Fitness: My New Terms of Engagement

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  • I teach physical education. I advocate for fitness, being fit, leading a healthy lifestyle and enjoying those aspects of being alive.
  • I have a history of movement success from an early age up to now.
  • I have also lived in a body that has largely cooperated with whatever I wanted to do. No significant illnesses or incapacitating injuries. I’ve mostly been able to recover well after setbacks.
  • I have landed safely in middle age with few physical complaints and with the accrued social capital that derives from thinness and a visual indication of relative fitness (muscle definition, ongoing participation in various sporting activities).

Here’s what’s new: after 40, after 50 keeping that extra kilo or two at bay requires seemingly 1) more physical effort and 2) much more restraint in what and how I eat.

My last marathon is 13 years back. The last time I was in the habit of riding my bike to and from school 2-3 times a week over hill and dale is at least 8 years back. Running on a regular basis? 4 years back.

So I’m not doing as much as I used to but during the school year my work schedule means that I’m on my feet a lot, have occasion to work on my strength along with the kids and I feel strongly about being able to model capable movement. I enjoy throwing myself into a steady headstand (or making 4 attempts before I get there). It pleases me greatly that I can pull off a cartwheel without fear of injury.

But. Once that work day is done I want to sit down. I want to write and read and be as sedentary as my schedule will allow. I also now think a glass of wine or some pre-bedtime ice cream is not entirely undeserved. So I indulge.

And here’s what I do now instead of what I used to do:

  • I take myself for a walk/jog around the neighborhood. It’s fairly green and it doesn’t take long to get up some hills.
  • There is no rhythm to this. I go when I can and when I feel like it.
  • I do sprinting drills along the way (high knees, kick butts, soldier walk and several others). The last thing to go will be my flexibility, at least that’s what I’m banking on by keeping up this habit of drills. I’ve been doing them since I was 12!
  • If I decide to run some, I look for a nice incline – not too steep – and do a few strider runs. Not full out sprints but I do focus on good form: strong arm swing, high knees and quick cadence in my footfall. I love these when I do them. I remember who I am.
  • I walk backwards downhill (good for balance, takes pressure off the knees) and uphill (nice strengthening effect for quads).
  • Sometimes I do a few cycles of Sun Salutes at home which also make me feel flexible, capable, not entirely like gone-to-seed.
  • I like to hold the plank (push up plank, not elbow) for 2 minutes or a little more sometimes before I go to bed.

All in all, I’m not ready to give in to the march of middle aged, round the middle softness but I understand that it’s here anyway and how I come to terms to that will be instructional.

I have no desire to lead a fitness cult. To discover 1000 ways to beat the odds of aging. I do want to be able to continue teaching well and enjoy activity both at work and at home. Maybe I’ll choose to compete at sprints a couple of times per year. And I want to savor the time I get to sit and think and write and still stay healthy.

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On the Wave

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Image: ©Spelic

Truth #1: I bought a wave board on Wednesday.

Truth #2: My 8 year old was begging for one beginning on Sunday after trying it out (and succeeding by Monday) at his cousins’ place.

Truth #3: Although he can use it (already 10 times more successfully than I), I actually bought it for me.

Truth #4: After 4 days of practice I am much better than I was and OMG what a feeling to be on that board swaying and shifting for a few graceful seconds!

Here’s a short video intro to my new hobby.

Sure, I could leave out this information. No one really needs to know this about me. Yet, as I practice – that means I go out to the park and try, try, again, 15, 30, 56 different times to stay on a little bit longer, ride a little bit farther – I am having the time of my life.

I am working at a task. I am trying and missing and trying and getting it and trying and almost missing it but then getting it and oh my gosh, I made that turn! 30 some minutes of me-time with this funky wheeled contraption.

A wave board is unstable. In terms of body positioning and movement it may come close to snowboarding (minus the snow) and surfing (without the ocean) and to a lesser degree,  skateboarding (without the fixed board). And for some reason I decided to try it out last weekend when no one was looking.

My 10 year old niece and her 15 year old brother are expert wave boarders, whose finesse on the toy is breathtaking. My young son aspires to such fluidity and is in an awful hurry to reach it. While I don’t fit the profile of a typical wave board user, there are aspects about its construction and possibilities which make it surprisingly irresistible:

  • A little downhill momentum goes a long way and speed is easily broken by a minimal incline.
  • It’s easy to jump off and the board doesn’t go very far as its sides fall to the ground immediately.
  • Practicing doesn’t require a huge space, just a smooth and somewhat level asphalt area.
  • The board itself is not too big and relatively easy to store.

