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Can Physical Fitness Make You Happier?

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“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” — Joseph Pilates

I’m very happy and proud ┬áto discover that I can hold myself up at the wall with one arm. In fact, I have to let that sink in a bit: I can hold myself up at the wall with one arm. And it’s not astounding because I can do it at age 60, rather, because I can do it. Period.

When I was growing up, the emphasis for girls and women was on being skinny and pretty. I don’t remember the words “fit” and “strong” ever being used in conversation. My mother was almost always “on a diet” and my grandmother occasionally talked about “taking exercise” — which I’m pretty sure meant walking from the table to the couch. It’s not that they were lazy people — ┬ámore like they had put in their time toiling on the family farm, and physical activity simply had no appeal.

So what a happy surprise that later in life, I am physically fit. At my recent yearly doctor’s appointment, the nurse actually gasped when she measured my resting heart rate. “Your heart rate is like an athlete!” she exclaimed and told me it was 49. How did this happen? Never in my younger life, would I have considered myself athletic — mostly because I wasn’t. But to have it happen at 60 is quite a coup in my book.

What’s funny about it is that I’m an accidental athlete. I wasn’t even concerned about being in shape when I started practicing hot yoga at the age of 39. It really was to appease my then-boyfriend who insisted hot yoga was “life changing”. He was right, of course, but I approached it as a temporary activity. I still can’t tell you why I stuck with it, but here I am, more than two decades later, still practicing hot yoga, doing handstands, planking for five minutes, and in the best shape of my life.

My point here is to encourage other aging adults to start and/or resume a physical activity today — no matter what your age or fitness level. I now know from experience that tomorrow you’ll be stronger than when you started and that you don’t need lofty goals to see meaningful results. When I began practicing hot yoga, I had no goals — other than to make it through class without collapsing — and yet strength and fitness became an important component in my life.

Start something today. Walk around the block, pick up a small weight and do a couple of curls, find a yoga class at your appropriate level, ride a bike, or take a swim. Do something to increase your strength and fitness level, and I guarantee it will make you happier!

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