fitness

Heart Health Update

It has been over a year since I checked in my heart health and cholesterol, and my aim of managing without medications. In news that will surprise exactly nobody, I failed. But that’s okay.

I have been learning to cook and enjoy more meatless meals. I have switched to whole wheat breads and pastas as part of an overall effort to increase my fibre intake. I probably have more salt than I should because I can a lot of my own vegetables when they are in season, but I’m okay with that because I like growing and preserving food too much to give it up.

I am not as diligent about eating late any more, because I often struggle fit food in before dance class, especially now that I am going to the office semi-regularly.

I started taking cholesterol medication; even at a low dose, it was enough that my blood pressure meds were cut in half. Better living through chemistry!

I am still fat. I am also very active. And I am as tall as ever, which the technician at my most recent bone density scan says is a good thing.

Me walking to work in the snow, wearing a blue hat and with my glasses covered in melted snow.

In summary, I’m doing as well as could be expected. I could probably do a little better, but the extra effort isn’t worth it to me. I may remember to check in again at some point in the future, but likely only when there is a major change.

How about you dear readers – have you tried to fight off some aspect of aging but now are at peace with it?

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is starting to look forward to retirement so she can do more things she enjoys.

fitness

Donating my Vagina to Science (the Dubious Science of Winter Vagina)

Recently, the Toronto Star published this article on “winter vagina” and the general reaction from other FIFI bloggers was FFS(!). The author had a similar reaction, thankfully. But he did cite other articles about the “condition” so I had to Google.

It turns out lots of journalists think that winter vagina is – if not exactly a thing – an easy way to get published at the expense of some cheap laughs about yet another way to make women feel insecure about their bodies. I will not link to any of those posts because I can’t stand the idea of them making money off such clickbait.

Vaginal dryness is a real thing, but it is not a seasonal issue. The British National Health Service states the menopause, breastfeeding, childbirth, lack of arousal before sex, certain contraceptives and cancer treatments can all cause vaginal dryness. And another expert, Canada’s own Dr. Jen Gunter, points out that vaginas function quite well in all seasons. ‘The vagina maintains a steady temperature because it is inside your body and human body temperature only rises with the outside temperature when someone is suffering from heat stroke.’

Dr. Gunter has an entire hilarious blog post devoted to debunking winter vagina (and another on the related problem of summer vagina). She knows a lot about vaginas and winter: “I’m not a winter vagina expert because I am the Internet’s favorite gynecologist. We Canadian girls just really know how to take care of our snow forts, that’s why our national animal is the beaver.”

So if this is so thoroughly debunked, why do I want to contribute to the winter vagina “science”? For the shopping and swimming, and avoiding my overheated office, of course.

You can buy winter vagina leggings here or a winter vagina backpack here. Both are made by Mounds of Venus, which specializes in nipple and vagina art. Or wool underwear like this:

According to Health.com, underwear like these from Smartwool.ca will help you winterize your vagina because “wool doesn’t hold on to moisture, so it can dry quickly and has a temperature-regulating effect. These panties are perfect for keeping your nether regions toasty warm while wicking away the crotch sweat you produce in your overheated office building.”

Apparently long hot baths are bad for our winter vaginas, but there is no info on what happens with a cold dip. So far my vagina hasn’t suffered any ill effects, but I’ll keep you posted if that changes.

Diane walking into the St. Lawrence River as snow falls, trying to get her vagina ready for a swim.
fitness

Can You Be Too Flexible?

Flexibility is something that most athletes aspire to, but until recently I never thought about there being a problem with it. After all, I spend a fair bit of time stretching and trying to increase my mobility; most of my athletic friends do the same.

My daughter, however, struggles with hyper-mobility. According to the Hypermobility Syndromes Association, hypermobility is most common in childhood and adolescence, in females, and Asian and Afro-Caribbean races. It tends to lessen with age. In many people joint hypermobility is of no medical consequence and commonly does not give rise to symptoms. Hypermobility can even be considered an advantage, for example athletes, gymnasts, dancers and musicians might specifically be selected because of their extra range of movement.

