aging · blogging

Silver Sam

Tracy and I often joke about all the things we have in common. We’re both immigrants to Canada who came here with our parents when we were young. We’re very close to the same age. We both have American PhDs. We wrote disserations in ethics. We started our careers in the Philosophy Department at Western in the early 90s. And we’ve had a multi-decade friendship and conversation about body image and physical fitness in our lives and the lives of women more generally. Then there’s the “fittest by fifty challenge,” this blog, and our book.

“[Fit at Mid-Life] reinforces the message that fitness can and should be for everyone, no matter their age, size, gender, or ability.” ––SELF

What if you could be fitter now than you were in your twenties? And what if you could achieve it while feeling more comfortable and confident in your body? 

Here’s what we looked like when our book was published. Promotional photos are from the Amazon site. Thanks Ruth! (Ruthless Images)

Now we’re aging and going grey together. Tracy first! See Tracy enters the grey zone. Tracy’s move to grey/silver was deliberate and planned and involved hair salons. Mine was accidental and a result of COVID-19.

I love Tracy’s silver hair and think it looks beautiful. I confess that silver envy is part of my motivation but I am not sure mine will look as good.

Luckily Sarah owns clippers and has been tidying up my undercut as it grows. Here’s my latest bikes and boats haircut. Gradually there’s less and less blonde and more and more of my hair’s natural colour.

But the thing is I never was someone who coloured her hair to cover grey. Here’s 80s me with a similar haircut and colour scheme. In wilder times it was also pink and purple. I’ve also never coloured the undercut bits and hiding my age was never part of my intention. I’ve always thought of hair colour as fun. I like tattoos rather than jewelry because they can’t get lost. And hair colour rather than make up because you don’t have to put it on and take it off each day.

And yet.

Here am in, in my 50s, in an administrative role as an academic, frequently sitting around tables with men in suits and women in dresses, almost of the women my age with blonde streaked hair. It’s ubiquitous.

I know why we do it. It’s easy. Highlights aren’t that expensive. The blonde is easier on your complexion. It’s closer to the lighter colour your hair is naturally turning. It’s forgiving in terms of growing in. It’s flattering.

But what if it no longer feels fun? It looks (except for my secret graying undercut) mainstream. What if it starts to feel mandatory?

Blondness is also complicated.

Apparently just 2 percent of adult white women in North America are blonde naturally. You wouldn’t guess that looking around campus or at the mall.

I hadn’t thought of blondness as connected to normative identities and whiteness until I read this article, The Pursuit of Blondness.

“Blondness, then, exists as a complicated form of self-expression. It can signal youth, beauty, privilege, and conformity. But it can also represent rebellion, independence, and the demand to be looked at and respected. It’s a choice that’s both distinctly personal and deeply intertwined with what society has taught people to value. Rankine and Lucas have a term for that: complicit freedom.

Anyway, I’m growing it out because of #PandemicHair. Maybe I’ll keep it its natural colour. Maybe I’ll revert to blonde. It’s easy to do. It’s shockingly more dark than I remembered!

Cheddar, by the way, is a completely natural blonde.

Sam and her yoga dog

What are you doing with your hair colour during the pandemic? Any post pandemic hair colour plans?

family · fitness · strength training

Backyard fitness and being in this for the long haul

It’s gradually been dawning on us, here at home in Guelph, that fitness-wise, we’re in this for the long haul. I stopped going to the gym awhile ago now. On March 9th I wrote, Sam decides to take a break from the gym. And by “this” I mean working out at home.

If there were a work Covid-19 bingo, for sure one of the squares would be about this being a marathon and not a sprint. I even wrote a Dean’s blog post with that as a title. I hope I wrote that before we all got sick of hearing it. Maybe not. And while I am sick of hearing that phrase too I am only now realizing that it’s not just about work. My personal life has changed too. I won’t be flying anywhere soon.

And the more that I think about it, the more I realize, that even if gyms re-open, I’m not going back anytime soon. I’ve written about my 7 part physical distancing fitness plan and about the missing puzzle pieces of my at home plan. Now the missing pieces are mostly filled in. I’m getting lots of physical activity and it’s helping me with stress and sleep. It’s also a source of pleasure and achievement in these strange times.

