Bring on the sun! It’s spring!

I know there are disagreements about time change and daylight savings. FWIW, I’m pro daylight savings and love long evening summers and safe home from work bike commuting. I might be talked into keeping DST year round but I would hate to give it up altogether. But that’s not the song I’m here to sing today.

Instead, I want to note that the days are getting longer and we’re just now hitting the 50% daylight mark. There’s as much daylight as dark in my part of the world.

Sun rise at 7:38 am and sunset at 7:40 pm.

Sunrise over water

Even on cold days now I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and I’m plotting and planning days on the beach and swimming. Spring is definitely here!

We’ve booked a 160 km bike trip on the Lake Simcoe Loop in June. We’ve made plans to help take Jeff’s boat up the Rideau canal in May. Here’s his plan for the year. We’re going on another great canoe adventure in Algonquin in July. We’re also starting to think about racing the Snipe some weeknights. We’ve been in touch about backyard personal training for spring and summer.

Yes, the pandemic is far from over. Yes, there’s a lot of hard work ahead.

But the sun is back, longer days are here, and I can’t wait to spend more time outside.

If you’re in my part of the world, emerging from a cold, dark winter, how are you feeling about the warmer, lighter days ahead?

fitness · season transitions · winter

Sam hates November but loves bright, sunny, snowy days (a photo essay as a reminder)

Like Tracy, I’ve been struggling to get outside this winter. Yes, there’s been some fat biking. There have been a few long snowy dog walks. But generally, on a weekly basis, it feels like days whoosh by when I don’t leave the house. Like this week, it was suddenly Friday and I realized I went out just once.

I blog lots about how much I hate grey November days but I do love winter sunshine. January and February are usually good months for snow and sun. It’s the in-between stage of winter I hate when it’s too cold and icy to ride my bike but not yet snowy enough to fat bike, cross country ski etc.

But this February feels different and I’m thinking it’s really about the pandemic not just about the weather. Right now we’re at the stage in Canadian winter when the temperatures feel daunting. The combination of stay at home orders in the province where I live and some -15 windy, grey, icy days means an awful lot of indoor time.

What I love, and I need to remind myself of this, is the bright winter sun. I’m not sure why I need to remind myself about this. I’m not sure why it feels so much like work during the pandemic to remember the good things. But it does. Are there things that you know make you feel better but you still need reminding? Still need a push out the door? Walking in the sunshine, in winter, is like this for me.

It’s also Family Day here in Ontario. As pandemic winter continues, I really miss my family members who don’t live with me. I think I’m going to make an effort to visit outside more often even though it’s cold.

Dog hikes, family, sun and snow. All good.

I also love reading in my llama pjamas, late Sunday breakfasts, and coffee! These are things I know make the weekend better but I don’t need reminding about them.

What are some of your favourite weekend things? I feel the need these days to mark the weekend and make it special. Otherwise, all the days blur into one.

Hope you had a good weekend and if you’re in one of Canadian provinces that celebrate it, hope you’ve got a happy family day ahead of you.


Breakfast, French toast and strawberries

cycling · health

May is skin cancer awareness month: Did you know that Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in women ages 25 to 29?


Skin Cancer AwarenessI posted on Facebook the other day about my first sunny bike ride and the need to replenish my stores of small containers of sunscreen for my bike jersey pocket.

A friend commented that she thought cyclists were more aware of the sun and its risks than were runners. Many runners, she claimed, weren’t so good about sunscreen. There’s the thought that it gets in the way of sweating properly. I’m not sure if it’s right that cyclists are better about the sun than runners though it is true we are generally out there for longer. Most cyclists don’t ride during the dark either and so a long summer ride will include lots of sunshine.

I’ve had a friend in her 30s die from melanoma, it scares me, and I’m anxious to spread the word.

Here’s some tough facts:

About Melanoma in Canada: “In its late stages, the average life expectancy for melanoma is just six months, with a one-year survival rate of only 25 percent, making metastatic melanoma one of the most aggressive forms of cancer and one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. An estimated 6,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and 1,050 will die from it. Melanoma is responsible for 70 percent of deaths associated with skin cancer.”

Here’s 10 Things You Should Know About Skin Cancer:

1. Almost 50% of all cancer cases are a type of skin cancer.

More men and women are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than any other type of cancer. Each year, over 5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer and nearly 5 million seek treatment for the disease.

