You know how your life can pass before your eyes in a minute? Last week, motivated by the warm weather and spring in my garden, I decided to do pruning and cleaning up.
There I was, at the top of an 8-foot hill in my backyard, clipping away, when I stepped on a green pine cone. It rolled and away I went, pitching forward, crashing through bushes, hitting a stone wall and landing in a dry bed of river rocks. I am 70 years old.
By all rights, I should have broken something. I didn’t. Granted, I did get cuts, bruises, a jammed shoulder and a black eye. But my years of strength training kicked in. Strong leg muscles helped break the fall; the hip I bounced on didn’t break; and though badly shaken, I stood up (albeit slowly!) and walked away.
Twenty-three years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A forward-thinking rheumatologist suggested I start an exercise program that included weight training in order to stay strong and limber. So I did. And through the years I continued working out, despite ongoing pain and stiffness, a knee replacement and recent shoulder surgery. Between arthritis, fibromyalgia and bulging cervical discs, I should be in a wheelchair, or, even worse, permanently bedridden.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want the sedentary 40- and 50-year-olds out there — especially those of you with chronic pain or illness — to start moving now! I want you to stave off osteoporosis, if possible. I want your muscles to support your joints. I know when you’re 40, you can hardly imagine getting old. But trust me, you will get there. As we age, bones lose mass. Osteoporosis is a silent killer and even 50-year-olds can suffer from it. According to the Surgeon General of the U.S., each year, 1.5 million people suffer fractures due to bone disease. The risk is greater in women. Right now, 10 million individuals over age 50 in the United States have osteoporosis of the hip. By 2020, one in two Americans over 50 is expected to have or risk osteoporosis of the hip and other skeletal sites.
Listen, I know it’s hard to start. I know it’s hard to stay with it. There are always so many reasons not to go — it’s raining, you have a headache, you haven’t done the wash, there’s dinner to cook, kids to help with homework, a birthday to shop for, it’s too hot, it’s freezing. I’ve thought of them all. But I keep reminding myself that I’m not doing this to be beautiful or thin. No unreasonable demands here! I’m doing this to save my life — my whole, fully lived life. And 23 years later, I did.
There are lots of gyms around, and they have trainers on staff. I work out with a friend and Jennifer Murray of Jenn-Fit, a trainer and rehab specialist in Grass Valley. There are groups for women only, dance programs, Zumba lessons, and, because it’s never too late to begin, there is the Silver Sneakers program at the South Yuba Club that is free for seniors over 65.
I have worked out with women with Parkinson’s and women with crippling scoliosis. I have lifted weights with women in their late 80s.
It’s not about how you look in spandex! It’s about how rich you want your one-and-only life to be. You have a choice here. You can turn over in bed and break your spine or you can travel to Europe and stroll the streets of Amsterdam. You can walk the trails at Zion National Park or you can end up in a wheelchair.
How do you start? Enlist a friend to keep each other honest and motivated. Schedule time and plug it into your calendar permanently. You don’t break that date for anything and you arrange everything around it, just as you would a dentist or doctor appointment. Practice saying: “I can’t meet you any Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 9 — that’s when I work out.” And soon it becomes as much a part of your life as brushing your teeth.
I am not saying you won’t get old or have aches and pains. I’m not saying it’s easy. But if I can change just one person’s destiny with this story, it will be worth it. I know what could have happened to me. And I know why it didn’t. I got old. But I didn’t get weak. I want you to meet me there.
Lynn Wenzel lives in Grass Valley.