aging · birthday · fitness

The Liberatory Power of Aging (Tracy turns 57)

Image description: Tracy, smiling 57-year old woman with grey hair just shy of shoulder length, dangling earrings, two necklaces, tank-style top, abstract painting in background.

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.

Have you felt freer as you got older?

ADHD · aging · Dancing · fitness

Team Hennebury & the ‘Ageless Grace’ Class

Ages ago, I wrote about how much fun I had being gloriously awful at a Nia dance class with my friend Elaine.

I’ve done Nia lots of times since and I’m still a pretty goofy dancer but I have a grand time thanks to the atmosphere that Elaine creates.

Since I trust Elaine to ease me into new things to be gloriously awful at, last week, I checked out her drop-in class for a program called Ageless Grace.

image description: a black and white photo of Elaine and a group of seated seniors with their arms stretched out to their sides.
I was so caught up in our class that I forgot to take photos but here’s Elaine leading a different group at an indoor class. image description: a black and white photo of Elaine and a group of seated seniors with their arms stretched out to their sides.

I had no idea how hard it is to draw a circle with your left pinkie while drawing a triangle with your right big toe.

And how relaxing it is to pretend to be pulling taffy, in all directions, in time to some music.

And I wasn’t alone in this fun. My Mom, my sister Denise, and 27 other people joined Elaine and grinned, laughed, and sang our way through a series of exercises designed to encourage neuroplasticity and fitness.

And while I can’t exactly judge if it did those things for us, I can definitely tell you that it encouraged fun.

The target demographic for the class is seniors but it’s useful for anyone who is interested in challenging their brain. (My almost-48-year-old-ADHD-brain loved it.)*

All of the exercises are designed to be done in a chair so the participants can focus on the movements instead of worrying about falls.

Denise and I stood for the whole thing because we both have body quirks that are exacerbated by sitting. It was tricky but trying to keep our balance while doing dexterity/mind-body exercises meant we got to laugh at ourselves a little more than everyone else. (Pretty sure our Mom got in an extra snicker or two at our expense, too.)

Image description: A ‘selfie’ style photo of Christine, Denise, and Carol-ann (a.k.a. Mom.)  They are all wearing sunglasses, Denise and Carol-ann are smiling and Christine is smirking.
Here we are after the class, I really meant to smile but I missed! Image description: A ‘selfie’ style photo of Christine, Denise, and Carol-ann (a.k.a. Mom) on a sunny day. They are all wearing sunglasses, Denise and Carol-ann are smiling and Christine is smirking.

So, the long and the short of it, is that I am just as gloriously awful at the Ageless Grace exercises as I am at Nia dancing. And I had just as much fun making mistakes**the whole time.

And as a bonus, that pretend-taffy exercise loosened up some of the muscles in my upper back that plague me and I’ve been doing it a few times a day ever since.

PS – Just so you know, I have another sister but Angela couldn’t make it to the class!

*In fact, Elaine and I will be experimenting to see if my ADHD brain likes certain exercises more than others. More on that later!

* *Don’t worry, Elaine, I know that the mistakes are the point and that it’s the effort that counts. You know that I’m all about that kind of thing – ⭐️

fitness

Ballet and My Brain

As my summer dance classes come to an end, I am reflecting on why I dance. It’s certainly not because I’m any good at it! And while dancers generally love to perform in public, as an adult student, I don’t perform in shows. It isn’t even because ballet gives me flexibility. It’s the exact opposite, in fact; ballet demands flexibility rather than contributing to it. Dancers spend a lot of time stretching so they can do the movements (I don’t stretch nearly enough, and it shows in my technique).

For me, dance is hard work. I am not strong or graceful. But the most difficult is the memory work. My summer dance teacher has new variations of every exercise each class. That means an average of ten different patterns of movement for about sixteen bars of music every night, before we move away from the barre and do short routines in the centre. Throughout, I am making my feet go one way while my arms (and sometimes my head) are doing something quite different. That is a lot of exercise for my brain as well as my body, and it is what makes dance so wonderful as I age.

