As part of my monthly updates–originally serving to track my progress to knee replacement surgery and recovery!–I’ve been reporting on how much I’ve been reading.
Why, you ask, on a fitness blog have I been reporting on reading goals? That gets to the why of tracking. I’ve been tracking reading as a way of motivating myself to read more. Tracking does that for me, YMMV. (I also use Goodreads.) And I’ve been wanting to read more because as with physical activity, it’s a big mood booster for me. Reading fiction helps me slow down, but slow down in a deliberative way.
Now that I have been meditating a bit, I think reading works in some similar ways. I’m not saying it has all the benefits of meditation, but I do feel more relaxed, happier, more at peace when I read more.
Also, to be clear I also read fiction because it’s important and pleasurable and intellectually engaging in and of itself. It’s not all about the instrumental motives.
So, a new plan! Reading at lunch. It will help with work stress, make me take a break, stop me reading email on my phone through lunch.
Here are the books I’m currently reading but I’ve brought Becky Chambers for my lunch time relaxation reading:
I’m going to pack a lunch, find a picnic table, take out my book, and chill. You’re welcome to join. BYOBook!
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those posts about how your hard work now will pay off later.
In fact, this is a post about trying to schedule LESS work for yourself.
I just got back from my first work conference in many, many years. The event was held in British Columbia and I live all the way on the other side of the country in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I have a lot of stress around travelling under normal circumstances (I’m not afraid of flying, I find being at the whims of the airline schedules nerve-wracking) and that stress was intensified by concerns about Covid.
And, of course, flying across the country, across multiple time zones (there is a 4.5 hour difference between home and BC), added another layer of trickiness to the whole process. My flights to BC found me getting up at 2am to be at the airport form my 5am flight, and after complications, delays, and waiting for flights, I had been up for 26 hours by the time I got to bed that night. My flights home were less complex but I took off in Nanaimo at 3pm Sunday and got home at 11am on Monday – a schedule that included a 5 hour wait in Toronto airport in the middle of the night.
I’m home as I sleepily write this on Monday night and I am finding myself grateful for something my past self did for me.
When I booked those flights, I thought about how I would probably be extra tired right now from traveling, time zones, and from several days of peopling, and I put a note in my calendar to protect myself this week.
It might not seem like much but that note to ‘keep schedule light’ made me mindful of taking good care of myself. Every time I turned to add something to this week in my calendar, I had a reminder that my capacity was going to be reduced right now and that it would be a good idea to schedule accordingly.
Obviously I have certain commitments and obligations this week, and I have to keep preparing for my black belt test on the 19th, but I managed to avoid adding very much extra to my schedule and I feel very relieved about that.
So, Team, I would like to invite you to help your future selves a little.
If you have busy or stressful times ahead, how can you give yourself some extra space in your schedule?
Can you avoid taking on extra things at that point?
Is there anything you can drop or reschedule?
If you don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, can you give yourself permission to take some things a bit slower or do them in a easier or more straightforward way? (i.e. Even if you can’t take a break, can you cut yourself some slack?)
Sometimes, giving yourself a little extra space can be as straightforward as reminding yourself after a long weekend that you can’t get as much done in a 4 day workweek as you can in a 5 day week and to consider that fact when you make that week’s schedule.
This may take some practice. We’re all very used to pretending that we work at the same capacity all of the time and then just gritting our teeth and struggling through our low-capacity weeks.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my flights home were on two separate dates, I probably wouldn’t have thought to cut myself some slack this week. But I am so very glad that I did.
And no matter whether you manage to cut yourself a few moments’ slack, to go easy with your self-talk in a busy time, or if you can organize your schedule to accommodate your lower-capacity times, I think you deserve a gold star for your efforts.
Taking good care of ourselves in this cult-of-productivity world is a challenging thing and your efforts count.
PS – Your future self will thank you for anything you do to make their life easier.
Ever since I wrote about doing yoga on my writing retreat last week, I’ve been considering my retreat state of mind.
It’s easier to write when I am on retreat, of course, that was pretty much a given. What always surprises me, however, is how much easier it is to do yoga, practice my TKD patterns, and to get out for a walk when I am on retreat.
I mean, obviously, it’s easier to do anything that I want to do when my schedule is fully under my control and I am the only person I need to take into account when deciding when or how to do something.
(In theory, it should be similar when I am home. Given that I work for myself, I have a fair amount of control over my schedule. My kids are practically adults so they don’t exactly need my supervision anymore. But I am part of a family, a household, so our choices do affect each other, at least to some degree. And given my personality/my ADHD, I will overthink (at least subconsciously) all the possibilities of how I might be disturbing someone else.)
And, aside from the schedule thing, when I’m on retreat, I only have so many activity options available to me. I can write, I can read, I can chat with my friends, or I can exercise. Having fewer choices makes it easier to rotate through them throughout the day.
When I’m home, I have so many things that I *could* be doing at any given time that I often have trouble figuring out what to do when. (Another personality tendency that is exacerbated by ADHD.)
If the above picture of Khalee is my retreat brain, my at-home brain could often be depicted like this:
It would be pretty hard to make my home like our retreat space. I’m always going to have to factor in other people’s schedules and I’m always going to have different priorities competing for my time.
I wonder how I could move my at-home mindset closer to my retreat mindset and help make it easier to get into exercise mode?
