The other day, I gave our fitness editor, Jen Sinkler*, a big hug — and I thought the same thing I think every time I hug her: Whew, that girl has solid muscles! She just feels strong, you know? Like a rock.
Jen used to be an all-star rugby player, and she still carries herself with a certain confidence and friendly swagger that I’ve come to associate with lifelong athletes. (For more on the characteristic qualities that sports tend to develop in us, see “The Game of Life.”)
It’s a carriage that broadcasts easy strength, not just in body, but also in attitude, saying in effect: “Hi there, I’m here and I’m on your team, so if you need any large objects moved or a shoulder to cry on or anybody’s ass kicked, just let me know.” Kinda makes you feel good being around people like that.
Strength is a quality I admire and aspire to. That’s why I do resistance training, interval training and yoga classes. It’s why I feed my body good stuff, take my supplements, and strive to get in enough rest and recovery time.
In my mind, strength isn’t just about the body, though. It’s also about the heart and mind and spirit. And cultivating that kind of strength involves serious training, too.
That’s why I let myself cry or kvetch a little when I need to — and then start looking at where my responsibility for my happiness begins, and at what my best available choices are now.
It’s why I’ve learned to acknowledge more readily when I’m out of whack — starting to feel reactive, blame-inclined, victimized, overwhelmed or hopeless — and to then do what I need to do to get right with myself.
It’s why I appreciate the value of learning things I don’t officially “need to know” but find intriguing. It’s why I enjoy talking with new people and experimenting with new perspectives and practices (like the patience-building approaches in “Worth the Wait: Why Patience Pays Off“).
I’ve come to believe that all of these things are (or at least can be) builders of whole-person strength and resiliency. Over time, I’ve also come to see them as signs of maturity — some of the great gifts of, and keys to, healthy aging. (For more on these and how to make the most of them, see “The Older, the Better.”)
I agree with Bahram Akradi that we can continue to establish all kinds of “personal bests” as we age. At 45, I certainly feel better than I did in my 20s or 30s — on so many levels.
And yet, I clearly remember being in my 20s and 30s and vaguely terrified that it was all going to be downhill from there. So if you’re in your 20s or 30s and think I’m totally full of it, please know I find your skepticism understandable.
Please know, too, that we may both be right — because getting stronger and better with age doesn’t just happen, and it sure doesn’t happen for everybody.
Some people take their youthful strength and vitality for granted, only to find it draining away from them as the result of long-term neglect, misuse or abuse. (For proof of that, look no further than our country’s epidemic of chronic disease, obesity and addiction.)
Others are struck down by strength-sapping health crises in the prime of life despite “doing everything right.” (For more on coping with a disturbing diagnosis, see “Repair Your Thyroid.”) But no matter what happens or where we find ourselves, I believe each of us has certain choices we can make to maximize the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength available to us going forward.
We packed this issue of Experience Life with tidbits we hope will help you make those choices more easily and confidently, and to enjoy yourself more in the process.
And if you just want to get some seriously strong, impressive muscles like our fitness editor, Jen, that’s OK, too. Check out our article on German Volume Training (“10 Sets, 10 Reps: German Volume Training”) — and don’t come crying to me when you can’t move a couple of days later.
Strength comes at a price, after all. And usually it involves pushing your limits at least a little. How far you push, and where, is entirely up to you.
*UPDATE (1/1/13): After more than nine years with Experience Life, Jen Sinkler is now pursuing her personal and professional ambitions as the head honcho of Thrive With Jen Sinkler. Find her over at JenSinkler.com.
Pilar Gerasimo is the editor in chief for Experience Life magazine.