Despite fitness triumphs in some areas in the past few years (hello, 3rd degree blackbelt), it’s been a while since I have been really happy with my overall fitness level.
I’ll develop some good habits for a while and then life will take another curve. That new factor/time management challenge will team up with my ADHD and I’ll have trouble fitting more than the bare minimum of exercise into my schedule.
And, then, I’ll find myself sliding a little bit further away from how I want to feel, further away from what I want to be able to do.
I’ve been saying for ages that I want to ‘get back’ to how I used to feel and I want to ‘get back’ to the way my body was. (To be clear, I’m not trying to get back to the body of my youth, just to the one I had a few years ago.)
Then, this week, I read Cate‘s and Tracy’s terrific posts about acknowledging and appreciating the body you have and about how, when it comes to our bodies, we can’t go back, we can only go forward.
Their posts hit me hard.
In many ways, I am very accepting of my body as it is – I don’t wish that I looked different, for instance – but I have been spending a lot of time wishing I could go back to my strength and fitness level from a few years ago (which still wasn’t where I wanted to be but it was closer than where I am now)
All that ruminating made me think of this quote from Mary Engelbreit.
And that, in turn, reminded me about how often I have joked that I never want to be like one of those stupid people in movies who always look back when they are being chased and end up falling on their faces (and usually getting caught).
This was all on my mind as we were working on our patterns in taekwondo on this week and Master Downey reminded us to look where we were striking because ‘Where your eyes go, your energy goes.’
That’s when everything kind of came together in my mind.
I’ve been wasting a lot of energy looking back.
I keep looking back at my old self while I move forward. I haven’t fallen on my face, not yet, but it’s a definite risk.
I need to look ahead. I need to send my energy in the direction that I am going.
I need to move my fitness forward, not backward.
I can’t go back to where I was. I can, however, figure out what I want to work TOWARD.
I’m going to stop looking back. I’m not going that way.
*They aren’t my stories to tell so I won’t get into details but in the past 3-4 years, several family members have had major health issues and required my help. I am happy to have the flexibility to be able to help them and I am glad to be there for people who need me. Even though I am quite willing to help (and grateful to be able to), providing this support does take time and something has had to give – my exercise time/energy has often been the thing to go. Thanks to my ADHD, once I get off track a lot of time can pass before I realize what is missing from my schedule.
A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.
For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.
I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.
However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.
My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology, has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.
She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.
I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**
I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.
M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)
Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.
This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.
With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***
Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.
So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?
Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.
Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.
I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.
And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.
I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’ As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.
Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.
And that’s not fit.
For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.
*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.
**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.
***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.
Hey everyone. Remember way back in September when Cate, Christine and I started the blog’s first “Fit Feminist Challenge Group”? Well guess what? The first iteration of three month challenge group is winding down this week and it’s been a fabulous experience.
We kind of jumped into it not knowing exactly how it would go or even having a clear idea of what we planned. We were firm in our commitment to try different things and see what worked and what didn’t.
Most of all we wanted to create a supportive community where people could get ideas, focus their goals and strategize how to meet them, and feel the motivational and inspirational force of being in a group where people are happy to cheer you on. And in keeping with the blog’s feminist principles, we encouraged people to shift their focus away from dieting and weight loss and looking a certain way.
I’m happy to report that we mostly did that. Though not everyone who joined at the beginning stayed plugged in as a major presence (and there may be things we can do to prevent that next time), the community remained supportive and encouraging to the end, and we really didn’t need to remind people to steer clear of weight loss and dieting as conversational topics in the group.
For the first couple of months we stuck more or less to themes for each day of the week: Motivation Monday, Try This Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Tag Thursday, Fun Friday, Sum Up Saturday, and Strategize Sunday. Cate, Christine, and I took turns posting to the group on the theme and invited people to share in the comments. Christine designed some colourful and fun images to go with each day, and things rolled along with one of us taking responsibility for a couple of days each week and rotating through every third Sunday.
