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A bit of relative sanity in the insane world of modern fitness

The older I get (I’m 68) the longer I am in the fitness world as a practitioner, and as a consumer of The Next New Idea, the more annoyed I get at the endless exhortations to fast (in other words, starve) or to push til you drop (which is a good way to die young) and here’s what I do to get PERFECT SIX PACK ABS.

Kindly, we all have six or seven -pack abs. They may well be hiding, for most of us, under plenty of padding from IHOP pancake feasts, but they are there. As with all things body, what folks love to forget and which always come into play are the following:

  1. Your body type, which isn’t negotiable
  2. Age, which is also not negotiable
  3. Your unique, idiosyncratic body with all its food tics and allergies and preferences
  4. How life, stress, marriage, kids, blah blah changes said idiosyncratic body over time
  5. Your current activity level AND your willingness to make changes to said activity to get more healthy. In other words, not seeing movement a chore but a joy
  6. And finally, your willingness to do what it takes to eat well for THAT body at THIS moment and at THAT level of activity. And to change said eating well habits as you and I age, as our bodies change, and as our nutritional needs shift over time.

Articles on workouts proliferate, particularly after too many of us broke the mirror about the same time we broke the scales after a year of lockdown. I am happy beyond happy about the recent spate of material that has come from good guys who are calling bullshit on the Hollywood heroes who ‘roid up for the role and lie about it. Most recent fave is by Pete Ross, who, like me, is ex-military, which in so many ways in this sphere counts for something when it comes to self-discipline. I recommend you track those articles down.

The one I found this morning caught my eye for different reasons:

5 Strategies I Use To Build a Fierce and Functional Body in the Modern World
The results: 7–8% body fat, great balance, flexibility and strength, consistent focus, and a happy mood

I don’t agree with everything he espouses, nor do I have to, to appreciate the more thoughtful and intelligent approach Sebastian takes to health maintenance. I flat out disagree with alcohol, but that is a lost cause, especially right now. It doesn’t matter that science bears me out. People’s overwhelming need to stupefy themselves is clearly more important than true health, so have at it, folks. I like my rattled, addled brain as it is, what there is left of it.

For if I’m going to bang my brain around, let me do it horse riding or cycling or kayaking or hiking or whatever the hell I’m doing, which at least is fun.

I do appreciate his more sane approaches to the issue of fasting, which like all things identified as useful IN MODERATION, we as Americans and elsewhere in the West decided to stretch like salt water taffy to make fashionable. Starvation, in other words, is “optimization,” which is as big a bald-faced lie as detox teas, which are simply laxatives. Again, have at it, Sparky, if you really wanna do that.

The point is thoughtful health. Thoughtful in that you and I take the time to consider that we get one body, all sci-fi Robocop movies aside, the notion of better or interchangeable parts is not a viable option. After all, do you really want to have to oil your elbow joints and lower lumbar every few hours to stay mobile?

I appreciate any article which focuses more on how we can make moving fun rather than a chore, which is part of Sebastian’s message. We are made to move, and when we move, we are alive, for the body responds with great enthusiasm, especially if we can manage to keep said movement up for more than thirty seconds and said movement isn’t limited to using the remote to switch games.

Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

While too many fitness articles arise from young white guys, I will say that the current crop that I’ve chosen to read are an improvement. That’s if you disregard the self-congratulatory abs and weight loss stories that tend to insult this Dear Reader who has been lifting religiously for 47 years and kept 85 pounds off for 34 of them. There is a serious need for diverse voices in the fitness arena, ranging from big people who are ridiculously in shape and whose build has nothing whatsoever to do with their fitness levels (even GASP the medical community is figuring this out) to us oldies. I often tag my readers and fellow writers who are , like me, barking at 70, and many of us have been at it for life.

There is something seriously important about the voices of those who have been at it for six or seven or eight decades, not eight months, kindly, and who have over the many years been able to adjust, deal with injuries, come back from sickness and surgery or accidents, and still at this late stage are simply…killing it, because life isn’t killing US off.

