This post shares about general, non-specific body aches. My reflections are based on my personal experience. As everyone has different bodies and experiences, I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments.
Body aches have become a common fact of my mid-life. My low-level, everyday aches are unique to my body and its history; yet, my friends and I seem to share an increased frequency of body aches as we age.
Body aches are mysterious to me because they can be (to use a word I am making up) contramonious. In other words, opposing causes can result in similar aches. Some examples:
I can ache from exercising too intensely or too often, or from not enough or not frequently enough.
I ache when am dehydrated, or when I feel I am retaining water.
Aches can come from new injuries, but also from old healed injuries.
Aches in the body can also present in contrasting ways:
Aches can be dull and generalized, or sharp and localized.
Aches can come from one’s body attacking its own healthy cells, as in an autoimmune disorder.
Aches can be uncomfortable but indicate nothing serious, or they can be symptoms of a condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Aches can be a mystery when their causes are not clear. My body has been been aching this week, and I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because I sat all week at my desk. Or it’s because I went rollerskating in the mall on the weekend. It could be from recent my flu vaccine, or because I am getting sick and I haven’t hydrated enough. Perhaps there is a specific medical reason, or perhaps I am just tired and burnt out in general.
Body aches are literally a pain, but the small upside of mine is that they are a general warning light for me: inflammation is happening in my body, and things could get worse if I don’t take action. Aches force me stop and self-assess—how severely am I aching, what impact are these aches having on me, and what can I do to alleviate them?
I’m also happy that, though my aches may have many different possible causes, the treatment is fairly simple and standard:
Warm bath (or my heating pad!)
Light, safe movement
As I age, my low-level body aches are little mystery novels that remind me to do more simple self-care, no matter “what-dunit.”
What is your experience with everyday, low-level body aches? Is there an upside to your aching?
This post is a group of loosely connected thoughts in a blogpost-shaped trench coat but let’s just roll with it.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a lawn chair on my front lawn awaiting trick or treaters – Khalee is too much of a chaos agent for me to easily answer the door over and over so I take the treats outside and drink tea while waiting for the kids.
Tomorrow, or today by the time you read this, is November 1, just a little over a week away from my 50th birthday.
A few months ago, I thought I would have a good fitness routine by now. I thought I had a solid, low key plan.
Turns out, I was still trying to do too much at once and I have basically been kind of ambling along trying to figure out my how and when, exercising more some times and less other times.
At the beginning of October, I thought I would have a straightforward month with two challenges to work on, but I was plagued with migraines and frustration and never really found my groove.
One tiny part of my brain is telling me ‘You should be more disappointed in yourself, don’t you think?’
But another part is reminding me that the word should is at least 90% evil and that, at almost 50 years old, I don’t have to put up with people being mean to me – especially if that person is me.
So, instead, I’m thinking that I must not have found the easy thing. I must have had too many steps or too many decisions, I must not have smoothed the path, I must not have included enough fun. Oh well! Too late to worry about those past plans now.
I’m not trying to revamp them, though, I’m just focused on what’s ahead of me.
I’m looking forward to my birthday month with the goal(s) of finding more ease, seeking more fun, and looking for ways to move more often on any given day.
There’s no overarching plan, there’s no big idea, there’s just me experimenting with trusting myself in the moment. Let’s just hope my brain will cooperate.
It took me a couple of Halloweens of trying different things before I figured out that I could circumvent the stress of the dog-related chaos by taking the treats out to the kids but I was making little changes in my approach the whole time.
I’m hoping the same is true for this whole figuring-out-routines thing, that I *am* making adjustments and learning as I go, even if it’s hard to see while I’m still in the middle of it.
PS – In case you have a tendency to worry: I am completely ok, by the way. I’m mostly just interested in how and why I feel so at ease with not having done what I had set out to do. And why I don’t feel the need to poke into what went “wrong.” I like the fact that instead of my brain leaning into the meanness, I veered off into the ‘try this’ of taking things moment by moment. I’m observational and reflective, perhaps a little melancholy, but I’m not sad, not upset, and there’s nothing wrong.
Dame Angela Lansbury died yesterday. In addition to her show Murder, She Wrote, I had fun last year listening to this podcast about her fitness book Positive Moves. I even tried her fitness video, which you can watch here. They only reinforced all the good feelings I had about Jessica Fletcher as an active role model, that I blogged about last May.
