Embracing my growing strength

Red and white printed blanket covering a personBy MarthaFitat55

I’m not a big fan of our winter season. The weather is often horrible, spring seems like it will never arrive, and the multiple layers required to survive the cold make going to the gym a chore.

When the sky is blue, and the snow is soft and fluffy, I can work up the enthusiasm to enjoy a walk or a snowshoe. When it is wet and miserable with sleety snow, I want to curl up under my quilt and not surface until May.

Part of my resistance to winter exercise comes from my fear of falling. I have actually fallen several times, with my first reliable memory being a fall at 14 that resulted in a wicked headache.

I have tumbled over icy stairs (that one within earshot of my mother who heard me use language suitable for blistering paint) and I have skidded across parking lots.

I have also fallen indoors, and while I have been fortunate enough not to experience lasting ill effects, as I grow older, my fear of falling has grown exponentially.

I often ask people if they remember the rubber boots many of us wore as kids, and if they specifically recall how stiff and unyielding the rubber would get as we walked to and from school in January and February. Over time the rubber would crack and the wet would seep in.

That’s how I feel my muscles go in the winter cold: hard, inflexible, and yet ready to shatter at the slightest pressure.

Last year, three of my friends and one of my relatives were laid up with broken bones, all women. Two experienced the breaks as a result of slips and falls on icy sidewalks, thus adding to my fear and resistance.

I shouldn’t be surprised: after all, women are four times more likely to have osteoporosis, and one in five is likely to experience a fracture after age 40. The fact is my fear of falling need not be limited to the winter season, given the data.

Since hiding under a quilt is not really an option I can indulge in, I have looked for ways to reduce my risk of falls. I make sure I have good shoes, grippy sneakers, and sturdy boots. I have learned to walk like a penguin, with my feet pointed out, when going up or down hills and across icy surfaces.

I found some really useful tips here on the BC’s government’s health website. One tip which really stood out for me was eating foods high in calcium and Vitamin D. I had found increasing my fish intake was helping with my arthritis, so I wasn’t too surprised that nutrition could help. I had also long known about the calcium connection for bone health, but was not aware of the importance Vitamin D brings to muscle strength.

Last month, I had reason to be grateful for working on my fitness and nutrition. I had noticed increasing tightness and soreness around the hip joint post training and my trainer had noticed some oddities in my form during a subsequent squat session.

I decided to get checked as I was worried that something new was about to be added to the injury roster. I was somewhat startled to learn that it was the same hip problem. When I asked why the symptoms were different, my physiotherapist said my muscle strength had improved significantly over the past year to compensate for my hip moving out of alignment.

When I thought about the other times my hip joint has shifted, I realized several things. First, the time between injury and the onset of discomfort and pain was usually quite short. This time, it was a little over three weeks before things got really sore. Second, the recovery time post alignment was often quite long, with the pain and stiffness taking as much as three to five weeks to disappear. This time, I was really only uncomfortable for about 48 to 72 hours.

So what has this got to do with my fear of falling? I’m still cautious, but now I have developed my core strength so I am strong enough to reduce the impact. I also know my improved nutrition has helped my muscles recover faster from training, and this is also helpful in dealing with stress and injury.

What this means long term, I am not sure yet. For now, I am happy to continue with the work I am doing with the knowledge that I have made a difference in reducing the effects of injury and speeding up recovery.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s documenting a continuing journey of making fitness and work-life balance part of her everyday lifestyle.

We say goodbye, we say hello: out with winter activities, in with spring

Let’s take a walk

Into the world

Where if our shoes get white

With snow, is it snow, Marina,

Is it snow or light?

Let’s take a walk

excerpt from the poem To Marina, by Kenneth Koch.

Finally, after an unbelievably fierce winter here in the northeast, change is in the air—daylight savings time has returned, giving us more time after work to be outside. And temperatures are edging up, most welcome in Boston where we got pounded with 105 inches of snow this year.  A month ago, streets in Boston looked like this:

parkton-snow

But now they look like this:

parkton-nosnow

Not exactly pretty, but at least the driving is a bit easier.

