Use It Or Lose It – No Really!

Jannine Myers

My father has been dealing lately with knee and lower back pain, not surprising given how active he is. But his pain – the result of cumulative wear and tear – has reached a certain threshold that has forced him to either modify or put some of his usual weekly activities on hold.

My mother on the other hand, moves about with relative ease – or to better clarify, with minimal pain. Unlike my father, she’s more of an indoor person; she’d much rather stay in and read a book or stroll down to one of the social gatherings on-site at their semi-retirement village. Besides flirting over the years with a few sporting endeavors (netball in her youth, and golf and lawn bowling later on), she has never really put her body under too much stress or tension.

As I think about their situation, and the all-too-familiar phrase “Use It Or Lose It,” I have to admit that I envy my mother for being pain-free. But isn’t it ironic that she – the one who has hardly exercised, and with a far less impressive physical profile – is also the one who does not struggle with chronic pain!

Still, when weighing up the pros and cons, I think one has to consider personal lifestyle preferences, and what will ultimately provide fulfillment. How much will it matter to stay fit and active for as long as possible, versus settling for a mostly indoor and sedentary lifestyle?

Also important, is contemplating who might (or might not be) in your life during your retirement years. As much as my mother jokingly boasts about her pain-free body, she would not be able to deny that her quality of life is as great as it is because she has a husband who has worked hard to maintain a certain level of vitality.

Essential day-to-day tasks, for example – cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping – are no longer manageable for her. And forget about the road trips she still enjoys, or social outings beyond the village, since venturing out would not be possible without my father.

So yes, my mother is incredibly fortunate to have reaped the rewards of a gently-used body, but she is also incredibly fortunate to have someone do for her what her body can no longer do.


From Mum-Bod To Fit-Bod

No time to exercise? You’re a busy mum?

I get it; I really do. I remember when each of my girls were young and I felt pulled in every direction, all of the time. But honestly, now that they’re older, nothing much has changed. Life is still as busy as ever; it’s the same challenge, different focus!

Maybe you’ve been told this before (and found it condescending), but we all have the same number of hours in our days. To some degree – more or less – we mostly get to choose how we spend those hours. People are generally best at what they do more of, the implication being that whatever matters most will likely make it’s way to the top of their priority list. That mum you know, who looks ridiculously fit and healthy, doesn’t necessarily have more time on her hands; she may just have a priority list that looks very different to yours.

Part of the problem too, is that mums feel pressured to conform. If they struggle to fit into whatever “mum box” they believe is most socially acceptable, they no longer feel worthy or valued. That’s rubbish though! Whoever you are and choose to be, is of value, and perfectly okay!

Heck, I’m grossly inept as an efficient and organized house-keeper, or disciplinarian, or home-work assistant, and my girls would probably agree. In fact, on my last birthday they gave me a card that said “BE WILD & FREE” and inside was a hand-written message that said, “Not a traditional card, but that’s because you are wild and free!” They accept that I’ve never really been a conventional/logical/practical kind of mum, but they love me just the same.

They accept too that exercise has always mattered to me, and is an integral part of my life (I hope in turn that as they get older it will matter equally as much to them). When they were much younger, keeping fit was only possible via spontaneous and brief, but regular bouts of movement; ten minutes here, ten minutes there, basically wherever, whenever, and however. If I had cleaning to do, I would do it vigorously; if the morning brought clear skies, the jogging stroller was put to use; or if I had to choose between a quick calisthenics workout versus folding the laundry, I’d opt for the former (or do both simultaneously).

As my girls moved through different ages and stages of their lives, and required less hands-on care, I took advantage of their extra-curricular activities. I’d drive them to sports practices and while waiting I’d go run with the dog, instead of engaging in idle chatter with other mums. Or, as a military spouse, frequently encouraged to participate in group-bonding activities, I often chose not to. That meant that I missed out on developing relationships with other mums, but it was more important to me to nurture my own personal needs while participating in ways that at minimum, supported my girls.

In most “mum” situations, I believe it’s a matter of shifting mindset. I’ve listened to many mothers of young kids tell me that it’s impossible to workout, because a workout to them meant having to start and finish a specific exercise routine without interruption. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and once you grasp the idea that anything done counts, you’ll soon get creative and good at fitting in lots of little “anythings!”

Being a mum doesn’t mean you can’t look after you! Granted, it’s not a time when you can expect to train optimally and be in the best shape of your life, but there’s no reason to sabotage your health and fitness goals by giving up altogether. My exercise routine was average at best (during my girls’ younger years), but it was enough to maintain a baseline level of health and fitness, and keep the “happy hormones” activated. That in itself, as any mother well knows, should be motivation enough to make time for exercise!