Julie grinned at me. Slim and strong, she’s fifty with a fourteen-year-old daughter. Said kid was munching crackers slathered with a spicy holiday dip at the other end of the table.
“I hurt all over. Damn, I couldn’t stand it,” she laughed. Julie was describing what had happened to her when she took an extended break from her workouts. A dedicated climber and runner, she outlined her symptoms.
“My whole body ached. It was hilarious. It didn’t stop until I started working out again.” Julie and I were comparing notes. I turn 66 in a few weeks, and we were discussing the aging process and how being athletes keeps us young.
I just climbed Mt. Kenya, an endeavor that put me into extreme training mode this past year. After finishing the climb, we spent three solid days hiking out, eight hours a day. By the time we finally marched into our last camp, my left hip had developed arthritis, and I had pulled a few thigh muscles. That happens on BHAGs, even if you’re in the best of shape.
I took a break. That’s lasted about three weeks. By now my body is screaming at me bloody murder. It wants work, and if I don’t get moving, I’ll be in agony. Which is why my car is warming up downstairs in the early cold and I’ll be at the gym in about half an hour. I can’t wait. I HURT.
That’s a good thing. Those parts of me which hurt right now, don’t when I am moving. Doesn’t matter whether I walk, run, lift, swim, cycle, hike. I just need to move.
Julie was amused at how her body had made it abundantly clear that it had had quite enough rest, thankyouverymuch, and it was time to hit the road again.
Over our crudites, we compared notes. Julie runs more than I do, having just returned to the sport this year. We both like that you can run almost anywhere, and that you can hike up stairs at any hotel or local stadium. As she is aging, she finds that her exercise routine keeps her in the mix full time. The more she exercises, the more she wants to do.
That’s because the body loves work. The more active we are, the more active our magnificent machine wants to be. That’s why when we rest too long, our bodies engage in a lively conversation that, loosely translated, can be interpreted
GET YOUR LAZY ASS OUT THE DAMNED DOOR
Well then. Message received.
It’s not just that Julie is teaching her daughter superb habits by example. She herself reaps the benefits just as I do. I shared with her this recent NPR piece (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/10/674380082/exercise-wins-fit-seniors-can-have-hearts-that-look-30-years-younger) that I highlighted in an earlier article, and she concurred. She’s living it in her own life.
We had a healthy guffaw about those Millennials who are mourning the loss of their youth, having hit the ripe old age of thirty. Julie is a perfect example of what happens when we commit to something we love to do, surround ourselves with other, highly motivated friends and get going. She recently thanked her fellow runners for getting her out every week, which acknowledges that sometimes the best antidote to our laziness or resistance is a dedicated group of friends who need us as much as we need them. Their laughter, jokes, and stories keep us moving, and make an early, snowy run far more than just a run. It’s an event.
While Julie is engaged in child-rearing for now, her dreams include a few things that I currently do regularly, which involve some pretty epic adventures. Those adventures require a very high level of fitness, and are not to be attempted by those in just so-so shape. What she’s doing now is preparing her for the years ahead, and she’s investing in a bank account that will pay enormous dividends as she ages. She and I can’t stop the clock, but we can indeed manage our fitness during those years. Our faces will show the passage of years but our musculature and cardiovascular fitness will belie that age, and give us decades of full-on engagement that too many others say they are just too old to even try.
Not Julie. Not me, either.
Julie told me about her father, who, in his mid-70s, had a shoulder issue. Rather than undergo surgery, he went to a physical therapist who gave him a series of exercises. Not only did her dad go to the gym but he religiously did the PT at home. Within a few months, the shoulder was pain-free. That speaks eloquently to me of how we can heal ourselves if we work at it. Truthfully, for those of us who have torn our shoulders (and thanks to a feisty horse or two, that’s what I did) PT alone might not do the trick. However, I am just as religiously doing my shoulder PT to get all my strength and mobility back so that I can do everything I did before and then some. If I want that shoulder back it’s up to me to earn it.
The point is that too many of us respond to aches and pains by “pilling” ourselves to death. Both Tylenol and Ibuprofen have been shown to have serious side effects, especially if used regularly, so responding to pain with pills isn’t a panacea (https://www.medicinenet.com/acetaminophen_vs_ibuprofen_side_effects/article.htm).
Sometimes the body is simply asking for work.
When we respond by taking a pain pill, it’s tantamount to telling a child who really wants to engage with us to go to his room and work on his computer. Leave us alone. The kid will come back later and bug us again. The body does too, in increasingly insistent ways.
Any fine machine left standing in the weeds will rust and deteriorate. The best made airplanes that sit on the ground go to ruin. They need to fly. So do we. We are made to move, and when we stop, we speed up the dying process. It’s just that simple. The older we get, the less rest we need. If anything, we need to move more, not less. That doesn’t say don’t rest for recovery. It does mean don’t rest all the time. Those who encourage us to rest more and take it easy now that we’ve retired- or whatever- have just given us a death sentence.
It’s a sad state of affairs if you and I slow way down because of conventional wisdom, when right at the time we have the most time and dime to spend in our later years. That ensures that we won’t be well enough to enjoy those so-called Golden Years. They’ll rust fast without the constant oiling that happens when we get out and move.
So if you’ll pardon me, my car is warm, the morning is dark and the gym’s been open since 4 am. It’s calling my name.
Yours, too. See you there!
(P.S. By the way, I did a good, long, hard workout and I haven’t hurt the rest of the day. That is until I did an ass-over-teakettle when I caught my shoe laces in the dog fence in my friend’s kitchen. So much for that lunch salad. But that’s another story….)