BEFORE I turned 50, I thought old age meant sitting in a rocking chair and sipping peppermint tea. It turns out the older you get, the more you have to move. Movement and exercise are often the best ways to manage aches, pains and stiffness.
I learned this when I turned 55 and had to deal with a knee cap that kept slipping out of place. Talk about agony. The doctor said this happened because I didn’t bend my knee properly after some injury so I lost the use of the ligaments that keep the kneecap in place. It took about two years of swimming and strength training to solve that problem.
About eight months ago I noticed numbness and pain radiating down the front and inside of my left leg. I suspected a hip problem. Imagine my shock when the doctor told me I had deteriorating discs in my back due to scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.
The pain and numbness kept me from ever having a good night’s sleep and made concentration difficult during the day. Strangely enough, I never suspected a back problem because my back never hurt.
But, as my late, great strength trainer Colin Seabright always said, “Pain never comes from where you think it is coming from.”
Once again, the doctor said swimming, some physical therapy, stretching and light weight training would solve the problem.
It turns out I had been suffering needlessly for about eight months. I envisioned hip replacement surgery, not being able to walk by the time I turned 70 this September, and not being able to play spitty ball with my blind dog Hart, so I procrastinated about seeing the doctor. I was depressed. Pain often tends to send you in a downward spiral emotionally. The lack of sleep doesn’t help either.
That first swim made me feel like the tinman in the Wizard of Oz. My goal is to feel more like the Scarecrow made of straw. After four sessions of swimming, I went to an excellent strength trainer to manage this latest physical rehabilitation. I’m in the stretching phase, and truthfully, it’s hard. My leg goes numb. I feel stiff, but I persevere, and then I feel better.
For the first time in eight months, I can feel my leg again. My mood has picked up and once again I feel hopeful.
The purpose of writing this is to remind you that as we age, we need to be mindful of moving and exercising more. When I had that knee problem, the first thing Colin told me is that we should never sit for more than 15 minutes at a time. Actually, studies now show that stretching and exercise breaks for five to ten minutes provide benefits like better blood flow, less stiffness and less anxiety.
Remember those David Rudder concerts where he always said, “Your chairs are your enemies?” Well, it’s true.
It was especially hard for me to leave my chair with this back problem because sitting was the only time I didn’t have pain. I knew that 20 minutes of walking elminated about 50 per cent of my pain, but those 20 minutes of walking felt like agony.
Once again, I am filled with hope. I’m not going to give in to pain. I’m going to do the work to regain my strength, much of which I lost after having atypical pneumonia, covid19 and then cataract surgery where exercise has to be curtailed for about six weeks.
The lesson here is that when it comes to health issues, procrastinating never pays off. Any suspicious or intense pain should be checked out by your doctor promptly, and he or she should approve of any exercise plan – if it will work for your situation. I’m certainly not saying exercising cures every medical problem.
If you’re growing older and lucky enough not to have any major aches and pains yet, it’s important to exercise to prevent that pain. Again, work out a plan with your doctor. Exercise is also the biggest contributor to an elevated mood. There is something to be said for those endorphins you get from exercising.
It appears I’m on the mend once again. Just before I sat down to write this, I played a game of spitty ball with Hart and thought, “There’s nothing like the feeling of strength.”
Remember, you don’t have to sacrifice strength because you’re growing older.