I expect I’ll return to the gym if we have a vaccine or if/when we have reached herd immunity without a vaccine or I suppose if we develop effective treatments for Covid-19. Either of those options is more than a year away. Before that I am more likely to go back to our 24 hour discount gym, in the off hours, than I am to the campus fitness facilities.

Maybe I’ll change my mind. But right now I’m thinking if I can do a thing with less risk, I’m going to stick to that path. Hence, the backyard gym.

Inside, we have the TRX and yoga mats and resistance cables. We’ve also got a kettlebell and a lone 8 lb dumbbell. We’re pretty well set up for riding inside too though as things loosen up in Ontario, I’m looking forward to physically distanced rides with friends. Obviously, there’s still some shopping to do. Outside, we now have skipping ropes, the punching bag, and a giant tire. Between those things and the phone tabata app, and a few family members to work out with, it’s a good time.

Usually I envy my big city friends with their boutique gym options and a vast array of theatre, music, and food options. But right now. I’m feeling pretty good about life in my small city where we have a backyard and space to flip big tires. The streets aren’t crowded for walking and running even if the city parks haven’t re-opened yet. Yes, I’m privileged to have these options. I’ll totally understand if others choose differently.

Come winter we may end up with even more indoor fitness equipment in the room that was our livingroom but is now mostly a two person home office which turns into a home gym when we break for lunch, or do yoga after work or before bed. I’m not sure it will return to its pure living room status. On and off, I think we’ll be working at home (those of us whose jobs allow it) for awhile yet.

What fun piece of backyard fitness equipment would you buy if you had the summer ahead of you?


What really is okay for exercising outside?

“I just wish someone would give us clear guidelines,” someone said to me the other day. “There’s so much contradictory information!”

It’s true. At this point in the pandemic, every jurisdiction seems to have slightly different guidelines for outdoor activity. In Canada alone, every province is different. Consider this weekend. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer of British Columbia, said “Please, go outside…The risk that somebody who is sick spreads this virus from coughing or sneezing outside and you walk by them very quickly, even when it is within six feet, that risk is negligible…. We always say ‘never say never’ in medicine, but the risk would be infinitesimally small.” Nova Scotia opened up its provincial trails and other outdoor activities like driving ranges, with “caution”. Most other provinces had similar advice, with appropriate cautions. But the Chief Medical Officer of Toronto “lamented” stories of people going outside, and our biggest park was closed for the weekend to keep people from congregating to see the cherry blossoms, giving us a “bloomcam” instead.

So how do we make sense of this? For the past six weeks, we’ve heard “sledgehammer” messages that the only responsible choice is to stay inside; this has led to the kind of conflict between runners and other people we normally only see between cyclists and cars. We’ve seen social media shaming and outright animosity, like this sign in NYC’s lower east side:

To try to detangle some of this, I interviewed Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and Chief of Staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, and a frequent voice on CBC and Global TV. (He’s also a colleague of mine). I asked him a few specific questions from our blogger team about his perspective on outdoor movement.

What is the actual risk of spreading covid19 by exercising outside?

“It is extremely unlikely that viral transmission would happen outside without close contact — you would basically have to be right in someone’s face and that would be a really weird thing to do with a stranger.” He added, “this virus is actually pretty wimpy, and it is either killed pretty quickly by UV or dispersed by the wind.” In other words, it’s a lot safer to exercise outside than inside, but to be safe, you need to maintain that two metre distance.

What about people who are so frightened of transmission that they see all runners as a threat?

“People are frightened, and we all need to be kind and do our part to give each other space. If you’re running, it’s better for you to be the one moving out of the way if you can, because you’re going faster. Now isn’t the time to claim your turf on the sidewalk. Be kind.”

“Is the virus actually spread “in the air”?

“If this virus were airborne, we’d all have it. We are talking about droplet transmission, which lingers on surfaces, and can be directly transmitted if we are panting right in someone’s face. Think about what it’s like in a crossfit class, with all that sweating and panting — you don’t want to be doing that. But outside, transmission is extremely unlikely.”

What about swimming? Should pools be opening up?

“In a swimming pool, the chlorine would kill the virus — the issue would be with people breathing hard too closely on you. Pools should be low risk if the number of people in them is limited and you aren’t touching other people or their stuff in the change room.”

