Late Bloomer

One woman decided to get fit at 49. Twenty years later, she’s living proof of the power of exercise.

Although my dad, a high school football coach, exercised all his life, physical fitness was never my thing. Somewhat awkward by nature, I was fearful of working out. My attitude changed, however, in my late 40s.

At that time in 1994, I was 49, having lived years without a will to exercise. But then I struck up a friendship with a woman 10 years younger. She loved to walk, and our friendship evolved through twice-weekly 5-mile hikes.

Within a short time, I realized that I had more energy and that my legs were becoming stronger.

One summer day I noticed my friend’s biceps. They were toned without being bulky. I knew that she was younger and that I shouldn’t compare my own flaccid arms to hers. But I did, and I decided that it was time to find an exercise program that would help me strengthen and tone.

I’d tried weight training and aerobics a few years earlier without much success. Then I remembered that, as a 20-something, I’d been introduced to yoga, which I had very much enjoyed. I began to practice a little, but lacked consistency or motivation.

Winter was always hard for me, and the winter of 1995 was no exception. Asthmatic bronchitis settled into my lungs in late November, refusing to leave. The following May, I attended a one-day, mini yoga retreat during which I took a class that literally changed my life. Call it an endorphin bath, call it a natural high, call it anything you like. In the middle of the class, I felt a bubble of joy open in my heart. My chest cleared, and I was able to breathe freely for the first time in six months.

Of course I wasn’t cured for all time. But the experience demonstrated the power of exercise, not only for toning and strengthening, but also for creating and maintaining health. I was hooked, and I would go on to become a full-time yoga instructor. Now every day I look forward to working with my body — I know the power of exercise.

Researchers know that power, too, as scientific evidence continues to mount that no matter what people’s age, everyone can benefit from exercise, even if they start later in life.

Shortly after becoming serious about taking care of myself, a longtime friend called me “Merlin,” adding I was getting younger by the day. The compliment was welcomed, but I didn’t need it. At 50, I felt vibrant, sexy, and awesome. My asthmatic bronchitis left permanently, and my body was in better shape than it had ever been.

Two years ago, at 66, I added Pilates reformer sessions to my weekly routine. Although I’m comfortable with my body and with exercise, working with the reformer sometimes makes me feel self-conscious, awkward, and clumsy — feelings I don’t much like.

I suspect that fear of these feelings keeps people from beginning a fitness program, especially if they don’t have a history of physical conditioning. But I’m living proof that we can all learn new ways of being. With practice and repetition, what at first seems awkward and impossible becomes a source of increased energy, deep satisfaction, and improved well-being. We can be fit at any age.

Nancy McCaochan is the author of Yoga At The Wall and is a yoga instructor at Karma Yoga in Bloomfield Hills.