Alice D. Outwater, Ph.D., Contributor
As our bodies age, muscles begin to lose their strength and flexibility. We walk less, bodies may tip forward into an old-age stance, and our feet don’t pick up as easily, resulting in a shuffling gate. This can cause tripping on slight cracks in the sidewalk ending in a no-no: a fall. It’s a rare treat to see an older person who holds themselves up straight, their head aligned with the rest of their body, and stepping along briskly. I stop and watch them with admiration. It’s as if their energy is shooting right up from their feet out the top of their head. That’s a real sign of youthful enjoyment of life. And so attractive. That’s how I want to come across to the world.
To accomplish this I need to exert more self-discipline, e.g., walking more. Outside is best, while taking deep breaths to inhale Vermont’s clean air, with which we’re blessed.
During inclement weather or when sidewalks are icy, walking outside might not be wise. But I love the outdoors, so I go to the Price Chopper grocery, grab a cart for balance, and walk down to the last store. There’s never any snow or ice underfoot. Sometimes I inspect the store windows along the way. My legs don’t care where I walk as long as I keep moving.
I’m not suggesting large amounts of time spent exercising, just enough to keep your whole body from regressing, or at least to hold its own. Following this routine now and then won’t do. You mustn’t shilly-shally; it takes regular persistence to strengthen bones and muscles. Many choices are available.
The most enjoyable for me include weekly yoga, tai chi or weight strengthening. Rolfing can benefit the body. I find something appealing about group exercises and look forward to seeing the same pals weekly. Some friends prefer to turn on a video at home and follow their routine in private.
At this age my body has accumulated creaky or weaker areas that need more attention. Knees and backs and lackadaisical hips are probably the most common. If you do a workout on one side, you must do the other, to balance things off.
Balance is another problem, and not lifting up your feet. This can lead to tripping on sidewalks or even on uneven floors inside. Cobblestones are a nuisance; country roads can be disastrous. I love my walking sticks (or ski poles) that keep me up straight and give me security of balance. I keep a pair of Yaktrax-type footwear devices in the car in case of ice. Doing my walks at noon may avoid icy conditions earlier or later in the day. Steps in winter present a major problem, especially if there are no handrails on the side.
We all have our exercise preferences: I admit to never having been keen on gyms. It’s having to change clothes, put on the gym outfit, and then reverse the process at the end. Why should this process be so annoying? I timed myself yesterday and it took me eight minutes to change. At the Shelburne Athletic Club, the staff at the desk smile and greet me by name; the rooms and facilities are attractive and clean. I go when it’s not busy.
No one looks at me. The men are too busy flexing their muscles and admiring their biceps in mirrors. I congratulate them on how strong they look, and they fairly gurgle with pride. When I finish my routine, I’m more limber and relaxed. I even feel myself improving incrementally and experience additional energy during the rest of the day.
My biggest luxury was hiring a sports instructor. He seems to know how my body hangs together and what needs adjusting or strengthening. I’m already seeing results with him. He watches me like a hawk to see I do the exercises correctly.
So wish me well. It’s the one thing I’m determined to do to keep my health. Stop vacillating, and join me in thinking through your own health status and seeking solutions to problem areas. You’ll be pleased with yourself and enjoy each day more.