Getting Older — And Stronger, Too
Wednesday - June 29, 2011
I had a little “moment” the other morning. This may sound odd, but it happened as I stood on one leg to pull up my jeans. I thought, “Whoa. I can do this.” So I stood there, on one leg, for a few more seconds before proceeding. What was so astonishing about this? Well, somewhere along the way I had become weak. Really weak. Not old, doddering weak, but unable-to-balance-on-one-leg weak.
I’ve never been athletic, but I’ve always been fairly healthy. I never thought about the fact that as we get older we lose strength and flexibility, and it happens slowly so we don’t even notice till it’s too late. For me, it had gotten to the point where I had to lean on the dresser, or the wall, or the counter, in order to get dressed, and I thought nothing of it. I know now it was a sign that I needed to pay attention. It was time to think about what I want to be when I finally “grow up.” What kind of quality of life do I want to have as I get older?
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen old people who can barely move, who can’t lift their arms above their heads, whose minds and bodies simply wither away. And you’ve seen old people who are active, sharp and vibrant until the day they die. Which future do you choose?
I am not talking about the quest for eternal youth, or at least the appearance of eternal youth, which really is silly. I don’t like seeing people deny their age or try to hang on to what they were. Beauty doesn’t stay the same; it changes with the passage of time. No, I don’t want to look young forever.
But I believe that quality of life demands we remain youthful in our attitudes, in the way we treat our bodies and in the way we maintain our minds. We can avoid the trap of mental and physical deterioration or stagnation. We can live fully and robustly until it’s finally time for us to die. Isn’t that better than quietly shrinking away?
I’ve always been pretty good about getting in regular, moderate aerobic exercise. But a few months ago I decided I wanted more of a challenge, so I started working out with a trainer. That’s when I discovered just how weak I had become. My balance was gone; I couldn’t do a push-up (well, I could never do a push-up), and every part of me felt rusty and stiff. It was quite a rude awakening, and every muscle was screaming for me to wake up.
My trainer, the beautiful - and sadistic - Michele Tokuda, listened to me complain and smiled angelically. I quickly learned that if I moaned about climbing stairs she pulled out the step exercises. If I expressed dislike for squats she doubled down on them with a twinkle in her eye. When I confessed my lack of balancing ability, she cheerfully made me stand on one foot while bending with free weights clutched in shaky, sweaty hands. She kept yakking about something called the “core.” Ouch. She is the devil.
But she’s also helping me get results. I realized that when I stood there on one foot, balancing without thinking about it. Like everything worth achieving, lifelong fitness takes a bit of self-awareness and a lot of work. And, yes, even a little pain.
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