According to a widely-cited 21 year study of people 75 or older published in the New England Journal of Medicine (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa022252), the only physical activity that appears to provide protection against dementia is dance. The study doesn’t explore what it is about dance that is so effective, but one of my former teachers swears that it is the combination of movement with memory work that helps build new neural pathways and keep our brains young. Every time I reach the end of class, I quietly celebrate the fact that I have fought off cognitive decline for another week, along with osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Dance: all by itself, it is the anti-decline-from-aging trifecta.

Older woman in black pants and shirt dancing joyfully,

fitness · health · interview

Christine Interviews Her Personal Fitness Icon: Her Cousin Kathy Noseworthy

A silhouette of a person doing yoga on a beach at dusk.
Image description: Kathy is doing a standing yoga pose at dusk on a beach. Only her silhouette is visible against the darkening sky.

Maybe *your* mental image of an athlete is someone famous but *my* mental image of an athlete is my cousin, Kathy Noseworthy.

She has always been the fittest person that I know and most of my memories of her involve her being in motion.

I can remember being around 3 or so and she would come to dinner at our family’s apartment before going to practice on the field behind our house. I remember being impressed by all the sports awards she won (I still am!) And I have a clear image of me and my Mom looking after one of Kathy’s baby daughters so she could go out for a run. It was the first time I realized that having a baby didn’t mean that everything in your life had to be all about the baby (an important lesson for a young teenager.)

Kathy turned sixty last year and her Facebook posts are as action-oriented as ever. Her activities have changed but the way that fitness shapes her life has not. (And she’s every bit as inspiring to me now as she has been all along.)

Kathy is a retired Physical Education teacher who teaches yoga at Modo Yoga St. John’s and I was delighted when she agreed to chat with me about fitness, exercise, and the changes she has made so her body keeps feeling good about her activities.

My questions/comments are in bold.

Tell me a bit about yoga – your teaching and your personal practice.

Right now I’m just teaching yoga virtually, and I’m about to take July and August off. I’m going into my sixth year teaching yoga so this is a much needed break.

I’ll do my own practice. I’ll usually do yin, that’s what my body needs mostly. Because I get the yang part of my fitness in my other activities. I need to do yin yoga to keep up my flexibility, my agility, and you know, all of that stuff. And yin does that for me at this stage in my life. That feels the best in my body.

I love that as a measure, what feels best. 

To me, that’s the piece that people miss, no matter what they’re doing. They’re so goal-oriented or just like, “I’m just going to do it, it doesn’t feel good but I’ve just got to do it. I know I got to do it.” And I’m like, “Well, if it doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to keep doing it.”

So aside from yoga, what are your other activities?

Well, I do a fair bit of biking. I run but not as much as I used to, because that no longer feels good in my body. So, on a good week, if I run three times when that would be it.  But I’d say, on average, maybe twice a week.  The distance would depend on how I’m feeling, I never have a set distance in mind. 

I generally don’t go less than five but I rarely go more than eight anymore. That’s where I am with that and that feels ok. 

The thing I am probably most adamant about these days are weights because of my age (60 and I don’t want to lose my muscle mass. Even though that’s kind of inevitable but not if you want to work hard enough at it. I just lift weights to retain what I have, I’m not really that interested in becoming super strong, I just want to be functionally strong. 

So, I lift weights and again, my goal is three times a week. 

I walk, I do a lot of walking. 

The new thing I’m doing now is pickleball. That’s a cross between badminton and tennis, I guess. It’s a great sport, a paddle sport that you play with a wiffleball. I’ve been playing since last fall and I love it. 

Oh, and paddleboard. For me, that’s just a leisurely activity out on the water. It’s so nice, so relaxing.  

A woman stands on a paddleboard, floating on a body of water. She is holding an oar.
Image description: Kathy is smiling while standing on a paddleboard, holding an oar, floating on the water. There are trees and houses in the background.

So, how have your activities changed over time? You don’t play frisbee any more, right?

No, not anymore.

Now, I’m more concerned with maintaining a healthy body. Because I don’t think I would be a very nice person if I ended up getting injured and couldn’t do the things I want to do.

I’m very particular. I gauge the activity in terms of whether it’s going to be worth it to me,   and what’s the cost if I get injured? 

So, I stay away from things that I can’t control. Team sports, I don’t play team sports anymore because you don’t have control over everybody on the field so I tend to stay away from that. 

