Stronger Than You Think

Patrea completing her second Spartan race - May 2021

Patrea completing her second Spartan race – May 2021

We all ‘know’ that exercise is important. However, as we get older, exercise becomes even more important.

If you are a woman over 50 (or of any age for that matter), weight-bearing exercise (eg strength exercises) becomes even more important (for maintaining muscle strength and bone density). I watched my mother’s physical strength decline over a number of decades – and sadly die a year ago in 2021. She was never much of a fan for sweating – so wasn’t much of a fan for exercise. In her last weeks, she was no longer able to get up from a chair unassisted. In her last weeks, I found myself at times literally having to support her full weight to and from her bed (those little wheelie walkers aren’t much good for getting in and around tight spaces, and definitely not for someone who is in that last transition stage of life).

I realised that even though I was fit and could manage the task, I needed to get stronger – much stronger if I was to be useful in those types of situations. I wanted to have the strength for two people. Fortunately, I did have the strength and could assist but I knew then that I could do with being a lot stronger. Sadly, I know many who faced with a similar situation, would not have been up to assist in that way.

Side note: Later in 2021 I took up going to a gym that emphasized building strength with weights. I thought perfect! Here’s the side note: this week we did a dead lift challenge. I thought I did pretty well lifting 70kg – a PB for me! This this morning, I saw a video in our group of one of the ladies dead lifting 142kg!! I guess I have a long way to go in my strength building. LOL! Ok she was younger and I’m a slighter build but still, I know I have more in me 😊

Physically, exercise has many important benefits. However, many people don’t acknowledge the psychological and mental well-being benefits that come from undertaking new physical challenges. Becoming stronger as we age is empowering. As part of a program I was doing in 2021, we had to do a Spartan Race – it’s an obstacle course race, that involves mud, height, lots of grip strength, and lots of burpees.

Leading up the Spartan race, I knew I had to build up my upper body strength for most of the obstacles. After a really badly broken wrist (with a bit of CRPS thrown in for good measure) and shoulder injury from a fall in 2017, training for Spartan alerted me to a few little gremlins in my mind. Falling was an obvious one given my 2017 incident. Then one day I heard myself saying “I can’t do chin ups” – not just once, but a few times.

Well, knowing what I know, once I’d picked up on this unhelpful thought sneeking in, I asked myself, “well, what can you do? And let’s start with that”. So I started my shoulder strength training with assisted chin ups – starting with just one. Some months later I was doing monkey bars at the gym – a challenge that seemed inconceivable a few years earlier. Entering in for the Spartan race made me train differently (eg more upper body workouts and much more leg strength work, too) and do things that definitely got me out of my comfort zone. And as a bonus it helped me straighten our a few mental gremlins too! Oh and there’s the whole mud thing too!

Overcoming obstacles in the physical realm of Spartan races (or other Obstacle Course Races) is symbolic in reminding us that we can find a way over, under, around or straight through any obstacle we face in life. And the mind is going to play a big role in exploring ways to overcome those obstacles!! Life requires training for the very real challenges we face. Obstacle course races – or other forms of endurance events – provide a great training ground to be able to face those challenges inner and outer challenges.

With time, you then begin to realise that you can find a way through to the other side of life’s challenges, no matter how insurmountable they seem at first. We can endure more than we think; more often it’s our mind that wants to throw in the towel way earlier than our body would otherwise give out. The thing is, we just don’t often put that to the test, and for some, especially not as often as we add a few more years to the age tally.

We realise that little voice in our head that says, “I can’t”, or “it’s too hard”, that wants to take it easy, doesn’t have to run the show. We begin to realise we are capable of more than we’ve been doing. By taking on physically challenging exercise, such as for obstacle course races, distance running, or weights training, we can see the progress we’re making by lifting heavier and doing more reps. And we realise that it feels good to feel strong and be capable. And it’s not bad for the ego to get a little leaner and fit more comfortably into our clothes!

And if you find yourself eating more healthily to support being able to do these endurance events, getting leaner, stronger, and fitter, all the better! And you’ll probably sleep better, too 🙂

Seeing my beautiful mother’s strength fade (she was very capable in her day – and had 5 children under the age of 6, which is no small feat), has certainly given me motivation to not only maintain my fitness and health, but to do the work to get stronger so that I can reap the benefits of many more healthy years.

What will motivate you to do the work now, to become stronger as you age, to reap the benefits of being healthier? I’m a registered Sport & Exercise Psychologist and have done two Spartan sprint races (approx. 5kms) in my 50s over the last 18months, never having done a Spartan before. My third Spartan event is coming up in October 2022. Want to join me? Got a few Gremlins you need to iron out? Get in touch!

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