As I settle in to my 40's, I've developed a different perspective on aging. Perhaps this is due to working with older adults for almost all of my career in fitness, even back to the time when I worked in healthcare.
I think all of us have feared getting older at some point in our lives. I admit to not being honest about my age. Society and especially popular culture treats aging like a disease. Some try to dress and act like we've never left our twenties, much less our thirties. There's that longing for being young again. Just look around at the increase in plastic surgery!
But why do we think aging equals deteriorating health? Of course there are ailments that come with aging. Our bodies do wear down after time. How many of us drive the same car that we drove 30 years ago? If you do, there's a lot of work to be done to keep it running. The same goes for our body, we have to care for it! In the last year or two, I've gone from perfect 20/20 vision to needing my glasses to read anything. If I forget my glasses when I go shopping, I might as well go back home. I can't read a price tag or ingredient list without straining my eyes. My joints are a little slow to move first thing in the morning and my shoulders creak and crack with most arm movements. My neck and shoulders are full of arthritis.
You may experience the same ailments or worse, but we don't let it stop us. If I don't exercise, I feel much worse...more stiff, sore, and achey. Back to the car analogy. If you park your car and don't drive it for months, it most likely won't run so well. The fuel lines may get clogged, the tires may go flat, and the body may rust. Why wouldn't our body do the same if we don't move it? Even if it doesn't run so well, we still drive it because it's what gets us around!
Here's my perspective. I teach classes and do personal training at the Iowa City Senior Center. Now this isn't a typical "Senior Center". The Center offers classes for everything from fitness to philosophy to computer skills to technology. On any day, you will hear one of the many bands playing or performance groups singing. These groups are all made up of individuals over the age of 50. They haul in their instruments and fill the building with music. The aerobics room pours out rhythms from a Zumba class. You may see some leaving a yoga class with their mat. The members of The Center talk and laugh and enjoy life to the fullest. Some are physically fit, some get around with walkers or wheelchairs. One woman smiles and says good morning to me as she enters the workout room full of equipment in her motorized wheelchair. She parks next to the recumbent bike and carefully slides herself out of the wheelchair, onto the bike, positions her feet on the pedals, and begins to ride. After she finishes her cardiovascular exercise, she motors into the room filled with strength training machines and carefully transfers herself onto several pieces of equipment to complete her workout. What excuses have I made lately?
I always leave The Center smiling. There's nothing to fear about aging. It's in our attitudes. We're all going to get older, why not embrace it and enjoy the journey? Perhaps I would have a different attitude about it if I worked in a gym full of young people in spandex. I may feel more self conscious about my body that seems to hold onto bodyfat, or the lines on my face, or the inability to workout like I did even 10 years ago. But I've decided to enjoy the journey. I don't care so much about what other people think of me. I take care of myself...exercise, eat right, try to get the right amount of sleep, and de-stress (I haven't perfected the de-stressing part).
I work with people who smile, laugh, and enjoy life. They aren't worried about the latest fashion or celebrity story. They have lived through wars and the depression. They've marched for equal rights and raised a family. They may have Parkinson's or survived cancer. They sing, dance, exercise, and learn. I look forward to being the age to join the Center. I'm signing up for a Humanities class!
I've always loved this photo. She's an inspiration just like so many I know. Growing old isn't for sissies....it's for the strong!