Rant 63 February 2012: In Praise of Older Women

February 4th, 2012  |  Published in 2012 rants, Rants, Stumpblog  |  38 Comments

Esteemed Stumpfans, I present you with this unalterable truth: I ain’t gettin’ any younger. And neither are you.

But unlike the chronophobic youth fetishizers who have an existential crisis when they hit 25, or the media who think that adolescents with partially formed frontal cortexes should drive the bus of cultural currents, I’m cool with aging. After all, as challenging as aging can be, it sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

For one thing, many of us are getting smarter.

Forget all that bullshit about how infants are learning geniuses while old people cling to their timeworn ruts like paranoid cat ladies of cognition. Have you seen babies lately? C’mon, they still crap their pants and think Barney is cool. I can beat a baby at chess at least 50% of the time.

Yes, we do lose brain cells as we age. But here’s the cool thing: when it comes to brains, size doesn’t always matter. OMGBFFA used to have a couple of tiny Yorkshire terriers. Each one weighed about 4 lb. Now, these things have brains the size of a chickpea. Yet somehow, everything dog-like was condensed into these little cranial legumes. Those dogs, fruity as they were (especially when wearing little sweaters), could still execute all the dog-required tasks that, say, a German shepherd could.

Let me go one better. Consider the octopus. That thing doesn’t even have a “brain” in the way we think of it; it’s really more like Jello and rubber formed into an amusingly creepy prehensile shape. But octopuses are freaky smart. And those cephalopod fuckers beat me and the baby at chess 100% the time.

Hell, even fungi can be brilliant. Check this weird shit out.

I digress. The point is that thanks to neuroplasticity and the ability of our brains to form new connections, we’re getting smarter despite fewer neurons. And often, cleverness and cunning mixed with a good ol’ age-related dose of cynicism beats vigour and brute force.

Just like every boxing gym has that old dude with the porkpie hat that speaks in vulgarity-laced proverbs, nearly every traditional martial arts school has that ancient guy who looks and talks like Yoda, and claims his knees are no good, but who can still kick you in the face from every possible angle.

I remember when I first started judo. I did some classes with an instructor who got his black belt in 1958. By now he’s like a zillionth-degree black belt, so black belt he’s gone right into red belt. In person, he’s not very scary. He’s a kindly, affable short guy who moves slowly and creakily, and talks about how he’s not very good at throwing these days. Yeah right. All he does is stand next to you, and you fall down. He scratches his ear, and your face slams the mat. He wiggles his toe, and you end up with your kidneys smashed into your nose, wondering why you didn’t take up competitive shuffleboard instead of judo.

That’s the power of age-related skill and smarts.

Aging gives us context and the big picture. Ideally, you start to realize that little things don’t matter.

  • Got a cold and can’t train for a few days? Meh. It’s a drop of water in the ocean.
  • Gained a pound? Meh. In a body that has, say, 150 of those pounds, does one more here or there really matter?
  • Didn’t make my squat PR today? Meh. There’s always next week.
  • Crap workout? Meh. I’ve got a thousand workouts under my belt; this isn’t the workout that makes or breaks me. I know what matters most is that I just kept showing up to the gym.

Having context makes victories that much sweeter. And smaller. Which means there are more of them.

  • Knees don’t hurt today? Great!
  • Got upright and achieved bipedalism? Super!
  • Shoulders moving happily in their sockets instead of creaking like old hinges? Awesome!
  • Able to sneak a few pieces of artisan cheese or a glass of vintage malbec past my digestive system sensors? Hoohah!
  • Didn’t squeak out a fart while deadlifting? The world applauds!

Shit, every day is the friggin’ Olympics when you start realizing what’s truly important and get smacked around a little bit by the universe. Aging gives you perspective and cuts your grandiosity down to size. You build healthy humility and life becomes a wonderful little charm bracelet of tiny magical moments and banal pleasures. You stop being in such a goddamned hurry.

100-year-old shot putter Ruth Frith

Aging also helps us grow into ourselves. We start to know what we like and don’t like. We stop giving a fuck what other people think of us.

Imagine, younguns, a world where you just don’t give a shit about looking stupid or what your friends think or falling down in public or impressing the Joneses or having to go along with the crowd to do things you hate. Imagine how awesome that would be. The liberation. The joyous freedom. The glorious sense of possibility. Well, if you’re lucky, that’s what getting older is.

