fitness · season transitions

Chronicles of December: same month, different attitude?

December provokes a lot of emotions for us.  It’s the beginning of real, bona fide, no-getting-around-it winter (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). It’s a time of frantic activity:

  • frantic finishing of semester for those of us students and teachers
  • frantic preparing for those of us celebrating Christmas
  • sometimes-frantic taking stock of the year and starting to make resolutions for the next one

I’ve been especially prone to the last type of frantic activity. I wrote a post  on Seasonal adaptation: slowing down and turning inward two years ago. In it I said that, despite the craziness of the season, 

In the midst of it, I feel– calm. A bit quieter than usual.  Slow and deliberate. The indirect light suits me.  The early dusk I find entrancing.  This is a new experience and completely unexpected.

Reading these words now, I wince a little. I think they were more aspirational than actual.  That is, I was shooting for this feeling:

Woman in white gauzy, flowing gown in the woods, viewed from the back.
Woman in white gauzy, flowing gown in the woods, viewed from the back.

When in fact, in December, I pretty much always have this feeling:

Woman's face covered with post-its with tasks and responsibilities like pets, work, house, cooking, etc. You get it.
Woman’s face covered with post-its with tasks and responsibilities like pets, work, house, cooking, etc. You get it.

This December, I admit that I’m way overburdened with work, physical therapy, lots of family strife around me, unmet writing obligations, and my usual body shame/dissatisfaction that accelerates during the holiday season. 

So I’m going with it. This is me, moving forward in super-messy fashion.  I’m:

  • doing a bunch of yoga, mostly in very small bits (7-15 mins, even)
  • walking more, with the accompanying soreness of the ankle with no brace now
  • sleeping 8 hours at least, because I have to in order to function
  • being present for my family, trying to maintain boundaries of some sort
  • accepting that my house will be super-messy and my writing obligations will have to wait and that my body is actually helping me do all these things so thank you body

Forget ethereal.  I’m going for pragmatic this season.  

What’s your word or attitude this December?  I’d love to hear from you.

diets · eating · fitness · food · holiday fitness · holidays · Martha's Musings · nutrition · season transitions

T’is the season to detox yourself from cleanses, diets and weird wellness claims

By MarthaFitat55

It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.

Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:

The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?

 While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were born liver-less or you lost your liver along the way, the human body has its own detox system right inside you: the aforementioned liver and kidneys.

 There’s a huge market out there and if you build it, make it, sell it, they will come. The promises are endless but the long and short of it is simple: today’s cleanses and detox programs are primarily designed to relieve you of your money.

The sellers of these cleanses rely on fear and vanity, and also on society’s preoccupation on thinness. The messages are often wrapped upin social beliefs about health and wellness.

 We empower people to take charge of their health, especially women who are often responsible for managing their well being along with those of their families. Who wants to be known as someone who does not care about their health? Not me.

While the social imperative to diet, to cleanse, to eat clean is present year-round, there seems to be special pressure in December to do any number of things to ensure we have the perfect body.

 All the ads I have seen lead me to believe that we must cleanse the body the same way we cleanse our homes for special occasions this time of year. In January, when the new year has begun and we barely have had time to vacuum the pine needles and expunge the last piece of glitter from our homes, we get a different chorus but still with the same tune.

I suggest, if we are to cleanse anything, it is these sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy approaches to wellness.

So if you are confused and challenged by all that you see, remember this: everything in moderation. Your body will do what it needs to do. Fuel it appropriately.  Move lots (preferably outside if it isn’t blowing a gale). Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Have fun.

MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in St. John’s.

cycling · fitness · season transitions

I want to go fall riding!

