If my body were a car, the odometer would read at least 80,000 miles. I was reminded of 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 first described what happened during my last half marathon, when my left knee mysteriously locked up at mile 5. Then, I discussed my “tennis” elbow that aches after I work at my computer too long or swim the crawl. Then I pointed out the hard lump at the base of my right ring finger. And for good measure, I mentioned the neuroma — a hard bundle of nerves —in my left foot, aggravated by exercise.
Trying to look serious, but repressing a smile, the doctor asked, “Where should 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 you have to work much harder at maintaining your strength, mobility, flexibility and health. While you may feel like 20-something at heart, your body is showing signs of wear and tear, with occasional breakdowns. Unlike a newer model, yours is in need of constant tune-ups.
In my earlier adult years, I could count the number of 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, hearing specialist, internist, physical therapist and now, orthopedist. Each month, it seems like I’m scheduled for a health screening — mammogram, skin cancer, cholesterol or colonoscopy.
I won’t begin to discuss what it takes cosmetically to compensate for the ravages of the time. Maintaining my smile alone is a major time commitment, requiring multiple cleanings, fillings, root canals, and my first dental implant.
While I’d rather still have the body of a 20-year-old (who wouldn’t?), I have found an upside to aging and 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 learned how to overcome obstacles, push through them when possible, and work 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 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 swimming.
Learning to live with a maturing body has helped me develop greater 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, the injuries and slights that we experience in the moment will, indeed, fade over time.
I’m told that 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 strengthen the “core,” an excellent 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, “Maitainence may be required, but the engine is still running fine.”