Octo Observations: It’s January! Be an Octo Jock!

Do you ever make yourself laugh out loud? Do you ever have a random, whacky thought pop into your head that collapses you in giggles? Well, as I finished today’s energizing work-out hour with our personal trainer, I heard myself saying, “I want to be an Octo Jock!” Both my husband and she burst out laughing.  I was beside myself with glee!

Okay,  I was not kidding. I  really DO want to do all I can to live longer and better. I want to enjoy all our Bonus Days: those decades after we have raised our children, watched our grandchildren become emerging young adults, moved into our forever-after homes, and downsized into a simpler lifestyle.  A new chapter, full of unique opportunities….

So what does it mean to be an Octo Jock? Hmmmmm…Common knowledge, no matter how old or how young we are, is realizing the importance of taking good care of ourselves: our minds, our bodies and our habits. We all have moments of weakness when we say, “Oh, why not….have that extra cookie or glass of wine.” Yet, deep down we know that sooner or later we will pay the price. 

Exercise and fitness are bywords of the 21st Century. They have been around a long time, but now more than ever we are bombarded with reminders to work out, be fit and stay in shape. And if we are not, get with it! January, of all months, is a perfect time to resume a more disciplined regime of good eating, good exercise and good health. 

After the decadence of the holidays with so many rich and delicious treats, January descends. Suddenly the parties are over,  families have dispersed, and Christmas decorations are back in the attic. We are less distracted. We have a chance to refocus. We write our thank you notes, we return to regular living. With winter firmly entrenched, there should be no more excuses for overeating or overindulging. Many people launch into a diet to lose the few extra pounds accumulated during December. Many gravitate to the gym or fitness center. 

Known facts about successful aging into midlife and beyond  include maintaining strength, flexibility, and balance. More so each year…especially as our once youthful muscles start to seize up, knees rebel over repeated impact, and joints are less limber. Don’t you love to see the ease with which young people jog for miles, run up and down stairs, two or three at once….and have as much vim and vigor at the end of the day as they did when their feet hit the floor in the morning? Youth takes that for granted! When is the moment flexibility starts to disappear? If only a bell clanged loudly in our heads, maybe we would pay attention. Instead, years fly by and we busy ourselves with many other tasks.

In my forties, one of my dearest friends in Connecticut persuaded me to join an aerobic class. It was great. We met twice a week, and afterwards, Betty and I frequently rewarded ourselves with a salad or sandwich at Orem’s Diner. Being a petite gal, Betty watched her caloric intake far more diligently than I did. How well I recall her laughing at me as I ordered a healthy chef salad only to saturate it with blue cheese dressing! In those days my metabolism was churning, while still raising children, and managing a big house as my husband was climbing the corporate ladder. I could eat more, feel the effects less, and get away with it. HA, how times change. Menopause hits, and suddenly our bodies don’t behave as they once did. Instead, they absorb those calories, and for the first time in all my life, I had to start watching what I ate. No fun….but reality.

A truism of life: “If we don’t move it, we lose it!”

So how do we keep ourselves fit, avoiding thunder thighs and flabby flesh as the years fly by? (Oh, how I envy those firm Michelle Obama arms!!) Many women love to jog or walk. Many dash to the gym. My 88 year-old sister gets up religiously at 5:30AM so as to beat the crowd that gathers in her retirement facility gym. Our now 50 year-old son and daughter-in-law bought a Peloton bike and LOVE it. Both look fabulous. Our two daughters, ages 61 and 58, walk miles each day. Allison treks faithfully during her lunch hour, while Susie ventures out with her dog both before and after work hours. Our older son, an inveterate early bird, heads to the gym….while his wife, a veteran of both the Boston and NYC Marathons, walks daily and plays competitive tennis. Each of our chicks is alert to the benefits of stress reducing exercise.

My husband, during the height of his career, had a favorite tee shirt with WEEKEND WARRIOR emblazoned on it. Living in Fairfield County Connecticut as we did at that time was nirvana. Lots of hills, curvy roads and wooded areas where he could disappear for a few hours on Saturday mornings. I used to insist he carry ID, as there were no cell phones in those days. I worried if he was gone longer than seemed reasonable. We lived in Wilton, Connecticut, and John loved to take off toward New Canaan, where we knew few people, and the roads were less traveled. When he came home, drippy and happy in the summertime, he dove into our backyard pool and emerged revitalized and relaxed. Not being a runner, there was no way I was going to tag after him. Instead I walked, or enjoyed aerobic classes with Betty.

Decades later, John’s degenerative disc disease  has become a major problem. His scoliosis is advanced, and running disappeared long ago. Now we work with a trainer, who keeps him as flexible as possible. As she says, “If you don’t move it, you lose it.” I have discovered that my days of walking 3-4 miles in an hour vanished once we moved into our retirement cottage. While I can walk all around the facility, I don’t wander onto the main roads, as traffic is simply too frenetic. Also, the arthritis in my two old broken feet acts up now and then, and frankly hurts after too much walking. So, Pippa the pup and I take far shorter walks, but we do move as fast as we can. That is good.

Our beautiful retirement facility has just completed construction of a marvelous State-of-the Art Health and Wellness center composed of a gorgeous lap pool, spacious swimming pool, hot tub and adjoining exercise room fully equipped with every known machine. Wow, what a terrific attraction for people of all ages….and stages of fitness. We can’t wait to spend happy hours enjoying the vast benefits of this new facility. The only thing missing is a retractable roof, so that in the summer time, the sun could shine in and allow us to catch a few rays. It is okay….after all, direct sunshine would only add more wrinkles to an already “seasoned” body!

Internet research is quite helpful. I learned that walking is the overall best exercise for older people….who benefit most by averaging 2000-9000 steps daily. Treat yourself to a Fitbit. Wearing it not only inspires one to keep moving, but it calculates how many steps we take on each walk…..amazing how fast they add up. A Fitbit also acts as a nudge when you look at it and see you have fallen far behind your daily requirement.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, the minimum requirement of exercise for maintaining good health in older adults is 2 ½ hours of moderate activity per week. And if we add 20-30 minutes to our daily walk, we can reduce both blood pressure and glucose levels.  Harvard Health Publishing recommends that “for people in the 65-80-year-old-age group, an 80-20 split between moderate aerobic activity and resistance exercise is advisable. Moderate aerobic exercise can be anything from brisk waking to cycling, dance, or a Zumba class.” Dr. Aaron Baggish of Harvard says that “the ideal aerobic intensity permits you to have broken conversation—that is, being able to get out four or five words between breaths. Less than that, you’re probably pushing yourself too hard. But if you can converse in whole sentences, you’re not reaping the full cardiovascular benefits.”

Resistance exercises are those that build your muscles by developing your strength. When you think about the old ad on TV, “Help! I have fallen and I can’t get up,” you know how vital it is to keep yourself strong. Our trainer spends a good deal of time with us, developing our upper body muscles….lifting weights, working on the TRX, squatting, and even getting up and down from a chair without using our arms to do so. Great practice. Whenever my hubby loses his balance and tumbles in our cottage, which is thankfully infrequent, I have been delighted that he knows how to get himself back up. It may take time, but he is able to do so without our having to pull the “help cord” for extra assistance. Having a back as bad as John has makes it even more vital that he keep those arm muscles strong. Any exercise on the floor that we can do with only our bodies, such as squatting, pushups (either on the floor or against a wall), arm reaches and lifts are great strength builders. You never know when these benefits will come in handy. After completing your exercises (aim for 12 reps each, plus your outdoor walking), be sure to stretch for about five minutes. That way you will reduce unwanted soreness.

Being an Octo Jock also means, to me, that we do all we can to keep our minds alive and  stay as alert as possible. Reading (and writing articles which hopefully will one day become my third book) are my particular passion. Good  books on assorted subjects not only feed our intellect with good writing, but they expand our knowledge. Maybe the fact that my mother was a librarian helped instill a passion for daily reading long, long ago. Christmas and birthday presents always, always included good books. And the school I attended from 7-12th grades provided a mandatory summer reading list from which we had to choose several books to finish before fall term. Each required a book report. No skipping or slouching through that task.

Harvard Health advises that as people age they do better if they engage in “brain games” such as crossword puzzles, chess or  bridge. Painting is also healthy, as is playing a musical instrument.  I am convinced that writing should be included in that category. When one is creating a story, one is alert to words, interesting phrases and articulate sentences progressing to a meaningful conclusion. After all, who wants to lose a reader or write a book abandoned because it is “boring!” “Not I, said the little red hen.”

And finally, I truly believe that counting our blessings is one of the BEST exercises of all. A person who realizes how lucky he or she is, even if losses have slammed their lives, are the ones who can move forward with a cheerful attitude. A positive approach to life equals FIT, FUN and FABULOUS! After all, don’t we want to be the kind of people who light up a room, rather than cast a shadow? Doesn’t it make perfect sense to take good care of ourselves so that whatever happens to us or to those whom we adore, we can be strong and resilient enough to face adversity? YES, YES, YES……we do, and we will, and we CAN be OCTO JOCKS in our own unique ways. Or as my funny forever friend Betty from aerobic days says now, “God forbid we ever hold ourselves together with bailing wire and bubble gum!”

Happy Healthy 2020 and by all means, Keep Moving whenever or wherever you can!

Photo | Bigstock

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.