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.

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?

body image · fat · health · Science

Does my life depend on my body shape?

CW: discussion of body shapes and body weight, primarily with respect to a recent study assessing those variations in relationship to mortality risk. Lots of critique, too– you can count on that.

I have wide hips, large thighs and a large butt. Always have, always will. Regardless of my age, height, weight, fitness, that’s what my physical outline has looked like. My sister has always had slimmer thighs and butt, carrying more weight in her midsection. We are both in our 50s now, heavier and both carrying more weight in our midsections. We’re both doing what we do, happy to hang out when one of us can travel to the other.

My sister Elizabeth (left) and me, on the beach in South Carolina.
My sister Elizabeth (left) and me, on the beach in South Carolina.

All this is to say: we have the bodies we have, in the shapes they are. And even though the internet will offer you plenty of opportunities to spend your hard-earned cash on pills, supplements, gadgets and programs to try to change your body shape, I recommend saving it. It’s a waste of money.

So why do people worry about their body shapes and want to change them? In addition to all the messaging we get about what the “perfect” body shape is, medical science warns us of the dangers supposedly hidden in those shapes.

A new study came out in the past 10 days, looking at associations between body shape and mortality risk. Naturally, the press was on the scene, ready to inform us in the most provocative ways they could think of. Here’s a sample of the (inaccurate) headlines:

Headlines, the best of which is "thick thighs save lives". I wish this were the case.
Headlines, the best of which is “thick thighs save lives”. I wish this were the case.

What’s inaccurate about them? It’s not the case that having (or working to acquire) thick or chunky or wide hips and thighs will itself cause increased longevity; of course we know that. What these news outlets are saying is that people who carry their weight more centrally are at higher mortality risk than those who carry their weight less centrally. But is this true? Let’s see what the article is saying.

In a recent meta-analysis (study of a lot of studies) a team of Iranian and Canadian researchers set out to identify and quantify mortality risk factors specifically related to body dimensions and ratios Waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio are commonly studied measures for this type of research. In addition, this group studied thigh circumference, hip circumference, something called “body adiposity index” (roughly, a function of the ration of hip circumference to height) and another fancy biometric called “A body shape index”.

In case you’re still reading (one can hope), here’s what the researchers concluded:

Indices of central fatness … were positively and significantly associated with a higher all cause mortality risk.

Larger hip circumference and thigh circumference were associated with a lower risk.

The results suggest that measures of central adiposity could be used with body mass index as a supplementary approach to determine the risk of premature death.

What do I make of this? Well, glad you asked. Here are a few takeaways:

One thing: They definitely found lower mortality risk associated with larger hip circumference. But there’s more– look at this pair of graphs:

Two graphs measuring changes in mortality risk as hip circumference increases.

What’s interesting to me here is that the top graph, which controls for BMI and waist circumference, shows the risk dropping well below 1 (which is set as the standard, so less than 1 is better). But in addition, the bottom graph, which doesn’t control for BMI/waist circumference, still shows a dip in the mortality risk below 1 up to about 112 cm, and a very small increased risk up to 120 cm.

Why is this interesting? Because the second graph shows that people with larger hips have a lower relative mortality risk, even apart from body weight.

Another thing: Here’s another set of interesting-to-me graphs:

Two graphs with mortality risk based on waist-to-height ratio for men (on left) and women (on right).

What we see here that caught my eye was how the waist-to-height ratio increase is fairly straightforwardly associated with increased mortality risk for men, but for women this is not so. As waist-to-height ratio increases, there is a dip in mortality risk for women before increased starting at around .52.

Which leads me to yet-another-thing: the researchers mention (which other researchers know but sadly, not reporters) that many of these associations disappear with age. That is, for people older than 60, these body dimension metrics and ratios don’t tell us much of anything about mortality risk.

Last thing: all through the text of this article, the authors either cite other studies or give results which suggest that body weight itself is not positively associated with increased mortality risk. They point out the need for studying different populations, including those who are healthy (vs. those with underlying medical conditions), smokers, ex-smokers, and never-smokers, and subcategories of those with men vs. women. What does this tell us?