I have been re-watching Murder, She Wrote for pandemic relaxation. I admired Angela Lansbury in the role of Jessica Fletcher, author and sleuth, back when it first came out, and watched the show regularly. Now that I am approximately the same age Jessica was when it was filmed, I love her character even more.
Lansbury was 58 when the show debuted, and from the opening credits of the very first episode, Jessica is casually active in so many ways. She walks, cycles, skis, jogs, rides horses, and dances. She travels widely and fearlessly. She is both clever and wise. I remember admiring those things about her when I was younger. She was a bit of a role model even then.
Now that I am older, I have been noticing and learning new things about the show. Especially in the early seasons, Jessica treats a diverse cast with dignity and respect. Long before the age of Black Lives Matter, a much larger immigrant community, Indigenous issues and disability rights, Murder, She Wrote tackled some of these issues and represented all those communities on screen – sometimes because it was relevant to the plot, and sometimes simply because they were people.
Jessica is widowed, but never remarries or has a romantic entanglement despite many male characters being interested in dating her (and one offering marriage). Apparently, this was something that Lansbury herself insisted on, in order to keep the focus on her character as a mystery solver. She also has a panoply of strong, interesting older women as guests on the show. Half the fun has been checking the bios to discover (or rediscover) stars from the 30s through the 60s.
Almost 40 years after she first appeared, Jessica Fletcher is still a role model for me. And apparently for others too. Aside from articles about the Jessica Fletcher effect (cycling inspiration for women as they hit their 40s), there are websites about “what would Jessica do”, as well as Twitter and Instagram fan sites. Dame Lansbury is still active at 95. Now I have new life goals, still inspired by her.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she is currently working from home and riding her bicycle, walking, dancing, and riding a horse as often as possible. She does not solve murder mysteries.
I have mentioned a few times in previous posts that one of my motivations for being active was to avoid some of the health issues I see in my parents.
I inherited Mom’s varicose veins, slow thyroid and tendency towards osteoporosis. Lately I have also been getting some twinges of arthritis too, though thankfully nothing like what has led her to have three hip replacements.
Keeping myself fit and mobile was all I needed to worry about, until very recently. Dad has always been capable, and Mom is stubborn, so elder care mostly involved visits, and occasionally helping with a meal. Then Mom had a fall and broke several ribs.
Luckily, I had booked six weeks of vacation and live in the same city, so I will be available to take care of cleaning, meals, supervise physiotherapy exercises between visits, and help with personal care.
So far, I have sitting with her or with Dad, trying to get answers from hospital staff, and making sure I have the necessary arrangements in place for once she gets home. I treasure the moments brushing Mom’s hair, and don’t mind sitting quietly for hours while she naps, but at the end of the day that non-activity leaves me more ready for bed than a a physically demanding day.
If ever there was a time for meditation, yoga, or an early morning swim, it is now. I am not one for traditional meditation; I prefer to cook instead. Some nights, there is a lot of cooking.
I am pretty comfortable thinking about my own health – how to maintain it, accepting certain limitations as I age. And I knew there would come a time when my parents would need more care. What has been a surprise was exhausting it would be.
For the next few weeks, I plan to do some early morning gardening or go for a swim before heading off to do elder care duties. I will take advantage of every offer of assistance from my sister. I will keep some sort of craft on-hand to work on rather than doom scrolling. And I will work on getting enough sleep. More than ever, I want to be alert and avoid injury myself.
Full confession: I hate housework. And I totally agree with Catherine’s thoughts about the very unfeminist aspects of counting housework as fitness.
But I do like gardening, at least at the beginning of the season when I am still full of hope that things will grow. And I love my mom, who likes to have a garden, but can no longer maintain one herself.
So I spent many hours on Sunday working in both my garden and my mom’s. It wasn’t particularly intense exercise, but there was definitely some walking as I took my poor overburdened push mower over my little patch of grass repeatedly (it turns out that no-mow May leads to knee-high grass). And lots of bending and lifting as I hauled out lawn furniture, pulled weeds, dug holes for flowers, and carried yard waste bags (the heavy lifting with bags of dirt and planters happened a couple of weeks ago).