I guess I could deliberate reduce the number of choices available to me at any given time of the day.
And I could probably set firmer schedule boundaries for myself so I don’t spend so much time factoring in the possible effects I might have on other people’s schedules.
And I could definitely put fewer things on my to do list each day, to help me have more of that retreat-style focus.
I’m going to give it a whirl and see if these things help make it easier to break out of decision mode and into exercise mode.
How would YOU go about bringing a retreat mindset home with you?
Reason 1: My new tacx neo 2 smart trainer is so quiet I can actually get up and ride without waking anyone up.
Reason 2: I can race with the Australians on Zwift. Friends from my former cycling club are racing in this series. It’s 6:30 pm EADT which is 4:30 am my time. I could even shower after and have breakfast and still make an 8:30 am meeting on campus.
Reason 3: I don’t usually have difficulty getting to sleep but when I am worried I sometimes wake up too early. Racing would help with stress and stop me sitting around in bed early morning scrolling.
Reason 4. I used to do it. And I liked it. (Though I think what I liked best was breakfast after and then going to work.) See here and here and here and here for my changing thoughts through the years about early morning workouts.
Reason 5. I hopped up the other day and did Zwift Academy workout #3 at 6 am and it was weirdly more tolerable half awake. But 6 am isn’t 5 am….
How about you? What’s early for you if you’re an early morning exerciser?
How are you doing with your exercise and wellness plans?
If all is well, then forge ahead!
But if you are struggling to fit your new plans into your day, you aren’t alone.
It can be really hard to add something challenging to your existing schedule and stick with it.
But, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with YOU!
You aren’t failing, you aren’t messing up, and it definitely does NOT mean that you aren’t working hard enough.
All it means is that you have more information now than you did when you made your plans.
At this point, you have a much better idea of what works for you and where you might need to make some changes.
Perhaps your plan for early morning exercise isn’t working because you have too much to do at the end of the night before and you can’t get to bed early enough to get up at 6am.
Maybe the exercise program you selected is a notch or two above your current capacity and you need something closer to your current abilities.
Or you may have realized that your planned hour of exercise is too long to fit into your current schedule.
Or maybe you are dragging yourself through an abs program and you’ve realized that you hate every single exercise.
That’s all ok.
Your initial plans were not set in stone.
You are free to use this new information to switch things up to serve you better.
You can keep any part of your plans that is working and then toss or tweak anything that isn’t working for you.
Feel free to start over, start smaller, start at a different time, start a different program.
And try not to feel guilty about making those changes. I understand that ambient guilt floats around all of these things just waiting to attach itself to us but guilt can be less sticky when we are conscious of it. (I like to call it out when I feel it, literally saying aloud, ‘Oh, guilt, I recognize you! You don’t belong here.’ It’s a weird thing to do but it helps.)
Your exercise and wellness plans are YOURS. They are supposed to be about you and how you can feel better overall.
You don’t have to stick with any plans that aren’t serving you well.
So, if you need/want to, go ahead and reshape those plans.
Here’s your gold star for today’s efforts in movement, wellness, planning, tweaking, or tossing:
What are the changes that prompted the new schedule? Kim is stepping away from a regular blog commitment but will post as/when inspired. Bettina is back from parental leave but is re-joining gradually with one post a month. Mina, Susan, and Nat are also posting once a month. Some of the blog regulars are moving to have a consistent day–I’m Mondays, Cate is Thursdays, and Catherine is Sundays. Others are keeping a regular day but writing every other week. That’s Martha, Christine, Marjorie, and Nicole.
Thing were getting messy and it was starting to be harder than usual to keep track of who was supposed to be posting and when. We’re hoping this makes it easier.
See the guest spots? That’s where you can come and join us if you like. Read about how to do that here.
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).
There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.
Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.
Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.
It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.
As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.
I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.
So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?
Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.
There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.
All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.
Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”
So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.
First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.
A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.
In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”
The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.
From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”
When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.
Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.
I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.
What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.
Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.
There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.
Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.
Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.
As you likely know what started out as a two person blog, and then became a two person blog with guests, has become, over time, very much a community/team effort. With Tracy deciding to step away from the blog our transition to a full-on team endeavour–with me as scheduler and coordinator (which is a role I’ve been playing for awhile) is complete.
I’ve also started another blog, #deaning, related to my new big academic role. And as a result I’d been planning to blog here a bit less frequently. With more than 1500 blog posts under my belt (hundreds more if you count all the guest posts that I’ve edited and posted under my name but not written) it’s about time! So when Tracy told me her big decision I was initially a bit panicked.
If she went from two posts a week to none and I went from two posts a week to one, that’s a lot of days without regular posts. How would we fill all those spots? I needn’t have worried. We’ve added some new faces. Hi Marjorie! Hi Bettina! Hi Mina! Some old faces have agreed to come back on a regular basis. Hi Kim! And others committed to blogging a bit more. Thanks Martha! Thanks Cate! Thanks Catherine! Together we can make this work.
(We also are all hoping that Tracy feels moved to come back and visit occasionally. No pressure! Shhhh.)
In light of all these big changes, here’s our new monthly schedule. Posts are 6 am EST weekdays, 8 am weekends. There are often guest posts too. Those are at 2 pm EST. And if you ever want to guest post, drop me a line! (I’m email@example.com)