One notable benefit of all this snow has been the instant access to great winter sports, even in urban areas. I’ve blogged about urban cross country skiing and also trying out new variations on skiing. In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal Skateway had a record-breaking 59-day season, which lots of people took advantage of.

rideau canal

rideau-night

My friend Teri, on a work trip to Ottawa, took the night picture, and even partook of some after-work curling—another northern winter activity (although here you can find out about the curling season, which in fact extends to May).

curling-work

But all good things come to an end. The snow is melting, the late-day sun is beckoning, and it’s time to think about putting away skis, skates, snowshoes, fat bikes and cold-weather running wear. Time to bring out the road and mountain bikes, running shoes, and other springtime equipment. Samantha has gotten the jump on many of us already, restarting bike commuting.

You would think this would be deliriously wonderful news; it’s been a frigid and difficult winter, and I’ve not been on a bike in months. And I love to ride. But change can be hard—even positive change. It requires consciously shifting from one set of habits, one set of gear, one set of exercise partners and locations and muscle groups, to a whole different set. This happens for me on at least 3 levels:

Level one: logistical

Finding places to put the winter stuff while remembering where I stored the warmer weather stuff and deciding when to retrieve it is always a production. The cross-country skis, which lived in the back of the car all winter, are now in their transitional space (the hallway) awaiting being put away in the basement; repeat for lots of other gear and clothing. I also need to take my road bike for a tune-up before the season really gets going, etc. For those of us who are active and profligate about gear, keeping everything in its appropriate place in the seasonal rotation is a job.

Level two: physical

Changing sports or activities means also reminding oneself about the existence of muscle groups that may have been ignored for a while. This winter I skied and played squash, both of which use my legs, but in ways very different than cycling uses them. Lots of websites offer practical advice for ways to transition into spring cycling or spring running.  The message seems to be this: start slow and focus on the basics. This is no news, but sometimes tough to stick with, especially on that first spring day when you are bursting with enthusiasm.

Level three: metaphysical

Change is unsettling.  We’re used to our habits and the pleasures, associations, and even burdens that come with them.  This winter offered up a host of burdens– endless shoveling, treacherous driving, super-long commutes to work, and high heat bills.  But it also provided some opportunities and experiences that I’ll miss.

I now know the neighbors on my street much better through shared shoveling  and snow-driving woes.  To get one car unstuck on my street took representatives from Turkey, Japan, France, South Carolina, and New England; since then we’ve all waved and smiled when we see each other.

I also know some of my colleagues much better through carpooling to work.  The MBTA commuter rail in Boston experienced massive failure, and we had to scramble to find rides for people to be able to teach their classes.  I drove folks to and from school (usually a 50-minute one-way ride, turned into more than 1.5 hours) 3 days a week for several weeks.  It was time-consuming, but we spent time talking and joking and complaining and enjoying each others’ company.

When public transportation was running, I used it (there was no parking anywhere– trust me).  It was sometimes uncertain and often lengthy, but walking around town and taking two buses to get home felt like an accomplishment– moving through the city under my own power (there was lots of walking in sturdy boots this winter) and catching the bus reminded me of younger student days.

As for sports, with several of my women’s league squash matches were canceled due to storms and no biking possible, I had to improvise, often on skis, with friends.  So we skied all over the place– in my neighborhood, at nearby parks, urban woods, conservation lands, groomed ski places– wherever there was snow cover.  I renewed acquaintances with people I ran into who skate ski and bike race.  All of this felt novel, improvised, exhilarating, a little scary sometimes (it tested and stretched my skills) and really fun.

But for now that phase of active life is done.  I hope to hang onto some of the new habits– doing more regular carpooling and tooling around town on public transportation are good plans.  For sports, it’s time to turn to spring activities, which I love.  But it seemed fitting to note the passing of this extraordinary winter, in all its inconvenient and thrilling splendor.  I’ll miss you.  Except for the shoveling.

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