Diana Nyad’s accomplishment has me thinking. It seems to have a lot of people thinking about exertion, endurance, having outrageous fitness aspirations and pushing yourself even as you get older.
I hear people express fear about pushing themselves as though they believe there’s some danger in it. When I talk to my mom about my endurance races, she pulls air through her teeth. Her congratulations are tinged with fear and concern. It’s as though she pictures I’m going to be doing a race one day and I’ll just blow up.
Some of the exceptions I hear come from folks in their 40s or 50s. They think that engaging in intense activity is going to hurt them. There’s another class of exceptions I hear from people in their 60s and 70s. They dismiss exertion because of their age. They usually feel okay about walking or calisthenics, but when it comes to pushing themselves harder, raising their heart rates or fatiguing their muscles, they counter with, “I’m too old for that.”
Diana Nyad, at the age of 64, swam 110 miles in ocean currents.
Let me be clear. I’m not asking my 60 and 70-year old friends and family to take on ultra endurance events. But doesn’t it make you think about what a person—anyone—is capable of at that age, or any age?
Our bodies are capable of so much more than we ask of them. Of course genetics play a role. Of course some people have dedicated their lives to developing themselves in a sport (Nyad is a former Olympian). And OF COURSE, no one can go from a sedentary lifestyle to completing an endurance event in just a few weeks. There is a point to careful, methodical progression, to ramping up so that your body adjusts to the new demands. Just think of it- in the process of training, your body is literally tearing down muscle, bone and tissue and rebuilding it to withstand greater and greater stress. That takes time. And your brain and psyche take time to adjust to your body being able to do these things too. (Bee-Tee-Dubs, it’s the job of a coach or trainer to help you dial in that safe progression, while helping you do more than you ever thought you could.)
Consider the belief that metabolic rate declines with age. For a long time, people (including physiologists) thought that decline was just a given. But what now seems more the case (at least what’s playing a major role) is that, as people get older, they tend to engage less in exertion that builds and maintains muscle mass. It’s the loss of muscle mass that largely slows metabolism, not aging itself. So much of what we think of as “normal aging” may be an result of inactivity.
I believe that we are better suited for endurance sports as we age. We have had time to develop our bodies over years of training. We have more confidence that we can persist and prevail in spite of pain, which becomes a greater part of daily life as we get older. And we’ve developed our spirits and our resolve and context to take on bigger things. If not now, when?
It’s for illustrating that so vividly this week that I want to thank Diana.