At 6 am on Boxing Day, I walked into my gym. A front had moved in the afternoon before, making my 1 pm riding lesson a bit chilly. My horse, Beau, energized by the crisp air and irritated by the gusting wind, had bucked hard and then bolted into a run when I asked for, and then demanded, a canter.
Okay fine, asshole. You’ll run out of gas after six or seven times around the arena at this speed. My job is to stay on.
I did. He did. In a while he was blowing, slowing, and we were performing lead changes. He’s half-Arab, which means he can be a high-strung jerk. But boy does he have lovely gaits.
Here’s the piece: two-and-a half-years ago, a horse in Kazakhstan bucked me off at the full gallop. That tuck and roll probably saved my life, but resulted in a broken back and a seriously damaged shoulder. I was months in rehab.
Doc in Dubai told me that I should have died or been a quadriplegic. I was 64 at the time. At a time in life when far too many of us have begun the slow slide into decrepitude. After all, it’s too hard. Too much work. Stuff hurts.
Yeah, it does. Damned right it does.
Ask me every time I get out of bed in the morning. Some people use coffee (so do I) but I spike mine with CBD.
But I’m fit, mostly. I still have a lot of work to do. I’m in training for my eighties.
As we open the doors to a brand new decade, is it finally time for you to get in shape? And what precisely does that look like?
Aye, there’s the rub.
What does fitness look like for you? Are you training for the next Tough Mudder or for your longevity? There’s a huge difference between the two. Your answers could well mean a great deal in the long run, and how being older (and fitter) affects your quality of life.
Brad Stulberg writes regularly for Outside Online, which is one of my go-to sources for fitness tips. In an increasingly ridiculous world of fitness hacks, stupid supplements and the compulsion to try ANYTHING that might put us on the mountain, especially ahead of the other guy, he has done a right nice job of staying sane. I love to share his advice, which I will do here.
Five days ago, he published an article which speaks to the beautiful simplicity of what fitness really is. What the cornerstones are. And what it’s really going to take for you and me to get fit, stay fit and enjoy our lives in peak health.
Here’s the Big Reveal, the HUGE secrets to get you started as you prepare to pen your intentions for 2020. From his article:
Long-term performance and wellbeing always rests (sic) upon a strong base of physical health, mental health, and community. Move your body regularly. Avoid processed foods. Follow your interests. Prioritize spending time with friends — not just digitally, but also in real life. The people you surround yourself with shape you, so choose wisely! Make yourself vulnerable and seek help when you need it.
Keep up with these practices in an ongoing manner. Think of them as basic hygiene. Regardless of how much time you spend working on the upper levels of the mountain, without this strong foundation, when rough weather comes the whole thing is susceptible to disaster.
Well hell’s bells, I don’t know about you but that sure sounds both familiar and simple.
Because getting and staying fit really is both simple and familiar. You and I already inherently know what we need to do, should do, and how much better we’d feel if we did do these simple things.
But we get sidelined, sidetracked and suckered into life hacks and dumb shit that often do little to help, and far too much damage.
Not a good plan to stride into our later years with gusto, energy and enthusiasm.
Why on earth do we get detoured into detoxes? Cultivated by cults (Crossfit, Peloton)? Why do we get suckered into supplements that largely don’t work, can at times be downright toxic, and end up — hopefully — getting pissed out of our systems if we don’t die of a water overdose? Why do we down food that looks like we just vomited it onto a plate, and suffer through godawful edibles, that really aren’t, all in the name of fitness?
We want so badly to find a shortcut. Kindly, please, for crying out loud,
THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS.
Stulberg describes the fitness issue in mountaineering terms. You and I have to do the work to develop the skills, get to basecamp. From there you do your best to reach the summit.
The Koolaid too many of us drink is that we can skip the work to get us to basecamp and go directly to summit mode.
This lie is what led to last May’s Everest debacle. Impatient folks with too much money making their way up a mountain that they couldn’t climb, endangering everyone else, because they didn’t have the courage and the character to do the work.
To Brad’s point, most fitness hacks are bull. Smoke and mirrors. Kinda like all those magic exercise machines, sold on late-night TV, to the tired and gullible, who honestly believe that a few minutes a day on said machine would give them a seven-pack. Sure it will. Given our comparison-happy world, too many of us, including those of a Certain Age, feel intense and monumentally unfair pressure to find perfection, which is impossible, and leap to try new tricks to achieve it which is costly, and they don’t work anyway.
Another one born every minute. Lord have I done it myself.
Among the things that have changed is that today we have Influencers, and Instagram, and between the two, those work hard to convince us that we, too, can climb Everest without the years-long preparation.
No, you can’t.
Nor can you and I bypass the simple basics, what Stolberg calls basecamp foundation. Those are the intelligent, straightforward habits that you and I instill every day. He calls this basic hygiene. Caring for our body’s health, our emotional happiness, the support we get from friends and the need for a purpose of some kind.
Sometimes I wonder if the very fact that these things are so solid, so predictable, so right that we just can’t buy that this is all it takes.
Well, it is.
For those of you who are NFL fans like me, think of it this way: when a coach has to rely on trick plays just to get two points, a half yard or better field position, his team has forgotten the basics. Tackle, pass, run, kick. If you can’t deliver the basics, every day, day after day, you’re going to be like the 2019 Miami Dolphins.
Basics are like breathing. You don’t do them, you don’t get results. Fancy hacks notwithstanding, if you aren’t doing the basics the hacks don’t hack it. There has to be the brick-and-mortar foundation for the tricks to work. This is why when a competent coach uses a trick play with a championship contender, it works so well because it catches the opposing team off guard.
Hacks, those that actually work, are usually only useful when you are near the summit. Too many of us try to use the hacks to bypass basecamp entirely.