Science is complicated.

A woman looking at the contents of a beaker; photo by the National Cancer Institute, via Unsplash.

So, does my life depend on my body shape? No.We have the shapes we do. Hundreds of features of both our bodies and the world our bodies inhabit influence how we live and how long that will be.

But I still kind of want this T shirt:

Thick thighs save lives.
Thick thighs save lives.

Readers: does this sort of body-shape research bother you? Do you ignore it? I’m curious about how these murky medical messages translate in the public. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

220 in 2020 · fitness · Guest Post · health

Getting a new perspective on self-care (Guest post)

So I have completed the “220 (days of exercise) in 2020,” 4 months ahead of schedule and am pretty damn pleased with myself. You should see my muscle definition!

I want to share a few thoughts I wish I had realized years ago because I spent the majority of my adult life struggling with weight loss and trying to make exercise part of that. As in, whenever I did any form of movement it was hoping that it would contribute to making my body smaller and more attractive. Sure, sure, healthy too but primarily smaller and more attractive. Thing is, exercise and weight loss are only loosely connected. Of course you can use it to burn calories and tip the scales in favour of weight loss but that’s not really the point because nutrition is the major determining factor here. And then of course the entire story of weight cycling and just how damaging that is etc.

Not all of HAES (Health at Every Size) is a good fit for me and the way I think about my body but the part of the HAES movement I can absolutely get behind of is this: large bodies still need to be treated well, just as medium sized or small bodies do. These things are independent of each other. Bodies need good nutrition; they need rest and they need movement. They need doctor’s visits and they need mental health support because being flooded with stress hormones 24/7 is a pretty damn damaging thing to a body.

So that is what this exercise thing is about, a part of the self-care puzzle. I used to buy into the idea that self-care is letting myself off the hook and eating whatever and how much I want to eat, relax on the sofa and have a good time with smoke and drink if I fancied it. But really there’s nothing self-caring or self-compassionate about it because at the end of the day no matter what stories we tell ourselves about it, that doesn’t change biological reality. Well at least I don’t buy into that whole “affirmation changing reality” thing.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is hard. First of all, it’s years and decades of thinking one way and then trying to change that. It takes time and effort and while I do have “an acre of greens” in the fridge as my partner lovingly mocks it, and have had for years, it’s really hard to get away from the constant barrage of treat food that isn’t really a treat given that it’s a daily feature, so more like a staple. There’s the time, money, effort and all those things. I have actually realized that working out regularly is easier than eating well regularly because for exercise you’re done at some point in the day. Complete a morning workout and you can feel good about yourself for the rest of the day, knowing that any additional movement is good and likely but still, you’ve done the thing. Eating well, relaxation, mental health practices etc are much harder because it requires a sustained effort throughout all waking hours and a litany of decision points. So, it’s hard and requires a mindset of learning and growing rather than all or nothing on/off the wagon thinking.

So what did I do this year for the exercise thing? I just started, focusing on the things I felt I could do. There has been a lot of walking and especially initially I did a fair bit of semi guided dance sessions. Body groove on demand is really really good for that because it is very inclusive of many abilities, genders, bodies and ethnicities. I felt very much represented by the cast in the videos and it was fun. It helped me gain some confidence in my ability to move and to show up, which in itself is maybe the most important skill to develop.

I then went through a series of programmes on daily burn, there are some beginner ones that helped with the whole thing of getting into the spirit of doing uncomfortable things. Like getting down on the ground and up again repeatedly or like sticking to the exercise for a few seconds longer etc. Then moved on to more demanding ones, I like kickboxing and circuit training, barre, yoga and pilates.

The rewarding part has been trying to increase my ability to do things. For example, there’s a pilates move I just can’t do so I found a ten minute video (on Pilatesology) that is a preparation for that move. Still working on being able to do a full push up, or burpee, clean lunges, and so on. It’s rewarding to feel stronger just for the sake of feeling stronger. And more agile, mobile, fit. Whatever size or whatever appearance.

