Going way out on a limb……….

In a cave far up in the snowy reaches of the Himalayas I encountered a master who provided me with esoteric knowledge required for good health: two words. Diet. Exercise.

Pulling up some items from earlier posts in this category, I want to advance an idea that will probably get some positive response (no one responds to this blog anyway) but has nothing to substantiate it. The idea is that exercise goes far beyond general improvement and maintenance of health. That is not controversial; what is is that exercise ranges along a full spectrum of health issues, mental and physical. The idea is that vigorous exercise late in life activates all the systems of the body which in turn promote healing, necessary in aging bodies and minds.

So what happened to me? A long life as a 90 pound weakling sustained by some sort of exercise my whole life from age 27 to retirement. The exercising varied among weight lifting (my favorite) to aerobics to jogging and to a very little martial arts. The point is that only for a 3 year period did I go without some form of exercise.

Nevertheless I found myself challenged by an article I read when I was in my 60s that stated that by the fourth quarter of life, body mass would be inevitably lost. To show that to her students, the doctor said she showed them a photo of a man in his 60s in good shape and then one of him at 76, clearly shrunken. The lesson rested on the fact that he had maintained his workouts all through and still lost muscle mass. I took that as a challenge.

A few years later, twenty years ago as of now, 2023, I retired and upped my workouts. So for twenty years now, without instruction, developing my own workouts, I have steadily increased performance. The 9 years I had spent with a trainer in my 50s paid off in that I had the basics of form and effort down pretty well although I had never gained a lot of muscle; my goal had been simply good health.

Without a trainer, though, I had no way of knowing just how hard I was working. At one point with the trainer, I had asked him if he thought I was working hard. The answer, yes, was foregone because I had seen him literally run people out of his gym if they were not working hard. My son worked out with him, too, and once I asked about him and he replied that Geoff was one of the hardest working people he worked with.

Yet I wondered about myself. The evidence was piling up that I was doing fine. However, one day I noted extremely low heart rate when I took my blood pressure. Curious, I Googled it and read that such readings, in the low 40s (or just LO as my cuff read), are normal with…… not light or moderate workouts but only with heavy workouts. There I had my answer. It may strike you as odd that I wouldn’t know how hard I was working, but I really did not trust my judgment on that.

As to physical effects, I did take reading on a ‘smart scale’ with an impedence meter. The head of the gym told me I was in good shape but the print out showed I had areas ripe for improvement. Another clue was my wife’s observations of my appearance; not given to fulsome praise, she did comment on how good I was looking and how my arms were getting bigger. Then there are my own observations, subject to ego distortion. All in all, I am doing well.

However, this all started with the article on body mass loss, so I Googled that recently under sarcopenia, the medical term for loss of fat, muscle and other tissue. There exists no medical intervention to stop loss of mass, but both diet and exercise not only can stop the loss but reverse it. The latter required an exclamation point.  !

So perhaps all my strutting around looking in mirrors was not an exercise in holding my breath in and my gut in but really did offer a realistic check on progress. Was it my figure or my tailor that made me look thin? One other measure can be found in old photos. Those showing my arms, taken ten or fifteen years ago, do show an increase in size.

What I have skipped so far is the mental effects of vigorous exercise. As I have said, my heart doctor said some of his patients insist they do get exercise, which turns out to be walking to the mailbox. If you have emotional problems, which I do, then you can look forward to a sense of well-being, a sense of “I can handle this” or at least, “This isn’t the end of the world……… just yet.” Boy! Does that help, coming down the stairs (they count as exercise only when I take them two at a time as fast as I can go) and feeling like, “I feel good and I can deal with this.” You sleep better, too and staying on a diet is easier.

Diet remains the stumbling block. I cannot do the plant based diet due to the amount of time for prep. I always encounter stumbling blocks to dieting the way I want. But a few days from now my wife is starting a diet I’m involved in only for clean-up and I’ll be free to go on my own diet. Despite the holiday treats, my lab work came back clean as did my semi-annual check-up. So I feel free indeed.

Caveat: I love working out, at least with weights and with body weight exercises. A latter one I am working toward is L-Sits. Another uses a very moderate weight, the Turkish Get-up. To exercise vigorously and routinely, you need to find something you enjoy. Swimming, walking, running or jogging, gymnastics, dancing….. many things, as long as they are done with the proper form (that’s why dancing won’t work for me) and enough vigor. How do you measure the latter is tough to say except to look at the results. An example:

Almost 5 months ago I started a full-body exercise program of 5 exercises. Very, very demanding but lasting only a short time. It started out taking me 16 minutes to complete. Eventually I got it down to 15 and a half minutes. It stayed there for a while and then a couple of weeks ago it went down to four minutes forty-five seconds. About two more sessions and yesterday I got down to thirteen minutes twenty seconds. Why the big drop within the last few weeks? Anyway, that is a measure.


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