Let Michelle Obama show you how it’s done at 51.
I called them the Grannies in Keds.
They were the women who would power past me up the trail in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I used to live. I’d be puffing along and they’d stride right by, heads up, arms pumping, white hair and sneakers gleaming.
“Great day, isn’t it?” they’d chirp, as I tried to grunt a reply without passing out. (It took me a long time to get used to living at 6,000 feet.)
Whatever sense of victory they felt passing an unacclimated twentysomething on the trail, they earned it.
More likely, though, they weren’t concerned about lapping me. They were doing something that made them happy… and that, it turns out, is one of the keys to fitness as we age.
Many of us are lifelong exercise buffs, runners or bicyclists who wouldn’t dream of letting more than a day or two go by without getting our cardio on. We love that feeling of the burn and we like the results when we compete or look in the mirror.
But as we get older, our paces may slack off. Injuries may pile up. It doesn’t feel as good to get out there.
Our workouts become just one more thing on the to-do list, and because it’s for us rather than our families or jobs, we let it slide.
Word of advice: Stay selfish.
“Masters athletes are proving that as much as 50 percent of age-related decline, maybe even 70 percent, is due not to aging but to deconditioning – losing physical fitness by doing very little,” Margaret Webb wrote in “Older Faster Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer.”
That means that age-related decline may be a myth. Yes, there are some bodily changes with which we must cope. Our cardiac output, lung capacity, dexterity and flexibility all drop off as we age.
But if we stay active, we can still stay in shape.
What to Do
- Strength training. Bicycling magazine says it can conserve lean muscle mass and reduce the effects of aging on VO2 max — the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use. Try this workout from Prevention magazine.
- Allow extra recovery time after a workout.
- Stay happy. If your usual workout feels more like work and less like fun, think about retooling it. Webb’s book recommends a regimen of mostly long, slow training runs, for example.
“I ride to live and I live to ride, as the motorcycle people say,” says 77-year-old bicycling fanatic Terry Taylor. “I find that if I go for a 100-mile bike ride, I can solve all the world’s problems, after mine.”
Taylor has kept going even after a crash broke his hip and collarbone and bruised his brain. Check out this video created by his nephew.
“I’ve had some problems, but I’ve always gotten back on … I listen to my heart.”
Be like Taylor. Don’t give up.