I was just clearing dishes from the table after dinner last night when my son said two little words that are changing my life.
“So . . . basketball?”
Mr. Parkour wasn’t talking about heading downstairs with a six-pack to catch some March Madness on the tube. He was challenging me to get off my duff and head over to the gym and shoot some hoops.
This is a relatively new preoccupation for M.P. When he’s not working these days you can usually find him perfecting his free-running moves or joining his pals for a spirited game of basketball at one gym or another around town. And, given that he’s 20 years old and on the verge of heading out on his own, any invitation is something of an honor.
And a challenge. There’s something about your son taking up a sport that you once played that fires up the old competitive juices — or at least what’s left of them. You want to take advantage of these dwindling opportunities to hang out together, but you secretly (or not so secretly) want to show him you still got it.
That’s not easy when you’re pushing 60 and haven’t really played competitively for the past decade. On our last foray to the hardcourt a month ago, for instance, I spent a half-hour or so hoisting airballs and clanking bricks before I began to find my stroke. Tonight felt better. The knee seemed strong and some of the old moves began to resurface (in super slow-mo, no doubt). And for the first time in a long, long time, I began to entertain the notion that maybe I could get back on the court again.
In fact, M.P. and I have been talking about putting up a hoop on the garage and buying a basketball. And I’ve been trash-talking with his pal, Justin, who is itching to play some two-on-two as soon as the snow is cleared from the court at the local elementary school. (All I need to do is recruit my tennis buddy — and hoops legend — M.E. and it would be “game on”!)
This could be a mid-life crisis, I suppose, if I wasn’t already so close to retirement age. But, practically speaking, everyone says it’s important to have a variety of activities in your fitness regimen. And I figure that as long as I don’t pretend I’m 28 (or even 48) again, there’s at least a 50-50 chance that I’ll survive this infatuation relatively unscathed.
Craig Cox, EL’s managing editor and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.
Monthly Archives: March 2011
I was just clearing dishes from the table after dinner last night when my son said two little words that are changing my life.
Sleep is a wonderful thing. Indeed, as I’ve grown older and levels of a certain hormone have subsided, it is from time to time preferable even to that other word that begins with the letter “s” and describes an activity that often occurs in the bedroom.
I know what you’re thinking: How can you prefer sleep to sit-ups?
It’s actually more complicated than you may think. This winter I’ve been generally avoiding the after-work gym routine that I’d been practicing pretty religiously for the past four years. I won’t bore you with all the excuses. Let’s just say it lost its allure. Kind of like sit-ups. To compensate, I began incorporating a little kettlebell workout into my morning routine. Not too intense, just a nice way to get the blood pumping before breakfast. Trouble is, creating that window of opportunity before work requires that I arise at a certain hour.
I don’t know if this happens to you, but there are mornings when I climb out of bed knowing that I have no business being vertical. And, while it doesn’t usually take too long to shake out the cobwebs and get on with my routine, I almost always pay a price later in the day. So, lately, I’ve been paying more attention to my level of fatigue when I first open my eyes in the morning, and opting to snooze right through my workout time if my body’s telling me it’s not fully rested.
As a result, I’ve lately found myself skipping my morning workout for lack of time, but still feeling plenty of energy because I’m not scrimping on my sleep. It’s a reasonable trade-off, it seems to me, given that sleep is so important to our overall health. As Kermit Pattison notes in this EL piece, “sleep is vital for sustaining peak mental performance, stabilizing mood, bolstering immunity, coping with stress, repairing our tissues, rebalancing our biochemistry and maintaining healthy metabolism. Hundreds of biological processes occur while we snooze — all of which allow us to be more productive, alert and healthy during our waking hours.”
I’m particularly intrigued by how a good night’s sleep boosts my aging immune system. Pattison reports that sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of colon and breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. That’s because, when you’re conked out, levels of cancer-killers like interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor rise by tenfold over your waking levels.
