advice · camping · fitness · habits · nature · self care

To Get More Active, Inconvenience Yourself

I went summer camping with 5 friends recently. We went biking, swimming, kayaking, and hiking—regular outdoor physical activities one might do while in The Nature.

During this time, I noticed how often we were up and moving around to do simple tasks and chores throughout the day, even when we weren’t out out doing the recreational exercise activities.

When we wanted to go to sleep, we had to put up a tent. When we wanted to make a fire but ran out of wood, we had to scavenge or head to the conservation office to buy more. When we wanted to brush our teeth, it was a walk or a bike down the path to the loo. Whenever I misplaced bug spray or sunscreen, I was up rummaging around to find what I needed.

A campfire at night with wood on the ground
There’s exercise to be had in scavenging for firewood!

Not everything was within easy reach when you are camping: there’s often a little added effort to find, get, or make whatever you need. Without all the conveniences of home, we were moving, walking, bending, and stretching in short bouts all day long.

Like most people, I often establish habits and use tools that maximize convenience and comfort when I am at home. How much more physical activity might add up in my days if I intentionally made things slightly less easy for myself? What if I chose to knead bread without the mixer, walk to my mailbox rather than stop after my commute home, use one tissue box at a time rather than plant them in many rooms of the house?

Wall-E holds a plant next to a spaceship
Wall-E Theatrical release poster (fair use)

The animated Disney movie Wall-E tells a story of how, in the future, people have every luxury thanks in part to the machines they invent; consequently, they become totally inert and lazy. The moral of this cautionary tale is that excessive convenience and comfort will diminish our ability to think and act and move for ourselves.

Of course, my tent-trailer and Coleman stove camping experience was still relatively easy and convenient, but I realized that adding some purposeful inconveniences in my daily life could lead to a little more physical activity that I might not even notice.

What are some small inconveniences you maintain for a little more physical activity each day?

fitness

Happy Hump Day

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.

Adult Canada geese swimming with many babies on blue water, a dead branch in the foreground.
The pond, a popular conservation area and swimming spot near my home. Clear water surrounded by trees just staring to turn green and blue sky with whispy clouds above. The trees and sky are reflected in the still water.

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.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

fitness · goals · health · motivation

Small Victory for Christine H

Remember a few weeks ago when I was aiming to be better than average?

I was expecting it to take two months to see any improvement but I am delighted to say that despite a hectic January, with weird, rainy weather that included at least a week where I had to reduce my exercise instead of intensifying it, I have officially nudged myself a little closer to Good.

A screen capture of a report from a fitness monitor. The background is blue and there is a multicoloured bar at the bottom indicating Cardio Fitness. The score is 28-32, average to good.
A screen capture of a report from my Fitbit. The background is blue and there is a multicoloured bar at the bottom indicating Cardio Fitness with numbers ranging from 24.6-39.5. My score is 28-32, which is designated as average to good for my age and fitness level.

I started as Fair to Average and now, I am Average to Good. It’s a small nudge but a nudge all the same.

VICTORY!

I shall award myself a gold star.

A gif of a cartoon drawing of a gold star with white trim that jumps into the air.

I know that this number isn’t a definitive description of my fitness level overall but it is measuring one aspect in a tangible way.

And, I improved the number in a short period of time by slightly increasing the intensity of my exercise.

This is encouraging and it bodes well for making bigger changes over time.

When I look at my heart rate numbers and see that a greater percentage of my workout is in my target range, it feels good.

Having my efforts recorded and made visible brings me back to try again the next day.

And, interestingly, I’m bringing the lessons from Adriene’s ‘Move’ series into this part of my fitness practice as well. I have been paying closer attention to how I feel when I am working a bit harder and to what movements make the biggest difference in my heart rate. Both of these things add a certain element of playfulness and experimentation to my exercise sessions, which I really appreciate.

Oh, and my additional efforts are also adding a little mystery to my practice. For no apparent reason, my Fitbit has started registering some of my walks as sessions on an elliptical machine (I don’t have an elliptical machine) and it has been registering my TKD practice as swimming. Go figure!

Anyway, I’ll post again next month to let you know whether I have moved another point to the good.

Speaking of good, here’s Khalee after one of our ‘elliptical’ walks.

A light haired dog sleeping on a green, grey, and black bedspread.
Image description: Khalee, my light-haired dog is sleeping on my bed with her paw up near her face. She looks very relaxed. My bed is covered in a black, grey, and green bedspread and you can also see a blue blanket by Khalee’s head. In the foreground on the left, you can see a mug with a gnome on it on my bedside table.

fitness · habits · motivation · new year's resolutions · planning

Go Team! January 16: Pause Not Stop (a.k.a. Word Power)

I paused my workout plan for a few days this week.

