I was huffing and puffing my way up Runyan Canyon in Hollywood the other day – a popular hiking trail, which boasts a bottom-firming 2 mile hill with a steep incline. It’s a dog park, so you pass every kind of hound imaginable, as well as some pretty bizarre sights – this is Hollywierd after all. Anyway, I stopped dead in my tracks and had to blink in the early morning sunlight to see if I wasn’t imagining what I saw coming down the hill: a very old woman in a pair of Nike running shoes, making her way down the hill at quite a lick. Granted she had her daughter minding her, right by her side, but STILL!
I couldn’t resist walking up to them to say hello. I wanted to find out more. As it happened the daughter was very friendly and said that they often came up here hiking and that her mom was 97. OMG – I have to have Adele blasting on my iPod to give me the requisite energy to push up to the top, and this old lady with all her aches and pains was doing the same. I told her that I could only hope and dream to have her kind of energy and health in the years ahead, and then I took of running – come on Sophie, if a 97 year-old can make it up and down this hill, you should be sprinting it with 10lb weights strapped to your back!
I forgot about this incident until this morning when I went to a yoga class. I hadn’t read the schedule properly and was furious that I’d had a terrible time of getting out of the house with all the morning’s goings-on (dogs, kids – all that,) only to find myself in a senior’s class. Since I’d parked my car and walked all the way up there with blocks and straps etc, with rather bad grace I surrendered to the flow of the day and unrolled my mat.
The class was actually quite challenging because the teacher was going so slowly. I normally fly through my practice and this teacher had us hold poses for longer than I expected. The theme was twists and she explained how twists encouraged us to detox ourselves of old stale energy and negative thoughts. I looked around me: these men and women were twisting – literally like pretzels! They were breathing (as instructed,) all that negativity out, and they looked great.
As I lay in Savasana, I was reminded how our health is everything – that taking care of ourselves as clearly these elderly peeps were doing, is the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves. If our bodies are healthy, we can manage a smile even in the face of difficult circumstances – we give ourselves a fighting chance to enjoy the day.
My mom was very sad this week because one of her best friends died. She had been a smoker for most of her life and her last few weeks were no picnic. Another of her friends passed away a year ago from a heart attack and she had been obese. I loved both of these women too- they were larger than life and would light up any room they walked into. Both had a ferocious sense of humor and and zest for life – and yet, they passed on before they were ready, because they clearly didn’t take care of themselves.
I’m not saying that exercise, healthy eating and yoga can prevent us all from getting cancer or other awful diseases – we all know someone young and super-healthy who was struck down, but I believe that we can do an awful lot with the hand we’ve been dealt. However many anti-aging supplements and superfoods we chow down, we’re still going to age no matter what. We’re all going to get wrinkles and wobbly bits that we wish weren’t quite so wobbly, however, it’s well within our power to build our strength, flexibility and brain function as we age.
Millions of Americans now take anti-aging supplements and eat super foods in an effort to slow down the ticking of the clock. Although there is now a growing body of evidence to support the anti-aging benefits of some of these pills and foods, not everyone can afford them. Everyone, however, can afford to exercise. Walking two miles a day is doable for most people, as is finding a local community yoga or pilates class. Whether you’re 20 or 70, you need to get moving. Recent studies have shown that regular exercise in middle age can set back the clock 20-40 years!
Also the younger you start exercising vigorously, the easier it is when you get older. Our muscles have memory. I was lucky enough to start exercising daily when I was about 20. By chance I fell into a yoga class and got hooked. Very quickly, I was doing hard-core yoga – the kind that requires tremendous muscle strength – I also ran marathons and danced. I’m grateful that I pushed myself so hard when I could because I’ve been through so many phases in my life of non-exercise, and that burst in my early twenties makes getting back into it so much easier – my muscles remember and consequently spring back pretty quickly.
There’s a term in yoga called ahimsa, which means “non-violence” or “not harming” and I keep this in mind as I exercise. It asks that we become conscious and aware of how we treat ourselves, both mentally and physically. The opposite extreme to the couch potato is the person who pushes themselves way beyond their physical limits. I used to have a friend who was obsessed with weight-loss and would run miles and miles a day despite a knee and hip injury. She wound up breaking her leg, which was probably her Higher Power’s way of telling her to stop. Whenever I do any kind of challenging physical exercise, I try to listen to what my body is telling me and back-off when needed. This is as important as challenging ourselves, because a sudden rash move can lead to an injury that will take us out of the game for months. Deep & slow breathing while exercising is key to finding this delicate balance.
The people I know that are over 80 (my dad included,) who are still razor sharp in their minds and pretty agile in body, have worked super hard to stay that way. As my dad says, “it grows, or it goes.” It’s fascinating to me that the brain as it ages, can still build new neurons and it does this by us challenging ourselves to learn new and complicated things. Studies have also shown that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
All of this exercise rant was initiated by the lovely old lady hobbling her way up that steep hill. I also forgot to mention that one of the reasons I got into yoga all those years ago is that my first teacher was an elderly and quite beautiful woman of 85 years old. She taught me how to do a headstand and shoulder stand by demonstrating it to me first. I was flabbergasted at her agility and despite being barely twenty years old, was motivated by her strength and grace. I sincerely hope that you and I can inspire someone half our age, when we’re in our 90′s, to pull on a pair of eco-friendly running shoe. How to stay young? Get moving!