The other day, I innocently ordered lunch at a local restaurant, and at the table, I examined the receipt, for lack of anything better to do. I was horrified to notice that I had been given a 25% senior discount, without even asking! Although my vanity has been a shrinking commodity, this event was one of a handful of similar occasions in my lifetime. The first time was when I was asked if I wanted a senior discount at the movies, for ages 55+. I was 54 at the time, and politely declined, more out of sheer horror than any interest in saving money.
A Rendezvous with the Mature You
In your nascent retirement, there is no doubt you will have a face to face
encounter with your mortality and vulnerability. This could happen in a restaurant, a doctor’s office, or through an adverse event on the sidewalk when your mind was focused on something else. Now is the time to face the fact that you are “driving an old car.” I love the car analogy, because it is so universal. Who has not had the experience of the multitude of inconveniences and expenses caused by an old car. That car is now your body, only you can’t trade it in.
Of course, there is great diversity in the evolution of bodies across a lifetime. Runners’ bodies age differently than their sedentary counterparts. However, one thing links us all: we are all heading towards the end of our lifespan. All the cosmetics, Spanx, youthful fashion, and even new frames of mind cannot disguise this fact. You will probably start internalizing this important concept at the doctor’s office. For me, it was two back to back diagnoses: osteoporosis and funky cells at the dermatologist. You probably have your own age markers which will drive this idea home.
A Good Look under the Hood
Now is a good time to take a realistic look at the “physical you.” Have you been a victim of digital technology? Are you one of the legions who sat behind a computer screen for an average of 10 hours each day? Certainly, the pandemic has created a plethora of Zoom Hostages around the world! Although your attention might have been elsewhere, there is a large laundry list of physical maladies associated with such a lifestyle: foggy brain, strained neck, sore shoulders, back and spine problems, leg circulation issues, tight hips, limp glutes, mushy abs, and more importantly heart disease and diabetes. My own neglected symptoms included a sore coccyx and excruciating nighttime leg cramps. There are other mental health dangers as well, including anxiety and depression. My mental health symptom was a little voice which said, “get me out of here” every day after lunch.
If you were to peruse the markers of aging in the Merck Manual, you would find a host of depressing facts. Our cells are aging because the attached telomeres are getting shorter. Old cells cause all kinds of damage to the body. You don’t need a primary source to know that bones are becoming less dense, your joints less flexible, and your eyesight is failing. It might be a surprise that at age 75 you have double the fat you did as a young adult. You may not have realized this, but your pants know it! The Merck Manual is somewhat reassuring in that people can carry on quite well with these diminishing functions, which means we have to find a way to move forward. One of the best ways, is to become reacquainted with your body.
Giving the Body the Respect it Deserves
It is only in modern times that we’ve put “the body” in a silo. In America, we revere “the mind.” We pay attention to the body and the spirit at specific times: at the gym or the doctor’s office, and in church or yoga class. Ancient, eternal Eastern cultures believe the body is the gateway to the spiritual world. There is no division between these three foundational entities: body, mind, and spirit. I heartily agree.
While there is compelling scientific evidence that exercise in our later years might
extend our lifespan, the fact is that some measure of control over our bodies
will help us move more steadily, think more clearly and reduce illness. For me, the more motivating reason to move is that it makes me feel great on a daily basis.
Two Different Exercise Camps
Daily is the key word. Since you are rich in the commodity of time, exercise can become the first item on your daily to do list. I know there are two camps in our ranks: the “all their lives exercisers,” and the “thanks, but no” folks. Both camps will need to adjust, especially the second. The second group should practice self-loving kindness. This is not an easy lifestyle change. If you do buy into the arguments laid out above, it is not insurmountable. There are four easy doors into these new behaviors: the daily walk, yoga (or Tai Chi), the personal trainer, and after the pandemic, virtual exercise classes.
Being a member of the lifetime exercisers, it is somewhat mystifying to me that not everyone likes to move their bodies. However, living with a member of the second group, I do get it. In your new retirement, tie on a pair of sneakers and start your day with a half hour walk. I guarantee you’ll develop closer relationships with your neighbors, see parts of nature you previously drove by, even if you live in the city, and your body will begin to wake up (and thank you!) Walking daily will open up your new physical bank account, accruing points immediately.
The second, braver entre into the physical world is through yoga or Tai Chi. Be sure to choose an appropriate class: chair yoga if you are impaired, or gentle yoga. Stay away from Bikram and Ashtanga classes, geared towards younger bodies. You can’t go wrong with Tai Chi or Tai ChiChich. Tai Chi is the older moving meditation form, which is a martial art. Tai Chi Chich, is a series of nineteen movements which improves the flow of energy (Chi) in the body, unrelated to any martial art form.
These practices repeat the same movements each week. They are accessible to anyone, and new practitioners can stand in the back of the class, or in their livingrooms, and shadow the teacher’s movements. Both yoga and Tai Chi (Chich) quiet the mind, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and allow one to witness thoughts, rather than be hijacked by them. These two physical practices are accessible for anyone of any age or physical condition. Your first gentle yoga class might feel like an hour massage. The teacher will teach you to honor your body, check in with your physical sensations, and take a risk to move in a new way. It is somewhat more physical than Tai Chi,depending on the level of the class. Chair yoga is accessible for anyone!
Discover the Resources Close By
If you are very brave, you could choose the personal trainer option. I am blessed to live near a gym associated with a large medical network. This gym is restricted to those 16 years and older, and is mainly populated with retirees during the day. There is a large cohort of personal trainers who devise fitness plans for “older bodies,” using machines, free weights, and very cool athletic equipment suchas stretchy bands, slam balls, kettle bells, and ridiculously long, heavyropes.
Pre-pandemic, I took advantage of these resources for two, half hour resistance training workouts. I felt like I was in a schoolyard for old people, at recess. We were all playing! I suggest a personal trainer if you are not motivated, just starting to exercise for the first time, or if you have personal issues which need to be addressed. These pros have been trained to tailor a very sustainable exercise program which you can do along with them, or on your own. My husband’s life was changed in all three realms: body, mind and spirit by working with a trainer several times each week for two years.
The Physical Activity Menu is Varied
My weekly routine is heavily influenced by movement. I’ve always been a physical person, and that identity went underground during my working years. Right now, I do very challenging gardening and goat caretaking two-three mornings each week. On the other days I am walking in the woods, taking yoga class, or swimming laps. These activities are all the items on my “menu.” The animals and flowers are non-negotiable. The others vary according to my commitments, moods, responsibilities and the seasons. Although I was in the “all my life exercising” group, I have certainly upped my game. The strength training has boosted my bone mass and my ability to carry heavy things and walk uphill. I purchased weights and resistance bands during the pandemic, and treat them as part of my weekly menu, especially if I'm busy with other things. The yoga and swimming have calmed my mind and allowed me to make better decisions about challenging family issues. I am really careful to take extra precautions with my body. I don’t push too hard, listen to it if I need rest, and alter plans depending on circumstances.
At my current age, I have few friends who can accompany me on a hike. There are those with replaced hips, planter fasciitis, and circulation problems. All of those remembered conversations among my parents’ friends at my same age, make sense to me now. There was always talk of this one or that one who had an unexpected physical calamity. Many cannot be avoided, but that old car is begging for maintenance, and I hope you will be happy to oblige.