accessibility · fitness · traveling · walking

Sam’s very sad thing

I’m in New York as I start this blog post. I love this city. I even almost lived here and I often wonder what that life would have been like.

How did I almost live here? I had an on campus interview at Barnard College in 1993. That was actually my first visit to New York though the geography was super familiar to me from from television and movies. So “almost” is a bit of a stretch but it’s always felt like it might have been my home. In my “inner life” it’s been an alternate home. Montreal too, but that’s another story.

Over the years I’ve visited often, running in Central Park when I was a runner, but mostly lots and lots of walking. One of the things I love about the city is walking. It’s a walking person’s city. And I’ve often thought that when visiting I don’t need to make a special effort to get exercise because I love being outside and I love walking. That’s one of the ways I’ve identified with New York.

This visit was different. I arrived here this time with sore knees–plural! both of them! And it could tell it was going to be a tough time. Even with my knee brace on I was struggling. I was so slow and this isn’t a good place for slow walkers. Sarah carried bags lots of the time which also hurt my self image because I think of myself as the strong person who lifts and carries things for others. But not while walking. Not this trip. Thanks Sarah!

We defaulted to the subway for quite a bit of our about town travel but unlike Barcelona there weren’t always escalators and elevators available and often they were out of service. Here is my Highline selfie. It was tough going up and even tougher going down as the elevator was broken, awaiting repair.

Image description: Sam’s Highline selfie. Sam is a white woman in her fifties with wild blonde, brown, and silver hair. She’s wearing a black linen jacket and large black glasses.

You get the idea. Painful knees and I city I love to walk around. No amount of ibuprofen helped and I kept coming close to tears. It made me remember the knee surgeon’s advice when I mentioned loving walking. He said something about loving it in smaller doses and finding other things to enjoy. When it come to steps, for me, more isn’t always better.  When I see friends post about walking a zillion steps, I confess I’m jealous and that’s not an emotion I like in myself.

Next time I’m either renting a city bike or bringing my own Brompton. Well, in fact next time I’m here it’ll be for the 5 boro bike tour and I’ll definitely be riding, not walking.

I’m also feeling better about knee surgery! So there’s that.

I still had a great visit and this trip reminded that I don’t just love New York because of walking. While here we saw a great play, Hurricane Diane , reviewed here. We went to the opera! Tosca! And I stopped by the SVA Flatiron Gallery.

Here’s to a well-rounded life with lots of opera, and theatre, and art, and books.  And great food. And a little less walking. While that’s sad, it’s not sad overall. Really it’s hard to complain about a life that contains weekend visits to New York for fun and beautiful music.

Image result for met opera house

accessibility · disability · fitness · walking

Assumptions about disability and reflections about visibility

During my recent visit to Spain and France I wore my knee brace a lot. I’ve been noticing how differently I’m treated when I wear it than not, even though my knee condition is the same.

Here’s some examples:

  • I was offered a space on the motorized wagon that drives passengers with mobility needs to the gate. (I declined.)
  • I was offered a seat on a bus. (Yes, thanks!)
  • I was told I couldn’t sit in the exit row of the plane for take off and landing as they needed a non disabled person in that seat because of the responsibilities that come with the bonus legroom. (I followed instructions.)
  • I sat rather than wait in line standing at hotel check in when someone pointed out the table. (See pic below.)

The things is I can walk lots with the knee brace but it’s when I am wearing the knee brace that people assume I can’t. Without the knee brace I might have wanted assistance getting speedily to the gate. Likewise, with the knee brace I think I would be a pretty capable person to have in the exit row of a plane but it’s only when I am wearing it that I am asked to move.

I’m not sure what the solution is but I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve me being more outspoken about my needs and asking for help.

