When I turned forty, my friend Suzanne Schlosberg gave me a copy of her book, “Weight Lifting for Dummies,” and told me that from then on, exercise was like flossing my teeth. The most effective midlife exercise requires weight bearing exercise. I had to do it, she insisted, the margin of laziness that youth offers was over and I had to do weight-bearing exercise forever more. Suzanne rarely gives a strong life-altering opinion without a little help to go along with it, I love that about her.
And it’s true. Living a healthy life into and beyond midlife requires exercise to maintain lean body mass and bone strength. And exercise can be in some aspects like flossing your teeth. But unlike flossing, exercise can be part of a sport or a practice like yoga, activities that offer much more than the opportunity of physical health. Practice anything athletic for a long time and you begin to realize over the years that your sport or practice offers many life lessons that build emotional and spiritual muscle as well as physical strength.
This morning, as I was literally falling in and out of a yoga balance pose in class, I was thinking about the lessons the pain of pushing oneself can offer. In any athletic practice, learning when to push through pain and when to heed pain as a warning to stop is a continual process.
Sometimes being easy on myself is a form of avoidance. Sometimes it’s vitally important to nurture myself with ease. And knowing when to push and when to stop takes continual practice. Practice that never leads to “perfect”. Everyday and every situation bring a different self to the practice. It’s a challenge that I find intriguing, especially as I age.
Exercise in midlife brings with it old injuries and new weaknesses. Consistent practice enables me to navigate the new body I’m given everyday. A body built by yesterday that I live in today.
It’s been over ten years since Suzanne offered me her advice. Over the years I’ve weight trained and also done other types of weight bearing exercise. I think about her advice when I’m too busy to exercise and it often helps me get some perspective and get back to my practice. Sometimes I’ll just take out my jump rope and get in ten minutes. And the days I do that, I think about Suzanne and agree. Yes, exercise is just like flossing my teeth.