New Mexico's vistas inspire more than the Georgia O'Keefes and D.H. Lawrences of this world. I, too, had a "clear view" experience in New Mexico (where this photograph was taken), that reignited my commitment to my own fitness. Here's what happened.
When I was in my mid-80s, my daughter and I, along with a friend and Rancho La Puerta’s general manager, traveled to New Mexico for a weekend getaway and a visit to a small resort spa that was for sale. At dinner the first night, the four of us made plans for an early hike to look down at the property, which was extensive. Then the rain came and lasted until nearly dawn, pounding the tin roof of the 100-year-old Inn where we were staying in Galisteo. At breakfast, contemplating the wet climb up a steep ridgeline, I decided that the peril of slipping was very real at my age, so I told the group that I would drive them to the trailhead and use the extra time at the hotel to catch up on some work.
I parked the car back at the hotel, and as I walked from the bright high-desert sunlight into the dark entryway of the adobe hotel with its uneven floors, my arms clutching a pile of papers, the screen door slammed behind me, bumping me just enough to throw me off balance. I fell. Hard. Thankfully, I did not crack my skull, but I did fracture three ribs in my back. I yelped with intense pain from the slightest movement, and needless to say the trip back to my home in San Diego was extremely arduous—and sometimes noisy.
In constant pain and a perpetual haze from pain medications, I spent a month living and sleeping virtually 24/7 in a mammoth electric-motor reclining chair that took two huge men to deliver. Even after I was up and around, I was still sleeping in it for another six months. I hobbled with a cane. I needed help standing up.
For the first time in my life, I felt old. Really old.
There was nothing nice about it. I hated it, and I had no patience for it. At 86, I still felt my work was far from done. I did not have the luxury of getting old before my time. Besides, I felt I had a responsibility to the thousands of guests who return to the Ranch and the Door each year and look to me as a role model. Hundreds of staff members and their families depended on me—in the case of the Ranch alone over 400 staff members on the premises. How could I disappoint them?
My choice was obvious. I resolved to do everything in my power to delay the process of aging by watching myself grow younger. And after watching a myriad of guests at my resorts accomplish this, putting a real spring back in their step in only one week, I knew that if I made the choice to begin exercising I, too, would have a chance.
Until that point, I was happy that I was doing so "well for my age," and had not yet made physical exercise a priority. There was always too much to do—the children, the Ranch, the Door, the community. Devoting time each day to myself and to movement seemed selfish.
I remembered with chagrin when my friend Charlotte and I used to travel together. Each morning she would retrieve a workout tape from her suitcase and proceed to exercise in the hotel room. From my bed I would watch her and think to myself, I really should join her. But I never did. Unlike Charlotte, the commitment to exercise does not come naturally to me.
That accident, at the age of 86, was a life-altering event that changed my way of thinking.
The two idle months I spent recuperating gave me plenty of time to reflect; and I had to admit that I had been ignoring the needs of my body, the home in which I live. In fact, my body and I had some interesting dialogs during which I was genuinely scolded for not "walking" my talk. Exercise is no longer a matter of choice! was my body's resounding message. It's not a question of whether you have time. Daily movement is essential if you want more time to enjoy all the things you love. I realized then that just one hour a day of movement had the potential to add years to my life and thus it is the best possible use of my time.
As soon as the doctors gave me the all clear, I picked up my cell phone and changed my weekly Pilates sessions (with some lapses, I must admit) to four times a week, religiously. Each day I take responsible, loving care of my body. I want to inhabit it more, not less, with each passing year. Because I love life and want to live it fully, I do not make exceptions.
My Pilates classes are non-negotiable. An hour of honest exercise every day is mandatory. I learned the hard way that every decade after the age of fifty requires a new level of commitment to movement if I want to keep doing the things I love with the same or more energy that I now enjoy. Movement is the antidote to the wear and tear that is a natural part of aging. Part of holding back the clock involves dispensing with the idea that just because I don't have to do something, I shouldn't do it. The tendency toward inertia is natural and powerful force and I have no intention of allowing it to set the pace of my life; therefore I deliberately choose to offset it. To receive more from my body, I give more to it.
To reap the rewards of a long, purposeful, enjoyable life, you too will have to work hard. The fruits of your labor will be many. To stand up straight, to feel at ease in your body, to have a mind brimming with new ideas and the energy to carry them out: these gifts are yours when you choose movement over inertia; growth over constriction; and prevention over disease. And, practically speaking—given that we're living in an age when the U.S. spends more on health care than all of Europe combined, yet ranks 17th in longevity—ill health is an expensive luxury that our nation cannot afford.
That fall in New Mexico was a gift from my angels and a blessing for which I will always be grateful, for it set me upon the path to study what is required to delay ageing. Soon I realized that I had a lifetime of empirical evidence on which to base my own actions as well as the advice I give to others.
All of us experience a kind of revelation when an incident is a wake up call. This was mine. What is yours? What will it take to make you change?