Photo of bright, red fall leaves with rain drops. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with work travel. And I do a lot of it in the fall. This weekend is Connecticut and then London. I’m here in Storrs to talk about micro-inequities. On Sunday Tracy and I take the stage at Wordsfest to talk about Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. Next weekend it’s Boston. But after that I’m done. The travel is a fun part of academic life. It really is. I’ve been to lots of beautiful and amazing places. But it eats up weekends as can take away from family time, hobbies, fitness pursuits, laundry! When I wasn’t Dean I’d often take Monday off after a weekend away. I’d do the laundry, cook a nice family dinner, go to the gym. But deans don’t get to do that. I’ve got a full slate of meetings when I return. I’m still bike commuting on weekdays but when I’m away on weekends I miss my long rides. My plan is to ride on the weekend when I get back. I won’t ride in the rain when it’s cold but I’ll ride in the cold. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of the last of the hall leaves and ride just as fast as I feel like riding.
fitness · motivation · season transitions

It’s getting dark out there… transitioning into autumn without losing momentum

As Sam mentioned earlier this week, autumn is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere. And with it comes the challenge of shorter, darker days and worse weather for those of us who like to exercise outdoors. To be honest, at this point I’m actually grateful it’s getting cooler. The Central European heatwave that lasted from… basically June through August and made it nearly impossible to exercise without melting is finally showing signs of abating, even though it’s still unseasonably warm. We’re getting a wonderful late summer here this year (picture proof below).

Late summer in Bettina’s neck of the woods: blue evening sky with some clouds reflected in the river, hills, trees and the buildings of a small town in the background. This was taken during a recent bike ride with some colleagues after work.

But we’re also getting less and less light and eventually the temperatures will drop to less pleasant weathers. I’ve definitely struggled in the past to keep my outdoor momentum up during the autumn and winter months. I don’t mind it so much if it’s cold, or even snowing. I also don’t mind running in the rain in the summer, but the combination of cold and wet is my kryptonite. And the lack of daylight is definitely an issue: no more run commutes (the latest addition to my routine anyway) because it’ll be too dark in the forest, and even in the city I don’t enjoy running at night that much. Lots of people have a gym subscription, but I don’t. So what is an aspiring fit feminist to do? Here some ideas, based mostly on my own personal experience:

  • Take it inside. It may not be as enjoyable as the outdoors, but some sports don’t suffer too much. Of course I prefer the 50m outdoor pool, but the indoor pool isn’t too bad in comparison. And, if that’s up your alley, you could consider adding a sauna visit afterwards, or sit in the hot tub after training, if there’s such a thing at your pool. I’ll admit that swimming is a sport where this is singularly easy, unless you’re an open water swimmer. Switching out your favourite running trail for a treadmill is much less appealing…
  • Switch it up. I’ll definitely be doing more indoor yoga when it’s too wet for me to want to set foot outside. Also, strength training. There’s some good apps that guide you through a workout, or Youtube videos if that’s your jam. In our household, we recently invested in one of those sling things (whatever they’re called, the ones used in TRX training) that you can hang on your door to do core and strength exercises. You could even try something totally new to you that’s geared more towards indoor practice.
  • Team up. I’m much more likely to go running in the rain if I’ve made a commitment to others. That works well for me in general – if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I usually will. External accountability does a lot for me.
  • Time change. For weeks, it was too hot for lunchtime runs here. But now they’re staging a strong comeback! If you have the option of showering at work, going for a run at lunchtime is a great option if, like me, you don’t like running in the dark. Plus, lunchtime runs are in a group (see above). If you can’t shower at work, even a walk is good to get some movement in.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just as it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too hot, it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too cold, or too wet, or you’re just not feeling it that day. Yes, a routine is important, and some days it’s important to push through and get a move on. But not always. Everyone’s allowed a rain (literally! ha!) check every once in a while. Cosying up on the couch can be just as worth it.

So, what are your tips for keeping up a strong sports routine in the colder weather? Curious to hear about your strategies, so please share them in the comments!

fitness · season transitions

Sam is Telling New Stories

It’s back to school and fall is approaching. I know it’s weeks off yet but university classes are back on and the leaves are turning. I looked back on past posts recently and blogged about the themes: dark, sadness, and fall riding.

I worry that stories take on a life of their own. We create ourselves through narratives and while we can’t just make stuff up, we do have some choice about the stories we tell. I’m looking for happier autumn stories.