Even a mild case of sleep deprivation can increase inflammation in your body, and that can cause real problems. Here’s how Alexandros N. Vgontzas, MD, director of the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at Penn State University in Hershey, puts it:
“You develop a condition of low-grade inflammation, and we know that low-grade inflammation is a pathway to cardiovascular problems and decreased longevity. Several studies show that when these markers are high, people are at higher risk for hypertension, heart attacks, strokes and decreased longevity.”
That rings true for me, because it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll catch a cold if I’m tossing and turning for a few nights in a row. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often these days. Even without my morning workout, I’m still walking a couple of miles a day and squeezing in an occasional evening workout with Mr. Parkour and My Lovely Wife, and we all know that nothing sparks a good night’s sleep more than a generous amount of exercise during the day. Which, at least in theory, would then allow me to awaken refreshed and ready for my morning workout.
All of which reminds me that it’s time for bed.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I typically put my bicycle away each fall when the first snow flies and start pedaling again when the streets are clear in the spring. It’s an act of self-preservation, I suppose, and a nod to convention. I can walk to work. And for longer trips, there’s always the automobile. That’s what they’re designed to do. Why not take advantage of them?
My Lovely Wife, on the other hand, enjoys bicycling year-round, and nothing short of a major snowfall will keep her and her bike off the street in the winter. Bicycling is her favorite mode of exercise — it’s good for her grumpy right knee, it gets her heart pumping, it’s all accomplished in the fresh and bracing outdoor air, and at the end of the trail there’s usually a coffee shop. Plus, it’s kind of a point of pride for her. She likes to compare notes with other winter cyclists, most of whom fit in a rather different demographic.
So, MLW has been happily pedaling around town since our recent thaw, and on Saturday afternoon was planning to head to the East Lake Library to pick up a few printmaking books she had on hold. We also needed to restock our pantry, so the excursion seemed to call for more conventional transportation. But, by the time we got around to running errands, Mr. Parkour (who has no interest in bicycles) had already claimed the car.
While the weather was not what I would call balmy (temps in the 20s and a northwest wind), the sun was shining and the pavement outside our house seemed relatively free of ice. And it occurred to me that climbing on my bike might not be out of the question.
For those of you who have never bicycled in below-freezing weather, I should point out here that bicycling in those temperatures can be quite unpleasant, regardless of road conditions. Exposed skin and even unexposed extremities (toes and fingers, especially) can go numb pretty quickly, because — in my experience, anyway — your body’s not working nearly as hard as it is when you’re walking.
I wouldn’t think twice about walking the 2 miles or so to the library in this kind of weather. A half-mile into the journey, I’d have my hat off and scarf loosened. Not so much on a bicycle. So, in considering such an excursion, I needed to consider whether my current winter wardrobe was up to the job, whether my bicycle was still in operable condition, and whether I was emotionally prepared to endure a certain amount of physical discomfort.
This is not a debate that MLW entertains. She casts a casual glance out the window. “Let’s go for it!” she says.
So, I get bundled up as best I can and tromp out to the garage, where my old Schwinn has been snoozing since November. I check the tires and brake pads and off we go.
They say that once you’ve learned how to ride a bicycle, you never unlearn it. But I’m always surprised when I climb on board again each spring that it feels like no time has passed since my last ride. This was the case on Saturday. And that was a good thing, because there were plenty of puddles and glacial ice to maneuver around just to get through the alley and out to the street.
(A note for those of you who may be conjuring images of two sleek bicyclists in high-tech, winterized spandex perched on racing bikes: Not so much. Lots of people climb on their $1,500 Treks and pedal 50 miles at 20 MPH for a little weekend cardio. That’s not us. We go slow. I’ve had joggers pass me on hills.)
Anyway, we wind our way north and west toward Lake and Minnehaha, mindful of the potholes and icy remnants of the last plowing at intersections, and I’m struck, after four months of walking, by how much faster you can travel on a bicycle. This may seem pretty obvious, but when you’ve been employing one form of transport for an extended period of time, it’s striking how different another can feel.
And it’s not just faster; it’s almost effortless by comparison. My legs are pushing down on the pedals, but my arms aren’t moving, my feet aren’t striking the ground and pushing off, my ankles aren’t flexing. As a result, my toes are beginning to go numb and my thumbs under my mittens are losing their feeling. What’s odd, though, is to look around and see drivers in passing cars wearing light jackets and pedestrians on the sidewalk in hoodies, hands bare.
