A growing number of baby boomers and seniors are working proactively to stay strong and flexible. As our bodies age we lose the strength and mobility to enjoy the activities we enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be like this. Longevity can be a part of your life when you engage in physical activities that will keep you fit well into your golden years.
Recently I attended a Christmas party hosted by Sarah and Joel, the couple who started Chilliwack CrossFit. At first I didn’t recognize any of the CrossFit members. Their work-out garb had been replaced by regular clothes. The guys dressed casually smart while the girls were dolled up. Dressed up or down dressed, their clothes hung fashionably down from their sculpted bodies.
This is the perk you get for doing consistent WODS. Discipline whispered in my ear: “Viviann, you’ve GOT to get cracking on those WODs.”
I chatted with Sarah that night, hardly recognizing her either. The pony-tailed girl I had met once, briefly in passing had let her hair out long and wavy. Dressed in a slinky thin, sleeveless dress clearly accentuated her very well defined, sculpted arms.
She talked about “functional fitness” where daily activities are made easier by building our core strength, flexibility and cardio vascular system. As one ages mobility becomes an issue that can lead to injuries and those of us in the baby boomers generation still have time on our side if we start now.
“So when you’re a grandmother you can still lift the grand baby and when you get sick, you are better equipped to meet those emergency situations. Avoiding premature health problems is an added bonus when following a functional exercise program.”
I couldn’t help but notice her flat-as-an- ironing board-stomach…and she’d just had a baby!
One of my archetypes said that I have to earn my way into this tribe. (I think it was that pesky Saboteur.)
I‘ve been warmly welcomed in but membership means making the commitment to consistently pursue my goals. The reward is the empowerment that comes from learning and repeating basic routines. CrossFit proactively works the body’s base to help stay strong, healthy and vibrant. Many Baby Boomers realize this and exercise to stay healthy and agile to promote longevity. http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2012/11/20/pilates-for-boomers.cnn
I am getting to know which archetypes in me are resisting this new lifestyle. They’re like little kids who want to stay in kindergarten forever.
I am reminded of a summer in Estonia. I think it was in 1993. Estonia was enjoying its second year of independence from the Soviet regime. My father was visiting from Canada and we were on Hiiumaa Island, his birth place. He had returned to Estonia with the same cardboard suitcase he had escaped with in May 1944 bringing his survey equipment with him. He had to re-establish the boundaries of his father’s farmland so that the Estonian government could give the land back to him. It had been taken away from his father around 1940 when the Soviet regime took over.
We drove past our neighbor’s hayfield one hot afternoon and the little old lady who had been living there since childhood was making hay, alone. Stooped over, she was rhythmically slicing through the golden strands with a hand held, wooden scythe. I asked my dad if we could stop to help her. He agreed.
I think she had only one cow but that’s still a lot of work involved in keeping that one cow alive and content. This lady was probably in her 80s, twenty years’ older than my father.
She nodded in approval when we offered our help. She had extra rakes and scythes so while she cut, we raked.
Those romantic oil paintings of peasants making hay have left out some critically important elements. The golden fields are oven hot. And boots are recommended to avoid the lone poisonous snake from biting you when you disturb him from his lazy nap.
As the scorching afternoon marched on, both dad and I had to stop for breaks because the work was repetitive, oppressive and back breaking. We stared in amazement at this hardy octogenarian. She never broke her tempo as her straw hat bobbed up and down while she maintained her rhythm, stopping periodically to sharpen her scythe blade with efficient, energy-saving swipes.
Her work was a labor of love. She milked that cow twice a day and sold the milk to keep her farm going. She lived alone and had learned from generations of women before her that this is what one must do to survive. Being engaged in meaningful activities also ensures a sense of contribution and value in living one’s life.
We have lost this rhythm in our sedentary lives. We spend more time sitting than we do using our bodies. And as we age the simplest of tasks such as lifting, bending, squatting etc. are challenging for us.
The farm lady had been actively involved in real world activities all her life. Her overall strength, coordination and muscle endurance were better than ours by a long shot.
So, I think about this neighbor lady from time to time when I do my squats. She had to squat twice a day when milking her cow. My functional exercise program seems like child’s play compared to her hand to mouth existence.
Humbled, I patiently count my round of WODs, grateful that it is still not too late for me to make some improvements. In CrossFit terminology this means a ten minute Work Out Daily that typically incorporates two or three different activities into the cycle. http://www.crossfitchilliwack.com/crossfit-chilliwack/about-us.html
My Saboteur archetype visits me more often these days now that I’m committed to a workout program. We have a dialogue that goes something like this:
Saboteur: “Psst, hey you. Have you forgotten you’re not thirty anymore, you’re sixty. Give it up. You’ve let yourself go for too long and the cellulite has moved in permanently. Ha ha. Welcome to the Golden Years of your life. ”
Me: (to myself) “He-she-it’s right. Look at my mottled thighs… and my flabby arms. And I’ve got to admit, where I’m at in my WODs is practically embarrassing. Who am I kidding?”
