In my first article about aging gracefully, I talked about watching my mother age, and how my sister and I have had to step in to be her protectors. I also mentioned that as we watch our parents age, we are sort of seeing our own futures as well. The song of the young that we sang and that we hear from young people so often these days is that aging will never happen to us. We will somehow, magically, be able to prevent it. We will continue to be fit and young-looking. We won’t have aches and pains. I found myself singing that same refrain as well. My mother can barely walk, and her thinking is fuzzy. For several years I have tried working on the thinking part. I love crossword puzzles, Sudoku, scrabble, I read fiction, economics, history, scripture, psychology, and I’m in school full time. I am constantly learning. I downloaded an app called Lumosity, which has exercises that are supposed to keep us sharp. I hope these steps are working to keep my mind sharp, although sometimes when I forget too often why I entered a room, I wonder how bad off I’d be if I didn’t do any of those things.
However, there is one thing I kept saying I was going to do that I never managed to do. I think that what I didn’t do is something we all struggle with. The doctors have told my mother that her legs stopped working because she didn’t use them. So I told myself for years that that wouldn’t happen to me. I would do yoga, exercise and stay active. But I was not doing those things. They were on my “someday” list. I’ll do that when I need to, when I get older, when I have time. But time flies by too fast. Suddenly I realized that that day would never come unless I just got started. I reminded myself that I always had plenty of time to keep up with my television programs, and if I had time for that, then I certainly had the time to put some music on and dance. So, that’s what I did. One day I just turned the channel to a music station playing 60s music, I set my timer for 20 minutes, and I moved until the timer went off. Easy and fun. I am now up to 40 minutes per day. I learned a lot from this. Here are some of the things I learned.
- Know thyself. For some of us, we have to keep it simple. I bought all kinds of workout clothes. I had a free membership at a health club that I never used. That health club was literally 10 steps from my office and I still didn’t go. The idea of having to prepare to go work out by having to carry around a workout bag with changes of clothing was not appealing to me. In my mind, it made working out more complicated than I wanted it to be.
- The weather doesn’t have to be a factor. I love to walk, and when the weather is fine I do walk in the park. I look forward to doing it again when the weather cools off. But when we work out in our own home the weather doesn’t matter.
- We can wear whatever we want. When we work out at home, our clothing doesn’t matter. If someone would have looked in my window on certain days, they would have seen someone in sheep pajamas jumping up and down and dancing. I work out in what I am wearing – I’ve worked out in jeans, in work clothes and in my pajamas. I’ve done it barefoot, in my socks and with my tennis shoes on. Not having to change clothes has really simplified my preparations.
- Know-how and fancy footwork are not necessary. I love music, so I usually move when I hear it. I have a step I use, and I just step from side to side or I step up and step down to the beat of the music. The song changes, the beat changes, and my steps change. I’ve made things up as I’ve progressed. Nothing fancy.
- Movement is contagious. Now that I exercise regularly, I find that my body wants to be in motion all of the time. If I’m standing still talking, I will do a little march or move my arms. When walking down the hall at work I move my arms. All movement is good for us.
- Music is optional. I happen to love music, but I’ve also danced and done my step aerobics during programs I didn’t want to miss. Exercising to news shows is interesting.
- Just do it. If we focus on past mistakes or the fact that it will take a long time to see any results, we will never get around to working out. We think the same way about exercise as we do about food: “if I’d have started a long time ago I’d be fit, but I didn’t, so I’m not fit and working out today, or dieting just for today, won’t do any good, so why bother.” So instead of thinking of any long-term or short-term expectations, I just decided to start doing something that I know I can keep up with. Just one thing. The other things, like eating healthy, will follow suit in due time.
- There is always an excuse to skip a day. I’ve had a fresh set of excuses every day. I’ve been too tired. I’ve not felt well. I’ve let time go by and it got late. I’ve said one day won’t hurt. I’ve said I just don’t feel like it. But I got up and did it anyway. I have not missed a day in 10 weeks.
- We don’t have to do everything at once. Often I didn’t make healthy decisions because I knew that they wouldn’t last, or that it wouldn’t make that much if an impact. But by doing these exercises every day, that is the one decision I have been able to stick with. I still fall off of the wagon with food, but one failure doesn’t have to have a domino effect on everything else. Dancing gives me one small success each day. And those small victories add up to build confidence and poise.
- Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect to start making positive changes. Don’t wait until you look good in your exercise clothes; don’t wait until you buy that treadmill you think you want; don’t wait until you have transformed your home into a fitness center; don’t wait until you have spare time (because you never will); don’t wait until you aren’t tired; DO go ahead and work out even after you have pigged out. The ideal time to start is now, no matter what is or isn’t going on.
- One day you will wake up and you will realize that you have a lot of energy. I found myself bouncing when I was walking a few days ago. I am more eager to complete projects in school and in my internships. I’m excited about the future because I feel as though I have what it takes to make things happen.
- Depression and dancing do not coexist very well. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and sometimes it comes upon me for no reason. Sometimes I have reasons to be depressed or upset. I find that I am handling those things much better and with a clearer mind now that I have been dancing every day. I feel physically and mentally stronger. I tend to take things more in stride. I notice that I laugh and enjoy life more. I feel as though I am living more.
Every day is “someday,” so why not start today to work on having a healthier lifestyle? One small decision can turn into a major life change. One small success creates confidence for future successes. Now that I am accomplishing this one small, fun thing every day, I feel as though I can do just about anything. So, no matter what your goal is, whether it is to live a healthy lifestyle, to learn how to play a musical instrument, to learn a new language, or to start a small business – just take one small step, stick with it, and see where it leads.