Now, this magnificent state of karmic bliss doesn’t come without a price. Humility is rarely inherited; it usually must be earned. Unless you’re one of the lucky folks that learns from other people’s mistakes, you’ll have to endure some experiential skill building. Which is to say you’ll have to go through all the fuckups and falling-down on your own.

The other cost of the passport to Zen is that your physical body makes its presence known much more clearly when you age. Stuff starts to hurt. Stuff starts to creak. Stuff starts to grow hair (or lose it). Stuff stops making some stuff you do want, and starts making other stuff you don’t want. And gravity isn’t just a theory, it’s the law.

Bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd, in her mid-70s

Now, these changes don’t mean that things get worse. They simply mean that things change.

Frinstance, I’ve built more muscle in the last few years than I think I’ve built in my entire lifting career. (Thank you, Dan John, deadlifts, and the good folks down at the all-you-can-eat churrasquiera.) And I intend to keep building more muscle, at least until normal clothing no longer fits me and my ass looks like two cannonballs being absentmindedly twiddled by a rock giant.

And after years of training in a variety of activities, I have exquisite body awareness and muscular control. Any new activity I take up is speedily and easily integrated into a deep and broad physical practice. (Although I did kick my salsa partner in the ankles last weekend, but hey — that’s the price of an enchufle doble with a ninja, my friend.)

My body shape has changed as my hormones have changed. I can get all pouty faced while throwing out old bras, or I can simply shrug and go hit the January sales for something new. Neither better nor worse; just different.

Still, there are some not-so-great consequences. One of those is that our bodies simply can’t endure the abuse we used to throw at them. We might develop weird digestive intolerances. (Oh red wine and cottage cheese, how I mourn your loss.)

As we age we have to train smarter. We have to think about sustainability. The long haul. Tomorrow. Next year.

We have to be willing to tap out early and walk away — thus we live to fight another day. We have to foam roll and do our mobility work. We have to take days off and mix things up. We can’t go balls to the wall (which, by the way, has nothing to do with testicles and everything to do with engineering) all the time. We can’t pump till we puke… ever. We can’t do dumbshit things, because an injury today might mean weeks or months of recovery, instead of days. We should nap more.

We have to keep it real, be authentic, and both live and lift with integrity, self-compassion, and optimistic humility. We have to stop looking for the magic solution. There is no fucking magic solution. We are already magic. We are already stupendous. Aging merely gives us a ticket to the greatest show on earth — the wizardry of our own survival. If you’re smart, and think sustainably, that show will be magnificent until you croak.

Enjoy. And pass the prunes. (For more inspiration, check out AgeOfChampions.org.)

95-year-old sprinter Ida Keeling

Responses

  1. amanda says:

    February 4th, 2012at 8:52 am(#)

    Oh my, so fucking funny, well said!

  2. looloolooweez says:

    February 4th, 2012at 9:10 am(#)

    “old people cling to their timeworn ruts like paranoid cat ladies of cognition”

    and

    “until normal clothing no longer fits me and my ass looks like two cannonballs being absentmindedly twiddled by a rock giant”

    You sure do have a way with words, lady.

  3. Kelly says:

    February 4th, 2012at 9:12 am(#)

    YES!!
    I want to share this everywhere!
    And the pics of those awesome ladies – holy shit!

  4. Agnija Bharathi says:

    February 4th, 2012at 10:28 am(#)

    “We stop giving a fuck what other people think of us.”

    Amen to that! At 41, I decided to let my silver show.. well actually it turned out to be pewter. Meh, when I turn 50 it’ll all be silver!

  5. Diane says:

    February 4th, 2012at 10:40 am(#)

    Thank you. I can’t tell you how much I need this.

    I’m a 68 year old lump with some bad arthritis and too much weight who can’t figure out how to get out of my chair most days. Most days I think I’m too damn old.

    I’m printing this out and posting it in every room until it gets easier to go to the gym than to read it again.

  6. Caitlin says:

    February 4th, 2012at 11:03 am(#)

    SO MUCH CONCENTRATED AWESOME. I shared this with my husband, who I consider to be the model of awesomeness in many ways, not least of all because he rocks 50 like a pair of leather pants.

