Fit After Fifty

Once, briefly, I agreed to help promote an ebook about fitness in later life. For one reason or another, that project’s business model never gained altitude. I found this bit, which I’d written for that project, and thought maybe there was some value in it for a few of you.  

If you choose not to wade through this longish post but you’re interested in home exercise, go bookmark this extensive printable list of exercises. Warning: they will not help unless you DO THEM!


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As a physical therapist, I worked with patients who had been injured because they were not fit for work. By that I mean that their abilities for lifting, carrying, reaching and repetitive motions were exceeded by the physical demands of their work in a furniture or textile or manufacturing job.

Hired off the street, with no conditioning or training for the hard work (for which they were commonly paid a very low wage) their muscles and joints, bones and ligaments had never been trained to safely tolerate the essential physical demands of their work. Small wonder there were so many musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace.

Sending naive novices into demanding physical work was like taking sedentary, deconditioned middle-aged people at random, putting them in shoulder pads and helmets and sending them into the lineup of the Miami Dolphins for a full-contact football game. Of course they got hurt at work!

My job for the injured worker was to ergonomically assess the physical requirements of the workplace, and then work-harden the patient as an “industrial athlete” so that when released from the rehab program, they would be “fit for work.”

It was gratifying for them as well as for their caregivers to see how responsive their bodies were to training. Their bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and movement centers in the brain and spinal cord had incredible powers to adapt to the lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling we trained them to do safely.

I’m retired from that kind of work now, but think not infrequently about the goodness of fit between what people my age want and need to do and their waning assets of strength, flexibility, endurance and agility that once kept them playing golf and racquetball, body surfing, and playing chase with the grandkids.

When abilities are exceeded by demands, risk of injury increases. Knowing that, and given the fear of falls and resulting dependency, many in their fifties and especially later decades just avoid the kinds of outdoor and sports-related pleasures that would be possible if they were only safely and comfortably capable of doing what they once enjoyed.

The demands of life may grow less regular and less strenuous after retirement. This more laid-back and relatively inactive way of life may bring risks of weight gain, loss of muscle mass and strength, decreased stamina and diminished balance. These are just the kinds of factors that may lead to a fall or heart attack, diabetes, or other loss of independence and health that retirees want to avoid.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]When abilities are exceeded by demands, risk of injury increases. [/su_pullquote]I’m one of those who left city life, tennis courts and swimming pools behind, opting for the country life–not a surprising choice for a tree-hugging naturalist. Now, time that belongs to me to do with what I choose. Mostly out of sheer inattention to my physical state, I run the future risk of not having the ability to do those things that have given my life meaning: gardening, cutting and splitting firewood, cavorting in the stream with the dog and hiking several times a week to the tops of our ridges.

As a matter of fact, and even though I’d not admit it to my wife, I have noticed only in the past couple of months that getting up after kneeling or squatting–a daily habit and necessity for a vegetable gardener and woodsman–is starting to take intentional concentration and effort, and sometimes, requiring me to pull up with no small effort on a fence or tree branch.

That’s not okay with me. I need to make changes now. And I take encouragement from the life stories of others who describe their return to meaningful active lives in the ebook  (whose publication may or may not have happened. FF)

I’ll have to say that what I had failed to do until I read this book was to look the devil of declining ability straight in the eye. I had not resolved to take measures like these nine individuals have taken to reclaim control of physical competencies. I will take an active part to regain the abilities that are not yet out of reach, if only I just consistently do what I know I need to do.

Your goal does not need to be joining a gym or taking up a sport. For some of us, it can simply be the discipline of a walking or home fitness program that is consistent and progressive and safe. Such programs are easy to find and implement. I may have more to say about that in a future discussion.

I can’t over-emphasize how important motivational stories are. We are moved by personal fit-after-fifty narratives of people in our age groups–personal stories of men and women not that different from ourselves who had lost their fitness–due to neglect, accident, illness or emotional or physical tragedy in their lives. Their stories tell us that, once they determine to get it back, they do it!

There is a biology of motivation. Understanding how it is built and knowing the thrill of its energy, we are drawn to be a part of that flow.

The small cost of this impressive ebook with embedded videos is less than a day’s-worth of most blood pressure, cholesterol or anti-anxiety medications.

If you are close-but-not-quite ready to take action towards reclaiming fitness for the rest of life, do the best thing you can do, and do it now. Order, then act on the messages from this book. And then send your success story, plus the link below, to those you love, so that they can stay safely and enjoyably engaged, fit for work and play, productive and active well into their fifties and beyond.

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And if you order by midnight tonight, you also get these AMAZING knives that cut through plate steel, Box Car Willy’s Greatest Hits, and a lifetime subscription to the incredible hit website, Fragments from Floyd! You deserve all this if you’ve read this far.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hi Fred – I have never been able to have a “program” but I do have a lot of chores. I hand mow an acre twice a week in the summer. We don;t have a snow service and I shovel for 5 months plus I now garden a lot more and of course have a dog. I heat a lot with wood too.

    It’s interesting for me now in June when the mowing and gardening go into high drive how weak I am but by August!!!!!

    Miss M is nearly 13 now and I worry about when she is gone as I don’t think we will get another dog. Will I have the discipline to walk 4 times a day even in bad weather?

  2. Rob, I understand about the dog prompting regular exercise. Heck, even the chickens offered that. We used to calculate “miles per egg.”

    I joined the local fitness center from October to April but when inactive for the summer months, when there’s not enough left of me after mowing, gardening and such during the long days to lift weights or run on a treadmill.

    Jan, I miss the environment where I could exercise along with patients and get paid for it!

  3. Oh dear, Fred. My 78 year old husband is trying to walk 2 miles a day, so he can keep on being a nature photographer, but, oh boy, that goal is challenging, and not met on many days.

  4. Kathy, the fact that your husband even has set such a goal sets him apart from so many people in that age group who have no physical expectations, and consequently, are losing ground rather than maintaining the abilities to carry on with important parts of their lives good on him!