After I published Part 1 of this series on Exercise, I told my personal trainer Pete, “I blogged about you!” At first he didn’t know what to think. And then a smile of acknowledgement came across his face, knowing what he and I have accomplished together.
Because if there’s one thing I have learned deep in my bones, muscles and ligaments, that while exercise is very much an individual experience, it sure is more fun and motivating when it’s a shared experience. Some of my best workouts are the days Pete says, “Mind if I work out with you today Bruce?” Now keep in mind Pete is half my age, built like an Olympic swimmer, and regularly amazes me with the combination of strength and flexibility he displays. So imagine the ego dance that goes on inside me when he asks if we can work out together. I know my ego is in for a serious drubbing, but who cares! I know my heart, lungs, brain, immune system, blood vessels, and thousands of other organs and body parts are all dancing for glee knowing i’ll get a particularly serious workout today! I can put this one in the anti-aging bank for sure! And when I can actually outdo him in some exercise set — one in twenty times this might happen if the stars are aligned and Pete stumbles or has to take a phone call in the middle of his set!
As is explained brilliantly in the landmark bestseller, “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond”, consistent vigorous exercise really does matter in reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases of all kinds, of keeping us strong, fit, flexible, and energized when others our age are huffing and puffing just getting up off the couch. The authors, Chris Crowley and Dr Henry Lodge, convincingly explain a host of well-researched facts about the massive health benefits of exercising hard — not moderately — six days a week…for the rest of your life.
Seriously? Six days a week? For the rest of my life? Well actually, you might be able to tone it down a bit in your 90s. Or not. You might just be hooked feeling and looking 20 years younger than anyone else your age, so why stop? When you feel so good and you regularly do things you weren’t supposed to be able to do, why wouldn’t you just keep on going?
Still, this plan is not for the faint of heart. But who says aging is for the faint of heart anyway? Body parts break down and feel chronic pain, mental clarity and memory show signs of rapid decline, we’re overweight and increasingly sedentary, our skin and teeth look like old people, unpleasant old people in fact. So many yucky things go on and there seems to be no alternative to this steady decline into depression, low energy, endless napping, and dignity-destroying helplessness.
That doesn’t sound like how i want to spend the last third of my life.
But four years ago, my life was starting to look like i was starting on that path.
With a steady commitment to go for it six days a week (a commitment, by the way, which i had made to myself before I even read Younger Next Year), I am feeling a level of energy I haven’t felt since my mid-30s. I’m dancing again, I’m hiking (tough hikes, not just walks through the woods), I’m walking briskly without pain because I enjoy moving quickly through life sometimes. Not rushing, not frantic. Enjoying the youthful energy of a teenager. Well not exactly that young, but at least a mid-30-something who isn’t working with no meaning in his life in a dead-end job and impossible mortgage payments.
Because the other part of the transformational power of exercise, regular vigorous exercise, is the new perspective it brings about what’s important. Why eat that piece of cake, or that soda, or that deliciously trans-fat laden fast food when the healthy alternatives are part of the reason I’ve got so much energy now? Why work with people who don’t support your need for optimism, laughter, humor, meaningful conversation, and the deep conviction that the life I’m leading is having an impact in the world? Just say no to things and people and situations that don’t enable you to find what makes your heart sing.
Sure it’s been fun noticing how much more people — well, to be precise, women — notice me on the street and in the health club. Yeah I’m looking better and better. Muscles toned, a confidence in my step (after nearly ten years of a slight limp from the arthritis in my hips), feeling as energetic as the twenty-something body-builders I’ve befriended at my club. But especially satisfying is knowing I’m making good on that “second chance” life gave me. That’s the real satisfaction. Knowing the lessons of my life just might inspire someone else to make some important changes in their own life. That’s what gets me juiced.
That and just hitting a new personal best of 12.5 miles in 30 minutes on the spinning bike. Not bad for a 60-year old cancer survivor with two titanium hips. Who’s just getting started.
(If you live in the Santa Cruz County area and would like to work with an awesome personal trainer, contact my friend Pete Schierling at firstname.lastname@example.org.)