Getting old robs me of a day. Yep, age just pulled the rug out from under me and stole a day.
A week ago I was up early, had the horses fed, and began to prepare my oatmeal for breakfast. I have to stoop a little to get water from the dispenser that goes in my oatmeal. As I leaned over, I looked up and a sharp pain stabbed me in the lower back. Something tweaked. Bracing myself against the nearby hutch, I winced in pain. Immediately, I knew I had to get horizontal. We live in a small house and it’s not a long walk to the bedroom. By the time I had reached the bed my vision was getting dark and blurry and I felt faint. It took me a moment to figure out which way to crawling into bed caused the least pain. Then, once there I found heavenly relief in the fetal position.
My day was stolen. What had I done? Who can’t lift a glass of water?
It would be understandable if, since I retired 3 1/2 years ago, I had done little to stay active. My typical week includes three trips to the gym, three 2-hour horseback rides, and at least one evening of a 2-hour dance session. Old age brought me down with a cup of water.
Many friends and family have had back problems. This happened to me about 5 years ago when I lifted something heavy and had not used my legs. I’m not one to head to the doctor and my bed was so much more comfortable than any waiting room chair. I opted for bedrest and anti-inflammatories. For the next 72 hours, I did very little. I walked around the yard, moved from one room to the other, and mumbled my disgust for this condition to our dogs, cats, and horses.
On the fourth day, I began light duty cleaning the pens. My back was sore and I was forced to stay mindful of every move. It was exhausting. Determined not to let old age think he might have won (who was I kidding, old age will always win), we went for a short horseback ride. The following day was a light workout at the gym as I tested my balance and strength. It’s been a week and I think I’m about 70%.
It’s a bit depressing. Because I can’t figure what I had done to cause the tweak, I’m not sure how to prevent it in the future. Every time I bend my body I wonder if a rogue nerve is going to be pinched and send me into mind-numbing pain. This recovery, if it stays on track, will be one of the quickest rebounds in my memory of the few instances in my life that this has happened. But the change of direction of my day, from going great to instant pain, from feeling good to barely being able to stand, has me troubled.
Getting Old and Working Out
Lying around for three days gave me time to think. I remembered working out when I was younger and compared it to my workouts today. When I worked out in my teens, I remember about 10% fatigue and 90% muscle-building. That doesn’t mean my body built a lot of muscle. My body seems resistant to the idea. The workouts made my muscle sore as you would expect from a workout, but my muscles didn’t feel depleted.
Now, in my 60’s, it seems there is 90% fatigue and only 10% muscle-building. If I work out too long or hard my muscles feel tired the rest of the day. Working out doesn’t seem to offer much of a payback, but what’s the alternative? Even skipping a few workouts seems to deplete my already diminishing muscle mass. Stopping altogether can’t be an option.
Over the last 2-3 years, I’ve tried different “styles” of workouts. I’ve reduced the amount of cardio training because I find it the most fatiguing to the rest of my day. My legs get worked on horseback and dancing, so I focus on trying to build muscle in my upper body and core. I’ve experimented with negative reps, heavy-weight low reps, light-weight high reps, and combinations in between. What I’ve noticed most is that nothing seems to make a substantial difference.
I’ve used the same Tanita Fat-monitoring scale for twenty years. There has always been a debate about the accuracy of these scales and measuring body fat. By using the same settings consistently (on this scale it is “Adult”, “Male”, “Athlete”, and “Height”), I feel I can get a consistent picture of how my body has changed over time. It’s not much. In October of 2014, the reading was 148 lbs, 10%. In October of 2017, it was 150 lbs, 11%. And, my weight has rarely varied more than 10 lbs from these numbers since I purchased the scale in 1995. (By the way, I don’t really believe my body fat is that low. I’ve had it measured with calipers and it is closer to 25% range.)
When I counseled people coming in my health food store, one of my tenets was to adjust your diet to your stage in life. It was obvious to me when I was younger that someone getting old needed a different diet than someone young and active. While not a vegetarian. my diet during my 30-year health food career was high in vegetables and grains and low in meat. I’ve always enjoyed eggs and never worried too much about fat or cholesterol.
Since retiring, my wife and I have experimented with a few different diets. One high in beef and lower in grains, which we maintained for about a year, made little difference in either body composition or muscle building. We have abandoned that style of eating and prefer the easier digestibility of fish and chicken. Our diet still contains a good amount of vegetables and fruits.
Here’s What I Hate
Getting Old. I thought if I wrote this out, I would come up with a solution for getting old. Reading it over, I haven’t. Yes, getting old is inevitable I suppose, but it’s not supposed to happen to me. At least, not while I’m watching.
There’s really only one defense to getting old that I can see. And, it is only a defense, not a prevention. Keep trying to buck it. Like playing a game of tug-of-war with a stronger opponent, keep pulling back. Dig in your heels. Hold on. Old age is going to drag us into the muddy middle eventually, but don’t let it happen without a fight.