Ultimately, I think it is quality of life we crave more than quantity. Unfortunately, we get sidetracked by the stresses of life into neglecting the one thing that is most likely to give us a both a higher quality of life and a longer life: movement. We have got to keep our bodies moving. Find a physical activity you love to do and do it regularly.
MOVEMENT FOR JOY: When I was eleven my parents sat me down and asked me, “Which would you rather do, take piano lessons or take dance lessons.”
This is not such a simple question. My older sisters are both skilled pianists. I idolized my sisters. They were the coolest. They performed in plays and in singing groups with their friends and were often called upon to accompany on the piano. I wanted to be like them.
However, as fate would have it, a lovely, statuesque blonde woman showed up at our door with a flyer advertising dance lessons at her home. As a child, I was a bouncing ball of energy which drove my mother crazy as I was constantly asking, “What can I do!” I think my parents were relieved when I chose dance. It suited me better than hours spent sitting at the piano practicing. And thus dance entered my life and gave form and joy to all that undisciplined energy. I spent my teen and college years dancing in recitals, church programs, school dance concerts, and musicals. It seemed I was always in motion. I am grateful for this early foundation in keeping my body moving. It has paid big dividends throughout my life. But it is never too late to pick-up the habit especially if you find something you love to do.
MOVEMENT FOR SANITY: When I was thirty-five I encountered a new world of bodies in motion. We were living in North Pole, Alaska and had just welcomed our fifth child. We were often house-bound by the cold and dark, so we joined the Alaska Club in Fairbanks to break out of our cabin fever. I went to a dance fitness class and after a few weeks gathered the courage to step into the weight room. It is pretty common today to find women in weight rooms at fitness clubs all over the country, but back then I saw very few. It was tremendously intimidating. After my first session with the trainer, I was hooked. My muscles craved that burn and there was something meditative and calming about the sets and reps. After six months of working out, I realized that I was stronger, had more energy, had definition in my arms and abs I’d never had before, and more sanity. At thirty-five most of us wonder how we can hang on to our youth a little longer: weight-training, even just a little bit, pays off with long-term health benefits. Always consult a physician and a trainer to avoid injury. Life has interrupted the routine but I have come back to weight lifting again, and again, starting off slowly with light weights and building up gradually. I feel stronger, I feel younger, and I look better when I am including weights in my fitness routine. My younger sister walks holding weights and at 58 she has great looking, sculpted arms.
MOVEMENT FOR FUN: Golf, it isn’t dancing but it is a lot of fun. Golf exercises mind and body. It is challenging and refreshing and tantalizing. It is never too late to start playing golf. In 1994, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. A short time before that my husband began to teach me how to golf. I was beginning to catch on but arthritis derailed that effort for more than a decade. In those ten years, I was able, with the aid of a series of new treatments, to calm the arthritis. In 2007, I underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer. When I finished treatment, my body was back to square one in the fitness department and I needed a happy challenge. I needed something fun to do. I started golfing again. Ralph and I began to golf together on a regular basis during the summer in Alaska. We were living in Eagle River and would go to the Palmer Golf Course or Moose Run Creek Course. I never considered myself athletically competent. But to my surprise, I have discovered that I have the potential to be a good golfer. That tantalizing goal sparks my interest every time I golf. I am always learning something new or and increasing my skill. The best part of golfing is being out in the sunshine, getting fresh air, and moving my body for the fun of it. Find movement for the fun of it. If you get bored try something new. But keep moving.
MOVEMENT FOR SURVIVAL: No matter how fit we try to be, age and gravity and genetic tendencies will afflict us with aches and pains and injuries that will threaten our mobility as we reach retirement age. Just when we are feeling free to do things we’ve only dreamt of, our bodies will sabotage our efforts if we don’t pay attention. The solution is a good physical work up by a doctor, the proper treatment, and the proper movement. Often our instinct is to do less and curtail our physical activity which will only reduce our enjoyment of life and spell disaster for our hopes and dreams in retirement.
Keeping our bodies limber is another fountain of youth. Taking the time for stretching is a challenge. Most of us just want to get on with participating in the main event: the tennis game, the golf game, the running, the hiking. These are the activities that invite injury if we aren’t prepared.
I have been very lucky to be free of injury most of my life. But recently, my lower back has been giving me problems that were persistent. A dose of Advil wasn’t enough to relieve the sore spot. Twinges of pain would grab and my hip would give out suddenly mid-step. I saw my doctor who ordered a back x-ray and the conclusion is that I have the normal amount of wear and tear in my lower spine for a person my age; nothing that needs a drastic fix. She suggested taking a prescription painkiller for a short time to see if that would disrupt the tension and pain cycle and to come back to see her if it didn’t improve.
I did that but at the same time, I finally resolved to do what I meant to make a habit for years: yoga. I don’t go to class. I just do it in my home using a series of recordings on my DVR. It is peaceful, relaxing, meditative, and healing for both mind and body. Yoga may not be an attractive option for everybody but I can say without a doubt that gentle yoga stretching of some kind daily or as often as possible will benefit anyone. The advantage of yoga is that it is systematic and incorporates stretching all muscle groups; places on your body you never even noticed before. No muscle or tendon will be neglected if you do yoga stretches. In yoga, the student is encouraged to go at their own pace and participate at their own comfort level. Yoga solved my back problem. I learned quickly, that I am at the stage of my life that regular stretching is no longer an option if I want to stay fully mobile and active. Remember with any exercise to check with your doctor.
Encourage yourself and encourage others to start moving and keep moving. Find something you love to do and participate by yourself or with others. For joy, for sanity, for fun, for survival, any effort small or great to keep your body moving will pay big dividends in health, peace, and enjoyment today and for the rest of your life.