What about vigorous vs. lighter exercise? Does that make a difference?

Again, the risk of transmitting this virus outside without direct contract is almost infinitesimal — it doesn’t matter how vigorously you’re moving as long as you maintain some distance. It could make a difference inside, though– think about that sweat and moisture I mentioned before.

So you think we should still be exercising?

Absolutely — from a mental health and overall health perspective, we need to keep moving. We should be creating more space for people to move around outside, safely. We need to be thoughtful about other people’s fear, but that means leaving them space and moving responsibly.

Why are there so many different messages?

“The lockdown of the past few weeks was aimed at making sure that we didn’t have such a surge in cases that our health system was overwhelmed. In Ontario, we’ve escaped that — both because people have observed social distancing and because the hospital system did excellent preparation to reduce everything but the most essential care. With a new infectious disease like this, we want to slow down transmission so we don’t all get it at once, so we can learn more about the virus and who is most susceptible, how to treat people who are ill, give us some time to get the science ramped up, and so we can keep our health system functioning. We have never had to do this before — so the basic message of “stay home” is the simplest. But as we open things up gradually, we will need to each take some accountability for resuming activity in a thoughtful way. We need to maintain physical distance for a while, but that doesn’t mean not moving. It just means being responsible in how we do it.”


You can follow Michael on twitter at @DrMichaelGardam. And I appreciate his time and insight, so much.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who went for a happy socially distanced run after their conversation, turning around at the entrance to the closed trail.


Why Sam is still riding inside even though the sun is shining

A narrow lane, with sun shining through the trees, with no traffic or people.

Even though it’s time for a new mantra, go outside, but do not congregate, and Cate is blogging this afternoon about outdoor exercise, dispelling some myths about moving outside during the pandemic, I’m still riding my bike inside.

Why? I’m asked that a lot and I thought I’d try to explain.

An aside: Sometimes you write a blog post just to explain your reasons for some conclusion or activity. Partly I want to point people over here when they ask why. Partly I want to lay out the reasons for myself, to see if they still hold up. But what I am not trying to do here is persuade others. That’s not my main aim. If you find my reasoning attractive, join me. But that’s not my goal.

First, I take the advice of Cycling Canada pretty seriously. They say, if you have the means to train inside, do it. Cycling Canada recommends you extend your trainer season. “Canadians have been urged to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus,” says the organization. “At this time, Cycling Canada recommends that cyclists who are equipped to ride indoors strongly consider staying home for recreational riding and training.” And I’m very well-equipped. Without the smart trainer, I might well choose to ride outside. But I have one and I’m using it lots.

Second, I like riding in groups, close to other people. I like riding with friends. In the past I’ve liked riding with bike clubs. And that’s exactly the kind of riding that’s not at all recommended. Six feet away from another bike is pretty far away and it’s a hard distance to maintain. It’s also hard to be heard from one bike to another six feet, given all the breathing maybe ten feet, apart. I hate yelling.

Third, I like riding to nearby small towns for coffee and snacks. That’s also not allowed. Again, Cycling Canada says, “Cycling Canada recommends you don’t travel to the next city or town to ride. Travel between communities accelerates the spread of COVID-19, and can bring the virus to smaller communities that don’t have the same health resources as larger urban centres. Many small towns and tourist destinations – including Whistler, Canmore, Squamish and cottage towns in Ontario and Quebec– are asking visitors to put off visiting until it is safe to do so.”

Okay, I could ride with people already in my COVID-19 family bubble and we could bring our own snacks. Maybe.

Fourth, I am also worried–not overly so but a bit–about what would happen in case of a crash. This isn’t a worry about dying on my bike. It’s a worry about the kind of small crashes I’ve had before, nothing broken, no stitches or concussions, but they’ve landed me in hospital for a day, getting gravel removed and being checked out. I don’t want to land in hospital, take a ride in an ambulance, or spend any time in an emergency room. (If you’re curious, here’s the story of one of my hospital worthy accidents. CW: gruesome photos.)

