Move it, Sister!
I had always been a "sporting girl." That is, I played singles tennis for 40 years until my doctor finally told me it was either tennis or my worn-out joints. So, about 20 years ago I stopped. Coincidentally, four years earlier, in 1991, after suffering constant pain and aches I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and early onset arthritis. My wonderful rheumatologist said, "Keep moving!"
So, even though I couldn't play tennis anymore, I began a system of cardio and workout, both in classes and with a trainer. And I never stopped. Everything I read told me to exercise, every medical person said exercise was the key to staying strong and mobile. And they were right. At the age of 72, I am still working out, doing circuit training, lifting (usually with bands) and spinning.
I still suffer from chronic pain, but you wouldn't know it if you didn't know it! I am absolutely convinced that exercise has enabled me to still be myself and to accomplish the things I have; to allow me to continue to contribute to my profession; to volunteer for nonprofits in the county; to spend time with and babysit my grandkids; and to not need a wheelchair on long trips to places I have always wanted to visit.
I am not one to preach or to judge. My motto is "to each her own" and "it's never about you!" So, I say only, if you are suffering or if your doctor has told you to exercise or you just want to get started but are not sure how, well, I understand. It's really hard to stay motivated, to drag yourself out of bed, to get dressed, to drive yourself somewhere and then to do things that hurt for an hour or so (and then maybe hurt more the next day too).
I absolutely get that. But I do it. And I hope, if you're thinking about it, you will too! It has made all the difference for me.
I think it's safe to say I've never been much of an athlete, though I did change my major for a semester in college in order to play junior varsity volleyball. As a very young girl I enjoyed the freedom of my neighborhood, including scaling the sea wall, climbing a few trees, skating, and doing cartwheels. My sport was always swimming, and lakes and pools were places of fun and even solace for me.
But so were pencils, paper, and paint and crayons, so I was just as happy on my own, creating. I fractured my leg when I was eleven, spending the next six months in a hip cast and three more in a walking cast and was extremely lucky that the only long-term effect I experienced was that my right leg is slightly shorter than my left.
When I married a distance runner, I figured out that one way to spend time with him was to start running, too, and I did this for a number of years with the San Diego track club; but my longest distances were three miles, not half marathons. Even so, I managed to blow out my knees because of the pavement runs, so I do have some regrets about that small attempt to be "athletic."
On the other hand, I realize the value of movement and I spend a good amount of time at the gym both in and out of the pool. Since I'll be 77 in November (yikes!!) I'm feeling aches and pains that are new to me and definitely an unfortunate inheritance from my family members, who all suffered from crippling arthritis at various points in their lives. I intend to stay upright and mobile as long as I possibly can, because the alternative, for me, looks like no darn fun.
What I have learned about my body is that it becomes "frozen" if I sit too long, and that forcing myself to get up, walk, bend, and stretch are all important to maintaining my health. Right now I'm trying to avoid a knee replacement because I'm not sure it will really make a big difference in my mobility. So strength training and physical therapy are the routes I'm taking for the time being.
It's humbling to feel my body complaining, especially when I led a relatively pain-free life for more than sixty years. But I'm full of gratitude, too, for the opportunities I have to be an "elder" with a multi-generational family who enjoy my company and adjust for the physical things, like rock-climbing and hang gliding, that I'm not up for.
I think the joy and fun I feel in life reach far beyond any physical "slowing down" I experience. Life is the gift you make of it, and not one of us goes through the years without some physical challenges. So far, I'm dealing with mine in the best way I know how.