Image description: A can of Spanish fizzy water and a glass full of it on a table with a sign with a disability symbol. Check in waiting area at Hotel REC Barcelona. After two flights, one bus, and a walk, I was grateful for the cold water and for the seat.
Image description: Sam taking a selfie in the hotel lobby mirror in Girona. She still hasn’t mastered the art of looking at the mirror instead of her phone. She’s dressed all in black except for bright orange running shoes, and beautiful scarf bought in Barcelona. Oh, also she is wearing her knee brace for walking around Girona.
walking

Sam is all sore feet and smiles in Spain

Image description: A photo of Sam taking a photo of a Mimosa tree. She’s wearing her “FEM-IN-IST” hoodie.

 

Image description: Sam next to a stony, scaly arch in Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain.

 

Image description; Google FIT tells Sam that she has 269 move minutes and 21,608 steps in a screen capture.

I confess I was nervous visiting Europe with my less than fully functional left knee

I’m here partly for work and partly for a couple of days of vacation. Sarah’s along for the vacation part. We flew into Barcelona, taking the train to Perpignan for a meeting of the Crossways in Cultural Narratives program, stopping in Girona along the way. (Guelph is one of eight partner institutions that offer the program along with the University of Perpignan Via Domitia, France ; University of Bergamo, Italy;  New University of Lisbon, Portugal; Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland; University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain; University of Saint Andrews, United Kingdom; and University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.)

I love Barcelona. It’s one of my favorite cities. But what I love to do in Barcelona involves lots and lots of walking. I’ve blogged lots about European cities and walking. But this time with my sore left knee I wasn’t sure how it would go. I couldn’t imagine getting around without lots of walking.

But friends, I have terrific news. I did it! We walked all day, up hills, down hills, through streets and through shops. The main event was walking up Carmel Hill to Gaudi’s Parc Guell. There were aches and pains, sure. My knee is almost never sensation free but I enjoyed myself and it didn’t hurt too much. At the end of the day it wasn’t swollen or particularly sore. In fact, I broke into a grin late in the day when I realized my feet hurt. It’s been ages since my feet have hurt from walking too much. For the past year or so, my knee has been the limiting factor in walking. 

Thank you Barcelona for the elevators down to your subways. I know I’ve worried about cities in Europe and disability access before. See here. But Barcelona was a very pleasant surprise. 

Anyway, I don’t have a lot to say except that I’ve never smiled so much because my feet were sore. 

Image description: View of Barcelona, including Sagrada Família cathedral, from the top of Carmel Hill.

 

Image description: Sam pauses halfway up Carmel Hill in Barcelona. She’s flushed but smiling, wearing a grey t-shirt and hoodie, black yoga pants and bright orange running shoes. There are lots of Barcelona homes and apartments in the background.

cycling · fitness · snow · walking · winter

Best laid plans… but Sam gets some movement in anyway

So Saturday of our winter weekend getaway I thought I’d try a beginner’s ski lesson. But that wasn’t to be. It was cold, really cold, -25 and windy cold. It was also icy. Instead of light puffy snow there was hard, cold ice.

See this sign? Marginal conditions, skiing not recommended. Great. Even the ski instructors weren’t that enthusiastic. Try another time, they suggested.

Image description: A red sign on a white ski hill. In both languages it says marginal conditions, skiing not recommended.

Instead, I went for a long walk up the hill and wandered around the shops at the base of the mountain. I stopped for lunch solo while braver, much more experienced, souls were off skiing. I’m better about eating alone at restaurants these days. I positively enjoyed it. And don’t panic. There was rice underneath. I haven’t abandoned carbs.

When I got back to the hotel I changed and wandered down to the fitness centre. It was small but with a lovely view. They had treadmills and nice spin bikes (guess which I chose?) a bench and dumbbells. That’s enough to keep me busy. So I watched an episode of Sex Education and pedaled away. It wasn’t my first choice of activities but it felt good. Sunday we all abandoned skiing and went to the spa.

Sat with Nat · walking

Nat navigates walking to work in a Polar Vortex

It’s been a week of proper cold winter weather in London, Ontario. I live on the little southern bit of Canada wedged between the Great Lakes. It rarely drops below-20C here but when it does it tends to be because the Arctic airmass slips south into the jet stream and it stays that way for a week or two.

