When I was younger, in my thirties, I was training hard going to the gym and learning to become an aerobic instructor. My body was strong and fit and it was hard, which I thought was a good thing. I could not feel the numbness and pain in my body from the exercise and I did not relate my lower back pain with exercising too hard.
I believed I felt good because I could not really feel anything beyond this hardness of my body.
Now in my early sixties and after several surgeries, I need to exercise regularly again to be strong enough to do what I need to do in daily life. I don’t need or want to compete anymore or need to show off my strength. Most of my life I tried to be like a man and having physical strength was part of that. I had to let this idea and image of myself go and completely relearn how to exercise in a gentle and safe way. This was quite a challenge and the old ways of pushing hard and overdoing it kept creeping in. I had to learn to feel what was good and enough for my little body and drop any ambition to look good or strong as a result of my exercising.
I needed to do just enough exercise to do what I needed to do in my normal daily life. As I was so used to doing everything on my own, asking for help with heavier tasks was another learning.
Recently I joined some elder women to attend an exercise class with Dr. Danielle Pirera. It was not a full-on workout and it was not meant to be. The purpose was for Danielle to show us weight bearing exercises - with and without weights - and exercises for balance.
And most importantly how to exercise with quality and not quantity, meaning to be fully present in our body and only move as far or as fast/slow as our body is comfortable with – no pushing or going faster or using heavier weights than the body is ready for or happy with.
With this quality and presence exercise is a lot of fun and does not need to be dreaded. For example, I did not enjoy the beginning of the class when using hand weights until I became aware that it was because my right arm did not like the weight, having been in quite some pain lately. So, I just put the weight down, moved my arm gently together with my left arm holding a weight and had good fun with everybody from then on.
Having done classes with Danielle before I learned that the body is different and has different needs every day. Some days I might feel energetic and the body feels to move faster and more vigorously, other days it feels more delicate and fragile and wants to be honoured in that by moving more slowly and gently.
After the ‘dry’ exercises we went into a heated pool and had even more fun – walking through the water forwards, backwards, sideways, and then doing some strengthening exercises with a noodle.
This did not feel anything like what I used to know as exercising. It was more like a bunch of elder ladies playing and laughing in a wonderful pool. No comparing, trying to do better or look better, just having fun exercising, everybody to their own ability and level of comfort.
Despite it having been light and easy exercising I felt that my body had had a good gentle workout. Some exercises are needed for wellbeing especially nowadays where a lot of work is done sitting behind a desk and movements are often limited to getting in and out of a car, walking from the car to work or to the shops. Walking is a great exercise. It is gentle on the joints especially knee joints and does not jar them like running or jogging.
Exercising can be enjoyable and fun. If it is dreaded it is hard to keep a regular routine to maintain a healthy body and feel good. It is an important part of feeling well and vibrant when getting older, no matter what age.
Ingrid L., Australia