Trying not to wither away

One more photo from the spring walk
Canon PowerShot S95, 2023

“The loss of muscle mass after age 60 is real,” Geoff said over our lunch of poached salmon. He owns a consulting firm I’ve hired a couple of times at work, and he was good about buying me lunch once or twice a year to keep our contact warm. “I’m about 10 years older than you, I’d guess; at any rate, I’m eyeing retirement in the next year or so. I’ve had to cut back on work so I can make it to the gym in the morning, just so I don’t lose any more.”

“Gak!” I thought to myself. I bloody hate going to the gym. I dislike lifting weights at home only slightly less.

In my mid 20s I thought that if I just made myself build a workout habit, it would eventually stick, which would serve me well when I eventually turned 40. 40! I chuckle at that now. I was still in fina natural shape at 40. I could do almost everything I did at 25. Anyway, I first joined a workout class at the Y so I could learn what to do. When that ended I joined a regular gym, learned the weight circuit they offered, and did it three times a week. That lasted only a couple years — good grief was it ever boring.

I also have some head trash about gyms. As a teen I was tall but scrawny. I was not athletic in the slightest, and I was quiet and sensitive. The edgy, boastful, competitive camaraderie among the other boys repelled me. I found locker-room talk to be disgusting. I wouldn’t play along. The boys started asking if I were gay, and rumors spread. It was the early 80s; being gay, even being thought of as gay, was not okay. I endured all manner of ribbing, trash talk, and bullying over it. Once, in a dark back hallway leading away from the school gym, I was assaulted by a couple of boys who called me faggot.

Even at that gym of my mid-20s, a few times the buff guys sniggered amongst themselves about me. A couple times, one of them would come up and shout at me to lift more weight, do one more set. In retrospect I think they were trying to be encouraging, but I felt threatened by it. I wouldn’t like it much now, either.

All of this has had a profound effect on my willingness to seek connection with other men. I am drawn to the nerds. I find their odd fascinations to be fascinating, and I’ve had much more success with them building genuine, vulnerable connection.

At age 55 I no longer care about becoming buff. I just want to be in good enough shape to enjoy my old age. I think about my grandfather, whose doctors told him that if he’d only get out and walk more, he’d have a better chance of pushing through the illness that ended up taking his life. I think of my father in his last years, who didn’t have to walk far before he was done in. He had terrible muscle tone when he died. His cancer played a major role, but he wasn’t in good shape to begin with.

Even if I can push through my head trash around weight training and the gym, I don’t know how to make time for it. I’d have to let go of something I’m doing to add it in, and I don’t want to let go of anything I’m doing.

Fortunately, I love to walk and ride my bike. Aerobic exercise is better than nothing. On the bike, I can really build up my legs. It has never mattered how much upper-body work I do, I stay scrawny from the waist up. But when I ride my bike a lot, my legs get huge.

The great thing about walking and bicycling, especially now that I work from home four days out of five, is that I can squeeze it in. It’s easy enough for me to use that hour I’m not in a meeting to get out quickly for a walk or a ride.

And I love to be out in the world on my feet or in the saddle. I find the rhythms to be almost meditative. And because my inner explorer is strong, I am intensely curious to know what’s down that road or around that corner. I can always bring a camera along and stop when I see something beautiful or interesting. That’s how I made this photo, on an early spring walk when the trees were in bloom.

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19 responses to “Trying not to wither away”

  1. brandib1977 Avatar

    I have never been athletic in any traditional sense but love to hike. This has been my favorite exercise for years followed by long walks wherever I can get them in.

    I joined a local gym for a while but it didn’t stick. The weights were always monopolized by buff young men and the cardio machines are boring. So I switched to at home videos that provide a mix of cardio, strength and even some Pilates. Interval training was always my favorite.

    This lasted right up until my thyroid went haywire and took me down. I currently have no routines and it shows. As I work my way through landscaping projects that require so much upper body strength as well as bending, kneeling, squatting and stamina, I am beginning to think about what’s next. Once this is done, I will be ready to build some kind of workout routine that will fill my evenings as all this yard work has done for the last few weeks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Years ago I bought an exercise ball and hand weights and accomplished a lot with them. Space is a problem now but it might not always be. Then I get to avoid the buff young men.

      I hope things are finally settling with your thyroid.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Drastic changes to my diet have helped me feel better. I feel almost super human compared to a year ago but I worry that maintaining my current standards is going to be hard.