Below is my gym. This, and a sports bra if you are of the booby persuasion is plenty. Onwards to 300!

Image may contain: one or more people

TabeaD is a university lecturer and enjoys gardening, crafting and making art. After struggling with her weight as a very large person for decades, she has started to increasingly explore ways to drop the struggle and make peace with her body while finding ways to be healthy and active. Over the years she has engaged in swimming, various forms of dance, tai chi, yoga and weight training although she has struggled with consistency and motivation throughout, which has led her to engage in “220 in 2020.”

fun · habits · health · motivation

Christine works out with Wakeout

I’ve been having big fun with the Wakeout app.

Wakeout, which bills itself as ‘Exercise for busy people,’ delivers exactly what it promises – short, fun workouts to do in a variety of settings.  

As you probably know, I find it challenging to decide what exercise to do when and how long to do it for. Wakeout helps me sidestep those issues because I can set a reminder in advance (always useful for me!) and then I only have to choose the location and duration of my exercise. 

The duration choices are short  – one, three, or six 30-sec exercises (although you can do multiple Wakeouts in a row) and the settings are limited – you can choose home, office, travel, or outdoors and then select different categories within each. Even though there is a lot of possibility contained within each category, I find the process of choosing to be quite straightforward in this case. 

A light haired dog sleeps on a partially-made bed. There are bookshelves in the background.
This morning, I had to do my Wakeout on my chair instead of the edge of the bed because Khalee had made other plans.

I really like that the exercises are done in 30 second bursts instead of by reps – I love a timer but I hate counting reps. I appreciate just sinking into the movement and not having to focus on counting.

And I like the types of movements the app gets me to do.  

It’s not just bicep curls or squats, it’s movements on all sorts of different planes. For example, 

In a recent Wakeout, I was holding a pillow and moving sort of sideways figure eight with my arms – as if I were in a pillow fight and had an opponent on either side of me. This exercise had me moving my arms in a whole different way than I would normally do and I felt like my range of movement increased over all. 

I am much too used to working forward, sideways, or up-and-down and I forget about making more circular sorts of movements. Wakeout’s prompt to move different, helped me to engage different muscles or at least to engages the same muscles in different ways and that really really felt great.

One of my favourite exercises that I had to do involved standing in front of the counter in the kitchen and reaching upward into a high cupboard. That specific movement felt great for my arms, my back and my legs and I have repeated it often even when I wasn’t doing the app – sure, sometimes I was just reaching for something in the cupboard but mostly it was for a little extra stretch.

The app keeps track of your workouts and tells you your accumulated minutes and how many minutes it will take to reach the next level. I also enjoy this encouraging feature and it’s rewarding to push a little hard to get that visible (on the screen) result.  One of my ongoing challenges with consistent exercise is how hard it is to SEE the benefits of my efforts. This small visual makes a big difference for me. 

A screen cap of the Wakeout app.  A black background with green text and images. It says 'Awesome' at the top and then shows an image of a green bear with sunglasses surfing through some planets. Below the image are some stats revealing that the user is at Activity level 5 and that they can reach the next level  in 12.5 active minutes.  They have 6 total wakeouts, a 6 day streak, and 9 active minutes. At the bottom is a green button inviting them to wakeout again.
Sure, it’s only a small thing but I love seeing these numbers and knowing exactly what I have to do to get to the next level. Even if the level itself only has meaning inside the app, it coaxes me to keep moving.

Often, I will shy away from short workouts because of the decisions involved – trying to figure out what is ‘enough’ to do is especially tricky for people with ADHD. The Wakeout app removes some of my obstacles to bothering with a short workout – I can just open the app and do what it says and not have to think too much about it. 

Obviously, I would have to either do a lot of Wakeouts to become seriously fit but I find these small bursts of activity encouraging and rewarding and they really feel great.

