Most of us have grown up with an idea of the “ideal rider’s body.” Whether that for you is a size or a number on the scale, maybe it’s time to re-examine your measuring device. Health and fitness experts — and even doctors agree that the better questions to ask include:
– How do you feel?
– Are you healthy?
– Do you have enough energy to do what you want and need to do?
– Are you strong, effective and safe in the barn and the saddle?
– Is your horse happy and healthy?
In a recent media brouhaha over this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover girl, Ashley Graham, I listened to the back and forth, between retired 70’s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs telling E! News she wasn’t happy with Sports Illustrated‘s annual Swimsuit Issue featuring “full-figured women.” The former S.I. cover girl said that a woman’s “waist should be smaller than 35 [inches],” and while she the found Graham’s face “beautiful,” she didn’t think it was “healthy in the long run” to put a curvier model on the magazine’s cover. And then came Graham’s rebuttal: “There are too many people thinking they can look at a girl my size and say that we are unhealthy,” Graham noted. “You can’t, only my doctor can!”
Tiegs later apologized, saying the media distorted what she was trying to say: “I was not equating beauty to weight or size, but unfortunately that is what the media reported in headlines,” Tiegs wrote in an open letter to Graham in the Huffington Post. “I was trying to express my concern over media images and the lack of education in America about healthy choices, thus the reference to the 35-inch waist as a guideline to health.” Citing Dr. Oz, Centers for Disease Control, Harvard University, and the American Diabetes Association, Tiegs is not wrong. Just maybe a little bit misguided in that blanket assumption.
In Riding Through Thick &Thin, we offer up all kinds of ways to incorporate “the holy trinity of fitness” into the day-to-day lifestyle of riders who are pressed for time in a way that would actually benefit anyone else as well. Making sure to do something (a little or a lot depending on how much time you can make available) every day — and to have a selection of activities you enjoy — in the three areas of:
Strength (resistance training with weights, bands, barre, core work)
Flexibility (stretching, Yoga, pilates, etc.)
With our daily commitment to the “holy trinity of fitness” we unlock the secret of sneaking up on overall fitness that, when paired with good nutrition, keeps us healthier at any size. It also nukes the “I don’t have time to exercise” excuse for even the busiest superhero.
And, while it’s true that if you commit to getting and staying strong, fit, and healthy, your waist may likely be (or start moving toward) that 35-and-under ideal, to say that’s the marker is just plain short sighted.
So toss out those measuring tapes and size 6 jeans, ignore the haters, whether their concern for your health is true or false, and put your attention on what you’re doing every day to protect your health by getting fit in these three important ways.
If you, like me, have joined the Fitbit™ craze and are challenging yourself daily to get those 10,000 steps (and are mystified at how MANY steps it takes to hit that mark consistently!), you may also be wondering how to calculate those steps — and the workout settings to use when you’re riding.
Now I do admit that I giggled a little the first time my wrist buzzed with the 10,000-step woohoo . . . during a long trot on Trace. I patted him and thanked him and gladly took credit for HIS steps, thinking that perhaps I was working hard enough to merit at least partial credit.
So when I found this great post by Susan Friedland Smith on her wonderful Saddle Seeks Horse blog, I was at once disappointed and encouraged by her bit of delving that helps clarify how we can use our Fitbits, ride our horses, and still get an accurate picture of how we’re doing when it comes to our fitness seeking goals.
I do encourage you to read the whole post (and a big shout out to Susan for doing this work for all of us!) but the upshot is that when we put the thing in workout mode, we can more easily see that a vigorous ride burns as many calories (and uses as many muscles, if not more!) than many popular gym workouts (Susan compares a vigorous, but fairly routine riding lesson to the calorie burn in her spin class).
The bigger issue with using Fitbit when riding is the step count. The challenge is figuring out how to subtract the right number of steps for the duration of a ride, and then go back to regular human step counting for the rest of our day. Susan says that she discovered that if we select “Workout” (which is technically horseback riding) and then the category of “Driving” from the drop down list on the exercise menu of various workouts, it gives a pretty accurate assessment of calorie burn during a ride. For the record, I do agree with Susan that a few minor coding tweaks would make Fitbit sales skyrocket in the horse world (are you listening, Fitbit execs???): “If the developers had foresight enough to know that equestrians would want to use a Fitbit for horseback riding to track fitness data, why not make a few coding tweaks so that when horseback riding is entered, it will deduct the step count during the timeframe in which the exercise took place?”