It’s why I worry about things like country drives right now. Friends went driving around the countryside, with the best of physical distancing intentions, and their car broke down. The next thing they knew they were in tow truck, very close to the driver, without face masks. I don’t want that. I’d risk that for an essential activity–like driving to work if I was an essential worker, or getting groceries–but a drive in the country isn’t needed. It’s an unnecessary risk. Ditto, I think, riding my bike. There are safer ways to get outdoor exercise. If I could run, I’d run outdoors. I can’t. But I do walk Cheddar a lot.

Here’s Cheddar waiting patiently by the front door for an after work walk. He was sadly disappointed because we had university Senate from 5-8 pm. Poor Cheddar!

Fifth, I am really enjoying riding and racing in Zwift. And I’m set up for it. I’ve thought about Zwifting in the summer before, Is it ridiculous to ride inside in the summer?. So this isn’t a brand new, pandemic-only, thing. In general, I like the safety paired with virtual speed.

I’ve also gotten used to riding in a sports bra, no jersey. 🙂

So given the worries, and that I like riding far, and fast, and with other people, there are a bunch of reasons keeping me riding inside right now. (Note that none of those worries have to do with catching COVID-19.) Also, I’m working long days and when I’m done it’s dark. And on the weekends there are a lot of people outside. Lots of them don’t have trainers but I do.

Will I stay inside all summer on my bike? I don’t expect so. I think I’ll ride casually in the sunshine because the wind feels good on my face. But I won’t be racing downhill or chasing QOMs for awhile yet. I’m hoping to get out on some local trails on my gravel bike once they’re re-opened. I’ll ride on the country roads near my home and the university campus, with snacks, and a repair kit, and my phone to call my son to come get me if need be. I’ll pack a mask in case something happens such that I need to be near other people. I’ll get there. But right now that feels, well, complicated.

I have a yard. I have a deck. I walk Cheddar lots. But for now, on my bike, I feel better inside. Follow me on Strava or on Zwift if that’s thing your thing and send me a “ride on.”

Virtual Sam has ridden enough to unlock a new bike. Lighter and faster. Whee!
dogs · fitness · training · weight lifting

The missing puzzle piece of Sam’s pandemic home workout plan

You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.

So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.

Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.

Cheddar, napping post walk

But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.

That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.

My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.

It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.

How to make chest and triceps day out of this?

Sam’s random home gym bits and pieces

We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?

Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!

fitness · health · illness · self care · strength training · training

How much is too much? Some thoughts with lots and lots of links

So we all know that this isn’t the best time to get into the best shape of your life, no pressure from us, relax and do what it takes to help you cope in these stressful, strange times, but we also know that exercise–some exercise–is good for dealing with stress and anxiety.

So that’s from the point of view of mental health and emotional well-being but there’s also the idea that exercise helps with our immune response.

Yoyo penguin

Okay, how much? Maybe mild to moderate exercise two to three times a week.

According to Alex Hutchinson, everyone agrees that regular, moderate exercise is good for your health.

“Doing regular moderate exercise lowers your risk compared to doing nothing; studies typically find that near-daily moderate exercisers report about half the typical number of upper-respiratory tract infections. That’s an important message for anyone who’s tempted to slack off their fitness routine until life returns to normal.”

Got it. Get moving. Check!


Okay, but we’ve got lots of time, right? Why not exercise lots more.

The worry is that too much is bad for your immune system. Again from Hutchinson, “If you ramp the dose up too high, your risk climbs steadily until you’re more vulnerable than if you’d done nothing at all. For that reason, Oregon-based elite track coach Jonathan Marcus recently argued on Twitter that athletes should avoid the type of gut-busting workouts that might put them at higher risk. “To train hard now is irresponsible,” he wrote.

(Short version: It looks like intensity is okay, what sets back your immune response is long duration exercise.)

Moderation seems to be key.

Here are two sports scientists writing for The Conversation, How much exercise is OK during the coronavirus pandemic?

“Both too much and too little are bad while somewhere in the middle is just right. Scientists commonly refer to this statistical phenomenon as a “J-shaped” curve. Research has shown exercise can influence the body’s immune system. Exercise immunity refers to both the systemic (whole body cellular response) and mucosal (mucous lining of the respiratory tract) response to an infectious agent, which follows this J-shaped curve.