I was sick on Monday and Tuesday so I couldn’t do my HIIT program or my yoga. I could manage to take the dog for very short walks and do a few neck stretches but that was it.

On Wednesday, I kept my cardio on pause but I could do some yoga.

On Thursday, I had lots of cardio at TKD and did yoga when I came home.

On Friday, I pressed ‘play’ went back to my regular routine.

As a storyteller, a writer, and a coach, I am all about the power of words.

That’s why I chose to say that I ‘paused’ my workout plan instead of saying that I ‘stopped’ it.

Stopping has a finality to it. You might start again or you might not.

Pausing feels like it includes an intention to start again.

When I’m coaching people and they choose to pause something they want to eventually continue doing, I ask them about their conditions for returning.

Will they start again after a specific time frame?

Does their return depending on finishing something else? (Another project, or letting an injury heal.)

If they aren’t sure about their conditions for returning, I ask them to pick a date or time when they will revisit their decision to pause. That frees them up from annoying themselves every day with ‘How about today? No?’ and it also helps them stay conscious of their plan to return.

If you have hit a snag in your workout plans, perhaps, instead of coming to a stop, you can make use of the power of a pause.

Obviously, if you can reshape your plans, that’s great. And it’s always a good idea to keep up the things that you *can* do, but go ahead and pause the plans that you can’t follow in the moment.

You don’t need to feel guilty about it. You haven’t failed, you haven’t messed up, and you aren’t quitting. You are being responsive to the reality of your life in this moment.

But by calling it a pause instead of a stop you are keeping the metaphorical door open for your return. You are making a conscious decision to temporarily alter your plans.

Fitness isn’t an all or nothing one-time project, it’s an ongoing, responsive plan.

And it is perfectly ok if some parts of that plan have to be paused from time to time.

(It’s also ok to stop your plan entirely if you find something that serves you better, but this post is about when you WANT to continue but you just can’t do it right now.)

Here’s your gold star for your efforts to increase your fitness by doing what you can and by responding to the reality of your life right now.

A gold star ornament hangs in the foreground, there are  decorated tree branches with lights and small visible pieces of other ornaments in the background.
This is a stock photo so this gold star wasn’t hanging on *my* tree, but I still wholeheartedly approve of its gold starry-ness.
fitness · meditation · motivation · new year's resolutions · self care

Go Team! January 14: Multitask

Exercise is one of the few areas when we can actually multitask effectively.*

If you find it hard to fit exercise into your day, if it is a challenge to lure yourself into getting started, or if you find exercising a little dull, you might find it useful to multitask.

That might mean walking to complete some errands. (Or parking further from the store and then getting a burst of activity as you walk/run/gambol to the entrance.)

Or doing a few reps with each can as you put the groceries away.

You could use voice dictation to create a rough draft of something while you do some stretches.

Maybe the promise of listening to a podcast, a radio program, or a TV show would help you ease into starting your exercise routine.

Perhaps some exercise purists would say that your exercises will be less than perfect** if done while you are distracted, but who is trying to be perfect?

We’re building habits here, we’re not creating shrines to exercise.

This process is supposed to serve our needs and if listening to a podcast helps you get moving, then why *wouldn’t* you listen to it?

Today’s gold star is not only for your movement and self-care but for considering how multitasking might help you fit your wellness plans into your days.

A  person’s hand holding    a lit sparkler   that is generating star shaped sparks all around its top half. The background is blurred.
This sparkler is not a star, per se, but it’s star-like and definitely celebratory.

*Usually, multitasking is actually rapid task switching which our brains are not all that fond of, really.

**This might be the point where you say ‘But what about Yoga or meditation, Christine, I can’t multitask those.’ And I guess that’s true, in a way. Both of these things are about focusing in the moment.

However, yoga poses done while watching TV are better than not doing them at all. You won’t get all of the same benefits in front of the TV but you won’t get ANY benefits if you don’t do any yoga. And you can work up to the focused, on-the-may, type of yoga when you’re ready.

As for meditation: Again,you won’t get all of the same benefits if you sit quietly and breathe while listening to a podcast but you won’t get ANY benefits if you just avoid meditation entirely.