I also agree that none of these concerns or adjustments take away the the practical fun of using my Fitbit to keep myself moving toward my overall fitness goals. With this technology and Susan’s advice, (assuming we can remember to do it) we can tweak our settings, tap a button at the beginnings and ends of our rides, and actually get to count our rides as part of our exercise regimen. By being able to gauge the intensity of each ride as part of our “workout” (And understanding that we do need to do make sure to do other work to balance the riding muscle groups to prevent imbalance and overuse injuries), we can now give ourselves credit (and kiss our horses) for what is likely a major contributor to our overall fitness regimen.
As we all learn more about this great tracking device and discover more ways to tweak and use its features in ways that apply specifically to riding and barn chores, let’s share them here and start a groundswell that just might get the attention of those Fitbit and bring about the programming we need most!
Comment here, email me, or add your comment to Facebook, Twitter, or my website, and tell us how you use your Fitbit to track your progress toward your riding fitness goals!
“ Once you remove the fear of examining your own feelings about your body and the role you are playing in allowing those feelings to sabotage your joy, you’re on the right trail.”
~ Riding Through Thick & Thin
When it comes to perceptions about our own body, it’s no secret these are mighty influences on how we feel and how we think we look to others. And what’s even more important to consider is how we consciously and unconsciously may be allowing others to influence what we think of our own bodies.
Here’s the truth, though. We often don’t have a very clear idea at all of where we are on the scale of things. We may think we are much larger or much smaller than we actually are. We may be spending so much time and energy bemoaning what’s wrong with our body that we’re completely missing what’s right — or what could be right with a little focused effort. In order to get to our best ride — through life or on the back of a horse — we have to first get real about how we’re built, the shape we’re in, and what our thoughts about our body are really saying.
In a recent study, conducted by Refinery29, 80% of millennial women avoid activities because they’re self-conscious about their bodies. Of the three things causing women the greatest amount of anxiety, going to the beach was a solid frontrunner — thereby launching a resulting #takebackthebeach campaign.
While these women are taking back the beach, I invite you to remember back to the time when having a bikini body meant nothing to you. When all you wanted from your body was to have fun, and participating in fitness activities carried the sole purpose of getting strong enough to enjoy your favorite activity was your only driver.
Now look at your body again right now through that lens. Ignore the lumps, bulges, and jiggles that normally strap you into the emotional roller coaster and just. Really. Look. For just this one moment, interrupt your current relationship to your body as well as your body’s relationship to the outside world, and objectively consider your body’s strengths. What activity have you put on the back burner because of body anxiety? What would you love to get strong enough to do? What is one step toward that goal you can take right now?
I want to hear from you. Tell me what it might take for you to to have more fun, do more of what you can do, and get strong enough to enjoy it even more. Share your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section. I look forward to hearing from you!
For some of us, clarity on our midlife dream can be gradual. For others, like Wildcatter Ranch Owner and General Manager Anne Street Skipper, clarity comes in a single moment.
“I remember it very well,” she told me one day as we talked through the idea and concepts behind the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats. “It was just before my 20th high school reunion. I was going through some old photos and scrapbooks, and suddenly I realized “that girl” I used to be was gone and I had no idea where she went. ‘What happened to that girl?’ I wondered ‘And what happened to all those things she wanted to do . . . someday?” That was the beginning, I think, of a serious change in direction for me.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Ten years later, the doors of the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa opened for business, bringing together Anne’s love for the theatre (Anne’s a career actress); her love and desire to do something good for the Graham, Texas community where she was born and raised (Anne’s a direct descendant of one of Graham’s founding families); and her love for the hospitality industry (in addition to a bachelor’s degree in humanities and religion, Anne holds special certifications in hospitality management and tourism from Penn State, Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, and Texas Travel Industry Association).
So how did Anne get from that single moment of clarity to the dazzling expression of her Wildcatter dream?
We’ll start Friday evening with a panel discussion in which each presenter will share the moment of clarity that changed the course of her life. Then on Saturday, we’ll enter a series of carefully designed mini workshops to help you rediscover the dreams of “that girl” you used to be. Calling upon the wisdom of horses, the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat will help you re-examine all those things you’ve always loved and wanted to do . . .”someday,” clarify your dream through the lens of where you are now, identify and remove obstacles, and craft your first concrete action steps toward its most joyful (and realistic) expression of all you meant to be.
