If you’re a green diva in your 50s+ and already fit, you rock! You may still appreciate some of what’s written here and apply it to your current fitness regimen. If you’re a green dude reading this, you get huge points for reading to the end, share it (carefully) with a woman you love that may be struggling to get into shape during this hot time in her life . . .
Being a woman over the age of 50 (but not much. Just sayin’…) means a whole new battle to stay fit or get fit.
For most of us anyway. There are a few who seem to glide through the middle, menopausal years with only a minimum of outward disruptions, and then some of us are just a more obvious hot mess — literally.
I have struggled with my weight since I was in my early 20s and started having babies. It’s not all their fault (love you girls). It’s really a myriad of things including genetics, alcoholism (back then), cheese addiction, health issues, and a rather strong aversion to most forms of exercise.
In my 30s, I hit my stride and found real fitness for the first time in my life during a harrowing time of loss and change. Yoga saved my life (really. Read the article here).
Fast forward to now. (Just imagine you’re in a tropical rainforest and it’s 150 degrees and 100 percent humidity or that you are a nuclear power plant and you have periodic, unscheduled core meltdowns. China Syndrome anyone?)
If you read the post mentioned in the previous paragraph, you’ll know I had some health issues that led to some painful weight gain. This post pretty much picks up where that one left off.
While yoga was saving my life the first time, it led me to the gym.
Around this time—20 something years ago—I met up with the man who is now my current husband. He was and still is very fit and a runner. Ugh. He’ll kill me for writing this, but it’s a critical point—he’s 20 years older than me and has ALWAYS been in better shape (damn him).
Did I mention I loathe running?
Hated it when I was a kid in school and pretty much vowed to promote walking and any other form of exercise for the rest of my life. But love makes liars of us all, and I wanted to spend my weekends chasing (or being chased) by my running man. I had to suck it up and give it a try.
I was in the best shape I’d ever been in my entire life, so with the encouragement of my sweet coach who was super patient and slowed his pace ridiculously to stay with me, I ran. I hated most of it, and remember dreading every freaking step, but I LOVED how I felt after and my butt was never cuter. It shaped me better than anything I had ever tried. Yup, running was painful and I loathed it, but it was sexy and I felt so alight and alive. I got up to doing 3.5 miles a day and was starting to loathe it less.
Then we moved in together to New Jersey and along came the physical difficulties that made running impossible for me (would like to blame NJ, but . . . ). I kept trying for years to get back to it and each time my body rebelled more strenuously against it. Part of me was glad because it was never easy for me, but part of me was bitter as my adorable figure was smothered quickly in pounds of extra flesh. It was really depressing.
By the time I was in my late 40s, I had pretty much given up hope.
Menopause (mental pause) was kicking my now fat ass and I couldn’t even do yoga anymore.
I was giving up and surrendering to this heaviness, which did seem to be accompanied by a type of depression that was hard for me to see at the time, but looking back it is quite obvious. I ate an extremely healthy diet most of the time, and my poor baffled husband noted that I ate mostly like a bird and we just marveled at every failed attempt to lose weight in a healthy manner.
At the age of 51, I hit a crossroads, and it wasn’t about playing the blues for me. I knew the choice was going to influence the second half of my life. The two options seemed painfully clear:
The current road: Did I want to just sink with this weight and live a sedentary but shorter life that included more food (I do love food), less activity, less energy, more health issues, and continue to struggle to love myself in this heavy cloak;
The damned road less traveled (at least by me): Did I want to wake up and make this second half a blast and give myself the energy and vitality I knew I needed to do the work I’m here to do (which, by the way, is really just beginning in many ways—I’m a late bloomer, what can I say)?
So, about a year ago, I started down that damned road less traveled and gave myself permission to take it slow… but committed to just keep going as long as I could do it. I was ready to look foolish or messy doing it, to do it imperfectly, and to look like a slug compared to others (who I love, but hate as they prance their way into this other half of life).
What started with a gentle 20-minute yoga routine in the morning and one or two slow and relatively short walks with the dog every day has expanded to doing at least one full intermediate (not easy) yoga class every week (first time I can do a full yoga class in about 10 years), and running (or slogging as I sometimes refer to it) over two miles (without stopping to walk!) four times per week! I won’t be entering any marathons in the foreseeable future, but my new mantra or motto or goal is to keep going until I can’t.
I’m eating more carefully and for the first time EVER, I look forward to my little slogs (runs), and I really do NOT want to stop!