As a movement practice, this is a whole new world for me. I don’t ski, skateboard, or surf. But this, THIS sense of flow and groove when I’m up and riding and my upper body rolls along, relaxed and confident. When my feet find just the right balance and I can shift the weight on the back foot just so to move the board forward and I master the curve without falling off! THAT is what this is about!

I am a champion!

I am also sure that my fitness trainer and physical therapist friends could educate me on the remarkable benefits of this new occupation: The boost to my proprioceptive functioning and sense of balance, the healthy exercise of connective tissues in the ankles, feet and lower leg, and probably more. But this is not the point. Not this time.

This is about enjoyment and accomplishment and bravery and possibility. This is about challenging my own assumptions about what I can do, what I can try, where I can be successful and what I am willing to do to get there.

What does your “wave board story” look like?

Shifting the Baseline: Thoughts on Mature Fitness

The skates await.

The skates await.

When I was 30 I had some very firm ideas about what I wanted to accomplish as an athlete. I had target times I was shooting for, ideal racing distances, and a humane training regimen that left adequate space for family and work commitments.

By 36 the bulk of my athletic curiosity was satisfied. I had a fairly strong sense of what my body was capable of in light of the sacrifices I was willing to make or not make. I had accumulated sufficient medals, trophies and PRs to enjoy a sense of accomplishment that made stepping out of the heavy running scene feel like a natural step.

In my 40’s I aimed to “look the part without paying the full price” which is another way of saying, I maintained a baseline level of fitness without committing myself to any specific performance outcomes. The odd road races or other sporting events I entered were occasions to have fun and enjoy the scenery. Friends and acquaintances still asked about my running intentions during marathon season as I gently reminded them that I was fully out of that game.

Now, at 50, I have set my sights a little differently. Honestly, I am no longer interested in running a new marathon PR or seeing how I match up with masters in the 400m. Rather, I’m thinking longer term. What do I want to still be able to do at 65, 70, 75? And not just be able to do but enjoy doing and feel good doing?

Here’s my initial list:

  • Walk briskly for up to 2 hours on trails or hilly terrain.
  • Speedskate on ice for 1-2hrs.
  • Comfortably do 6-8 cycles of sun salutes and up to 1 hr of gentle yoga
  • bend at the waist and touch my toes.
  • Cycle on gently hilly terrain for 1-2 hrs.
  • Do some push ups
  • Do a wall walk and/or handstand against the wall
  • skip rope
  • skip, gallop, and grapevine
  • swim for 20-30 minutes

I say this now because these are movement capabilities I almost take for granted. While I have my little aches and pains here and there, I enjoy the benefit of tremendous health and well being. Given that context, aging doesn’t seem like such a big deal. On the other hand, I recognize how suddenly matters can shift: through injury, prolonged illness or significant life changes. When I look at my list, I see a need to remain ambitious and accepting; optimistic and also forgiving.

Being fast, faster or fastest feels out of place. Rather, the desire to be fluid, graceful, balanced, and at peace rushes to the foreground and sets the tone for whatever follows. This is how a new baseline fitness idea evolves. No longer mired in besting what was, my new baseline aims to bolster and extend what is. I don’t know if I intended to be a lifelong runner when I was racing in my 30’s. I think I’ve decided I won’t be. I think I’ll be a lifelong mover, shaker, and dancer instead. Sounds like more fun and less hassle. Which, at this age, also seems to make a lot more sense.

 

 

*I entered the title after writing the post (a pattern of composition, I dare say). Fitness and Aging seemed odd. Fitness and Getting Older, stranger still. 50 still feels too young to be writing about aging or getting older in most contexts, although we are all doing it at every age. So I opted for that wonderful middle age euphemism: “mature” to describe all things past the age of 50. If you have a better title idea, please let me know.

 

Mid-Life Fitness

  • Do something, anything.
  • Do it more than once in a while.
  • Stretch frequently.
  • Find opportunities to wiggle, hang, swing, jump.
  • If you like to be around people, go find some folks who are doing what you like to do and join them.
  • If you don’t like people so much, enjoy working on your own without an audience.
  • Go easy.
  • Even when you go hard, take it easy.
  • Pain means that something hurts. Stop and find out what it is. Deal with it sooner, not later.
  • Think injury prevention. Always. (Warm up well, wear safety gear as necessary, calculate risk reasonably)
  • Spend some time with kids between the ages of 3 and 10. Play something outside.
  • There are lots of ways to build strength. Free weights engage your system more thoroughly and naturally than machines. Using your own body weight provides other benefits.
  • Do things that you enjoy. There are no medals for longest endured drudgery.
  • Sleep more.
  • Pay no heed to the airbrushed images on the cover of fitness and health magazines – movement is for all of us and can take hundreds of forms and do plenty of good.
  • It’s not about the gear you’re sporting, the membership you’ve acquired, what your friends think.
  • Keep showing up even when you have your doubts, reservations and tight hamstrings.