Over time, we got more inventive (or maybe we felt the themes were getting old), drifting away from the set script and being more free with our posts when we felt like it.
We also tried a few things that didn’t work well. The main thing that didn’t work as we thought it might was breaking people up into small groups that were asked to check in with one another on specific days of the week. So there was a Monday check-in group, a Tuesday check-in group, etc. We thought this would give people a chance to bond with a smaller group, but instead it resulted in many people being confused about whether they could post outside of that weekly check-in, and hence they felt alienated from the larger group. That had never been our intention, so after we felt it not coming together, we did a little poll that confirmed our suspicion. Out with the small groups!
We also have determined that three months might just be a little too long to keep the momentum and energy going unless the facilitators have a lot of time and energy to doing just that (and even then, you really do need to switch things up regularly to keep everyone’s attention). The next versions of challenge groups will be shorter in duration and more focused in purpose.
Overall, as I said in my post to the group for this morning’s “Talk about it Tuesday” (we morphed into that from Try This Tuesday after we thought it unreasonable to have people try something new every single week!), my greatest insight from the challenge group experience was how much I enjoy being accountable to and a part of a supportive group. It’s super inspiring to gain energy from the energy and enthusiasm of others.
Do you like the idea of online challenge groups as a way of incorporating more consistent fitness practices into your life? Have you had any experience with this type of support environment? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Although I never learned to swim, my whole life I’ve had dreams in which I can swim and I love those dreams and the feeling they give me. Recently, I met a new friend, about my age, and when she asked me if I wanted to go to the spa, and the whirlpool, and the pool, I found myself saying yes. Because I did want to go. I’d wanted to go for decades and had only ever gone to a spa one other time, just after I turned 50.
There’s something about your 50s – it’s like you start over. You look at all the baggage you’ve been hauling around since your 20s and ask yourself what it’s for. As it turns out, most of it doesn’t even belong to you, and a lot of it is stuff nobody needs.
Among my baggage was the idea that I needed to avoid pools because I have an unruly body that doesn’t look ‘good’ in a bathing suit. I knew this to be true because I’d had constant reminders that my body was somehow inappropriate.
In all fairness, had JLo or the Kardashians been the beauty standard during my teens, I might have received more positive attention for what became, by 13 or so, my big hips and big butt and small waist, but among my age group I was merely an aberration.
I could hear snickers when I got up to write at the blackboard in class. I lived in mortal fear of gym and of any social activities that might involve sports or a pool because I would have to expose my body in shorts or, my greatest horror, in a bathing suit.
Although by my early 20s I’d developed a way of dressing to pretty much camouflage what I suspected was my aberrant body, there’s nowhere to hide anything in a bathing suit. The very thought of wearing one filled me with anxiety and humiliation.
As I got older, I became the classic example of the woman to whom people would ‘you would be beautiful IF ONLY you lost x number of pounds.” The amounts varied, since my weight varied and, of course, ‘thin’ ideals were changeable. Sometimes it was 20, sometimes 40, sometimes 60 pounds.
I hope the world has changed and that young women don’t go through this anymore and Irealize I should have told every single person who felt free to comment to go fly a kite, and sometimes I did. My aunts said it, even my mom said it. There was me, and then there was beautiful/acceptable and, to get there, I would basically have to alter my body type.
As I struggled to articulate all of this to my new spa friend, she said ‘if you want a bikini body then just put your body in a bikini.’ This sounded suspiciously wise to me – I was certain I was missing something. I put on my bathing suit.
I loved the whirlpool. When I balked a bit at the pool and said I couldn’t swim, she just shrugged and said it didn’t matter – I didn’t have to swim to go in the pool. I’d never thought of it that way. I gave myself permission to go in the pool. After all, I was already in bathing suit, and what could be harder than that?
And then she said maybe I should try to float, still hanging onto the side of course. I immediately said I couldn’t float and that I had scientific proof of this from my many failed childhood attempts. In my particular case, I said emphatically, it was impossible. Sometimes we believe things for so long that we don’t realize they’re ridiculous and sometimes the way you can tell is the way your friend looks at you when you say them.
