Three things that you and I can do to stave off decrepitude. Here are my 2022 faves. What will yours be?
Every year since I turned sixty I have taken up a new sport. Even last year, which was a bust in more ways than one. As I struggled to settle into a new town, work around quarantine, deal with injuries and surgeries (I still am, with more ahead), that activity lost some momentum.
My trick to staying ridiculously youthful as I age is a combination of variety, hard work and constant challenge with a solid dose of fun thrown in. This article is about that, with an invitation to you to consider doing the same.
While I began my new sport last year bare weeks before leaving for Africa in late summer, and just before a rotator cuff surgery, I still threw myself into learning aerial silks at the ripe age of 69. To that then:
While it wasn't a full-on commitment, it was at least a bone I threw at my desire to keep pushing myself as I age. It was ridiculous fun, hard work and immensely rewarding. And as soon as I am done with these hand surgeries and get my hand mobility and strength back I am heading back to the silks.
This year is different. Both hands are swathed in splints as I recover from two shoulder surgeries and do my PT so that my surgeon can take care of my left hand, which is angry with arthritis. That happens in a few months, give or take.
Meanwhile I am planning three big trips: Africa, Bhutan and Mongolia. Hey, who has time to wait, right? I can recover anywhere. Can't use the left paw, but what the hey. People have parts down all the time and I can either use that as an excuse or a way to keep right on going in spite of. I choose the latter.
This year's sports are different. First, I had to find something I could do which allowed me to exercise without having to use both hands. Second, I wanted something downright fun.
Being in a sporty new town offers endless opportunities. First, I looked around for things I haven't done ever, and things I wanna do again. I chose aerial silks last year. This year with hands going through some tough times, I chose to return to dancing.
Back in the late 1990s I took a year of salsa lessons, and got pretty good at it. Enough to do some group shows at state fairs. I miss it, too, all the Latin dances with the hip moves. While I will still have crippled hands for a while, I can most certainly do the foot and leg work. And learn to spin, at which I am abysmal.
So this past week I located my bag of dancing shoes. Jazz boots, flats and dancing heels with the suede on the bottom. I've been a dancer my entire life, touching ballet as a kid, jazz in my twenties, and modern dance forever. I miss it, still have major moves.
I can't tell you how chuffed I was when I pulled out those dancing shoes. Boy did that wake up some memories. And we have a very active salsa dance outfit not far from my house, along with Friday night dances.
When I lived in Spokane, I organized, along with my dance instructor and a Cuban salsa dancer, Friday salsa nights, which were overwhelmed with the Latinx community from 11 to 3 am, with magnificent music blasting out and dancing for hours. I miss that. Big time.
The great news about dancing, most particularly ballroom dancing, is that it is marvelous for aging folks. The combination of exercise, the demand on the brain to learn complex moves and the social aspects of the sport combine to do every good thing for the aging body and brain. Besides there's this:
Yeah, maybe you aren't her, but why the hell not give it a shot? I plan to reinvest my time and energy in recapturing my salsa moves and all the other dances that I loved.
But that's not the only reason why. Bear with me here.
Years after learning salsa, I signed up for kayaking lessons. The single most important takeaway from salsa was how to move my hips independently from my upper body, which is a superb lesson in how to be in the water in a fast-moving kayak. Especially in white water, where you need to keep your upper body stable, and your lower body moves the kayak with fluid hip motions.
Not only that. Those salsa lessons transformed my horse riding, for precisely the same reason. My upper body remains upright while my lower body moves with the horse in fluid, natural motions, allowing me to focus on the way ahead and not trying to stay on. To that:
And no, I never used the crop, the stable gave it to me. All I cared about was the gallop and the wind in my face.
I never imagined- but that is precisely why cross training on different sports and learning different disciplines is so powerful.
But wait! I said three things!
