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Thursday, May 4. 2017
Every person has his (or her) own ideas - and goals - about fitness. Here's another question for our readers: Let's say you're an over-40 or over-50 or over-60 year old guy or gal who has put in the time and discipline for two years to get back in good shape after the child-rearing years of self-neglect and over-working to save for tuitions, etc., etc.
You've done your weights, cardio, and calis religiously. Worked hard at fitness 6 days/wk, suffered, strained, sweated, and endured aches and pains especially when you didn't feel like doing anything but reading a book. You tried to eat enough protein to rebuild muscle. You found time to do it all even when you felt you had no time or energy.
Now you are trim and light on your feet, the belly is gone, you have muscles you haven't had since you were 21 or maybe never had, you look pretty acceptable nude (even if not an underwear model), you have a military posture, your sex drive is up, you can pound out 30 minutes of intervals on the elliptical or sprints on the track, you can jump and lift stuff and you don't get fatigued at the end of the day. You have settled into a routine of eating right and sleeping right, and your body and mind now have gotten into the habit of demanding some effortful physical work every day to feel fully alive. In other words, your animal self likes what you have achieved because you have done justice to one of God's gifts to you.
You are a happy middle-aged Spartan, ready for whatever life brings. While you can always improve regardless of age, you feel sort-of ready to lay off the aggressive daily boot camp effort and aim for smaller gradual improvement but primarily for maintenance of your fitness because, after all, apoptosis is the enemy. I just call it entropy.
For example, I do not feel a desire to run any 10K races anymore (but I could), or deadlift twice my weight (but I would like to and I am getting there), but I think I am reluctantly concluding that we can't ramp it down much because, with each year of age, we are swimming upstream against a stronger current. Regardless of what we do to keep body and mind youthfully vigorous, sooner or later the current will win and sweep us out to the cosmic sea.
I'd like the opinions of readers on this.
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The problem is, as you get older, how much more quickly you can lose it if you slow down or stop, just for a bit.
I'm sixty. When my children were growing up, I went through a period where I didn't get much exercise because I was the designated parent to drive my kids to and from school and to all their sports practices. Many days, because of our horrible traffic here I was sitting in my car 3-4 hours a day doing that, and then I would have to go back to my office and work until 10 or 11 at night to make up my time and get my work out (I'm a lawyer). And of course because of that lifestyle you also only have time to eat fast food.
So I got pretty out of shape, even though I had been very athletic when I was younger. I couldn't walk more than several blocks without starting to lose my breath.
But when my last kid got out of high school (I was about 54 then), I put an effort into getting back into shape. I lost 30 pounds, started running again, and got to the point where I could do a 6 or 7 mile run without that much strain or pain.
But then 2 things happened last year. First, my wife and I went on a 2 week tour of China, one of those where you spend most of your time sitting on a bus, or eating at restaurants or hotels. So by the time we got back I had lost a bunch of my conditioning just because of that. And I had a real hard time getting it back, and started putting on weight again.
And then around Thanksgiving I went on a run where one of my knees started feeling not quite right, so I slightly changed my gait to favor it for the last couple of miles. And that one little thing triggered a mess. The next day I had unbelievably painful plantar fasciitis (which except for one very short bout I had never had before), I could barely walk and my hip joints were just in pain. And now six months later I still have the plantar fasciitis, although not as bad, and am just trying to run through it, but I know because of that I am still not running in proper form and I am having increasing problems with my knees and my hips. And I am convinced it is all traceable back to laying off training for that initial short period in China.
So as you get older, although I think you can do some "stabilization" and cut back on the intensity of your workouts, if you ever start really lessening your workouts, even if it is just for a couple of weeks, you take your chances.
Unfortunately, you can't slack off. If you aren't moving forward, you are moving backwards.
Fitness has to be a way of life. One hour 5-6 days/wk isn't much to ask of oneself.
That old existential question: How much is enough?
I submit that it depends on the person and what their motivation(s) is/are.
For myself, my perspective has changed as I now compete in Powerlifting meets. The fact that I met the challenge of preparing for a meet, competing successfully and exceeded my own expectations has been nothing short of unbelievable.
I now have a realistic goal of obtaining a top five national ranking in my age group.
Is that a goal for everyone - probably not, but it's what gets me to the gym.
Soft-tissue injuries heal more slowly the older you are. Something that you hardly noticed for the day or two it took to heal at 20 years old will put you out of commission for months at 60.
And those injuries are often caused by... being out of condition.
So the older you get, the easier it is to get into a vicious cycle where you stop exercising while an injury heals, and the loss of conditioning makes you more prone to injury when you start again.
Bulldog, you are an inspiration with your regular regimen and postings about your effort.
At 55 I'm in the gym and on the basketball court several times a week. Additionally I take the Pilates and yoga classes when I can as well as the high intensity workouts. When I can I'll do a 2 or 5 mile jog.