That describes my daughter pretty well. She is Asian and aspired to be a dancer. When she was learning to dance en pointe at 12, she took a good year longer than her classmates to master the skill. That was because she needed time to develop foot muscles strong enough to compensate for her loose ligaments.

Young woman with black hair, wearing a black leotard and white tutu, standing en pointe with one leg above her head

Still, that mobility looked pretty cool on stage. She could move effortlessly into the splits, then side splits, them touch the floor with her head from that position.

Now that she is no longer dancing for hours every day, she struggles with joint pain. Despite being very fit by most standards, she needs to do even more exercise to strengthen her muscles since her ligaments don’t do their job properly. So far, the promise of symptoms lessening with age has not materialized, so she will be getting advice from her physiotherapist on a home gym set-up so that she can do weight training in the basement.

While she does that, I will be reflecting on different bodies and how they work. This blog has often commented on the common stereotypes of fat/unhealthy and thin/fit, and how both can lead to poor health outcomes for people. I knew that there are injury risks with almost every sport, and stretching before and after exercise is one way to minimize those risks. Until my daughter started suffering, I had no idea that it was possible to be in pain because your body is naturally so stretchy.

Lesson learned. I’ll add this to my growing list of gender analysis considerations, my list of ways that something can affect different people in different ways – some good, some neutral, and some bad, depending on the individual and their circumstances. It has been a good reminder on the importance of checking my biases, and not making assumptions about anyone else’s health or fitness.

fitness · health

Pushing for Equality on World Health Day

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated April 7 as World Health Day and calls for us all to reflect on health, the conditions need for good health, health care, and access to that care.

The theme for 2021 – Building a fairer, healthier world – is about recognizing that good health and good health care is something that everyone deserves, not just some people in some places.

This is, obviously, a complex issue. We could (and do!) have a lot of discussions about what ‘health’ means and we could (and do!) discuss the myriad of ways that bias and prejudice affect access to health and health care, even in the wealthiest parts of the world. But the complexity of the issue doesn’t mean that we cannot begin to address it.

I like how the World Health Organization has structured this year’s campaign to both acknowledge the inequalities and to call on the world’s leaders to improve access to health care.

Their phrasing about the unequal access to the conditions for good health applies just as much to changes needed for health care in remote villages as it does those needed to assist a marginalized person seeking health care in a wealthy city:

This [inequality] is not only unfair: it is preventable. That’s why we are calling on leaders to ensure that everyone has living and working conditions that are conducive to good health.  At the same time we urge leaders to monitor health inequities, and to ensure that all people are able to access quality health services when and where they need them. from the World Health Day website

Image description: a poster with a light blue background featuring a  sketch of an exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads "hello world.  we agree that health is a right, not a privilege. it's time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere." The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image.
Image description: a poster with a light blue background featuring a sketch of an exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads “hello world. we agree that health is a right, not a privilege. it’s time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere.” The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image. Source: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2021

While their campaign extends to equity in health care of all kinds, there is also a special focus on access to resources and treatments to fight COVID-19.

From their website: “COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, but its impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.

Image description: a black background featuring a  sketch of a blue exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads "hello world.  we must make covid-19 vaccines tests and treatments available to all. it's time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere." The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image.
Image description: a black background featuring a sketch of a blue exclamation mark enclosed in a circle. The black and white text reads “hello world. we must make covid-19 vaccine tests and treatments available to all. it’s time to build a fairer and healthier world for everyone everywhere.” The World Health Organization logo is in the bottom right corner of the image. Source: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2021

There are lots of groups and activists who have been raising awareness and taking action on these issues throughout the world. Still, the general perception is that health (and access to proper health care) is an individual issue/problem or accomplishment. In that system of thinking, individuals are blamed or judged for their health status.

