Why I Embraced Sweaty Weightrooms and Urge You to Follow Suit.

Reconsider your fitness priorities — especially after the big 4–0

They joys of aging. Image credit

Shortly after I turned 40, I noticed some unwelcome changes: my first grey eyebrow hair, the need to increase font size, and frequent back issues from lifting my toddlers, to name a few. The news that I am not immune to aging hit me like a ton of bricks.

In the two years since this milestone, I’ve been steadily re-shaping my priorities through the lens of mortality, and figuring out how to honour them. I’m embracing and prioritizing personal relationships now more than ever. I’m taking my career in a new direction, following my passion for helping people make smarter, healthier nutrition and fitness choices. Last but not least, I’m re-evaluating my health priorities.

It’s this last piece of the journey that I want to share. I hope to encourage others, especially other women who are in or approaching mid-life, to follow suit.

Aging is associated with a variety of physical changes, which play out at different rates in each of us. We lose bone density, strength, muscle mass, and flexibility. We become increasingly prone to injuries, from which we recover ever more slowly. Overall metabolic rate tends to drop (though mostly due to loss of lean muscle). Lovely.

Different grandmother, same posture. Image credit

Most of these physical changes happen gradually. For women, however, some aspects, such as bone density, can decline precipitously after menopause. In the last few years, I’ve seen my very active mom, in her late 60s, shrink before my eyes, due to a deteriorating spine. In her, I can now see the image of my stooped grandmother. Witnessing this process is particularly scary for me because I am built so much like my mother. For most of my life, we were the same height, the same clothing size, even the same shoe size.

As a parent, we also have to reckon with the fact that our children are getting stronger as we get weaker. One of my greatest joys is spending family time in the great outdoors, sharing a love of sports. I keenly want to maintain this piece of our lives for many years to come. Yet, our eldest, a super-active seven-year-old, can already outdo me on a mountain bike. I suspect it won’t be long before my twin toddlers are also racing ahead of me.

With this picture in mind, it’s clear that I would be wise to take a hard look at fitness goals. As a child, all I cared about was having fun and being good at sports. In my teens and adulthood, my focus shifted to a blend of sports-enthusiasm and bikini-readiness. The time has come to double down on functional fitness— specifically, on building muscle and bone density that will keep me healthy and active for decades to come.

I started reading articles about healthy aging (gulp), and found that strength training appeared to be one of the best anti-aging fitness strategy. For example, check out this Cochrane scientific review on strength training in older adults and the rationale for the StrongWomen Community Strength Training Program.

Indeed, my big bro has been telling me for years that I should start weightlifting, even offering to help coach me, but I never bit. This is the same guy that my little brother and I teased mercilessly when he kissed his pumped up biceps in the mirror in his teens. He shrugged it off and kept pumping iron through most of his adult life, even making money off of his impressive physique into his 30s!

“man holding two dumbbells” by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Why didn’t I bite sooner? For one thing, I didn’t want to hang out in a sweaty, smelly gym with a bunch of grunting guys. I am a longtime group exercise class junkie and love the sweat, the adrenaline, and the sheer fun of it. I love going to a sparkling studio with my girlfriends and getting carried away with the music and the group momentum in a spin, dance-aerobics, or HIIT class. The last reason for my hesitation was perhaps the most common one amongst women: I was afraid that I would get bulky or gain fat if I let go of my calorie-burning classes.

Me and my big bro. Week 1 of my Summer of Strength. Photo credit: Maris Wulff

This summer, I acted on my new fitness priorities, and accepted my brother’s offer to show me the ropes in the gym. We made a deal: I committed to working out his way for at least 8 weeks. After that time, I could choose to revert to my old ways and he wouldn’t hold it against me.

The workout program he developed had me doing three different whole body workouts each week, always pushing my weights to a new level whenever possible. More details are on my brother’s website — Wrestling With Philosophy.

We can get stronger and fight the clock if we work at it. Image Credit

The eight week cutoff has come and gone, and I’m officially a weightroom junkie. Not only that, but I’ve become a strength-training evangelist, nudging my girlfriends to give it a try. I’m not yet hooked on the scene, but I am hooked on the results.

Learn about my results and lessons learned here.

See https://fueledbyscience.com for my growing collection of information and tools to help people make smarter, healthier choices.