Fit and strong in old age: exercise, obviously

How To Be Old
How To Be Old
Fit and strong in old age: exercise, obviously
Cartoon of woman training to be fit and strong in old age.

Fit and strong in old age: it’s possible

I wanted to be fit and strong in old age. So how was I doing with exercise? I’m Rachel McAlpine and I’m learning how to be old. Let me tell you how I audited my own exercise habits and started to fix them. Strange to say, it wasn’t difficult. Using BJ Fogg’s approach I’ve done pretty well by changing the environment (namely, by joining a gym) and starting some tiny habits (namely, regular exercise classes).

But isn’t it odd that exercise is loved by so many yet hated by more? Why do so many of us regard exercise as a painful duty or avoid it altogether? It’s worth looking back into the 20th century for a clue. As an almost-80 year old I’ve lived through an exercise revolution.

Personal exercise: a 21st century revolution

In my lifetime, personal exercise has progressed from a complete non-issue to a hobby to a duty to a life-saver, and now (in my case) to an imaginary job. You read that right. That outrageous idea was proposed by Chris Crowley and Dr Henry S Lodge in the famous Younger Next Year books. They said something like this: “When you retire, your job is keeping fit.” Surprise: I’ve found it easier to regard fitness as a mundane 5-day-a-week part-time job than as something frightfully important that I ought to do.

The switch from action to inertia is a decades-long international social transformation, and is reflected in the way my own lifestyle has changed.

For the first 30-odd years of my life, everyday life included plenty of moving around. Nobody saw any need to exercise for their health. Being reasonably fit was a necessary norm, in our family anyway. We sat down for particular reasons like doing our homework or eating a meal. Imagine this: when my mother got a chance to sit down during the day, she used to celebrate that as a special treat!

In the 1960s, Arthur Lydiard introduced jogging for athletes and in the next few years, ordinary people began jogging for fun. In the 1980s and 90s, our environment began to change. With more desk jobs, computers and smartphones, some people can spend entire days sitting down. “Retirement” meant a well-earned rest.

Exercise audit and strength and fitness plan for aging well

This switch from action to inertia is a global problem and yet we’re expected to solve it for ourselves, as individuals. That’s not fair, is it? However, my boot camp for the bonus years demanded that I sort out an exercise plan to improve my chances of a healthy, happy old age.

I know and you know that exercise is a mutipurpose magic pill that improves mood, mobility, cardiovascular system and stamina, and may even lower our chances of getting dementia. On the one hand, we need both strength and cardio workouts, the stuff that makes you strong and the stuff that makes you puff. On the other hand, the only good exercise is the exercise you like and so you carry on doing it week after week, year after year. If we want to be fit and strong in old age, we need to carry on exercising for the rest of our life.

Strangely, people used to compliment me on my supposed fitness, just because I didn’t have a car and used to walk from A to B. Also, I already had a weekly dance rehearsal and used a stand-up desk and sometimes went for a quick walk up a hill on my back doorstep. That was better than nothing, but I doubted it was sufficient to delay the effects of aging.

So at 75 I joined a gym, and now I attend two Pilates classes and one Pump class. I enjoy these but they don’t make me puff. So lately I’ve started one more tiny habit: 30 seconds of skipping before Netflix. Will it stick? We’ll see.

Good luck with your own boot camp: do it your way, not my way. Your way is a good way. Maybe walk and wiggle your toes…


9 thoughts on “Fit and strong in old age: exercise, obviously

  1. retirementconfidential says:

    I’ve been thinking for the past few months that staying fit is my retirement job. Glad I’m not the only one. One thing I’ve started doing is running just 30 seconds or so when I’m out and about or walking somewhere. I’ll do maybe three or four 30-second trots, and it feels great.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      How wonderful. The buzz goes beyond the biochemical, with a hint of pride and a sense of control, I think.

  2. pamela978 says:

    After trying all kinds of exercises in my younger days, I found Essential Stretch, which are 22-minute dancey routines, 30 different ones on my CD, so I don’t get bored. I find the shortness makes them possible to do almost every day…and work out the kinks from too much Computer time. I supplement with walking my hills and working my yard…always something. 73 in2 months…In the US we have to take especially good care of ourselves because we can’t afford to get sick. REALLY IMPORTANT to find things and ways that resonate with your own tastes…so you will do it?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Sounds great, Pamela, perfect because you have a routine and you like it so you do it. I’m not sure what you mean by that last bit, “do it”—? Did you listen to the podcast because I think you’ll find the answer there…

  3. Jean says:

    I believe you’re close to 80 yrs., correct?

    Anyway, my mantra to others is: Choose the exercise that you like to do often. And just do it. Then it doesn’t become a chore.

    By the way, if I had known about your blogger survey in 2018, I would have participated.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I am indeed almost 80!

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, I’ll be 80 in two months and it will be a landmark year, so much happening. Your mantra is perfect. And I’m sorry you missed my blogger survey. I will do other shorter ones from time to time, and would love you to participate.

  4. Jean says:

    I will be 61 yrs. next month.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You are all set up for a splendid old age, which is a long way off

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