You could also try meditative doodling or painting if the idea of doing two things at once appeals to you but you can’t erase your mind around multitasking your meditation any other way.

dogs · Sat with Nat · walking

Nat on outsourcing motivation

Recommended Soundtrack: I wanna be your dog by The Stooges

I’m not great on making a training plan and sticking with it. When it comes to activity I’m more a go-along with whatever folks are up for. Yoga? Sure! Cycling? Yup! Walk? Uh-huh!

So when my beloved decided he wanted to up our step count when walking our dog, Lucy, I agreed. I offered that we could add 1 block to all our walks, short coffee break and our typical 30 minute morning, lunch & evening walks.

It totally worked. In August my average step count jumped from under 7,200 to 11,500. Partly this is because as Lucy gets older she can go on longer walks. The other part is my beloved’s joy in counting and metrics. He really loves hitting goals.

One night, after dinner and a glass of wine, he asked if we could go for another walk. He hadn’t hit 10,000 steps. I pointed out that 10,000 was an arbitrary goal. He laughed and shouted “Join me in meetng this arbitrary goal! Achievement is as meaningless as the goal BUT IT IS ALL WE HAVE!”

Of course he was being overly dramatic. Many times our common goals are based on best guesses and gut feels. I’m not much for tracking metrics or goals so I’ve happily handed over all of that to my partner. He’s a greyhound who needs a rabbit to chase.

The other being I’ve outsourced my motivation to is our resident gremlin, Lucy. She, like Gollum, both loves and hates our walks. She needs the movement but would rather do high intensity frisbee intervals than walk. But she’d rather walk than lay about.

Lucy, the wonder dog, sits attentively watching the photographer who may gift her with walksies or treats.

I find I don’t have the cognitive or emotional depth for self discipline but I can say “yes” to the asks for walks. Like the dog, I’m just along for the ride these days and I am 100% ok with surrendering to the process.

What do you do to stay motivated to keep moving?

family · fitness · motivation

Sam craves early mornings but just how early?

Readers know that I’m a morning person. Here’s my piece on the allure of very early mornings.

I’ve written lots about finding time that way and sometimes about how I can struggle with it.

Still it’s my go-to way of finding time for work and for fitness.

If I’ve got a big thing due the next day staying up late to finish it doesn’t occur to me. Instead, I go to bed early and set the alarm at 4 or 5 as needed, even 3 rather than staying up late.

I admire celebrities who are very early risers. How does The Rock, for example, find time to work out? He gets up super early. My Rock app alarm time gives me the option of getting up at Rock Time. I can get set my alarm for whatever time he chooses. Usually that’s at 330 am.

I reported on my week with the Rock Clock here.

Now Mark Wahlberg has one upped the Rock, sharing his sleep and workout and prayer schedule with the world. He gets up even earlier at 2:30 am. He’s in bed by 7:30 pm.

Here’s a plea to save Mark Wahlberg from this schedule.

Can you imagine going to bed at 7:30 and rising at 2:30? He does it he says to get the exercise out of the way before his family wakes up.

For Wahlberg and the Rock looking fit is part of their job. They need those muscles and those visible abs.

I’m an academic dean. There’s no merit pay for muscles in my role. But still I’m fascinated by the super successful extreme early risers.

My mother’s theory, at least I think it’s my mother’s, is that nothing good happens in the evening. Usually it’s a time to sit around and relax. Few people write or workout in the evening. Instead, so this theory goes, we eat cookies and watch television.

(Note to friends who are super productive night owls. I see you. I know you. And I know it’s not true for all people. That’s why I attributed the view to my mother. Sorry mom.  I know night owls who struggle with trying to fit into society’s norms around work and schedules.)

But for people like me who are “Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic”  in the morning, the evenings can be a sink hole of inactivity.

We likely need some of that down time, true. But how much?

As far as getting to your goals, it’s wasted time. But I’m never tempted to turn on Netflix in the morning. The most procrastinate-y stuff I get up to is dog walking and house cleaning.

So the morning, the early morning, feels like the best time to exercise.

How about you?

weight loss

Exercise and weight loss, in the news again

Lots of people are applauding this story that’s been making the rounds this week.

I liked Yoni Freedhoff’s comment on Twitter about this study, and the resulting media attention, that anyone who thinks this is good news has probably never tried to sustain a commitment to an hour a day of exercise.

Also, in the news is this story about the weight reducing benefits of bike riding. Now I love riding my bike as much as the next person but I find hours and hours on the bike don’t make much difference to my weight. I reread the story more carefully and it turns out the weight loss benefits of cycling amount to 1.6 pounds. I’m not sure that anyone who is concerned about losing weight cares much about 1.6 pounds.

