My first concept of age was my grandparents. The arthritis in my nan’s hips meant climbing the stairs to her flat could take half an hour of excruciating pain. Then my own parents. My dad, who in my eyes was strong enough to do and lift anything, suddenly getting breathless and needing more breaks between activities.
It’s in the way they sit in chairs, and how they get up – with a groan.
It’s in the walk that turns to a shuffle and in the slow acceptance of reduced movement.
And that’s just it. At some point, there’s just this acceptance of ageing – that as we age our joints seize up and swell with arthritis. Our backs will bow as osteoporosis takes its inevitable course. We can’t pick stuff up off the floor or jump on a trampoline – ‘because we’re old’.
I’ve said it myself, ‘Since I’ve turned 40 everything hurts more.’
Does it really? Or am I just making a big, fat excuse?
Because it doesn’t have to be true.
Getting older doesn’t have to hurt, it’s just that your body is giving you feedback.
When you’re young, you can get away with abusing your body.
Think hangovers. Those all nighters or an early start that barely affected you at 20 would leave you house bound for a few days in your 40s. The same is true of how you train or don’t train your body.
When we are young we are more ‘juicy’! We have more synovial fluid to protect our joints. We are still pumped full of human growth hormone which helps us to repair. We sleep more soundly to help us bounce back from a busy day.
As old age creeps in our bodies tell us what they don’t like.
Add an average 10 stone body which you’ve been carting around for five or more decades to some wonky, dehydrated joints, 30 years crouched at a desk and a couple of pregnancies, and is it any wonder that we get a trapped nerve or a shoulder niggle?
It’s not that old age, like Captain Hook’s ticking clock, has suddenly ‘got you’, it’s just that you have to run faster or train harder to keep the crocodile behind you.
So before you give in, ask yourself who you’ve been to see or what you’ve done to help with that feedback. Not just masking it with painkillers but actually building a new habit into your lifestyle and getting expert advice.
Age related conditions like arthritis and dementia are real and can be limiting but accepting the symptoms of old age without taking any action against them will only make you feel older and reduce your quality of life.
Most of us are happy to pop a painkiller if we get a headache, why not get our joints moving or lift weights if we know that they’ll help combat the rigidity of arthritis or build our bone density?
Did you know that the biggest risk factor of back or joint pain is lack of movement rather than muscle weakness? Yet we get a bit of a backache and stop moving.
Did you know scientists have found people who are fit and exercise tend to have bigger brains as they age? Both muscle atrophy (loss of size) and brain atrophy are not inevitable. Exercise can help prevent it.
Did you know that exercise can actually increase your mitochondria? Mitochondria are your body’s battery cells, so you can literally increase your energy levels with exercise.
I’m sure you know that bone density can be increased with weight bearing exercise or high impact exercise but do you know how to do this?
It’s not that you can’t live pain free as you age, it’s just you need to work harder at it. And you’ll need more expert advice to help you.
Of course I’m aware of the other side of the argument. ‘But my friend was a marathon runner/badminton player/champion jockey and now has bad knees/arthritis/chronic back ache.’ And I don’t doubt it. Overuse injuries as joints degenerate are common. But I know very few amateur distance runners who have a strength, conditioning and mobility programme which adequately matches the miles they are clocking up. So what’s the natural response of their bodies when they age and recover more slowly? To give a little feedback in the form of pain.
I also know that in spite of all our best intentions, life can sometimes get in the way, in the form of disease, like cancer or car accidents which scar your body for life. But I also know of amazing people who still don’t let this stop them, in fact they stubbornly continue to be active in spite of adversity. They stand up to it.
I have ladies in my Pilates classes who were keen tennis players but have now taken up competitive bowls – they’ve adapted their activity. Or ladies that have swapped running for swimming. Go you! I have ladies who have survived cancer, major heart surgery and one who’s even donated a kidney. They haven’t stopped and played the ‘excuse’ card. They’re regular Pilates attendees, they’ve got active and they are still working to keep their bodies fit and well for their retirement and so they can enjoy their grandchildren.
So you could give up and mope in an elderly corner with your tea and biscuits, struggle up stairs or give in to the breathlessness of old age. Or you could take your inspiration from 89-year-old gymnast Johanna Quass, 104-year-old sprinter Stanislaw Kowalski (Google them) or even my mother-in-law Christiana Laing, who, in her mid 70s, still goes to the gym five times a week and has recently learned to ride a bike.
Age really is just a number. Don’t make it an excuse.
Fit School is currently expanding it’s classes for over 55s following the success of Karen’s Anti-Ageing Pilates classes. For more information do get in touch.
You can try Karen’s Pilates at home via this link.