Before I go any further, I have to own that I am not an exercise expert in any shape or form and nor will I ever profess to be. I have been, however, an expert at avoiding exercise for much of my life; nothing to be proud of but I felt I need to be honest right from the beginning about my relationship with exercise. And it is now glaringly obvious this avoidance did not serve my body in any way. But what I have come to know over the last few years, without a shadow of doubt, is that exercise is absolutely essential for the ageing body; for a body of any age, in fact.
Many things change in our lives as we age, and looking around, I observe a tendency for many older people to slow down their participation in life, including their level of exercise, as their lives begin to slow down. I certainly have, as for the last 10 years I have allowed my overall fitness to slide and with it has come the struggle to do things I have always done, with ease. And I know for sure that sitting for many hours at the computer each day, has added to my ‘physical decline’. But does this have to be the way it is?
It has been visiting three different friends, one 96, one 88 and the baby at 77, regularly over a period of time, and seeing the struggle they have with their knees when getting up and down and lifting their arms to get dressed and undressed, that made me realise that this could be me in a few years if I kept avoiding exercise. That was one big wake-up call.
Visiting the rest home, which one of them is in is also a great reminder as to what can happen in an ageing body. As I walk through the living area I never cease to be amazed at the number of residents who need to use a walker to get them to where they want to go. In fact, if you arrive at meal times navigating the traffic jam in the dining area, caused by mobility aids, can be rather a challenge. I have also observed that when someone is using one, they tend to bend over quite markedly, which in my view cannot be at all helpful to an ageing body. But I can see that they have a lot of benefits as well, if used correctly.
There is one delightful resident, who at the tender age of 100, does use a walker, and she uses it a lot. She is always on the move when I am there, walking sprightly and very upright, around and around the corridors, with a twinkle in her beautiful eyes and always the time to stop and chat. She is one inspirational lady who shared with me that it is so important for her to keep exercising as it keeps her young – I love this woman! But she is the exception in this rest home – probably in most rest homes – rather than the rule. And it is this gorgeous woman who has really inspired me to finally get moving.
Over the course of my life I have participated in various kinds of exercise, and except for walking – especially in nature – most of the time I didn’t enjoy it, with so much of the emphasis on, ‘going hard’, ‘pushing yourself to the limit’ and of course there is the well-known exercise mantra, ‘no pain no gain’. If anything was going to put me off exercise it was those four words; what they were saying just didn’t make sense. Why would we want to cause pain to our wonderful body?
But I have come to understand that we don’t actually have to push ourselves hard with exercise to benefit our body, in fact it’s the more gentle, repetitive, and body-respecting exercise that is often the most beneficial. Walking, which comes naturally to us, and doesn’t place any strain on the body, unless we get into power-walking and totally override the body’s call to slow down, has been shown to be great for our body, especially if we are listening to its messages as we walk. I have discovered, rather late in life, that our body is oh so wise and it knows what is good for it, or not, but sadly we often use our mind to override the messages from our best friend. I have also learned, that when we take the time to stop and listen to these messages, we can save ourselves a lot of pain when it comes to how we exercise, as well as how we live.
It became very obvious a while ago, especially from all the messages I have been getting from those around me, that the time had come for me to start moving this body, but gently so.
So, four weeks ago I began a very gentle exercise program with a wonderful young woman, a master of the human body and exercise, who lives in Australia – the power of the internet being used for true good. She is all for simple exercises, scattered throughout the day, exercises I can pretty much do anywhere, anytime. To begin with we are working on my top half – the weakest part of my body – and I am loving it. In four weeks, I can already feel the difference and my commitment is solid – I am not going to be nudged away from this loving commitment to strengthen my wonderful and very patient body. And what I am appreciating so much, is that there is no pushing to achieve goals, no striving for results, no harmful postures, simply a gentle but very powerful form of exercise that is gently moving and supporting my body in so many ways. In a few weeks we will embark on a program for my bottom half and that I am looking forward to. What a turnaround for me to be looking forward to bringing exercise into my life, not just for a few weeks, but for the foreseeable future and it’s thanks in the main, to an inspirational 100-year-old, a 96-year-old, an 88-year-old and a 77-year-old!
I decided to share this exercise journey with you as I know by doing this, I will keep its purpose firmly in my mind and that purpose is to care for this ageing body, as I have never cared for it before; after all, it’s the only body I have and so it’s absolutely worth looking after and exercising regularly, until I can no longer. And in the process, I just may inspire someone else – who knows?
Disclaimer: As I said at the beginning of this blog, I am not an exercise specialist and what I write is personal to me and my body, so if you are thinking of starting any sort of exercise programme please consult your medical professional before you begin.