Fitness as We Age: 5 Ways to Combat Physical Vulnerability

In our quest to stay fit and vital as we age, sometimes we can’t help but experience feelings that counter-productively undermine our resolve.

It’s natural to fear and lament that our basic physical capabilities are diminished compared to our younger selves. But while this is true, you’re less over-the-hill than you think, man. This should be a manageable fear. Anyway, what are you gonna do about this – exercise less and let yourself get less fit because you can’t run a mile as fast as you could 20 years ago?

Also, like people of any age, we sometimes battle that sluggish feeling that whispers “don’t work out today…there’s always tomorrow.” But as we age, doubling down on fitness becomes ever more important, so effectively responding to that sluggish feeling is key.

Here’s the feeling that threatens our long-term body-and-soul health more than any other: the fear that we are getting more fragile, more VULNERABLE to injury and other activity-limiting aches and pains.

This is so dangerous because we can observe that it’s least partly true…but at the same time we can’t let it dictate our fitness habits and start a self-fulfilling downward trend. So how to deal with this shadow of vulnerability we feel? The trick is to neither ignore nor surrender to it.

Here are five things you can do starting now, to face up to this most-human feeling of vulnerability.

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In our quest to stay fit and vital as we age, sometimes we can’t help but experience feelings that counter-productively undermine our resolve.

It’s natural to fear and lament that our basic physical capabilities are diminished compared to our younger selves. But while this is true, you’re less over-the-hill than you think, man. This should be a manageable fear. Anyway, what are you gonna do about this – exercise less and let yourself get less fit because you can’t run a mile as fast as you could 20 years ago?

Also, like people of any age, we sometimes battle that sluggish feeling that whispers “don’t work out today…there’s always tomorrow.” But as we age, doubling down on fitness becomes ever more important, so effectively responding to that sluggish feeling is key.

Here’s the feeling that threatens our long-term body-and-soul health more than any other: the fear that we are getting more fragile, more VULNERABLE to injury and other activity-limiting aches and pains.

This is so dangerous because we can observe that it’s least partly true…but at the same time we can’t let it dictate our fitness habits and start a self-fulfilling downward trend. So how to deal with this shadow of vulnerability we feel? The trick is to neither ignore nor surrender to it.

Here are five things you can do starting now, to face up to this most-human feeling of vulnerability.

FIVE WAYS TO COMBAT VULNERABILITY

1.Acknowledge Vulnerability as the First Step

Being in macho denial doesn’t help. It exacerbates issues and makes long-term problems more likely. You got a knee, a hip, your back, a shoulder or two that hurts or is injured? Not the first time? Acknowledging that you’ve got an issue, and need some way to deal with it other than “toughing it out,” is the first step toward being less impacted by physical vulnerability.

Once you’ve made peace with the fact that you are more physically vulnerable, for future issues – and you will have them, dude – you can jump into solution mode faster.

2. Respect Vulnerability: Take Rest & Recovery More Seriously

Some guys struggle for motivation to work out frequently enough. But others have an effective long-term exercise habit…and ironically, struggle to take an extra day off or to have an “easy” or “different” day when they need it.

The idea of a “different” day is key. Ankle hurting from running? Get in the pool. Shoulders feel a little tender from strength work? Go for a walk or a run. Variety in our routines is good because it keeps us from getting repetitive / over-use type injuries (see next section), but also because it’s a way to give some ailing body part a break while still keeping up our fitness.

3. Fight Vulnerability: Adopt a Varied Fitness Routine to Get Less Vulnerable

The longer you’ve been a dedicated doer of some fitness activity – and the more that part of your self-identify is connected to that thing – the more you live with these two conflicting facts:

  1. As you get older, this activity you’re passionate about will start to cause injuries
  2. You’re inwardly resistant to reducing the favored activity in the name of a more balanced mix of endurance, strength and flexibility

But whether you’re a longtime runner, cyclist, swimmer, cross-fit, or weight training guy confronting this conflict, or just starting/re-starting fitness now…you need a varied routine, brother. What the doctor orders for us nowadays is rotating among 2+ different cardio activities, strength work, and something that helps with flexibility / mobility (like yoga, man!).

This variety attacks vulnerability from two sides at the same time. It reduces wear-and-tear on individual body parts, while also making us all-around stronger and less susceptible to injury. With the “less susceptible” goal in mind, make sure you’re getting enough core work in your weekly mix, and working the critical big leg muscles and glutes which are often under-attended to and thus lead to knee problems.

4. Be Resilient vs. Vulnerability: Do What’s Needed

Even if you’re doing all of the above, as a 40+ guy with some intensity of fitness activities, you will get injured from time to time. In addition to being quick on the trigger with rest and recovery (to nip issues in the bud), when you do have a real issue, take it seriously. Figure out what physical therapy remedies there are, and do them (even if they seem kind of annoying and hard to prioritize).

I had long-time nagging knee pain (patella-femoral syndrome, a.k.a. runner’s knee) that bothered me throughout 2016. When I finally started doing quad- and butt-strengthening exercises to combat it…it worked. I wish I’d done it sooner.

The bottom line is, you will have setbacks, man. It’s how you respond to them that counts.

5. Use Nutrition as a Key Part of Your Anti-Vulnerability Arsenal.

Nutrition’s influence on our bodyfat, blood glucose and cholesterol levels tends to get more attention (for good reason – these things are life-and-death). But of course, what we eat affects muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones too – the “hardware” parts of our bodies that we worry are vulnerable.

Eating well makes us less vulnerable across these dimensions of the body. Muscles recover best when we get sufficient, quality protein. We’re less susceptible to gradual-wear type injuries when we replenish smart carbs into our system (and less likely to fall victim to sluggishness, too). Fighting internal inflammation by using things like turmeric in our diet can also be key.

Not to mention: the closer we are to an ideal bodyweight, the less we’re stressing feet, ankles, knees and hips by hauling around unproductive fat. “Take a load off,” man. Here’s more on achieving strong nutrition without being on a “diet.”

CONCLUSIONS

Do you wish you were less physically vulnerable? Of course you do, man. It sucks that we need to spend energy on all this combating, overcoming, etc…and get reminded of our own mortality along the way. But that’s the hand we’re holding now that we’re 40-, 50-, 60-something, or older.

But think of it this way, which I do find inspiring. If we didn’t have challenges to overcome and odds to surmount…staying fit and vital would be pretty easy. Where would the drama and “poetry” be in that? This way, at least in the realm of body-and-soul health, we can be the hero in our own, ongoing drama. Next time you’re feeling vulnerable, remember that.

 

“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.” (Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run–click to listen)

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But some football analogies just make sense to me at a visceral level. Especially this one: pursuing long-term body-and-soul health (at 40, 50, 60 and beyond) is like committing to the run as a football strategy.

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