This morning I read two pieces by my Crow’s Feet editor and publisher Nancy Peckenham, and am delaying my morning trek to the gym to pen this.
She wrote about the aging women from her childhood, and then about hiking in Utah. Those of us who write regularly for her publication have a lot to say about aging, and I am, above all, a great proponent for getting off our collective asses and getting going.
Nancy wrote that she’s done more physical activity in her sixties than she ever did as a kid. I can relate. After launching my adventure travel career by climbing Kilimanjaro at sixty, I quintupled my workouts and have stayed on top of that game ever since. One of her pieces:
NONE of this is about bragging rights.
ALL of it is about options.
About carving out a life full of wonder and fun and joy, ALL of it is about ensuring that as my skin gets more crepey with age, my face gets more wrinkled from laughing. I have a great deal of say about my quality of life. Time can take my face. Time cannot take my choice to live out loud during the time I still have.
I am a very proud aging athlete, but not from the standpoint that my waist is slimmer or my biceps are bigger. Those puerile points for the sake of one-upsmanship, should we choose to grow up, we left behind when our behinds hadn’t begun to sag a bit. Not all of us, if the snarky comments I get in my articles about fitness and exercise are any example. I am weary of pissed off old people, emphasis on the term Old, as in Elderly of Mind, who attack me for shaming them for not being fitness models.
I have a four-word response, and please forgive my Army-inspired frankness:
GROW THE F*CK UP.
Because this: every single bit of research on the subject shows that when you do what Nancy has done, which is launch yourself into activities like hiking or swimming or running or walking or whatever, you re-launch your life. This has nothing whatsoever, NOTHING to do with being young and gorgeous and slim.
Research shows time and again two key facts: our attitudes about aging have everything to do with how well we age (or how fast we diminish) and…
Research also shows that the more you and I move, eat well, have active friends and a purpose, the more youthful and strong we are.
I pound that drum for a reason. Again, because it’s true. And because those options of a better life and aging process are available to all of us if we haven’t already crippled ourselves with self-hate and self-revulsion, if we haven’t eaten or starved ourselves into ill health. Even then, and I am the poster child for it, you can still make a comeback. Even those who have had Covid, and who are dealing with the long-term results, are finding ways to beat this business through activity.
To that, this from my Medium buddy Herb Cochley:
First of all, I am old. 70. I run most days. I had Covid in November, but never realized it until I donated blood in January.
I have been EXHAUSTED. I tried diet, thyroid enzymes were checked…all the basics. I was so tired I couldn’t even run. Both vaccinations. Months later, I am dragging.
Then they came out with this long-Covid thing. Top symptom? Fatigue, affecting something like 90% of those who had been affected. The only cure? RUN, RUN, RUN!!! Even when you don’t feel like it. Two weeks later and many miles run, I feel MUCH better.
I didn’t say do what Herb does. Nor am I telling you that you should head to the gym like I’m about to do. There are no shoulds here. I am saying that the option to live well, do more and carve out options is available but it is not going to get handed to you without work.
Lyrical writer Beth Bruno found love and a rural lifestyle late in life. Nancy and I hike, and many others have found all manner of life-affirming activities and ways to make a difference. What you do and how you do it don’t matter nearly as much as the simple fact of making a choice to take care of yourself in such a way that you have options.
Now I have to get to the gym, for I am now back in training. A year of too much sitting and some foot injuries have left me with mild osteopenia in my hips, which is reversible with exercise. The world is opening up again and and far-flung places are calling. Those adventures are available because of exercise.
You can bark at me and at people like Nancy for doing what you do not choose to do. You can choose to be angry about what time has stolen from you. Or you and I can greet each day with the kind of gratitude that only those who have made it past sixty can have:
Holy shit. I woke up.
The courage to greet the restless day, as Amelia Earhart wrote in her immortal poem Courage, is demanded of us if we wish to live a different kind of life. Those of us who do just that are teaching our kids and grandkids what aging can be, not what society spreads as wholesale lies to sell products, plastic surgery procedures and pills.
Here’s Nancy’s piece that got me to the computer before I hit the gym today:
What will your grandkids write about you? How shriveled you were at sixty, spending all day in your room at eighty, or was it always and forever,
Where the hell is grammy NOW?
(Oh, she’s out hiking in Death Valley. Oh, she’s kayaking some river in the Amazon. Oh, she’s rescuing elephants in Thailand. Oh, she’s….)
You can give up. Or you can get going. Now I’m two hours late for the gym. But it was worth it.
My heartfelt thanks to Nancy for the inspiration this morning.