The Dark Side of Aging Gracefully (Part II)

Last fall, I was in Charlotte visiting my long-time friend Cam. During the course of the visit, we laughed and joked about the various effects of aging we were sadly enduring. We both agreed that laughter is the best way to cope with these rather disparaging changes. Cam’s funniest comment, however, was an afterthought amidst a deluge of self-deprecation. “Oh yeah, I forgot to bring up my lovely teeth and how brown they’re getting.” And I responded, “Oh yes, how could we have forgotten that one?” Then she continued, “I got some of those Crest whitening strips last year but haven’t used them because I can’t see the damn package without my reading glasses that I can never find because I can’t remember anything.”

I laughed hysterically. So far, farsightedness hasn’t plagued me, but I know it’s only a matter of time. And though we can buy (and use!) whitening strips and reading glasses (too bad we can’t fix that memory problem), these life changes aren’t ones we can reverse. Unlike body parts that flatten out over the years. So that reminds me where I left off in my last blog post: #1 Our muscles grow more short and tight. I won’t re-hash what I discussed last time. It’s just a friendly reminder before moving to point #2. #2 Balance decreases with age. This is very bad news for someone like me, who wasn’t exactly born with a lot of balance in the first place. After I literally ran into some bleachers on a casual jog one day in graduate school, which necessitated a number of stitches, my peers never ceased to ridicule my klutziness. These days, I hunt down barbed wire fences up to fall beneath, so so I can spend more time and money in the doctor’s office. When I take yoga and Pilates classes, I am downright embarrassed by the balance poses I fail to hold no matter how hard I try (I am teetering and falling while everyone else stands there looking so elegant and proud). Aside from looking silly in exercise classes, those scars all over my legs are a reminder that a lack of balance can result in unforeseen accidents. Improving the range of motion of your joints through muscle stretching and strengthening (see below) can improve the situation. So can continued discipline at those balance exercises in various, assorted classes. My instructors tell me that muscles have memory, and if you keep working on those poses where you stand on one foot (and the ones where you stand on a foam roller that I despise), over time your balance starts to improve. #3 (And if that isn’t enough) we lose muscle mass, too. Even as early as age 30, muscles start to decrease in size and shape. It’s not our eyes (which are going bad) imagining things, there’s actually a scientific reason we’re getting more flabby each day. It’s sad, but true. If we don’t build back the muscle mass we’re losing, it will turn to fat. The good news is that that muscle strengthening exercises can do just that! There are so many benefits of muscle strengthening, there are no excuses not to be doing it. We’ll look better, feel better, speed up our metabolism (to control our weight), reduce the risk of injury (by improving our balance and protecting our joints) and sleep better, too.

There are a number of ways we can integrate strength training into our day, including body-weight, machine-weight and free-weight exercises. Again, I provide more detail in my book, but this should be enough to wake you up and get you moving. If you don’t know how to lift weights properly, ask someone at your gym. No matter how goofy you might feel, it’s better than causing an injury you were there to prevent in the first place. All joking about wrinkles, darkening teeth and poor eyesight aside, we can do something about flexibility, balance and muscle mass. So get out there and pump some iron! Take it from the Stitch Queen, it might save you some broken bones. P.S. And happy birthday Cam!

Melinda Hinson