aging · flexibility · health · illness · injury · nutrition · planning · schedule · self care · training · weight lifting

Sam gets frustrated with midlife precision and the complications of fitting it all in

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.

Bitmoji Sam pointing at the word “lies”

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.

Sam’s bitmoji lifting weights.

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.

See Recovery and aging athletes: A guide to train smart and stay strong

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.

Wish me luck!

(Update: I see Catherine just purchased a training program that works in all the elements including rest. That’s one solution to fitting it all in. Go Catherine!)

Bitmoji Sam is holding a pillow. The text reads “rest up.”

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.

See Muscle loss is in the news again for more details.

Bitmoji Sam ponders her lunch options

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.

Bitmoji Sam on a purple bean bag chair with a red book and a mug.

How about you? How do you fit it all in?

body image · Book Reviews · fitness

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 1, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Sam:

I really like Nia Shanks. When this blog’s Christine mentioned that she’d bought her new book, my eyes and ears perked up. I often need a fitness challenge over the holidays. I’m scrambling to complete 300 workouts in 2019. Maybe this would help. We both said we’d write about it.

Here’s my thoughts on Day 1.

Day 1’s message is about changing your focus from looks to performance, from weight lost to weight lifted. Got it. Already with you on that. It’s been years since I’ve worked out with aesthetic goals in mind. I agree with Nia Shanks that for most of us, this is an important shift in thinking.

But but but… there’s also a line in her Day 1 setup that I hate. Shanks writes, “And guess what? It’s very possible the results you’ve desired all along will come as a side effect….”

Aha! Indirect strategies, get the thing you want by not aiming for it. We all know how this works. Get happiness not by looking for happiness but rather by finding some activity in which to immerse yourself. Then you’ll find happiness. Don’t look for love. Instead, find activities you enjoy for their own sake and maybe while there you’ll also find true love. I tell my students never to aim to get high grades. Instead, fall in love with philosophy, with hard problems, with the work, and then high grades might follow.

Some people offer this up with non-diet food strategies too. Don’t restrict calories. Instead, learn to eat intuitively and then you will find peace with food and possibly also lose weight. It’s the add-on bonus, benefit. Tracy has written before about un-diets that are really diets in disguise.

Except, you might also not lose weight by working out for the “right” reasons. You might work out really hard, get very strong, and still not have the body you were hoping for. In fact, I think that’s the more likely result. My worry about hoping that you’ll try for strength and get the body you always wanted as a side effect is that it still misleads people about the possibility of dramatic changes in the way we look. When we don’t get them we give up and lose out on all the health benefits of training for strength and endurance.

I’m hoping things get better in the days ahead! I’m sure it will.

Christine:

Sam and I are at different points when it comes to fitness. Her routines are solid and fitness is part of her daily reality. 

I’m still working on those things. Aside from my taekwondo classes, I struggle to make exercise a part of my week – let alone my days. I’m hoping the routine of reading and reflecting on this book will help make that more straightforward.

Given that we’re reading the same book, it’s no surprise that Sam and I ended up on the same page – literally and metaphorically. I’m also frustrated by the inclusion of the notion that looking better/losing weight may not be the goal but that it is a likely side benefit. However, given that Shanks is trying to convert her audience from one mindset to another, perhaps this is a stepping stone. 

I’m choosing to focus on this quote instead “Why then should you work out? To get stronger. To discover what your body is capable of doing.”

That’s a project I can get behind.

I’m interested in adding strength, power, and endurance. And I like exercising- once I get started. My obstacles are scheduling and logistics, and I’m hoping that working my way through the 100 Day Reset helps me overcome those.

Catherine:

Full disclosure: I just ordered the book yesterday, so haven’t read the first bit yet. But, I’ve read her stuff and also the intro parts from her site. And the message is clear: focus on strength and incremental goals (pay no attention to the person behind the curtain, just keep moving, nothing to see here) and: presto, change-o, your body will be changed in ways that you want (because you have been conditioned to want a certain sized and shaped body).

