My long-departed father supported a family of seven by delivering beer to taverns and restaurants in St. Paul. I can still picture him sitting at the kitchen table after work on a hot summer day, nursing a Grain Belt and smoking a Marlboro in his sweat-stained shirt. It was a tough job, wrestling those kegs off his truck, and it seemed obvious to me that this was a guy who didn’t need a weekend softball league to feel like he was getting enough exercise.
That was a different era, of course. Every breadwinner on our block made a living doing manual labor of one sort or another. Exercise was something Jack LaLanne did on TV to entertain housewives.
I was recalling those golden years the other day after learning about a Finnish study showing that the sort of work middle-aged guys like my dad and his neighbors did can limit their mobility as they head into their retirement years — unless they balance it with some “leisure-time physical activity” that consists of something more demanding than 12-ounce curls with their favorite pilsner.
While manual labor and recreational exercise may each require muscle activity, explained Taina Rantanen, a professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and lead researcher for the study, when you’re doing it on the job that activity often is repetitive and can wear your body down, affecting your overall mobility as you age.
The solution: Get a little exercise after work or on the weekend. “A person doing heavy manual work may compensate for its detrimental effects by participating in brisk leisure-time physical activity,” Rantanen said in a statement released by the Institute.
This is not a recommendation my old man would’ve followed. Like I said, it was a different time. And he didn’t make it much past 60 before cancer cut him down, so we’ll never know whether mobility would’ve been an issue in old age. I’m guessing he would’ve found his way to the refrigerator without any help.
I’m fortunate enough to make a living wrestling with words and budgets rather than beer kegs — an occupation that delivers its own health hazards. Sitting for long periods of time every day can kill you, I’ve heard. So, a little leisure-time exercise is probably still a good idea. In fact, it might be even more important for us desk-jockeys than for the guys who deliver our beer.