The Ultimate Anti-Aging Do-It-Yourself Project for Boomers

I found the following message on a discussion board:

“Those of us between 45 and 65 are not considered seniors – and yet many of us are not comfortable in gyms . . . We are truly a neglected group. Our local park districts have several senior exercise programs, even senior sports leagues. But we are too young to join them. At the same time, most of us simply can’t compete with the 20 and 30-somethings that populate most exercise classes.

Gyms need to go out of their way to be more welcoming to people who don’t fit the young and skinny mold. A big part of making a commitment to fitness is psychological, and when you feel you don’t belong, that the atmosphere systematically excludes and ostracizes you because you’re not 22 years old or you don’t weigh 102, then it’s extremely difficult to keep going back.

. . . we 40 and 50-somethings are not quite ready for senior citizenship. We want something more suited to our age than what’s found in the typical gym. But be very, very careful – I am NOT elderly, and I won’t be marketed to or treated that way. Can we find a middle ground for those of us of middle age?”

The above tells me the following about the writer:

1. She finds gyms forbidding 2. She understands that part of the commitment to exercise is psychological 3. She knows 40 and 50 somethings are not seniors, however – – 4. She considers 40-50 middle aged 5. She is adamant about not being considered “elderly” 6. She has a group mindset that affects/controls her thinking and behavior

It is the last item on the list above that merits comment first:

Managing the aging process is not a group activity. It’s nice to have support, and support helps, but ultimately, it’s a do it yourself project.

I would say to the writer of the discussion board message, as well as all 40 and 50 somethings who need group support to exercise (or to perform any activity):

1. Forget about finding acceptance in a gym populated by 20-somethings who don’t have an inch of flab on their tight bodies. If you must exercise in a group environment, then toughen up. Forget about the skinny kid on the bicycle next to you. You are not there to compete; your are there to do your own thing. You are there in response to a commitment you made to yourself, not to a group

2. Part of the commitment to exercise is indeed psychological. If you have made the commitment, you will do what you have to do, regardless of what others do, or where or how they do it.

3. The key to not being treated as elderly is to change how you behave and think about yourself. It’s important to see yourself as a strong individual who doesn’t need the approbation of a group to help you be who you are or want to be.

4. We will always have “marketing to the elderly” because being elderly is a traditional outcome of the aging process, and most people as they age will fit into that category.

5. At 40 or 50, you are NOT middle aged! Remember, in the past century the lifespan has increased by 27 years. Therefore, it no longer makes sense to categorize yourself according to a model that is no longer relevant.

There is a better way to think about the stages of aging, and it is found in Dr. Helen Harkness’ groundbreaking book, “Don’t Stop the Career Clock”. On page 79 she gives her contemporary model for aging:

Young adulthood: 20-40 First midlife: 40-60 Second midlife: 60-80 Young-old: 80-90 Elderly: 90 and above Old-old: 2-3 years to live

Knowing what you know about the lengthening lifespan, isn’t the Harkness model a more rational, motivating way to see your stages of aging?

My best advice to 40 and 50 somethings is to be strong, independent and committed to managing your aging process. Don’t categorize yourself. Realize that regardless of how much group support you have, no one but you can control how you age. It is indeed the ultimate “do it yourself” project.