Some Canadians lean into the weather quipping “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just not dressing for the weather,” That supposes everyone has both the means to acquire the right clothing & equipment as well as the knowledge to know what to buy, how to wear it and when to stay indoors.

My partner and I are fairly committed to walking to work as part of our fitness and reducing our carbon footprint. I’m also terribly cheap and hate paying $8-12 a day to park my clunker.

Some days we just bundled up with hats, mitts, good boots and faces covered.

A close up of Nat’s face framed by a fake fur hood. You can just make out her eyes between her grey toque and bright orange face cover

My hood is always up when it’s -24C plus wind chill.

We did walk 2/5 days this week but we also chose to drive when the “feels like” temperature hit -39C. It was a week of driving in a cold car, working in a cold office and wearing layers of clothes in the house & in bed.

Brrrrrr

This type of cold weather wrecks havoc on batteries so for folks using electric mobility devices like scooters it was a week of being home. Waiting for buses became so hazardous school transportation was cancelled Thursday.

I think one way we can debunk toxic masculinity is calling out ideas of being able to “tough out” the weather. Sure, there are times to dig deep into your resolve to overcome obstacles. And yes, making our lives consciously more physically challenging can be a way to enhance our fitness. But those ideas must also be balanced against safety and wellbeing.

So I’m ok getting the lift offered by a friend on a snowy afternoon as I walk home. I’m ok driving when I might otherwise risk frostbite. I have been looking for rain pants and insulated snow pants that fit for about 5 years to no avail.

I would like some though so if you know where a woman can find women’s size 20 or XXXL I’d love to hear about it!

fitness · Guest Post · walking

Posting one step at a time (guest post)

(Here’s a guest post by blog reader– and friend of Catherine W: Fernanda F— on taking her relationship with Fitbit public. CW: very brief weight loss talk.)

Last year I decided that I wanted to be more fit and lighter. Okay, I am lying. I decided that a long time ago, but only in March 2018 did I start walking and posting my daily steps. The big difference was that I was posting my daily progress on social media. I didn’t think anything of it, except it was a way to make me feel better and boost my morale by getting the inevitable “likes”. Along the way I started feeling that I _had_ to walk, because gosh darn it, I have to post my goal for the day. So I walked.

Here’s an example of one of my “goal” days:

Fernanda's step count for a sample day, posted on Facebook.
Fernanda’s step count for a sample day, posted on Facebook. This one is 10,136 steps.

Now of course, if you are a bundle of insecurity and self-doubt like me, you don’t want to look bad. So sometimes I would skip the days I didn’t hit goal (note: my goal progressed and is now 10 thousand steps a day.) It’s not like there is an imaginary Facebook God keeping track of when you skip your posts. Or, your friends are not going to say, hey, what happened to Monday’s step goal? Did you have Wi-Fi problems or something? Of course not, people have lives. But I needed to practice honesty in all of my affairs, and I asked myself what would happen if I posted a non-goal day. I would give it a try.

Here’s an example of a “non-goal” day:

Sample step count for a "non-goal" day; this one is 5,630 steps.
Sample step count for a “non-goal” day; this one is 5,630 steps.

Then a funny thing happened. I got the same “likes” as with the goal days. On top of it, I also got encouraging comments. People would write “it all counts!” or “don’t give up!!”

So I kept on walking. And posting. The thing about Fitbit (and this is not an endorsement of any particular brand, that’s just the one I use) is that you can post either to their own platform or you can click on “elsewhere” and post to your social media. I tried posting to their platform but did not get anywhere. The few responses I got would invariably be from people whom I did not know. So by selecting the place where I usually go to (admittedly way too often) I was able to get the incentive and the feedback I needed. The very neat thing is that there is a way to post your daily progress with a picture instead of just a green background.

