I’m fitter now than I was in my 20s. Granted, this is not that difficult, seeing as my 20s were spent in a blur of parties and travelling and drinking rather large pints of beer in foggy pubs. But I always had this assumption that it was all downhill from 40 and we may as well just give up on our physical fitness and lie on the couch in tracksuit pants forever until we die.
I made a lot of assumptions about middle age, really. Pretty stupid ones, but I forgive myself (because I was only 20 after all and what did I know?). I couldn’t know that my body would take me through two pregnancies, through immense grief, through intense allergies brought on by grief. That it would change and morph and be weaker and then stronger, but that it would always be there for me, taking me around the world through high highs and low lows.
At 40 now, I feel like I fully inhabit this body. Does that sound obvious or strange? I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I was younger, I took it all for granted. Health and strength were a given. But now I don’t. Sure, there are niggles in my back. My knees click when I stand up too fast. There are lots of lines by my eyes when I smile. But I know that when I’m 70, I will look back and think how YOUNG I was at 40, and so that’s what I’m trying to channel now – joy at being this age. Because it really is a gift to be able to run and swim and explore this world, using the body I was given (and it goes even deeper than that, because there’s no doubt to me that our mental health and our physical health are inextricably linked).
I’ve been reminded of these gifts recently with the lifesaving I’m doing. A few of us lifesaving mums have qualified as Lifesaving Masters, which means that we’re lifeguards beyond the age of 30 (most of us are over 40 though;). A week ago we competed at the Western Province Championships in the Senior age group (which is actually for those people between the ages of 18 and 30), because our club is short on women of that age and we wanted to help get a few more points. And points we got! Our Masters team came 3rd in the sprints relay and I came 5th in the individual beach sprints.
A week later I got told that I had actually been picked as part of the Western Province Open Lifesaving Squad! Pretty much the only 40-year-old in there, with a bunch of 20-year-olds;). I had a good laugh about that, but what it has also shown me is that age is really just a random(ish) number. I mean, of course we need to train carefully so that we don’t injure ourselves, but why should we naturally assume we’re incapable of competing against people younger than us?
It’s true that we need to work harder as we get older, but nothing is impossible. As a society we idolise youth and all the natural physical attributes that come along with it, but being part of this lifesaving team has taught me that age should not limit us. Once you face up to the fear, and acknowledge that you’re doing something new and scary, it just takes a lot of commitment to get better at it. And a decent dose of grit. And maybe a small bit of athleticism (okay that list got a bit longer as I went on, but you know what I mean).
Another thing which has taught me gratitude for my body is yoga. I only started practising about 4 years ago but I’ve learned so much in that amount of time, even though I’m only doing it around once a week (and am by no means an expert). Yoga has shown me how supple, healthy and literally glowing with wellness you can be, at any age – and in fact, the wisest and most supple yogis I know are nearly all older than 20.
Beyond the yoga floor, I like how we are seeing more and more successful, wise and wonderful women being celebrated, and not just because they’re young. Whether it’s in Hollywood, in the literary world, in the models on the pages of our magazines – it’s becoming clearer that as women we’re not going to fade into middle age, just because society told us that past the age of 25, we are no longer in our prime and we are no longer relevant. Voetsek with that nonsense please.
So I guess this a call to embrace your body and your strength, in whatever age or form that is. We are all at different stages, and we live different lives and have different bodies but don’t put yourself in a tight little bracket and think you can never move from there. Because you can. Our bodies forgive us many things, and with love, care and attention, they can get stronger, and achieve things we didn’t think were possible.
A big thank you to Ash from Fitmom who started me on my journey back into fitness about five years ago now. It was indeed a life changer.
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