Forty-nine is supposedly the last hurrah before the official onset of middle age. But time and its ravages don't pay attention to the calendar any more than the seasons wait for the solstices to announce their arrival. I'm already middle-aged and I didn't need a birthday or a calendar to tell me that.
But aging isn't about numbers. It's about vitality, or the loss thereof. I fervently believe that I've lost a great deal of vitality not due solely to age, but due to a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet. Sure, we all slow down with age, we are more prone to injury with age, but we don't have to race the calendar to our own mortality and be miserable in the process. My feeling of middle age is not due solely to the calendar; it's due to lifestyle choices that have helped result in a loss of vitality. Those lifestyle choices, in turn, arise out of complacency and a lack of gratitude for what I have. If I were as grateful as I should be for what I have and what I'm about to have, I'd do more to make sure that I'm healthy enough and feeling good enough to enjoy it all.
I've always taken it as a given that I would predecease my husband. So many of my aunts, uncles and other elders, including my mom, died of cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's in their 60's and 70's that I just assumed that my relatively early demise was a foregone conclusion. What's the point of living a croissant-free life if you're going to die, anyway?
Vitality, that's the point. I want to have the energy and good health to enjoy whatever time I have for as long as I can. It's even arrogant of me to assume my early demise. No one knows the hour but God, and I guess as far as He's concerned, the time of my demise is none of my business because He sure hasn't seen fit to give me a target date.
Getting older doesn't necessarily have to mean getting fat and sedentary or having greatly diminished mental capacity. You only need look at Jane Fonda on the red carpet at Cannes to see that. Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA's Longevity Center, argues that it is possible to stave off Alzheimer's, even though we don't have the proof from longitudinal studies to prove him right. In the January 2012 issue of O Magazine, Small was asked if he had to pick one tip as the most important thing to do to prevent Alzheimer's, what it would be. He said physical exercise, like a daily brisk walk.
Not Pilates, not Hot Yoga; a brisk walk. Who can't do that?
The bigger point is that you have to accept that your body is changing and change accordingly. Even one small healthy change -- like walking or eating more vegetables -- can set in order other healthy changes. They talked about this on NPR this morning, calling it a "domino effect." I had already started making some small healthy changes, like making sure to eat fish at least once a week (not an easy feat for me -- I've hated fish almost all my life), cutting down on the red meat (although I'm a sucker for a barbecued hamburger with Memphis Minnie's rib rub mixed in), increasing my water intake by simply remembering to grab a glass of water every time I have a hot flash (that would be several times a day), and having mixed berry and pomegranate juice smoothies as recommend by Dr. Oz as an "antioxidant cocktail" (very easy -- frozen mixed berries, pomegranate juice -- I used 20% juice cocktail because I couldn't find pure pomegranate juice at the Winco -- ice, some Truvia if you need it sweeter, throw in blender, done).
After I dropped my great-nephew off at school this morning, I decided to go for a walk with a spirit of gratitude for what I have -- relatively good health, a great husband, great family, great friends, great kids to come, great career changes on the horizon. Call it a victory lap for middle age. I cued up what used to be my exercise playlist --mostly songs by Beyonce -- and when "Get Me Bodied" came on, something happened that hasn't happened in a long, long time.
No, I wasn't being chased. The beat and the melody of that song are so infectious, it just makes you want to move. So instead of dancing on the sidewalk and looking like an idiot, I ran. I ran for the sheer joy of feeling my heart race, the joy of moving to music, the joy of working up a sweat.
I was, for a brief moment in time, Sasha Fat, with all 180 pounds and 47.5% fat on my 5' 6" frame barreling down the walking paths near my house. I wasn't running to reach a particular point or to last a particular amount of time. I ran until I couldn't run any more. Mind you, it didn't last long, but it was more than I'd done in a long, long time, simply because a catchy female empowerment/dance tune came on my iPhone. You know what they say about the journey of a thousand miles. . . .
Thanks, Beyonce, for making the music that made me move.
And thanks to my friend David P. I rarely name folks by name in my blog, but it was at a dinner a while back that David warned me that my high cholesterol was no joke and that I needed to do something about it -- exercise, statins, whatever. I've been pussyfooting around for a long time about it, and my penchant for soy raspberry mochas and almond croissants at Peet's hasn't been helping. But I'm making changes. Although consistency isn't my strong suit, getting back up on the horse, so to speak, is. I can't guarantee that I'll run every day or that I won't ever have another almond croissant, but what I can guarantee is that I'll keep trying because I'm not in this for longevity; I'm in this for vitality.
BWB (AKA "Sasha Fat")