When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina. I went to Miss Janet’s Dance Studio for years in pursuit of that goal. Then I hit puberty. My body changed in ways that (combined with my fallen arches) made going further in ballet painful and awkward. That’s when I discovered my love for volleyball. It gave me a lot of what I needed: a team effort and a space where I was rewarded for being a loud, fast, strong and competitive young woman.
I turned 44 in April, and my body is changing again. I wear glasses for reading now. And while volleyball is still part of my life, I play beach volleyball instead of indoor volleyball because it’s easier on the joints. I still get teamwork and consistently meet great people. In fact, some of my closest friends are people I met on the sand within the last few years. I’m still pretty fast and strong — just not to the degree I was in my 20s and 30s. But I can live with that.
What does fitness after 40 look like? I spoke with several active women about how their bodies have changed, their fitness journeys and what they’ve learned along the way. Here are some of the insights they shared:
Listen to your body
As we age, it’s normal for things to change. But sometimes a change is your body’s way of asking you to pay attention or seek help. When poet darlene anita scott, age 48, started feeling fatigue, she blamed her marathon training. But then her running pace changed as well. She finally sought medical help and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Now she tells friends, “Pay attention to shifts in your body” and “know your normal.” Do you know your normal vital signs? You should. It could save your life.Don’t compare
As a certified yoga instructor, Doretha Walker, age 62, sees a lot of different body types, and she believes yoga is for all of them. She seeks to bring yoga to those who don’t usually see themselves represented in yoga studios because of the color of their skin or their size. Her message at the start of each class is: “Don’t try to look like me. Your body’s not like mine. My body is not like yours. You’re going to be able to do things that I can’t do. I’m going to be able to do things that you can’t do.”Self-care isn’t selfish
Many of us are accustomed to matriarchs who sacrifice their own time, comfort and health for the benefit of loved ones. But as Heather Clarke, age 43, points out, “You cannot give water from a well that’s dry.” It’s a lesson she learned the hard way — trying so much to be a great mother that she forgot about herself and became depleted. That experience taught her it’s OK to put her health and well-being first. Fitness is good self-care. When you make time for it, you’ll be healthier and better able to be there for those you care for. Also, as Heather points out, “You don’t need to explain why you need to take this time. No one needs to earn rest. You deserve rest and care because you are alive and on the Earth.”
One step at a time
Shannon Shelton Miller, age 45, is an ultra-marathoner today, but it took her four years from her first trail run to the day she ran her first ultra-marathon. She’s in a sport that sounds intimidating, but she says it’s nothing to be afraid of. Her advice, “don’t fear the word ‘ultra.’ Just get out there and walk. Try a 5K. Try a 10K. Build up your mileage; build up your confidence. Take as long as you feel you need. Don’t fear the number. Don’t fear the term. Just get yourself out, go at your own pace and say, ‘I’m going to move for as long as I can and see what the result is.’”
Start today. No excuses.
Traci Townsend, age 57, a fitness coach and founder of Fitness With Traci, got more serious about her own health and fitness when she turned 50. After watching her mom pass away, she decided to work towards being as strong and healthy as possible for as long as possible. Here are some of her words of wisdom and inspiration for you:
1. Fitness is about being as strong as you can and being as active as you can.
2. Change takes time, effort and intention.
3. Start where you are. (For many, that will mean walking for 10 minutes.)
4. Fitness doesn’t have to hurt. You don’t even always have to sweat.
5. Do something you enjoy.
6. You’re never too old, you’re never too out of shape and you’re never too busy to become a stronger, more fit version of your current self.
7. Take your time. (That means both go at your own pace and find the time for yourself and your fitness journey.)
8. You can do this!
Fitness is good medicine
Making time for fitness can be critically important. darlene credits her physical fitness with saving her life when she ended up with congestive heart failure. Setbacks will happen. And it can be tempting to give up, but don’t. As darlene says, “I was thinking if this could happen to you, then what’s the point of exercise and taking care of yourself? [But it’s] probably what saved my life. My heart was so strong. Especially in our 40s, we start to say, ‘well, I’m getting older,’ and that’s our excuse for sitting still. Yes, we will get older and the body wears down, but it doesn’t have to wear down in some of the ways that we allow it to. So yeah, it’s worth it. It’s worth it.”