Is to stop looking for the One Secret to Endless Health and Well-Being.
If you're getting older and who isn't, you might feel as though time is running out. It is. And, facing that, you might be in a terrible hurry to find a fix before it does. There isn't a single magic fix.
Don’t hate me. Please. Here’s why.
Yesterday I spent four delicious hours with Lisa Lum:
at Vitality Bowls in Tualatin, Oregon where she lives. I’m down the road in Eugene, and I was happy to make the trip. Besides, what a terrific excuse to shop at Home Goods, right next door. I spent too much money, but that was nowhere near as fun as spending most of my day with Lisa.
I am writing a separate story on Lisa, so stay tuned. However, as she approaches sixty, and I am ten years her senior, we sat across from each other at the table. We laughed, howled and told stories for four hours. And discussed fitness.
I drove home in THE best mood I’ve had in a week.
Lisa is a pro bodybuilder. Her show weight is perhaps seven pounds more than what she was right across from me. I’ve lifted 47 years, never competed. Both of us are vibrant, energetic, a little introverted, capable of great and energetic enthusiasm but happy to stay alone and with a very small circle of friends.
What struck me as I listened to Lisa discuss her life was that people, as they do me at times, constantly ask her about her body, her diet, her arms. So often it’s clear, as it is on Medium, that folks want that Staples Easy Button, that one magical thing that they can do which will give them THAT body and THAT health and they never have to worry about it again.
No such thing exists.
As I interviewed Lisa for my upcoming story I was interested in the parallels, and what makes any aging woman a powerful, fit, happy, vibrant aging woman.
Here are some of the common threads I noticed between this amazing 58-year-old and my life.
We both have cycled through lots of sports. Neither of us is a natural-born gazelle. We had to work hard for any kind of proficiency. We got proficient. Lisa has found herself in high-performing and top-winning teams from football to softball to Dragon Boat racing. I chose different, non-team sports but put in the time to get my clumsy butt going and get competent. Skydiving, kayaking, hiking, horse riding which is my fave. The point is that we play until we’re done, put that down and start scanning the horizon for the Next Big Thing. The more sports you try, the better your body and your brain. The brain likes work.
We both have had to find what works for us with diet and food. The little shop where we had lunch was full of great options. I could barely find a thing, which is driven by two late-in-life diagnoses dealing with kidney stones and my urinary tract. What we do is adapt. We focus on the best possible foods, do the research, make changes as our bodies change, and focus on eating well for brain, mind, body, energy. The body changes, morphs, shifts and changes as we age. Childbirth (neither of us is a mom), disease, stress, illness, any manner of events and issues can affect what we can eat as we age. The gut and what we put into it have a huge impact on brain health, body, mind and energy. It’s a moving target. The body needs our attention, and when we listen to its often very clear instructions, we dance with it rather than damage it. The body and brain like good food, which will vary a great deal person to person. It’s your job to find out what works for you.
We both wake up at night to injury pain. Sleep can be a challenge. When you get to your later decades and have put in this kind of time with your body, there are joints and parts that bark and complain. These are not the pain of under-use which is a whole other issue. It’s part of life. It’s the price we pay for an interesting life and lots of laughter and stories. It’s worth it. We fight for the hours we do get, and manage the periodic pain as well as we can. You also learn to live with the low hum of an angry joint or ligament that won’t heal, or is slow to heal. The body likes hard work, effort and the demands you place on it. Injuries, to my mind, are part of the price we pay for the life we lead.
She and I both have an intimate community of friends, perhaps five people or so, scattered all over the place. They are the kinds of folks with whom you do not have to do an hour-long catch up. Ten years later you pick up where you left off. The quality of those friendships, the richness of them, more than makes up for the number. In fact, as introverts (if you’re familiar with MBTI or Myers-Briggs, I sit on the cusp of E(Extrovert) and I(Introvert) and react to conditions, as does Lisa. We need to recharge our batteries regularly in order to have the energy to deal with people’s demands of us either at a show or after a speech, in my case. We’re both single for life, and while I tried briefly and failed spectacularly at marriage, we both prefer our own company to crowds, parties and partnering.