A large study showed that mild to moderate exercise — performed about three times a week — reduced the risk of dying during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1998. The Hong Kong study was performed on 24,656 Chinese adults who died during this outbreak. This study showed that people who did no exercise at all or too much exercise — over five days of exercise per week — were at greatest risk of dying compared with people who exercised moderately.”

Exercise dog!

Interestingly, exercise rates are on the rise during the covid-19 pandemic among everyday exercises and down for elite athletes. In a way, that’s not a surprise for serious competitive athletes. All of their competitions are cancelled. They are just in maintenance mode mostly. For us, everyday types, we actually have some time, some of us, and exercise is one of the few things we can do outside. We’re moving more and they’re moving less and maybe we’ll all meet in the moderate middle. Go us!

It’s the same I think for strength training and weight lifting. The moderates like me, have installed home TRX-es and bought the odd kettlebell. I’m glad I got mine before they all sold out. But some of the serious gym rats I know have just out and out declared it bulking season and say that if there aren’t big weights available, they’re just waiting it out and doing lots less.

Okay, but not everybody is moved to moderation. Some people are making a personal challenge out of these odd times, like the 13-year-old boy who ran 100 miles in Quarantine Backyard Ultra or the man who ran a marathon on his PAris balcony during lockdown.

And none of this is shared with any advice giving intentions. If you care what sports scientists have to say about how much exercise is best during a pandemic, then go follow the links above and read away. If you need, from the point of view of your mental health and well-being to do more or do less, than do what you need to do.

It’s the moderation point that interested me, and I thought I’d share. Thanks for reading!


COVID MoodCoaster

Not that my moods didn’t swing from time to time before, but now they are subject to the shelter-in-place amplification factor.

On any given day the non-stop voice in my head drags me along on her wild ass rollercoaster ride, hands flung up in the air, hair a streaming tangle in the wind …

You’re so ridiculously lucky to be able to play out here in the snow on these beautiful mountains. Look at that view. Breathe that air. Oh *&%@, who could possibly keep their balance on this ungroomed mess. You’re the biggest loser on skis. Don’t ever ski again. You are so Zen after that new breath meditation. You’re cruising right down the middle of The Middle Way. Is it seriously snowing again? Will spring never come? If you have to shovel one more load of snow, you should just give up forever. That was the most delicious bruschetta on homemade sourdough bread ever. That ricotta couldn’t be creamier. You are such a glutton. It’s so fun Zoom-ing with friends & family. You could cry from how much you want to hug them. All that Zoom yoga, Zoom meditation, Zoom Laughing Club (that’s a clown class) and Zoom dance parties is so innovative and fun. How can you stand looking at yourself as a small, horribly self-conscious little square on your computer screen? What overly-contorted and wrinkly facial expression will you make next? That was the best Zoom planning meeting ever. You’re super jazzed about the workshop idea. So exciting. You are so not maximizing this stretch of solitude. Your life has no meaning. Just give up. If only you’d become a doctor, then you might at least have been useful. Yay, you get to take Pete’s virtual yoga class (your favourite San Francisco teacher whose class you never get to take, because you haven’t been in SF in ages). Happy body, happy body. Those unpolished toenails on your yoga mat are disgusting, never mind your sad old feet. Don’t ever wear sandals again. Well it doesn’t matter anyway, because you’re never going to wear sandals or proper shoes again, because you’re never going to be able to go anywhere except the grocery store ever again. That was the most delicious salad ever. Could those roasted veggies you made last night have been any better? Are you really washing dishes again? Don’t you want to just throw all the dishes off the back deck? 9:20 p.m. time, your deliciously cozy bed awaits. You can cuddle up with your partner and listen to your cat purr on your pillow. Are you seriously tired already? Get a life. Oh, that’s right, there’s no life to be. Those new superhero name that you and your partner riffed up for yourselves are hilarious. Your stomach is going to hurt from laughing so hard about The Snowbank Buster and The Avocado Mangler. You’re so lucky to be sheltered with him. Could your cat be any cuter? Be grateful, you ingrate. Be grateful. You’re not being grateful enough. Grateful. Resentful. Happy. Depressed. On top of the world. Sinking into a morass of anxiety. Grateful. Self-hating. Filled with vitality. Don’t want to get out of bed. Grateful. And then…

Is anyone else at the amusement park, too? Please say I’m not alone.  

fitness · illness

Viruses and politics in unusual places

I was hanging out recently in a virtual fitness world, chatting with strangers, as one does these days, when someone chimed in “No virus talk please.” This community is about fitness activity, not COVID-19. But of course COVID-19 is the reason many of us were there rather than outside. It struck me as odd not to talk about the very reason we were online rather than in person.

