Fitness: My New Terms of Engagement


  • 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.



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.