The retreat is all-inclusive (except alcohol, but it is available if you’re so inclined), including legendary Wildcatter accommodations and amenities, award winning cuisine, and a Saturday night dinner, campfire (with s’mores!) and music by Elizabeth Wills to create an experience you’ll never forget.
What are you waiting for? Those dreams don’t dust themselves, you know — and like Anne, when you go back and re-examine all the things you used to love in the light of where you are now, you may be amazed at the unexpected joy you could call into Part Two of your life. Register today and make one of those last remaining spots in the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats your first step toward your moment of clarity!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
“This [Dressage Today] article relates directly to what we have been talking about. There is even a part about how the body forgets to use some muscles and overcompensates with others, leading to tightness and strain. I feel like they are talking about me!”
And me! How about you? What unmounted exercises have you discovered to help build core muscles memory? I don’t know about you, but when we hear how “long periods seated such as at a computer or in a car create imbalanced patterns across the hip joints from muscle and ligament tightness, and lack of use (weakness),” I have to raise my hand in a plea of guilty. I’ve considered replacing my desk chair with a balance ball, but I fear of getting bucked off. (Bad previous experience with one of these unpredictable creatures).
So what do these “imbalanced patterns” mean to our riding — and our life?
Bottom Line: Practice doesn’t always make perfect — perfect practice makes perfect!
According to Heather Sansom, the fitness writer for Dressage Today who wrote this great article, when we have these imbalances it makes us engage our core muscles incorrectly. (And all this time, I thought we just needed to engage our core when we ride. But noooooo . . .turns out we have to find and engage the right muscles in the right way. The plot thickens.)
Apparently there’s a lot more to strengthening our core than just “zipping it up” (although that’s certainly part of it!) Unless we learn to pinpoint and engage these sneaky little deep muscles in the correct way (Denise says she thinks they hide. I agree.), we’re just perpetuating the problems created by the imbalance: “The rider’s body has less chance of responding correctly when it comes to the ride with imbalances or pre-disposed tendency to incorrect muscle engagement,” Heather writes. She goes on to say that, “lack of correct engagement of stabilizers in the rider’s pelvis can result in issues such as difficulty with leg aids, a collapsing lower back, weakness in lateral movement and even an overactive low back resulting in back strain and pain.”
Ruh Roh. Denise is right about that, too. Now it’s getting personal.
And even worse, Heather’s article goes on to say, these imbalances and weaknesses also create gaps in your neuromuscular communication. She compares this to a cell phone that only gets an intermittent signal and you only hear every other word of the conversation. (Who remembers that Can you hear me now?” commercial for Verizon? Some days, it’s my life.) Depending on the conversation you’re having with your horse, such as “Please don’t kill me now,” you’re probably going to want every single word to come through loud and clear.
So what do you do?
The answer, surprisingly, is one you’ve seen before (especially if you’re a fan of Clinton Anderson and Downunder Horsemanship as I am): Groundwork. But this time, it’s groundwork for you, not your horse. (Here comes the equine snickering I told you about. After working my horses on the ground for so many miles, they are obviously enjoying this cosmic turn of the tables.) But, just as is is with training our horses, this groundwork pays off big in the long run:
“A rider interested in bringing maximum self-carriage to their ride, avoiding injury and prolonging their riding career should do some ground training,” Heather writes. “Riding is a sport that can be engaged in right in to senior years, and riders can improve their entire life. This means that a rider can be improving technically, at an age when their physical preparedness for sport is actually reducing due to the normal aging process which reduces suppleness in ligaments and causes muscle fibre atrophy. Riders over 40 should definitely be engaging in supplementary exercises to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and spine, so that the riding itself does not actually wear your body down. Most riders want to be able to ride as long in life as they possibly can.”
Go check out Heather’s groundwork exercises for humans and let us know what you think — or if you have any others we ought to add to our mix. Let’s all go back to Rebecca’s Garanimal workout schedule and add these in–you be the judge of which workout energy level category they go in (walk, trot, canter, gallop), but wherever you put them in your own personal regimen, be sure to plug and play!
We’ll be revisiting this in the near future with some fun posts and activities inspired by my riding group’s work with Cassandra . . . stay tuned. And, as always, please chime in with the exercises and routines that help you most! Comment here, email me, or post your thoughts on this topic to our Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. Misery — and obsession — loves company!
