Your bones will start to crumble

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In my sixteenth year of life, for reasons too long and
detailed to list here, I spent the best part of that year in boarding school. 
During that time I lost track of my body.  The only time I saw it was
at night in the dim light of the Immaculate Conception dormitory when I slipped
out of my blouse and tunic into my pyjamas.  It was too cold to linger long.  We did not have mirrors except in the downstairs bathroom
and once or twice a week I might catch sight of my face when I washed my hair
in the sink, but otherwise I forgot the rest of my body from the neck down.  
It was easy to hide within the uniform over which I wore a
baggy gingham pinafore.  In such capacious clothes it was easy to grow, and grow I did
into a much bigger person than I had been when I first started at boarding
school.  
Before then my brothers
had called me skinny Lissie, but in my adolescence, reinforced by my year at
boarding school, all this changed. 
During one of the holiday breaks my older sister took me to
shop for new clothes.
‘You’re bigger than me,’ she said when I tried on trousers
behind a curtained cubicle in Myers. 
‘You’ll have to watch out.’ 
Back at school I could not watch out.  The lure of the comfort food, hot
buttered bread rolls for breakfast drizzled with honey, and buns at after noon
tea united with vast mugs of hot chocolate.
A tiny photo of the boarders.  I’m the long haired one, standing at the extreme right in the middle row.  Our bodies are all well hidden behind our dressing gowns.  
When I left school I took to trying to shift my boarding
school bulk with diets and exercise.  I devised my own exercise regime and tried hard to stick to
it but it seemed a cruel way to start each day and worse still if I left it till
the end of the day. The thought of the exercise ahead of me took away any
pleasure a day might once have held.
In time I gave up all stereotyped exercise preferring to use
my body for purposeful actions, the sort that make up a life, walking,
housework, sex. 
I have since enjoyed a life that is exercise free until
recently when a friend sent me notice of a new form of exercise called Keiser
training. Two half hour sessions a week are all a person needs to begin to
develop stronger muscles.
‘If you don’t get some exercise,’ my daughters warn me,
‘your bones will start to crumble.’
And so for the past two weeks I have visited a
physiotherapist at the Keiser training centre closest to my home and begun to
acquaint myself with a series of machines designed to give me back my strength.
The Keiser training place looks like a space laboratory,
white walls, clean wooden floors and a series of machines each erected
differently to take a person through a series of manoeuvres designed to offer
resistance in the form of increasing weights pitched against particular muscles
and movement.
My neck is weak, the physiotherapist tells me, perhaps from
sitting for hours hunched over a desk; but over all my agility is fine.  So far the exercise seems painless but
she reminds me, we are still on relatively light weights.
I do this exercise now because it is allegedly good for me.  I do it to get my daughters off my
back.  I do it because I am
fearful that my bones might crumble if I do not offer some resistance to the
process of aging, but it will take some perseverance and my track record is not
good.  
I wonder whether I am alone in this.  All my life I’ve been dogged by a sense
of never being able to catch up with myself. 
It once took the form of a thought, a thought I had when I
was in grade six: if only I was now back in grade two I would be able to do
grade two again and so much better.
When I was in my final year at school the same thought: if
only I were just now beginning high school, with all the knowledge I have gained since, I’d be able to do it so much better. 
And now more than half way through my life the same thought
again: if only I were back at university now I would be able to do it all so
much better, and maybe in another twenty years time I will wish I could go back
in time and have my last go again. 
Will I think the same about Keiser training in twenty years
time?  If only I could do it again,
I’d do it so much better, but in twenty years time it might be too late.  
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44 Comments on Your bones will start to crumble

  1. Andrew
    August 4, 2012 at 2:42 am (5 years ago)

    For years now I have been telling myself that I need more exercise. I expect I will just go on telling myself. At least you have made a start. Maybe you will stop soon, maybe not. Maybe you will start again a bit later, but you are trying, which is better than I have done for a long time. It is pointless wishing you had done things differently in the past. You can only learn from mistakes or events. You do what you do at a certain time because that is what you do. (hmm, not sure I even understand that).

    Reply
  2. juliet
    August 4, 2012 at 4:23 am (5 years ago)

    Good on you for starting the exercise. It's NEVER too late and if we get hung up on trying to do things perfectly we'll never start anything. You are inspiring me to get back into some weights training. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. juliet
    August 4, 2012 at 4:26 am (5 years ago)

    I wrote a comment but it has disappeared, so here goes again.
    Good on you. It's never too late to start a good thing, so don't be put off by ideas of having to do it perfectly. You have inspired me to get back into some weights training, so thank you.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth
    August 4, 2012 at 4:29 am (5 years ago)

    This line stood out for me and sucked me into the rest: "During that time I lost track of my body."

