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Keeping Physically Fit As Your Body Ages

J. Samia Mair discusses the challenges and motivations we come across when trying to keep fit as we get older.

“Try not to overdue it,” my husband says as I leave. “You know how you are and you’re not as young as before.”



I do know how I am – and I’m definitely aware of my relentless ageing. I hadn’t been running for a couple of years because of a bad ankle and then an ankle operation. It was my first attempt and I couldn’t wait to get out there. I had been running all my life it seems. In sixth grade I beat every boy in the mile run. I ran track for several years in school and as an adult ran in large, public races. I did the marathon – once. Not sure how anyone wants to do it a second time, but masha Allah for those who do. To me, running was therapeutic. It was my form of meditation. I could run miles without even knowing it – mind blank, breathing steady and body in total sync with the surroundings. I have yet to obtain that experience with anything else. Before the problems with my ankle, I had never taken such a long break from running and so I was anxious to begin. I appreciated my husband’s warning; on more than one occasion I had overdone an exercise and paid for it afterwards.



In celebration of my first run, my daughters, now 11, decide to bike with me. I think I’m doing pretty well – a good steady pace, not too fast, not too slow, listening to my husband’s advice. Then, as I approach a high-school student walking on the sidewalk, one of my daughters passes me on her bike for a second or third time and comments, “you call that running? That’s not running. You’re barely walking fast.”



In my defence, I retort, “hey, I think I’m doing pretty well for my first time out after an operation for someone my age and with my chronic diseases!”




I hear the student laughing to herself and my daughter zooms off without another word. I evaluate the situation. My daughter is right – I am barely moving…




What kind and how much?
But I am moving and that’s a start. Let’s face it; ageing takes a toll on the body. It takes longer to bounce back from injuries, muscles often atrophy with age and bones can become more brittle, to name just a few effects. But ageing certainly should not prevent you from exercising and it should be encouraged if you are physically able to do it. In fact, regular exercise is recommended for people of all ages as it can strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system, improve muscle tone and strength, prevent osteoporosis, improve circulation, increase energy levels, lower blood pressure, improve joint flexibility, help reduce body fat, help with stress, tension, anxiety and depression, improve self-image and more!




So, where does one begin? First, if you are not exercising or want to start a new exercise regime, check with a health professional to see what is the appropriate level of exercise for you to begin. No one starts out running marathons, for instance, and not everyone should. Also, make sure you get the right kinds of exercises. There are cardiovascular or aerobic exercises that use the large muscles of your body and strengthen the heart and lungs. Examples include such things as walking, jogging, skipping and aerobics. There are also strengthening exercises that help to improve strength, tone muscles and increase your metabolism. Such things as lifting weights, sit ups, heavy gardening (e.g., digging, shovelling) and yoga fall under this category. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a nice webpage on recommended levels of physical activity for adults*. These are general guidelines as your particular situation may be different. Exercise is also recommended for people with disabilities. The US National Centre on Health, Physical Activity and Disability’s (NCHPAD) website is a good place to start for more information on this+. Indeed, there is an abundance of materials and advice on exercising as you age, alhamdulillah. If you want to get moving, you can do so and in a responsible manner as well.




Exercise and the sunnah
Most of us know the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) racing ‘Aishah (RA) and the one encouraging parents to teach their children swimming, archery and horseback riding. We know that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in his mid-late 50s helped to dig the trench around Madinah in preparation for battle. A well-known female companion, Nusaybah (RA), participated in battles with her husband and grown sons. There are numerous examples in the seerah and hadith that demonstrate the benefit and value of being in good physical health, including being able to perform such things as salah and fasting. And if the intention is to keep yourself physically fit so you can perform your Islamic duties, you turn regular exercise into an act of worship.




Final thoughts…
Ageing is a humbling, scary, fascinating, soul-searching phenomenon. One can embrace it or fight it, but no one can stop it – only death does that. We are not built to live forever – at least in these bodies – and alhamdulillah for that. But there are things we can do, including keeping ourselves in the best physical shape that Allah (SWT) wills, so that our ageing is easier, healthier and more spiritually beneficial.



I have yet to recapture the peaceful experience of my earlier running days and perhaps I never will – and that’s okay. I wouldn’t mind a “good job, Mama!” every once in a while, though.




J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013).  She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere. She is also ageing.


* http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults
+ http://www.nchpad.org