I was pleased that there were no twinges at all the next day.
But I have been thinking ever since about how slowly Mom walked through the gardening centre. She didn’t even feel up to pushing the cart (usually something she insists on). And Dad, who usually joins me to putter while I garden, spent most of the afternoon working on his puzzle books inside.
They are both in their mid eighties, so the slowing down is understandable. But it is also a sharp reminder of why I got active in the first place. I didn’t want to end up suffering from arthritis like my mom, and I wanted to be a good role model for my kids.
As I near the age they were when I made that decision, I’m adding a new goal. I want to age at home. I want to be comfortable walking to the grocery store in my eighties, doing at least basic gardening, and maybe even still riding my bicycle (or electric bicycle or tricycle).
I still won’t be smiling about the housework, or counting the calories I burn washing dishes, but I will be living independently on my own terms. That’s about as feminist as you can get.
I don’t particularly like that expression – I like to think that Wednesdays are no better or worse than any other day. However, I have decided that this week needs every bit of celebration I can find.
Last week I had bad allergies and spent a lot of time fussing about whether it was COVID. My walking challenge is starting to wear on me. The weather suddenly went from freezing to being hot enough to kill half my poor seedlings when I put them outside to start hardening off. My lanemate and I were both in the world of “I’m too old for this sh*t” after Sunday’s swim practice. We will not even discuss the state of the world, which has me filled with crone rage on many fronts.
So Happy Hump Day: a made-up internet hope that things can only get better.
My allergies are feeling better, so I have more energy. I updated my tetanus booster, donated blood, and will get my second COVID booster on Saturday, so I feel that I am doing all I can to be healthy.
At swim practice, I learned a fun new drill, something that rarely happens after nearly 20 years of swimming with a club. And at Saturday’s practice I got the comment that I have a very respectable butterfly and natural freestyle stroke for long-distance swimming (coach was commenting on technique, as I am not fast). Every little bit of positive reinforcement feels good, even at my age.
The geese along my walk to work are hatching, the trees are coming into leaf, and I may just combine one of my walks this week with a trip to the pond for an early morning or lunchtime swim.
I haven’t yet figured out how to channel my crone rage effectively; that is a feminist rather than a fitness issue, but I’ll keep working on it.
It has been over a year since I checked in my heart health and cholesterol, and my aim of managing without medications. In news that will surprise exactly nobody, I failed. But that’s okay.
I have been learning to cook and enjoy more meatless meals. I have switched to whole wheat breads and pastas as part of an overall effort to increase my fibre intake. I probably have more salt than I should because I can a lot of my own vegetables when they are in season, but I’m okay with that because I like growing and preserving food too much to give it up.
I am not as diligent about eating late any more, because I often struggle fit food in before dance class, especially now that I am going to the office semi-regularly.
I started taking cholesterol medication; even at a low dose, it was enough that my blood pressure meds were cut in half. Better living through chemistry!
I am still fat. I am also very active. And I am as tall as ever, which the technician at my most recent bone density scan says is a good thing.
In summary, I’m doing as well as could be expected. I could probably do a little better, but the extra effort isn’t worth it to me. I may remember to check in again at some point in the future, but likely only when there is a major change.
How about you dear readers – have you tried to fight off some aspect of aging but now are at peace with it?
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is starting to look forward to retirement so she can do more things she enjoys.
I have been an adult ballet dancer for almost 19 years; I have avoided injuries and never missed a class except for travel. That ended abruptly two weeks ago when I did something to the muscles in my lower back and hip.
Luckily, it was just before a week-long break at the dance school, so I didn’t miss classes. I did have to miss a couple of swim practices though, as I was pretty much confined to bed for several days. I was not happy. At all.
Thankfully, rest, gentle stretches, and a couple of trips to to the chiropractor’s have me mobile again. I have managed two dance classes this week, though I still feel like a bit like this mushroom:
Part of me thinks I need to start accepting that I am 61 and my risk of injury will continue to grow with age. Part of me says that I have already scaled back to an easier level of class, and I am learning to accept that things like grand pliés will depend on how I feel that day. It’s okay to make accommodations. And part of me thinks I should just shift my perspective. Like these bats, I’m a pretty badass dancer if you look at me the right way.
