What’s Your Fitness Bar When You’re 50-Plus?
If you’re 50-plus, and someone asks you to go on a three-day, 45-mile hike, what do you say? I hope you can say, “YES, I’m coming.” I hope you feel the excitement and anticipation of being outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, away from traffic noise, to let your whole being absorb the rhythm of the natural world for a while. To watch the eagles soar over a river in a roadless area, to hear the wind sing in a deep, dense forest of giants, to let your eyes feast on crest beyond crest of magnificent rock formations. If you have to say “No, I can’t manage that,” then read this article.
Since I turned 60 a decade ago, the three-day, 45 mile hike is my fitness bar. I want to have the ability and say yes to adventures that require physical exertion. I want the doors of travel and new places stay open for me. Kayaking in Alaska? I’m in! Paddling the lakes of Minnesota? Show me how! Climbing the Solheimajokull glacier in Iceland? Just say when! I like to explore the world while using my body. I like to smell, taste and feel the world around me.
My day starts when I move my body. My mind wakes up as my blood flows strong and warms my muscles. A minimum of an hour is my daily routine to start the day. The older I get, the more I move, aware that sitting makes me stiff, moving improves my fitness. I change positions, I intersperse house and garden work in my day of writing and reading. I stand up when I talk on the phone when I’m in a group meeting. I give my body what it deserves to stay as agile as possible, to keep its strength and stamina to be ready on the spur of the moment for an adventure.
Having a body that moves, lets me dream up hiking adventures. Aside from keeping a base fitness all year round, I train, starting 8 weeks before I go out on a long-distance hike. I walk and hike at least 3x a week, increasing distance, elevation gains and weight on my back. Taking a walk with a friend? No problem, just put a weighted pack on my back. Need groceries for the week? Carry them home in the pack! Dentist appointment on the other side of town? Hike or bike there! Training is all in a day’s work. You have to think differently about what’s normal for you. If you hate strength training in the gym, find work around your place that involves, lifting, carrying, pushing. Help someone move, load up the Van. Be strong! And yes, in winter I do at least 2 specific strength training sessions a week where I systematically work all my muscle groups in my body.
The more you move, the more you’ll raise your fitness bar. I’m hardly stiff when I hike 15-20 miles a day, day-in, day-out, crouching to cook, to crawl in my tent, when I hoist a 30-pound pack on my back and lower it six times a day. As soon as I’m home and sit in comfy chairs, I find myself stiffer after a few days of doing so.
You can’t be on the move all the time to avoid age-related stiffening. But you can move more! Continue to add standing or walking to the activities you’re engaged in, one at a time, so you’re building fitness and resilience as you become a moving person. Stand at your desk, on one leg every so often to keep your balancing ability, dance while you answer your e-mail, walk around when you make a call. You’ll discover many ways you can add movement to your daily life. Be the anti-trend among your peers. As they sit more and more, as they use the car to do their errands, do the opposite, and reverse age-related slacking. You may inspire a few friends to follow your example. At least the doors to active adventures will stay open for you!
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