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Shell Shocked: Exercising for seniors

By Staff | Nov 25, 2015

Acknowledging to yourself that you’re getting older isn’t easy. Being a couch potato is much easier. A full day can easily be navigated by watching football games and old movies and taking lots of naps, and Skyping your grandkids and taking more naps. But Dr. Oz tells us that we older folks can have the energy of a 30-year old if we took certain steps. I think he meant a 30-year old couch potato.

Dr. Oz tells us that simple exercise will roll the clock back. The only way I can roll the clock back is when I’m forced to turn all my watches and time pieces back one hour every fall when daylight savings time comes around.

Exercise is hard. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline, which seems to dissipate the older you get. But, I’m forced to go to the gym. My wife forces me. My primary care physician forces me. Even my gardener forces me.

I dread going to the gym. I have to break a sweat when I’d rather be home breaking a piece of cheese to go with my red wine. But, the cheese and wine will have to serve as a reward for the time I spend at the gym huffing and puffing and not blowing anyone’s house down.

I start with cardio. Personally, I’d consider it a moral victory if I could do just five minutes on the treadmill. But, guilt kicks in and I stay on longer, lots longer as much as two more minutes. I keep monitoring my heart rate to get it into the “zone.” To me the “zone” is after a second glass of tasty cabernet, but this is a different “zone.” In fact, it’s a different planet.

But, all the exercise experts are right. Once you get into the zone you begin to feel more energetic and believe that you can now go into the weight room and lift 500 pounds. No matter, I start with five pounds and work my way up to seven pounds. Much too light. I’m feeling the hormones kicking in. My chest swells, my biceps find their way out of hibernation and say hello. I go through the entire weight drill chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and legs. And then a bit of stretching. Not bad for a seven-minute workout.

And then it’s back to the couch for another couple of days until I work up the courage, nerve, adrenaline and motivation to propel me back to the gym. Even the sound of the word gym makes me retch. “Bar” is a much more attractive sounding word.

And then I’m back to the gym. The fitness trainer points to a guy in the back and says to me, “You see that guy? He’s 90 years old and comes here every day. Just watch him and tell me that age is a barrier to exercise.”

I watch the old guy. He’s on the treadmill running, not slow walking, but literally running. I pass his machine and see that he’s already been on it for 30 minutes. He doesn’t even seem to be breathing hard.

I finish my seven-minute cardio exercises and follow him into the weight room. He has a barrel chest with biceps that would stop a college cheerleader in her tracks. He starts with a bench press and does 200 pounds. He then does some biceps curls using 35-pound weights.

I’m stunned.I’m considerably younger than he is and suddenly feel like King Misfit IV. He passes me, looks at my protruding abdomen and winks. I spend the next two days trying to figure out what he was trying to tell me with that wink. It couldn’t be positive.

I have two choices. Either I commit myself to the kind of exercise this old guy is routinely into or just give it up altogether and tell myself that it’s just not worth the effort. I go through all the reasons that I wouldn’t live to 90 anyway and do the arithmetic. I would need to do this kind of daily grind for many years until I reach 90.

My conclusion is easy. I’ll settle for less exercise, more red wine, more TV and more couch sitting and hope for 85.

-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.