    In the last few years, I feel like I've lost track of my body — you've articulated this for me and I thank you.

    Exercise? Oh, god.

    Reply
  5. who
    August 4, 2012 at 4:29 am (5 years ago)

    Well, it seems I had the wrong impression about Keiser Exercises, I was completely oblivious. I had been under the impression that it was nothing more clinching or tightening of specific muscles. As I understood it, women could exercise all day if they had a desk job, although as one woman informed me, the exercises often caused her mind to wander. Another gal I knew incorporated a set of balls slightly smaller than ping pong balls that she used for resistance training to flex her muscles against. It’s strange how I go through a substantial portion of my life with a completely false vision, when I envision the actions from words people share.

    At the time I posted this comment, I cannot see the image that goes with this post, just the image place holder icon.

    Reply
  6. Windsmoke.
    August 4, 2012 at 5:16 am (5 years ago)

    Walking 10 clicks a day, five days a week suits me really well and it keeps everything in good working order both physically and mentally. No fads for me. Wishing you could change the past could make the past worse than it is now its best left alone.

    Reply
  7. River
    August 4, 2012 at 10:42 am (5 years ago)

    Good on you for starting the exercise. I hope you keep it up.
    I've lost track of part of me too. I know there is a torso between the arms and legs, but they do all the work each day while the torso just gets lazier. I keep telling myself I should do something about it….

    Reply
  8. Jim Murdoch
    August 4, 2012 at 11:06 am (5 years ago)

    As you might imagine since learning of the death of my childhood sweetheart I’ve been wallowing a bit in the past recently. The site that prompted all of this was one where someone had posted class photos from 1974 when I was 16. I remember getting that photo and being struck by how my face had changed. The last group photo had been in 1st Year and in between my face had become oval as opposed to round or so it seemed. All that had happened was my hair had receded which is continued to do rapidly and I was effectively bald by the time I was 18. I’d developed early and was broader and taller than most kids in my class but by 4th Year some of the shorter kids were beginning to sprout. I never really saw myself as a big kid. I certainly wasn’t a fat kid, ever. It’s only in the last 5 years I’ve had to watch my weight. The pills I was on caused me to put on 20lbs which I’ve since lost but now I do have to watch my diet. I try and stay under 13st. At the moment I’m sitting at 13st 4lbs. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and never put on a pound and to be honest I’m really only about half a stone heavier now than I was when Carrie first met me. When she asked me what weight I was I told her, “Twelve stone mumble” and that finally made its way into one of her poems.

    I don’t exercise enough. I have been trying to go out for regular—daily is the target—constitutionals but I’ve been bad about it. I don’t have the stamina I once did. Not by a long chalk. It doesn’t help that Carrie is as sedentary as she is. That’s not an excuse but I really don’t enjoy spending time alone like I used to. When I was 16 I was always going out for long walks and even when I first came back to Glasgow in my mid-thirties I walked everywhere but as the years wore on there was less and less time for that.

    I have a lot of neck and back pain in fact it’s no exaggeration to say that I’m in constant pain although I think of it only as discomfort; it’s been downgraded from ‘pain’. My legs hurt too and my feet. Muscles, bones, tendons, joints—if I can hurt it will. I can’t say I live in fear of my bones crumbling though; that’s a new one on me. I’ve never been fond of exercise machines though. I had an exercise bench in my mid-twenties and I used to train with weights but I have never used any cardiovascular machines even though for seven years I worked for a firm that sold them. I’ve lugged treadmills around that needed five men to lift but never actually switched one on and even walked on it. I did have a quick go on an elliptical trainer and by ‘quick’ I mean about thirty seconds. I went to a gym when I was weight-training because there’s only so much you can do on your own; it’s not safe to bench-press without someone to spot you at least not with the size of weights I was using. I’ve always been strong. When I was about 14 I lifted a boy of maybe 10 over my head. He was a small boy admittedly but I had him lie on the ground, I took a hold of his ankles and the back of his neck, he kept his body straight and I lifted him straight over my head. I don’t think I even used my legs; it was all upper body strength. I don’t feel weak now but I do feel tired, drained. A couple of miles is about my limit these days. Twenty years ago it would take eight miles to get me as tired as I feel after two these days not that I often go for two-mile walks; one is usually enough.

