I am a senior. That is somewhere between middle age and elderly. Everyone wants to live a long time but no one wants to be old, as the saying goes. I am just another person trying to delay feeble living. I have learned a few hard lessons along the path to regular exercise.
I wrote a couple of years ago about my reentry into the world of exercise. I was lighthearted and wrote with the confidence of someone who would ultimately be successful – but it has been a long road to recovery from evening ice cream. Most of my adult life has been active in adult sports, hiking 14K mountains in Colorado, regular jogging, and even a master swim program at the local YMCA. I sustained normal wear and tear – including one knee surgery – along the way. In my early fifties I let my guard down. Several years passed and I realized that I had gained weight, losing muscle mass and adding fat. For the first time ever in my life my annual blood work suggested my cholesterol and triglycerides were above acceptable limits. My old clothes no longer fit.
My routine began with simple stretching and walking. After walking my first mile I realized that my muscles would take some time to adjust. I was sore for days as I tried to walk through the pain. The pain subsided and I finished building my weight bench. I added about six upper body weight lifting exercises to my walking routing – I lifted weights every other day.
Life was good until I began getting stronger – my brain forgot that my body had aged. My brain continues to challenge my body to do more. And here is the key: Pay attention to your body. Accept the feedback and give your brain a good problem to work on. The early experience with pain can be misleading. I had minor pains in my left knee (the one with surgery), my right hip, and my right shoulder. My determination overrode the pain – and eventually my legs and shoulders became stronger and the pain seemed to go away. I felt that I had finally built enough muscle mass to support my skeletal system – the muscles began absorbing the pounding – relieving my joints.
I added a speed bag to my upper body workout. (When I was young I punched a bag regularly). It only took a short time before my timing returned – the stamina took a little longer – but eventually I was punching about 1,500 whacks at every session. The bag offered tone for my increasing upper body muscle mass. As my program progressed I tried to increase my outdoor walk – I began jogging short distances. Then my exercise world began coming apart.
I developed tendinitis in both of my elbows. My solution was to purchase two elbow braces and continue my routine. I also added 600 mg of ibuprofen to my daily routine. We have to be careful with painkillers because they can mask real problems. But the braces and medication seemed to alleviate some of my elbow pain. Along the way I increased my weights – adding pounds to the bars and adding more upper body exercises. At my peak I was up to 20 different exercises. I worked up to bench pressing 190 pounds fourteen times.
My weight dropped fifteen pounds – I think that I lost thirty pounds of fat and gained fifteen pounds of muscle for a net loss of 15 pounds. My waist dropped almost three inches.
One problem that has plagued me all of my life is impatience. My routine was so successful that I wanted more – and as fast as I could get it. My total routing with stretching, walk/jogging, bag punching, and weight lifting took almost two hours. I made a big mistake. I decided I could do without the stretching.
Right away my elbows became more inflamed – so much so that the ibuprofen could not relieve the pain. I stopped punching the bag – and that seemed to address the tendinitis. Then my surgically repaired knee began to hurt. I tried to walk through it – hoping that I just needed more muscle mass to support the joint. As the pain intensified I searched for medical solutions. My mother (who has reached the stage of elderly) told me her doctor recommended a cream called Capsaicin for her arthritis. It is the active ingredient in hot peppers. I tried the cream and in a week or so mush of the knee pain was relieved. About the same time I began taking two Aleve every day. I scheduled an appointment with my physician and told him of my troubles and of my solutions. He examined my knee and found nothing structurally wrong. He approved both the Aleve and capsaicin, but cautioned me to pay attention to my body.
Here’s the thing folks, as your body ages it just cannot tolerate the same amount of abuse as when we were young. My knee pain became intolerable – even with the pain killers. I stopped walking. I stopped the pain killers. I waited, nursing my sore knee. After five weeks my knee was feeling much better. I went for a short walk, about a mile or so. My knee felt pretty good. I waited two days and tried again. I walked away from my home as usual. When I reached the mile out point I could feel my knee beginning to bark at me. I turned around and went home – but by the time I reached my house I could barely walk. I sat with my knee propped up for two days. The pain seemed to radiate down my leg to my foot. The knee felt tight. It felt like it needed to be stretched – so I returned to the stretching techniques I had abandoned months before. As I stretched the knee the pain seemed to subside. I stretched my knee every three or four hours and it felt better every time.
It took this whack up side my head to remind me that I needed to stretch regularly. The past two days I have stretched my knee and walked three miles – stretching again after the walk. I have no pain. It seems the pain was related to my ligaments and tendons. Without proper stretching I think I was causing small tears in the support system around my knee. Thus the excruciating pain.
As a Senior I should be concerned with several aspects of my health. Certainly my cardio/pulmonary system is at the top of the list. My muscular/skeletal system is right up there in priority. We are systemic creatures. The systems interact. I needed muscle support of my skeletal system – and the solution to this problem is the same solution to my cardio/pulmonary health. I forgot about the connecting links – the tendons and ligaments. I am not suggesting in any way that we have to become master of yoga or Tia Chi other exotic stretching methodologies. Stretching requires some very basic moves, as are illustrated in this post. The exercises at the right probably best represent what I do before walking.
Stretching is crucial to total health – We have to address our total system needs.
Now – about that evening ice cream.