As I hope I’ve made clear since back in the early days of this blog (we’re one year old today!), I’m not a fitness expert. I’m just a person trying to stay fit and healthy while navigating some of the typical hurdles of middle age (slowing metabolism, muscle loss, new distributions of fat cells), as well as some slightly less typical ones (a chemopreventive medication, anastrozole, that includes weight gain and muscle loss among its side effects).
I used to consider myself something of an expert in my own fitness – I knew what worked and what didn’t when it came to keeping myself fairly lean, mobile, and energetic. And though I did not always succeed, I knew what it took to stay on track and could usually get myself there pretty quickly. But since the breast cancer adventure and the introduction of daily anastrozole, I feel like I’m in a borrowed and ill-fitting body. Stuff hurts that didn’t hurt before, weight stays in places it never stayed before, and I’m a laughably unrealistic judge of my own strength and endurance.
One year into this blog (and several months into my last year on anastrazole!), I’m still wrestling with these challenges. And I’ve added a hurdle by filling much of my free time with extracurricular activities and studies required for a vocational shift. But I get up an hour earlier than necessary at least four mornings each week, and head down to our basement “gym,” which is equipped with a rowing machine, a borrowed treadmill, and a 1980’s “Universal”-type weight-lifting contraption we bought on Craigslist. The American Cancer Society urges 75 minutes of intense physical activity, or 150 minutes moderate physical activity each week to reduce cancer risk, and I usually fall right in the middle of that range. Under normal circumstances, weight management is 80% nutrition-dependent and 20% exercise-dependent. Clearly my modest exercise regime is not enough to get my weight back where I want it (10% less than it is now), so I need to step up my game in the nutrition department. I’m mostly vegetarian-leaning-vegan, but I overdo processed foods and carbs, so I’m cleaning up that act.
The most counter-intuitive fitness activity I’m trying to work into my schedule is… sitting? And sleeping? The integrative medicine specialist on my oncology team urged me to focus on stress reduction, reminding me that chronic stress and too little sleep contribute a LOT to weight gain in middle age. I tend to regard those factors a bit like I do the weather: there’s not much I can do about it! My consultant disagreed, and even suggested that I swap some of my exercise time for meditation or another stress reduction practice. Have I done that, yet? No. It’s hard to cut down on exercising when one is burdened with this many years of dogged belief that it will help one lose weight. But my weekly calendar is now drawn up: 3 mornings/week meditation, 3 mornings/week workout, one “free” morning, and as much mid-day walking as my job allows.
So tell me: what do you do to reduce stress? For some of my closest friends and extended family, running, biking, or swimming IS stress reduction. And maybe I’d be even more of a stressbot without my rowing machine. But I’ll give this meditation stuff a try.* (*Updated to note that, yes, I’ve tried meditation from time to time – that’s how I discovered Insight Timer – but I’ve never developed a regular practice of it.)
Each summer for the past three years I have paddled on a dragon boat team comprised of cancer survivors. And each summer, I have gotten stronger and developed greater stamina. This summer is the first time I haven’t improved with practice. That’s partly because we’ve had a shorter-than-usual season, and partly because I’ve missed a few practices due to the aforementioned extracurriculars. But with my 50K walk/”run” just two months off, I wanted to be further down my fitness road at this point. So I’ve decided that I’m going to emphasize weight-training over cardio for a while. Muscle loss is an unfortunate fact of aging, and a side effect of anastrazole. And when we lose muscle, we lose stamina. But muscle loss can be slowed and even, to some extent, reversed. Join me? Here’s where I’m getting my workout routines, which I’m starting this week: Strong: Nine Workout Programs for Women to Burn Fat, Boost Metabolism, and Build Strength for Life.