If my body were a car, the odometer would read at least 80,000 miles. I realized this sad fact during a recent visit to the orthopedist. I watched the young doctor’s eyes widen as I ticked off my long list of aches and pains.
My legs dangling from the padded examination table. I asked him to examine my knee that locked up during my last half marathon at mile 5, forcing me to walk Quasimodo-style the rest of the race. Then, I pointed out my “swimmer’s elbow” that aches after I do the crawl, or work too long at the computer. And for good measure, I mentioned my neuroma, a painful bundle of nerve tissue in my left foot, aggravated by exercise.
Trying to look serious but repressing a smile, the doctor asked, “Where do we begin?”
Good question. How do you begin to heal from 50-plus years of living and playing hard. And do you ever really “recover” when your body is aging by the minute?
The answer I’m beginning to realize is that you have to work harder at maintaining your strength, mobility, flexibility and health. While you may feel young at heart, your body is showing signs of wear and tear with occasional breakdowns. Unlike a newer model, yours is in need of constant tuneups.
In my earlier adult years, I could count the number of annual doctors’ visits on one hand.
Now, I am frequently shuttling between exams and follow up appointments with my medical “team” that includes a dermatologist, gynecologist, podiatrist, optometrist, hearing specialist, internist, physical therapist and now orthopedist. Each month it seems as if I am scheduled for at least one health screening — mammogram, skin cancer, cholesterol, or colonoscopy.
I won’t begin to discuss what it takes cosmetically to compensate for the ravages of time. Maintaining my smile alone is a major commitment, requiring multiple cleanings, root canals, and my first dental implant.
While I’d rather have the body of a 20-something — who wouldn’t? — I’ve discovered an upside to the art of middle age maintenance. For one thing, it has made me more aware of my body and more respectful of its capabilities and limitations. I’ve also learned how to overcome obstacles, pushing through them when possible, and working around them when necessary.
For example, when my knees bother me, I run more on the balls of my feet, which puts less stress on my joints. But when my neuroma acts up, I shift the weight to my heels. Sometimes though, as with my recent race, my body just says “enough!” And I have to switch to another sport, such as biking or running.
Learning to live with a maturing body has helped me develop resilience in all areas of life. In my middle age I’ve learned to appreciate the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.” For the most part, injuries and slights we experience in the moment will, indeed, fade over time.
I’m told my recent running injury was caused, not by the knee, but by having weak hips, abs and thigh muscles. My physical therapy is designed to strength the “core,” a perfect metaphor for how to age gracefully — by holding tight to the values that sustain us, centering ourselves in family, friends, and community, and listening to our inner voice that says “Maintenance may be required, but the engine is running just fine.”