I could go on. You see my point. There is no one thing. No pill, no potion, no magic diet, no special food, no perfect workout. There is nothing that works for everyone all the time, nor is what works for Lisa going to work for me. Lisa is 5'3" and 122 or so, I am 5'8" and about 128 or so. We are vastly different in metabolisms, food preferences. She likes woodwork, I like massaging large animals. You get it. The differences are what makes folks intriguing.
You and I can’t “be like” anyone. Not really. All we can do to improve who and what we are is to be like ourselves, our better selves, then our best selves. Lisa and I have both been deeply inspired and influenced by certain people over the years but every time, how we embraced a new sport or a different way of being got adapted for our unique life journey.
So many folks, particularly as they age, are always and forever looking for that One Thing. This much I can tell you: first, if you pick One Thing to get you started, that’s enough. Because once you get past the first obstacle of body soreness, such as learning to master a particular paddling style (for Lisa it was Dragon Boat, for me it was moving from white water kayaking to open ocean kayaking), you find a groove. The good feeling you get from even minor mastery is so very often motivation for the next step.
Lisa told me a story yesterday that stuck with me. One woman told her that she was having a hard time with her exercise program. She’d start, then quit. Start, then quit.
“THAT’S the problem!” Lisa grinned.When you keep quitting, you telegraph to yourself that you’re not worth the effort.
If there is One Thing that gets you started, that’s it. The point is to stick with it. That One Thing is likely to open doors to other Things, most of which might well have been unimaginable before. For Lisa, playing full-contact women’s pro football. For me, doing a perfect swannie dive off the tallest bridge in Croatia. You see my point. We never know until we try.
To not try at all, or to avoid the work in search of the Staples Easy Button is to give up on yourself. You get 0% of all the benefits you aren’t willing to work for.
This story from The Guardian, with thanks to fellow Medium Peep John O'Rourke, really underscores what’s possible:
I am not telling you in any way shape or form that weight lifting or body building is The One Thing. Glad you asked. It is A thing. It is A start. It is most definitely not for everyone. The point is to start something. Cara Lee went back to dancing with hoops. Nancy Peckenham took up hiking. Others find all kinds of interests late in life. The point is to do something.
In two years, Lisa turns sixty and I turn seventy. Those are two very big decades for women. To that I offer this. One the way home my phone had Space Cowboys on. I have seen that movie so many times I don’t need to watch. I just wanted to listen, laugh at the wonderful punch lines and listen for the Big Life Lessons. The one that stuck with me is when Hawk, played by Tommy Lee Jones, has found out he had inoperable pancreatic cancer.
Hawk and his love interest, Sara, are outside the hanger next to an SR-71. This is from the movie script:
Hawk smiles like a proud parent showing off his kid.
HAWK: SR-71. This is what a plane’s supposed to be. She’s ugly on the ground, leaks like a sieve. But up around mach one, her seals all expand, she dries up and leans into the wind and goes like hell. I took her right to the edge. 128,000 feet.
He runs his hand along the plane’s skin, softly,reverently.
HAWK: She’s only happy up there, goin’ fast. She’s not meant to be sitting on the ground. That’s a lousy way to die. Sitting around,waiting… (author bolded)
I’ve been a pilot. Skydiver. Yesterday I renewed my USPA (US Parachute Association) membership. They are mailing me a copy of my A license.
I have been taking aerial skills classes.
Lisa isn’t sure what’s next. Neither am I. We both are gym rats for the rest of our lives if for no other reason than this:
Lisa said that the primary reason she was able to do well in each new sport was that she was already in good condition.
That’s as true for just being in life as it is in playing football, paddling a Dragon Boat or doing aerial silks at 68. That’s why I keep saying I’m in training for my eighties and beyond. Unless I strangle myself on the silks, the eighties are coming.
So if there is One Thing, it’s to get yourself into condition for the life you want to live, then do what you can to maintain it through the inevitable ups, downs, bumps, bruises that we’ll have.