The body doesn’t work like that.
Why are we so gullible?
Because we can’t seem to understand that the simplest answers are likely the best ones.
Probably the kindest act you and I can commit this New Years’ Day, if indeed we do commit to anything, is to recommit to the basics.
Let’s ask- and the answers might drive your resolutions:
- What is the simplest, easiest, funnest (yeah, that) way I can get moving? That doesn’t involve expensive equipment, years-long contracts, pricey coaches, subscriptions? (walking comes to mind, but that’s just me). Look, call me silly, but since we’re designed to walk, it strikes me as the easiest way- assuming you are mobile -to get moving. It also doesn’t require much more than just, well, putting one foot in front of the other.
- Who can I gather around me who might well enjoy doing this thing with me, assuming that I prefer company? And, by the way, the social aspect not only inspires me out on crummy days but also provides much-appreciated interaction. And, gets me outside, which does a million things for me, my body, my mood?
- How can I spend more time outside, with friends, and away from social media? Why would I want to do that anyway? Well, here’s one way to look at it. I cut way back on mine. My primary activity is Medium for many good reasons. Other than that, I don’t do much. Medium posts my articles as tweets but I wouldn’t know how to get onto my Twitter account if I had to. No clue. No loss.
Now look. If you can’t figure out that moving is good for you on your own, may I please offer this from Scientific American?
Our brains are remarkably elastic. What I have found as I age is that my body is remarkably elastic. If I spent too much time sitting, at which point I get cranky, my body gets stiff. That doesn’t mean rest. That means get off my tush. I’ll feel 100% as soon as I hit the floor, do pushups, pull ups, yoga. You name it. Body just wants to move. And the brain hollers THANK YOU FOR THE NEW NEURONS.
I would like to add an additional question that might lead to a lot more dime in your wallet:
4. Isn’t it time to dump all those ridiculous and dishonest anti-ageing products which do not work anyway (time has a really bad habit of going by no matter what we do)? We will age. We will deteriorate. The trick is to do it VERY slowly, which goes back to Stulberg’s basics.
Not to belabor the point (which I will do anyway), here is yet another article from Stulberg, which underscores what he outlined above.
He repeats himself, in other words. Why? Because the right advice is still the right advice. I love this paragraph:
If exercise could be bottled up and sold as a drug, it would be a billion-dollar business. Decades of studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for physiological diseases (like heart disease and cancer), as well as psychological ones (like anxiety and Alzheimer’s). According to Joyner, many of the newfangled longevity elixirs aim to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, or the breakdown of a cell’s ability to properly use energy, which is a normal part of aging. “But people who exercise can double the number of mitochondria in their skeletal muscle and improve its function throughout the body,” he says. “This is why exercise has such a potent anti-aging effect.” (author bolded)
While I decry the use of the term anti-aging, because it’s a lie, I applaud the focus on the value. Move, dammit, just move.
To this of course he adds, kindly, don’t smoke. Duh.
I will pilfer my other fave quote from this article, wherein he addresses what to eat:
“This means a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, fish, and leaner meats with regular but not excessive consumption of fruits, nuts, and healthy oils.”
While I am no fan of being told what to eat by anyone, this is a good baseline (says she with a supply of Lindt truffles in the stash cabinet. Hey. Back off. It’s the holidays). The rest, especially as we head into our later years, has to be adjusted individually for things like a changing body, activity level, allergies which can come and go, disease, cultural preferences, and a host of other variables. While on one had you might think that this makes eating well too damned hard, for my part, this is part of our journey. Eating well is simple, if you use the above guideline, and I do. But we also get to learn how individual and magnificently unique we are. Taking that on as a sacred process of self-care can be and often is a lot of fun.
To all this simple and superb advice from People Smarter Than I Am, I might add my own list:
- Dump the alcohol. Please do not burn an effigy on my lawn. While I understand the lure of fine wine, there have been too many studies that clearly state that the only good amount of alcohol is NO alcohol. Look, I’m sorry that the old whine about red wine’s being good for you is debunked. But it isn’t. I also realize you’re going to flip a bird at this paragraph and pour yourself another vodka tonic.
- Have plenty of sex. Kindly, this is one New Year’s Resolution I firmly believe in. While last year was a veritable desert (as opposed to dessert, which I would prefer), as in, I got laid once and once only by the ex just before he summarily dumped me yet again, I am still a fan. I later learned how to give myself up to sixty, that is NOT a typo, SIXTY orgasms in one sitting with my pink buzzer. Look, orgasms might not replace regular exercise but I can attest that the outlines of my six-pack have gotten crisper since I began my marathon sessions. Of course my leg muscles are useless for the next hour, but who’s walking anyway? Here’s another set of reasons why sex might be on your list. If Santa didn’t deliver, kindly do it yourself.
- Stop taking yourself so seriously. Oh please. PLEASE. May this be the year, decade, moment, whatever, that you realize how ridiculous all our striving really is. I don’t care if it does take you to 2030 to do it. Being anxious, stressed out about an age or a wrinkle, being pissed at ourselves because we can’t ski with the experts any more (or at all), all of it is ultimately meaningless. Because being fit for life, training for our eighties is also all about being joyful. You and I can’t be joyful if we’re constantly comparing ourselves to super geezers, worrying about what we can’ t control (time and age) and being so foolishly distracted by life hacks that we fail to do the simple things that will give us the fitness we really want. And,which will allow us to truly enjoy the life we have while we have it.
So here’s to simple ways to get fit, stay fit, laugh along the way, reduce our stress so that we can really enjoy the journey (not that I’m addressing any of this to me, mind you, since I had one hell of a difficult year in 2019, just saying) I raise my glass of (diet) tonic water: