By JENNY PRUITT CLEVELAND

Most of us reluctantly acknowledge the signs of aging. The faint feathering around our eyes in our twenties. New grays in our thirties. A bit of sag above our knees in our forties. Fuzzy fine print in our fifties.

My mom and I feel it most in the fall. “The leaves are falling, and so are we!” we inevitably say to each other every October.

I’ve tried my best to embrace the aging process in stride. But my stride? I didn’t realize that was going, too!

It’s true, though. Our eyesight and memory may not slide as much with age as our stride.

I didn’t realize it, but in my 30s, my stride was likely already decreasing about one percent a year (that’s average for all of us). Studies show that stride length has decreased by as much as 40 percent by our 70s and 80s. Stride shrink, it’s called. And it’s due to decreases in three areas:

  • muscle mass
  • flexibility
  • nervous system efficiency

We can do something about it, though. Google “best muscle-building moves for women in their [fill in decade here]”? Conscript ourselves to a yoga master? Get juiced by our chiropractor’s nervous system stimulator?

Sure, if we want to. Or we can go to the nearest playground, watch, and imitate. Just about every waking moment, kids are busy pumping muscles, stretching joints, and triggering their nervous systems.

Think back to the days when you got your training wheels off your first bike. Remember when you could balance just long enough to quiet the loud spinning noise of your training wheels when they touched the pavement?

Little did I know, watching as my daddy unscrewed those training wheels in the garage one Saturday morning, that joining the ranks of two-wheelers wouldn’t be a snap. It wasn’t until just before mom called us in for dinner that I finally left my dad’s trotting pace behind and squealed, “Daddy! Daddy! I’m doing it!”

I biked “all over tarnation” on that pastel-pink, streamer-handled bicycle with the neighborhood kids. If we weren’t pedaling somewhere, we were “countin’ p’tatoes” to see who was IT for chase tag or pitcher for kickball. We were bouncing to “crack-th’-egg” on the trampoline, digging to China in the sandbox, climbing onto the roof of our playground fort, catching tadpoles in the ditch, or having pinecone wars with the boys next door. Anything that worked up a sweat, gave us that warm smell of sunshine, and usually hid a tick or two under our waistbands or inside our socks.

You, too? … We slept hard back then, didn’t we?

And for good reason. We were running up hills (think of how exhausting that is now); dodging and darting to avoid getting tagged; squatting, leaning and jumping.

Ironically enough, those are the very things we can do now to combat (and even reverse) stride shrink. Or a modified version of those very things. We are, after all, embracing our aging bodies, which means listening to our bodies and knowing our limitations.

Lao-tzu said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Considering that the average person takes well over seven thousand steps in a single day, why not make at least a few of those as childlike as possible.

 

Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Crafter in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.