Healthy Aging and My Inspiration From a 79 Year Old

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Hello, again. Carolyn here.  If you’re like I am, you don’t just want to live longer, you want longevity and good health.  So, how do we get there?

We all hear the advice about eating right and getting more exercise.  OK, so what does that mean for you personally? What are you willing to do in your everyday life?
I grew up in Southern California, where water and the ocean are part of the lifestyle.  At this point, part of my exercise routine and age-control effort involves swimming.
Swimming is great at any age.  It has one shortcoming, which is that it does not involving weight bearing, essential to fend off bone loss.  So, I add in running and biking.   I use the term “running” figuratively. I jog. Slowly.
So, I have to describe for you the positive experience of swimming in the sea, something that terrifies many, but to me can be another dimension. Not everyone has the chance or inclination for this. But the point is that there are a lot of ways to take control of your aging and I saw someone who made it real for me.  Here’s how it happened.
Recently, I participated in an all-womens’ triathlon.  That is an endurance event with swimming, biking and running, in that order. I do the short kind of tri, called a “sprint”.  The super jocks can do the long distance, more grueling versions.  Not for me. At 65, I am happy just to be there and get it done still standing.  If I’m not in pain at the end, that is excellent!  So, for the swim, I have to share the oddly hypnotic feeling of that day and a bit about an inspiring person I saw at this event.
Picture hundreds of women of all sizes and shapes massing at the water’s edge. We are on a beach in Capitola, CA, on a sunny morning where the event is held annually. Music is playing.  The announcer is calling the various groups to the start.  We are grouped by age.  They write your age in grease pencil on your calf!  However, as we are almost all clad in full length wetsuits, no one can see how old you are at this moment.
Very few women have no wetsuit on. We wear color coded caps.  I’m in the “40 and over” group, which means that some of these ladies are a full 25 years younger than I am.  Oh, well, I’m not here for speed.  I’m here to finish.  We each have a timing chip on our ankle, recording our time as we complete each leg of the event.
The swim distance is about the length of 6 football fields. Out to the end of the pier and then left parallel to shore, left again and then in. Gulp. It looks far. “OK, you can do this”, I tell myself.  “You’re trained and you’ve been here before”.  Right.  Butterflies in my stomach would not agree.
The younger groups go first.  Then the countdown. Go! We rush into the cool waves and dive into the open water.  I am talking to myself:  head down, breathe. Get to the side of the pack. Are you nuts?  Keep swimming. As I find a rhythm, I notice the rocking of the water, the slight current and the feeling of being in another world.  I look up. Am I going straight? The water is cloudy and you can’t see anything in it. It’s surreal. Round the end of the pier and the first marker buoy, a huge orange thing.  Left turn. Breathe.
There is a ton of little anchovies around us. Kelp strands are on my arms and I shake them off a few times.  I am moving slowly  but steadily toward the last marker buoy.  It’s hard to see in the glinting sun. I get into a sort of hypnotic state, stroke, breathe, repeat. I forget to look up. I hear one of the paddle board “lifeguards” yelling.  He’s yelling at me!! I’m veering way off course. Oops, get back with the pack. Then another left turn and I see the shore.  Finally, I’m on it, feet in sand, catching my breath.
We manage to go up to the transition area where we strip off our wetsuits, jump on our bikes and cycle about 12 miles. Somehow, two killer hills do not stop me and I make it back to transition. We quickly change into our running shoes and begin the final leg. It’s the hardest for me. I feel very slow and I’m tired but I keep on, breaking up the run with a minute walk now and again.  The last stretch is back down to the beach. I am in a sort of daze as I cross the finish line.  I’m smiling. Nothing hurts!  I have earned my exhaustion.
At the end all the times and rankings are posted.  There is a 79 year old woman who finished and did the swim without a wetsuit. She’s awesome! She is first in her age group. There is no one else in her age group. She just did this triathlon and I’m incredulous.  She looks like a regular person, not superwoman.
My age group isn’t much bigger. There are 3 of us. I place second.   I congratulate the 65 year old first place finisher. She’s awesome too.  I’m still blown away by the 79 year old.  Isn’t she supposed to be, well, elderly?
It’s fun but it’s hard. You would never have to do this much to make your older years healthier too.  But you do have to do something.  If you like the idea of no stress on your joints and you can find a pool in your community, you can learn to swim. Everyone, likely the 79 year old too, practices in a pool.  And then, there’s the magic of the ocean if you are near it.
If you’re not a water person, find a place to walk, a gym to join or an exercise DVD you can follow at home. Anything at all is better than being a couch potato.  If you are determined you don’t want to fall apart as you age, it’s never to late to start your own exercise program.  It really helps to get a trainer or a coach to encourage you along. I love my coaches.

As for me, I’m hooked on the good feeling that exercise brings. I am inspired by that 79 year old woman triathlete.  I want to be like her.  Here’s hoping she inspires you too.

Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt

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