- Personal Development -

Workout Wisdom

“Get yourself an exercise buddy.” That’s some of the best exercise advice I’ve ever heard. But I swear, no health and fitness idea (except perhaps “eat more vegetables”) has been so completely overexposed, yet so totally underutilized.

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Part of the problem is that if you work weird hours or have an unpredictable schedule, finding a workout partner can be tricky. Plus, ideally, you want it to be someone you like, someone you’re not overly intimidated by, but also someone whom you find inspiring — and with luck, someone who won’t get peevish if you have to cancel now and then.

My solution: I work out with my dad. He’s 74 years old and has a serious case of osteoarthritis, but otherwise he’s in great physical shape, which I find totally inspiring. He’s retired, so he’s very easygoing about the schedule thing, and it makes me feel good to see him taking such good care of his health. It’s fun watching him lift weights, hold two-minute planks and master wobbly fitness-ball exercises, and frankly, it sort of shames me into doing my share. I figure that if this guy with virtually no cartilage in his hip can make it to the gym and through a tough 90-minute workout, then, by God, so can I.

We work with a trainer sometimes, and Steve (who is also a football and track coach) has taught my dad a lot about the importance of stability and flexibility. Dad’s noticed that regular stretching helps his limp, and he’s looking stronger and more fit than he has in years. I think both his energy and mood are better, too.

Aside from the health benefits, though, one of the nicest things about working out with an older parent is that it gives you something positive and present-moment to share. Too often, we fall into rhetorical conversations with our parents: “Hi, how are you, how’s the gout?” That sort of thing. But when you work out together, you have time and reason to shoot the breeze. You get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You swap exercise tips; you monitor each other’s form; you congratulate each other on progress; you give each other grief for wimping out. Maybe you go for coffee afterward. It’s nice.

You also get a preview of what your body is going to look and feel like in about 30 years, which can be either very encouraging or very sobering (think “scared straight”) depending on how well your older buddy happens to be faring. Moreover, physiological quirks aside, older people tend to be really interesting. Get my father chatting on the treadmill next to you, I’m telling ya, and you can find out some amazing stuff. Which brings me to another little suggestion: If you see an older person working out at your gym, make a point of saying “hi” and introducing yourself. My dad works out at three different clubs, and he says that most younger people never even say hello to him, which is a shame, because by the time a person is 70, he or she is quite likely to be a walking trove of information and insight. These are people who’ve been around since before TV and credit cards. They’ve been through the Depression, World Wars, the civil rights movement and moon landings; they’ve survived tornadoes, earthquakes, snake bites and love affairs. They’ve read a lot. They’ve seen a lot. They know things the rest of us don’t.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of boring, grumpy and small-minded older people too, but in my experience, fitness centers tend to attract a group of pretty engaged, progressive, motivated types. Many of them are excellent role models for healthy aging — even if some of them might have a little stoop or a limp. There’s something about seeing people work through their limitations that’s very healthy for your perspective. You realize that we’re in these bodies for the long haul, so it’s smart to take care of them.

Anyway, you’ll find lots of advice on all that within these pages, along with plenty of inspiration, we hope, to love, challenge and celebrate your body for many years to come. For additional insights, and to calculate your chances of living to 100 or more, visit www.livingto100.com.

Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life.

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