Thirty years ago, Jane Fonda gave us a new glimpse of 40. Yesterday on the Today Show she showed Boomers who we can be at 73.

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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!

Happy Trails!

Pilates is cruel. Here’s what happens when you only think you have core strength. And why we must learn to “zip it”!

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My insides hurt. A few weeks ago I started going to a Pilates class (Cassandra’s Absolute Pilates) devoted to moves that will help us ride better. I also have a nagging hip and lower back issue I’ve been trying to resolve, and these Pilates exercises seem to be helping.

But yesterday’s class was more intense than usual. And today (and likely worsening tomorrow) I pay. For one thing, yesterday it was all high level riders. Except me. I was just a glutton for punishment with an exaggerated idea of my own core strength and the erroneous thought that I could actually keep up with these women. And I did, for the most part. But my guess is that they are all able to move today.

Why is Pilates in particular so good for our riding? What makes this kind of pain so necessary? The object of Pilates exercises is to build long, strong, flexible musculature that will help us hold our frame steady (“locked and loaded,” as Cassandra says), and make clear and deliberate cues that will help our horse understand what we are asking him to do as we move fluidly with our horses in a relaxed, but powerful way. (Think Zena, Woman Warrior. On Horseback.) While we all know we need to be strong to ride well, it is the kind of strength we develop that makes all the difference. It is strength without tightness — supple, loose, and powerful.

And between here and there, apparently, lies the undeniable pain of hard work.(Good news, Advil!)  OK, maybe not actual pain (although I’m not sure I can stand up right now without whimpering),but  just the extreme muscle soreness, way deep in your innards, that tells you that you’ve found some tiny little muscles in there that have never worked an honest day in their now miserable lives.

Finding, isolating, and working these little tiny muscles, many of which comprise the “pelvic floor” and some of the harder-to-reach muscles that live under and around the “big guns” of the quads, glutes and hamstrings that normally get all our attention in more conventional workouts, is apparently the name of this hideous but effective game.

Now, I’ve heard of some of these muscles before. The pelvic floor is loosely defined as the interconnected “hammock” of muscles that  supports our internal organs and (ahem) surrounds the openings of our personal parts.  I’ve had two babies and a hysterectomy and have endured the Kegel exercise explanation (and how neglecting this crucial exercise leads to unspeakable and annoying problems that only get worse as we age) more times than I’d care to count.

But here’s the real news I learned yesterday about that group of muscles known as the pelvic floor. When this web of muscles and ligaments is strengthened and trained to work in concert with the abs and lower back, we can significantly improve not only our riding, but also whatever structural imbalances we may have. For most of us at this time of life,  the muscles of our abs and lower back and hips have learned to compensate for any natural imbalances by staying tight in an effort to protect our hip joints and spine. Not only does this inhibit our ability to relax our hips when we ride, but it is often the source of increasing aches, pains, and tension in the hips and lower back that plague us in every area of our life.

It’s also kind of a chicken and egg thing. We have to be able to get these muscles to relax in order to strengthen them enough to correct our alignment; however, it is the problem with alignment that’s keeping them tight . So to target and work these key muscles, we must learn to find them and then teach them to hold correct alignment. When we strengthen these muscles with Pilates exercises, we teach them to work with the surrounding glutes and abs that will then help create and maintain better overall structural balance. The bonus here is that supple strength that makes us so much more effective in the saddle. I don’t know about you, but I’m in!

So how do we find those muscles? And then what?

The image Cassandra put in our heads yesterday was the best one I’ve ever heard. She described it as “pulling the sit bones together like the foot of a zipper,” then “slowly zipping up the muscles of your core from that base, moving straight up the midline of your body, all the way to your sternum, keeping your shoulders back and down (‘locked and loaded’) and neck relaxed.” Then she had us hold that “zipped-up core” while we did each of the Pilates exercises in that particular series. (Ow, it even hurts to write about it this morning!)

If you’re new to this idea, I’d advise that you practice “zipping up” your core and seeing  how long you can hold it, just sitting there, whenever you think about it. Then try doing it as you go about your normal daily activities. Trust me — ease your slacker core muscles into this. Or go buy yourself the BIG bottle of Advil and, while you’re at it, a little Tiger Balm. (and remember, no matter how good it may sound, Tiger Balm is not intended for internal use.)

 This, I think, is a great example of how our midlife horses propel us to find levels and types of fitness that we would otherwise never pursue — for beyond-riding benefits that will continue to pay off in every area of our life for years and maybe decades to come. What new fitness levels and motivations has your horse led you to? Chime in and tell us your stories about fitness you’ve found at the hooves of your midlife horses. Post a comment here, move it to our Facebook community, re-tweet your favorite exercise when you see this headline pop up on my Twitter feed, or share a video on our YouTube channel.

Happy Trails!

 

Make Your Own Midlife Horses Fitness Cocktail: Find the Right Mix for YOU

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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!

 

Happy Trails!

Aaaaaaack!!! Caught in my own trap! Do you, too, wrestle with midlife fitness challenges?

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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 (mkfolse@gmail.com) 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.

 

Happy Trails!