  7. Karen says:

    February 4th, 2012at 11:22 am(#)

    Nicely written! As a 44 year old, I relate to this as I watch my body become… different. :)

  8. Erin says:

    February 4th, 2012at 12:06 pm(#)

    So not only are you a brilliantly gifted writer, but you are preternaturally astute. You just summed up the last year of my life… especially the part about accepting being tapped out and learning to walk away in order to live to fight another day.

  9. Cynthia Chapa says:

    February 4th, 2012at 1:46 pm(#)

    Right fucking on!!!!!!!

  10. Susan Olding says:

    February 4th, 2012at 5:18 pm(#)

    Amen to all this!

  11. Teresa Merrick says:

    February 4th, 2012at 6:39 pm(#)

    +1 on showing up at the gym! And I don’t care about squeaking out a fart during a deadlift!

  12. digamba says:

    February 4th, 2012at 7:28 pm(#)

    Do I count as old? I hope so. I’m 46. My goal is 10 pull-ups by my 47th birthday in June. Long-term goal is to look 50% as fabulous as Ernestine Shepherd.

  13. Wendy says:

    February 4th, 2012at 9:43 pm(#)

    “Aging merely gives us a ticket to the greatest show on earth — the wizardry of our own survival. If you’re smart, and think sustainably, that show will be magnificent until you croak.”

    Bravo!

  14. Yuki says:

    February 5th, 2012at 11:49 am(#)

    Okay, Ernestine Shepherd is my new hero! Besides you Krista.

  15. Violet Hayne says:

    February 5th, 2012at 7:29 pm(#)

    I am 80 years young! You have made my day! Go girl… Married at 79yrs active on ALL counts and published my first novel The Planting’ at 78yrs of age. Now writng children’s stories and loving and Living life to the full! I can say I am Happier, more contented andfill every minute of my day … Still learning and still LIVING!

  16. leah says:

    February 5th, 2012at 7:37 pm(#)

    If you lean in and listen closely – you can hear a collective sigh of self-loving gratitude and relief.

    Its all the stumpomaniacs reading this post.

    If I knew a million words for thank you – I would take the time to type them here.

  17. Gay Breuler says:

    February 6th, 2012at 8:08 am(#)

    Between Ernestine and Ida, I have plenty to look forward to–I’m only 68 and working at having Ernestine’s body and Ida’s sprintability

  18. Lyndy says:

    February 6th, 2012at 11:27 am(#)

    Wow- this blog entry inspires me. I, too, am okay with getting older. At 40, I’m actually in better shape now than I have ever been. And I enjoy life so much more without constantly worrying about what everyone else thinks.

    Thanks for this blog- I really enjoy it.

    Lyndy

  19. primal4fifty... and beyond! | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 11 says:

    February 6th, 2012at 11:58 am(#)

    […] essay are seriously inspirational. And the best line comes near the end: we are already magical! Rant 63 February 2012: In Praise of Older Women :: stumptuous.com Reply With Quote   + Reply to […]

  20. I propose a moratorium on jokes about Madonna’s age « Fit and Feminist says:

    February 6th, 2012at 12:03 pm(#)

    […] over at Stumptuous wrote this most-excellent rant the other day, in which she sang the praises of older women: Imagine, younguns, a world where you just don’t give a shit about looking stupid or what your […]

  21. Furniture Guy says:

    February 7th, 2012at 8:14 pm(#)

    Heya Krista, been getting highlights from your blog by my wife for about the last 6 years now and I’m continually inspired by your eloquence, ballsiness (engineering!)and wisdom. Wonderfully written reminder to not go gently into that goodnight!

    At 38 I started a new workout program (Crossfit) and now at 39, I’m getting ready to run a marathon the week before my 40th birthday. At 6’3″, 220 lbs and under 10% bodyfat, I’m in the best shape of my life and loving that fact. I might have to work out smarter and a with an eye to recovery these days, as you mentioned, but I count it a victory every day I can go into work delivering furniture, appliances and mattresses and outwork the guys half my age.

    Please keep on inspiring us, and keep on Stumpin’on! (Horrible pun, I know. Grin!)

