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Are You Aging Successfully?

04/16/2010

A Guest Post from Mariah Burton Nelson
2010 Spring Distinguished Lecture Series Keynote Speaker

I’m going to wear sneakers. When I return to Cowles Auditorium to give a presentation on April 21, I’m going to wear sneakers because sneakers permit me the most freedom of movement, and freedom of expression. The topic of my talk is “Are Women Aging Successfully?” I will answer part of that complicated question right now by saying that if women are not comfortable in their own bodies, and are not free to move, express, and dress themselves as they please, then they really can’t be described as aging successfully—can they?

So I’m planning to wear sneakers—to embody my message to you, and also to be ready for anything. I hope you attend, and I hope you wear sneakers too, if they suit you. That way, if I demonstrate an exercise or game related to women and aging, and those of you in the audience feel inspired to try it out for yourself, you’ll be ready. If you can’t attend, wear sneakers to wherever you may be going that day.

In the 15 years since I last spoke as part of the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture Series (about my second book, The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing about women, aging, and physical activity. I’ve also been conducting my own “experiment of one,” as fitness guru George Sheehan so memorably called it. I look forward to sharing the latest research, and my most recent thinking and experiences, with you. I’ll offer guidelines for daily physical activity, challenge you to consider ageist assumptions you might be making, and urge you to conduct an “experiment of one” with your own body, no matter how old you are.
Here are some highlights from the presentation:

  • Review the health problem: Despite Title IX and the fitness revolution, many women are stiff, sore, overweight, and out of shape. The older we get, the more vulnerable we become to heart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, and injuries from falls. Older women of color suffer from disease and disability even more than white women. Of course, we will all die eventually from something. But many fatal diseases occur prematurely as a direct result of inactivity.
  • Consider the social and psychological dimensions of the problem: Gerontophobia (irrational fear of old people or aging) further injures women by equating aging with ugliness and shame. I love the term gerontophobe because it sounds like a dinosaur—and thus alludes to a huge, scary mythic creature that still has power over us.
  • Commit to the solution: Learn exactly which daily exercises maintain fitness and health.
  • Celebrate the connection between cognitive functioning (including memory and learning)and physical activity: Learn a mnemonic that will ensure you never forget where you parked your car again.
  • Take an important step: Develop your own “physical intelligence.”
  • Hear inspiring stories of older women: Learn to re-frame your own aging story.
  • Experiment with play-based fitness: Live life so that physical activity becomes a treat, not a chore.

I’ll present the latest research findings—which are quite encouraging—but research has its greatest impact when put into practice. My goal for the Distinguished Lecture is to make this research meaningful by giving you opportunities to apply it to your own lives.

Join the Tucker Center & Mariah on Wednesday, April 21st for the Spring Lecture! For more information, visit: www.tuckercenter.org.

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