I hope that this campaign and others like it helps more people to see the systemic issues and misguided policies that fuel the inequalities in health and health care around the world.

Since this issue is so complex, and since the call is to world leaders rather than to individuals, it seems difficult for one person (especially those of us with little political clout) to take any action to make a difference.

But, just like with any change, we have to start small.

If you know of a resource, a petition, or an organization that is seeking change in access to healthy living or working conditions for people anywhere in the world, or if you know of one that is working for change in health care access, please share it in the comments so others can find out about it and take whatever action they can.

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?

aging · health

Healthy habits, long lives, and elderly spiders

This is a blog post in three parts.

Part 1. It begins when a big study announces something that seems kind of obvious. The five habits that can add more than a decade to your life, from the Guardian.

In short, don’t smoke, drink only in moderation, exercise, control your weight, and eat your vegetables if you want to live a long time.

Researchers at Harvard University used lifestyle questionnaires and medical records from 123,000 volunteers to understand how much longer people lived if they followed a healthy diet, controlled their weight, took regular exercise, drank in moderation and did not smoke. When the scientists calculated average life expectancy, they noticed a dramatic effect from the healthy habits. Compared with people who adopted none of them, men and women who adhered to all five saw their life expectancy at 50 rise from 26 to 38 years and 29 to 43 years respectively, or an extra 12 years for men and 14 for women. “When we embarked on this study, I thought, of course, that people who adopted these habits would live longer. But the surprising thing was how huge the effect was,” said Meir Stampfer, a co-author on the study and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

2. And then a very old spider died making the point that not all lifestyle changes are changes worth making. “Number 16 built her burrow in the North Bungulla Reserve in southwestern Australia, when she was young. Like all female trapdoor spiders (mygalomorph spiders), she was a homebody, never leaving her burrow.”

Luckily none of the healthy habits involved never leaving the house.

3. Finally, health journalist Andre Picard points out that the healthy habits might not be enough. He tweeted, “Here are 10 other things that are probably more important to a healthy life than lifestyle choices.”

from Picard’s book “Matters of Life and Death,” p. 268

diets · health · nutrition

Eating Vegan: Not necessarily healthy, not necessarily unhealthy

various-fruits-and-vegetables-arranged-by-colorI don’t know why veganism creates such intense reactions in people. You’ve got your non-vegan folks who insist that vegans are undernourished–what the heck do they do for protein? Then, on the other side of it, you’ve got your so-called chefs who assume that grilled veggies make a sufficiently nutritious vegan meal.

There are those who insist that animals were put on this earth for our use, so we should just eat them. Or that plants have feelings too. Or that domesticated animals don’t have it so bad anyway. See a bunch of these arguments and responses to them here.

But today I want to address one issue and one issue only: is a vegan diet healthy or unhealthy?

That’s really a silly question, akin to asking if food is healthy or unhealthy. Some is, some isn’t. Whether your vegan diet is healthy or unhealthy depends on what you eat.

James Fell’s article, “Are Vegan Diets Healthy?” gives a clue as to what gets people’s backs up.  The author objects to “militant” vegans, but admits that only a small minority of vegans are militant.  Being vegan, I can attest to this fact. Most of us quite frequently dine quietly alongside, even with, people who are eating food that we think comes from an industry that promotes unnecessary animal suffering.

Then there is the even less political arm of veganism, those who won’t even use the term. They defer instead to the “plant-based” diet.  These are the folks most likely to be in your face not about the ethics of animal farming, but about the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. They’re purists in a different sort of way, moralizing food choices for reasons that have nothing to do with animal ethics.

Obesity researcher, Yoni Freedhoff, is quoted in the article as saying:

There are some vegan organizations that like to tell people that this is the ticket to weight loss, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. You can have plenty of vegan calories as well. Going vegan does not necessitate a healthy weight.