    I’m not sure about this never being able to catch up with yourself feeling though. Looking up people from my past and seeing how successful some are—the little skinny boy I used to play with in our back garden is now a maths professor at a major UK university—makes me feel a bit disappointed in myself. I could have been an English professor had I made better life choices and yet here I am, in my fifties, starting from scratch again for the fourth (and please tell me the last) time in my life. On the plus side I’ve lived four very different lives but I’m never going to catch up with the man I might have been had I stuck with that first one.

    Reply
  9. jabblog
    August 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm (5 years ago)

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In all probability we would have done the same things again.

    Reply
  10. rhymeswithplague
    August 4, 2012 at 2:10 pm (5 years ago)

    Is it really true what your daughters said, that if you don’t get some exercise, your bones will start to crumble? Or just something they heard somewhere that may have no scientific basis?

    I do know about osteoporosis but thought it was due to not getting enough calcium. Fixed by better diet choices, not by exercising.

    Could you please do more research before you make a major life change just to keep your daughters quiet?

    Reply
  11. ellen abbott
    August 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm (5 years ago)

    I was diagnosed with osteoporosis about 10 years ago. after the first three years I quit getting bone scans and quit taking the very expensive med when I read up on it and how it worked. all it did was prevent the body from breaking down the weak old bone and thereby increasing bone mass but not bone strength. I'll take bone strength over weak bone mass any day. I also joined a gym and for the next 7 years worked out mostly 3 times a week for an hour of weights and an hour on the treadmill. I felt and looked great but sometimes I hated the actual workouts and lost time. Then we moved out in the country and a gym is not available to me, it's too hot to walk. I have lost strength and muscle tone and shape. ugh. I've bought a pair of 10 pound weights and resolve to start doing something everyday but I have yet to be regular at it. It's amazing how fast you lose muscle strength and tone when you stop doing anything regular.

    Reply
  12. David-Glen Smith
    August 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm (5 years ago)

    With me and my family: our hearts are the weakness— perhaps that's why I write poetry?

    With the baby boy in the household now my daily walks disappeared. Soon however they will need to begin again. I feel the added weight regaining on my frame.

    Good luck with the new approach!

    Reply
  13. Kirk
    August 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm (5 years ago)

    Heck, if I only could redo yesterday.

    I got a job in a warehouse recently where I get more than enough exercise, as my aching feet and back, were they sentient and could talk, would attest. I feel I've earned the right to take the elevator instead of stairs up to my third floor apartment when I get home.

    Reply
  14. Rubye Jack
    August 5, 2012 at 12:45 am (5 years ago)

    You're fortunate to be close to a gym but regardless of its proximity it still takes a lot of determination and tenacity to stick with any workout. And so, I hope you keep with it because the more I hear of others doing well, the more I want to also.
    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  15. Marja
    August 5, 2012 at 2:05 am (5 years ago)

    Good on ya. Keep it up. When I was young we had to bike 10 km to school each day so that kept you in form. After getting my kids the kilo's came. I didn't start exercising till I went to NZ. That is I walk a lot here because that is fun. Sometimes we bike as real Dutch people do. 🙂

    Reply
  16. persiflage
    August 5, 2012 at 8:01 am (5 years ago)

    It would be lovely to really enjoy exercises, but I always remember how bad I was at Physical culture way back in my school days. I used to swim a lot, and now walk here and there in short bursts, and going up and down stairs is surely useful. But for most of us exercise is dreary. Keep at it, though. don't let the bones crumble.

    Reply
  17. Ms Sparrow
    August 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm (5 years ago)

    Good luck with the training. If nothing else, it gives you the self assurance that you are doing something good for yourself! You aren't letting your body go unnoticed.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    August 6, 2012 at 4:50 am (5 years ago)

    I hope I persevere with the exercise this time, Andrew, but only time will tell. It'll take some months before I can feel a difference. As you say it's all in the timing.

    Thanks, Andrew.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    August 6, 2012 at 7:38 am (5 years ago)

    Apparently weight bearing exercise is best of all as we age, Juliet. I'd never have imagined myself when I was younger at such a activity as pushing weights, but life brings many changes. Thank goodness.

    Thanks, Juliet.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    August 6, 2012 at 7:40 am (5 years ago)

    Losing track of your body is a grim event, Elizabeth, especially in our body obsessed culture. I hope you find yours again in whatever way you can.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    August 6, 2012 at 7:43 am (5 years ago)

    I did not download the photo properly to this post, Dusty Who, hence the question mark in the middle of the page. I've since managed to put it back in but it's not a great photo. Better than nothing though.

    I'm pleased to have enlightened you on the nature of the Keiser training. Plenty of men go there, too, not just women.