She said that instead of thinking about the water as something threatening, maybe I could think of it as something that was there to support me. The water would help me – the water wanted me to float. I didn’t really have to do anything. That was interesting to me. It would be particularly helpful, she added, if I didn’t think about it too much. That made me laugh since I’d had a psychiatrist in my 20s who spent a lot of time teaching me that thinking is different from feeling.
The sensation I felt, the first time I full-body floated, still holding onto the side of the pool, is still hard to describe. It was very emotional – suddenly, the body that I felt had betrayed me on so many occasions, the body I spent a lot of my life exasperated with and pointedly ignoring, was both weightless and present. I could feel the water surrounding me and holding me up. I became aware of my arms and legs and hips as wonderful, positive things, floating there in the water. Maybe even beautiful. I had the feeling that I had in my dreams. It was not a thinking feeling, but just feeling. So, for the last month or so, I’ve been working in the water to learn to actually swim – I feel I’m almost there but I’m not in any hurry.
The sensations that come with moving my body in the water are new, and exhilarating, and have started to feel natural. I love every minute of finding my balance, letting go of the ledge, working out how to propel myself, bobbing along in my very elementary way, perfectly quiet and peaceful. Well, not perfectly quiet. Sometimes I giggle. Out loud. I move my arms and my legs and the water responds to me. For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel my body is perfect.
Sally is an art historian, professor, department chair, Italophile, film buff, heavy metal AND country music enthusiast, and fitness newbie.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
You may know about Dory, the little blue fish with the positive attitude from animated Pixar film Finding Nemo. Despite the challenges she faces with her short-term memory, Dory focuses on moving forward. “Just keep swimming,” she says, and off she goes.
I wrote last month about the universal design aspects of our new recreation centre, and since then, I’ve been going to the pool three times a week, channeling my inner Dory. Unlike Dory though, I have been taking notes about some of the things I’ve learned so far.
My usual routine before the pool opened was to get two weight training sessions in a week, and complementing that effort with some floor work at home and trail walking a couple of times a week. My walking partner had to take a break around the same time I got introduced to the new pool.
My first two times in the pool I managed six laps each time. Almost a month later, I get in 10 to 12 laps a session depending on the time I have and whether or not I want to spend some time in the therapy pool playing with the currents. The main thing though is I have picked up my endurance and my speed.
I’m really enjoying it for several reasons. It’s a great way to kick off my day and I get it done by 8 so I am washed, dressed, and ready to work by 9 a.m. I work from home so it’s a good feeling to be at the office by the start of business.
It’s something I can do with my family. My husband and I both have busy work lives; swimming is a place where we engage in idle chatter helping us leave our work preccupations at the door.
I also find it very relaxing. There’s a very meditative feeling to swimming laps, where you go up to the deep end of the pool and then flip back to swim to the shallow end. The repetition is soothing and you don’t have to think hard about the motion.
When I am lifting weights, I am super conscious about my form, ensuring I am in the right position to lift or squat. I’m hyper-focused, in fact, on what my hips and knees are saying, given their previous injury experiences.
In the pool, my biggest risk is running into people. I wear high-level prescription glasses but don’t use them in the pool. As a result, I only see blobs, and sometimes it could just be a trick of the light, while at other times, it could be a person. So far I have avoided any collisions with either people or walls.
The biggest benefit I have found is how helpful the buoyancy of the water has been to my hips and knees. Unlike the trail walking, with its uneven pitch and occasionally slippery gravel (and in winter, sheets of ice), there is no stress placed on my knees or hips in the pool.
In fact, going swimming the day after my weight training has helped ease the tension and stress different muscles feel after a new workout or exercise variation. Swimming helps me get moving more quickly and it has noticeably improved the fluidity of my lifting.
Overall swimming has given me a new appreciation of how our bodies work differently on land and in water. I’m aware of the resistance water can give you against a current in the same way running or walking uphill forces your lungs to work harder. Most importantly, it’s lots of fun and, for me at least, easy to fit into my schedule.
