My desire to become fit was not always my top priority. Over the past ten to fifteen years, I tried different ways of being active, some more successful than others.
There was the time I tried running. I managed that for three years before my knees finally protested. Then I rowed for three years, and I loved it. Alas, my work schedule got in the way, and I had to give it up.
So I took up walking with my friend, and felt happy with a thrice weekly trek to the pond. Then I had what my good friend L. calls the “come to Jesus” meeting with my doctor. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was coasting, trying to ignore a triple threat with my family history, and she didn’t mean dancing, singing, and acting my way out of poor health in my old age.
If I wanted to live longer (and in both sides of my family, longevity is an Olympic-level sport) and also live well, she said, I had to do something about my activity level. So I did what I always do when faced with a challenge: I did some research, took some time to think about what I wanted, found a trainer, and got cracking.
What I wanted was functional fitness. For those who may not be familiar with the term functional fitness, here is a handy definition from the Mayo Clinic:
Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/functional-fitness/art-20047680)
My genetic inheritance offered heart disease on one hand and diabetes on the other. For years, I had watched my salt intake, ate red meats infrequently, lived smoke free, and tried to live a moderately healthy lifestyle. But I couldn’t be a passively active person any more. My reality meant I had to something more and to do it now. Functional fitness was my golden ticket and I wanted on that train.
So my trainer built a plan for me. There were days when I thought stuff would stay on the floor until child or partner came home to retrieve it for me after a particularly grueling workout. There were other days when I would think about the latest new challenge at the gym – pull that sled? Lift that weight? Jump how many jacks? – and wonder how I would do it. But I did, and slowly, slowly, things got better.
Almost two years in, I feel the difference every day. Walking up the stairs is no longer a chore. When I got a half cord of wood last winter, stacking it was a breeze. Doing the laundry, loading the dishwasher, shoveling snow, even heaving the turkey out of the oven causes no stress or worry about my back.
The best evidence: This spring, I nearly missed a flight and had to repeat the same kind of mad dash that got me started on this path to fitness. By the time I got to the airport gate, I was out of breath, but I had hardly broken a sweat and I was fully recovered when the time came to board, about ten minutes later. (That experience alone made me look differently at the conditioning sets my trainer programmed for me!)
Over the past two years, I have come to see functional fitness as a feminist issue. Fitness is often sold to women as a way to meet a certain body image goal (read weight loss). It took me a long time to learn this was not a realistic goal for me; regardless of how long or how often I worked out, I would never be a size 6.
The fact is strength and stamina matter for women. We are at higher risk for diminished bone density, we tend to live longer than men, and we are more likely to live alone. Menopause-induced dizziness can also affect our balance leaving us at risk for falls. Women also have fewer financial resources due to smaller or perhaps non-existent pensions, leaving them unable to acquire all the home help they may need.
What I achieve when I focus on making sure my body works well is in someways immeasurable. I feel stronger, more energetic, and more positive about all the things I can do, including taking on whatever post-55 will bring.
Martha is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s. Her new BFFs are the squat, the bench and the deadlift.