Being me at 57

Reflections on Exercise and Getting Older

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Throughout my adult life I have built a career in the exercise business. As a lifelong dancer, I have been drawn to exercise from a young age. Because of this, I’ve learned that staying in good physical condition is great, but I’ve had some challenges, too. In college, I got a degree in dance because sitting still in other classes was hard for me. Because I used my body so intensely at a young age, I started living with a lot of muscle and joint pain in my late teens. Also, I have often used my exercise to deal with emotions, which can be good, until it is overdone. Then, like any addiction, it has its downsides including like injuries that might not heal and the compulsion to exercise. Throughout my younger years, I became over critical of my body even when others told me that I looked good. However, I have also been able to use this to my advantage—when my kids were young, I was motivated to get up before dawn to practice yoga so that I could be a calm parent.

Being committed to exercise has also meant adjusting my food so that I can be physical and letting go of drugs and alcohol so that it was easier to get up in the morning. Because I supported my family by teaching physical arts and exercise, I was very aware of my fitness levels even during times when I would have liked to slack off. Of course, this had its upsides, and I enjoy feeling healthy!

Now at 57, I am not as active as I used to be, but I take care of how and when I work out more than ever because I know it is more important than ever. I spend more time at my computer than I do teaching these days, which means I have to figure out where exercise fits into my schedule. I don’t retain muscle tone like I used to, I have lost my tolerance for pain, and I have injuries I never want to repeat again! As I’ve grown older, I know my body better than ever, which makes my choices more clear. I feel lucky to have had these experiences because I see that helping my clients to find a path to valuing exercise is often more challenging than the exercises that I teach them.

In my work, I have found that for some people exercise has not been presented in a way that is accessible to them, and negative experiences in their past may have led them to believe that no exercise could ever be enjoyable. For some, even those whose lives will be shortened by diabetes or heart disease, exercise is so distasteful that they resist it, even if they know that it will improve their health. Working past a dislike of exercise can be very challenging, and may require thinking in creative and fun ways. Some might find that exercising alone at home with an online program works better for them, while some will enjoy the companionship and encouragement of a class situation. I have been teaching a kick-ass chair yoga class with a group of 60-90 year olds for the past eight years and they swear by it! We focus on balance and strengthening exercises and move every joint to bring it through full-range of motion. Changing exercise habits do not have to be drastic, and a good first step can be walking around the block or five minutes of stretching in their bed. For clients who haven’t been exercising at all, these changes can be big first steps. Working up to a 20-minute, fast-paced walk everyday can change someone’s trajectory of aging!

My exercise routine now is very different than it was when I was younger. I do my cardio in the late afternoon or evening either at home or at a fitness center. By exercising in the evening, I can begin to let go of the stress I accumulated during the day. I also do an upper body routine a couple of times a week that elevates my heart rate, while building muscle tone in my shoulders. Every night, I do core and leg exercises before I go to bed to help me sleep. In addition to this, I do yoga stretches a few times a week and try to go out dancing a couple of times a month.

At 57, I work harder and smarter to stay fit. I know that at any age or physical condition we feel better by adding elevated activity into our lives. I have to remember that being busy or not having money is no excuse. Being sick, tired, and out of shape will take up a lot more of my time and finances. What are the ways that you motivate yourself to exercise or include elevated activity into your life? Is it time for something new?

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