I’m genuinely torn between two interpretations of this: 1) Nia Shanks believes this, which would be disappointing, but understandable, as it’s an almost-irresistible message; 2) Nia Shanks doesn’t believe this, but she’s using the idea to get the book marketed and sold, and stealthily believes that once people focus on strength and agility and grace and physical accomplishment, they’ll see that the bodies they have are pretty darn awesome, and they’ll stop worrying about not having some other type body.

I’m going to proceed with interpretation 2). Despite that fact that I’m a feminist athlete and philosopher who writes and teaches about body-neutral fitness, I still suffer from the desire to have a different body from the one I currently reside in (no matter what state/shape/weight it’s in). There it is. But, those worries and yearnings disappear (really– as in “poof! gone!”) when I’m moving, lifting working my body.

So I’m in, Nia. Let’s do it.


sleep · winter

Waking to light instead of noise

Maybe it’s the Aikido influence but I think beginnings and endings really matter. This post focuses on beginnings. I am a fan of start as you mean to continue. I enjoy my mornings. I do some of my best writing in the morning. I love it when I have time to exercise in the morning. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love my bike ride to work. But as we move into darker days getting going can be a challenge.

I recently bought a lamp that’s meant to be useful in combatting seasonal affective disorder. I like it. But now the company is also marketing other things my way, like an alarm clock that works by simulating the morning light. I confess. I bought one. Also, I love it.

It’s much better than the Rock alarm clock. It’s much better than repeatedly hitting the snooze button on your phone alarm.

I love the gradual lightning of the room. I like the bright light at 6 am. If I’m well rested the light alone is enough to wake me. I wasn’t sure how it would work if I was not getting enough sleep. Answer: it didn’t really. Instead, I was woken up by the back up sound alarm. That was much less enjoyable but I’m glad it’s there.

eating · fat · food · health

Trigger Warning: Pseudoscience

CW: Discusses diets, food, BMI and commonly held misconceptions. If you like to believe everything you think is 100% correct, are prone to all-or-nothing thinking, or want your beliefs reinforced on all things health and fitness, you may not want to read this post.

I think I’ve reached the point that I need a pseudoscience trigger warning. I am finding myself angry to the point of nearly yelling whenever someone mentions their “love languages” like it’s anything more than a convenient construct. The other day, I wanted to ram into the minivan ahead of me on the freeway with their anti-vaxxer bumper sticker. If I have to listen to one more Republican politician espouse a conspiracy theory as if it were the truth, I might remove my car radio and throw it out the window.

I am a science teacher, and trained to think like a scientist. I believe in facts and research and data. And we live in a world in which science is discussed with such ignorance that the presence of a single study is enough to sway/reinforce the incorrect beliefs of people. No one discusses the preponderance of the data. No one is asking for the big picture data over time. And this lack of scientific literacy is hurting people.

I live in a city that doesn’t fluoridate its water because a majority of the voting public considers it unsafe. These voters aren’t thinking about the consequences for the uninsured and underinsured children who don’t receive regular dental care and benefit measurably from fluoride treatments. Instead, there’s a mindset that “impurities” or “chemicals” are “toxins” and therefore things we should all want to avoid. This is pseudoscience.

The debate about organic produce focuses on these fears of “toxins” as well, instead on the very real dangers of overproduction, potential lack of sustainability or concerns for workers’ rights. And don’t get me started on the fear of GMOs. I am concerned about GMOs, but not for any personal health reasons–rather, I don’t like the idea that we are reinforcing monocultures, cloned products with no biodiversity designed to be sprayed with levels of chemicals potentially unsafe from the workers doing the work and the communities that live downwind. On the other hand, if we can design GMO versions of staple foods that reduces environmental degradation while providing sufficient nourishment for the food insecure nations of the world, who am I to say they can’t have it? There is NO evidence that these products are dangerous to human health once they reach the dinner table, and yet that is the only discussion we are hearing. We can’t have a meaningful debate about the real costs and benefits of these products when we aren’t even agreeing upon the basic facts.

