I woke up Friday morning facing the same debate I encounter pretty much every weekday morning. This is how it sounds in my head while I’m shaving:
Me: I don’t think I have time to work out before breakfast and still get to work on time.
My Better Self: You shouldn’t have slept so late.
Me: So what! I need to sleep.
My Better Self: You said you were going to work out.
Me: I know what I said.
My Better Self: So, you should get in there and just do it.
Me: What — now you work for Nike? I also need to have breakfast, and it will take me a half-hour to walk to work in the snow. It’s like 26-below!
My Better Self: Uh-huh.
Me: Besides, I’m still sore from Wednesday’s workout.
My Better Self: Sure you are. By the way, when was the last time you meditated?
Me: None of your business. I need to get to work on time.
My Better Self: You should get up earlier. Have a little discipline. You know, you’re not getting any younger.
Me: Shut up! You’re stressing me out. I need to reduce my stress.
My Better Self: I’ve heard meditation is good for that. So is exercise.
Me: I hate you.
If this sounds familiar, you have my sympathy, and I’ll assume I have yours.
Everyone has to deal with schedules and obligations that get in the way of healthy pursuits. But sometimes we can get sidetracked by trying to be too perfect in our approach. As annoying as my morning debate can be, it’s helpful sometimes to really listen to it — and realize that My Better Self is really just seeking an ideal scenario that isn’t always possible or maybe even necessary.
Yes, I know that a regular fitness routine is an excellent way to maintain our vitality as we age, and I’ve been practicing that routine in various forms for the past eight years with what appears to be decent results. At 63, I feel pretty great most of the time. But I don’t think geezers should fret too much over missing a workout or gaining a few pounds over the holidays. And, as I think I’ve mentioned before in these pages, we all need to do stuff we enjoy. If that includes training for a triathlon, go for it, pal. Just don’t expect me to be your training partner.
The older I get, the more convinced I become of the value of joyful activity. Some mornings, there’s nothing I like better than 15 minutes of zazen followed by a killer kettlebell workout. Other mornings, not so much. The key, it seems to me, is to move your body every day in a way that makes you happy.
So I was glad to see new research from the University of Copenhagen that validated this view. The study, conducted by PhD candidate Aske Juul Lassen, suggests that even an evening of billiards and beer can be a healthy option for geezers like me.
Lassen observed a group of men, ages 70 to 95, who met four times a week to play pool at a neighborhood senior center and argues that the activity should be considered healthy exercise for folks at a certain age:
“Playing billiards often comes with a certain life style – drinking beer and drams for instance — and I am quite sure this was not what WHO and EU meant when they formulated their active ageing policies. But billiards does constitute active ageing. Billiards is, first of all, an activity that these men thoroughly enjoy and that enhances their quality of life while immersing them in their local community and keeping them socially active. And billiards is, secondly, very suitable exercise for old people because the game varies naturally between periods of activity and passivity and this means that the men can keep playing for hours. Not very many old people can endure physical activity that lasts five hours, but billiards enables these men to spread their physical activity out through the day.”
I’m not a big billiards fan, but Lassen’s research tells me that I shouldn’t take my morning debate so seriously. If I don’t have time to work out in the morning, I can always hit the gym after work (which I’ve been doing some lately) when I’m not so rushed. Besides, my 1-mile walk to the office — especially in winter — never fails to get my heart pumping at a good rate. And there’s always my occasional tennis struggle with The Baseline Machine, basketball with my old geezer mates, and come spring a little golf (and beer) with my siblings.
My Better Self will always be there to remind me of all the things I ought to be doing to stay healthy as the years pile on, and I’m grateful for his good sense and virtuous instincts. But nothing works for very long if it’s not something that makes you happy.