  22. lamont schusse says:

    February 7th, 2012at 8:49 pm(#)

    i’ll keep this article forever. i thank you so much for writing this…..or better yet, having the balls to write this with such honesty, courage and humor. also sneaking in some good tips too that i intuitively knew and do,is always great to have them validated by a kindred spirit.

  23. Joy says:

    February 10th, 2012at 10:24 am(#)

    Agreed! I read a lot of blogs and have seen a lot of posts on aging, but this is the best! Funny, true and hopeful! Thanks for the genius.

  24. Neil says:

    February 12th, 2012at 5:38 am(#)

    Great article.
    Incidentally, Ruth Frith is now at least 102 years of age and, last I read, still competing. Ruth took up track and field athletics at 73 years when she grew tired of minding competitors’ bags. Ruth had already contributed massively to track and field. A daughter, Helen, represented Australia in two Olympics and three Commonwealth games.

    Unfortunately, Masters Games tend to be trivialised by the media through items about people aged over a hundred. The story is the novelty of someone over 100 yrs competing in anything rather than the excellence of time or distance achieved. Outstanding performances of people in their forties or fifties are ignored. There’s a 75 years old gent at my gym who competes in everything. If his times were age-adjusted, he’d be seen to be knocking the tripe out of everyone.

    But, c’mon Mistress Krista. In Praise of Older Women ? Although a minority, men have been known to be useful, too.

    Society fails to acknowledge the existence and contribution of its older segment. For example, the role of grandparents in raising children isn’t sufficiently recognised. Medical conditions that cluster with the elderly are underfunded by governments.

    As an older (66 years) member of a gym with over 2,000 members, I work out between 9pm and 10pm when others of my vintage are preparing for bed. Those around me are in their teens and twenties. They are generous and supportive. Imagine how I felt recently on my 66th to be greeted at the gym by young people singing “happy birthday to you…..”

    It’s taken me around twelve gym years to accept that body builders have a right to exist. Looking at oneself in a mirror for part of a workout may be vacuous but, hell, why let it trouble me. Young men wearing baseball caps indoors has irritated me as illogical and disrespectful. But calm down, Neil. They’re not interfering with anyone.

    My routine is different to those of the young people. They speak of lats, and abs, and “I’m doing deltoids to-day.” They speak of “periodization.” I aim to pick up something heavy then put it down.

    My overriding rule is that, while a young person can go faster and further and lift more than my old body, he or she can’t work out harder. It’s when a young man or woman leaves the gym with a more sweaty top than mine that I become dirty with myself.
    Neil

  25. Erin says:

    February 12th, 2012at 6:07 pm(#)

    Great article! I love your work Mistress Krista! Some really inspiring information. I will definately be sharing this article.

  26. Terry Gibbs says:

    February 15th, 2012at 10:46 pm(#)

    Everything you wrote in that is spot on.

    Hear way too often older trainees who new to this activity, like a reformed smoker are so full of enthusiasm. ” I am the best I have ever been…”

    makes me wonder what they ever really were ..

    I may never be the best I ever was at 57, but am hoping to qualify for our open powerlift nationals at 58..

    as you get older there is a time to work out, how best with as little physical cost, you can “stand still” …you then get to pass your peers going backwards..

    great piece from all perspectives

    thank you

  27. Kate says:

    February 20th, 2012at 1:00 pm(#)

    Oh, gee, thanks for this. Because, wow! My morning sucked. Snapped in the chest with a fucking exercise band, back spasming from the reflexive move away from the snapping, slapping band, weeping in the car. Then reading this and realizing that because I had the sense to come home and stretch out the back and ice the god damned welt on my chest, I can go back to the gym tonight and try again. And all isn’t lost. Thanks for the inspiration, you rock!

  28. Karla says:

    February 21st, 2012at 7:05 pm(#)

    Love, love, love this! Just turned 41 Sunday and as I was contemplating staying in bed all day with the covers over my head, I realized that not only am I in better shape now then in my 20’s and 30’s but I am also much wiser and less likely to sweat the small stuff. This really mirrors my attitude these days. Thanks!

