I remember my father’s surprise 40th birthday party.
I would have just turned 7. We lived in Florida, so the scene that greeted him as he walked into our modest ranch-style house was a nod to the common sight one could see as they drove through the retirement mecca that was Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.
Lined up on the tile floor of our foyer were four folding beach chairs, and in each one sat one of my parents’ friends. They were wearing masks and/or wigs, I don’t quite remember, that made them look to be in their 80’s or 90’s. Black streamers and balloons decorated the house for this “Over the Hill-” themed party. My father’s nearly black hair had only just begun to show flecks of grey at the temples and he was an active windsurfer.
As is tradition in our family, a few years later, my father threw a surprise party for my mother on her 40th. I trotted to the neighbor’s house with my infant sister in my arms, so that we and my brother could be there for the surprise, as my dad took a different route with my, probably suspecting, mother. She was appropriately, and uncharacteristically, dressed in black. She received multiple gag gifts mocking her advanced age and the demise of her youth.
I remember thinking that 40 was OLD and life was clearly over. It was apparently, “all down hill from here,” and I guessed that was a bad thing. The fact that my mother was swimming a mile a day and nursing a baby did not sway me, so strictly had society enforced this notion of “old.” I am still not clear as to what “hill” was being referred to, but I guess I’m over it now too.
Luckily times have changed. While my mother was pretty unusual, over 30 years ago, for giving birth at almost 40, I have plenty of friends my age who had their first or third child near age 40. My best friend from high school was almost 43 when she gave birth to a child naturally conceived after years of not quite being ready.
When I turned 40, I went to Jamaica for a week with some girlfriends to celebrate. There were no grey wigs or jokes about being old. I’m still searching for my forever mate, yet there were no sympathetic notes from family members about my marital status. Even though I don’t want children, I still have people telling me “I still have time.”
The expressions, “Age is just a number” and “You’re only as old as you feel” ring very true with me.
I have a friend who was my first boss when I headed out to California at age 22. She was fit and super cool and a new mom as well as a small business owner. I left LA five years later, but had been her first and long-time employee when I left, and we have stayed in touch. Her business has grown and thrived, but she was hit after age 50 with pre-menopause and the dissolution of her long and seemingly happy marriage. She had always been healthy and fit, but after that, she threw herself into fitness, and OMG, if you saw her, you would NEVER believe this bikini clad hottie is the mom of a college-aged kid. She is working out hard, and also posts photos of big plates of fresh and healthy food. She is living her best and healthiest life at 52! She is such an inspiration! You can follow her journey on Instagram.
Our life expectancy continues to rise. It was funny to watch Hamilton and then Google the Founding Fathers. The “old” King George was only 38 in 1776! Many people these days don’t retire at 65…our Congressmen and women, in particular, and life after 40 is really no different than life after 30 except that in my case, I started needing reading glasses…much like Alexander Hamilton in the second act!
I was not a high school athlete. I loathed PE, and I skipped it regularly during 10th grade, the final year it was required. I have written about how Pilates helped me through physical pain and yoga through emotional pain. I was in better shape at age 30 than at age 20 and better shape at age 40 than at 30.
When I look at photos of my younger self, there is a certain plumpness of youth. My skin was softer. However, my body now is stronger and healthier now. I was a skinny teenager, but I wasn’t strong. I am a slender adult, but I am badass! I can do push-ups from my toes and a handstand (working on moving it off the wall). I can hold a headstand with ease. I can shape my body into advanced yoga asanas and Pilates moves because I am not only stronger, but more flexible than I was 20 years ago. I can stand on one leg till my foot cramps.
I have had to stop running the 5k I had been doing a few times a week for about 10 years because it started causing me pain, but I have been doing road biking, which I love for the cardio without the impact.
As a yoga teacher, I have watched with joy and pride as dedicated students in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s build strength, improve mobility and feel healthier when they practice yoga regularly. One of my first students was in her 50’s and had always had a figure that was admired. She was curvy and feminine, but was unhappy with the recent changed state of her stomach. She committed herself to Pilates with me, and in a matter of weeks, told me people were commenting on her figure again, and she was fitting into dresses that had been too tight just a few months before. More than anything, she had her confidence back!
You are not too old to get in shape!
In the past 10 years, a number of my friends parents have died. Sometimes it was from cancer, and other times it has been things like heart attack, diabetes or simple obesity that caused health problems. COVID has shined a harsh light on this. While some otherwise healthy people have gotten very sick, more often than not diabetes, being overweight or having weak lungs have played a role in some of these tragic deaths of younger people.