The good news in my life is how much I’m enjoying my big new job. Deans at Guelph get to meet lots of students and so the first week of term has meant attending a lunch for all of our big scholarship winners and giving a demo first year lecture to 200 students on philosophy and death.

On Labour Day Monday Sarah and I helped to host a college wide lunch for first year students, and then most recently I was seen and photographed (thanks Sandy!) serving free ice cream to all students, new and returning, with other members of the senior admin team.

What’s not to like about free ice cream?

Chocolate, vanilla, and vegan rainbow sorbet.

I know this isn’t about fitness per se. But it is about new stories. The fall seems more celebratory with my Dean’s hat on. I also get to wear my academic regalia in September at a ceremony to formally welcome the first year class. The President admits them to the university and then there are welcoming remarks by the mayor of the city and the Provost. It’s really nice.

This weekend my mother and I are also celebrating 50 years in Canada. We’re having a party on Sunday called From Grand Falls to Guelph. It’s almost exactly fifty years since we emigrated from England. I was four.

Here’s my mother, my grandmother, me, and my little sister encountering lobster.

So I’m focusing on the new, trying to stay positive, and looking forward. How about you?

If you’re also subject to seasonal sadness, the Guardian has this great list of 18 things to try to combat fall blues. Some are obvious such as trying a new activity (swimming!) and spending more time outside. I also like the idea of day trips and the suggestion of allowing for more unscheduled time. Summer was busy!

This CBC piece on September sadness recommends thinking of fall as a new start but as a lifelong academic I do that anyway!

cycling · fitness · season transitions

Argh dark, but also wow fall rides: Themes from Sam’s past autumn posts

When you’ve been blogging for six years you notice trends. It’s September and I’m nervous about losing the evening light. I’m sad about losing some of my favorite activities. And worried about the effect of fall dark on my mood. I’m also happy about riding in the fall, cooler temperatures, no big goals, and beautiful colours.

Those are feelings now and they are also frequently the topic of fall blog posts through the years.

So the themes from my fall blog posts are:

1. September sadness:

See Struggling with September Sadness and The night is (soon to be) dark and full of terrors

You can get a sense of the flavour of fall sadness by reading this piece The Summer That Never Was. It beautifully connects end of summer melancholy with thoughts of mortality.

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went. And I’ll probably still be evading the same truth I’m evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose. And my dissatisfactions with it are really with my own character, with my hesitation and timidity.

2. Autumn and evening dark: The pictures at the top are from the last weeknight of Snipe racing. We barely got two races in before we lost our wind and our light. It’s too dark now in the evening to make it worthwhile to start racing at 6:30. There are some weekend afternoon races but the regular Tuesday night club races are done for the season.

Last week I got caught out on my bike without headlights. I forgot how early it was getting dark now. I won’t do that again.

Partly for me it’s also about driving. Because of my eye condition, I can’t drive at night. When night comes before work ends, my life can feel pretty limited. It’s a good thing I ride my bike well into the winter. I’m also walking distance from work, downtown, and the mall.

You can read about Fuchs Dystrophy, a condition that makes driving at night tricky here, The four eyed athlete. It’s also the subject of a profile over at The Disabled Philosophers blog.

So what’s my plan?

I’ve got my bike ready to go with lights.

Sarah and I have planned a September canoe trip.

I’m going to sign up for swimming lessons.

I’m thinking about this CBC piece on end of summer sadness and the positive effect of thinking of September as a new start.

I’m going remind myself how much I love to ride in the fall by actually doing it. Because amid all the fall sadness there’s also quite a few expressions on the blog of how much I love to ride my bike.

How about you? What feelings and thoughts so you associate with fall?

fitness · season transitions

Summer’s ending. Does it mean my fitness is over too? I hope not.

This summer has been the most relaxing and fun and satisfying one I’ve had in years.

Hand-drawn picture of a sun and a kid saying "Yay summer!"
Hand-drawn picture of a sun and a kid saying “Yay summer!”