I’ve definitely shifted from team sports, which is, a total shift because that’s all I ever did. The traditional sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, even frisbee. I used to really enjoy it but now I’m just a bit more of a loner in terms of what I do. 

That’s how I’ve shifted and that’s more toward protecting my body. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the sports, it’s just about what makes sense at this point in my life. 

What about what about non physical benefits from your exercise? How do you think it helps your mental health, for example?

Oh, that’s so huge. I rarely take a day off but when I do try to take a day off, by mid-afternoon, I need to do something. It’s a mental thing.

That just might be a walk. I don’t consider that something that I couldn’t do on a day off.  

I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have activity as my outlet. 

I almost don’t know how to answer this question because I have never not exercised. It’s almost like something that just happens to me naturally. It’s not something I have to force or motivate myself. 

I mean, sometimes I have to motivate myself to go to the gym or go for a run. But, generally speaking, if I’m feeling like I don’t want to do anything, that’s when I need to do something because once I move, that inspires me to move more. 

But if I sit on my butt all day and do nothing, it just doesn’t put me in a good place. 

Once I start moving, I’m like, “Ok!” And I want to move more.

A woman is standing and holding up her bike in a wooded area with a body of water behind her.
Image description: Kathy on her bike on a sunny day. There is a body of water and trees in the background.

How do you feel about the idea of fitness as a feminist issue, as part of women feeling empowered?

It’s funny that you asked that because I was saying to my friend last week, just as it pertains to lifting weights, when you feel strong physically, you feel strong mentally. I think the benefits there, I wish more women could take that on more.

I think some women are like “I don’t want to have muscles, I don’t want to get big.” but they don’t understand how hard you would have to work to get big. But knowing that when you touch your arm, you feel the muscle, you feel strong, that translates to you mentally. It’s hard not to feel empowered when you have that strength.

Lifting weights empowers women.

I didn’t always feel that way, I didn’t even think about it, really.

But now, I see women at the gym, lifting weights, and they are just so confident, the way they carry themselves, they just like how they are.

That’s empowering.

***********

Thanks for the great chat, Kathy!

fitness

In Praise of Jessica Fletcher

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.

Jessica Fletcher, wearing a beige jacket, smiling and on her bicycle, in the village of Cabot Cove

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.

Dame Lansbury with her famous bicycle in 2013. She is wearing a white top and long black skirt.

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.

fitness

Lessons from women 55+ on ageism and the importance of remaining engaged in physical activity, recreation and sport

That’s the title of a webinar I joined this week, offered through the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (www.cpra.ca). I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, but I did get some really valuable things out of it.

The first speaker, Peggy Edwards, talked about the context for older adults in sport. Words matter: Elder for indigenous and religious leaders; elderly is associated with frailty and dependence; senior is best reserved for discounts at the store. “How are we today dear” is right out, along with would-be compliments that perpetuate the view that decline is normal in aging.

She also talked about demographics and the need to face up to our biases. Older adults in Canada increasingly ethnically diverse; older indigenous women more likely to die early; 80+ is the fastest-growing population group. However, older women are often invisible in society, and ageism and sexism are barriers for women in sport.

In order to get older women involved in sport, we need to focus on the benefits of getting older. Contrary to popular perceptions, older women have higher levels of thriving in social and physical aspects of life than some other groups. We also need to choose positive language, be realistic about the images used in advertising programs, address diversity within the community of women, and – crazy idea here – ask women what the want to do.

The Wife of Bath, from The Canterbury Tales. She was an older woman, having buried five husbands. Her famous riddle was “what do women want?” The answer was “to be in control”. An illuminated manuscript image of a woman in a red and blue dress riding a brown horse.

The next two speakers focused on specific ways to reduce barriers. External ybarriers are those that prevent women from joining sports activities. They include weather and infrastructure (slippery or poorly maintained sidewalks are hazardous especially for women with mobility or vision issues), transportation, and cost. Equally important are timing and what is offered. That’s where diversity comes in. Older women are not always retired and available for fitness classes during the day. Many are bored at the prospect of mall walking, pickleball and aquafitness as the primary options available.