It is true that after a certain age, we stop building muscle mass and mobility impairment may make building flexibility impossible, but NOT for your average 40, 50 or 60 year old. I would argue that people over 70 have an even more urgent need to make sure they exercise to make sure they don’t lose the ability to stand up out of a chair; to help with balance and reduce the risk of falls; to keep their mind sharp; and to increase their energy. For people with limited mobility chair yoga, tai chi, seated cardio machines, water exercise and other therapeutic practices can safely improve physical and mental fitness. Not everyone is like my dad playing ice hockey in his 70’s, but because we are living longer, it is that much more important to take care of ourselves.
My father, the hockey player, divides his life into periods. Age 31 was only the start of the second period, so at 40, he had a lot of playing left in him. Now he is in the third period, and he is far from done. “With 30-year periods, what happens after 90?” I asked him, “Sudden death overtime?” (dark!) Perhaps the periods should be 33 years…
The point is, none of us should waste however many periods we are given, and we should play hard every minute of each of them!
I see no reason why I shouldn’t live longer than my grandparents did, who all lived to be almost 90, except my maternal grandmother who was 91. However, I don’t want to be old and in pain or old and unhealthy. A LONG and HEALTHY life is the goal.
I am convinced going vegetarian improved my hair skin and nails, and while not a vegan, I am going on close to 10 years as a vegetarian, and my dairy intake is minimal. My eggs are free range. I am not going to try to further sell you on being a vegetarian, you can Google it, but loads of data support the benefits of reducing the meat we consume.
I am not “perfect” in my lifestyle, whatever that means. I drink coffee. I LOVE carbs, especially sweets. I drink less and less alcohol every year, but it isn’t zero. I do love wine, and pina coladas, as you can see. I don’t want to live a life of deprivation in order to live longer, but for me, eating well makes me feel good and exercise makes me feel great, so it is hardly a sacrifice.
I am the smoothie queen!
I love to travel, and a friend said to me recently that she is “too old and too fat to travel.” She is about a year older than me, so she is not too old and “fat” can be changed. The idea of not being able to travel would be motivation enough for me, but others have other motivating factors: to see their children or grandchildren graduate from school; to run a race; to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa; to hike Machu Pichu, to walk their daughter down the aisle.
We all have plenty of time left in our game.
I don’t care if you are 18 or 80, in our first period or halfway through your third, only YOU are responsible for your health, and it is not too late. You are not too old, too fat, too tired, too weak, too inflexible…in fact all of those are reasons why you need to do something. I think the key is finding that something. Maybe you hate walking, but love swimming. Maybe you hate yoga, but love Zumba. Maybe you hate the gym, but love doing videos at home. Maybe you’re bound to a wheelchair, but have super strong arms. Maybe you have severe asthma, but love the gentleness of tai chi. My crazy 70-year-old mother hula-hoops for crying out loud! There is something for even the least athletic among us. Remember a body at rest tends to stay at rest, but once you get it moving, look out!
Health is not about a six-pack or huge biceps or a fast one-mile split. It is about being in the best state for your body. It is about being able to walk up a flight of stairs without being winded, being able to bend down to pick up a dropped object, being able to lift a child you love to hug them, and having the energy and libido for sex. Funny story: Sex actually killed my grandfather, but he was 89 at the time, and my grandmother said he was happy when he died. Ya think? Well, we should all be so lucky.
So that sexy friend of mine entered a fitness contest sponsored by Ms Health and Fitness. I voted for her and wrote some encouraging words on her post. She replied with, “You should enter!” I replied, “lol.” I moved to LA to act and sought modeling work, literally 20 years ago this year. I was stopped regularly and asked if I modeled because at a thin 5’10”, I fit the description. For whatever reason, I never had any success. I never had a decent agent, and I never was paid to grace so much as a JC Penney catalog. In recent years, friends have suggested I should try again, and I crack up. Start modeling at 40!?!?!? That is NOT how the industry works. Famous and successful female actors and models have complained that Hollywood discards women as they age. I am not about to subject myself to that again.
Then I got to thinking….I have been working out a lot during COVID. I had not been practicing daily since I started my new job, but since March, I have barely missed a day. In addition to yoga and Pilates, I’ve been doing some light weight training, and have added classes based on yoga with added resistance to my repertoire; I call it Yogatōn. I’ve been working on that headstand and, inspired by my badass friend, doing multiple sets of push-ups a day. I have indulged in very limited binge watching or mornings lying in bed. I feel fantastic, and I look good, for me.
