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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

The Aches and Ouches of Older-ness

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I remember the first time a routine bodily motion created a sudden, alarming burst of pain. That moment was when I realized my era of youthful invincibility was ending.

When you're young and something starts hurting your first thought is, "Gee, when's that going to get better?" When you're old and something hurts you think, "Oh great, when is that going to get worse?"

My moment of "Ouch -- what just happened?" occurred one morning when my daughter was in middle school and we were waiting on the corner for the bus to pick her up. A light drizzle was falling so I held an umbrella to keep us dry. This meant that my elbow was bent at a 90-degree angle. After about five minutes the bus arrived, the drizzling stopped and the sun came out.

As the bus pulled away I lowered the umbrella and let my arm down. A sharp pain shot through my lower back and stopped me in my tracks. "So," I thought, "I'm in such poor condition that holding an umbrella for five minutes has caused a spinal rupture!"

The pain went away after about 30 seconds but the impact on my psyche was permanent. A lifetime free of serious illness and major injury can give a person a false sense of security about health. There's a disclaimer you hear on advertisements for investment firms: "Past performance is no guarantee of future success." So it is with the human body as the years pile on.

I can truthfully say that my interest in staying physically fit began very early. By first grade I was aware of Jack LaLanne because his TV show aired on my local independent station. What I found most intriguing was his ongoing advice to eat Yami yogurt. I had never heard the word "yogurt" before and once asked my mom if she could buy some, to which she replied, "You wouldn't like it."

I was active in sports during high school and college. I helped friends move furniture in and out of apartments and learned how important it is to "lift with your legs" when handling heavy objects. I did a lot of jogging up until about age 30. Then the exercise component of daily life started to taper off, and I think this isn't an uncommon pattern for a lot of people.

Lack of regular maintenance can cause joints, muscles, and other parts of your anatomy to become weak and susceptible to injury, especially when they're subjected to a sudden workload after a long time of non-use.

There are also certain bodily movements that aren't required often in the real world so it's hard to make them part of any workout. The other day I dropped an aspirin tablet and it rolled under my dresser and came to rest against the back wall. There is no exercise machine I know of that replicates crouching down and stretching an arm underneath a dresser.

What I try to do now, every day, is focus on guarding against inactivity. I call it the K-M method, which stands for 'Keep Moving.' Look for opportunities to walk, use stairs once in awhile, jog in place for 90 seconds, anything that will help prevent extended periods of being inert. A relative once looked at me from his sofa and confessed, "I have fallen into a completely sedimentary lifestyle!" Avoiding that sedimentation requires ongoing vigilance.

Lately I've been approached in the supermarket by shoppers older than I am who need help getting items from the high shelves. I'm happy to make the reach for them, but I do it slowly so as to avoid snapping some forgotten segment of connective tissue in my upper torso.

And if I'm out in the parking lot and spot a $5 bill on the ground, I always lift with my legs.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Exercise Over 50
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