fitness · walking

Walk faster to outrun the grim reaper? No.

On Friday a new study came out that found associations between how fast we walk in midlife (gait speed) and our overall brain and body health. In case you were wondering, here’s the title, from JAMA: Association of Neurocognitive and Physical Functioning with Gait Speed in Midlife.

Popular news outlets sprinted to the scene, putting out headlines urging us to go faster. See this one from Runner’s World:

Caption reads: Slow walkers might age faster than people who pick up the pace. Smaller print: the quicker you stroll, the more likely you are to keep accelerated brain-and-body aging at bay, a new study suggests.
Caption reads: Slow walkers might age faster than people who pick up the pace. Smaller print: the quicker you stroll, the more likely you are to keep accelerated brain-and-body aging at bay, a new study suggests.

This article sounds less sensational but the idea is the same:

Faster walkers at 45 have younger brains, bodies: study
Faster walkers at 45 have younger brains, bodies: study

You may want to know now: is it true? Do we really need to run for our lives?

No. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.
No. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Our bloggers have written about claims connecting walking speed to health and mortality risk for a while now. Martha blogged about an earlier study linking walking speed to good health: Walk your way to long life. And Sam recently blogged about being a slow walker in the midst of this scientific flurry of praise of fast walking: Now Sam’s a slow walker will she die earlier than the rest of you?

Okay. But what did this study actually show? In short, it showed that, in a cohort of 904 people who were followed regularly from age 3 through and past age 45, that the adults in the lowest quintile (20%) of gait speed also had poorer physical health (as assessed by 19 different markers like blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol level, etc.), cognitive function, and accelerated rates of aging, compared with adults with normal gait speed (according to some chart somewhere). Because the study also had early childhood medical information (from age 3), they found that the lowest quintile group also was more likely to have manifested early signs of poorer cognitive health.

Do the researchers (or anyone who doesn’t write for a popular news outlet) think that one’s gait speed contributes to poorer physical and brain health and accelerated aging ? NO

Do the researchers think that walking faster will reduce cognitive decline, accelerated aging and poorer biomarkers of physical health? NO.

All health care providers recommend physical activity for health, but walking fast is not the moral of this story. Or any story, for that matter.

There is one good takeaway for clinicians here: including checks of people’s gaits intermittently through life may provide information to help detect conditions, or prevent advancement of conditions, or to treat them. This is still pretty speculative, as the nature of the association and the causal picture are still very unclear.

In an invited commentary on this article, Dr. Stephanie Sudinsky offers a really clear and important message for public health experts and also those of us who care about health through the lifespan:

The human brain is dynamic; it is constantly reorganizing itself according to exposures and experience. It is affected as an end organ by many other organ systems. Perhaps in this sense, brain health, reflected in brain structure, cognition, and gait speed, is not necessarily a first cause, but rather may be a consequence or mediator of lifelong opportunities and insults.

What this means to me is that it’s important to focus on ways to address early childhood cognitive functioning problems right away, through a variety of means. These means include better nutrition, safer physical environments for play and exercise, stimulation through early education and interventions, etc.

For adults, it means that we should consider expanding our notion of health risks to include those “lifelong mediators of opportunities and insults” like access to food, health care, safe living spaces, accessible opportunities for movement, safer workplaces, etc.

None of us can outrun our own mortality. Walking faster won’t whisk us away from our own aging. Walking more slowly won’t send us into cognitive decline or poorer health.

We know roughly what to do for our own health. If you’re looking for tips, I suggest dancing. At your own speed. That’s what these people in Mozambique did to celebrate World Disability Day in 2017.

Dancers at a fair in Namialo, Mozambique.
Dancers at a fair in Namialo, Mozambique.
family · fitness · walking

Walking to school won’t help you or your 6 year old lose weight. Do it anyway.

It’s back to school and my social media newsfeed is full of delightful first day of school photos.

Here’s a photo of my very first day of school.

