How to Approach Exercise With a Better Mindset as You Get Older
There is always the potential to improve your body and to heal, whether you are five-years old or one-hundred-and-five, but we have to appreciate that “physical” vitality is not distributed fairly across the categories of age — and rightly so! It would be just as troubling to witness an elementary school boy mumbling to himself and sleeping in a rocking chair, as it would be to see an elderly man swinging off the branches of a tree at the assisted living facility. Although it sounds interesting enough for a storybook, along the lines of Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button, it rings with oddity and disbelief.
Aside from the unfortunate obviousness of the truth, we all are aware that our bodies suffer more and more challenges as we grow older. So when exactly is our best, physical, prime, time?
If you were to imagine an ideal vision of health — an icon of vitality — it would probably be hard to look past the perfect specimen of a young boy or girl. Happy and well nourished children naturally posses a raw, unfettered abundance of energy that allows the healing potential of their bodies to seem almost supernatural at times. And just as the little children, swinging wildly about on their jungle gym, are content to fly from the ground and take risk, so the elderly grandparents are just as satisfied to watch from afar in the safety of their seated position. This is the arc of life, and although you may want to fight the process, you will actually be the healthiest version of yourself by adhering to the most natural way.
Natural does not mean lazy! Please don’t get the wrong idea here. I’m not advocating those in the autumn of their life simply sit around all day, waiting for the end, because it’s… destiny.
To master youthfulness, we have to understand the currency of our daily activities and the analogy of the “Bank of Life.”
I frequently use the symbolism of a bank when giving advice to my patients on how to make the most out of living with age-related aches and pains, like osteoarthritis. Start by imagining your daily existence — your healthy, pain-free life —in terms of a large bank with various currencies, deposits, and fees going in and out on a never-ending cycle of exchange. The activities you perform throughout your day wind up “withdrawing” from your bank, and cost you different amounts depending on how taxing the activity was for you. Now, your rate of deposit — what keeps you “in the black,” or on the plus side of the equation — can best be summarized as your general youth, vigor, healthiness, essence, etc. As long as your withdrawals are less than your deposits, you will essentially be healthy and pain-free.
Although it seems like such an elementary and juvenile concept, it is a very reliable method to predict your likelihood of pain or injury following activity. In general, as we all get older our health gradually declines and our daily “deposit” amount becomes smaller and smaller. The secret to staying youthful and fit at any age is in choosing activities that don’t take away more than we put in.
In Chinese Medicine there is an actual term used to describe this analogy of the “bank deposit,” or vital essence; it is called “jing,” and it’s referenced in great depth within China’s most revered ancient text, called The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic. Not too surprisingly, this “jing” rises and falls on a cycle, much like everything else observed in the design of nature; and, like other things in nature, it is not fairly distributed among the age groups — and especially between men and women.
If you are curious to read The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic’s First Chapter, titled “The Universal Truths,” you will see a chronologic outline on how men and women mature and age at differing rates. Men mature in cycles of 8 years, reaching their peak vigor at age 32, while women mature in cycles of 7 years, reaching their highest physical capability at age 28. That means that a 16 year old boy would roughly be as mature as a 14 year old girl.
Perhaps your long-held suspicion that girls always seemed to mature faster than boys can now be mathematically substantiated — at least by Chinese Medicine philosophy!
The point here is not to get depressed or angry by your current state, but to approach your healing process more intelligently. Youthfulness and health have a natural ebb and flow throughout the course of life. And although you certainly can slow the entire process down through exercise, diet, and other smart life choices, if you exhaust your “jing” reserve too quickly, you simply cannot refill it back.
When you’re older — or more mature — this means choosing activities with “variety” and “low impact.” When you’re super young, this means you can basically run into a wall and bounce off it without much problem. Any parent will attest to the fact that their kid is half made of silly putty and rubber. They simply bounce back!
This bounce back potential is inherently part of all of us. It is in the body’s nature to thrive and flourish and heal. Although it is not part of our conscious attention, our body is constantly repairing, reorganizing, and protecting itself from harm. Simply stepping off the curb to cross the street creates a hundred-and-one possible threats and triggers within our musculoskeletal system where something could go wrong… but doesn’t. And yes, of course, sometimes it does and we trip and fall.
But, for the most part our bodies get it right, and after these falls — or fails if you want to think of it like that — we eventually recover. Hopefully, if we receive the proper treatment and we learn from our mistakes, the risk of future re-injury will go down... and not up!
Reach out and schedule an appointment with Alté View today to learn which exercise choices would be better for you, according to your age and fitness priorities.