2. UV rays cause almost 90% of non-melanoma skin cancer.

People encounter these potentially harmful rays outdoors in the sun, lying in tanning beds and even sitting next to a window or driving in the car on a sunny day. UV rays can damage the skin through chronic exposure and intermittent sunburns.

3. In the U.S., someone dies from melanoma every 57 minutes.

Melanoma, specifically, accounts for less than two percent of skin cancer cases, yet the majority of deaths caused by skin cancer are caused by melanoma.

4. Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer for men and the seventh most common for women.

More women are diagnosed with melanoma before age 50; however, by age 65, men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than women.

5. Reports of skin cancer diagnoses are considered to be underreported.

Many cases go unreported because, if caught early enough, they can be appropriately treated by primary care physicians or dermatologists, and patients do not have to undergo full cancer treatment. Despite being required by law, many doctors may not be aware that they are required to report such cases.

6. Americans spend $8.1 billion on skin cancer treatment alone each year.

Americans spend approximately $4.8 billion for non-melanoma and $3.3 billion for melanoma annually.

7. Skin cancer treatment can cost each patient anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

The cost of treatment largely varies and depends on the type and stage of the cancer as well as the depth and location of the affected areas. For example, the average cost of excising a small area affected by non-melanoma skin cancer in a physician’s office is approximately$500, but, if needed, chemotherapy may cost thousands of dollars a month. These costs do not include reconstructive surgery that some patients may opt for post-treatment.

8. Skin cancer affects all ethnicities.

Those with fair or lighter skin are more likely to be affected by skin cancer; however, those with darker skin may be at a greater risk because skin cancer is more likely to go undetected until advance stages.

9. Using a tanning bed before age 30 boosts melanoma risk by 75 percent.

The highest risk exists for people who use tanning beds before age 25. Their odds of developing squamous cell skin cancer is 50% higher than those who have never used indoor tanning before; similarly, their risk of developing basal cell skin cancer is 40% higher.

Tanning beds should be outlawed.  Melanoma is increasing dramatically especially among teens and young adults and it is deadly.

10. Skin cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers.

Minimizing exposure to sunlight and tanning beds can help you protect yourself from skin cancer and scheduling annual checkups with a dermatologist can be a good way to monitor suspicious-looking moles or diagnose skin cancer early. Performing self-examination can also be helpful. Consider keeping photographic records of certain areas that your doctor has asked you to monitor for future comparison. When detected early, skin cancer has more than a 95% cure rate.”

A healthy tan is an oxymoron: any tan is a sign of damage to your skin!


Here’ s three past posts about the sun and skin cancer:


eating · health

Vitamin D: What’s a reasonable person to do?


I often blog about topics where I’ve done some research and thought I’d save you the time. On topics such as exercise non-responders (Or, are you a non responder?), intermittent fasting and women’s health (Intermittent fasting and why it might not work), and athletes and pain tolerance (Are athletes masochists?) I’m far from an expert in the field but I’ve read enough to have some conclusions to share.

But on some topics, I’m perplexed. I’ve read a fair bit but I’m still not sure what to think or do about Vitamin D.  Let’s start with the question that many of us in the northern hemisphere worry about, are you getting enough Vitamin D?

Some reports suggest nearly half the world’s population suffers from vitamin D deficiency, which is unsettling news given that a lack of vitamin D has been associated with a host of serious conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis and even depression, not to mention brittle bones and the common cold.

But it’s not clear that supplements help. See the Limits of Vitamin D Supplements.

A large review of studies has found that vitamin D supplements have little or no benefit beyond the low levels required for bone health.

The meta-analysis, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, combined data from 290 observational studies and 172 random trials. All the studies used blood levels of vitamin D to measure outcomes. Dosages varied, but most trials used 800 units or more.

The observational studies generally found an association of lower vitamin D levels with increases in cardiovascular disease, lipid concentrations, glucose levels, weight gain, infectious disease and mood disorders. But random trials showed little or no effect of vitamin D supplements on any of these problems. The authors conclude that low vitamin D levels are almost surely an effect of these diseases, and not a cause.