“This is a really good newsletter- right along the same lines as what we are doing/promoting. While it is probably focused toward riders who are already knee deep in a fitness and riding program, it is also good for the not-so-serious riders to hear (I can relay it as, “See? there ARE times when you can take a break from regular riding and planning and stretching! Just not 51 weeks out of the year 🙂
I also appreciate the emphasis here on maintaining hip mobility. This seems to be an issue many of us struggle with. It’s nice to see that so many others are on the same page as we are!”
The fabulous resource Denise connects us with here is equifitt.com. Go there and click on the blue box on the upper right portion of the home page (scroll down to the bottom for the free stuff, but there are some cool things to purchase on the way to the sign up box!) to sign up for their free monthly tips and articles — and then click around this great site to explore the many fitness ideas and opportunities there to fit a variety of needs and interests!
Meanwhile, Denise shares their November newsletter (couldn’t find the link for you, so here it is in all its glory!) that got our attention after our recent Pilates enlightenment. Enjoy!
EquiFiTTip November 2011: Make the Most of Your Time
Forward to a friend, subscription to monthly FiTTips is free.
It’s that busy festive time of year again when many riders find themselves torn: you really want to be at the barn, but there is that office party/social event/crammed holiday schedule and they just have not perfected cloning.
It can be a time of year when fitting in ‘extra’s like your own fitness plan really fall by the wayside.
Relax. The beauty of a yearly training plan is that it’s understood there are times of the year when optimal training cannot occur. In fact, there are times when it shouldn’t- your body needs to recover. I usually view the month of December as a maintenance only/alternative period of time. There is no point in fighting it- you need to have the balance of being able to connect with friends and family, and enjoy the general hum and extravagant well-wishing of the major holiday season.
Before you get ready to put on the fuzzy slippers and pour yourself something that warms you, you really do need to know that recovery period does not mean it’s time to slack off completely. The purpose of a recovery period in your usual training regimen is to help you loosen up a little; to let muscles recover from long periods of use in order to avoid strain, and to let your brain unwind so that you can bring creativity and freshness back to the ways you are thinking about your sport. Letting yourself sink into a comfortable chair for the season, or run around with elevated blood pressure from shopping and socializing with no time for yourself, do not count as legitimate recovery.
Keep the end goal in mind: going into the New Year, picking up where you left off, having thought about your goals for the new year and ready to give it your best shot.
Total slacking or stressing for a month will not set you up to walk into this picture.
Recovery periods in an athlete training schedule are often referred to as ‘active recovery’. When you think about the concept applied to your horse, it makes sense. For example, in the off season (if you compete) you may take him out hacking, or play with gymnastics (if you are a dressage rider) or work on your dressage (if you are a hunter/jumper). You will generally give your horse some work that is light to him, and a little different from his usual routine. You’ll bring the fun back in. If he is injured, you don’t leave him standing in a stall. You keep him moving. In some areas, riders just turn their horse out for the winter where he can stay exercised going through snow and up and down hills, but otherwise get a mental break and just be a horse to get re-energized.
You both need a period where your horse’s training is lighter. This is a good season to do it, and there is a hybrid solution that can help normally busy riders, go through the busy holiday season and still be physically and mentally recovered and ready to pick up where you left off when your normal training seasons begins again.
You do not need to feel torn about not maintaining your training schedule, if you have planned to ride less, or make your rides shorter. You do need to plan in short segments of activity for yourself to replace the lost riding time. Luckily, it does not take nearly as long to go for a 20-minute walk as it does to head to the barn and back in an evening: you can fit in the walk AND the holiday party in on the same day.
Short bursts of intentional and fun physical activity will help keep you riding fit when you can’t ride as much or as long. They will also help reduce stress, build proprioception and neuro-muscular vocabulary (increase your ability to move and follow your horse), and even help you avoid potential strain issues that could be caused by your riding and are typically prevalent in middle-aged and older riders.
It doesn’t really matter what activities you choose in your recovery period as a rider. However, they should be selected to meet specific goals that help your riding, such as:
Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).
Examples: walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing
Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).
Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga
Build core strength.
Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing
Improve rhythm and connection.
Examples: dance- especially social dancing with a partner, aerobics or other music-driven group classes, ‘mirror’ motion games with a partner
Maintain or build cardio-vascular stamina.
