How to get fit in your Forties?

Five years ago I was counting the days down with sadness, reluctance, and dread: the looming reality that my next birthday would be the big Four-Oh was unavoidable.  I was one year past having my last child.  I changed my diet to strict Paleo previous the year (though I still allowed myself some dairy from time to time). I knew exercise was good … when I was living in NYC I used to run 30-40 miles per week around the Reservoir in Central Park in the mornings before heading in to work, and felt good about that. But I never really understood fitness. I was always concerned with being skinny, rather than being healthy.  Some of that is coming from a family where “the rice krispies diet” is an acceptable means to an end if the result is not looking fat.  But there was more to it: I really didn’t understand how I ought to think about fitness as an adult.  And “40” was going to bring that into focus.  So with that background, I had not exercised consistently since our oldest was born almost 7 years before. In the fitness world, I would have been considered “skinny-fat,” or giving the appearance of being skinny, but really not having a very good body composition. And, the reality was I was not even getting the skinny part done.

The reason that I started eating paleo was that our youngest was born with a cleft lip /palate. Even though I knew his ‘facial difference’ (that’s what they call it now, instead of a birth defect) was not my fault, I still felt like there had to be some correlation to my obsession with diets. At the time I really only knew about input/output dieting: counting calories to lose weight, even if those calories were essentially devoid of required nutritional value. Our cranial-facial surgeon (who would be the lead doctor for our little guy’s first few years) told us he was working on a 5-year research study on the correlation of gluten intolerance with cleft palate babies. Although he encouraged me to give up the grains during our pre-natal visits, I was not about to do it until after I gave birth. Grasping the concept was just not going to happen with my emotions and hormones going crazy.  Shortly after he was born, I changed my diet. I thought, “wow, giving up gluten … I will be so skinny.” Wrong! At the time my exercise came in the form of walks around the neighborhood with the stroller, or walks with the preschool moms.  The primary voice of fitness reality in my life these days likes to tell us it is 80% what you put in your mouth, and 20% exercise. I partially agree with this. In my observations of my own life experience as well as many of those around me, fitness is not a one-size-fits-all formula.  There may be some common themes, but what works for one person might not work for another. I would be remiss to leave out the fact that not everyone is going to be “skinny.”  Growing up in the 80s, and then college and working in the fashion industry in the 90s, skinny was “THE THING” … the “Waif Look” was it.  An unhealthy level of skinny was imprinted in my brain.  This was unattainable for me because I am a muscle builder … my body was not created to be skinny, it was created to be strong. So even though I was eating paleo, I still was not fit or thin.

After a summer of great ice-cream (I still ate dairy) in New Hampshire and lots of food, I decided it was time to start working out. I knew all the paleo people talked about CrossFit, so that is what I would try and much to my surprise that first day, my husband was right by my side even though he had not exercised in even more years than I had.  That first day was rough: everything was foreign to me. The warm up was jumping rope. Umm, I think I can remember when I jumped rope in elementary school, but we were not doing a leisurely double dutch. Soon after, the coach had us doing squats holding a medicine ball. Honestly, I was not sure I had done a squat ever, since my background was dance and we did plies. In dance when you put your knees out you tuck your butt in, not stick it out. I had not lifted a barbell since high school track. Honestly I was completely out of my element and felt horrible about myself, wondered really what was I doing there with all these athletes? When we got home that evening, I took a hot bath slathered myself with Ben Gay (I had to send Tim to the store for this) and I laid on the couch thinking what a dumb idea to start exercising when I was almost 40.

The community, the coaching and all the encouragement was so strong there, we continued to show up (the coach used to say when I was complaining: just show up, that’s all you have to do). We got more comfortable with the exercises and slowly began to enjoy ourselves.  I remember being there about 2 months and running 200s as a part of the workout (WOD as they call it in CrossFit, Workout Of the Day). I felt slow and out of breath but motivated and thought to myself, “I am still out of breath after two months of this, how could I let myself get this out of shape?” Every month got a little better, I could finish some workouts without feeling like I was going to die and I was lifting more weight than ever. Even though sometimes you are splat on the floor after a really rough workout.  It took about 6 months to not feel so awkward, but we were hooked.

Fast forward 3 years of showing up and I was competing in weekend CrossFit competitions – coming in second to last place, but I was still competing and I was stronger than ever before.  I could climb 15 foot ropes at 41, do handstand push-ups and pull-ups. I even knew my maximum effort lifts and was setting personal records for myself.  The day I got a personal record on my deadlift of 287 lbs., I knew my body was created for strength. I can truly say I was sold on the fit-not-skinny thing. But I still had the nagging in the back of my head to be skinny.

Another year passed and the physical realities of injuries from birthing three kids had caught up with me. In order to prevent further injury, I had to have hernias repaired as well as the diastatsis recti (muscle separation) that one of my multiple hernias was pushing through. So I thought, “while I am getting all this fixed I might as well have the stretched skin taken out too.”  I was a long road of recovery. I took 8 months off CrossFit.

Now I am back at it and I am happy to report, I am not starting from square one, like I did 5 years ago. I lost a lot of strength, and I am sore. But I am not dying like I was and not cursing my inactivity. It is never too late to get fit and improve your health. I think fitness is achievable for even the people who have either never exercised or had not done so in a long time (like us).

If you would like to hear more about my diet or exercise plan or other tips on how to balance health, fitness and mindset drop comment in the comment tab and I will be happy to write more.

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