Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting Older: A State Of Mind Or A State Of Body?

A few years ago I turned forty - a scary time for the supreme, alpha male warrior.

I'm not sure, but I reckon there's some correlation between decreasing testosterone levels and increased neurosis and insecurity in blokes.

Not me, of course...but I've heard it happens to some men.

"Darl, feel how big my biceps are."



There's a thesis for some Phd. student right there.

I don't know why, but I never pictured myself being so 'old'. Not that I envisaged some untimely early death or anything, but nothing prepared me mentally or emotionally for the onset of crows feet or for the amazing ability a forty year-old body has to gain body-fat in a matter of hours (or so it seemed). I reckon there should be a government mandate that we all undertake some type of preparatory course in our thirties to help us negotiate our fifth decade on earth (actually forty one is the start of our fifth decade but you get my point).

For over twenty years I had been helping older people get in shape and then overnight, I was one (in my mind at least). Just as I was about to immerse myself into a massive depression and wallow in my own pathetic self pity, I vaguely recalled a lecture from University (one of the four classes I attended). I remembered that there are different types of age; chronological age (how many years we've been on the planet), emotional age (I'm nearly sixteen now) and physiological, or biological age. In order to estimate our biological age people in white coats put us through some physical testing (fitness, strength, blood pressure, body-fat, flexibility and a few others) and then they compare our results to scientific 'norms' (how other people have scored). Then they tell us how 'old' our body is. If you're lucky they'll say something like, "well Sally, even though you've been around for thirty eight years, you have the body of a nineteen year-old" (or if you've punished yourself, possibly the other way around).

After dragging my depressed forty year-old body around for a few days and getting

no sympathy from anyone, I decided that it was time to get over myself. 'How can someone become old in a week,' I thought. Last week I was thirty nine and life was good, this week I'm a middle aged man, with a sore back shopping for a retirement village'.

Well, almost.

Logically I knew that my body was no different to the week before when I was in my thirties but I 'felt' different. Could it possibly be that I was creating a problem? Perhaps my body was fine but maybe my attitude that was the issue. Maybe my body hadn't aged but my thinking had. Sure a few lines had crept onto the face and the Levi's might have been a bit tighter, but the truth is that turning forty proved to be more of an emotional and psychological challenge for me than it was a physiological one.

We don't stop playing because we grow old,

we grow old because we stop playing

Does this story sound familiar? Perhaps someone you know?

For years I've watched people begin to 'act' old once they reach a certain age. It might be forty, it might be fifty, but at some stage they begin to live, behave and communicate like 'old' people: "I'm fifty you know; I need to start winding down."

The truth is that beyond thirty five is when we most need to follow some type of structured exercise program, whether it's in a gym, at the park, around the streets or in our lounge room. Until we're about mid thirties most of us can get away with not doing too much structured exercise. The tragedy of most suburban gyms is that the people who really don't desperately need to be there (the eighteen to thirty age group) often spend half of their life there, and those who would really benefit from some regular, structured exercise (the thirty five plus group) are too intimidated, lazy, busy, embarrassed, fearful or indifferent to pick up a dumbbell.

Some of the best results I have seen in my twenty plus years as a trainer and exercise scientist have been achieved by people in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond; people who stop rationalising whether or not it's 'sensible' or 'appropriate' for them to be lifting, running, riding or jumping, people who realise that age is really a state of mind not body. People who understand that we can literally turn back our body clock when we give our body what it needs.

So, maybe it's time to stop thinking about it and start doing it.

Over the last ten years there have been countless studies conducted which have repeatedly demonstrated the ability that people have to change their body shape and their level of strength and fitness into their seventies, eighties and nineties. I have personally worked with people in their eighties who have more than doubled their strength in twelve weeks and I have worked with fifty and sixty year olds who have totally transformed their body shape and their life within a matter of months.

If a ninety year-old can get fitter and stronger, so can you.

About twelve years ago I started training a woman who was 55 years young. While she was not particularly out of shape for someone in her fifties, she was not particularly fit or strong either. Within a short amount of time she began to make amazing progress, seemingly getting fitter and stronger by the week. What amazed me most about Jan was that she didn't have an 'old' mentality. She didn't seem to think like a lot of people do once they hit forty, fifty and beyond. She didn't provide me with the "remember I'm an old woman" line, instead she approached every session and challenge with the enthusiasm of an excitable young kid. It was so refreshing to work with someone who didn't come into the process thinking and behaving old or limiting herself before she had even started. Some people reach a certain age and seem to adopt an old mentality; not long after, this attitude is reflected in their physiology.

Jan just came to exercise and to learn, whatever that was going to be. She lifted weights, boxed, ran, stretched, biked, rowed and did whatever was asked of her. She didn't rationalise whether or not each workout or activity was appropriate for someone her age, she just did what was asked of her. Within a short amount of time she began to make amazing changes to her body and her life. At a stage when many people are quietly 'sliding into their retirement years' this average woman with an amazing attitude decided she would get fitter, stronger and leaner than she ever had before in her life; not fit for an older person, fit for a person of any age.

These days this grandmother who runs fifteen kilometres at a time, does push ups with the boys and rides her bike up to 200 kilometres in one hit, is an absolute inspiration to everyone she comes into contact with; an inspiration not because she is

extraordinarily gifted or a genetic freak but because she has an amazing attitude and a refreshing outlook on life.

Once a week Jan gets together with a group of her friends to do a killer fitness session; the session is an hour of pain and is not for the faint-hearted. These sessions are usually competitive and designed to take the participants to the 'edge' for a bit of a look. Every week without fail Jan is the first one ready to train. Aside from her, the average age of the group is around thirty. While most people her age would not even consider getting involved in something so 'inappropriate' for a 65 year old, she is sweating her butt off and not trying to rationalise whether or not her behaviour is 'sensible' or 'normal'.

Some of the most amazing results I have seen have been achieved by people in their forties, fifties and beyond; people who stop rationalising whether or not it's 'appropriate' for them to be lifting, running, riding or jumping.

People who realise that getting older is a state of mind, not a state of body.

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