The right foot hit the floor with a thud, followed by the left, both doing their job in getting me upright first thing in the morning. The same old routine, a few days ago challenged by a dull pain under both heels that disappeared only after a few minutes of walking. I also noticed the muscles in my calves were tighter than usual and the soreness in my abs was still lingering .
Since I left my full-time job, it’s been easier to stick to my fitness routine, packing in up to 5 workouts a week. I have been feeling extremely virtuous. And achier. Nothing that would alert me that something was very wrong but I did notice that, after a particularly vigorous workout, it would take longer for my muscles to recover. For the last couple of years, I have been abiding by the theory that our muscles need to be challenged, thus constantly mixing up my routine which consists of different styles of yoga, dance aerobics and resistance exercises.
Could it be that, for my ripe old age of 50, I was overdoing it? Or was it just that my body is not as resilient as it used to be? Or was there an activity that, now that I have entered my fifth decade, was not appropriate any longer? So I went on a fishing expedition.
We have heard countless times before the CDC recommendations: 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise combined with two days of strength training. Translation: 1 hour (not necessarily 60 consecutive minutes) a day, 5 days a week of something that would keep our cardiovascular system in shape, such as low impact aerobics, swimming, moderate jogging or even brisk walking. Plus 2 days in which we use some free weights, weight machines, medicine ball/resistance bands or some yoga that uses resistance against our body weight. That sounds a tad more than the “30 minute walk every day is all you need”, frequently dispensed advice in women’s magazines and tv shows alike.
For women our age, maintaining and/or building muscles is really important. Now is the time when our ovaries either shut down completely or diminish their production of estrogen and testosterone. As Dr. Oz clearly explains, it’s the testosterone that helps build muscles so, if we are producing so much less, it’s doubly important we engage in muscle bearing activities (with constant exercise it is possible to keep on growing muscle even in old age). Dr. Oz’ suggestions include some yoga or weight activity every day combined with 3 to 4 days a week of cardio, in the form of walking, jogging or low impact aerobics.
Two very different sources are basically recommending, pretty emphatically, some physical activity every day.
I then asked the Mayo clinic to weigh in and, amongst a plethora of interesting subjects related to being 50 (do toning shoes really work? NO; fainting during urination – I kid you not, it happens and it’s due to a drop in blood pressure; and yips – wrist spasms that afflict golfers) I basically ran into the same advice. Nowhere it is written that slowing down physical activity after a certain age is a must. Some adjustments might need to be made, even if you are full-blown athlete, but being active every single day becomes even more important as we age: for our cardiovascular health, our balance, our immune systems, our bones and our muscles.
Incidentally, while perusing various medical papers on the subject, I ran across a study done by the University of Sydney proving that warming up before exercising does not significantly diminish the risk of injury. That does not mean you should park your car and launch into a 5 mile run stone cold but 10 or 15 minutes of stretching do not protect us. Being careful and knowing how to use our body and how far to push do.
What I came away from a few hours of research is that it might be unrealistic to expect people to be active every single day, so let’s not make it an untenable New Year’s resolution. Life happens, it rains, the husband is sick, the job requires overtime or we just need to sit down now and then and stare at the ceiling. But we should do something and just do what we feel comfortable with. Probably, the more we do it, the more we want to stick with whatever it is. Nonetheless, the best advice I gathered is the following:
- Even if you have never exercised before, and I mean never, it really is not too late to start. There are studies proving that men in their ’60’s, with no history of physical activity, were able to increase their muscular mass after taking up exercising. Just start with some low impact activity like walking, swimming or water aerobics.
- Invest in some decent shoes that are tailored for your chosen activity (see, it always comes down to the shoes)
- My aches and pains are, yes, a factor of my aging body and should not be an excuse to sit on the couch. Maybe two consecutive days of a high impact activity might not be a good idea but walking uphill with the dogs is always an option
- Symmetric sports, that work both sides of the body, are best. Activities such as tennis or baseball accentuate imbalances.
- Owning dogs (or volunteering to walk your neighbour’s) really helps
- Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s not a drag. Walking briskly with the dogs grounds me and fires up my imagination. Yoga reframes my thoughts. Sweating like a pig while doing dance aerobics….I can’t find any redeeming quality for it, I just do it because I have to. In short, it all goes back to that iconic Nike marketing advice
Just do it.