Whatcha gonna do?

by guest blogger Harry Gaines, retiree and fitness enthusiast

In 1982 a movie starring Richard Pryor as the sole actor was released, Live on the Sunset Strip.  He described an incident when he was freebasing cocaine and set himself on fire.
Jim Brown, the ex-football player turned actor, visited him in the hospital.  Brown kept saying, “Whatcha gonna do?” over and over.  Pryor got the message, even if he didn’t change.
Let’s say you’re in your sixties, could lose a few pounds (maybe thirty?), don’t have a regular exercise program.  You like to play golf, riding in a cart, would like to think that’s exercise.  (Don’t feel bad; one of the guys I play with is a former NFL quarterback, he says the same thing!)

My friend Bill plays golf two or three times a week, does exercises at home three times, rides his bike five miles three to four.  He gets too upset because he can’t hit the golf ball very far anymore.  Did I mention he’s eighty five years old?  He looks seventy, acts sixty; well-read, interested in life and people, fun to be with.  Can’t hear worth a damn even with two hearing aids, but we accept that.  And we’re coaching him about getting so pissed off playing golf, with limited success. I wish he’s go to our Fitness Center, do some strength training, but he says he does enough with stomach crunches and leg exercises at home.

Bill was on the tennis team at Cornell in the late 1940s, has been athletic all of his life.  Sometimes when we’re playing golf I remember that my partner served in the European Theater in 1944, landing on the Continent right after D-Day.  Most of those guys are dead!

Chris is one of my Florida cycling buddies; we ride three times a week, 120 to 150 miles total.  Forty two years ago, when he was twenty seven, Chris had a physical exam.  He can’t remember his diastolic blood pressure but his systolic was 190.  The doctor told him he should put him in the hospital.  He also said, “Either you start exercising, lose forty pounds, or you’ll be dead in two years.  Make out a will.”

Fear can be a strong motivator.  Chris got the message, joined a gym, stopped eating crap, got in shape and stayed that way.  When he turned sixty he decided to do something hard, signed up with a cycling company and rode from Oregon to New Hampshire.  Rain or shine, up and down mountains, into strong headwinds; they rode every day for nearly two months.

This summer he and some pals are cycling the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park in Montana (a 3,500 ft climb in nine miles), then riding from Banff to,  Jasper, Canada,  a 150-mile ride up the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies with lots of climbing beside incredibly beautiful glaciers.

And yes, he goes to the Fitness Center regularly, does strength training to exhaustion, not just moving a few light weights.

So,”Whatcha gonna do?”  Want to play golf through your seventies and beyond, stay out of the hospital, avoid high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, joint replacements and a myriad of other ailments that come with age and lack of conditioning?  No problem, it can be done.

Is it easy?  Can you do it without changing your lifestyle?  Not a chance.  Initially it’s work, takes some months before it gets to be fun.  As a friend said, “There’s only two times to exercise; when you feel like it and when you don’t”.

What should you do?  Join a gym, sign up for some sessions with a trainer who will develop a program of aerobic and strength training.   Begin easy, work up to hard after your muscles are with the program.  Too hard too soon equals sore muscles, discouragement and a strong desire to quit.

And the great news is that it’s never too late!  Residents of nursing homes in their nineties have benefited from strength training within a few months.  Significantly.

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