I’ve blogged before about the sad truth that going vegan doesn’t produce a weight-loss miracle. And it doesn’t automatically mean you’re eating healthy foods, either. But it doesn’t mean you’re not.

Lots of people like to say that vegans can’t try properly because they can’t get enough protein. The article about vegan diet and health talks about endurance athletes who have forgone animal products with no negative impact (and sometimes, they say, a positive impact) on their athletic performance

The author goes on to say:

“Veganism is an ethical concept more than a health concept,” said Dr. Garth Davis, a weight loss surgeon in Houston, Texas and an expert in plant-based diets. “I don’t use the term ‘vegan’ with my patients. I prefer ‘plant-based.’”

Dr. Davis told me: “I think most vegans did choose it from an ethical standpoint, but it has changed and grown over time to include those who find they perform better at sports on plant-based diets.” He echoed what Lindsey Miller and Scott Jurek said that many choose it for health reasons because it makes you think more carefully about your food intake.

“You don’t have be vegan in order to be healthy, but being vegan is a very healthy way to live,” he said.

Notice the emphasis on the less political/ethical “plant-based.’ Here, the health benefits take centre stage.  Sure, if you focus on whole foods in your plant-based diet, you’ll make healthy choices. That’s probably the reason why so many people slide the two together. But vegan doesn’t mean only whole, low fat foods. I made an amazing vegan spiced pumpkin cake with a chocolate glaze yesterday and I’m glad I took it to an event where I wouldn’t have to contend with leftovers.  Despite containing pumpkin and being vegan, it wasn’t the healthiest thing to come out of my kitchen this weekend.

It should come as no surprise that James Fell, author of  “Are Vegan Diets Healthy?” concludes:

The takeaway here is that, yes, vegan can be a very healthy diet, as long as you do the work to ensure you do vegan well, and avoid the processed vegan “food.” From a health perspective, going vegan can make it so those who struggle with healthy eating are made to take their nutrition more seriously.

Because cutting out fast food burgers in favor of more plants is a good idea.

I’m the last person to discourage anyone from opting for a vegan diet and lifestyle, but the fact is that cutting out fast food burgers in favour of all sorts of other possibilities is probably a good idea.

And it’s worth saying that as with any approach to eating, you need to do a bit of research. One thing I’ve discovered, for example, is that vegans actually do need to make a point of getting their B12 because it is a necessary vitamin and occurs naturally in only a small range of plant foods. Most non-vegans get their B12 from meat products. For a vegan, plant-based “milks” as well as cereals are usually fortified with B12, and you can also get it from B12 supplements.

That’s just one factor. We’re not born knowing what constitutes a well-rounded diet that meets all of our nutritional needs. Whether you opt to eat a vegan diet or not, the simple fact is that whether your version is healthy or unhealthy depends entirely on the specific choices you make.

 

fitness

Looking for an indoor activity that’s good for you? How about knitting?

knit veggiesIt’s winter and you want to hole up inside and hibernate until the thaw comes, right? There are all sorts of things we can do inside — curl up with a good book, play Scrabble with the family, cook up some thick soup and bake bread, catch up on the seasons of Mad Men you missed when things got too busy two years ago.

But if you’re looking for an indoor activity that, researchers say, is really good for your health, try knitting. Yes! You heard that right: knitting is good for you!

I’m a knitter.  I do it because it lowers my stress level the way repetitive activities are known to do. I go into a sort of meditative state when I knit. But lately, I’ve been worried about my left hand and a strange, new-to-me pain that shoots up to my elbow. There are lots of reasons to worry about mobility in the hands, but the first thing that I feared was that I might need to give up knitting.

And that would just completely change my happy vision for my life when I’m a very old woman. I have always pictured that time of my life as revolving around books and yarn, tea and cake. You see, I don’t have lots of time for these things at the moment (well, maybe for the tea and cake), so the luxury of time to knit and read is something I feel I’ll have earned by the time I’m in my eighties.  So that pain lurking around in the left lower arm and hand threatened my very future.