Finally, in the exercise-weight loss news world there was this story about Americans exercising more and also gaining weight.

I’m with Yoni Freedhoff (again): Exercise is the world’s best drug. It’s just not a weight-loss drug.

There are so many reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss. Here’s 11 of them.

We need to sever in our minds the connection between working out and losing weight.

I’ve read the research. See Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies .. and The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight but still even for me, I’m sometimes surprised. How about you?

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash Lovers share a silhouetted bicycle ride, hands reaching out to each other against a pink sky

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.

fitness

Mental Health and Exercise: It’s Science (Guest Post)

I attended a workshop this past week headlined by Dr. John Arden, a Psychologist and author. His regular folk friendly book is called Rewire Your Brain (Arden, J. B. (2010). Rewire your brain: Think your way to a better life. John Wiley & Sons.). In it you will find all sorts of interesting things about brain anatomy, neurochemistry and the oft referred to “brain plasticity” that is all the rage in much of the literature on changing behaviours or understanding why behaviours may be hard to change.

There was a lot about the workshop I liked and a little chunk I hated. I will get that chunk out of the way first because it’s relevant to the blog and then move on to the things I liked that are also relevant to everyone.

Brain health, mental health and physical health are all related (no surprise here). He spent a lot of the time explaining the importance of “neurogenesis” which is essentially the production of new connections in the brain. Making new connections, especially in the front part of the brain and the parts of the brain important in regulating stress, contributes hugely to resiliency in mental health. His position is that without a functioning capacity to create these connections, people have a very much harder time recovering from stress and trauma, leading to various anxiety mediated and mood disorders.

So what inhibits neurogenesis? Aging, Chronically high cortisol, Pot and Obesity. 

What promotes it? Excercise, Fasting, Fewer calories consumed, Food Quality (especially the presence of high quality Omega 3) and Weight loss.

Sigh. What is wrong with this list? He didn’t highlight the studies that he based this stuff on but I did pay very close attention to how he talked about these things. The thing that made me very miffed was his constant and consistent conflation of “Obesity” with lack of exercise and poor food choices. He went on for a while about the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by fat cells and talked about metabolic syndrome. It is believed that these chemicals are a big part of why our moods go to hell when we are chronically stressed and not doing enough good things for the body. The articles you see about depression really being about inflammation are based on this science. These are medical facts. But he basically said “tell your clients they have to lose weight to get better”. Great, a prescription with a 95% failure rate. Set ’em up for failure, I’m in. He didn’t acknowledge that BMI measurements of obesity often don’t mean squat. He didn’t acknowledge that fat people can be fit and lacking any other markers of metabolic syndrome. He even said (astoundingly) that if you are going to put on weight, you should put it on as a pear shape instead of apple, as if this is a conscious choice. I was so angry at this point I couldn’t speak. And what made me angrier was the fact that he was clearly  utterly well meaning and a victim of the blank spots in his particular silo of knowledge. ON TOP OF THAT, he was talking to an audience of mostly women.*FEMINIST HULK SMASH*

Okay, enough of that. The good news here, however, was the reiteration of the connection of exercise with improved mental health outcomes. Exercise has been shown to have epigenetic effects on the brain, which means it promotes turning on gene expressions related to nuero-plasticity. It promotes the production of various growth factors in the brain which means more connections are formed. It promotes activity between those connections and, in a fairly dumbed down nutshell, the activity (especially in the left frontal cortex) allows for better mood, learning and adaptivity to adversity. Basically, it’s magic.

However, it is important to note that, like all magic, initiating it requires a clear intent. Lots of my clients tell me they exercise and nothing happens. They do not magically feel less depressed or anxious. That is because exercise is really good at creating optimal conditions for changes but if you just go brood about all the stuff you usually brood about or, more realistically, go back to your dysfunctional life and relationships without questioning them, it’s still hard to change. The role of therapy is to help people change both their physical condition (by encouraging more self care through movement, better quality food and sleep) and to help people reframe their understanding of what is happening relationally in their lives. Sometimes that reframing can be a challenge to a singular poor relationship. Sometimes it can be a more daunting challenge to a systemic adversity that blocks them in the form of racism, class inequality or sexism to name merely a sliver. I understand better than ever how these things work together now.

I wrote a sternly worded evaluation that took up the whole back page regarding my critique of the way he flung the word “obesity” around like we all knew what we were talking about. I hope he takes it to heart.

brain-clip-art-2-image-3
Food, Sleep, and Exercise. Keep your brain happy!