Article by Nancy Sommers
Like most women over fifty, I was brought up not to hit or harm anyone. Girls don’t hit. End of story. Words such as jab, hook, counter punch were not words I used or understood.
Boxing started for me last summer. I was at my local gym, on a stair-climbing machine, putting in my obligatory thirty minutes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman of a certain age, like myself, boxing. She was giddy, smiling and sweaty, jabbing with her pink gloves, swiveling hips, moving her entire body in a dancing rhythm, and having fun. And fun was not what I was having on the stair climber. Why couldn’t I box, I thought? Why couldn’t I have so much fun at the gym?
I wanted what she was having.
Girlfriends—Boxing is for us! Yes, us, women over fifty! I am here to tell you that boxing is simply the best cardio gift we can give ourselves. Fitness boxing—sometimes called noncontact boxing because you never hit another person—isn’t brutish or aggressive. If you’ve never thought about how much fun it would be to hit that punching bag at your gym– if words such as jab, cross, hook, and uppercut aren’t in your vocabulary yet—buy or borrow a pair of boxing gloves and start boxing.
So, here I am, age 64, with my own red boxing gloves and some newly-defined muscles, having almost too much fun at the gym. At first, I kept thinking—this isn’t something I should be doing—really, is it okay to hit?—but with each jab, I overcame my reluctance as I punched the trainer’s resistance mitts. This deeply-ingrained cultural training—girls don’t hit—prevents most women over fifty from considering boxing. But nobody is hitting me, and I’m not fighting anyone. No gritty boxing ring is needed. And as I’m learning the techniques of boxing from my trainer, Kingsley, I’m appreciating the beauty in the sport, especially the artistic athleticism it requires. In boxing, power starts in the hips, requiring every muscle to serve a purpose, linking hands and hips in a dancer’s rhythm.
Here are three big reasons to start boxing today:
- Physical: From the first moment you throw a punch, you are breathing heavily, heart pumping, arms, chest, shoulders, core, and legs working in unison. Boxing burns over 500 calories/hour, builds lean muscle, develops stamina and endurance, and ramps metabolism. As we age, we lose muscle mass, strength, flexibility, and balance. Boxing reverses this trend, giving us back what we lose, developing hand-eye coordination and entire body strength. For women over fifty, boxing is one of the most complete cardiovascular and resistance workouts…and it is fun.
- Mental: Boxing forces women out of our comfort zone, overcoming fears, and requiring 100% mental concentration. It is demanding and strategic, stimulating new parts of our brain, challenging our minds and bodies. The research on successful aging urges us to learn something new, strategic, and to keep testing ourselves with new sequences and moves. Sure we can push our minds doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles, learning new foreign languages, even attempting to learn new card games, but boxing is both physical and mental. To box is to be steeped in rhythm and movement, coordinating the swing of hips, the swivel of feet, and the power of the arms. It is exhausting, exhilarating, rigorous, and immensely rewarding.
- Spiritual: It might seem paradoxical that something so physical can be so spiritual, that stillness can be found in movement, but boxing, like meditation, focuses attention and calms the mind. When boxing, my mind unplugs from daily details and responsibilities, from the noise and chatter of the outside world. Nothing works in boxing without one’s complete attention and concentration. If my mind is rushing through a to-do list, my coordination is off; if I’m rehearsing an argument with my boss, my arms flail and my feet trip. And my daughter, Alex, a marathoner, who now boxes, finds it the perfect way to calm her mind and relieve stress from her New York City life. For Alex and for me, our boxing mantra—when life gets tough, put on your boxing gloves—seems a spiritual metaphor for life, too.
One day I hope, in the words of Muhammad Ali, “to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”—light on my feet, with a quick, penetrating jab. I’m not there quite yet, but I’m hooked–hooked on boxing.
Nancy Sommers led the Harvard College Writing Program for twenty years, directing the first-year program, establishing the Harvard Writing Project, and leading a series of research studies about college writers. To honor her work at Harvard, she was awarded an endowed chair, the Sosland Chair in Writing. Sommers now teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she leads writing workshops and mentors new writing instructors. She is the co-author of four writing textbooks, including A Writer’s Reference and A Pocket Style Manual, and a prize-winning essayist for her personal essays and articles about teaching writing.