How to Get Older Without Aging
My mom, Nan, is a regular at Ripple Effect. In these pandemic days, you’ll find her lifting weights at Outdoor Barbell Club, working out from home on our Zoom classes, and texting me her favorite healthy recipes she’s going to feed us at our next backyard meal together.
Nan is in her early 60s. But you wouldn’t know it, watching her in the gym. She does it all! Full depth squats, burpees, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, box jumps, and jumping rope. One of her proudest moments at the gym is deadlifting 200lbs for the first time. She might be getting older, but because of her healthy habits with moving and eating well, she seems to age half as fast as anyone else!
Contrast that with Nan’s mom, my grandma Eunice. By the time Eunice was in the early 60s, she had already had her first total hip replacement, and was well on her way to more major joint issues. Grandma Eunice is almost 90 now, and mentally she’s doing great. Physically, her body hasn’t been able to keep up for a long time, due to lack of use. A cane or walker has been a constant companion for most of the last 20 years. I love my Grandma, and I know exercise wasn’t really a “thing” for many in her generation. I wish I could have done more to help her earlier. To be fair I was probably not ready to be her fitness coach when I was 2. But I also think inertia, fear, and lack of knowledge played a big role too. Some people just didn’t know any better. Now, we do.
I imagine the next 20+ years of Nan’s life, compared to her mom’s. Nan is running around with her grandson, gardening, lifting weights, walking all the time, and doing everything she can to keep herself moving. She’s a serious inspiration for me and anyone who knows her. I don’t see her slowing down anytime soon. She is strong, has great balance, and healthy movement habits for the long haul. It’s taken hard work, but it’s worth it.
Why do aging adults end up in assisted-living facilities? It comes down to not being able to get up off of the toilet. It may sound crass, but it’s a very real thing.
More broadly, the reason aging adults go to assisted-living facilities is that they’ve lost their ability to be physically independent. As adults age, basic movement becomes much more difficult. People retire, they are less active, and they have fewer reasons to get up and out of the house. So they sit all day, and their muscles atrophy.
That’s why it’s so important need to stay active as we age. We need to find or stick to an exercise routine to preserve our independence for as long as possible—not just for our own sakes, but also so our children won’t have to take care of us (or pay someone else to).
The exercise needs of the aging population vary by degree, not kind. What is standing up from the toilet? An air squat. What happens when someone falls and gets back up? A burpee. How do groceries get unloaded from the car? With a farmers carry.
Aging adult athletes may not be breaking gym records, but they can certainly perform modified versions of everything the rest of the class is doing—and a good coach will know how to guide them. Intensity is relative for every athlete in the gym, while range of motion and movement goals stay the same. Nan keeps up with the young guns just fine!
Strength training is also critical for aging adults because it helps prevent and reverse osteoporosis (brittle bones). Even minor slips and falls often result in broken bones in aging men and women with low bone density. Lifting heavy objects increases that bone density and reduces risk of injury. I know that if Nan falls down alone, she’ll have no problem getting back up, and she’ll be at very low risk for broken bones or serious injury.
At Ripple Effect, we have several 60-plus-year-old athletes, and they do great in classes. Others choose to start with private sessions. The point is that they get or remain active. We find ways to make movement fun, and doable for anyone. We’re with you for the long haul, no matter how far into your journey you already are.
Our bodies are built to move!