Impacting barriers affect women’s ability to participate fully. Health can be both a motivator and a barrier. Women caring for grandchildren or ageing parents may guilty about taking advantage of respite services to go play golf, rather than just for essentials like groceries. Others include the lack of buddies to join in with (cliques are still a thing no matter how old we are), or the programming itself (lack of adaptations for people who are learning new skills or have mobility or strength issues, the rapid pace of instructions, or even program descriptions that are unappealing to women who don’t see themselves as seniors).

The final group of barriers is internal – the way we see ourselves as athletes. Body image, guilt, confidence, the feeling of invisibility as an older woman all come into play here.

So how to address those barriers? Thanks to sexist differences in opportunities growing up, older women often need to develop physical literacy, so offer fundamental movement skills classes similar to those that are common for children. Offer a variety of activities, with adaptations; some older women love to play basketball if the net is lowered a bit; others want to take up tap dancing with simpler routines and no sequins. Recruit older women instructors. Create confidence through women’s-only programming, especially for sports that are new to them. Train instructors to read medical forms and provide options that make sense for those with arthritis, high blood pressure, etc. Ensure instructors set goals with relevant rewards, such as sleeping or being able to walk upstairs better. Explain where the bathrooms are and what participants need to bring. And again, involve women in planning programs. This was a recurring theme.

All of these big ideas got me thinking about my own relationship to sport and aging. I don’t have much of an issue around sport or being active, but I realize I have a big issue with aging. I just turned 60. There! I said it out loud; I don’t think I have told anyone my age without significant prodding since before I turned 25. I don’t try to be younger than I am, but I certainly have a fear of becoming an invisible older woman, and I hate the idea of seeing my sport horizons wither to mall walking and aquafitness classes as I age. I definitely want to live by the last few ideas shared before I had to leave.

Age big, bold, inquisitively, gratefully. Long live endorphins! You don’t have to be an expert: you just have to be curious.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is now tempted to take up tap dancing.

aging

Tracy enters the grey zone

It’s funny how sometimes you just know you’re ready for a change. Somewhere back in January I had a strong desire to do something different with my hair. When your hair is short like mine, the only thing you really can do is grow it. But it was also blond, and I was starting not to like the blond anymore. Apart from the three hour costly appointments at the salon, I just felt like the regular bleaching wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.

I told my stylist about my decision and she got positively excited. So, slowly over the past couple of haircuts, we’ve been cutting out the blond. And last Thursday was the end of it. No more blond:


Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short cropped grey hair, smiling, wearing a black hoodie with purple writing on it, abstract painting in the background

I mostly like it. It has made me feel liberated from a beauty regime that has taken up hours of my life for the past 20 years. Instead of being in the salon for three hours, I now only need to be there for half an hour. And that is likely going to reduce further because now that the blond is all gone and I’m back to my natural colour, I’m going to grow it a big (I said I needed a change!).

It’s definitely going to take a bit of getting used to. Of the many friends I have who are my age, the vast majority colour their hair or bleach it. I only know a handful of women in their 50s who let their hair go natural. I do see this as something of a political issue, in the sense that if we are all thinking we need to keep ourselves from going grey we stigmatize grey hair.

On the other hand, apparently there are people who pay good money and go to great lengths to have grey hair. Young people, even, if this Glamour article is any indication of the demographic. And there is a much-followed Pinterest board called “women who rock grey hair.” And on that board, most of them are “of a certain age” and they look awesome with their grey hair.

I hope more women in my circle decide to go for it too so I have some company in this. But meanwhile, that’s where I’m at these days where my hair is concerned. I know that there are many reasons people colour their hair. For me, it was simply to fend off the grey. And that runs counter to my resolve not to worship at the alter of youth, but instead to accept that as I age, I can expect to see some physical changes, and the natural colour of my hair happens to be one of them.

Anyone else out there gone from colouring or bleaching to allowing their natural grey (if it is grey) to shine?

aging · cycling

Want the health of a 20 year old at the age of 80? Ride a bike!

The big health and fitness headline this past week concerned the release of results of two studies of senior citizen cyclists. For those of us preaching the health benefits of exercise, it was amazing news.

There’s a New York Times article on the study that covers the main points: Exercise Can Keep Aging Muscles and Immune Systems ‘Young’.

