At 53, some people would say I am mad to feel the signs of age but I think its relative to how long you think your life has run, meaningfully. My entrepreneurial life started at 17, when I tried to import scanners from Canada (remember this is 1977), when I was bored hanging around my father’s law office in Singapore waiting for my ride home. We lived across the causeway in Malaysia and there was no way home from school unless I went with my dad, who also worked in Singapore then. From then till today, my entrepreneurial life has been an adventurous one from running a furniture shop in downtown LA, California, a casino in the high seas under a Liberian company, running a Panamanian cruise ship that was in a collision, a tile factory, a pokemon club… so entrepreneurially at least, forgive me if I feel a little old and tired. My academic life, on the other hand, was pretty recent, having a full time academic job only 14 years ago. Even then, it spanned Singapore, Malaysia, Exeter, Cambridge, Warwick with my PhD in 2005, made chair prof in 2008, a chunk of grants (£10m portfolio), wonderful collaborators, so many papers and books, so academically as well, I feel a little old and tired.
Physically, and this is an odd one, I have been 45kg (100pds or so) up until 33 years old, really skinny and so I’ve only had the last 20 years of looking normal. I have bradycardia (low heart rate) and a natural murmur due to the heart having to work harder to pump oxygen across the entire body. That generally means, as I have found, that it doesn’t take long to get fit. I may be unfit and lazy for a long time but if I just get out and exercise for 2 weeks or so, I’m back to being fit again. That of course, results in the unfortunate behavioural trait of taking fitness for granted, a fact that would annoy my 3 fitness-obsessed daughters. I would have spurts that usually do not end well e.g. bumming my knee when I trained for the Cambridge half marathon. My heart could always last longer than my untrained muscles so I could continue running even though the body has given out. As metabolism slows and the peri menopausal stage kicks in, there is a growing awareness of a body that is unfit and possibly older than the heart and mind (at least that’s how if feels). Digression: every time I use menopause as an excuse, my children would remind me that technically, they are peri-menopausal too ;.
At 53, health and fitness should of course be an important focus. Unfortunately, it is not important enough to motivate me. I’ve always been optimistic, playful, creative and to some of my friends, rather unpredictable and a tad crazy. Being fit for fitness and health sake is just too pessimistic for me. To be healthy and fit for what? to prolong life? what’s the point of prolonging life by doing something totally unenjoyable? I know it sounds morbid, but I’ve been ready for death for awhile now. My children are grown adults, well adjusted, having lives of their own. My will all done and organized in a probate pack I carefully put together with all the instructions on whom to call, and what to arrange. I update it twice a year. My children know what to do if I died tomorrow (and what they have to do to look after my husband). Except for the loss, sorrow and emotional distress which I clearly cannot plan for, I am ready to go. I have lived a very fruitful life, having lived in 4 countries, started many businesses, wrote many papers and books – seriously – I am ready to go. At 53.
It’s funny but when you’re all ‘packed’ and ready to go, you’re also ready to live. So, paradoxically, being ready to go at 53 and having done so much means I am probably young enough to still have a lot of living to do. So I want to LIVE. wow. those annoying internet memes might be right after all 😉
Fitness to prolong life seems to be meaningless. It didn’t make any sense to me and I could feel my mind rejecting it each time. I detested the running on treadmills, spinning on stationary bikes, elliptical etc. they seem to go nowhere (both literally and figuratively). So my fitness spurts in the past only lasted until the novelty was over.
This summer I discovered biking. Not biking for sport, full lycra with speed and turns. Nope, just simple biking with a backpack, a simple old bike with a basket in front to carry stuff in. I’ve always biked for transportation – getting into town, a lecture at the uni, lunch at college, but this summer, with hubby back in Malaysia, I biked on my own. A lot. And I realise I liked the time alone, biking out into a space that is vast, enjoying the air and I like the fact that I can choose where to go and stop where I want, to read a paper, catch a pokemon. The first month of biking led to a 2kg weight gain – because it often ended up at a pub with friends – don’t laugh. Slightly smarter now, I’ve switched to gin&tonic instead of a pint of ale (you didn’t think I would give it up did you?) and bike longer. My legs are getting stronger, my back no longer hurts on long walks. Am I fitter? Probably, but I don’t care. I feel I am living.