Interesting. But remember, this took 12 months. It was a slow process and I’m still a long way from the fitness and weight goal I have in mind. No quick fix for me, but I can report that I feel MUCH better on every level and have lost 15 of the 40 or 50 pounds I really need to lose and I’ve dropped a couple of sizes. No lie — it is fun when your jeans and even your yoga pants start to slide off your shrinking ass.
So here are a few words of encouragement to ANYONE trying to get fit, but especially to my sisters who are in the furnace of their 50s with me . . .
1. Love and accept yourself EXACTLY as you are—RIGHT NOW.
I had to love myself no matter how crappy I felt inside AND outside in order to hook into my desire for self-care, which leads to action (which is hard to do on a good day, so get your self-love on and lace up those sneakers).
2. Take it easy.
Seriously, don’t get all manic enthusiastic and try to run a marathon your first week out, or pressure yourself to do things you aren’t really ready for. Start wherever you can. If it’s only to walk slowly around the block, do it. Do it until you start to want to do more.
3. Take it slow.
No rush. Really. It took me a full year to work up to full yoga classes and running/slogging two miles. My husband can recover from triple-bypass surgery and get back to running two miles in less time. (Not kidding. He did it. Ugh.) But everyone has a different pace and different needs. Take it slow, but KEEP GOING.
4. Be gentle with yourself.
And I mean both physically AND mentally.
5. Set reasonable goals.
Again, if you haven’t exercised in a while, don’t expect to be doing handstands in yoga in your first few classes. Find your OWN pace and listen to your body on how to increase your activity.
6. Watch what you say… to yourself.
It’s been hard to retrain my self-talk about my body and my ability to exercise, but stifling the critical voice and finding more encouraging things to loop in my rat-wheel brain has helped a great deal.
7. Get professional help BEFORE you get injured.
Don’t screw around because you can set yourself back. And obviously and importantly, if you have serious health issues, please check with your physician before leaping out into the world of exercise after not doing it for a while. I love my chiropractor (Dr. David Graber) and indulge in getting massages as often as possible (which sadly isn’t very often), both of which I believe help me as my body changes in this process.
8. Don’t compare yourself to ANYONE.
This is a hard one for some folks, but remember that your circumstances are probably different and you can’t compare your insides to their outsides. Think about that for a minute.
9. Don’t worry about looking good.
I damn near killed myself running up in Portland, Maine around the back bay. It was more public than I’m used to, so I unconsciously perked up and after one mile and thought I was going to have a heart attack. I checked my app to find out I ran three minutes faster than usual. Yea, that was ego and vanity.
The next time I ran in a public place, I was with with my gorgeous 22-year-old daughter. I really focused on pacing myself. We were on a track in a local park and had to keep running past a basketball court loaded with adorable dudes. The basketball court was around the corner AFTER a hill. Yup… my ego was humbled every freaking time, but I did my two miles and there was no coronary incident.
10. Be mindful of your eating.
I always try to do this (sometimes more successfully than others), but I do find that I have a tendency to want to eat more as I pick up my activity levels. But if you’ve been a cake-eating, carnivorous, soda-drinking, lasagna lover, it might be a good idea to read up on ways to offer your body better nutrition… especially if you are making greater demands on it. I’m not saying you need to diet necessarily, but fitness is more important than exercise in my humble opinion and if you’re going to all the trouble to sweat out there or whatever you are doing, your body will really appreciate the best possible food you can put in there.
11. Keep a sense of humor.
Some of us get a little intense about this stuff, but I find that for me, everything is easier when I try to lighten up. Plus, I swear laughter is indeed excellent medicine and let’s face it, there are some hilarious moments exercising. Right?
12. Find a workout buddy. I’m fortunate that I have a few workout buddies who are super encouraging and don’t try to compete with me or make me feel bad because I can’t do certain things… yet. It’s important to find someone who is positive and 100 percent supportive. No one needs to have a Negative Nelly at their side yammering away, especially if you have your own tendency for negative thoughts!
13. Get a fun app.
I have tried gyms and trainers and, at this point, I just can’t afford them. My daughter and husband have turned me on to a few apps that are excellent at tracking and encouraging progress. I use MapMyWalk, MayMyRun, Pacer, and Pedometer. They each have slightly different purposes, but I use them all. My husband, one daughter, and I started a group on Pacer, so we can have some friendly and fun competition on who has the most steps. Most of these apps are amiable on multiple platforms and there are certainly others. These are just the ones I happen to use.