Examples: many of the activities above, as long as your heart rate is elevated for 15-20 minutes. If you are an Eventer, your cardio training should be twice as long. Using intervals of more intense activity are the most efficient way to train. For example, walking on hills or walking the dog with intervals of faster or slower walking; or swimming lengths with fast/slow combinations that you can keep up.
To get the most out of your exercise time as a mental break and for proprioception, it is best NOT to multi-task. Proprioception, or the finetuned control you need as an athlete and a rider, needs to be constantly honed. Stay focused on what you are doing so that you can give it 100% even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.
If you have a busy family holiday season in addition to your riding and other commitments, 5 minutes may be all you have at a time.
Equifitt training draws on multiple sport and fitness disciplines to help riders of all ages and types balance their bodies and reach their riding and fitness goals. Heather is a certified personal trainer and Level 1 Centered Riding® Instructor. Equifitt offers online eCoaching, clinics, personal rider programs, and Centered Riding® instruction.
This came in last week via email (posted with permission—thanks Cassandra!) in response to my post about my morning-after-Pilates misery. Now, before we even get started, as you’ll see below, Cassandra did ask me to stop whining and describing the consequence of this “deep work” by the less than flattering term, “pain.”
So. . . As I search my brain (and the Internet) for a better word to describe what stopped me from being able to sit or stand without whimpering for two full days, I’ll just footnote here that once this unmentionable feeling passed, I did feel stronger and more in control of those tiny, deep, elusive muscles. (Once you locate them you tend become obsessed with the “zip up” exercise – or at least I have.) In the immortal words of Max on CBS TV’s “Two Broke Girls” sitcom, “I want both more and less of it — and I am obsessed with it!”
And, I’ll also have to tell you that, playing with these muscles while riding last week, I discovered the AMAZING difference they can make in communicating with my horse (even when he has his hoofs stuffed in his ears in “La la la I can’t hear you” fashion.)
After a great conversation with Cassandra about all this — and I’ve invited her to be a guest on our blog to tell us more about this amazing (if a little bit gut wrenching, in the most literal sense) exercise form — I share now her insights on the connection between Pilates and riding and midlife horses. (She’s actually one of us!) Cassandra firmly believes that Pilates is key to putting Midlife Horses success within reach for all of us — with benefits that reach far beyond the saddle.
“I must speak to you as I can not believe that you are the woman I wanted to contact for half a year! First of all, I have ordered your book…second of all I am definitely a Midlife horsewoman…having left New York 2 ½ years ago to finally have my dream of owning a horse come true. And Pilates has been immeasurably helpful in this journey to overcome all the adult “stuff” such as fear, lack of confidence and just not having grown up on a horse. And may I add a hip replacement…
“Two corrections however. We do like to keep pain to a minimum in Pilates. Deep work in muscles yes, but we try to avoid crippling you! The other is that Pilates is not just for “high level” riders. The others in the class you mention have been doing Pilates for awhile, and it has helped several of them be successful in overcoming obstacles to their riding and increase their enjoyment even more.”
Stay tuned for more vital info from Cassandra about incorporating Piliates into your Midlife Horses fitness regimen. Meanwhile, pony up! I invite you to share your own Midlife Horses fitness insights, ideas, strategies, and any secrets you’ve discovered on your Midlife Horses journey. Post your comments here, email me (especially if you’d like to remain anonymous but nevertheless have something important to add to this conversation!), post on Facebook, show us your favorite moves on YouTube, or Tweet your best midlife horses fitness tip when this header pops up on my Twitter feed! And, if you haven’t seen it yet, click here to check out our new video about how our Midlife Horses keep us fit.
And may I just say, Go Jane! Here is someone who invented reinvention, sounded the first siren call for midlife fitness (and in so doing revolutionized the fitness industry. Remember those snazzy leg warmers? Did anyone else buy her first Workout and “feel the burn” prompted by her voice coming from a vinyl LP?), and is STILL showing us all that the way to extend our vitality through midlife and beyond by staying active, getting fit, and working within our limitations (she’s 73, had a hip replacement, knee replacement and is still out there working out every day. That sure let’s the air out of my excuses!) Jane says the message of her work in the fitness industry is and has always has been “It’s never too late.” Doesn’t that resonate well with what we’re doing here with our Midlife Horses? Yay, us!
Jane told Matt (Do you like how I’m suddenly on first name basis with these two?) that after doing a lot of research on the role of exercise and aging to write her new book, Prime Time (It’s about about making the most of all your life. See the connection?), she confirmed what she always suspected: staying physically fit and active is the number one ingredient in staying mentally sharp as well. “As we age,” Jane explained, our brain actually shrinks (Oh no! where will we put all this stuff we’re learning?), and regular exercise actually postpones and slows down this natural process.