Although there have been some fun trips (to the beach in SC with my sister, her kids, and their friends; and Tucson, AZ for work and a lot of play with my friend Kay),  mostly I’ve been home. This has given me time and opportunity to cycle more and do yoga a lot-a-lot more. Throw in some walking and swimming and this and that, and I’m feeling really good and comfortable in my body. Yay again!

A cute cartoon person in purple shirt, olive shorts, red shoes, jumping. I feel like this too.
A cute cartoon person in purple shirt, olive shorts, red shoes, jumping. I feel like this too.

I’ve generally been moving around on my own power a lot more and driving my car a lot less. All this is wonderful.  And I’m aware of the great privilege of having such vast amounts of flexible and unscheduled time.  Professors do work in the summers (and I also teach one session of summer school online), but we typically don’t have to be in offices 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week (deans have different deals, as Tracy and Samantha can attest).

But all that is changing, and soon– the first week of September, to be exact. What this means is that I will be driving 3+ days a week to and from school, which takes around 2.5 hours.  Each day.  Yep, I live far from my work (another privilege, I know). There is public transportation to school, but it would mean either:

  • bus plus subway plus commuter rail plus 12 minutes’ walk; or
  • cycle downtown during rush hour plus change clothes in train station bathroom plus commuter rail plus ride or walk to office;

Each of which takes 1:45–2 hours each way.  That’s 3.5–4 hours each day. I’ve tried it many times, but just can’t maintain it.

But enough of this.  Here’s my big worry.

Last year I had way too many work commitments and a schedule that didn’t work well for me. I felt exhausted and harried and didn’t have the wherewithal to do the physical activity that would help me feel better in my body and about myself. I felt like a total wreck by spring.

It took time and commitment and support from everyone I knew (thanks so much, everyone!), but I am now feeling great– I’m moving a lot, feeling connected to friends and family, working on my various projects, and enjoying life. I want to continue this movement, these connections, these good feelings into the fall. But how?

I posted about this on Facebook, attaching an article from an overworked academic who collapsed on the job. This phenomenon isn’t limited to education, of course. Many or most of us have pressing obligations at work, plus responsibilities to others in our lives. This leaves little time for self care in general and physical activity in particular.

Yoda, saying "many directions pulled in I am; overwhelmed easy to be".
Yoda, saying “many directions pulled in I am; overwhelmed easy to be”.

Anyway, lots of Facebook friends posted ideas that worked for them, like a standing or treadmill desk, timers to remind us to move every so often, even dancing in one’s office (love this idea, Claire!). Some folks shared their frustrations, which helped enormously. Here are a few of them:

I just can’t function without my walk. Because of that I just have to do it no matter what meetings deadlines or students. I accept a crappier performance – in that sense – as the trade off (long term it means a less crappy performance, so there. Am I in hospital with burnout? No. Lots of times, that’s the win.) 

yeah. already with the first week of pre-academic term meetings, i am suddenly and erratically having to be places too early and get home too strung out to do anything — and i’m staring at the most beautiful new running shoes waiting to use them until later this week. I find I have to acknowledge how dysfunctional my workplace is and just be ok with that before i can do any self-care — that is, i have to believe it’s real and i deserve a walk or a nap or something delicious. i appreciate knowing it’s not just me.

That is what I really needed to hear.  We’re not alone. I’m not alone.

A smiley face smiling, and thinking "phew."
A smiley face smiling, and thinking “phew.”

Yes, in order to maintain my fitness and comfort in my body and life, I have to get strategic.  There are loads of strategies out there, open to me, and I will be blogging about them later on. For now, though, I just wanted to know two things:

  1. yes, it’s hard to transition from summer to fall (with all that means for anyone’s life) and hang onto self-care patterns.
  2. we’re not alone in this– we are all bummed about it, and maybe we can come up with some ideas and plans for fall fitness after the splendor of summer.

How are you feeling about the seasonal transitions, readers? Has yours already started? How are you doing? What do you need or want in the way of help? I’d love to hear what’s you’re thinking.

What are you thinking about? With a cartoon duck (for fun).
What are you thinking about? With a cartoon duck (for fun).