    Thanks, Dusty Who.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    August 6, 2012 at 7:46 am (5 years ago)

    I agree, Windsmoke, it's pointless wishing I could change the past, but still I fantasize as much from time to time- to no avail.

    thanks for the pep talk, Windsmoke.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    August 6, 2012 at 7:47 am (5 years ago)

    It's easy to lose track of our in between bits, River, and to observe ourselves as if we are just feet and head.

    Maybe one day you too will get adventurous enough to fill in the missing bits with some action.

    Thanks, River.

    Reply
  24. Kath Lockett
    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm (5 years ago)

    Running has been 'it' for me in terms of exercise and my worries are instead about how long my knees, lungs and achilles will continue to let me keep it up.

    I do, however, absolutely confess to having the 'if I was thirteen now, with a 43 year old's perspective, I'd really sail through' kind of thoughts. Especially seeing my own kid going through the agonies of adolescence.

    I've never heard of Keiser training. (Adds to list of things to google when she gets the computer back from the 13 year old).

    Reply
  25. cheshire wife
    August 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm (5 years ago)

    Twenty years ago I do not think that we aware as are of the benefits of exercise as we are today. Turning back the clock is an attractive idea but we should live in the present and for the future.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    August 7, 2012 at 7:55 am (5 years ago)

    Having lived four different lives is nothing to sneeze at Jim. There are some folks who continue throughout their lives with only the one basic pursuit and rarely shift from within their comfort zones.

    My daughters are inclined to see me like that, Jim, in so far as I prefer not to travel. They don't buy the notion of travel within my mind as sufficiently mobile, but I do not care too much that they see me as so prosaic in my stay-at-home tastes.

    On the other hand they also reckon I'm eccentric, outside the mainstream and they rail against it at times and at the same time prefer it.

    I did not think of my parents in relation to the rest of the world. I valued my mother for her frumpiness among other things. I used to think it would be terrible to have a mother who was young and trendy. But my father lived in a realm entirely his own. I longed for him to metamorphose into one of my uncles on my mothers side – Dutch men who were kind but strong. Men who seemed to my childhood self to have a good grip on life.

    i've gone miles from the topic, Jim, but then again what can I say in response to your wonderful comment here?

    I suppose my children keep me younger in body and mind than I might otherwise be. They keep us both – their parents that is – informed about what's happening at the centre of the world of the young and it helps as much as it can sometimes make me feel like an alien in my own home.

    Life's a funny thing to my way of thinking, it gets both easier in some ways and harder in others, and it shifts from day to day. That's a terribly generalized thing to say so it's time for me to move on and say yet again, thanks Jim. I always relish your responses.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    August 7, 2012 at 7:56 am (5 years ago)

    I reckon you're right, Janice. We would most probably do all the same things again.

    It's all the fault of hindsight that we imagine we could do it any other way.

    Thanks, Janice.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    August 7, 2012 at 9:26 am (5 years ago)

    I think there is evidence around about the value of weight bearing exercise on muscles and bones, Rhymeswithplague, bone density that is.

    Only today I saw something in the newspaper about the importance of weight bearing exercise in order to avoid the perils of falling. It's not just my daughters' fantasy therefore. Thanks even so for the warning, RWP.

    Reply
  29. Anonymous
    August 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm (5 years ago)

    Losing track of one's body. My husband's body has just revealed an unbelievably large, ugly lump that I can't believe I didn't see growing earlier. Was it really that cold this winter that we never saw each other naked?
    Yes, it is melanoma and surgery is tomorrow. What could I have done better?
    Karen C

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:40 am (5 years ago)

    That's a scary thought, ellen. I may be able to build up muscle tone and strength and there by also improve my bones but i have to keep it up, presumably forever. It's that thought that puts me off, unless of course it feels pleasurable and is neither a burden, nor too expensive or difficult to get too. I hope things look up for you.

    Thanks, Ellen

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:44 am (5 years ago)

    Hearts are my worry, too, David-Glen, even more so than muscles and I don't tend to write poetry. My mother has congestive heart failure as we speak and my father died of a heart attack at 65 years, so if I am to take family medical history seriously I should be concerned. And behind the scenes I am, but at least for the moment I can do something for my muscles and bones. There's not a lot I can do about heredity and my heart.

    Thanks, David-Glen.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:45 am (5 years ago)

    I suspect a physically active job is one of the best ways to exercise, Kirk. It seems to me at least then getting fit is more productive than simply working out muscles and bones.

