Alex Cracknell

Body

“I want my younger body back”: Finding a way to fight age’s decay

“I want my younger body back”: Finding a way to fight age’s decay

I’m turning 50 next year. Like any major milestone in life, that presents an opportunity to reflect on what’s behind and what’s ahead. On the long list of creeping “changes” I’d begun to notice about myself – both mental and physical – one that leapt out every time I looked in the mirror was a strange sense of … shrinking.

It’s possible this was an issue I was hyper aware of, having seen it in my father. You watch the shoulders vanish, the hair disappear, the neck thin out. You think nothing of it – nothing overly negative, anyway; it’s just the graceful march of time after all – but all the same, it registers on some level. 

Dad passed away from a type of motor neurone disease called progressive supranuclear palsy at the age of 72, the effects of which could be seen for quite a few years before the end. He was always a very active, sporty and outdoors guy. Loved golf. Dominated on a tennis court. Was weirdly skilled with a frisbee, and quietly the most proud of that for some reason. 

All of those take dexterity, finesse and physicality, the very things that vanish first when you are in the grip of progressive supranuclear palsy. He swung his last club and racquet, and made his last tricky behind-the-back frisbee throw, many years before he would have wanted.       

So that’s the backdrop – and clearly the motivation – to all of this. In my mind now I’ve got potentially the same fate in store. Intellectually I know that’s not how it works, but you can’t tell your emotional self that. Whether or not PSP or MND is in my future is not something I can control, and that creates fear.   

So, obviously, taking control over what you CAN control is the only sensible course. Which brings us back to the mirror. 

I’d been noticing this shrinking for some time – an overall diminishing of muscle mass in the shoulders, arms and legs – so I decided to look it up. 

Turns out, at least according to Harvard Medical School, that “age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of ageing. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes.”

Thirty percent! That’s pretty grim news. 

But all is not lost, as it also turns out that’s mostly reversible – through a little basic resistance and weight training and upping your protein intake. 

Since I was a little frightened of heading into a crowded gym during these pandemic times, I also decided I wanted something I could do from the safety and convenience of home – and that’s when fate intervened in the form of the Peloton Guide.

I’d only ever heard of the Peloton exercise bikes before, but this clever new gadget essentially turns your TV into a home gym, which I found to be very impressive and a great idea. You take the Peloton Guide camera, clip it either to the top of your screen or place it at the base, and then after walking you through a series of very simple set-up steps, you can suddenly see YOURSELF in one half of the TV, while your virtual or pre-recorded class instructor appears on the other half and takes you through a workout, step by step. 

It’s basically like having an expert, one-on-one personal trainer right there in your home whenever you want, for any kind of workout you can possibly conceive of. 

There’s an app that contains a list of all the available workouts and exercises, all of which are designed to suit different ages and fitness levels so you can increase muscle mass while building stronger bones to reduce injury risk. There are warm-up classes, ones using dumbbell weights, others using just your own bodyweight, upper body, lower body, full-body, prenatal classes (I skipped those), resistance band classes, pilates classes, yoga sessions and load, loads more.

Aside from being incredibly easy to use and a lot of fun, I found the classes to be highly motivating – and that’s the key right there. For some reason having that virtual instructor right there in front of you, showing you exactly how to perform each exercise, giving you encouragement and urging you on, really helps you try your hardest and even look forward to the next class. 

There are all kinds of other benefits, including free delivery, a 100-day home trial with a refund if you don’t absolutely love it, but for basically having a personal trainer on permanent stand-by in your home 24/7, I think the rates are really reasonable. Especially when the pay-offs are so great. 

After just a few days of classes I was feeling the pain, but it was that good kind of pain you get from slowly reintroducing muscle groups to the concept of doing more than just sitting there gradually fading away.

Then after a few weeks of classes that initial pain was replaced by a noticeable return of muscle mass and definition around the shoulders, in my legs, my arms, my calves and everywhere else that the tireless virtual trainers had directed me to concentrate my efforts.

All in all I’m really happy with the results so far – enough to stick with it for the long term, that’s for sure. I haven’t suddenly become Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that was never the goal. I just wanted to feel stronger and more able to move around with the freedom I had felt a handful of years ago.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. We recently asked our Over60 readers the exact question I had been thinking: “If you could get your younger body back, would you do it – and why?” and the responses were telling, to say the least.         

  

“I don't need the body that was beautiful,” said Over60 reader Merilyn O'Neill. ”But I would choose to have the strength that I had.”

Greg Browning chimed in with this: “Yes. I am sick and tired of my body telling me that I can’t do the things I used to do.”

Paulette Bakker said that “more muscle tone would help”; Lynne Fairbrother said, “Doesn't have to be younger, just stronger and then I could play tennis again”; Karen Moon said, “In a heartbeat… so l could play netball and tennis again… and this time l would appreciate it more!”

And last but not least, Over60 reader Kel Marlow said what we’re all probably thinking: “Absolutely… because I’d probably live 10 years longer!”

Well said, Kel. The good thing is it’s never too late to start.