When I was 17, I did my one and only sprint distance Triathlon. It was .5 mile swim, 13 mile bike, and 3 mile run. I didn’t train very seriously for it. In fact, my very first time running three miles was two days before the race. Thankfully, I at least had 8 years of competitive swimming under my belt. Even so, I considered myself fit enough to finish this race with some semblance of athleticism. I don’t know why they do this, but they write your age on your calf. I had a big fat “17” on mine as I flew out of the water, my strong point, about 40th out of 400 people. I got on the bike, and you know what happened? Three hundred people passed me.
Yup. As they were passing me, I could see those numbers on their calves. This fit 17 year-old, still feeling invincible would hear “great job! Keep it up!” as someone with a 42 on their calf would pass and “on your left!” as a 72 would pass. Are you joking?! A 72 year-old passed me?! In my misery on the bike, I was both humbled and inspired. I couldn’t wait to get a laugh out of my friends when I’d tell them about this but I also thought to myself for every higher number I would see “That’s gonna be ME when I’m that old.”
These older individuals seem to be regarded as an anomaly in our society. My hope is that more people recognize their ability to be just as fit. I’m here to let you know just how someone can become that fit 72 year-old.
1. Recognize the Compounding Effect of Exercise
I was recently asked how old my oldest clients are. They are in their early 80’s. The follow-up question was what could I do with them? Well, it varies.
With some of them, we move very slowly. I build in walking in between exercises for more movement, I need to be vigilant of the fall risk, if they are able – I have them get on and off the ground for exercises, and there are many modifications. While others in their 80’s tell me they’re ready for more weight, the exercise was too easy, they flow easily from exercise to exercise, and deadlift a 30lb kettlebell with ease.
How is there so much variability in the same demographic? My short and very generalized answer is that the people in the second group MOVED MORE. What was really apparent was that these clients had long-term habits of staying active. These are the people who picked up exercise decades before or in general had very active lifestyles. The more active you are when you are younger, the more likely you are to be active and fit well into old-age. I’ve written about habits in the past, and these clients prove just how powerfully those habits can compound and affect their lives long-term.
Cardiovascular exercise and strength training improve your odds of moving well by improving heart health, improving your bone density, maintaining or increasing muscle mass, and improving overall movement. The people who reap these benefits, are those that built habits of exercising on a regular basis. Habits have a snowball effect. Which do you think is going to snowball into a fitter lifestyle: 2 hours of TV per night or a 20 minute walk every night after dinner? You might be thinking 20 minutes isn’t that much, but done daily vs the alternative can have hugely positive outcomes.
2. Recognize Your Body’s Ability to Adapt at Any Age
If you’re sitting there now pining over how you didn’t do track in high school or thinking you’re screwed because you didn’t start going to the gym in your 40s – cut that out. That’s not productive.
Exercise is like investing in your savings. In 10 years, you’re gonna wish you started now – even if you start with a measly $20. Just like in investing, I wish I had started diligently saving when I got my first job 10 years ago. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to have a good investment/savings plan and it certainly isn’t going to help me to think “oh, what’s the point now! I won’t have as much as I would have!” Wherever you are in life just START.
The truly amazing thing about the human body is its ability to adapt to stressors. Hear me, and I mean really hear me when I say this: PROGRESS CAN BE MADE AT ANY AGE. The only difference between beginning a training program at 20 vs 80 is that progress will be slower at 80. You may have more limitations to work around but, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. With my clients that are in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, I still see progress on a regular basis. The key is consistency!
3. Let Go of the Fixed Mindset
If I had a dollar for every time someone pulled the “when you get to be my age….” on me I wouldn’t need to do anymore training sessions where people told me “when you get to be my age….”
I get it. Who’s this 20-something telling me I can improve? She doesn’t know what it’s like to be (insert various ages as young as 2 years older than me). I have so many clients from 30-80 years-old use age as the reason they can’t do something. Well, I’m calling bullshit on using your age as an excuse. Not because I think that it can’t be that hard being your “old” self, but because of how much you are limiting yourself with that belief.
My favorite example of the power of mindset and age is Dr. Ellen Langer’s 1979 study in which she had a group of 75-year-old men live a week as if it were 1959 and they were their 55-year-old selves. It was an elaborate study where participants could only bring books etc…from 1959 or before, had to wear an ID badge with a picture of their 55 year-old selves, and otherwise had to act and think as if they were 55. At the end of this week, participants saw improvement in strength, posture, eyesight, reaction time, and short-term memory. Just one week.
If you are sitting there thinking your time for fitness has passed – well then it has. But if you’re realizing that you are in control of these outcomes and realizing that you have the potential at any part of life to make drastic changes to your health and well-being – then you will. Your perception is arguably the most important piece of becoming that fit 72 year-old whizzing past the 17 year-old. Believing in your ability is the very first part.
My job has shown me over and over again how age is not some magic number that declares your ability like so many people take it to be. I wish my clients could see what I do. The clients who fight me with ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m too old’, ‘I’ve never been able to do that’, are the ones that take the longest to show progress. The clients that are with me on “team client” and believe they can – make progress at a much faster rate.
4. Now – Invest That $20!
Ready to crush some 17 year-old’s ego in the fitness realm? Recognize your small habits can have tremendous impact. Recognize that you can shape your fitness at any age and believe that you can! What will be your first $20 investment? How are you going to invest in your future fit-self?