In the early hours, before the swallows sing, I shift restlessly in bed. My hands are clenched from cumulative hours of grasping tools and milking goats. I sandwich my hands between pillows to remind them to bend the other way instead of eternally curling fingertips towards palms.
I am a tool-using primate. My body takes on the cast of the tools I use and what I do. As the season wears on, hands and feet toughen. My freckles darken. A friend takes a video of me driving the horses, and I watch it in amazement. My forearms ripple with muscle like something out of a bodybuilder magazine. (Admittedly, the lighting was good.)
In my bread-labor life, my body is an essential tool. Not soft, not mint condition, not still-in-the-unopened-box. I am getting used up, hopefully in helpful ways. At an early stage of senescence (I'm 42 as I write), this understanding feels welcome. My body does not keep me from anything I want to do. I've also gotten better at adjusting my expectations--if I can't do it, I tend to stop wanting to do it. Am I under-exerting myself? Over-exerting myself? My body is a great guide, if I'm willing to pay attention.
Even if my hands curl up, and it's a little hard to touch my toes some mornings, keeping my heart open and unclenched is probably the best health routine I can follow. Tending the soil and the household help me do just that.