Aging backward (and forward)

When I started to get regular exercise after decades of mostly sedentary living, I started to feel younger. And by contrast, as I’ve slumped and struggled this spring, I have started to feel older again.

What do I mean by that?

For at least a decade, I found it very difficult to stand on one foot as I slid the other foot into my pants getting dressed in the morning. I would lose my balance, tip over, and I frequently resorted to sitting down for this daily task. It was the same with putting on and tying my shoes. There for awhile, I was having a very tough time reaching my shoelaces. Those things left me feeling far older than my years.

With regular exercise, I find I can now easily balance on one foot, and it’s a piece of cake to tie my shoes. It feels insignificant—except it really isn’t. That improved balance carries over into nearly every aspect of my life. I feel more confident walking down steps, hiking, and even getting in and out of my car. Daily tasks are noticeably easier.

The same is true of weight lifting, and increased endurance from cardio workouts. I feel stronger.

And the converse is also true. Of course it is.

A few nights ago, for example, I got down on the floor of my living room on a couple of pillows, just to hang out. I had a full house with the kids visiting for Mother’s Day, and it seemed like a good idea—until I tried to get up.

I had stiffened up on the floor, and I felt about a hundred as I slowly cricked and cracked my way back to an upright position. But when I was getting more exercise, I would have been able to bounce back up with a lot less effort.

I’ve never been a person afraid of aging: I don’t seek to be younger than I am, I don’t cover the white strands in my dark hair, my crow’s feet don’t bother me, and I’ll tell anyone who wants to know that I’m 51 years old. But by the same token, I don’t want to feel “old” when I’m still young. It’s one of the reasons I started working out in the first place.

So what is this old and young business anyway? If it’s not about white hair and wrinkles, what then?

The best part of being “old” is increased confidence. At 20 or 30, I was far too self-conscious to take any kind of fitness class. I would be convinced that anyone there was laughing at my lack of ability, the size of my thighs, and the cuteness of my workout outfit. That last one is probably the only one that has any truth to it. Even in my 40s when I tried out a dance class here and there, I felt like bursting into tears the whole time—then wanted to bolt and run the second the class was over. Now, I just don’t care about most of that stuff. I mean, I get twinges of the young me here and there, but not much. What a relief.

The worst part of being “old” is not being able to do some things. I used to enjoy roller skating and ice skating, but now both scare me. Well, to be precise, the skating doesn’t scare me, but the inevitable falling really does. That could change, but for now it’s a no.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “old” and “young” are really states of mind, although perhaps a person in her 90s might disagree with that statement.

The best part of being “ageless” is an amazing realization: This human body, which can be so frail, is also astonishingly resilient. I’ve read story after story of people who started working out in their 60s or 70s; of people running marathons in their 80s; and of people who threw away their medications for diabetes and high blood pressure. It’s a move-it-or-lose-it scenario, and our bodies are wonderfully responsive to exercise and healthy eating.

I’ve also seen people in their 30s and 40s (and I have been one of these people) who can’t walk half a block without huffing and puffing, and who look far older than they actually are.

So where does this all lead me? I feel better when I exercise, and I feel worse when I don’t exercise. It’s a no-brainer. I know which kind of old lady I want to be in my 80s and 90s, and I’m laying the groundwork for that today. I’ll be outside playing if you need me.

What are your thoughts on “aging backwards”? Contact me at 505-286-1212 or leota@lobo.net, or join the conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!” I love hearing your feedback.

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