Congratulations! You made it to the Fifty and Over Club – or hope to someday. After all, not making it means you’re a member of the Six Feet Under Club, a dirty place to be. As a bonafide member of the elite 50 and over team, you know the joys of waking up with more creaks than your wood floors. You contemplate simple activities that never gave your mind a second thought, like stooping down, bending over or reaching up for something, concerned by what may befall such heroic feats. Your almost-constant companions are low back and neck discomfort. You are horrified that a Goodyear tire is residing where your once flat belly used to live. You look in the mirror, expecting that 20-something buff self to look back, only to discover a much older version of you.
Are you doomed to this existence? Is this what the future holds for those who are in their 20s and 30s? Absolutely not! Even though our bodies can lose muscle mass each year beginning in our 30s, our metabolism can decline and our cartilage can deteriorate, we can win the battle against the war of physical decline by following these easy tips:
Easy Tip No. 1: Think about what you plan to eat/drink. If you eat garbage, you will feel like garbage. Each time you choose something to consume, you have the power to help or harm your body. You never realized you had so much power! Most of us know what food/drinks are healthy to choose, but willpower often runs low, especially when we’re busy or over-tired, and we reach for the stuff that’s destined to send us into physical decline. A cycle begins to form and before we can say “Little Debbie,” our body weight has increased by 20 percent. What to do? Each time you are about to indulge yourself, pause and consider whether this substance will pull you into physical decline or keep you out of it. If you are not sure what is good for you, invest in hiring a qualified trainer or nutritionist to tell you. It is money well spent.
Easy Tip No. 2: Move. I don’t mean sell your house and move away from your responsibilities, although some days that is a rather fine thought. I mean move your body in any way you can. This category is not just about exercise to raise your heart rate, but also stretching to maintain a flexible body and strength to keep your bones and muscles strong so you don’t fret about bending over or reaching up. What to do?
• Buy a pedometer and track the number of steps you take each day (aim for 10,000/day).
• Strengthen your body with these exercises: Sit in a chair and then stand up – repeat until you feel a little burn in your legs (this burn is your body’s way of letting you know the muscles are working and becoming stronger but fatiguing). Place your hands against a wall or sturdy desk and press your body into the wall/desk – repeat until you feel a little burn in your arm/chest muscles. Lie on the floor, face up with knees bent; raise your hips up off the floor, keeping your shoulders pressed against the floor – repeat until you feel a little burn in your leg muscles.
• Stretch. Lie on the floor and stretch out, arms overhead and legs straight. Pull one knee into your chest, grab that knee with your arms and hold gently, repeat for the other knee. Roll onto your stomach, face down and place the palms of your hands at chest level and press up until you feel a slight stretch in your abdomen and lower back, hold gently. Get on all fours as though you are about to crawl. Arch your back like a cat and bring your chin to your chest, then do the opposite by dropping your belly and slightly gazing up toward the ceiling. Sit up and reach your arms behind you and then across your body, giving yourself a hug.
Easy Tip No. 3: Sleep and Relax. For some reason, we think we are superhuman and can survive on very little sleep and relaxation. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you do not have a cape and you are not a superhero. We need daily, quality sleep and relaxation, even more as we age. Catching up on the weekends is not the answer either because it throws our bodies out of sync and wreaks even more havoc. A lack of sleep leads to errors, depleted energy, no willpower (remember Tip No. 1 and what you eat?), increased stress (which we don’t need more of), and an increase in the hormone that causes weight gain. And what about relaxation? When is the last time you felt like a kid? Laughed hysterically? Played a game? Colored a picture? Drew with chalk on the driveway? Flew a kite or drove a remote control car? Rode a bike? What to do?
• Sleep: Get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Set an alarm to go off 60 minutes before you want to get into bed, which is your signal that you have one hour to wrap things up and get to the appointment with your pillow.
• Relax: Get out of your rut of reading the newspaper or watching/listening to the news. Most of it is bad and depressing and usually doesn’t put a smile on your face. Instead, spend that time by taking up an old hobby, trying a new hobby or acting like a kid in some random way. Get out with friends more and reconnect with those friends you knew before you became tied to your job and parental responsibilities. Do something fun every day, even if just for 60 seconds.
Getting older and turning 50 does not have to result in aches, pains, weight gain and inability to perform simple tasks. But getting older does require you to take the bull by the horns and get headed in the right direction. It takes only a little effort on your part to: 1) think about what you are about to eat/drink; 2) use a pedometer to move and follow the strength and stretch ideas above; and 3) set an alarm to sound one hour before your pillow appointment to ensure a good quantity of sleep. Easy, right?•
Sharon McGoff is a graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, a certified personal trainer and health fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, and a certified life and wellness coach with WellCoaches Inc. The opinions expressed are those of the author.