So we talk about getting fit to ride — and how riding keeps us motivated and fit (Check out our new Video about How Midlife Horses help our Fitness!), and the question is, where are you on this trail? What are you doing these days on your Midlife Horses Fitness Quest? It’s getting colder, food is getting heavier and squishier, the Holidays are approaching, making finding time to exercise and the motivation to ride when it’s cold and yucky outside in increasingly low supply.
So let’s shore each other up with a few ideas for keeping our fitness up and our brains from shrinking . . . you’ve heard all about my Pilates escapades. And if you go back to my September posts, you can learn about and even download Rebecca’s Garanimals Workout plan!) Now let’s hear some of your fitness war stories. Misery loves company — and so does motivation! Post your workout regimen here as a comment, take it to our Facebook community or re-tweet what exercise option you do when it’s too cold and wet to ride (I don’t know about you, but I can do one of those things, but not both. Call me a baby, tbut there it is.) Share your favorite exercise moves on our YouTube channel and let’s start building a library of winter workout ideas!
Did your ears perk up at the word “cocktail?” I know mine did. But alas, on the better nutrition front, those frozen margaritas are going to have to go the way of fried chicken if I’m going to get anywhere with this Midlife Horses Fitness Challenge. Probably just as well, but I’m hoping I can still get away with a small glass of wine at the end of the day. No sense getting too crazy here.
But I digress. What we’re talking about here is a daily fitness cocktail.
So how many times have you listened to or read a fitness program or regimen developed by someone who knows what they’re talking about, all right, but it just doesn’t seem like something you could or would want to do for the long haul?
I know. Me too.
I’ve been an athlete all my life and I have enthusiastically (some would say obsessively) participated in everything from tennis to taekwondo to cycling to downhill skiing — and now, of course, horseback riding. So I know all about running, I know about weightlifting, I know about circuit training. I’ve jumped, kicked, run, walked like a duck, hopped like an overgrown kangaroo and crawled like a crab, all in the name of conditioning for something. And, up until now, I’ve never been able to get excited about working out just for its own sake. For me, there has to be a bigger, more tangible purpose for it to stick.
And now I have one. My object now is not winning, getting better, achieving any particular level of accomplishment. My object is protecting my body from injury, getting stronger, staying flexible, and building endurance. Which means leapfrog, while effective, will probably not make the list. I want to be in good enough shape to ride my horse well and keep riding for as long as I possibly can. (In years, not hours, although sometimes that happens, too, like it did to me the day we got lost on a trail)
And, for those of us who have found our thrill with our midlife horses, the struggle here is not only which activities we should choose, but even more important, when and how we will weave this additional commitment into our lives when we’ve just converted all our free time to “horse time.” When we scarcely have time now to do all the things we’re “supposed” to be doing, how in the world can we work in a workout?
Just like elsewhere throughout the book, I remind you again here that the answers you seek are usually hanging out somewhere between your own ears. To coax them out of hiding, however, you have to ask yourself the right questions. Here’s help in the form of our first midlife fitness task. Continuing the recipe analogy, get out a piece of paper and identify your favorite and most readily available fitness cocktail “ingredients”.
Got a dog that likes to go for walks? Put him on the list. Enjoy the mental clarity you get from yoga, pilates, tai chi or some other “moving meditation?”(You are allowed to double dip!) What muscle groups are involved in your regular house, barn or horse chores? With a little focused attention and creative grouping of these activities, regular chores, slightly tweaked, can also become reps of this or sets of that.
When you string these normal daily and weekly “ingredients” together in a more deliberate way over a period of time, you can end up sneaking up on midlife fitness with a cleaner house, cleaner barn, a well-fed, watered, exercised and and shiny horse and rockstar conditioning. We’ve all heard “take the stairs instead of the elevators” (yawn), and “park farther away from the door of the store” (snore), but what about taking those stairs two at a time to simulate a step up into the stirrup from the ground? (Yes, people will stare, but another glorious thing about this time of life is it’s getting much easier not to care.)
The trick is if you can find some activity already in your life that can be amped up just enough to make it useful as a fitness component, you can sneak this new fitness “cocktail” into your life without a lot of drama. And another benefit is, if it’s something you already have to do anyway, you’re less likely to find excuses not to do it. Instead, you’ll start to get weird satisfaction from the routine things in your life that are suddenly doing double duty as fitness tools.