  29. Lisa says:

    May 15th, 2012at 9:34 am(#)

    This is wonderful! Thank you Krista! I had to laugh out loud. Thank god for your sanity. For my 51st birthday today I treated myself to a heavy workout session with an ex American footballer and training coach. It rocked! I’ve been back at the gym for one year, and am already working out harder than any other woman (which is sad) and some of the guys (which makes me smile, he he). Yay to getting stronger and more resilient with age. I first found your site about four years ago, then rediscovered it last month. This is one of my favourite places on the web. You go grrl!!!

  30. jan says:

    July 10th, 2012at 11:54 am(#)

    so if you’re ever sitting around wondering if you make a difference, krista, think of this: a 44 year old woman from canada stumbles onto your site whilst googling”why do squats hurt my back so f***ing much”. i don’t even know what part of your site showed up in my search, but i clicked the link and BAM! i find a site that stops my never-ending, self -sabotaging thoughts dead in their tracks. i do believe i will write them a strongly worded letter, (with much of the content heavily plagarized from this article), just to be sure. thank you for existing, krista, and for having the wherewithal to know that the world needs you to keep putting your thoughts on the interwebs…you never know who your gonna reach next.

  31. Mistress Krista says:

    July 11th, 2012at 10:03 am(#)

    @ jan — awesome! Love to know this makes a difference.

  32. kelly says:

    July 28th, 2012at 10:57 pm(#)

    Thank you for all of your encouragement and advice, Mistress Krista. I am sixty and still lifting heavy, and fell great. As for farting in the gym, there is more than there used to be, but I don’t mind as much as my trainer does, especially when she stretches me. Oops, I say, so very, very sorry.

  33. Lorri says:

    August 2nd, 2012at 1:45 am(#)

    I thought I was too old to start training with weights…..I’m inspired to start but need some help with a routine…I have my own home gym with a weight machine but…you guessed it…no idea! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  34. Mistress Krista says:

    August 6th, 2012at 8:31 am(#)

    @Lorri: I suggest you check out a qualified trainer in your area. Even a few sessions will help you get started: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/directory/

  35. Kate says:

    August 12th, 2012at 6:26 am(#)

    Thanks for this great article! So, so, true, even for those of us who are not awesome exceptions like Ida, Ruth or Ernestine. Thank you!

  36. Jyllian Stephenson says:

    August 14th, 2012at 1:13 pm(#)

    Funny, witty, and very intelligent! I loved reading this article! There is so much we can learn from someone older and wiser! Being 35, I have a lot to learn, but having Lupus and trying to continue to train, I know more than most my age. Especially about my body and when to say, “Fuck it, I’ve got to take care of my body!” Sometimes I feel my body is that of a 55 year old! But I push though, enjoy the fact that I still have the willpower to go to the gym, and take inspiration from things like this! Thank you! I needed that! Now I’m gonna ice my hamstring and spend some quality time with my kids instead of worrying about not getting to the gym!

  37. Stephanie says:

    September 4th, 2012at 8:47 pm(#)

    I came back to your site today (I tell people about you all the time, BTW) to read a few more of your rants and I came upon this one. It hits home! I am 43. I’ve been doing a fitness bootcamp class for about 5 months. All of the women are younger than me and they kick my fucking ass all the time. I get discouraged. Sometimes I just feel like the fat chick that nobody wants to pick for their partner. That I will never be any good at this shit. That I won’t ever be “in shape.” But then I have come to reality – I am doing great. I am beating MY OWN records by leaps and bounds. I can now do military push ups. 8 in a row (a miracle for the out of shape old bag I thought I was)!! I have lost 20 pounds. I am eating FAR better than I was. Basically, I am on my way to extending my life and living a fuller, happier existence. So who gives a shit if these girls can do their burpees faster? Or can jog faster? Or if I am the last one done with my reps, EVERY TIME. I am taking care of myself, period. And I am excelling. Fuck age. I work out, I rest. I love the part about “we should nap more.” Yeah, sister! Thanks for your rants and the site. You’re a great writer and funny as shit.

  38. Dennis Blair says:

    September 19th, 2012at 1:14 pm(#)

    “Aging also helps us grow into ourselves. We start to know what we like and don’t like. We stop giving a fuck what other people think of us.”

    This is a brilliant post! I need to share this with my older clients (and younger clients as well) to show how everything is in our perspectives.


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