I notice as I get older that my body changes in ways I do not expect. One change is the relentless accumulation of fat on my outer thighs. I never noticed this as a “problem area” before, but it seems that my body prefers to keep a little pooch there as a just-in-case fund. This is hardly dramatic or urgent, but it got me thinking about the challenges of keeping our bodies healthy and strong as we get older.
As we age, our metabolisms naturally slow down and our muscle mass decreases. We tend to accumulate more fat more easily and our joints weaken. We get sick more easily and our skin wrinkles all over itself in weird places. It all sounds very depressing.
The good news is we can actually prolong the youthfulness of our bodies. The bad news is it takes work; and depending on where you are on the fitness scale, it could take a lot of work.
It may sound counterintuitive, but exercising your body actually helps improve its performance in the long-term. If you have weak joints or back pain, strengthening your muscles will help support your bones and keep your body positioned correctly. If you have chronic inflammation, cardiovascular activity can help your blood flush out your problem areas. If cancer, heart problems, diabetes, or high blood pressure runs in your family, a mix of cardio and strength training can help regulate your body and keep genetic hazards at bay.
Now, exercise can not cure everything nor can it prevent death. It is not even guaranteed to prevent illness or the aches and pains of aging. However, it can sure make the journey a heck of a lot easier.
Here are a few reasons why you should prioritize physical activity at every age:
In Your 20’s
This is the prime time to get your body sculpted for success. You are young, which means your body can be molded and repaired quickly and easily. You probably have lots of energy and a vibrant social life, so you can easily get your butt moving and exercise. Your 20’s is the time to repair all the damage done during college and get your body ready for the rest of your life. Even if you were not active as a kid or an athlete in high school, you can still mold your body into a productive machine that will provide you with the confidence, endurance, and health to launch your adult life.
In Your 30’s
When you turn 30, you suddenly realize that you truly ain’t gettin’ any younger. At this point, there is a choice: allow age to control your life or be proactive and take charge of your life. You probably have a regular job, perhaps a family and a house, and you are settling in to whatever life you have built for yourself. Now that you are stable, what is there left to do? Get old? In the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Oh, I don’t think so.” There is a reason people have mid-life crises – they feel unfulfilled and feel that they have not “done anything with their lives”. Take ownership over your life and your age. Be proud of what you have accomplished and continue to challenge yourself. Do something you have never done before, such as run a 5K, kayak down the Rogue River, hike the Appalachian Trail, or SCUBA dive. Commit to your goals and your health in order to ensure a promising Part 2 of Your Life.
In Your 40’s
It is not too late! Your body is an amazing machine and can still undergo vast transformation. You can still create the body and the lifestyle you have always wanted. It keeps getting harder, though, because you keep getting more and more settled in your ways. And if your ways do not match up with your goals, you will have a very unhappy ending to Part 2. During your 40’s, it is crucial to channel the youth in you and be active and happy. Your bones may hurt and your muscles may feel weak, but that just means you have some work to do. The best strategy for you at this time is moderation. Walk for a few weeks, work your way up to a jog, then go from there if you desire. Do not push yourself to your limits, but do not let yourself off so easy either. Stretch your boundaries a little so that you can find activities that you enjoy. Embrace people in their 20’s and 30’s who know all the new trendy workouts, and partner up with a couple to help keep you feeling youthful.
In Your 50’s
You are not old. I repeat: You are not old. Age is in your mind (and, yes, sometimes on your face, neck, and back). You may have earned accolades at work by this time; you may have kids that are grown; you may be going through a divorce (or a second divorce); you may toss around the idea of going back to school; or you might move to a new city for a change of pace. In any scenario, your health is always number one; and the primary way to take care of your health is to be active, exercise moderately, eat well, and find peaceful ways of coping with stress. If you have not mastered these skills already, dedicate your 50’s to developing a better you. You have certainly earned it.
In Your 60’s
60 is the new 50. I am serious. When I was a kid, I used to think 60 was old – like grandma old. Although, it is likely that a woman in her 60’s would be a grandma, I definitely thought of “grandma” differently back then. My grandparents were ladies and gentlemen. They were always dressed well when they did housework, went to church every Sunday and donated generously, and never left the house without a proper cap or head scarf. But they were OLD! They just always seemed like “old people” to me. My parents, now in their 60’s, are hardly “old people”. Many times, they are more youthful than I can muster up the energy to be. However, what you 60-somethings must continuously remember is: by taking care of yourself, you take care of the family you worked so hard to create. Often, parents with grown children do not know how to be a parent to an adult. It is a totally new experience. The best thing parents can do for their adult kids and grandkids is to take care of their own health. I say to my mother all the time, “I’m not ready to have children yet. So, if you want to see your grandkids someday, you best make sure you are healthy enough to stick around for them!” We giggle about it, but it is true. Get that arse moving or you will be an old arse before you know it!
In Your 70’s and Beyond
Bravo! You made it! Give yourself a pat on the back! (I am sure you are glaring at these words thinking, “Yeah, great. I am in my 70’s and I’m lumped together with all the old people in their 80’s and 90’s.”) Although the majority of your life is behind you, there is so much life still left if you so desire it. I have two great-aunts in their mid-90’s that are kickin’ it better than some 60-year-olds I know! My one great-aunt is truly an inspiration to me. She is 94 and still wears kitten heels, gets her hair did regularly at the beauty parlor, makes sure all her accessories match, keeps up on the latest celebrity gossip, and volunteers at her church every week. The woman is vibrant and cognitively sharp. She recently had heart surgery because after 94 years of solid activity, her heart wore out a bit. Otherwise, that lady is a magnificent source of energy and endless youth. She got this far because she remained active her whole life. She is not an athlete, she does not perform intense strength-training, and she does not really worry about her health. She just does what she is supposed to so that she can feel good most days.
Another great example is my parents’ neighbors who are in their 70’s. These people are like family to me, as they were with me through my childhood and all major events in my adult life. My parents’ neighbors are the sweetest couple. When the weather is decent (read: not a blizzard), the wife goes for long speed-walks around the neighborhood. She also does Tai Chi. The couple takes long bike rides around the neighborhood regularly; and every single night before they are ready to retire to their evening activities, they walk together, arm-in-arm, around the cul-de-sac. They are absolutely darling.
The moral of the story is this: You can prolong your youth for as long as you desire, so long as you put in the work. Staying active and strengthening your body will only benefit you in the short- and long-term. Therefore, desire to live youthfully. Desire to take good care of yourself for the sake of longevity and for the sake of your family. Desire to live life to the fullest, and then support your body and mind to ensure that you will.