As a buff, hard-ass personal trainer back in my 30’s, I taught a 12 week lifestyle and weight management course called Alive and Well. Though effective and well put together, I look at it now and feel like having a nap just considering pumping through all the weight training and cardio training I prescribed. And although it is entirely possible to stay super fit through midlife and beyond, how we get there, and how long we take to arrive may change.
My inner critic tells me I’m just making excuses, that if I wasn’t so lazy, I’d work out hard every day like I used to. The thing is, it seems my body is in a state of flux. Some days my joints ache, and all I want to do is some restorative yoga, or as my daughter calls it, Nap-time Yoga. Some days, I am full of energy and thoroughly enjoy a vigorous workout, even a jog along the river, knowing that there is a chance my knees will feel tender the next day.
Our bodies change as we age, and so should our expectations on them. I understand some of the aches and fatigue are directly related to the changing hormones of late, and that in time, as I find ways to adjust diet and lifestyle, I will feel more ‘normal’ again.
Nonetheless, it takes time, changing expectations around adhering to the formula that worked so well until just a short time ago.
Along the way, I’ve been lucky enough to call friends, several 50 something, even 60 something women who live vibrantly with curiosity for new things and the energy to try them. Some of my keys are inspired by what I see in their lifestyles and life philosophies. Although I’m sure I will have to adjust again, I’ll share with you my 7 Keys to Wellness for Midlife as an alternative to your New Year Resolution.
- Realize that your Inner Critic is not really you – I start with this one, because just about everyone I know is so flippin’ hard on themselves. I’ve been reading a book, Embracing Your Inner Critic, and realized that the constant voice of criticism and correction was not my true self, but a part of my personality I created at some point to keep myself safe, make sure I would be liked and loved throughout life. I see it in everyone I know. So before you even read on, please don’t make this one more thing to beat yourself up about. I think if you do the following more often than you are now, that is fantastic! And once they are more or less habitual, if you drop away for a while, it is ok! Ok? I like the 80/20 rule. Do what you know to be best for you about 80% of the time, and don’t sweat the other 20%.
- Do resistance exercise like you mean it – It is true, that if you don’t use it, you will lose it, but in midlife, even if you use it, you could still lose it. Your muscles will atrophy unless you purposefully make them stronger. Do a full body, functional movement, strengthening routine 2-3 times a week. If weight training, for example, each set of weights should feel so hard you just can’t do anymore. By the last few reps, your face should go into involuntary contortions from the effort. Naturally, doing it safely with good form is priority number one. Do as many as you can with safe posture.
- Stretch – Maintaining range of motion, particularly through the hips is crucial to staying mobile. Do full body stretching, mindfully, slowly every day. One of my favourite yoga teachers, Darren Rhodes has a mantra, “To stretch without strain requires strength.” Sustain a degree of ‘connection’ or contraction while stretching. Drop into your breath, so the quality of your breath informs your movement.
- Try something new – Lack of curiosity killed the cat. It’s easy to stop trying new things as we get older. I think we become less curious. We know what works for us, and staying comfortable becomes more important than the stimulation and discomfort of new experience. But wholistic health involves exercising the mind, learning new things, experiencing a change in perspective. This keeps us young, and interested in life. And interesting to be around.
- Make small, consistent adjustments to your diet – I have made a few changes in the last year that have made a considerable difference in my energy level, state of mind, and appearance. Please note that I didn’t do these all at once. It takes time to establish sustainable life change. a). Stay away from sugar – white sugar and other processed foods are not food at all. They require so much of your body while damaging and aging it. At the same time, enjoyment of life is part of being healthy, so if you occasionally have the opportunity to share a creme brûlée with a friend, I hope you do. Also, flourless chocolate cake and a glass of Merlot. Do that for sure. b). Take omega-3’s – I won’t get all sciency here. Basically, you need them to keep your cells plump, happy, and doing their job properly. The easiest method is to drizzle some flax oil onto whatever you are eating for lunch and supper. You can also soak chia seeds overnight, and add them to your yogurt the next morning. c). Minimize wheat in your diet – I am not a gluten denier by any means. Minimizing starches from grains has helped me feel less sluggish and bloated, however. When I do eat bread, I choose organic bread that has been leavened with a real sour dough starter. This makes the bread easier to digest d). Minimize caffeine – I love coffee way too much to stop all together. I have compromised by using a single cup, ceramic, drip filter instead of a french press with some true cinnamon and a pinch of pink salt. (True cinnamon for its anti-inflammatory effects, salt for electrolyte balance). e). Support your diet – I, personally, take supplements: spirulina, super greens, tulsi, and so on. I start my day with a whole lemon’s worth of juice with a spirulina and greens powder plus tulsi powder. This feels good for me. As we age, our GI does not absorb nutrients as effectively as when we were younger, so we have to do what we can to support it. Avoid foods that cause inflammation, consume nutrient dense, easy to digest foods. f). Make lunch your main meal – A big dinner stays with you when you go to bed, disrupting deep sleep. I feel a little sheepish admitting this, but it has been a good weight management strategy to eat a light dinner or no dinner at all if I’ve had a big midday meal. The general guidelines for healthy eating still apply as we age: I like Michael Pollan’s 7 rules for eating, because they consider the effect of food on your body, the environment, and our community. I am lucky enough to be able to ride my bike to Dan the farmer’s Saturday market where I buy chicken and eggs that he has raised. Thanks Dan!
- Love your body today- What comments come to mind when you imagine yourself looking into a full length mirror? Next time, smile at your inner critic, don’t banish her, but recognize him for who he is. Then, look at yourself as you might look upon someone you love very much. Speak to yourself as you might this loved one. See? You would never be so mean to your beloved. You will never be as young as you are now.
- Forgive – …Your mother, your father, your ex-husband, ex-wife, yourself. I think we often confuse forgiveness for reconciliation. Some things, you just can’t reconcile. You can’t reconcile the behaviour of a spouse who cheated on you, while lying about it for years. But you can forgive them. You can’t logic your way into forgiveness. Forgiveness is visceral, from your heart. Exhale your ideas around what you think is fare and unfair, right and wrong. Take a moment to go deep within your thoughts and feelings. you will find a still point of not knowing, happiness, contentment. I think forgiveness comes from this place of universal stillness, this place of not having to know.
I will tell you, I am not successful with these seven keys all the time. But they are part of my journey to aging gracefully while staying happy, healthy and strong. I am the first to admit, I do what I can that does not involve a scalpel to remain youthful looking. But really, if you eat poorly, don’t exercise, and your attitude sucks, no amount of microderm abrasion will give you the glow of health and wellness.
At the last Gabriola Island Yoga Retreat, my friend Ivana turned 60 years old. I’m sure she hears all the time, “You look great for your age!” Why not simply, “You look great!” And what standard are we holding each other to, anyway? If you stay healthy and fit, eat well, laugh a lot, remain interested in life, you will look ‘great for your age’, while charging forward, blazing the trail for those who follow. Let’s embrace our stature as nimble, gorgeous crones, arms akimbo, feet firmly planted, golden and shimmering, as we reflect back the sunlight of those young pretty things who look to us as role models.
I wish you the best life on this planet has to offer in 2017!