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Every day more information appears about physical fitness, mostly geared toward young people. We hear from doctors that it’s important to exercise so much a day this way and that, in order to maintain weight or health or something. But what is fitness for retirees all about?
Physical fitness for us
Just as there is no one way to be retired, there is no one way to be fit for retirement. You have to figure out what your most strenuous activity is and see if you can do it and not feel like you’re taking chances at it.
My husband had been doing all the yard work while I worked. Seriously, he would monopolize it during the workday and I had no shot at it. Likewise, he took over floors inside. So I, the spoiled creature, came home to trimmed lawn and clean floors.
When I retired I asked to be let into some of these chores. Partly it was because I needed activity, but also my husband was having trouble with doing it all. He went to the doctor and I took over the push mowing.
How that went
During the summer, he rode the tractor and ran the trimmer, and I ran the push mower. It gives you help if you push on the handle just so to activate the power to the wheels.
Our last mowing came in late September. We decided to reduce some of the cutting because it wasn’t growing fast in some places, and just did a minimal cut around the house. As a result, I came to a very difficult area without much of a warmup.
As I struggled to turn the mower around for another pass on this slope, fighting a steep grade in two directions at once, and trying to get the mower to help, I began to feel weird, like there wasn’t enough air in the world. I made the turn, got the mower situated for a stop, and sat down for about ten minutes. After that, I got off the hill, mowed a less hilly place, and then finished with no further problem.
Well, that tells me I’m not quite fit. That is the most extreme regular work I do, and I couldn’t do it that day. Okay, I should have warmed up more, and that’s fixable. But feeling that way is something I don’t like.
So to me it makes sense that being fit is being able to navigate that hilly part with the mower and not feel like there’s no air. If I can do that, I should be able to carry loads up the stairs, do a comprehensive cleaning of all floors, or carry my spinning wheel to a spinning party with no struggle. Those are my huffs and puffs.
By my own definition, I’m not fit. I don’t function as a fit person.
So if you want to know whether you’re fit, pick out the hardest thing you have on your to-do list and figure out whether you can do it. If your hardest thing is a half-marathon, then bless you, you’re probably working towards one.
But if you’re like an older friend of mine, and you’ve had a heart attack, work with your doctor and cardiac rehab people if you have them, and edit your activities as you need to.
Physical fitness is learned
Your body needs a certain amount of exercise for systems to run correctly. To be able to do your hardest jobs it has to work up to being strong enough and good enough at getting oxygen in. That’s what your body may have to learn or relearn.
Back when we were kids, we ran around, went swimming, climbed stuff, dug big holes, or rode bikes a lot. We were in motion most of the time. Then some of us discovered reading was an easier way to forget the pain of braces on the teeth or whatever, and became desk jockeys. And our bodies gradually let go of the skills they had at burning fat, getting oxygen in, and doing stuff without getting hurt.
To fix the problem, we learn from experts that aerobics (AKA cardio) will help with the oxygen part, weight or strength training will help with muscles and flexibility will help us not strain things and end up injured.
Three, two, one
Three cardio, two strength, and one flexibility session per week is one scheme the fitness gurus offer. Others say cardio five days a week for 30 minutes, and add the other stuff on top of that.
If the point of this is to feel better, and not get hurt, I’d say it would be best to start slow and work upwards, whatever scheme you try.
Years ago we bought a semirecumbent exercise bike. I tried riding it for 10 minutes a day at a moderate load setting–and screwed up my knees so bad I could barely get in and out of my car. Which was a big part of every work day, several times a day.
So to avoid repeating that scenario, this time I started with minimal load at five minutes a day. After a few days I eased up a minute and so on. This isn’t the fast track to the difficult hill mowing, but the safer one for me. I’m also parking farther away from shops and doing the stairs more, because I can get more exercise that way without it feeling intrusive.
Because winter is coming, I will be running the snowblower and shoveling a bit too. I need to work my arms more with weights or body weight exercise to build them up. And maybe start trying to plank for core strength. That’s a classic. Helps with avoiding too much back pain from strained muscles.
Options for physical fitness
Of course, my startup is all home-grown, as you saw. Country folk drive too much, it’s true, so we need to build more into our lives than city folk.
This time of year isn’t good for walking here, so I’m using other means. But if you have some money to spend, you can get into a gym and even get a trainer, as one of my friends did.
Or check around for exercise opportunities in the paper. In ours, you can find water aerobics, yoga, dance, tai chi, and cardio workouts. They are mostly low-priced because most people here don’t have loads of cash. In bigger towns you may check on what organizations like the YMCA or YWCA offer. I joined one and swam during lunch hours back in the South. It was very nice.
Sure beats slipping and sliding on muddy and icy roads as you walk.
And if you’re into building your own exercise routines, Pinterest is full of ideas for you to try. Everything from jumping jacks and squats to planks to tai chi routines appear there. YouTube will show you how.
Motivation or self-discipline
Just a note for dedicated couch spuds like me: motivation is nice, but if you don’t stay motivated long (like me), then you need self-discipline. Why?
Motivation is feeling and feelings change all the time. So your motivation will come and go. When I have depression there is NO motivation at all, yet I worked my way out of them without it.
Self-discipline is a learned skill you apply when something is important. Like not getting heart attacks important. That’s what puts me on that exercise bike. Not usually motivation, and not habit. It’s just a thing I need to do, and increase doing slowly, to not get sick and lose function.
So if you motivate, fantastic, but also work on flexing the self-discipline muscle so a dip in motivation doesn’t derail your quest for physical fitness for your life.