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Do You Want to Be More Fit, but Are Afraid of Exercise?

Has aging made you sedentary, passive, avoidant? It's never too late to get fit.

I've been active my whole life, or at least I always thought of myself that way. As a child I ran around tirelessly and played all day long with friends in the woods. I loved gymnastics even though I was too tall and a little too heavy for the sport. I would do flips and other insane dives into the pool as a teen, totally fearless and at home in my body.

As a young adult I was at the gym almost every day and loved playing tennis, skiing and hiking high into the mountains. Throughout my thirties I danced salsa and flamenco for hours on end without tiring. At the peak of my fitness, in my later thirties while living in Mexico, I would perform an hour-long solo flamenco show in 40 degree Celsius/104 degree Fahrenheit heat outside on a stage in mid-summer in 100 percent humidity, only stopping periodically to rapidly change my soaked costumes. Insane.

Then I became “successful”. And adopted a homeless dog. My schedule became unpredictable between speaking engagements, business travel, media engagements, conferences and so on. I couldn't sign up for seasonal flamenco courses that required consistent attendance. I had moved back up North and no longer had time every day for dancing, nor a proper space to practice. I periodically took private lessons but my decreasing physical condition made it harder for me to learn and execute difficult moves. I also injured my left rotator cuff in 2012, so that flinging my arm up while dancing was no longer joyful but now fear-inducing (one wrong move and it might hurt for weeks).

Dog walking (which I love) became my primary form of exercise. In my busy schedule it was hard to find time for anything more than that. Walking qualifies as exercise, and is great for getting back into being active, but recently I’ve become aware of just how de-conditioned my formerly active self had become. My huge "a-ha" moment came a couple of weeks ago, when I realized that somehow along the way (probably because of my injured arm and my new relationship to pain), I became afraid of exercise.

Earlier this year I had already discovered just how out of shape I was. I have a friend who is a few years older than me who is exuberantly full of life and extremely fit. We went for a walk one day a few months ago, and I really struggled to keep up with her. Just walking! (Apparently my dog Tina and I don’t walk as fast as we think we do)

Last month I went on a women’s retreat in the mountains with that friend and some other women. I was looking forward to an advertised “Prayer Walk”, not giving the advertised “Prayer Hike” a moment’s glance. I used to love to hike, but somehow I’d stopped identifying with that active young woman. I was now a “walker”.

During the morning announcements, the hike was mentioned but there was nothing about the walk. Concerned, I went and asked one of the event organizers and was informed that the woman leading the walk had taken ill.

My fit friend, of course, was going on the hike. I felt something stir inside me. Hope, mixed with terror. I wanted to go, but was really scared. It was just under an hour to the top, straight up, and there was mention of ropes in place to help with the extra steep parts (I also happen to be afraid of heights). There were bears in the area, so no one was allowed to hike alone. That meant no abandoning the hike midway and going back down if I was breathing my last gasp.

I wasn’t the only one who was scared. Fifty women signed up, and almost every woman I spoke to in the waiting crowd was shaking in her sneakers. Hoping for a way out, yet knowing inside that for some reason this had to be done.

I knew that if I succeeded at completing this hike, it would be as if a spell would be broken. When I hit that summit, something almost supernatural would happen and my older, “lazy”, deconditioned shell would crack and fall off me, and I’d be my adventure-seeking, fearless, active self again.

We all made it to the top. It was exhilarating. I did think I was either going to have a heart attack or pass out a number of times (a little embarrassing as a doctor), but I made it.

I truly feel like something in me that had gone to sleep has come alive again.

Dr. Susan Biali
Source: Dr. Susan Biali

This past weekend, my super-fit speed-walking friend breezily suggested that we walk to the beach from her house instead of driving. This was over an hour-long round trip walk (at her typical high speeds), up and down hills that rival those of San Francisco. My initial reaction was to recoil at the thought, but then my new me (aka the resurrected previously fit and active and adventurous me) said: “What the heck, why not, let’s do it.” And we did. It was great.

If you’ve been slowing down with age and have become nostalgic about the young, fit you that you once were, it may be time for a resurrection.

What physical fitness goals or activities seem out of reach for you now?

What have you given up on?

When you were younger, what activities did you love to do that you fear you’ll never do again?

Last year, I had a Live a Life You Love Club member who decided to get fit in her seventies, in order to recover from a bad fall. Her son bought her personal training sessions as a gift to encourage her and she soon began organizing walks and other fitness activities in her community. Just one year after she joined my Club and committed to fitness, she was chosen by the International Council of Active Aging as an ICAA “Champion” and featured in the January 2016 Journal of Active Aging.

It’s never too late. Do what scares you.

Few things feel better than feeling strong, fit, capable and free.

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You . She has been featured as an expert on the Today Show as well as other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching.

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Copyright Dr. Susan Biali 2016