Pumping 45 at 45 for the great outdoors
December 9, 2006
Note: This story originally ran in The Union newspaper of Grass Valley, Calif., in November 1999. I am now pumpin’ 51 at 51.
I began to realize age has nothing to do with fitness a few years ago on a Sierra College field trip to Yosemite. I had far out-distanced a gaggle of whining 22-year-olds up the steep trail to Nevada Falls, and thought, “Jeez-Louise, I’m old enough to be the grandma to these kids’ babies! What’s goin’ on here?!”
I’ll be 45 in February. I could have multiple chins, a goodly paunch, droopy dugs and a saggy butt. Instead, after 15 years of lifting weights, I have defined deltoids and quads, my body-fat percentage is 15 percent lower than the average woman’s, and you can bounce a dime off my abs. Am I bragging – wouldn’t you?
In the last two years, I’ve hiked about 600 miles, canoe-camped and backpacked eight times each, bagged two 14,000-foot peaks, and cross-country skied about 20 times. It’s a moot, chicken-and-the-egg argument: Do I have the energy to play hard outdoors every weekend because I work out? Or do I get the will to work out because I’m energized by my active weekends?
Almost every outdoors freak I know lifts weight. People who work out regularly gain muscle tone and endurance, and scoff at the idea that outdoors exercise is “work.” Exercise physiologists tell us that the “weekend warrior” syndrome of killing yourself two days a week then sitting on your can for five increases your risk of injury and even stroke.
Lifting weights ain’t fun, and it ain’t pretty. But the results are spectacular. I read about a woman who dropped two dress sizes, but just 10 pounds. In nine months, I lost 3 inches all the way down my measurements.
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Did I do this in full makeup and a hot-pink thong leotard under the tutelage of a “personal trainer” five days a week? Naw. I schlepped in for four hours total twice a week in my Kennedy High-era gym shorts, mismatched jock socks and the “Animals of Alaska ” T-shirt I bought in Fairbanks on the Bicentennial Fourth of July.
I can only speak about the progressive benefits of weight-lifting from the female perspective. First, you develop little biceps.
Then you start to lose your breast tissue. Large breasts are what biologists call a “secondary sexual characteristic,” like a man’s beard. They serve no true role in reproduction, so as you start to develop lean muscle mass, the body announces,” Hey, here’s some superfluous fat I can get rid of!” – and your boobs shrink.
Finally, you start to firm up what I once heard an aerobics instructor call “The Land Down Under”: your stomach, hips and thighs.
You know that business about men are turned off by “unfeminine,” muscular women? First, they’re kind of intrigued, then maybe tease you about the prominent veins in your forearms and counting the ribs in your upper chest.
This soon turns to admiration and delight when they discover that you’re game for any adventure – able, indeed willing, to portage your end of the canoe, ski from Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley, climb a half mile of Class II talus en route to bagging a 14er, and haul a 35-pound pack for 10 miles.
I wonder when I’m going to stop saying every decade, “I feel better at 30 than I did at 20” or “I feel better at 40 than I did at 30.” Will it be “I feel better at 80 than I did at 70”? Don’t laugh – fully one third of the Courthouse Athletic Club folks with whom I work out are over 50; its aerobics, stationary-bike workout and kick-boxing instructors top out at ages 49, 53 and 57; and Woodrow Wilson was in the White House when the oldest member – 86 – was born.
A couple of years ago, a friend said, “Gee, you look like you’re 30 in your mug shot.” A primary goal of my stories is to encourage older readers to get out and hike, so I promptly had the photo re-shot.
See my crows’ feet and “laugh lines” now? They’re from grinning my fool head off in wonder in Utah slot canyons, screaming in the Meatgrinder rapid on the American River, whooping as I careen out of control on skis – and grimacing while doing innumerable bench presses.
• Pat Devereux is the copy desk chief of the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1224.