A while ago I wrote a blog post entitled “After 60, nothing is free.” Your kids don’t have to come see you any more, and your body will become unfriendly unless you take care of it. After 70, the stakes go up a notch. In the absence of a disease process, you have to do what athletes do and warm up every day, exercise enough to stay strong, and be proactive in maintaining equilibrium and proprioception (the sense of yourself in space). The greatest enemies are chronic pain from arthritis (or something else), loss of balance, and muscle weakness.
A sports doctor I visited for a shoulder problem said, “The question is not ‘Do I have arthritis,” because everybody has arthritis. The question is ‘Does your arthritis hurt?’” Getting circulation into the affected parts of your body, and strengthening and relaxing the supporting muscles can greatly reduce arthritis pain. Tai chi, dancing, and standing yoga balances can help maintain equilibrium, and prolonged activity, like a long walk, strengthens stamina.
Exercise: I play tennis when I am at Sea Ranch with its plentiful tennis courts and constant good weather, but am not always at Sea Ranch. I sprained my ankle and couldn’t walk, tore a rotator cuff muscle in my shoulder and couldn’t swim, and have needed to recuperate after an operation and didn’t exercise for four months. So many people call it quits when a daunting obstacle appears, saying old age has got them now. Don’t buy into that.
Purchase of a fitness gauge such as Withings watch or a Fitbit provides discipline: I set 8,000 steps a day as my goal and can no longer fool myself that I am “walking a lot” when I am not because the truth lies right there on my wrist. (My Withings watch does not record any activity when I am stationery, such as doing yoga, tai chi, or even aerobics which don’t require much movement other than, say, side to side steps). Articles recommend 10,000 steps a day, but that takes well over an hour and puts demands on your body that your body may not be ready for. Whatever can be accomplished every day (more or less) is what is right for you.
Establish one or two areas of expertise: It you are like me, pumping away in a gym on an exercise bike or a stepmaster is boring as hell. I can’t keep it up. If you take yoga classes, or follow the subscription service yogaglo.com online, you will find yourself constantly improving, which keeps it interesting. Being in live classes is even better because you develop a camaraderie with fellow practitioners, and you have a teacher with whom you can discuss problems. You can become an accomplished yogi at any level. Pay attention to what any decent instructor will tell you — practice within your own limits, keeping your judgments on the low side until you know what your body can do.
Tai chi is a set of flow, graceful movements done standing up. It is what people do in Chinese parks. If you have seen videos you will know that even very old people can do it. An everyday practice will warm up the body and provide balance exercise without making unduly harsh demands on the body. It can be taken to a very challenging level, but you can do all that is necessary without pushing yourself that far.
If my neck, shoulder, hip, or back hurt me there’s nothing better to relax the muscles and promote good alignment than a Feldenkrais class. Live classes and practitioners can be found through a Google search, and there are also online resources. I have purchased a dozen mp3s, focusing on different activities or parts of the body through feldenkraisresources.com, clicking on the “shop online” link at the bottom of the page. I’m impressed how much doing the Feldenkrais classes is helping my tennis game. Feldenkrais aims to retrain the body, replacing bad patterns with good until they become second nature. I have learned that movement is spread throughout the body. I am not hitting the tennis ball with my arm (which could injure my shoulder), but with my legs, shoulders, head, and torso as well.
Take the time to find recreational resources accessible to you. The local YMCA may have volleyball nights, or other activities which will be fun and challenging. Badminton is one of my favorites, though it is out of vogue these days and I haven’t found a place where I can play it. Nature walks or a hiking club might be offered near you. In Hoboken, there are kayaking and canoeing activities, and rowing and sailing clubs too. Adding a social dimension to whatever activity you choose will make it easier to sustain.
Find help: When my neck goes nuts, I have a great chiropractor. Leaving a neck out of whack will only make things worse. I have a great physical therapist for when something gets injured (I haven’t been for years, but I know he’s there). My alternative doctor has an alternative assessment of good health. It is worthwhile investigating some of the alternative practitioners near you, especially if regular allopathic medicine has not been able to help you. I follow the instructions of both kinds of doctor, and they do not conflict, though I must admit that more and more of my day is spent following instructions than before. That is inevitable if I want to stay well and fit.
Walt Clyde Frasier, the famed basketball player, said that when he was playing ball he was constantly getting injured, until he started doing yoga. After that he was never injured again. Refining the practice of yoga, tai chi, the Alexander Technique, or any other discipline that keeps you well aligned, well balanced and well oxygenated can be the difference between being 75 and looking 75, and the difference between being 75 and feeling 75.
After 70, it’s no longer a choice.Warm up every day by stretching, bearing weight, and breathing deeply, following whatever method appeals to you. We’ll all become feeble and weak at some point, but you have a say in when that happens, and how comfortably you pass your days before that point.