I turned 60 this past weekend. I’ve been fearful of this birthday for some time because, like with most milestone birthdays in later years, it’s a really big number with more time behind me than in my future. Being allowed to shop during “senior hours” is not something that excites me.

Frankly, due to the stresses of the world today, there are some days when I really have been feeling my age with assorted aches and pains. In fact, in recent weeks, I had been increasingly worried about some intermittent numbness in my extremities—numbness in my shins…tingling hands and feet…and sometimes feeling like I’m just not strong.

Of course, horrible thoughts run through my mind, such as whether or not I’ve developed MS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. At times, we all suffer from that unsettled crazy “monkey mind” that Chinese Medicine practitioners refer to. Then I took a step back to think rationally about the big picture and the assorted negative forces that have been attacking my neurological system of late…

  1. Sitting for 10 to 12 hours a day while working from home, with little or no chance to “walk up the hall for a brief catchup,” as I often do when I am in the office.
  2. Fears and frustrations caused by the coronavirus including, from a professional point of view, my frustration with what I believe is “agenda-ized” information depending on which news source you listen to.
  3.  The stress that comes with running a business in this challenging business environment.

David Goggins, US Navy Seal, ultra-marathoner and author of Can’t Hurt Me, talked about his own body’s shut-down resulting from the constant physical and mental stress when he did not take the time to let it relax or stretch. I thought, Perhaps the same thing is happening to me. In spite of daily workouts and fairly regular massages, my entire body was like a torqued rubber band, starved for energy and oxygen flow.

So I made a promise to myself. I planned to take a week off to go to my “happy place” in Colorado for my birthday…and for the first time in several years, I actually would not work (well, mostly not work) so that I could focus on the things that can help me heal—time, nature, family, mindfulness, laughter…

My family and I made a plan to celebrate my birthday with mountain activities on Saturday and Sunday even though we had just arrived Friday night. Usually it takes a day or two to acclimate to the altitude, but after 100 ounces of water and a good night’s sleep, I figured I should be ready to go on our planned hike. It was challenging, and one that I’d never done before. But I really wanted to do it—we would hike through beautiful aspen groves and have a great view at the top.

But I woke up Saturday morning with those tingling numb hands and feet. Oh, no…how will I make it up this hill? What if my back spasms? What if the altitude gets to me? What if…what if…what if?

But I knew if I took my time and continued to hydrate, I could “make it” since I work out regularly. Half was up hill…half was downhill! I just had to make half the hike, right? Of course we made it…up and down. Gorgeous aspens and stunning view.  Just as we were heading down, thunderstorms rolled in, so we had to call on our very best outdoors training to stay safe from lightning and get down as quickly as possible. 

Then, on Sunday, I faced another physical challenge—rafting with my family. But not the same places we had gone before—a different area open to very few rafts…and the rapids are some of the most challenging that tour companies visit in the country. “Sure…no problem…I’m turning 60. Let’s do this thing….”—that’s what I said to the outside—but on the inside I had that same monkey chatter—Holy moly…this stuff is hard and fast…can I do it???

I put on that “you can do it” head and reminded myself that we had a strong crew in our boat and the guides had been leading this same trip for decades and knew the river really well. (By the way, the guides are all super-interesting people who guide “on the side.”  Ours was a wildlife biologist who uses trained dogs to help track migration and survival of moose and bears in assorted wilderness areas.)

I even agreed to sit in the front of the raft, where I would get the wettest and work the hardest. I think it was a case of “ignorance is bliss,” but nonetheless…there I was, in the front of the boat, being slammed by freezing river water in the Cat V rapids…and laughing my head off with my family after successfully making it through the hardest parts.

Both the hike and raft trip were fabulous…nothing could have been more perfect. We had great family bonding time, connected conversations on the quiet of the trail, beautiful scenery everywhere we looked both days, and that feeling of pride and confidence you get when you face and overcome a challenge.

Here’s the really surprising part—those numb, tingling hands and feet feel better! Crazy, right? How could a super-hard hike and two hours of hard paddling on a raft actually make the pinching and tightness better?!?!

It is because I loosened up. Exercise and physical activity have been shown time and again to be wonderful medicine for many types of ailments and pain. While it is tempting to sit out when you feel discomfort, sometimes you have to lean into it and let your body move.

Even these difficult physical challenges that I thought were perhaps beyond my ability turned out to be both achievable and healthful. I knew this already…but for some reason, I was still surprised when I saw proof of it—again.

You’ll be pleased to know that once the physical challenges were done, the weekend celebration ended as all birthday celebrations should—with great food and birthday cake, surrounded by family and friends.

And as I now am in my seventh decade, I start it with these reaffirming takeaways…

  1. Our bodies have the wisdom to help us learn and heal…but we have to listen to the signals they provide to us and find solutions that help them to do what they are designed to do.
  2. We are capable of far more than we realize—we just need to be brave enough to face the challenges and trust the outcomes.

No matter your age, no matter your fitness level, know that you are capable of far more than you have ever imagined. With ease, huge things can be achieved.

Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast,  where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.