Yet, I understand the desire to take some time where we don’t think about the global pandemic of COVID-19. There have been evenings too where I’ve wanted a break from it all. But I would never insist that others give me that break. It’s my break to make.

Someone else chimed in and agreed with the “no virus talk” rule, adding that it was like the “no politics talk” rule that some groups have.

I get the “no politics” rule. There have been times when I haven’t wanted to know what someone’s politics are. I remember being part of a running group and being excited to find someone who ran at just my pace. While running we chatted about movies but I really didn’t want to have a political disagreement with my perfect running partner. I’m always reminded of Elaine on Seinfeld having a great new boyfriend and her dilemma about whether or not to find out his views about abortion.

But this virus is affecting all of our lives and while our response may be informed by our political instincts, the virus itself isn’t political. It’s interesting who thinks it’s a big deal and who thinks our response is overblown. See COVID-19 Carelessness: Which Canadians say pandemic threat is ‘overblown’? And how are they behaving in turn?

I hate it when people run together matters of public health and politics. And I love that in Ontario our Conservative Premier said he’d listen to the public health authorities and that this isn’t a time for politics.

Back to the virtual fitness world.

A nurse followed up saying that she was hanging in this virtual world before a very stressful 12 hour shift and if she wanted to talk about the virus she would.

Next up were two people hanging out virtually while waiting for COVID-19 test results. They said the same. We’re self isolating and worried and we’ll talk about it if we need to.

Others chimed in and said they were worried about sick family members.

We’re all doing the best we can in very hard times.

Just say no to calls for no virus talk.

Cheddar doesn’t know anything about the virus but he’s happy to have so many people at home.

Take it easy on yourself: Some links

These are not easy times. That’s an understatement. We are living through a pandemic. I turn on Twitter and there are picture of makeshift morgues being erected in New York City. I read a story about an Italian priest giving his ventilator to a younger patient and dying.

As I write this the Canadian trajectory looks like Italy’s. Let’s hope our physical distancing will start to bring that curve down. Today the US surpassed China in terms of the total number of confirmed cases. And the true number of case in the US is likely much larger than what we’re hearing given the lack of testing.

I have friends in New York and in San Francisco and I’m scared.

I’m reading countless testimonials from doctors and nurses, staying away from their families, and working without protective equipment. I just made a financial gift to our hospital here in Guelph to help.

I’m angry that Canadas didn’t start testing and contact tracking earlier, that we didn’t shut things down sooner, and that some people are still out and about like nothing has changed.

I start crying.

But I have to go back to work. At home. Which is also stressful.

We’ve blogged here lots about it. See our covid-19 tag. Today was Catherine. Yesterday was Nicole. The day before was me. And then Cate. And Martha. I think it’s hard to write about anything else.

And we offer suggestions about working out at home but we are all struggling. It’s okay not to be okay.

Here are some stories I’ve read today about taking it easy on yourself. You don’t need a pandemic self-improvement goal.

Can I Socially Distance Myself From These Terrible Jokes About Gaining Weight While Quarantined?

“The most obvious problem with jokes about the “quarantine 15” or “the COVID 19” is that gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing — an idea that’s steeped in fatphobia. While there have certainly been waves of progress in body positivity (as well as body neutrality, or the idea that it’s okay if you just feel neutral about your body) in recent years, society is still poisoned by the idea that being fat (or gaining weight) is “bad” and losing weight is “good.” It’s a message that many of us are taught from a young age, and is reinforced throughout our lives via the media and pop culture. That harmful idea is the driving force behind these memes, and it sends a dangerous message that certain bodies are undesirable — which is simply untrue.”

Is Anyone Else Just Barely Functioning Right Now?