As I was preparing for the Senior Canadian Curling Championships my recurring knee and shoulder injuries were making it hard for me to curl my best. On the ice, I was in constant pain. I needed to get help and to get help fast. A local physiotherapist was recommended to me, but I was skeptical. I’ve been to a dozen physiotherapists, without much luck. Many have made assumptions about my physical ability and age, which ticked me off. At the same time, I was desperate to relieve the pain. Why? It wasn’t so I could get a better sleep or take less Ibuprofen, it was so that I could curl better — full stop. That’s what a lifetime of competing, pushing, and playing does. The academic in me is critical of this. The curler in me is not. The aging woman in me … well the jury is still out because, I can’t lie, it’s getting harder.
I reluctantly made an appointment with my physiotherapist, Nelson, who turned out to be very young and very fit. This could go badly, I thought. As he was collecting information about me, he learned that I was a curler. He very quickly informed me that he is often mistaken for one of Canada’s most famous curlers, Brad Gushue (2022 Canadian Men’s Olympic Skip).
Connection made … check. Rapport built … check.
As Nelson was assessing my injuries, he told me that “the best thing for you to do right now is rest, but I know you are not going to do that so let’s see what we can do”. I liked this for a couple of reasons. First, there was nothing said about being a woman of a certain age and the importance of scaling back at that age; things that I have heard way too often. Second, he respected that I am an athlete who needs to curl, and to curl well.
Five weeks later and we were off to our competition. I felt a lot better. Not perfect, merely better. But then, what is feeling perfect? For me, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel physical pain. As I’m writing this post, my hamstrings are sore, different bits in my back are stiff, and my shoulders ache. As a society, our tendency is to attribute the pain I feel to the fact that I am a 56-year-old woman. But this kind of attribution is simplistic, essentialist, and quite frankly, ageist.
Ageist assumptions about pain permeate other domains of life too. Several years ago, my colleague, Kim Shuey, and I wrote a paper on aging and the perception of disability in the workplace. We found that workers who attribute their disability to aging are less likely to ask for workplace accommodations and are less likely to receive them even if they do ask.
Feeling “perfect” for me is living with some degree of pain, regardless of my age. It is difficult for me to know how much of my pain I should blame on aging or the spinal fusion surgery I had when I was 11 years old to improve a major case of scoliosis. My back is fused from top to bottom, and as a result, other body parts get stretched to their limits. I don’t think that I have lived a day since my surgery where I haven’t experienced pain. I’m used to it and I’m telling you this because it shows that we need to interrogate our assumptions about the relationship between aging and pain.
Interrogating, however, does not mean ignoring. Competing, pushing, and playing is getting harder. Particularly over the last 5 years, recovery time is longer, more body parts hurt at once, and injury is more prevalent. All of this makes the motivation to train more challenging; especially with a pandemic making it unclear whether my team will have an opportunity to play. Why continue? Because I love curling, the curling community, the exercise, and competing.
So, what says the aging woman jury? — Rest!
But I think not. I guess my identity as a curler is stronger than my identity as an older woman, at least for today.
So I turned 57 yesterday, and though I didn’t much feel like celebrating (because it’s hardly any sort of milestone birthday), I did. I took the day off and did only things I enjoy, starting with a 6 am workout with Alex and a hot yoga class a little bit later. I had lunch with a friend at my new favourite lunch spot (The Tea Lounge) and we each bought some of the art that was hanging on the restaurant wall. My parents drove in to spend the weekend with me, which is a celebration in itself that makes up for many missed visits during the pandemic. We went out for dinner to a fancy place (fancy at my mother’s request and it was amazing) and my mother baked two cakes for this afternoon. And we are getting take-out tonight (also at my mother’s request: “why should we cook?” she said. Why should we, indeed?!).
Birthdays always make me take stock, reflecting on what the year has brought, where I am “in life,” what’s working and what might need to change.
What has the year brought? The past year has brought a sense of monotony that I have not known before. At times, during pandemic stay-at-home orders, I felt as if I was living one long day. Yes, it was punctuated by sleep and meals, zoom sessions for this and zoom sessions for that, but oh the sameness of it all. Some days it took real effort, I have to say. Thank heavens for the kittens!