I’m glad I have found a fun activity that complements my weight training instead of working against it. How about you, dear readers? What kinds of activities are you employing to add interest and variety to your fitness goals and objectives? What are some things you have learned from mixing up your fitness tools?
— Martha lives in St. John’s and enjoys weight training, trail walking, and swimming.
Happy Saturday to all of you taking the time to read this morning! For this month’s post, I decided to collaborate with my friend, Jaclyn, who has been mentioned in some of my other posts here and here.
We begin our reflection with this question from 1909, posed by a girl’s Phys. Ed. teacher:
“Who would suggest that the delicate, anaemic, hothouse plant type of girl, afraid of sun, wind, and rain, timid, nervous and clinging, … will make a better wife or mother than the strong, full-blooded, physically courageous woman, a companion for her husband on the golf links and a playmate with her children?” (Verbrugge 2002, 58).
The suggestion being that women who were physically fit would make for better wives and mothers. In other words, the purpose of a woman’s fitness was not necessarily to benefit herself, but rather, to benefit those around her. The statement came at a time when cultural values were shifting away from the image of delicate femininity to what was referred to as the “New Woman,” who was seen as active, modern, vibrant and wholesome (55).
Some might look at this and laugh. Sure, this was over a hundred years ago. But things have changed. Right?
We’re not so sure. In various chats over the last few months, we’ve noticed a staggering degree of negative comments and attitudes towards women who choose to pursue weightlifting. (Each activity receives its own negative commentary, but we’re going to stick to what we’re most familiar with.)
Jaclyn compiled a list of some of the highlights:
“Don’t get too fit”
“You’re not going to become one of those bodybuilder chicks, are you?”
“Don’t get too muscular though, you won’t look feminine anymore”
“You’re not going to be one of those chicks that looks like a man—that’s gross”
…and one of our all-time eye-rolling favourites: “Okay, but don’t get too bulky because men don’t like that.”
Tracy, while newer to weight training, has experienced some similar cautionary comments:
“Okay, but don’t work out too much.”
“Don’t get too jacked/ripped.”
“Don’t be that person.”
These comments not only come from a place of misinformation, but they perpetuate damaging assumptions about women and heteronormativity. We discussed the possibility of comments like this coming from a place of concern for health. But Jaclyn noted that these comments aren’t exactly along the (more concerned) lines of: “You’re not going to become one of those bodybuilder women, are you? …Because I hear that involves the use of drugs which can have a negative impact on your mood, fertility, and general health or because overtraining can cause physical/mental burnouts.” Nope.
All of this not only perpetuates the damaging assumption that bodies are either feminine or masculine (and that this strict binary only allows for bodies that fit within a certain standard), but it reinforces the messages that women’s bodies are always bodies-for. In other words, women’s bodies are always bodies-for-other-people but never primarily for themselves. In the case of Jaclyn’s experience, she is (implicitly, though often explicitly) being told that her body is a body-for-men when people say things like “Okay, but don’t get too bulky, because men don’t like that”. This comment, which she frequently encounters, involves multiple problematic assumptions: first, that all men are only attracted to the stereotypically “feminine body”, second, that all men are only attracted to women, third, that her sexual orientation is straight. While we will not address these and other assumptions in this post, it is important to note the amount of troubling assumptions at play in the “bodies-for” message that women in fitness often encounter.
We didn’t even touch on assumptions around motherhood and aesthetics more broadly (i.e., What if she doesn’t want to be a mother? What if she wants to have large, bulky ?).
And certainly, while much has changed in women’s favour in the last century or so, there’s a lot that hasn’t changed. The prevailing comments in response to women’s fitness pursuits aren’t always explicitly about how this will affect her as a housewife, mother, or golf partner, but the fact is that we still encounter this “bodies-for” messaging everywhere. Looking ahead, we wonder how much things will change a hundred years from now. Hopefully, for the better.
Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.
Tracy is a freelance writer living in Toronto and completing her PhD in political philosophy.