Image description: Pints of beautiful blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and salmon berries.

Want to get pissed off at some pseudoscience? Watch pretty much any of the food “documentaries” created since Supersize Me became a blockbuster. There you can learn the half-truths behind the values of juicing, eliminating sugar, paleo diets, vegan diets, Twinkie diets, McDonalds diets, and so much more. Look for the warning signs of pseudoscience as you go–are they using anecdotal data and individuals while avoiding comparing larger sample sizes? Do they ignore the facts that run counter to their arguments? Do they set up false dichotomies requiring an all-or-nothing comparison–the worst of the standard diet against the best/purest of the proposed diet? If so, consider this your pseudoscience trigger warning.

Health, diet and fitness culture is rife with this sort of pseudoscience. Every named diet ever formulated has some sort of “data” to argue that it is the best way to make you healthier, happier, and fitter. Every single one of them cherry-picks the data, jumps to conclusions outside the purview of the research, and uses logical fallacies like false dichotomies to “prove” their superiority. Their goal is to sell their books, products, and edible non-food meal replacement products, not to inform you. And every time a friend or family member of mine begins to starve themselves in a new way or to take outrageously expensive supplements, it pisses me off. I’m not angry at them, I’m angry at the liars shilling these products and false promises.

I’m angry at the diet and fitness industry for convincing so many people that it is exclusively their own fault for having a larger body and that the solutions are simple. I’m angry that people believe they need to go “on a diet” in order to live a healthier life in a body that more closely meets their needs. I’m angry at the lie that we should exercise to control our body size and the willful ignorance that avoids discussing the dozens of other actually good reasons for regular exercise, regardless of our body size. Commercials, paid spokespeople, and poorly written news reports that ignore this bigger picture really do deserve a pseudoscience trigger warning.

But of course, it is the nature of pseudoscience to not identify itself as such. It would lose some of its intended power if it had to remind you first that what they were about to say has limited evidence to support it.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if these warnings existed? Imagine a world in which news broadcasters interviewing the latest fitness guru had to first announce, “Trigger warning, everything we’re about to say has limited or questionable data to support it.” What if dietary supplements came with a bold statement that said “we cannot prove that anything will happen when you take this pill, and maybe it will make things worse.” What if any time your friend/family member/colleague began to espouse how great it is to go Keto they found themselves first saying “there is absolutely no evidence that this is going to work for me long term, but I’m going to try it anyway.”

What if your doctor had to say, “Now, there’s mixed evidence that BMI has a causal relationship to other risk factors, it is only accurate as a measure of body fat percentage for about 60% of the population, and it’s commonly used to reinforce anti-fat stereotypes. Given all that, I’d like to discuss how much you weigh.”

Think of how much more empowered we would be if these warnings were expected and required. I am so sick and tired of hearing bullshit being espoused as fact. We live in an era in which genuine experts are distrusted and suspected of ulterior motives, in which confirmation bias is treated as an acceptable alternative to hard truths. People rely upon the news, doctors, experts and friends and family to help them sort through the data to make the best decisions for themselves and their health. We can’t make good decisions with bad data, and until we find another way to sort through the pseudoscience, I would appreciate a trigger warning.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found yelling at her car radio during long commutes, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

body image

Life size Sam is just fine, it turns out

I showed up for work last week and was told that they were ready to take my photo if I still had time. Sure, I guess. What for? For your cardboard model. My what?

Here it is. A life size cardboard replica of me. Full size. She looks taller but that’s because she’s on a stand. Oddly, I wasn’t troubled at all by my size. What’s she for, you ask. Well, advertising and promoting the College. But also just for fun. I love that some of our students and my kids started talking about making seasonal paper cut-out clothes for me, like a Santa hat.