And yet, I developed routines, like regular workouts with Cate’s trainer Alex’s virtual training sessions, running, walks (sometimes with a neighbour in my building) and at-home yoga (mostly with Adriene). Despite the joy of being able to get out again, I am resenting having to revise these routines (so I can get out the door to get to work in the morning now that I’m not longer working at home).
The virtual world also opened up some new rituals with friends and family out of town. Movie night on Friday and Monday night dinner (all on Zoom) with my friend and former grad-school housemate Diane who lives in Iowa. Regular family zooms on Sundays with my brothers and parents, everyone joining from a different part of the province. Daily check-ins with my friend Steph, who lives in London but during lockdown (especially through the winter) we couldn’t see each other in person much. Fairly regular Wednesday evening fireside gatherings with a great group of women (even through last winter). Another Sunday call with my friend Manon who lives in Guelph. And periodic check-ins and occasional visits from a few other reliables, including Sam (but I guess we’ve been doing that since she moved away a few years back) and my step-daughter Ashley who lives in Vancouver.
Looking back then, I would say this year brought: monotony, consistency, and a focus on valued relationships.
Where am I “in life”? I think even writing this post indicates that I am in a sort of existential moment. Maybe that’s another thing the pandemic brought. Let’s just say I’m not where I expected to be as I turned 57. I’m on my own again, for the first time in a couple of decades, and not feeling super-motivated to change that. Though I do sometimes miss having a steady companion, I appreciate my solitude more. I’ve got a few more years of career ahead of me before I retire, and am trying to decide whether to ramp up or start winding down. If ramping up (the likely choice), ramping up in which area? Research and teaching? Administration? Still mulling.
Work is not life, of course, so where am I with other things? I’m reading more. Doing less photography. Doing more yoga, less running. Sleeping more, travelling less. More attention to family and close friends, less spreading myself thin across too many commitments.
A consistent theme for me of late, and I think it has come with age, is that I feel less “beholden” to others. I’m at a place in life where I really do feel tired of being so concerned with what others think of my choices. It’s exhausting to wonder whether I “measure up” to some external standard(s) that I may or may not embrace. I’ve had a lot of time through the pandemic to consider what I value. Experiencing more quietude and solitude has brought me in touch with my inner compass, with less of the magnetic pull of noise and busy-ness and the opinions of others to interfere with where it’s pointing me.
That can make me feel strangely and paradoxically untethered sometimes, but radically free and unburdened at other times. That’s where aging has a certain liberatory power. I have wondered at what age will I stop being so motivated by the prospect of approving others. It may be this age: 57.
What’s working? Hey, you might be saying: isn’t this a fitness blog? Well one thing that is working lately is my approach to fitness. And that’s partly because more and more it is guided by what I feel like doing. I realize that some people will say they can’t do fitness that way because they don’t usually feel like doing anything. In fact, I myself have said in the past (2013) that “intuitive fitness” doesn’t work for me. But I came to change my mind about that (2019).
My word of the year, “mindfulness,” is working. I’ve had a lot of time to pay attention and cultivate awareness in ways that make me feel more and more grounded. If I feel “off,” which has happened a lot during the pandemic, my commitment to mindfulness has helped me uncover what is going on with me rather than distract myself from it. Over time, this has been a great practice that always keeps me hopeful.
Doing less, which has been a theme of mine throughout the life of the blog, is definitely working for me these days in the rest of my life. I am not one of those people who idealize the pandemic for the way it made us all hit “pause,” but I have to concede that I like having more unscheduled time, more quiet evenings at home, and fewer social commitments (despite that it sometimes felt monotonous). I plan not to return to the old, overfull schedule.
What needs to change? I’ve had a lot of change over the past three or so years, and I’ve not quite settled yet. I called this post “the liberatory power of aging” because I really feel free to go in whatever direction I want. I’m less beholden to people, as I noted earlier, but that’s partly because I’m at an age where people aren’t expecting anything much. Rather than lament that, to me it’s a source of freedom. What that means to me is that although there are some things (within my power) I would like to change, like more photography, more writing (both scholarly and creative), more meditation, more knitting, and more consistent running, I’m still uncertain where this “transition” is going to land.
And I’m okay with that, and with this rambling blog post that may not be all that interesting but still felt good to write. Happy birthday to me.