Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s managing editor and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

Monthly Archives: February 2008

Experience Life Magazine

Muscle Bind

Not my core beliefs.
I’m learning more about how the muscles in my body work, which is a good thing, since a lot of them are still sore today from my Wednesday workout. The most surprising news? It’s the period between workouts when your muscles really develop. Indeed, according to Fernando Pages Ruiz in this July/August 2003 story in EL, sleeping is just as important to bodybuilders as lifting.

I’m a great sleeper, but a wimpy lifter. Still, Ruiz notes that even old weaklings like myself can benefit from a regular lifting regimen. My big question today, however, is whether I should further tax my already aching pecs, biceps, lats, and triceps. So, I sought out SW, my secret fitness guru, for his advice.

He cautioned me to go easy on my poor body and work some other muscle groups instead. (Other muscle groups?)
The truth is, I’ve been neglecting my glutes and hamstrings and quads; and while my core beliefs are strong, my core muscles need a little work. So, I’ll give the rest of my body a rest and get at those tonight.

Experience Life Magazine

The Cardio Conundrum

After about a 10-day hiatus, I’m finally feeling back in the swing of things. Winter is (very, very gradually) turning into spring, so I’ve been able to resume my walking commute, and last night I hit the gym for the first time in what feels this morning like a long, long time (I’m a little sore).

It’s surprising to me how my body responds to a workout after I’ve been sedentary for a while. Last night on the stationary bike, for example, I was pretty winded after only 10 minutes of moderately fast pedaling. Usually, I’ll push through that stage and do another 10 minutes before shifting into cool-down mode, but I just wasn’t up to it last night. It’s not just that my body wasn’t willing; after a week and a half away from the gym, my mind was a little flabby, as well. That little voice that usually cheers me on just wasn’t as persuasive as usual.

Having said that, I should note that I’m pretty conscious of the signals my aging body is sending me when I’m exerting myself. It’s not like when I was in my 30s, when I would routinely push myself through exhaustion on the basketball court. These days, if I’m feeling winded, I slow down. It would be so embarrassing to have a heart attack in the midst of so many fit people.

So, with an extra 10-15 minutes to burn, I spent more time lifting than usual. And I noticed that, unlike my cardio collapse on the bike, I didn’t really suffer any major setback by staying away from the weight machines for 10 days. I could pretty much go back to lifting the same amount as I was before, without much struggling.

Of course, my regimen is not exactly Herculean: three sets of 10 reps, working my upper body mostly, with weights ranging from 70 to 95 lbs. (not including bicep curls, where I’m stuck at around 35 to 40 lbs).
This makes me wonder whether strength training, in general, is easier to sustain than cardio training over the long haul. I haven’t been able to find any conclusive evidence, but it appears that muscle mass, once built, may hang around longer than the oxygen-burning capabilities built from regular aerobic exercise.

As Liz Plosser puts it in this piece in Women’s Health, strength training pays dividends long after you leave the gym, because of the “metabolic spike” that occurs as your body works to help your muscles recover from all that heavy lifting. My sense is that acquiring and keeping muscle mass is a lot easier than building cardiovascular resources.
But that could just be me. I’ll get back on the treadmill (or whatever) tomorrow and see if it’s any easier.

Experience Life Magazine

Backsliding

A nasty cold/flu bug has put me off my game this past week, plus it’s been too cold for my normal walking commute, so I’m beginning to feel a little out of sorts, fitness-wise. It’s fascinating to see how easily I can develop inertia, how the gym gradually loses its familiar tug after work. I’m not really backsliding, I tell myself, because I shouldn’t go work out when I’m sneezing and coughing all over the equipment. Nor should I tax my system too much when I’m not getting enough sleep at night.

The pessimist in me, however, can see myself sliding into fitness neverland unless I pull myself up off the floor and get back to my routine. I did finally walk to work this morning after several sub-zero days off, and that did get my heart pumping a bit. But, I thought it was instructive that I forgot my workout gear.

Kelly James-Enger, writing in EL’s July/August 2005 issue shows some sympathy for folks like myself, who find themselves a little stymied and stuck. “No matter how motivated you are, you’ll still skid into obstacles from time to time,” she writes. “Plan now for how you’ll deal with conflicts in your routine, like business trips, sick kids or the American Idol finale. Aside from time constraints, some of the most pervasive problems are boredom and frustration.”

Her prescription is simple: Shake up your routine — lift more with fewer reps, jump on a new piece of equipment, set new goals (do I even have any goals?), etc. It’s good advice, and now that my nose has stopped running, I think maybe it’s time for the rest of me to do the same.

Experience Life Magazine

The Fountain of Youth

I’ve never been particularly obsessed about my age, partly because I’ve always looked younger than I really am (which was a huge disadvantage when trying to buy liquor as a teenager). But the more I immerse myself in this fitness stuff, the more I see how a regular exercise regimen can peel away the years. An hour at the gym just leaves me feeling more youthful — my heart’s pumping, my muscles are aching, my lungs are burning. I always come away feeling more energetic than when I started.
There’s a reason for that, according to a new study by researchers at King’s College in London: Regular exercise actually affects your DNA. Staying active can actually slow down the aging process.
Researchers studied 2,401 twins and found that those who were physically active “appeared biologically younger than their sedentary peers,” the BBC reported. They measured the effect by looking at pieces of DNA called telomeres. These repeat sequences of DNA sit at the end of chromosomes and protect them from damage. As we age, these telomeres become shorter, leaving cells more vulnerable to damage. In sedentary people, those telomeres shortened more rapidly than in their active counterparts.
Indeed, the most active people in the study — those who exercised at least 199 minutes a week — displayed telomeres that were comparable to those in folks who were 10 years younger.
I’m still not going to obsess about my age, but I have to admit that this is good news to a geezer who’s spending at least a couple of hours a week at the gym and racking up the miles on my walking commute. I don’t know if I’m going to be 10 years younger as a result of all this, but as long as I’m feeling great, who’s counting?

Experience Life Magazine

It’s All Uphill From Here

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With the mercury shooting up toward the teens this morning and a piddly southern breeze at my back, I could come out of my turtle-like posture of recent days and really enjoy the landscape. A fellow carrying a couple of bags of groceries in his mittened hands shared my euphoria with a smile and brisk greeting as we passed near the train station. My scarf and cap came off earlier than usual, and I swung my arms smartly as I strode happily along.

On colder days, those articles of clothing often stay put until I’m climbing the two-block hill that leads to the door of our office building. And today it reminded me of the salutary effects that such inclines can have on one’s fitness regimen.

Last night at the gym, I was hoping to nab one of the stationary bikes — having walked to work, I thought it would be soothing for my sometimes creaky knee. But they were all taken (New Year’s resolutions . . .), so I climbed onto one of these sleek new elliptical machines, hit the “quick start” button (don’t bother me with instructions), and started rolling — first backward (oops) then, kind of getting the hang of it, forward. I randomly pushed a few more buttons enroute, as is my habit, before discovering the “incline” mode.

I was wearing my heart-rate monitor, so I could see very quickly how much harder I was working once I began traveling (virtually) uphill — from a heart rate in the 90s to over 110. This, I assume, is a good thing.

Actually, the whole heart rate thing is a bit of a mystery to me. Apparently, I’m supposed to shoot for a target heart rate with this formula:
resting heart rate + [% exercise intensity X heart rate reserve] = target heart rate
So, if I want to exercise midway between 50 percent and 85 percent of my heart rate reserve, that equation would be: 60 bpm + [65% X 104 bpm] = 128 bpm.
Which means I need to tilt the earth a little more.