- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: The Happiness Factor

A new study out of the UK validates my world view: Do stuff that makes you happy and you’ll maintain your functionality longer.

Here’s an interesting question: Which of these two activities is more likely to contribute to an old guy’s ability to maintain his physical fitness as he ages?

1)   Enjoying a couple of beers with his buddies.

2)   Chasing a tennis ball around a court for an hour.

Answer: Both.

Researchers at the University College of London have released the results of a new study showing that geezers like myself who stay positive and enjoy life generally maintain better physical function as they age. “They are less likely to develop impairments in activities of daily living such as dressing or getting in or out of bed, and their walking speed declines at a slower rate than those who enjoy life less,” the study’s co-author, Andrew Steptoe, MD, said in a statement released by the college.

This is good news for guys like me, who don’t like to obsess over fitness goals and workout regimens as they look for ways to stay vertical in late middle age and beyond. Whatever I do to try to stay in shape has to be enjoyable (even if that enjoyment/satisfaction comes after the fact, as in sweating through a kettlebell routine) or I won’t do it. And that stuff has to be balanced by a good portion of non-athletic activity that just makes me happy.

Sunday was a pretty good case study of how this works for me. I slept late, made a big breakfast, shoveled some snow so I could pry the car out of the garage, and drove over to my buddy Steve’s house to begin another rousing season of Strat-O-Matic baseball. This involves much trash-talking, intermittent bouts of humility, and oddly gratifying moments of testosterone-fueled bravado — all washed down with a beer or three. I’ve been playing in this league with these guys for almost 30 years, and it never fails to make my day.

I had just enough time after I finished my last game (a 12-inning thriller!) there to stop at home to grab my tennis gear and rush over to the indoor courts at Martin Luther King Park, where I met The Baseline Machine for the latest in our ongoing battle for tennis supremacy. TBM is still recovering from a nasty rotator cuff injury, but she was whacking it around pretty good on Sunday, which meant I was working up a pretty good sweat chasing her winners all over the court.

This also makes me generally happy, except maybe when I hit that sure cross-court winner into the net — for the fifth time. I enjoy the competition, and I know when I drag my weary bones to the net at the end of our contest that I’ve done myself some good.

Each of these activities generates some percentage of my happiness quotient. My life would not be quite as satisfying if either of them would suddenly vanish from my calendar. And I agree with Steptoe and his colleagues that my overall ability to function would probably suffer.

So, don’t obsess over your fitness routine as you get older. Find those things — both exercise-related and not — that make you happy and work them into your schedule on a regular basis. It’s probably the best way to stay feeling young as the years pile up.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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