None of us is a beginner, and what results we sport in our sports are from a lifetime doing the work. I realize that it’s not terribly fashionable nor is it particularly aspirational to gaze at photos of wrinkled skin over muscle, but here’s the piece:

IF you are fortunate, and IF you take care of yourself and IF you don’t starve yourself into oblivion trying to ”optimize,” you might get to our age.

I’d be a liar if I didn’t sometimes wish my wrinkles away, but that is a swift-passing fancy. Here’s why: The wrinkles on my face, earned largely over the last ten years of extreme adventure travel, speak to the wild winds, high summits, half-mad horses and icy waves I’ve kayaked over 47 trips and untold countries. The wrinkles are part of the price I’ve paid to live that life, and the muscles I sport on this aging body are the result of thousands of hours in the gym.

Thousands of hours and ridiculous discipline which have given the kind of body which I can hurl out of airplanes, stay on a leaping horse, and do the kind of mind-boggling adventures most folks will only dream about. I’ve got about 9–10% body fat, do 100 men’s pushups every other day and a lot more. That doesn’t make me a badass. It’s what I do with that fit body that qualifies for the life I live. It didn’t suddenly happen the first day I saw my six pack, which I wasn’t even trying to reveal.

I had a woman in my life for 33 years who was a lifelong athlete. She was still running into her late eighties, and she was my aspiration. I didn’t even see the wrinkles, because they didn’t matter.

What I saw, what mattered to me, what inspired me, was how she lived.

I learned to eat better, work out better and be a responsible steward of my body in part by watching her age. When she passed back in 2016 at 91, one of the responsibilities she laid on my shoulders was to continue writing, and do a better job of it, about how you and I stay in the game well past the societal due date of fifty or thereabouts.

Photo by Arun Sharma on Unsplash

So even as we gaze longingly at the six pack abs (which we all have) those aren’t the point.


What IS the point, and why I like Sebastian’s message, is that it’s about functional and overall health. Because this: if you starve your ass down to have those abs and you can’t do anything with that body, if you have compromised your bones and muscle through extreme dieting, you have no life. Repeat: you have no life. You do have health issues, you do have potential long term damage, you do have all kinds of problems all in the Holy Grail search for what may not even be remotely possible for your body type.

My current host, who is 67, is probably at least forty pounds over where he might like to be. However he skis, hikes, scuba dives, cycles, cross-country skis regularly. He doesn’t need a six pack for that. He eats intelligently and he has a very active life. THAT is aspirational, in my book.

A six pack doesn’t make you successful, or nice, or rich, or anything else worth having. An asshole jerkoff with a six pack is, well, still an asshole jerkoff with a nice gut. The more obsessed you are about it the more likely you are to be that asshole jerkoff. Those who are indeed obsessed with such things might want to read a few thoughtful articles about what women really want in men, which is first and foremost, kindness. It goes both ways.

But I digress.

When I see other writers focus on functional fitness, on finding ways to make exercise into play, that makes my day. That’s why Sebastian’s piece is worth scanning.

I applaud those fitness writers. However I would like to see more from my diverse friends and my older friends and my disabled friends (these last two apply to me) about what they do to get and stay in shape.

When we show the world what it looks like to be fit no matter our size, our color, our gender, culture, age or what kinds of clothing we wear, we change the definition.

That makes fitness more accessible rather than defeating. If you and I are really that serious about being either inspirational or aspirational, we need to share the stories of folks who are well outside the stereotype.

Write that stuff. Because the definition of fit cannot be limited to Hollywood beefcake, white guys and girls in their twenties or thirties.

And folks, please spare me yet another humble brag about how you keep your chiseled abs. I don’t care. Talk to me in forty years, Sparky. When you are fit that late in life, for my workout dollar, that is aspirational, because in so many cases it’s been earned the hard way. Most folks will never see a six pack because they don’t need one to be happy. My guess is that so many would be grateful for stories about getting fitter, which is not only possible, but likely a lot easier than most people might imagine.

That is a story worth telling.