A screenshot of Happy Fernanda, reporting 10,334 steps, a nice lunch of lemon poundcake, and a nap. She is proud of enjoying the pound cake! Yum.
A screenshot of Happy Fernanda, reporting 10,334 steps, a nice lunch of lemon poundcake, and a nap. She is proud of enjoying the pound cake! Yum.

Because I did not want to bore people with my daily posts, I tried to write something different every day. I would write something simple like the exclamation “Boo Yah!” of something longer, explaining how I got to goal that day, writing about how I just walked in place in front of the television to get to ten thousand steps.

Most of my friends on social media are also colleagues at work. I was walking down the hall one day and someone I only see occasionally said to me “getting those steps in?!” I replied, “Yeah, I am walking down to the copy center…” and it took me a second to understand what she was saying. She was taking about my posts. Seeing my frown (those who know me understand that I do not have a poker face) she explained that she was inspired by what I was doing, and that she herself had decided to walk more, seeing my daily progress. I was stunned and a little embarrassed. I didn’t realize that this simple act of being accountable was having some sort of impact on others.

Then the “non-goal” days became more frequent. I was sick for about three weeks with a viral cold that would not go away. I didn’t walk some days or had very few steps each day. It did not stop people from being supportive, either on social media or in person. I found that to be even more amazing and supportive.

One stunning example was when I was mowing the lawn last summer, and a person stopped her car in the middle of the road in front of my house and yelled “get those steps in!” It was my neighbor, who is also a Facebook friend. It’s entirely possible that I have way too many “friends” for my own good. But in this case, it was indeed for my own good.

(Fernanda F is a professor of Foreign Languages, a determined and exploration-minded soul, frequent traveler, and fit feminist.)

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · menopause · walking · weight lifting

Menopause, memory and fitness

By MarthaFitAt55

 

katie-moum-446408-unsplash.jpg
Picture shows a paved highway shrouded in fog. Photo credit: Katie Moum on Unsplash

Last week SamB shared an interesting article from the New York Times discussing the brain fog of menopause. I was mightily relieved to read the article. Like the subject of the article, I once enjoyed a wonderful memory, and in recent times, I was dismayed to discover it had left me.

 

To learn there is a link between brain fog and menopause offers me hope. Over the past five years I have been actively working on improving my fitness. I have found yoga to be quite useful in helping me loosen up my ligaments. I have found swimming to be excellent at working my hip joints. My trainer creates programs that are diverse, work different parts, and are usually fun to do.

The challenge has been remembering how the strength exercises work. Despite the fact I have been doing a hip abductor stretch for five years, I never remember which arm goes up with which knee. Or she’ll say let’s do (insert name of exercise I’ve done multiple times) and all I remember is “blah, blah arms” or “blah, blah glutes.” What I do with the arms or my glutes is a mystery and I wait expectantly for my trainer to fill in my all too frequent blanks.

For awhile there, I was feeling quite stupid about not being able to remember an exercise from one week to another. Or I could remember someting I learned more than two decades earlier, but couldn’t recall a simple piece of information several hours after learning it.

Brain fog, or more properly termed “menopause-related cognitive impairment,” in women is disconcerting. We are responsible for many things: appointments, processes at home and at work, information, data. When you are used to being able to manage all the little bits in life without much effort, it can become worrisome when you lose that facility.

Luckily severe cases of brain fog can be managed with a short course of hormone therapy. However, if that’s not suitable, here something that can help: more exercise!

According to a report published last spring by Harvard Health, regular exercise can rewire your brain and help improve your cognitive skills and your recall. Plus regular exercise can help you sleep better, which also helps maintain your cognitive abilities and keep your mood elevated.

The good news is that cardio exerise really helps; the bad news is that strength training does not. However that doesn’t mean you need to ditch the weights. Variety in exercise offers you benefits in different areas and you don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over.

Right now I’m going to keep focused on my workout plan, I am not going to stress myself out over the need for repetition in instruction, and I will add in a couple of extra walks to keep the blood flowing to my brain as well as my feet. I will also celebrate the small wins like remembring when it is my turn to post!

— Martha is a powerlifter who lives and writes in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.