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What Every Older Adult Should Know About Fitness

Fitness when you’re older comes with challenges. I never thought I would ever wake up with aches and pains; but now I do. Many of my clients and friends do, too. And because none of us are going to get any younger (ever), we have three options left to us:

One – We could just “suck it up” and push through the pain. Get angry at our inabilities and force ourselves through our tasks and assignments for the day like some kind of old-school, military drill sergeant.

Two – We can just give up. Forego exercise, active vacations, dancing, playing with our kids or grandchildren, and all the other fun stuff that adults who are older and fit can do. Just quit. Acquiesce to age. Get fatter, unhealthier, and ultimately become “old” at an early age.

Three – We can develop a new look on life and adopt new strategies that might make us just a little uncomfortable in the short term so that we are better able to enjoy life for the long term. Strategies that will lubricate joints, keep muscles supple, and maintain a keen mind.

I chose option #3. I hope you will, too.

So here’s a tip: One of the easiest things we can do for our fitness as we get older is to stretch. It not only feels great but can counteract years of sitting at a desk with poor posture.

I like what Judy Alter, author of the book “Stretch and Strengthen” (Houghton Mifflin), has to say about stretching. “Your goal is not flexibility,” she said. “Muscle pliability is what you want for better movement.” I couldn’t agree more.

Look; we’re older, and hopefully more mature now. Is there really any urgent need for us to do the splits or palm the floor from a standing position? No… BUT – we do need our muscles to be pliable so that when we must call on them to perform physical activities like cleaning up the yard or playing a long overdue game of golf, tennis or football with friends, we aren’t too sore or laid up for a week recovering.

Even if you do regularly exercise I always recommend stretching. I know there was some buzz a few years ago about a study conducted which found that stretching prior to exercise provided no more protection from injury than if you ignored stretching altogether. I disagree with their findings, or at least with their insinuation that performing stretching is a waste of time and does no good.

You see, each of us has a certain pattern we follow physically that has become more ingrained as we get older. A particular way we walk, hold out hips, neck or shoulders. We developed this pattern long ago as infants just learning how to walk. The problem is that our body wasn’t meant to move in any one fixed direction because doing so would create muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalance over time, say forty or more years, creates undue stress, wear and tear on joints, and mysterious aches in muscles.

You say, how can that be? I never noticed any aches before! Well, you probably didn’t! In younger years we did more. We danced more. We played games like chase and tag with friends. If we were lucky, we had sex (and lots of it). Ok, some of us might still have lots of sex despite being older – but I defy you to tell me you can still get into as many contorted positions as you did way back when…

My point is; we moved in many directions when we were younger. Now, as older adults our bodies are usually saddled with the mundane. We have responsibilities. More importantly, we have bills to pay. So we simplify, conform and follow a pattern; the same work, same chair, same paycheck, same routine – day in and day out.

This… is what makes us feel old…

However, all that can change for the better by doing just one simple thing: make time to stretch.

It doesn’t have to be much. Five maybe ten minutes will work. Soon after you begin you might find yourself feeling a bit better. When you feel better you might find that you are more receptive and willing to add a couple more healthy activities to your life (or start cutting out the habits that hinder your health).

Do more healthy habits, feel even better. Soon, before you even know it, you’ve got positive momentum moving you toward positive decision making. Gather enough positive decisions and you can’t help but have a happier, healthier life – at forty, fifty, or seventy and beyond!

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