I haven’t been through all of the workouts yet, of course, but from the ones I have seen so far, I would like to see a greater variety of body types/sizes and abilities represented in the demos. (To be fair, though there may be greater variety than there currently appears to be. I may just not have seen everyone yet.)  

I like that the demo models aren’t all white but not having seen the entire range of workouts yet I cannot comment on whether the diversity of the models is truly representative or just a nod to inclusion. I am hoping that it is the former rather than the latter.

Overall, I really enjoy the workouts and features in this app. I didn’t it like it much when one of the reminders made me feel entirely responsible for our sedentary society but that’s on my overdeveloped guilt reflex, not on the makers of the app!

I don’t know if it would be helpful or frustrating for someone who already spends a large part of their day exercising. It might be enjoyable to try some different movements – especially if any part of their day was spent at desk work – or it might be annoying to do these small exercises that might not work their bodies hard enough for their liking. 

As far as I can tell, Wakeout is only available for Apple products so far. You get a 7 day free trial and then you can purchase a monthly plan for $6.99 which you can share with up to 6 people. I enjoyed it enough to sign up for the monthly plan but I wish I could include my family members who use other non-Apple devices. 

feminism · fitness · fitness classes · health · inclusiveness

What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today? (Group post)

Image description: Tracy’s minimalist home workout gear: overhead shot of running shoes, a cloth basket with a tennis ball and workout bands and a few other indiscernable items, set atop a yoga mat on a wood laminate plank floor.

When Sam and I started the blog back in 2012, we were committed to offering feminist thoughts on fitness and to trying to incorporate our feminism into our fitness lifestyles as we approached our 50th birthdays. Now, as we approach our 56th birthdays in the next couple of months, we continue to reflect on the ways the fitness industry could be friendlier, more inclusive, and more approachable. We are both super pleased that we have managed to carve out and support a community of others who are seeking an alternative to the usual messaging.

I’ve been doing the virtual Superhero workouts with Alex (for more info, check out ABH Movement) a few times a week, and on Friday evening she had a team happy hour on Zoom. She sent around four questions for us to ponder before we met, with the plan to discuss them. We didn’t make it to all of them (because by the time we did a full round where we each talked about when we first started doing fitness classes, happy hour had already spilled into 90 fascinating minutes). But Kim and I thought the final question would make a great group blog post: What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today?

So I did the thing we do: I asked the Superhero team and the blog regulars for their answer to this question. And here’s what people had to say.

Nicole: I would take away the nutrition advice that some gyms provide. I don’t think there is a good way to do it in that environment. Also, it should be illegal for the instructor to say “did you indulge a little last night? Hungover? It’s OK, that’s why you are here!” No, I’m not here for that at all. Ever.

Tracy I (me): If I could wave a magic wand I would banish “weight loss” as a fitness goal from the entire industry. I would replace it with learning to believe in yourself and to love (or at least neutrally accept and value) and trust your body and appreciate it for what it can do, whatever that may be. Also: to encourage other women along the way to do the same. No comparing (I wrote about comparing back in the day)! ❤️

Cate: So many things– I’m 100% with both Tracy and Nicole on this — but I’d add I’d strip out any admonishment or encouragement to focus on anything except form. I have been lucky enough to find some amazing coaches — like Alex — plus yoga teachers and spin instructors who really understand how to support people to work for the next dimension while also emphasizing form, safety, alignment and the specific strength, needs and possibilities of your own body. But occasionally I wander into a class — like at the Y, or with a spin substitute — whose whole coaching is “harder!”. I went to a “boot camp” class at the Y a few years ago where the (20 something) instructor mocked me for doing my lunges slowly and carefully. This is obviously damaging for individual bodies and psyches, but also, I think, one of the biggest things that turns newbies away from fitness.

Sam: Oh there’s so much I would change if I ran the zoo. (Sorry, I can never resist that line from Dr. Suess.) But the most important thing for me would be a much greater emphasis on inclusion and diversity. I want room in my fitness world for people of all races, and genders and ages and physical abilities. Along with inclusion and diversity, I want to end the assumptions about who does what. I want more women in the weight room and more men in the yoga studio.