I don’t have a super athletic frame. I don’t have bulging biceps and a stomach akin to a piece of slate. I am not super tan or super blond. I don’t have large breasts, and I have had no plastic surgery. These are all attributes I would normally assign to a lot of the models in the fitness magazines. I am not disparaging the work they have put into achieving their physique, but I don’t think it’s realistic for most people; it’s not desirable for many; and frankly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are healthy.
I want to feel strong and feminine; fierce and sexy; slender and supple…I want to…feel like a nat-ur-al woman, WO-MAAAAAN!!!
Fit women are beautiful regardless of their age, race, size or sport. I am so glad that the images of waifish models is a thing of the past. I love that we honor and revere Venus and Serena Williams, Beyonce, the US Women’s National Soccer team, and on and on for their strength, talent, speed, agility and more. There are so many examples of women who are strong and fit and not just for the sake of showing off muscles. Being strong and toned without being “jacked” is the goal for many of us. I have a naturally thin frame, and as established, I am not a serious athlete, so I will never look like those women, but I can be as strong as I need to be to be healthy and happy, and so can you!
I’ve been working hard, and I saw this contest as a chance to inspire others. I am strong and have defined muscles without lifting heavy weights. Plus, my flexibility from yoga means that I am less likely to injure myself and my muscles are not these short, contracted muscles typical of serious weight training, but rather the long, lean muscles that Joseph Pilates believed to be healthiest. I was a non-athlete with little hand-eye coordination who stumbled into a Pilates class at age 23 and discovered fitness. Now at 43, I see no limit to what I can do. I am NOT too old to master that handstand, to learn a new posture, or as I discovered last year, to do trapeze and neither are you!
I decided to enter that contest after all because I love that I have been able to guide and inspire men and women of all ages and body shapes on their journey to health. I always say that yoga is not about achieving something; it is about the journey. I reject the notion of a goal weight. If you diet to achieve your ‘goal weight,’ what happens once you achieve it? Instead, the goal should be a life filled with joy, and that is a lot easier when your body, the only one you will ever have, is operating at its maximum potential, whatever weight that may be.
There are challenges that life throws at us that maybe we cannot overcome. At times, we simply have to make peace, but other times, we can take charge. We perhaps can’t rid ourselves of any pre-existing conditions we have, but we can work within our own bodies limits and be the best version of ourselves we can be.
What is your fitness goal?
If yoga and Pilates seem interesting, join me for my classes. There is no such thing as being “bad” at yoga, so get that out of your head right now. If you think you are not flexible enough, that is exactly why you should try. Let me help guide you on your journey. My classes are free and on-line with the option to donate to charity if you want, or you can view them on YouTube, and I offer three classes a week that are different in style and difficulty. I am one of THOUSANDS of online class options you can try, and many are free.
I got my first tattoo just before my 41st birthday. I have six now. One of the two most recent is on my right hip, more or less in line with my sacral chakra, which is the source of emotion, sexuality and passion. It says “shakti” in sanskrit, which is associated with feminine strength, sensuality and divine energy. As with my other tattoos, I hold its meaning as special and sacred to me, and I am reminded of my strength when I see it.
I am woman, hear be roar!
I entered the contest because I decided that at 40 plus, my body is strong and healthy and worthy of pride. I decided that I can continue inspiring health in the people I teach in-person, over Zoom or on YouTube. You can vote for me in this contest! You can vote once a day as often as you want, and the contest ends at 11 pm Thursday, July 30. The competition is made up of a lot of REALLY muscular women who have clearly worked hard to achieve their fitness goals, and I say, “good for them,” but I also think my version of fit is more balanced, more healthy, more sustainable for life and more realistic for the average woman. How many of those women can do wheel posture!?!? Yoga is not a competition, but this contest is, and I thought maybe I could compete.
Fuck the hill. I will run to the top of it and whoop for joy! Then I will sit and meditate as I watch the sun set and get ready for another day. Maybe I will jump on my bike and zoom down the other side because 40 is just a number, and I have 40 years and then some left with too much to do and see to spend it sick and tired. Who’s with me?
If you liked this, like, follow, share!
You can vote once a day, so I would love your support in showing the world that a yogini can be the exemplar of health and fitness!