For too many of us over 50, health and well-being are secondary priorities. There are plenty of reasons for that — the pressure of kids, spouses, parents and jobs (and I mean all of the above).
But if we want to live long, productive lives, it's important to do one thing immediately: Get fit.
I believe that all roads lead to fitness when it comes to coping with the anxiety and fatigue that come with the stress of an impossible to-do list. Too often, we get overwhelmed and then do nothing. The good news: Incorporating simple changes into your life is easier than you think. I know, because I did it.
Soon after I turned 50, my mother and mother-in-law needed me more and more to do things like take them to doctors' appointments or help them with bills. Each of them developed complicated health issues, which required my full attention. Even more troubling, they were both diagnosed with dementia.
I also had my own household to run, a job to do, and daughters who were still teenagers. One of them was heading toward college, the other entering high school. My work was exciting, but because it was a new venture, it often required me to be at my computer 24/7.
My husband, who has an equally demanding job, was starting to feel ignored. There were days I felt like I was being pulled in way too many directions. In an effort to help everyone, I wasn't helping anyone at all, especially myself.
Because sleeping enough, exercising daily and eating well had come to seem like indulgences, I became genuinely worried that I wouldn't have the strength and stamina to do the things I had to do, or the things I wanted to do. Sound familiar?
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Here's how I turned things around
- First, I made myself a priority. Many may be depending on you, but you have to be in good mental and physical health to be of service to any of them.
- I started down my path to fitness by going for slow runs with walk breaks, and I learned how to do push-ups and other strengthening exercises to prevent bone density loss and, therefore, osteoporosis. (Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.)
- I scheduled annual health checkups and kept up with the latest health and wellness information specifically geared to people over 50. I changed the way I ate by cutting out processed foods and the "white stuff" (sugar, potatoes, white rice and pasta) and added lots of whole grains (quinoa and brown rice are great options), dark leafy greens and other calcium-rich foods.
- I dropped the bad habits I'd slipped into, such as not sleeping enough and not moving my body every day. That helped me shed (and keep off) the 15 pounds I had gained after menopause.
In other words, I took complete control of my health, wellness and life.
Because experts say that to see something work, you need to give it three months, I made a commitment to try out my fitness plan for that amount of time. Sure enough, after three months I saw my health, fitness and life turn around. My energy returned, and to celebrate my 55th birthday, I ran in the New York City Marathon. I am ready for whatever's next.
Thanks to the push-ups and other exercises I now do, my body is stronger than ever. The combination of exercise and eating better changed how I look in my clothes and how I feel about my body. When I was overwhelmed by life, my shoulders would sag and I'm sure I looked like a defeated woman. Now, I walk straight, stand tall and present myself with a sense of confidence I truly feel.
More important, my key health-check numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, bone density) have improved, which has certainly diminished my risks for contracting certain diseases, illnesses and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers that are directly linked with weight, poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
A plan just for you
While I chose a specific exercise program that includes running, walking and push-ups, there are many roads that lead to fitness. For you, it may be tennis, dancing, yoga, swimming, tai chi, Zumba, basketball — or all of the above!
Whatever you choose, try to do something every day, even if it's just going out for a long walk. (Quick tip: Get yourself a simple pedometer and walk 10,000 steps every day.) You'll feel better and look better, and your body, mind and spirit will be ready for whatever's next.
Barbara Hannah Grufferman writes about living and aging well for AARP Media.
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