A GOOD FRIEND of mine is 50 years old - the same age as me - and can barely make it up the stairs. She's always complaining about aches and pains, which she mistakenly attributes to aging, instead of the real culprit: obesity and years of inactivity.
She laughs and rolls her eyes when I say, "If you exercise, aging is no barrier!" But I really believe that, with 100 percent of my being.
I also know that exercise can ward off disease, strengthen your heart and help you feel happier, too. That's not just me talking, either. There's good medical science backing me up.
You don't have to work up a big sweat, mess up your hair, join a gym or run a marathon to see the benefits. Even a 30-minute daily walk can significantly improve your health.
And when it comes to muscle strength, simple resistance exercises can actually turn back the clock. While we can easily lose 10 pounds of muscle mass a decade in our older years, a recent study showed that people over 50 who start to work out with weights can regain 2.5 pounds of muscle in just five months.
If you won't believe me or the medical establishment, consider my friend Ernestine Shepherd. The 76-year-old retired school secretary is living, inspirational proof. Miss Earni, as she is affectionately known, gets up at 3 a.m. daily to do her regimen of running and weightlifting. She's in better shape now than she was 35 years ago, with good looks and a slamming figure to match!
Are you blaming your aches and pains on your age, like my other friend does? Too often, that's the American way. As a personal trainer, I've seen lots of clients carrying around the same cultural myths about fitness and aging.
Ask yourself these questions to keep that emotional baggage from holding you back:
* Do you believe you're destined to go downhill? Your thoughts have real power - so watch them carefully and weed out the self-sabotaging notion that "older" means "slower," "achier" and "weaker."
* Are you afraid of challenging yourself physically? A lot of women, especially, put limits on what they think they can do, never try and never see results. I say, give yourself permission to try something new, like weight training, belly dancing or hiking. You'll be pleasantly surprised about what you can do once you put your mind to it.
* Are you hung up about losing your looks? Everyone wants to look younger, right? But all of us age. The real question is how we choose to do it. Exercise and good nutrition are the best ways to age gracefully.
* Do you think you're too far gone? That's nonsense. Whatever age you are and whatever shape you're in, honoring your body with nourishing foods, sunshine and daily exercise will help you feel better - and younger.
Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.