For the past few months I’ve taken a wonderful exercise program for, ahem, “older adults.” Actually I’m one of the youngest in the class, which boasts at least two women over ninety. When I’m 90, my goals is to lift heavier weights with the ease these two now lift them. Actually, that’s my goal for my current age, twenty years younger. The class also involves exercises with bands and balls and spends time on balance, stretching and aerobics. Most difficult is sucking in our bellies while moving other parts. Each exercise has a specific purpose, whether it’s to prevent falls, improve posture, or enable us to do everyday activities independently as we age.
Exercise is an on-again off-again part of my life. Like many women my age, sports and formal exercise programs didn’t play a significant role in growing up. My grade school exercise experience consisted of walking to where I needed to go. My priority was to use my free time to read Nancy Drew books, not run and jump around.
The only school sport I was proficient in was tetherball, which is officially a game, not a sport. At my childhood Y, I learned how to twirl a baton and jump on a trampoline. After the latter caused a back injury my mom dragged me to a chiropractor. This cycle of exercise- injury, exercise-injury set the tone for other fitness experiences as I grew older.
Fast forward to high school, since I remember nothing of sports or even PE classes in junior high. I was still walking to school (two miles in the rain, not the seven in snow my mother bragged about), but that was my only physical activity. I only remember two high school PE classes: field hockey and archery. The first was hell since it often rained, turning my hairdo — not stylish to begin with — into a wet string mop. The second was enjoyable, primarily because class was held indoors and did not make me sweat, which meant no shower and a protected “do.”
As a freshman in college I passed the swim test (even dog paddling counted as long as you could cover the distance required) thus escaping PE for life.
Much, much later, my husband and I got involved with then-popular weekend volksmarches: 10km, non-competitive, family walks to charming places, such as farmlands, decaying towns about to disappear from the map, and a women’s prison overlook. Those who completed the walks earned a different lapel pin for each one and for a time my husband and I were proud collectors of these “medals.” Years later, jogging became popular, and I jogged mostly around school tracks. Instead of medals I earned shin splints.
We did do cross-country skiing for several years, which was great exercise, but only when it snowed in the mountains. And we burned no calories for several hours getting there and back.
We joined the local Y and for a time I became a fan of weight machines, treadmills and elliptical machines. At 60, I signed up for a course filled with forty- and thirty-somethings. I gained strength and stamina and loved the class, but had to quit after being thrown off a horse (not related to the class). Eventually I returned to the Y’s machines, but found them boring.
A woman I met in the challenging class suggested I try “chair fitness” to gain upper body strength. Harrumph. Chair exercises? “Do I look frail and feeble to you?” I wanted to ask this question, but instead tried the class and loved it. Then I broke my ankle (again, not in class). I’m now back at it. In case I’m tempted to quit, I only have to remember something I just read: “The frailty and decreased energy we associate with aging, such as difficulty walking for distances, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries, are largely due to muscle loss.” (Tufts University) Also, strength-building helps keep up bone density, lessen arthritis pain, and increase metabolism for long-term weight control.
I have proof of progress. I can rise from a squishy couch holding squishy Gordon, my fifteen-pound cat, and stand straight up — no hands involved, just my strong thighs.
Regrettably, now I have to find an exercise program for Gordon.