“Self-care routines—not so much, honestly. I haven’t been live-streaming workouts and getting in the best shape of my life. I’ve actually been sitting on my butt all day. I’ve slacked off on my daily meditation. I have not been motivated to use the time saved not commuting to take up knitting or bread baking. I haven’t Marie Kondo’d my bedroom, or done quarintinis with friends over FaceTime. (I have been scrolling through Instagram watching other people doing these things, and wondering what’s wrong with me that I cannot.)”

It’s OK To Not Be Superhuman During Self-Quarantine

“I was talking with a good friend recently and as he was describing this tension he was feeling, he pointed me towards an Instagram post by Haley Nahman that said, “You don’t have to “make the most” of a global pandemic.” These 11 words, though simple, were incredibly helpful for me. They put flesh around an idea that was tickling the back of my brain but I hadn’t been able to vocalize yet. If you feel this tension, here are a few other truths that will hopefully help you realize that it’s OK to not be superhuman during self-quarantine.”

Quarantine themed cookies,
accessibility · disability · fitness · illness

Disability, Fitness, and COVID-19

by Jane S

Sometime in February, when it became clear that coronavirus wasn’t just going to be an outbreak limited to China and its neighbors, I got a lot more serious about going to the gym.

The logic was simple. I have cerebral palsy, a disability known to make pneumonia more dangerous by causing habitual shallow breathing, which reduces lung capacity. Less lung capacity means less reserve if you contract pneumonia. But this can be modified by exercise. As long as I was doing a lot of aerobic activity, my risk of severe illness should be about the same as that of a physiotypical 30-something.

Since avoiding the risk of infection entirely was impossible (even if I could have stayed home all the time, family members go out), it made sense to focus on harm reduction. Better a somewhat higher risk of an unpleasant illness than a lower risk of a dangerous one.

In March, my options for physical activity began to narrow. I stopped going to BJJ class because it didn’t seem like a good time to be getting into people’s faces. A week or two later, when students were sent home at my university, the rock wall was shut down. My main fun activities were gone — an unusually rainy March precluded outdoor cycling — but I could still exercise, maybe even train for a birthday challenge. Then, on March 15, my city ordered all gyms to close.

It’s an odd feeling when your main tool for staying healthy gets taken away in the name of public health. I felt a loss of control, combined with anger on behalf of others who would be harmed more than me. I could plunk down a hundred dollars on a mini-bike to use at home and set up Skype sessions with my trainer — not perfect but better than nothing. But that’s financially out of reach for many. Some people with disabilities need exercise equipment that costs thousands of dollars. Others can only swim. It wouldn’t have been too hard to set up designated fitness centers for such people, but no one thought of doing so. Even physical therapy offices closed.

The idea that an important aspect of pandemic preparedness is being overlooked is not just my intuition. Julie K. Silver, the Associate Chair of Physical Medicine at Harvard Medical School, writes in a BMJ opinion piece that it is crucial “to recognize that strategies that might help slow the spread of disease and perhaps reduce its overall incidence (i.e., social distancing and sheltering in place), could have the unintentional and harmful effect of decreased physical activity and contribute to cardiopulmonary deconditioning. In particular, the elderly, who are most vulnerable to pulmonary complications from coronavirus, may exhibit a decrease in their baseline cardiac and pulmonary fitness that could substantially impact their outcomes and increase morbidity and mortality.”

Some of the very people most at risk from COVID-19 — the elderly and those with heart disease and diabetes — are the ones most harmed by inactivity. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account questions of maintaining overall health and physical function. How many older people will become frail, possibly suffering fractures or losing the ability to do activities of daily living? How many will die from this?

There is still an opportunity to maintain vulnerable people’s health during this time. Some can take advantage of exercise videos or routines available on TV or online, or exercise outdoors while maintaining necessary distance. For others, cities and medical centers should try to provide individual or small-group telehealth sessions (hospitals may be overwhelmed, but the skills of physical therapists aren’t immediately relevant to treating COVID-19 patients) and set up in-person facilities for those for whom this is not enough. Getting through the pandemic with a minimum of harm to individuals and society will require a comprehensive approach that includes everyone.

Jane S. is an ecologist who teaches mathematical biology. She enjoys climbing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and any activity that involves thinking with your body. She also gets a kick out of using her powerchair to move heavy objects.