It’s an interesting exercise in seeing yourself as others see you. It’s okay. I thought I’d hate it and be really uncomfortable but it’s just fine.

Also I’m wearing pants! Weird but true. I’m immortalized in clothes I rarely wear.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling
Sam taking a mirror selfie that captures both her and her cardboard likeness.

fitness

Getting an early start on winter fitness wild optimism

One of the things I like best about this blog is how it Never Ever loses its head as the new year approaches. It Never Ever splashes its pages with New Year’s top fitness plans, best-bikini blasting workouts (I think that metaphor didn’t work out, but you get the idea), or any cockamamie crackpot idea for transforming your body through aerial lacrosse or bench presses on horseback. And we Never Ever Will.

Never ever.
Never ever.

Now, we bloggers and readers do, in fact, love us some challenges. The 219 in 2019 groups have been humming along since they were 216 in 2016; also, some of us have done 30-day or longer yoga challenges. And of course the plank challenge never really goes away, it just fades into the background for a while, then inches back.

Focusing on a fitness challenge or a fitness goal is something loads of us do, whether in the form of a specific timed challenge, a group training plan, individual training for races, charity events, active vacation trips, etc. I used to be a challenge curmudgeon, but am recently a convert and maybe even a challenge evangelist (I’ll try not to be annoying about it).

This week, I surfed my challenge enthusiasm wave all the way to online checkout: I bought a 12-week at-home strength training and yoga online program. Full disclosure: I got sucked in by a Black Friday deal. Oh, the shame… 🙂

However, this program is by Bad Yogi, an online yoga instructor whose yoga videos I like a lot. I’m not linking to the program, but it is basically a 12-week set of alternating strength training and yoga videos– 3 of each per week, plus one rest day. Honestly, this is more than I can probably manage, but that’s okay. I showed the strength training exercises for week 1 to a friend who’s pretty knowledgeable about these things, and she approved. They are all pretty familiar to me.

One thing I noticed right away is that the pace and exercise load is way too rigorous for me right now. No problem– I’ll pace myself and also lighten and also modify the exercises. Modifications are included in the program.

I do want to do some sort of strength training 3 times a week– that’s the reason why I bought the program. But if I do it 2 times a week, that’s good too. I already do some yoga almost every day, but these yoga videos are helpful and also focus on specific body areas, which is not a bad resource to have at my fingertips.

I’ll be reporting back every 4 weeks on how things are going– what I liked, what I didn’t, what worked, what seems completely undoable (by me), and what I’m learning.

And I know what I am about to say is completely silly, but: I’m sort of proud of myself for starting this now, rather than waiting until January 1. I want to feel stronger and to move more easily in the activities I do, and I think this will help me. December is a hugely busy time, but hey– life is busy. I’m hoping it will be a nice anchoring activity for me (to borrow a phrase from Christine’s post on Saturday).

Readers, do you have some physical activity goals or plans for the last part of 2019? For 2020? How do you manage December and physical activity? I’d love to hear from you.

blogging

Top ten posts in November, #icymi

Our most read post of the month was Tracy’s post from a few years back on fear mongering, fear of fat, and seasonal eating. It included swear words and definitely hit a nerve then and now. The mixed messages start around the time of American Thanksgiving and they just want to make Tracy say “fuck off and leave me alone!”

Nicole’s post on feeling invisible was #2.

#3 was Susan’s thoughtful and politically engaged post on Brené Brown.

All of the posts except this one and Tracy’s #1 post were written this month. #4 was Cate’s older post on still menstruating at age of 53 and 1/2.

My post on pain and deciding whether or not to walk anyway was #5.

#6 Men, bodies, and shame was me talking about men and their bodies again!

Nat’s post about her experiences of perimenopause was #7.

A race report from our newest guest blogger Şerife Tekin was #8.

Dare not Compare, Kim’s post, was #9.

#10 was Cate’s post about catching butterflies with her vagina.

Blue sky, bare branches, yellow leaves. Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash