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I finally reached the time of life when I thought I would have time to do all the things I put off when I had to work every day. But now I don’t feel like doing them. Any advice?

October 24, 2012 in ASK A QUESTION

Aging issues often catch us by surprise. Consider these questions:

I finally reached the time of life when I thought I would have time to do all the things I put off when I had to work every day. But now I don't feel like doing them. Any advice?

What do you do when your spirit is willing, but your body just can't keep up?

I recently read a book I wrote twelve years ago about a long distance bike trip I took from Florida to Massachusetts. Imagine my chagrin when I read these words: I've been a minister for years. Know what I'm looking forward to? Retirement! When I'm retired, I'll have time to take long bike trips.

Well, more than a decade has gone by and my long bike rides are few and far between. Where I used to be able to regularly knock off eighty miles a day, thirty miles now finds me searching for the nearest motel. For a guy who used to call himself an athlete, I was completely caught off guard when I stopped running for a hour or so every day and started writing books. In a very short time I was out of shape. As the years went by it got harder and harder to do the physical things I used to take for granted. And then, when I did feel motivated enough to get out on the road, I somehow got the idea that if I couldn't run at least a few miles, it wouldn't be worth it for me to run at all.

Here's the bad news. As you age it's terribly easy to begin a downward spiral. If you skip exercising for even a week or so, your body loses the energy it needs to get you out the door. Then, because age is inevitable, it takes a lot longer to physically get back to where you were. After a while you say, "What's the use? I'll never feel that way again." Then the brain seems to shut down and the excuses begin. The more you sit, the less you want to move. And since you're sitting on the coach anyway, you start looking for the snacks. And who wants to cook when you're alone or there are just two of you? So you go the fast food route. The whole thing is as much mental as it is physical. Maybe even more so. How do you fight it?

At this point, please listen to what I say, not what I always do. I fight the same problem. Here's my advice, though. Try to handle the loss of youthful energy the same way you handle the death of a loved one. Here's how it works.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a pioneer when it came to popularizing what are called now the five stages of death and dying. When your doctor first mentions cancer, for instance, these stages kick in. She identified them as Denial ('Oh no!It can't be!'), Anger ('I don't deserve this!'), Bargaining ('Get me through this and I'll never do it again!'), Depression ('I want to be alone!'), and, finally, Acceptance ('Okay. I'm ready.').

Loss of youthful energy is like a death. Something you once were is gone and you can't get it back. Whether you are aware of it or not, you have probably experienced this process. First, you denied that you were getting older. We call it the Weekend Warrior syndrome. ('I can still keep up with those kids!') Next came anger. ('Life isn't fair!') Then you began to bargain. ('Okay, I'll give up doughnuts if it will bring back the old energy.') Then, depression. ('I'll never feel good again.') Finally, though, if you see it through, you can arrive at acceptance. You might never physically feel the way you did at age twenty, but you can still feel better than you do now. Look - you can't expect miracles. But you can expect improvement. Study after study shows that when people start eating better and exercising, even well into their senior years, they feel better. It just takes more time and you have to start with small steps.

I once ran the Boston Marathon. I was in the back of the pack, of course, but the stories I heard back there were inspiring. These people were heroes. One woman, in her seventies, told me that in her entire life she had never run a single step until her husband died of a heart attack when he was sixty-five. Soon after, she developed breast cancer. After treatment, the doctor told her to start walking. A year later she felt so much better that one day, on a whim, she decided to see if she could run from one telephone pole to another. She made it. Then she started wondering if she should run a little farther…and a little farther. She was now running her fifth marathon.

It's possible. You can do it. You need two kinds of mental discipline, though. First, a quick burst to get you out the door for the first time. This may mean parking at the far end of the lot and walking to the store. It might mean a walk around the block after supper. Maybe it will mean joining a gym. Spending some money and making a financial commitment often helps. But then you need long-term discipline. You need to stick with it. You don't want to do a lot at first. But you want to do something. Aim for every day. You might not make it, but it's far better to plan for seven days and do five then it is to plan for five and do three.

is in the process of working with a well-known, west coast personal trainer who will be putting together a program especially for seniors. It may take a while, but watch for it in our Wellness section that appears at both the top and bottom of our homepage. Meanwhile, start moving - even a little bit. And rest assured that there are a lot of us who can sympathize!

Good luck!

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