Five year old Sam with pigtails, a black jumper, white shirt and white knee socks. Photo taken in Grand Falls, Newfoundland.

My feed is also full of stories about how best to get the kids to school. And given our times lots of stories pair nostalgic stories of walking and biking to school with current day worries about the rise in childhood obesity. Surely there must be a connection?

But things aren’t that simple. See No Association Between Active Commuting to School, Adiposity, Fitness, and Cognition in Spanish Children: The MOVI‐KIDS Study.

What? Walking to school isn’t always associated with a decrease in childhood obesity?

The study concluded:

Walking to school had no positive impact on adiposity, physical fitness, and cognition in 4‐ to 7‐year‐old children….It would be of interest for future studies to examine the intensity and duration of active commuting to school necessary to provide meaningful benefits for health and cognitive performance.”

I like Yoni Freedhoff’s response to the study. “I don’t need to see “meaningful benefits” to want to continue promoting more movement and play in our children, and if we buy into the need for same, we’ll risk the cessation of programs that don’t prove themselves to provide perhaps broader reaching or more dramatic outcomes than could ever be fairly expected of them.”

To his response I’d like to add: Let’s care about walking to school for reasons other than weight loss. How about nature, community connection, mental and emotional health benefits of walking? As usual my worry, like Yoni Freedhoff’s, is that when weight loss isn’t an outcome people stop doing the thing even if there are lots of other benefits.

feminism · fitness · Guest Post · research · walking

Are women, people of color, and kids more likely to get bumped when walking on the street? (Guest post)

By Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany

Introduction:

Women often complain about how they have to move out of the way for people walking on the street. Beth Breslaw did an experiment showing that this is exactly the case. She walked down the street while consciously not moving out of the way for people. People started slamming into her, specifically men. She began to call this ‘man-slamming’. I wanted to find out if this was true for kids, and women of color – members of other underrepresented groups – but I wanted things to be less confrontational. So, I decided to do my own experiment.

Method:

I gathered a group of four people: one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid (which happened to be me). We all took turns walking down one street, and counted how many times we each had to move out of the way of other people. We did our experiment two times.

Hypothesis:

The white man would have to move out of the way the least. The white woman next, and then the kid. The woman of color would have to move out of the way the most.

Materials:

A busy street and people willing to participate in your test (one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid. You could always add more.)

Participants:

Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left  "P.M. (white male)"; top right "M.F. (white female)"; bottom left "S.K.M. (child / white passing)"; bottom right "M.K. (brown female)
Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left “P.M. (white male)”; top right “M.F. (white female)”; bottom left “S.K.M. (child / white passing)”; bottom right “M.K. (brown female)
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 1.
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 2.

As the graphs show, PM has to move out of the way less than MF. MF has to move out of the way less than MK. MF and MK have to move out of the way less than SKM. PM has to move out of the way less than MF, MK, and SKM. This disproves my hypothesis that women of color had to move out of the way more than kids.

Discussion/Conclusion:

My experiment shows that women, no matter their age or race, have to move out of the way much more than men. But when you add race to gender, it turns out women of color have to move out of the way more than white women. If you add age, white (passing) kids that are girls have to move out of the way more than white women and women of color. Extra labor is placed on the shoulders of women, kids, and people of color.

Why would extra labour be placed on these individuals and especially on kids? They are the most underrepresented and their social status is the least. This is why they carry the biggest burden.

Although I have drawn a few conclusions on race and gender through my experiment, I still have many unanswered questions. What would my results be if I were a boy? What if I were less polite and didn’t care if I bumped into someone? What if a black man or a black woman participated in my experiment? What if a senior citizen did? 

I wanted to learn about the unobvious inequalities. This is my first step of what I hope will be many.

Sage McEneany is in grade six. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels. She intends to publish her own book when she is older, and to continue to work on the issues of race and other inequalities. She likes to play soccer and would like to do track this year.

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.