My wife plays tennis as often as she can and to ask her it is not often enough.
That is the plan for the rest of our lives.
And once a year we will do a 10 mile walk in New York City with some very nice people.
It's sort of like saving money, however you do it usually is way better than not doing it.
Regarding apoptosis, it is a matter of context. I'm not sure what exact role it plays in senescence, but without it we would all have webbed fingers & toes, and likely have cancer.
Thank you for this series on fitness. At 52 and with two young children, I'm behind some of my peers in terms of child rearing and ability to focus on myself, but then again I was able to condition into my forties with strong discipline from my military days. I lost it for about ten years and felt a growing deterioration of strength and stamina. Watching your boot camp and fitness posts inspired me to dedicate some of my limited time and energy back into myself about a year ago. Because of some undiagnosed issues pertaining to health, a Holisitc practitioner suggested going on the Whole 30 diet to remove possible allergens, and it worked wonders - everything is better - Focus, energy, stamina. Now I needed something to do with all this new energy so I hit the gym. I've always focused on strength with a bit of cardio for overall health, and after a few months of pain getting back into the regimen, I've lost the extra 10 pounds I was packing in fat and turned it into muscle. Feel great and now am able to do everything I want with the kids, including piggy back rides up and down stairs with my 70 pound boy - and he loves it! Your closing statement hit a nerve that caused me to write this as a sincere thank you again for this series. You've touched my life in an incredibly positive way. I have no idea who you are, even after reading this blog for about 8 years, but you all sound like great folks. I'm not striving for any medals now - just a daily regimen that maintains the strength and pushes my cardio to feel good and be able to do anything I want physically.
I will turn 88 next month and have exercised all my adult years.
Swam in pools in my 30s, often a mile or so in one session.
Switched to jogging/running in my forties.
Did the NY Marathon at age 44. I over-trained so had gas in the tank when I finished w/o breaking 4 hrs. IOW, I coulda/shouda ran faster. (My grandson just ran his first and broke 3 hrs.)
For you NYC hikers: I once walked from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum ... and back. Don't remember exact time but it killed an afternoon.
Yesterday I walked for 45 minutes indoors. Not much but I did it wearing 5 pound ankle weights.
If I don't exercise my morale drops a bit. During difficult times (bad marital and job experiences) exercise helped greatly.
At my age falling is a serious risk. Being fit has enabled me to avoid falling by physically adjusting to a minor stumble, i.e.,
For what it's worth, the older you get the more important is exercise.
55 here, I feel your pain.
I began Rippetoe's Starting Strength (along with my usual sports) a bit over 3 years ago. It's a great program, but in the end, it's hard to do a PR every day. Even in his continuation programs, it beats you down. And conditioning is a lot more important than he lets on.
I found a system a bit over two years ago that works. It was developed for military and law enforcement special forces, who need a high level of strength but also athletic performance.
I was intrigued by one of the promo lines in the book: "You're not a professional bodybuilder; you can't afford to be sore for a week after "leg day."
It's called Tactical Barbell, available in electronic format (and some in hardcopy) from Amazon.
There are 3 books, all inexpensive and worth studying.
1. Strength. Emphasizes a periodized training approach with hardcore barbell exercises. Most programs are 6 weeks in length. The first week is "easy" (70% of 1 rep max), then we get a medium week (80%) and a hard week (90% but less reps.) Weeks 4-6 mimic that but a little more weight. You're never lifting for a PR in this program. Programs are extremely flexible, from 2 to 4 days per week depending on goals. I have gotten significantly stronger but am rarely "gassed".
2. Conditioning. Emphasizes a balance of endurance and high intensity conditioning like hill sprints. There are two basic programs, one for endurance people and one for everyone else. The one for everyone else de-emphasizes too much long cardio.
3. A book called "Ageless Athlete" written by a philosophy professor based on the system, tailored specifically for older people. Lots of great advice in that book, but it really is not that useful until you really understand the basic system.
After you get the hang of it, you combine the strength and conditioning into a sustainable system. It can be changed up a lot for variety if you want. There are templates that are very easy to follow and that are fully customizable. If you feel like a break from the heavy weights, there are short blocks that can be substituted that focus on muscular endurance instead of maximum strength (much higher reps with much lower weights).
I've been doing it for over 2 years, have felt no burnout, and plan to do it until the day I croak.
Exercise attrition is not uncommon. Hell, most of the population get no planned exercise at all. Problems can arise from getting back on the horse where you left off six months ago. Regardless of how much you "should" do, something is better than nothing. Even if its just a mile or two walk every day. Remember the GPO principle(gradual progressive overload) at whatever stage you are training. Keep a training log and use it! If you dont feel like doing something a particular day, log it, and move on. There is no shame in skipping a day or two and you dont need the "negative guilt" to keep you out even longer. We all deserve a break...take it and get back on the horse.