Let me tell you what aging is like, before I forget

January 02, 2007|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

For a pre-Title IX girl, I have a pretty lengthy exercise resume.

There were no soccer teams for little girls when I was growing up; no sports teams for girls in high school. And the women who played a sport when I was in college had to get permission from their "dorm mother" to travel to an away game. They also had to pay for their own equipment and physicals.

But I have tapped into every exercise trend since racquetball, including indoor tennis, running 10K races, Step aerobics, spin classes, walking, circuit training and Pilates.

I have purchased mats, weights, bands, hoops, special shoes and special clothes. My husband bought me workout clothes for Christmas 2005, and my son bought me an exercise heart-rate monitor this Christmas.

Whatever it is we are doing, it is not enough.

Jane Brody, who is just a little older than I am and works for The New York Times, wrote recently that it isn't enough. That exercising for weight control, muscular strength and cardiovascular health isn't enough. She reports that we have to start exercising to improve our posture, flexibility and balance.

In other words, for women (and men) my age, it is no longer about abs, it is about hip fractures. We need to be doing the kinds of exercises that will keep us from not just falling apart, but from falling down.

Great. Suddenly, a torn ACL sounds sexy. Especially when you compare it to the "fragility fractures" Brody discusses. The ones you get tripping over the cat or the last step. The ones that begin the slow decline to death.

I have always thought of my exercise routine as commendable. Now it seems merely self-preservation. I like to think of my sweaty self as vibrant. Now I am simply holding off crippling clumsiness.

As if this were not demoralizing enough, new findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that we can exercise our brains, and that mental calisthenics may improve our ability, later in life, to balance a checkbook or follow instructions on a medicine bottle.

So now we have to add a crossword puzzle a day to our 60-minute (30 minutes isn't enough) workout. We're all going to be doing Sudoku puzzles or playing Concentration in a desperate attempt to hold onto, not our size 12 jeans, but our ability to find our way to the supermarket and back again.

It is all connected, I think. I can't even run a 5K anymore, and I can't remember to return phone calls. I used to think it was because my life was so crazy, but the kids are mostly gone and their activities have ceased and I have much, much less to keep track of but am doing a less good job of it.

My husband thinks I don't remember where he is when he leaves town for work because I am resentful, but it might just be that my brain has the same stiffness that my left knee does.

I have blamed my short attention span -- I can't hold a thought for longer than the blink of an eye -- on the fact that my cell phone keeps ringing, but it may be that my brain has no more capacity than my lungs do.

I used to think I enjoyed watching Law & Order every night, but it may be that my brain doesn't have any more range of interest than my right shoulder has range of motion.

It is good to know that I can do something about it -- like brain teasers or word games -- but it all seems like maintenance to me and there is nothing virtuous, or even fun, about holding onto the status quo with a desperate, not to mention arthritic, grip.

It could be that we were not meant to live this long. Scientists say our life expectancy has almost doubled in the last century. In the old days, humans didn't live long enough to become unsteady on their feet or start forgetting things.

The only advantage I can see to living longer is that we probably won't remember what it was like to be in shape.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.