Here’s where this list came from. Many of my adult years have been deeply involved with fitness in one form or another: Initially as a track coach, then as a teacher of physical education, as a competitive runner and more recently as recreational speed skater.  People who meet me often make assumptions about my take on all things fitness. They guess that I must be an especially healthy eater, that I run every day, and that I consistently push myself. All false assumptions and for years, in fact.

What is true is that I have a good sense of what my body is capable of. I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses and understand how these can change over time and also be shaped. Up until recently I didn’t have to worry much about diet or weight and through my work I have had consistent access to both the time and facilities to practice movement in multiple forms.

Having made it to mid-life in reasonably good shape I’ve taken the opportunity to re-evaluate what it means to be fit, how I want to live my fitness for the long haul, and what beliefs and behaviors I may need to adapt to this later phase and understanding. The list above presents a smattering of my current thinking about mid-life fitness. Above all, I’ve come to realize that the things that mattered to me at 30 and 35 do not hold as much currency any more. I’m not interested in monitoring or programming or comparing my physical activity in the same way. I want to either enjoy myself immensely or be clear that the reason I am NOT enjoying myself immensely while moving is a conscious choice to act on another, perhaps different priority.

Back in my competitive days, I was “in it to win it.” When I use the same phrase today, “winning” can mean a whole host of things: showing up, following through, experiencing pleasure, banishing guilt. Also as a full time teacher of physical education, the importance of modeling healthy movement attitudes and approaches remains top of mind. My students discover fairly early on that Ms. Spelic is still learning how to do things -how to juggle a soccer ball, for instance. To their eyes, it often appears that I can do about anything. At mid-life I am proud of some of the things I can do and am getting better at and I have a healthy respect for the skills and tasks which continue to dog me.
Traditional aspects of fitness – flexibility, strength, endurance – start from the heart and mind these days and feed my soul as well as my body. I want to remain flexible in my thinking, strong in my commitment to being all of me and enduring in my capacity to love when it feels hard to keep loving. There can be no technology to measure my progress in these domains. My mid-life fitness remains distinctly my own: independent, fierce, compassionate and present.

 

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The Skipping Post

image from flickr.com

image from flickr.com

Skip.
Skip.
Children skip.
See the children skip from place to place.
Who is skipping?
The children are skipping.
See how happy they are, the skipping children.
Skip, children, skip!

Where are the grown-ups?
They are sitting and watching.
They are sitting and watching their tiny screens while the children skip.
While the children skip, the grown-ups type and sometimes they wave.
The busy grown-ups wave to their happy, skipping children.
Do the grown-ups skip?
No. Not here, not now.

The grown-ups do not skip.
They run.
Grown-ups work out.
Grown-ups go to the gym and work out.

pixabay.com

pixabay.com

Grown-ups run and bike and lift and stretch.
See the grown-ups pay to sweat.
Sweat, grown-ups, sweat!

Here is a grown-up.
She is skipping!
She is skipping down the path.
Watch her smile as she skips.
She is skipping and smiling but I do not see her sweat.
Is this her workout?
Skip, grown-up, skip!

The grown-up says, “Come skip with me!”
“Try skipping,” she says,
“It’s easy, it’s fun!”
She smiles as she skips and I want to join.
Who will see me try to skip?
Who will hear me trying to skip?
I am afraid.
I may look silly.
I may look foolish. But
I want to skip.
I want to skip and smile and make a friend.

And so I try.
I try to skip.
I step, then hop. I step, then hop.
I am skipping. Skipping all the way.
I am smiling as I skip.
See me skip.
Hear me skip.
There I go skipping and smiling, stepping and hopping.
I am happy with my skip.
And my skip is happy with me.

This post is dedicated to anyone and everyone who has ever struggled to find the joy in physical exercise.

Try skipping and see if you can do it without cracking a smile. Watch children skip and gallop and dart. Watch their faces. What do they know that we have forgotten?
I dare, double dare you to skip for 100, 200, or even 800 meters and manage to keep a straight face. It’ll be tough but if you’re serious enough, I bet you can do it. You’re a grown-up after all, right?

Let me know how it turns out.