Locking our bikes outside the library, I suddenly feel overdressed. Not because I’m too warm, but because everyone around me is dressed like it’s April and I look like I just blew into town from Nome.
MLW picks up her books and we saddle up to head south again to pick up provisions. My thumbs have reached that fascinating point beyond numbness, where they actually feel like they’re warming up. The toes on my left foot haven’t received the memo, but the wind is now at our backs and we zip along at what feels to me like quite a clip until a couple of young guys on fixed-gear bikes whoosh past us near the parkway roundabout. We head west and catch a little late lunch at our favorite bakery and then fill my basket with some dinner fixings before heading home.
All told, we probably traveled a bit over 6 miles — a trip that later this spring will seem as routine as my morning commute — and managed to avoid any traction-related mishaps, leaving me with the notion that maybe spring has officially sprung and it’s time to adopt the bicycling habit once again.
Outside my window, though, I notice it’s begun snowing. And another thought intrudes: What’s the hurry?
I like to tell my young
tennis buddy, M.E., that growing old is a time-bending experience: You wake up
Monday morning, head off to work, come home, have dinner, go to bed, wake up
and it’s Thursday. Time flies. Whether you’re having fun or not.
I have evidence. I
distinctly remember turning 50 about three months ago (we had a lovely party)
and yet, come August, I’ll be 60. It’s all happened so suddenly that I now find
myself on the cusp of a new milestone without having learned how to navigate
the old one.
So, I was happy to recently
discover a timely (in a weird way) anthology called 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50. I cracked it open, hoping that
maybe I could learn how to behave properly in the brief window opened to me
before I tumbled into my next decade.
The collection of sage
wisdom, edited by Ronnie Sellers, includes contributions from such literary
stalwarts as Garrison Keillor, Marianne Williamson, Harold Kushner, Erica Jong,
and Robert Thurman. All of these folks are older than me, so I figured they’d
have something relevant to say. But, to be perfectly frank, I wasn’t so much driven to collect their
wisdom as to compare their list with the one that’s governed my own journey
over the past nine-plus years. (I’m a Baby Boomer, after all; it’s all about me.)
We agree on the following:
“Stop complaining.” (Keillor) Doesn’t do any good. Nobody cares that you’re
“Stop obsessing about your flaws.” (Bobbi Brown) You look as good as you’re going to look. Plenty of
people look worse. Get over it.
“Wear comfortable clothes.” (Diane von Furstenberg) Nobody’s looking at you anyway.
“Take a hike.” (Kristina Hurrell) There’s nothing like a long walk to get your mind
off of stuff that doesn’t matter.
“Power up your tennis game.” (Angela Buxton) Golf is an illness. Tennis is the cure.
“Sit still: meditation is medicinal.” (Robert
Schneider) Best habit I ever took
When I do the math, though, it
appears that I’ve ignored 44 other pearls of wisdom, including such gems as
paying off my mortgage (Suze Orman), reading the Torah (Richard Siegel),
playing golf in Scotland (Bill Daniels), getting a colonoscopy (Patricia
Raymond), learning to belly dance (TaRessa Stovall), and finding my “inner
elegy” (Billy Collins).
But, then again, I could add
a few to their batch — stuff that’s kept me going over the past nine-plus
years. Here’s a sample:
Stop pretending that you’re smarter than your spouse.
It’s the best stress management
Eat a good breakfast. You’ve got the whole rest of the day to eat poorly.
Make sleep a priority. Toss your alarm clock and give yourself enough sack
time to ensure that you’re waking up fully rested.
Take control of your health care. You know more about your body than any doctor ever
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Nobody else does.
Acknowledge your own good fortune. Plenty of people would love to be in your shoes.
Stop worrying. You have way less control over what happens tomorrow than you think you
do, and way more control over what you decide to do right now.
Oh, yeah. There’s one more: Respect
your elders, even if you ignore their advice.