Saboteur: “Think of the money you’d be saving. Not to mention the time you spend cycling to CrossFit twice a week in the cold, wet, rain and snow. Where’s the FUN kiddo?”
Me: “Listen, this is more than getting a better looking body. This has to do with improving my quality of living as I age. I always said I would age gracefully and guess what, that time has arrived.”
Saboteur: (somewhat more quietly sensing that I just might have the edge here) “Does that mean MY standard of living gets better too?
Me: “Yup, absolutely, so give me a break and put a lid on it.”
As I was cycling past the field of brussel sprouts last week on my way to an hour of more Crossfit exercises, I promised myself a fresh berry smoothie, a hot bath and a foot massage when I got home later on. I reminded myself that no matter how embarrassed I am at being so weak, I was still doing the program and further ahead than if I had not come. That thought gave me some comfort and I eased up on myself.
There exists another archetype in me who is a tough Task Master and sets the bar high right at the outset. I have to have a similar dialogue with this character to get her to lighten up on me as well. I remind the Task Master that this is also an exercise in patience and perseverance. It is called growing up and by being kinder to ME I will in turn be kinder to others as well.
This thought seemed to appease Task Master, at least temporarily until the next round of self inflicted scolding arrives.
A whiff of the stink emanating from the roadside sprout field gets my attention again. They grow on a stalk which I noticed for the first time. My eye followed the upward growth of the little green pom- poms one above the other. As a child I wondered why God made both baby cabbages and head-sized cabbages. It seemed kind of overkill.
There is another kind of dialogue that I learned from Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice. Like Christina, I too have defined for myself the level of fitness I chose to strive towards, where “discipline becomes a minute-by-minute dialogue between opportunity and goal, between intention and impulse.”
I have chosen to take more responsibility for my life. Gone are the days of compliance and rebellion to be replaced by a kind of self-parenting. I choose to no longer blame outside events for things that go wrong. I have come so far in my life’s journey that I have already passed this point for something better. I now recognize that I am becoming more accountable and each living, breathing moment is important. It engages me and holds my focus longer.
Discipline: “So how can I help you today?”
Me: “My confidence is waning. I can’t keep up with the others in the WOD. I’m used to having nearly endless energy, moving quickly and getting things done. Now I’m really lagging behind and feel like I’m losing my familiar self–identity. I feel weak and keep apologizing to the coach. I’m thinking he’s thinking I’m a weak, middle aged lady. But I still see myself as a girl
D: “Don’t apologize. He gets it. Just do what you can, catch your breath, and keep on keeping on.”
Me: “It amazes me how quickly I switch over to this apologetic mode. Why do I feel compelled to apologizing?”
D: “I’m your constant friend. Catch your breath. Focus on that. Learning to breathe is a discipline too just like squats and rope climbing. Learn to conserve your energy. Stop apologizing, shut your mouth, focus on breathing, and complete your WOD.”
Me: “OK, I feel better already. What you’re saying makes sense. Thanks.”
Who’s to say that eighty year old farm lady feels eighty? Only the observer assumes that she feels what this number is supposed to represent. She’s done 8 decades of WODs. That actually means that she’s been doing what I’m starting to learn how to do for close to a century.
Now I’m impressed!
So I’ve decided to change my inclination to apologize when the coach is watching me struggle in my WODs.
1. Write Discipline Dialogues every week.
2. Practice breathing slower and more deeply.
3. Build endurance by swimming once a week.
My goal is to build a better future for myself by taking on this responsibility wholeheartedly for the first time in my life. Those modified pushups, elbow to knee sit ups, stepping up and stepping down from a box repetitions and squats and kettle ball throws are going to be done with the best focus on breathing and repetition I can muster. Short cutting on WODs is like short cutting on our breathing. There’s a price to pay when the lungs have not been properly filled with air.
Equally dangerous, and this is no exaggeration, is taking short cuts out in the hayfield. If left out in the rain the hay is ruined and the cow will starve in the winter. She will have no milk to give and the human will have to find another source of nourishment.
All the hay needs to be brought in as quickly as possible before it is too late. The term “making hay” means to not procrastinate and if one waits too long and stores wet hay, it is spontaneously combustible. Opportunities must be grabbed when the time is optimal.
So while the body is still flexible and strong enough, now is the time to move forward with the WODs. Preventative measures taken now to get stronger will serve us well
in life when we need that strength to tap into, come what may.
When I ache and feel reticent about cycling the 45 minutes to a workout session, I just visualize our neighbor lady making hay, breathe deeply, and move forward on my journey towards adulthood.