    It sounds as though you also then earn the right to rest occasionally, too.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  33. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:48 am (5 years ago)

    Perseverance is the name pf the game, Rubye Jack, and I hope I can stick with it, but already I have my doubts. I can be very determined when I want to be it's more a case of priorities.

    I'm sure I'll find it easy down the track to put writing time ahead of physical exercise time, especially when I'm under pressure.

    Thanks, Rubye Jack.

    Reply
  34. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:50 am (5 years ago)

    My mother rode her bike until she was well into her sixties, like all good Dutch people do, even here in Australia, Marja. But I don't ride a bike so I've had to resort to other means.

    You're lucky you enjoy walking. It too is an excellent way to build up strength.

    Thanks, Marja.

    Reply
  35. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:53 am (5 years ago)

    I too hated Physical education when I was a school kid, Persiflage, though not as much as I hated sport because of my ineptitude. Last to be picked for the team, dropping the baton in the relay and all that. If only Physical education was more playful than competitive, we might have benefitted more.

    Thanks, Persiflage.

    Reply
  36. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 6:54 am (5 years ago)

    You're right, Ms Sparrow, it's good to take note of our bodies' needs, less so than their appearance, though the latter seems to get more airplay these days.

    Thanks, Ms Sparrow.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm (5 years ago)

    I hope your ability to run holds out, Kath. It must be hard when one of your greatest pleasures has a relatively early shelf life, as vigorous running seems to have. Walking on the other hand, even fast walking seems to be a different story.

    In truth as much as I have fantasies of going back in time in order to do things better, I also realise that adolescence is the last place I'd like to go. It was/is such a tough time. Good luck with yours.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm (5 years ago)

    I agree, Cheshire Wife, it is important to live in the moment, only the moment tends to be coloured so much by the past. It's how we tend to operate, on the basis of where we've come from. If we operated solely in the present without any regard for the past our thoughts to the future we'd be like the anthropomorphised gold fish you hear about, the one who says to itself as it swims around the small gold fish bowl. 'There's that rock'.

    The past offers an anchor point but it is useless in isolation just as is the present and the future is mostly a fantasy but it too is equally important. At least thats my take on it.

    Thanks, Cheshire Wife.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2012 at 9:51 pm (5 years ago)

    I don't believe you can hold yourself responsible for your husband's melanoma, Karen, for all your medical knowledge. These things happen. I hope he's okay. Surgery would be over my now.

    I wish you both all the best and thanks, Karen.

    Reply
  40. aguja
    August 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm (5 years ago)

    When I read your description of boarding school and the unawareness of one's body, it took my mind immediately to an Ursula Holden book. It is the one that is a sequel to 'Tin Toys' and your experience appeared to me so similar to hers. Quite incredible and a really good description of how harrowing boarding school life can be ( not that I have experienced it).
    I think that any form of exercise adds to general vigour … part of a good mix to lead a balanced life.

    Reply
  41. R.H.
    August 10, 2012 at 6:10 am (5 years ago)

    Exercise all you like you'll still die. Don't be a nong getting virtue from going to a gym, it's a fashion craze, young person's folly.

    You want the best life advice you'll ever get? Here it is:

    Walk away.

    If I had the chance again that's what I'd do. I'd leave, go. But I hung on in situations that dragged me downhill with drunkards, sluts, twisted wretches. I could have escaped, walked off. God, I wish I had.

    If someone you know turns weird, or if you dislike them immediately, or if you're not sure, Walk.

    Reply
  42. R.H.
    August 10, 2012 at 6:24 am (5 years ago)

    Patients in a madhouse are rarely a problem to each other, just one of them planted in a sane community causes hell.

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    August 10, 2012 at 8:24 am (5 years ago)

    I was not familiar with Ursula Holden until now, Aguja, after I did the usual thing when an unfamiliar name comes up. I Googled her.

    I'm flattered by the association in your mind between our respective writings. I'll try to get hold of Ursula's books. It's often helpful to read someone else's take on similar events.

    Thanks, Aguja.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    August 10, 2012 at 8:29 am (5 years ago)

    I don't see this Keiser training as being like a gym, Robert, though I suppose it is.

    What would I know? I've not ever set foot in a gym and like you say, I've avoided them like the plague.

    I agree with you there are times when it's best to walk away. The only trouble is both knowing when to walk and how.

    And as for the only sane one in a so-called lunatic asylum versus the only mad one out there in the so-called sane world, I reckon there's bits of both in all of us. It's when we pretend otherwise that we get into trouble. And of course, there are degrees.

    Thanks, Robert

    Reply

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