How relieved I was to read this article about “The Health Benefits of Knitting.”  The author, Jane Brody, is a knitter herself, and yes, she covers the usual ground of stress relief from repetitive action:

Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

And you produce a tangible product as a bonus — socks, sweaters, afghans, hats, mittens, scarves, shawls — the seasoned knitter has knit them all. That, the author says, can boost self-esteem (“look what I made!”).

Those benefits have prompted the Craft Yarn Council to launch a “Stitch away Stress” campaign to go along with National Stress Awareness Month. But those benefits aren’t all.

Brody points out that knitting can help people quit smoking by giving them something else to do with their hands. And trust me, if you’re spending time knitting something, you don’t want it to smell like smoke, either. Keeping the hands busy can also stop people from mindless snacking.  From personal experience, I can attest too that I’m less likely to reach for potato chips when I’m knitting not just because my hands are busy but also because I don’t want to touch my handiwork with greasy fingers.

A study at the University of British Columbia found that knitting helped with the treatment of anorexia nervosa:

38 women with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa … were taught to knit found that learning the craft led to significant improvements. Seventy-four percent of the women said the activity lessened their fears and kept them from ruminating about their problem.

Not only that, the focus that knitting involves has been found to help people manage chronic pain. And people with depression found that it helped with their mental anguish. According to the study, “the brain can process just so much at once, and that activities like knitting and crocheting make it harder for the brain to register pain signals.” Read more about this research on the therapeutic value of knitting at the Stitchlinks website.

And finally, to my great relief, Brody reports that:

I’ve found that my handiwork with yarn has helped my arthritic fingers remain more dexterous as I age. A woman encouraged to try knitting and crocheting after developing an autoimmune disease that caused a lot of hand pain reported on the Craft Yarn Council site that her hands are now less stiff and painful.

I don’t know if that niggling pain is the beginning of arthritis, but it’s good news that knitting can help with dexterity. Fingers crossed that I my future self will still be able to use those needles! And there’s some suggestion that knitting, like Sudoku, can help keep the mind sharp into the later years of life. Also good news!

Of course, it’s not quite the same as getting off the couch and going for a run or taking a yoga class, but the health benefits of knitting are such that, if you’re going to stay on the couch, it’s a pretty good option.

Maybe this winter I’ll finish that second sock I’ve been working on since 2014.

 

fitness · training

Life Happens, Plans Change, and That’s Okay

Change of Plans Plan A Plan BI’ve done something uncharacteristic of me this summer: I signed up for two Olympic distance triathlons and then I withdrew.  Yep, Tracy of the “if I said I’d do it I’m doing it” mantra has bailed on Gravenhurst in July and Bracebridge in August.  Following my own gut feeling and my doctor’s gentle advice, I had to face up the facts: I just do not have it in me to train for these events.

Changes in my life of late have left me physically and emotionally depleted.  Renald moved away from London to pursue his dream of retiring on our sail boat. That’s great for him, and I’m in theory quite supportive of it because he’s 9 years older than I am and he’s worked really hard for many, many years.  Liveaboard cruising requires good health and physical energy.  Waiting at least five years until I can even think about retiring with him just seems ill-advised.  No one can know what five years out will bring.

So we bought a condo, sold most of our rental properties, purchased a St. Francis 50 catamaran (our dream boat, truly), and in May Renald went down to George Town, Bahamas and sailed the boat up to Annapolis, which is where I am as I write this post. It’s the starting point for my only extended summer vacation (just under two short weeks) and we’re heading up the coast towards Long Island Sound and Martha’s Vineyard and Newport in a few days. But for most of the summer (and the next few years) we will be a part and that is a huge change that is taking some adjustment. So there’s that.