Coach Alex: As a coach, I desperately want everyone to know that if you don’t enjoy something, you don’t need to do it to “get in shape”. There’s this notion that certain movements/ways of exercising are most effective or necessary for the progress you want to make, and that’s simply untrue.

So many people struggle with developing a consistent and healthy relationship with fitness because it’s either a chore they feel they “have” to do OR they are fearful of starting in the first place (fitness is scary and intimidating). The reality is the fitness industry promotes fad diets, exercise trends, and equipment that ultimately will keep you hopping on and off the bandwagon- but if you find movement you LOVE (whether it’s weightlifting, Zumba, a sport, cycling, etc…) then THAT’S what’s going to keep you coming back. If you do burpees because you think you have to (but you hate them), you’re going to dislike that workout and dread coming back. I wish more people knew that just the act of MOVING is enough to keep you healthy and make fitness gains, and once you find a form of movement that sparks joy for you, that’s where the fun really starts 😜❤️

Chippy (Virtual Superhero teammate): What id like to change is that women are allowed to have muscles and that doesn’t make you unattractive. Those muscles take a tremendous amount of work and are beautiful. Strong is beautiful and there needs to be a cultural shift that goes with that for women 😊

And we’d love to hear from you. If you could change one thing about today’s fitness industry, what would it be?

health · illness · sex

Sex and Trauma After Hysterectomy

CW: This post addresses trauma, flashbacks and PTSD, although it does not directly describe traumatic events. Sex and personal anatomy are referenced.

Six weeks after my hysterectomy, my gynecologist gave me the OK to return to all physical activities–including sex. And a few weeks after that, my husband and I found an opportunity to explore what that meant. I was eager to enjoy a regular sex life again. Before the surgery, while I hadn’t had any pain associated with intercourse specifically, I was afraid of potentially magnifying the pain I was already experiencing. I also felt increasingly alienated from my reproductive system as the months dragged on before the surgery–like my uterus and the surrounding architecture were fighting against me, forcing this mutant litter of fibroids upon me, despite my lifelong disinclination to ever becoming pregnant.

But instead of easing our way back into a regular sex life, I found myself heading into becoming frozen–stuck in place, nearly nonverbal, unresponsive as a possum hoping you won’t drive over it in the middle of the road. I managed to softly say, “no, no, no, no, no,” and everything stopped.

This was the first sign I had that something about the hysterectomy had been emotionally traumatic for me.

I recognized the feeling. My therapist and I had identified that I had many of the markers of PTSD long before the hysterectomy. I can be jumpy for no reason, startled by everyday noises. I can experience emotions disconnected from the present moment–overwhelming dread being the most common. I get heightened into fight or flight at the grocery store, or walking down the street, or driving, and have to work my way back down into my emotional window of tolerance. In these moments of panic or dread or rage, I know that they don’t make sense. I’m aware that they aren’t a true response to something in the present, but a ghost of terrible moments in the past.

But while I knew this about myself, I was not prepared for it to get worse with surgery. Nowhere did I read that this can be a risk, and it seems especially surprising given my past traumas are not sexual. Many of the resources I found as I prepared for the surgery mentioned that many women mourn the loss of their womb, that connection to motherhood in their bodies. I get that, but I wasn’t concerned about it for me. I have never wanted to be a mother, and I’ve always viewed my reproductive system as a sort of vestigial set of organs, that maybe protects my heart and definitely inconveniences me one week out of every month.

My surgeon knew of my PTSD symptoms as well–she got a firsthand look at them on our very first appointment. Her office is unfortunately located in a hospital associated with some of my past trauma, and from about two blocks away, through the entire hour-plus visit, and until I was able to leave, I was in a full-on panic attack flashback. I hyperventilated, found myself crying, and felt totally overwhelmed by the emotions flooding over me. Honestly, I felt completely ridiculous trying to explain to the nurses why I was so clearly struggling with self-control. For the next visit, they prescribed me some Xanax to take before I arrived.

