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Fit After Fifty: You Really Are As Young As You Feel


If you’re over 50, chances are you’ve heard this one: “Hey, age is just a number, you’re only as old as you feel.” When this well-intended gem of generational condescendence comes from someone who is, say, 22, the meaning is sometimes clouded by the certainty that you could still take the little whipper-snapper to the cleaners on the nearest tennis court. Or, if you’ve stayed with your fitness program over the years, perhaps even in a local 10K race. For most, though, it’s more probable that the sting of these words comes from the realization that they are right, and that you are feeling each and every year you’ve logged, in ways they can’t imagine.

The entire notion of staying physically fit throughout what Stephen King once called “the back forty” is fraught with irony. Because these are the years when exercising and eating right is more challenging than ever, and for a lot of reasons, some of them valid, some of them completely contrived and therefore nothing more than an excuse. The older we are the less energy we seem to have, and therefore the less likely we are to hit the gym. Aches and pains, not to mention legitimate health issues, cloud the fitness proposition with compromise. And because we may have dropped the fitness ball years ago, the prospect of reaching the promised land of a lean and fit body seems out of reach, a prospect that just doesn’t pencil out in a cost-benefit analysis.

But there’s no hiding from the ironic truth. It’s a truth that will not only set you free, it can add both quality and years to your life, regardless of the starting number. It’s also a truth that flies in the face of just about every excuse on the table other than legitimate physical constraints that are due more to illness or circumstances than age. And the truth is this: exercise is every bit as effective and beneficial to the body of a 78-year old as it is for that insensitive 22-year old. No matter how old you are, you can add muscle tone and strength to with a sensible program of weight lifting, and stave off impending aches and pains in the process. You can strengthen your heart and arteries through a sensible program of aerobic exercise, either in a gym or on a walking path. And you can indulge in group activities and classes, and even compete against your peers in the sport of your choosing.

The only legitimate fitness compromise to those in the second half of their lives is one of capacity and risk. The advice to talk to your doctor about the right type and level of exercise for you is critically important, especially if you have health issues. But don’t be surprised if you’re told to go for it, that the only thing holding you back from a life full of energy and a body free of pain is not your age, but your preconceptions about what it means.

Age really is just a number. And disregarding it and living life to the fullest really is just a choice, one that’s yours to make without the deceptions of excuses or the expectations of others.


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