Then there is the new job. As of July 1st I’m officially going to be the Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. I’m on vacation at the moment. My first day in the office is July 6th. I’ve had a few different administrative roles at the University so far, including serving as Chair of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research from 2007-2011 and most recently as Graduate Chair in Philosophy.

I admit that I enjoy admin work. It makes me feel as if I’m making a contribution to the University. And I like that it enables me to work with lots of others who care about making a contribution because usually those people have values that extend beyond caring only about themselves. I can respect that and it resonates with me. And at the same time starting a new job with a lot more responsibility is stressful.

And the book is due at the publisher on July 31st. A book contract with a good press that’s enthusiastic about your project is the most exciting and wonderful thing in the life of any writer. And as the deadline inches closer, my stress over it increases. It’s not that I don’t think we’re going to finish. I’m at the stage in the writing process where I feel as if every word I write is shit. This is normal. It’s as inevitable as the five (or is it four) stages of grief.
As if moving, starting to live apart from my partner, and beginning a new position at the University one month before our book is due at the publisher aren’t enough, I’ve also been feeling exhausted much of the time and sleeping badly. This got so bad that my coach recommended I get some blood work to see if anything was up.

Now, part of this is I think because I planned my spring events badly, doing too much too soon with not enough time in between events. I did the Around the Bay 30K on March 29th after a winter of training with a group. And then just 5 weeks later I ran my first marathon at the Mississauga Marathon on May 3rd. I survived ATB well enough even though I didn’t love it. But with the rest and recovery, I actually didn’t have enough time to feel super ready for the marathon.

I know that everyone says they don’t feel ready and it’s a normal thing to feel jitters before trying something new. But I still believe that, in fact, I wasn’t adequately prepared. I would have had a much better day if I’d down-graded to the half. I contemplated it and my coach even recommended it at one point (because I sounded so tentative and she said that’s not a great head-space to take into a new distance).

The marathon wiped me right out. Not just on race day. Not just for a week after. Or even two weeks. No, for a solid month after the marathon I felt exhausted. Getting out of bed for early morning swims, which used to be a routine thing that I enjoyed, became impossible. Even short runs challenged me.

And the bike? Forget it. My fear of the bike intensified and I looked upon it with dread. That may be a different issue altogether (see my recent thoughts on the bike here), but it factors into the result: I wasn’t doing the triathlon training required to prep myself for an Olympic distance in Gravenhurst in mid-July.

I got excited about the Niagara Women’s Half Marathon and had a fabulous time. But overall, I’m not feeling motivated to train for Olympic distance triathlon this year. The energy isn’t there and the desire has left me.

So when despite the bloodwork coming back all fine my doctor recommended that I ease up this summer so as not to let the stress of these big changes wear me down further by forcing myself to do activities that feel more depleting than energizing right now, I decided to follow her advice.

It’s been difficult for me to feel 100% okay about this since it makes me feel like a quitter in some ways, and I hate that feeling. But at the same time, I’m trying to learn a gentler approach.  I’m an advocate of doing less (see “On Doing Less”) but usually with the hidden motive of getting more done in the long run.  This summer, it’s about doing less, period. Not to ultimately achieve more, not to rest so I can throw myself back into things with a vengeance. No. This summer it’s about easing up because that’s what I need to do. Drop the big races, let up on training, get back to yoga, sleep more, all those good things.

The funny thing is that as soon as I decided to do that, my energy bounced back a bit. I got out for a track workout with the triathlon club last week and have also been doing 3K as fast as possible, since that is the distance of the run portion of the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon on July 11th.

Far from thinking about the KWT with dread, I’m really excited about it.  That is not how I was feeling about Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, both of which are exciting races in beautiful locations.

My new summer goal is as modest as they come: work on getting my 10K as close to 60 minutes as possible.  Other than that, I want to enjoy myself with the swim training, workout with weights, and get to the yoga studio at least once a week. I’ve got the hybrid bike out for commuting, and it’s a pleasant ride on the bike path from my condo to campus.

But this week, I’m on the sailboat. I’ve got my running shoes and my resistance bands, but I’m not forcing anything.  I’m sure that’s not the most inspiring attitude. Those who are into The Grind will be disappointed. I’ve had some grief for expressing this whole “doing less” idea because lots of people think they already do less and need to push themselves to do more. That may be. But if my spring is any indication, sometimes more can turn into too much. And when that happens, there’s nothing wrong with re-grouping and making some changes.

Weekends with Womack

Colds and exercise: working through it vs. waiting it out

Colds are annoying.

sniffles

There’s never a convenient time for them; either you’re super-busy and have to cancel or reschedule a bunch of commitments, or you’re finally free to do something fun (like ride, or hike, or swim, or go to the beach), but you can’t because you’re feeling logy and stuffy-headed.

logy

I’m bummed because: 1) my spring semester has finally ended; 2) the weather is very fine and great for fun outdoor activity; but 3) I just came down with an awful cold. So, 4) I don’t feel like moving at all right now.

But I was wondering: what kinds or amounts of exercise can I and should I do while I’m sick? I decided to ask the internet.

One of my favorite science and health writers, Gina Kolata, weighed in on the subject a while ago here.  It turns out that there are very few studies that have investigated the effects of colds on exercise. Kolata talks about one of them below:

The first question was: Does a cold affect your ability to exercise? To address that, the researchers recruited 24 men and 21 women ages 18 to 29 and of varying levels of fitness who agreed to be deliberately infected with a rhinovirus, which is responsible for about a third of all colds. Another group of 10 young men and women served as controls; they were not infected.

At the start of the study, the investigators tested all of the subjects, assessing their lung functions and exercise capacity. Then a cold virus was dropped into the noses of 45 of the subjects, and all caught head colds. Two days later, when their cold symptoms were at their worst, the subjects exercised by running on treadmills at moderate and intense levels. The researchers reported that having a cold had no effect on either lung function or exercise capacity.

“I was surprised their lung function wasn’t impaired,” Dr. Kaminsky said. “I was surprised their overall exercise performance wasn’t impaired, even though they were reporting feeling fatigued.”

He said he also tested the subjects at different points in the exercise sessions, from moderate to intense effort, and found that their colds had no effect on their metabolic responses.

So, inasmuch as we can learn something from one study, this one suggests that having a cold doesn’t necessarily have to slow us down. But does exercise actually help us get better any faster? Kolata discusses this, too:

Another question was: Does exercising when you have a cold affect your symptoms and recovery time? Once again, Dr, Kaminsky and his colleagues infected volunteers with a rhinovirus. This time, the subjects were 34 young men and women who were randomly assigned to a group that would exercise with their colds and 16 others who were assigned to rest.

The group that exercised ran on treadmills for 40 minutes every other day at moderate levels of 70 percent of their maximum heart rates.

Every 12 hours, all the subjects in the study completed questionnaires about their symptoms and physical activity. The researchers collected the subjects’ used facial tissues, weighing them to assess their cold symptoms.

The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”

In this study, exercise didn’t seem to have any effect on duration or intensity of colds, but it might make some people feel comparatively better.

The Mayo Clinic is a little more conservative in its advice about exercising while sick. Their website suggests that if symptoms are “above the neck” (e.g. sniffles, headache, etc.), it’s fine to exercise, but if symptoms are “below the neck” (e.g. coughing, chest congestion, upset stomach), it’s better to rest until those symptoms subside.

The past two days I’ve been home in bed. I’ve watched approximately 14 hours of Downton Abbey episodes, taken in lots of fluids, slept 11 hours a night (plus naps), and done nothing much. I have both above- and below-the-neck symptoms (stuffy nose, headache, plus coughing).

Still, maybe some movement is in order. Tomorrow I will take a nice walk in this park after church with Dan, knowing that, well, it can’t hurt…

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