Feeling old? Do something about it

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It's almost like clockwork. Right around 40 years old, a guy or gal will come knocking at our door at my personal training studio.

They will complain that they're gaining weight, they're flabby, they don't feel good anymore, or maybe their cholesterol or blood pressure levels are high. They'll often say something like "I don't know what's going on. I'm not doing anything any different, and I've gained 10 pounds in the last year!"

Well, here's the problem. When you are in your 20s and 30s, you can get away with a lot of things. Maybe you're not exercising or eating well, but you still look pretty good. But after the age of 40, your body starts working against you, and if you're not exercising and your nutrition is poor, all of a sudden you start to see visible evidence. And that's usually enough motivation to cause someone to want to take action.

Bottom line: You should always be exercising, eating well and taking good care of yourself. But after the age of 40, it's critical. A higher level of discipline, will-power and commitment is required, or else your body quickly deteriorates.

So many people hit 40 and don't like at all what they see in the mirror. Maybe they had kids, put their family first and put their needs on the back burner. I hear this often: "I've let myself go" or, "I want to find myself again."

I like to remind people of what they say on an airplane: "Before you help another with their oxygen mask, you must first put your own oxygen mask on." It's hard to take care of others and be your best in all areas of your life if you don't feel great.

Imagine life the way you'd like it to be when you're much older. Imagine that you're still able to participate in the recreational activities you enjoy … hiking, skiing, golf, tennis, camping, swimming, and cycling. Imagine that you're still able to travel the world, play with your grandkids, and are in no need of any assistance to perform daily chores and activities. The enjoyment and quality of your life is great. You are physically, mentally and spiritually fit and healthy. Life is good.

Now imagine the opposite scenario. Imagine you're much older and you need assistance to get around. Imagine that you've been admitted to a nursing home because you can no longer take care of yourself. Imagine that you've become a burden to your children. Imagine that the relationship with your grandkids is superficial and strained because you're depressing and no fun to be around. Imagine that you never go outside because it's such a hassle. Imagine that every joint and muscle aches all day long. Imagine a state in which you are physically, mentally and spiritually unhealthy. No one wants that for their life -- how depressing!

The reality is, what you do today will determine the type of existence you can expect as you get older -- not to mention how you look and feel right now! In most cases, it's a matter of choice, not chance. In fact, the lifestyle that you are living today will cause you to age more slowly or more quickly than your actual chronological age.

It doesn't take a scientist or researcher to have to convince us of this phenomenon. There are lots of real-life examples of people who have been healthy and fit all their life and now find themselves in their later years still having the energy and ability to enjoy life.

We can expect certain changes, such as graying hair and wrinkled skin, to accompany aging. In fact, the cosmetic industry preys off our attempts to reverse some of these changes. But the debilitating effects of aging are particularly noticeable in the musculo-skeletal system (the bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and cartilage).

However, luckily, many of the changes commonly attributed to the process of aging are in fact, a result of physical inactivity or disuse. The old adage "use it or lose it" appears to ring true. Muscle tissue, strength, bone density, cardiovascular fitness, energy levels and functional performance appear to be preserved through exercise. There seems to be no magic pill or drug that holds as much promise for sustained health as a lifetime program of physical exercise and good nutrition! So no excuses, people! Get moving!

Most people realize that they should be exercising -- everybody knows it's good for them. But most people don't exercise -- they just think about starting an exercise program their entire life. There's a definite gap and disconnect between knowing what we should be doing and actually doing it. For most people, they need a compelling reason, a motivating force to actually get started and stick to an exercise program.

Hopefully, today is that day!

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.