cold water between hot things but I couldn’t make myself do it. Instead I settled for the cold bucket of water over the head a couple of times. That actually felt pretty refreshing.

I didn’t count the spa time as a workout though it turns out that time in hot water does have similar health benefits to exercise.

I’d definitely go again.