The NYT piece begins by noting that our understanding of aging might be radically mistaken because so few older adults get any exercise at all.

“Exercise among middle-aged and older adults in the Western world is rare. By most estimates, only about 10 percent of people past the age of 65 work out regularly. So, our expectations about what is normal during aging are based on how growing older affects sedentary people.”

We’ve written about that before on our blog. One of our earliest posts was on aging as a lifestyle choice.

Again from the NYT story: “The two sets of scientists then dove into their data and both concluded that older cyclists are not like most of the rest of us. They are healthier. They are, biologically, younger. Their muscles generally retained their size, fiber composition and other markers of good health across the decades, with those riders who covered the most mileage each month displaying the healthiest muscles, whatever their age.”

Wow.

I’ve had lots of thoughts about these studies and about the good health of these elderly riders.

My first thought was that I’m really happy that I love to ride my bike.

Second thought, should people who don’t like cycling take it up? Should I be urging friends and family whose health I care about to get on their bikes? That’s not so clear. These aren’t studies that took people and assigned them to one of two groups, those who ride a lot and those who sit at home. Instead, it’s a study of those older adults who choose to ride. They’re a special group who chose not to stop riding big distances. Did their good health make their riding possible or did their riding cause their good health? We don’t know which direction the causation goes–maybe it’s a bit of both, a kind of virtuous circle, where one supports the other– but the results are pretty remarkable regardless.

Third thought, this is so not a moderate message. These cyclists were averaging 100 miles a week. That’s a lot of riding. At my best I aim for 5000 km a year. They’re averaging 5200 miles! Further, the benefits depended on dose. The riders who covered the most mileage each month displayed the healthiest muscles. You see them setting out for a 5 1/2 hour ride in the video above. This isn’t like the health messaging that says to go for a walk everyday. These guys are working super hard for hours at a time. They’re riding big distances year round.

They also love it.

From a BBC story on these cyclists:

Aged just 64, Jim Woods, is a comparative youngster in the group. He averages 100 miles a week on his bike, with more during the summer. He said: “I cycle for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”

Fourth thought, we don’t know if this holds true for other forms of exercise. Maybe it’s riding bikes that’s magic and nothing else matters? Seems unlikely. It’s true though that cycling is something you can keep doing as you get older. Lots of older adults move from running to cycling at a certain point.

So lots of questions, but still, remarkable good news. The Fit is a Feminist Issue cyclists–hi Susan, Catherine, Cate, Kim, Nat!–should start planning riding trips for the big birthdays, 60, 70, 80, 90 etc. And maybe we should move somewhere warm for the winters. A fit feminist roving commune with lots and lots of bike riding. I’m in!

Photo by David on Unsplash

See also Lessons on Aging Well from a 105 Year Old Cyclist.

accessibility · aging · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation

Courtesy, seniors and fitness assumptions

By MarthaFitAt55

I’ve discovered that I can be seduced by click bait. I see the headlines, and boom, there I am reading an article and fuming over the ridiculousness of it all.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss screamer headlines and their unsubstantiated content, but sometimes, you get drawn into an article because you just can’t help yourself.

STOP OFFERING YOUR SEAT TO ELDERLY PEOPLE ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT, ADVISE HEALTH EXPERTS

So I went there and was appalled and a little angry. Appalled as the article recommends not offering seniors a seat as standing is way better than sitting. Angry because the article makes no mention of the risk of falls from a lurching bus or tram.

Seniors riding a bus
Image shows seniors riding the The Rapid (the bus system serving Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

The Reader’s Digest version is this: older people need encouragement to keep fit. Sedentary activity, including sitting on public transport, leads to negative health effects. Encourage them to be active, like taking the stairs or walking for ten minutes a day. In fact, the expert quoted in the article says we should “think twice before giving up your seat on the bus or train to an older person. Standing up is great exercise for them.”

For those of us under 60 with a reasonable amount of calcium in our diet, the risk posed by an unexpected lurch or stop on the bus is at most a possible wrench or at least a bark of our shins against someone’s briefcase or shopping bag.

