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Only a Number?

This year I will be turning 35.  I must admit the idea of it is filling me with a certain dread.  I am not particularly looking forward to officially hitting my “mid-thirties.”  However, this is not for the reasons you might imagine.  Yes, my hair is going plenty gray.  The little lines around my eyes are there for everyone to see.  My boobs are not quite what they used to be, and it certainly gets harder to hide the tiredness with each passing year.  None of these things, although certainly unwelcome, are not what is really bothering me about getting older.  What truly terrifies me is the prospect of my body not being able to do the things I expect from it.

I only genuinely started to find fitness when I was about 30.  I had no interest in sports as a kid, and used every excuse you can think of to even avoid PE.  The word athletic could never have been used in a sentence containing my name.  In the past few years I have enjoyed figuring out all the new and exciting things my body could do.  I loved feeling strong (relatively speaking) and even mastering fairly basic things like a press up or a pull up, was a huge thrill.  Up until now, I have been in the position of feeling that there was more potential.  That I hadn’t yet reached the peak of my physical performance.  As I get older, there will eventually come a time when this capacity is maxed out and starts going in the other direction.

Obviously, I am aware that this happens to everyone.  I am not a unique snowflake after all!  I know that we all must face the challenges that growing old presents, as gracefully, or disgracefully as we can!

My grandmother was a hugely influential person in my life.  My mother’s mother was a constant presence in our lives, especially when we were very young.  She had married a man 13 years her senior, and spent much of the last years of her life being his primary carer.  I truly feel that making such a sacrifice for the man she loved, and not putting herself first, aged her considerably.  Although she was only in her early 70s when she passed away, by that time she would have had difficulty walking around the block.  As well as this, she had battled an illness in her middle age and it left her as frail as a tiny bird.  I find myself wondering if had she engaged in some form of exercise, if she might have been able to rebuild herself.

Watching her struggle, really taught me a lesson about the importance of staying as active and mobile as possible, no matter what stage of life you are at.  I look at fitness now, almost like a pension.  The more you invest into it at an early age, the greater the return will be when you are older.  Every day of the week I see pictures of men and women in their 70s and 80s performing amazing physical feats, breaking records and out lifting people half their age.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not about that!  What I am about, is being able to look after myself in my twilight years.  I want to have the strength to be able to lift myself out of the bath tub and the balance to bend over and tie my shoes.  I know this may sound extreme.  However, if we don’t make the necessary investment in our fitness, we may well be faced with the prospect of not being able to perform even these simple tasks.

Exercise is important, we all know that.  What we might not know, is that as we get older, it gets even more important.  Strength training in particular is crucial.  This is especially true for us women.  As we go through menopause, our bone density decreases, leaving us at greater risk of fractures.  Resistance training has been proven to counteract this.  Another factor to consider is muscle wastage.   Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30.  There are two ways to mitigate this.  Increased protein consumption is one (this can be a problem as older people sometimes experience a drop off in appetite and may not be able to increase protein intake.)  The other way to help prevent muscle loss is to engage in resistance training.  I am not talking about lifting intimidatingly heavy weight.  Resistance training can be done with light weights, kettle bells, or even just your own body weight.

I remember having a chat with a couple of girlfriends and they were asking would I still be training when I was 60.  I said why not?  I don’t imagine that at 59 I will say, that’s enough of that now.  I fully understand that my training may change as the years unfold.  I don’t expect to be doing the same workouts as I am now, but I would like to hope that I could continue to do something.

over-55s-class

Matty Nagle Fitness Over 55s class killing it on the Concept 2 Rowers

In the gym where I train, The Performance and Fitness Academy, there is a class specifically designed for people over 55.  There are men and women in their 70s taking these classes and getting amazing work done.  The coaches routinely post updates of their progress and it’s amazing to see the increases in strength, endurance and mobility that these guys have gained.  The participants are visibly younger looking.  This crew of older people, some of them grandparents, really give me confidence that an active, healthy life is possible at any age.  One member had this to say “I was meant to have back surgery before I started because the pain was so bad. Now the pain is gone and the doctor told me I don’t need the surgery anymore.”  Another member began training after a course of chemotherapy.  The training helped him to gain enough strength for his doctor to allow him to travel to Australia to visit his son.

When we are young, training for lot of us, is about managing our weight and looking hot in that new pair of jeans.  As we get older it becomes so much more significant.  It begins to have a profound impact on your quality of life.  So, I urge you, whatever stage of life you may be at, get active and stay active!  As they say, use it or lose it!  Your grandchildren will thank you for it xxx

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