        Even if you don’t have room for dedicated workout space, you could probably do a lot in your living room or even in the backyard since the weather is nice.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Through my 30’s and 40’s, I swam 4 days a week. I was probably in the best shape of my life, but not particularly buff. I lost weight, and my heart was in great shape, and I didn’t wreck my joints with high impact exercise. Problem today is finding a decent length lap pool, at an affordable rate where I live. I try to walk two miles a day, but get pain that makes me stop for a few days at a time. Turns out I have one shorter leg, and mild scoliosis, and basically walking or running is going to just cause pain. Didn’t help that my last 10 years of work was mostly sitting in meetings and in front of a computer. I recommend swimming highly, but it’s only fun if you’re not in a tiny pool!

  3. Jim Grey Avatar

    Swimming really is such excellent exercise for all the reasons you give. I wonder if the LA Fitness in Zionsville has a good enough pool.

    Can you afford chiropractic care? A chiropractor materially corrected a tilted hip I had, and eased mild scoliosis of my neck, and made walking and cycling so much less uncomfortable.

    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      I going to try that next! Isn’t there an “aquatic center” north of downtown Zionsville? I was going over there to check that out, but then left. It sounded affordable and deluxe, and open to the general public!

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Didn’t know about that! Worth considering.

  4. Margie Avatar

    Find a gym close by, go the same days, same time of day, smile and say hi. I have “gym buddies” that I talk to briefly between machines. Longer if you do a treadmill close together. Upper body is just as important as lower body and stamina.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good tip about same days/times. You do build familiarity that way.

  5. Marc Beebe Avatar

    After three doctor visits in one week, I didn’t need to read this! But seriously, despite avoiding all the standard health traps of smoking, drinking, being overweight and inactive … I’m still in trouble. It’s not always preventable, so you might as well enjoy life while you can. I sure don’t anymore.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s true, we can do everything right and still have serious issues. I still think it’s wise to make a reasonable effort. Then the chips have to fall where they may.

  6. DougD Avatar

    Totally with you there! In high school I was 6 feet tall and 120 pounds, the other guys would work out and basically inflate. All I got was sore joints.
    For many years I used to do wilderness canoe trips and get a whole year’s worth of exercise in 2 weeks. Now I have degenerative disc, and I don’t trust my back to do stuff like that anymore.

    I truly hate exercise, but I enjoy being active. I wish I liked riding a bike more than I do though. I’m old enough that I can go to public swimming for seniors at the local pool. I’m trying that next.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good luck with the swimming! I hope it’s something that really works for you. So sorry about your back.

  7. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    At almost 80, I am facing some serious health issues but am still in reasonable shape for the shape I’m in. Last year I got an E-bike and discovered a really great trail just blocks from home
    It extends a distance of more than 40 miles. Some is paved, some crushed limestone and some gravel. Most is former RR right of way. The scenery is terrific, with lakes, forests, swamps, and meadows, almost no noise, no traffic, and mostly flat, with a few hills that test my battery more than my legs.

    Still, I am getting out, pumping my legs and my heart, filling my lungs. I mostly use pedal assist level 1 or 2, so I need to put in some work. Maybe by the end of the season it will make a difference in how I feel and look, but if not, I still enjoy the active time outside.

    I picked up a brochure at a highway rest stop that details many such trails in MIchigan. I bet Indiana and Wisconsin have plenty too. I hate riding in traffic. It’s both dangerous and noisy- not for me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      An e-bike sounds like the perfect solution.

      We have more and more rail trails here in Indiana. It would be great to live near one!

  8. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    I’m sorry about the experience you had when you were younger with those super-homophobic bullying jerks, that was terrible! Creeps! It makes me really angry thinking how they treated you.

    You can accomplish a lot with your own set of dumbbells at home, we have a small assortment with a nice adjustable bench that folds small. And biking is awesome, that is definitely something to not give up. And don’t discount the benefits of those photo walks :-)

    I wouldn’t necessarily rule out organized fitness/fitness center, you never know., someday you could find something decent. We belong to a very community and family-oriented YMCA, it’s a safe and encouraging environment. the weight room is filled with everyone from teens to seniors. It’s even got a pool. Ray Charles and Quincy Jones used to play on Friday nights, there. Fitness centers run the gamut. If you get an icky feeling in one, just keep looking around.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you for your good words. I needed far more help than I got back then.

      I can see myself using a YMCA if the nearest one weren’t a half hour away.

  9. J P Avatar

    I hate exercise too. I feel better after doing it, but it seems like a waste of time that could be put to better use. I was fortunate to get a good set of genes and am trying to walk more and do more physical work.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t feel better after exercise, not in any appreciable way. It’s always been that way for me.

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