For seniors, it’s a different story. I found a guide encouraging active living habits for seniors on line, and even it warned them about the risks of sudden stops on public transport. To wit,

“It is also important to be alert so that you do not accidentally get injured on public transportation. Busses and taxis are notorious for being rough rides, and during quick turns or stops you may jerk forward in your seat. If you are not paying attention, then you could fall out of your seat and injure yourself. Always hold onto the bottom of your seat or onto a railing in the bus or taxi to keep yourself secured.”

According to Indiana University, the impact of falls is great:

  • Falls are the leading cause of a move to skilled-care facilities, often long term.
  • 20-30% of those who fall suffer moderate to severe physical injuries including breaks, cuts, and bruising.
  • Falls often result in long-term pain.
  • Falls involving a hip fracture lead to 10-15% reduction in life expectancy.
  • Older adults who fall are likely to worry about the future and loss of independence.
  • Loss of self-esteem and mobility leads to decreased activity and eventually inability to perform activities of daily living.
  • Because of decreased confidence and physical functioning, patients who fall are likely to fall again.
  • Elderly who fall are less likely to take part in beneficial activities like exercising or socializing because of a fear of getting hurt again and the embarrassment of a fall.

I don’t know about you, but if I were 65 or older, I would rather be seen as someone in need of a seat rather than someone in need of a hike. Mostly it’s simple courtesy as one should never assume that one is either fit or unfit. Maybe they’ve just come back from a rousing afternoon with the grand children; perhaps they’ve just spent time in a gym pushing weights around. Who knows? Sometimes, we just like to sit and watch the passing scene out the window.

Next time I see a senior, I’ll ask them if they want my seat and let them make the choice, not me.

— MarthaFitat55 has been working hard to build strong bones and muscles so she can keep standing for a long, long time.

accessibility · fitness · inclusiveness

Another win for inclusive fitness: Outdoor fitness parks for adults

senior-playground-ukThis morning I heard a man from Cobourg, Ontario on the radio talking about an initiative to bring an adult fitness park into that community. Since we are big here on the topic of inclusive fitness, the interview really stood out for me. I’ve also been talking to my class this week about the way “old age” is pathologized and medicalized (that’s been interesting, too), about ageism, and about the oppressive social structures that prize and normalize youth and the capacities we associate with it (being in “our prime”).  And my own parents, spry and active still, are very close to 80. They are remarkable role models for how I wish to age — I mean, they’re about to go to South Africa for four months and have planned a two-week tour of Namibia in February. Still and all, they have a realistic sense of their changing abilities and I am certain they would take advantage of a park such as this if one sprung up in their local community of Haliburton, Ontario.

The idea of initiatives that embrace evolving notions of fitness and create accessible environments for people entering later life stages appeals to me.  The Cobourg group trying to garner support for this idea made a presentation to the town’s council the other night, making the case that the town’s Recreation Strategy and Implementation Plan should include an Outdoor Adult Fitness Park. You can read the report here.

As part of their presentation, they said:

Providing free access to fitness equipment in public areas would be a logical addition to Cobourg’s already gorgeous beachfront, and would not only benefit the town’s citizen’s by improving the health of our community, but could also help with tourism and attracting retirees to our community.

Providing such fitness installations in Cobourg would also be a signal to this community (that) seniors matter and are an important part of the fabric of our town.

I love their reasoning: accessibility, maximizing the use of beautiful spaces in inclusive ways, promoting health and tourism, and sending a signal that Cobourg values seniors and considers them “an important part of the fabric of our town.”

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These kinds of fitness parks are not entirely new. The idea caught on in the 2000s and you can find them in China, England, Finland, Japan, and Spain, even in Whitby and in Oshawa, both just down the road from Cobourg. They’re an enormous hit in Barcelona, where there are 300 of them.

The Cobourg group has a Facebook page to try to drum up support for their project: https://www.facebook.com/cobourgfitnesspark/?fref=ts They’re inviting people to “like” their page to show support.

I would like to see more of these types of facilities installed in cities and towns across Canada. And as we promote them, it would be great to think of where they go — not just into affluent communities, but into diverse communities. They look like fun and they cater to a segment of the population whose needs are too frequently not considered a high priority unless medicalized. Making exercise fun and accessible is an important social goal that can improve quality of life in a more inclusive way.