Here’s more big news. “They” (whoever the heck “they” are) use to say that we have to sustain our aerobic activity for 30, 45 or 60 minutes to do any good. NOW we know that five minutes here, three minutes there, ten minutes somewhere else, strung together over the course of a day, gets results just as effective and a whole lot less irritating and disruptive to our routine.
What’s already in your daily activities that could become fitness tools? Let’s help each other by pooling our ideas. Post your list of favorite fitness cocktail ingredients on our Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses Facebook page and get a free set of Midlife Horses fitness flashcards!
Bemoaning my fatigue the other day (and blaming it, of course, on this blasted August heat), it occurred to me that the only exercise I was getting these days was a few very short (did I mention that it’s HOT?) rides a week on my horses. As I heard myself start to argue that riding and dealing with horses is a workout in and of itself, I remembered how I debunked this whiny myth (begun, I’m sure by a woman just like me and perpetuated by anyone lacking time or motivation to do anything else but ride) in Chapter Four, “Leg Up!” of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.
Obviously, I needed to go back and re-read my own book.
So here’s the crux of it, right in the middle of page 57: “If the only exercise you do is ride, you put yourself at risk for repetitive motion or referred strain injuries in your back, muscles, and joints caused by strength imbalances in your body.”
“So what’s the answer, Ms. Smarty Pants?” I mocked myself. Who has time for all this? Well, as it turns out, finding time for “baseline conditioning” is one of those things that’s very easy to recommend to others, and STILL hard to make your own silly self do. Sufficiently chastised, I continued reading.
Realizing that we all have natural strength imbalances in our bodies (Are you stronger on the left or the right? Do you tend to lean a little bit one way or the other in the saddle? If you’re not sure, watch your horse — he’ll likely reflect your imbalances with his own!), and how those imbalances can lead to injury, I started thinking (this time in highly personal terms) about how to improve my own conditioning without further taxing my already overstufffed daily schedule.
What can I do (and what will I do) to achieve and maintain that ideal baseline of fitness that will keep me strong, flexible and balanced — with enough stamina to ride well and often — and still have enough energy left over to power through the rest of my day without feeling like a dishrag by dinnertime?
And speaking of dinnertime, I also realized that this fatigue I was feeling was making me too tired and cranky by late afternoon to shop for, prepare and serve nutritious meals for myself and my family. Succumbing all too often to the lure of the drive-thru, take out, or pick-up of food that is, shall we say, less than ideal in terms of health, my trap was self-perpetuating.
Clearly, I needed the same kind of fitness and nutrition overhaul I so diligently gave my horse. (I’ve always said if someone would measure my food, add the supplements I need, and make sure I get enough turnout, rest and the right kind of exercise, I, too, would look and feel a lot better.)
So I issue this challenge to you, my Midlife Horse friends. Between now and the end of the year (to heck with New Year’s resolutions, let’s do it now!), let’s all agree to start taking care of ourselves like we were our own horses. Let’s head into Fall (will it bring it on faster if we start thinking about it more?) with the intent of getting fit to ride better and have “after five energy” left over for our families and friends by cleaning up our nutrition, shoring up our baseline conditioning, and correcting our strength imbalances.
Assuming you accept this challenge, as I have, what’s your program going to be? What are your midlife fitness goals? It’s funny to me that being a size 6 is no longer as enticing to me as being able to get on my horse from the ground quickly and without struggle, having enough core strength to stay balanced when my horse starts hopping around like a Texas jackalope, and enough muscle to apply an irresistible leg cue in these instances, even after riding for a few hours. See what I mean about how midlife shifts our priorities — along with our waistlines?
Let’s share our best ideas and explore in greater detail some of the resources I included in Chapter Four (and any others you may know about that I missed)! We’ll call it the Midlife Horses Fitness Challenge. If you’re in, post your top three fitness goals on our Facebook fan page and how you intend to “measure” your success. (Creativity welcome here —remember, midlife gives us the right to change the rules whenever we feel like it! As are “before” pictures and video demos . . .fitness challenges love company) And, if you’ll email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your mailing address and t-shirt size, there’s a free Midlife Horses t-shirt in it for you, in addition to a new level of fitness that will free you once and for all from the self-perpetuating midlife fitness trap.