Current guidelines recommend supplements for anyone with a blood level under 30 nanograms per milliliter, but the lead author, Dr. Philippe Autier, said that only at levels of 10 or less would there be a risk to skeletal health. Less than 10 percent of Americans, he estimates, fall into this category. Dr. Autier is a researcher at the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France.

“Unfortunately, there is probably no benefit to expect from vitamin D supplementation in normally healthy people,” he said.

See also, from Precision Nutrition, Vitamin D supplements: Are yours helping or hurting you?

Almost every expert recommends it. And everyone’s taking it. But what if we’ve been using it wrong? What if our vitamin D supplements aren’t really helping us at all?
If your car’s oil light went on once a week…and every time you checked the oil, it was running low…what would you do?
Shrug? Top up the oil tank (again)? Do your best to forget about it?
Or would you try to figure out the cause? Why that oil light kept coming on? Why your oil was running low?
If you’re smart, you take your car to the mechanic. Where you learn that low oil is just a symptom. There, the mechanic looks for the real problem.
Why, then, don’t we take the same approach with our health? With our supplements?
Why’s that vitamin D low?
Research over the last few years has indicated that a large percent of the world’s population is low in vitamin D. However, the response to this is kinda strange.
Healthcare practitioners typically test a patient’s vitamin D levels and notice that they’re low.
Then s/he prescribes a vitamin D supplement.
The patient comes in again a few months later and vitamin D is still low.
So the doctor increases the supplement.
Interestingly, very few professionals ever ask: Why is this person’s “vitamin D tank” leaking in the first place?

In case you thought indoor tanning in the winter was a reasonable response, think again. The Canadian Cancer Society says, “Using tanning beds may increase vitamin D production, depending on the type of bulbs used (only UVB radiation can stimulate vitamin D production). But tanning beds are not a safe way to get vitamin D. There are safer ways to get vitamin D.”  Read more:

The International Skin Cancer Foundation puts in in stronger terms.

No … no… no! A tanning bed will never provide you with the vitamin D that you need, nor is it safer than tanning outdoors. Not understanding the facts can literally mean the difference between life and death. Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation cause cell damage that can lead to skin cancer. When you lie in an indoor tanning bed, you are exposed primarily to UVA, which penetrates deep into the surface of the skin, damaging the cells beneath and prematurely aging your skin. But it is UVB (the sun burning rays) — not UVA — which helps the skin make vitamin D, so you are increasing your risk of skin cancer without receiving any benefit!

As for the claim that tanning beds emit a controlled dose of UV radiation, a “controlled dose” of UV radiation from a tanning bed is a dangerous dose: frequent tanners using high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.

It’s estimated that 10 minutes in a tanning bed matches the cancer-causing effects of 10 minutes in the Mediterranean summer sun. This may be one reason that indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, than those who have never tanned indoors, and that people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, the two most common skin cancers. In addition to increasing your risk of skin cancer and accelerating signs of skin aging like wrinkles and brown spots, UV radiation also weakens the immune system — which further increases your risk for skin cancer. While there is no question that vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system, current evidence does not support its role in the prevention of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, heart disease and stroke. Adults should obtain their recommended daily dose of 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D safely, from foods such as oily fish and fortified dairy products and cereals. Another easy way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D is to take supplements. I strongly advise against exposure to artificial UV radiation (tanning beds), since the health risks — including skin cancer and premature skin aging — are significant and potentially life-threatening.

But should we test everyone for vitamin D deficiency?

There are problems with making vitamin D tests a standard part of preventive medicine, a federal panel said. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Monday there’s not enough evidence of benefits or harms to recommend vitamin D testing for all. And even though some studies have associated low levels of vitamin D with a long list of ills, including a higher risk of fractures, falls, heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, depression, thinking problems and death, scientists who evaluated studies for the USPSTF say there is no direct evidence that universal screening would reduce those risks. “The effect of vitamin D levels on health outcomes is difficult to evaluate,” the recommendation statement says.

So what do I do for now? I get outside in the sun when it appears. Walking my dog helps. And I do take a Vitamin D pill in the lowest sun months. Given the above I’m not sure it’s doing me any good but it’s a low enough dose that it’s not doing me any harm either.

What do you do about Vitamin D in the winter? Why? (And although I’m a professor and this is exam season, I don’t mean that question in an exam like way! I’m curious about what decisions others make when it’s not clear what the facts are.)