Here's the second: The Farmer's Carry. Look, I can't speak for you, but quoting my favorite book of the moment The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter,
About 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain sometime in their life. A quarter of people say they've had it in the last few months. It's the most common place people experience pain, anmd the most frequent reason people see a doctor or take a sick day from work. Back pain costs our economy $100 billion every year.
Easter goes on to explain that much of our oxy addiction arose from back pain, that surgery don't cut it (pardon the pun) and that our comfy, easy chair, Barcalounger lifestyle has every damned thing to do with why your back hurts.
So to that, the other two things, this one first: the Farmer's Carry.
Pick up something heavy enough to get your attention and carry it around for a while. See what happens to your body and your back. First, your back muscles, because this is how we're designed, tighten up and go to work to stabilize us.
Before you do this, please get checked out before you check out while attempting this. I'm not a doctor, this isn't medical advice. Get that first, then give this a try if you're cleared:
I bought a slew of kettlebells for this very thing. I live on a steep hill, and not only does doing this make me sweat, it also makes my back work hard, get stronger and I work my core. My kettlebells go up to thirty, and I can take that thirty up and down a steep hill. My back loves this work. My back does not love a Barcalounger and neither does yours. You can fill a milk jug with water and do the same thing.
Growing up on a farm, I did this all the time. Feed buckets, buckets of water, baskets of eggs, manure, you name it. No wonder I grew up strong.
I also did plenty of this:
Do your research first. Make sure you start slowly and work up.
Finally, my favorite: The Ruck.
Any military person is familiar with the rucksack. You train with one, and you learn to live out of it, it becomes part of your person. Easter interviewed the originator of GoRuck.com, whose products appeal directly to folks like me who are veterans and who can relate to the value that putting weight on one's back offers.
They're terrific. Rather than bore you with my recounting of Easter's comments, please see this :
I have read mixed messages about running and the knees, and have decided that running is just fine as long as you don't overdo it for your age and weight. But as a 69-year-old athlete with knees damaged from skydiving, horse riding, spectacular falls down a mountain and much more, what I read about rucking really does trump running, at least at this stage.
When I trained for Kilimanjaro in 2013, I bought a weighted vest which allowed me to stack weighted "fingers" into the many pockets. While useful, the down side was that in summer, that vest chewed into my shoulders. Because it's black, my neighbors actually called me in as a potential terrorist, a fact that left the female cop and me hysterical with laughter when she pulled me over.
This is different. The ruck, as designed by GoRuck (there are competitors out there but my veteran status got me a nice discount) is precisely what I was after. Their newest version is streamlined, waterproof, updated and upgraded. While you and I could pile rocks into any bag and start hiking, I like the idea- because I'm a gear pig- of giving this a run for its money.
I ordered my ruck this week and it's on the way right now. Please note I do not have any kind of financial agreement with these folks. I'm just a client, and I am going to be doing a gear review over time. Right now I like what I've read, and I like the idea of giving this a shot while I train for Kilimanjaro.
Here's why: I don't need my hands for this. I work on endurance, leg strength and cardio, which I must have for high mountains, and I can do this with a paw down.
Running jars both my healing left shoulder and both my hands. That's additional pain I just don't need. The ruck allows me to start low, build up and add weight over time. When I trained for Mt. Kenya in 2018 I overloaded and overworked too fast, and endedup with labral tears. Sometimes we learn the hard way.
I can do light jogs when my hands are all healed up. For now, rucking appeals. And remarkably, I can do a Farmer's carry because I have a pair of these. Hand hooks which use a wrist wrap to secure the metal hook into your palm allow you to lift without hurting your hands. There is always a workaround.
I am training with my fitness professional right now on both those hooks as well as bands so that I can lift and train right through hand surgery.
You and I ARE going to age. We are going togo down every so often, young or old, to injury. My entire downstairs is one big gym, full of post surgery or injury prosthetics, training gear, bands and equipment from previous injuries as well as preparation for recovery from future surgeries. I take this seriously. Just because I got a bad shoulder right now doesn't keep me from working out.
And having a paw down won't keep me from training.
What will you do to stay youthful this year?