Past traumas increase our risk of future trauma. Our nervous system remembers the feelings of threat, hopelessness, dread and loss of control. It is not a surprise that I was at increased risk of new trauma, but I am surprised that a procedure performed completely under anesthesia can result in trauma. According to my therapist, our bodies can remember what our conscious minds cannot. She equated it to the feelings you have when a tooth is extracted at the dentist–thanks to the novocaine, you don’t feel pain, but your body registers the pressure and physical trauma of the loss of a tooth. And so, apparently, my body registered the hysterectomy as a threat, and now I am finding myself urgently needing to protect myself from future perceived threats.

Now I am startled by simple, intimate experiences. I’ve had to ask my husband to ask permission before he reaches out to stroke my back or leans in for a kiss. Without the “warning,” I can’t breathe through my startle response and reorient to the present moment. Sex scares me. Even the thought of a nonsexual item like a tampon entering my vagina makes me feel anxious–my breathing becomes shallow, my heart starts to race. I am increasingly on edge, so much closer to fight-or-flight than I was before.

You might be asking yourself how common this is. In an admittedly cursory search, I didn’t find a lot of information, but this very recent study found 16.4% of participants experienced multiple symptoms of PTSD 2-3 months after hysterectomy. This older study from the Mayo clinic found a smaller, but robust, increase in the number of people showing signs of anxiety and depression after hysterectomy than compared to a similar population who had not had a hysterectomy. Now, neither of these studies can show us causation–does getting a hysterectomy make people more likely to develop these mental health concerns? Or is it that certain mental health conditions or predispositions make it more likely that someone gets a hysterectomy? Since we can’t do placebo hysterectomies on half of a cohort and then see if there’s a difference in prevalence of PTSD symptoms, I’m not sure how we can suss that out.

Regardless, I can’t help but believe that people would benefit from knowing about these risks in advance. At a minimum, people like me with a history of trauma could potentially work with their mental health professionals in advance to develop a treatment plan, should it be necessary. That is why I’ve decided to write about it, even though it feels very personal. It would be my hope that more patients and doctors can be aware of these risks and be encouraged to talk about them.

It has been a year since I first wrote about my hysterectomy here. At that time, all I was concerned about was my physical health and fitness afterwards–I wanted to stay as strong and physically resilient as I could as I healed. Those physical concerns are in the past now. I can lift however I want. I can run without pain. But I’m still dealing with the consequences of my hysterectomy, and I can’t help but wonder how long these new ghosts will haunt me.

Photo description: a pathway leading towards a sunset or sunrise.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found reorienting to the present, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · health · motivation · rest · running · schedule · strength training · training · walking · yoga

220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: keep going

image description: Tracy selfie. She’s smiling, wearing a Buff on her head and a workout tank, upper left arm tattoo of flower visible, home workout equipment (e.g. running shoes, cans of beans, chairs, blanket, bin with resistance bands, yoga mat on floor) in background.

A few of us have blogged about participating in “220 in 2020,” which is basically a group where you keep track of your workouts, with a goal of working out at least 220 times in 2020. Cate and Sam started talking about it back in 2017, when they did “217 in 2017.” It got Sam to think more explicitly and more expansively about what counts. And Cate has talked about the motivating power of this type of group and how it’s altered her relationship to working out. I jumped on board last year, with the 219 in 2019 group that spun off of the Fit Is a Feminist Issue Challenge group that Cate, Christine and I hosted for a few months in the fall of 2018.

Reflecting on “what counts” is not a new thing for me. Way back when Sam and I started the blog in 2012, I was already wondering what a workout actually is for me. I revisited that question when I joined the 219 in 2019 group. Then I concluded that “if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.”

I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.

Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.

By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!

But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.

Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.

The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.

This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.

When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).

As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.

So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]

So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).