Fitness After 50: How to trick yourself into getting fit
I have a few friends over 50 who get up every morning at 4:30.
One of them heads to her freezing cold garage and hits the treadmill. Meanwhile, another group of women arrive at the gym around 6 a.m. for a powerlifting lesson. These women hardly ever complain. They appear to be at peace with their discipline, just sort of floating easily through their day, accomplishing all they’ve set out to do. They’re hard workers too. They make good money. They smile easily and often.
We exchange morning greetings and as we do, I secretly hate them. Not really hate, but more like envy. They’re doing 155 pound squats for reps at 6:30 in the morning, and I can barely keep a thought together in my head. For some people, having the discipline to succeed comes naturally. For others like me, we have to “trick” ourselves into being achievers. Call it “habits of success” if you will. I prefer to call it “mind games.”
One “master mind-gamer” is Jane Hann. Jane is approaching 60. She is a high-functioning, well-respected environmental manager. She oversees 25 employees. She makes a roundtrip to Denver nearly every weekday. And get this … she LOVES her job. She is one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever met. Not in a crazy way, but in a healthy, well-balanced way. The only difference between people like her and people like me is the “A” word. Go ahead and laugh. It’s okay. I’m actually talking about “attitude.” Attitude towards life, exercise, the world, people … even herself. Jane makes it look easy, but it doesn’t come naturally. She has to outthink herself.
Consequently, she has developed amazing insight about how to deal with people, how to problem solve and how to stay disciplined. I recorded an audio podcast with her, and I want to share some of the highlights here. Because let’s face it, some of us need to be tricked into getting in shape.
VICKI: Would you say that one of your main responsibilities at work is to motivate those people to do their best?
JANE: My job, as I see it, is to help people do what they need to do in order to do their jobs well. Sometimes it’s as basic as getting them funding or removing obstacles in the workplace. But this could also mean helping them be appreciated by their customers by teaching them how to add value to their customers’ daily life. And helping people feel appreciated actually results in motivating people to do their best and to be their best.
VICKI: So I’m thinking this can be applied to fitness. How long have you been exercising?
JANE: I’ve been exercising all of my life, but I actually started exercising on purpose in college following surgery and skin grafts from a malignant melanoma. I was restricted from activity for months while the skin grafts were healing. At the end of that time, I found myself breathing really hard after climbing a short flight of stairs. And that was not an acceptable condition to me. Later in life I’d been doing hiking, biking, backpacking, snow sports and that kind of thing.
VICKI: But then just recently you had an injury that left you unable to exercise. Talk about what that was like. What did that do to your motivation?
JANE: About a year and a half ago, I was hiking Pikes Peak and broke my lower leg bones and dislocated my ankle on my right leg. And I was about a mile and a half from the summit. So a helicopter ride and two surgeries later, I found myself weak, and even though I tried to keep active, it was very discouraging. I couldn’t hike mountains and ride bikes like I used to.
I did a little here and there, but the strength and the balance just wasn’t there. And when my high-school age niece wanted to go backpacking with me last summer, I had to tell her no. I wasn’t strong enough. So I wanted to do something to change that. The things I was doing weren’t getting me there.
VICKI: How were you feeling overall – health-wise?
JANE: I was finding that slowly over time, as I was getting older, I was getting weaker in other places. My muscles were getting kind of flabby and overall – it snuck up on me. And I think it was this broken leg that made me realize that it was an overall health problem.
VICKI: And hiring a personal trainer was one of the things you had to do to get moving again. But more than that, you had to play some mind games with yourself to help you stay motivated. Do you want to share some of those with us?
JANE: Well, I’ve got quite a few strategies in both exercise and in business. Hiring a personal trainer was twofold for me. I was walking and jogging, sometimes up to six miles on the weekends, but still feeling weak. I needed some new ideas on how to get stronger and where I wanted to be. I also needed weekly accountability. I knew it was really important that I do something consistently in order to get to where I wanted to be. And the weekly training helped that happen. As I got stronger, I became more motivated. You can do this with a personal trainer, a coworker, a spouse or a friend. And when you translate that to business, the more value you add to yourself, the more you’re appreciated. The more you’re appreciated, the more you want to do the work to get you to appreciate it again!
VICKI: You talk about strategies, but then you also mentioned some tricks that people can do; just little things to help them, to remind them, or to propel them to get in shape.
JANE: One is — just give it a try. I mean, you can have so many excuses, but did you really even try it? I mean, in your head, you’re thinking about the reasons why you wouldn’t want to do something. If you just give it a try, you may find that it isn’t so bad, and you might actually have fun. So that’s one. Another is, visualize what success looks like. What do you look like? What are you eating/wearing? Who are you with? What does your typical day look like when you are at your “ultimate you?”
Don’t wait until you’re there. You can get started now. Doing exercise and watching my diet is part of getting to where I want to be. Another is, listen to the excuses you give yourself and address them. I didn’t want to do planks because my carpet was itchy. So I put a yoga mat on the carpet right by my bed. When I got off my bed, I had to step on the mat. So not only is it not itchy, but it’s right by the bed, so I can do it before my day gets busy. You make up excuses, so listen carefully to what those excuses are and then remove the excuse.
Another one is – bribe yourself. I love bagels. They’re not good for me. But I can allow myself a half-toasted bagel after I do a three mile run. And sometimes that’s what gets me into my running shoes because I want that bagel! In business, I make myself finish the task at hand before I can get up and get another cup of coffee. So for me, bribing really works. Before I broke my leg, I used to make excuses about bad weather. I didn’t want to go out and do my runs. So I had got a membership to a nearby gym and at lunch I would go and run on the treadmill looking at the snow outside the window. No more bad weather excuses!
I’ve learned through leadership in business, be brave enough to make the change you need for a better future. In business it might be that I need to change how my team is performing, whether it’s through training or reorganization or communication. And you can do the same. You can train people how to treat you, if you don’t like how you’re being treated. So the key is to focus on what gives you joy in your life. What brings you joy? Everyone wants joy.
VICKI: Everyone wants joy, but it’s difficult for people who feel like they’re trapped. I know a lot of seniors feel trapped in either their bodies or their houses or their living situations, or whatever it happens to be. So what about the seniors who feel like they can’t make a move, or they can’t get motivated, or they don’t even see the point?
JANE: You don’t have to look at the big long-range goal and say, “I’m doing that.” You can look at the short little ones that are right in front of you. For me, it was getting out once a week and getting some exercise and doing something. There is always something you can change. It may take time, but eventually you will see a progress towards that goal. The goal doesn’t have to be a big grand one. The goal can be, “I can get up off the floor a little easier.” Or, “I can pick up my plant to put it in the sink a little easier.”
The value of persistence is about not backsliding, but in doing what brings you joy. Maybe you need to hire somebody to help you with part of that. Or maybe you’re just going to have to accept that it won’t happen overnight, but you still keep going. At the end of the day, you need to try to believe. You need to bring joy to your life. If getting outdoors and being around nature brings you joy, you need to do that as much as possible. Everyone wants joy in their life. You’re not alone in this, and you’ll find people along the way to help you.
About me: I am an A.C.E. Senior Strength Trainer at Flex Gym & Fitness. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 719-445-8566. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. If you experience pain or difficulty, stop and consult your healthcare provider. This article is not meant to take the place of any treatment or activity your physician has deemed necessary.