So, You Want to Start Exercising Again...

November 21, 2008
Category: Dating

Most American men around my age (over 50) attended schools in which physical education was a required part of the curriculum. This was John F. Kennedy’s innovation to education in the 60s to help young Americans get strong and stay fit physically as well as academically. The idea was that a sound foundation in physical culture acquired at an early age would create a habit of fitness to last our whole lives.

Well, it sounded good at the time.

Many of us participated in extra-curricular sports or leisure activities that involved plenty of physical exercise in those halcyon days. A few hardy souls even might have maintained that high-school weight-training routine and laps around the track into adulthood. But, most American men at some point, and for any number of seemingly good reasons, put aside regular exercise for other compelling activities like working for a living and operating the remote control on the television.

A Long Walk With a Friend is a Good Way to Start Exercising Again

Many of us may recall with a chuckle the first time we heard the saying, “Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes away.” Actually, this saying is only really funny to younger men just starting to neglect themselves who do not yet experience the genuine feeling of loss that comes with diminished physical fitness and the unpleasant changes in the way we look and feel as we avoid physical exercise over time. Those of us who have seen our waistlines increase as our aerobic capacities decrease confront a sobering choice: Do we surrender to physical decline, or do we fight back with all the proverbial wisdom and determination granted us by surviving this many years?

Most American men around my age (over 50) attended schools in which physical education was a required part of the curriculum. This was John F. Kennedy’s innovation to education in the 60s to help young Americans get strong and stay fit physically as well as academically. The idea was that a sound foundation in physical culture acquired at an early age would create a habit of fitness to last our whole lives.

Well, it sounded good at the time.

Many of us participated in extra-curricular sports or leisure activities that involved plenty of physical exercise in those halcyon days. A few hardy souls even might have maintained that high-school weight-training routine and laps around the track into adulthood. But, most American men at some point, and for any number of seemingly good reasons, put aside regular exercise for other compelling activities like working for a living and operating the remote control on the television.

A Long Walk With a Friend is a Good Way to Start Exercising Again

Many of us may recall with a chuckle the first time we heard the saying, “Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes away.” Actually, this saying is only really funny to younger men just starting to neglect themselves who do not yet experience the genuine feeling of loss that comes with diminished physical fitness and the unpleasant changes in the way we look and feel as we avoid physical exercise over time. Those of us who have seen our waistlines increase as our aerobic capacities decrease confront a sobering choice: Do we surrender to physical decline, or do we fight back with all the proverbial wisdom and determination granted us by surviving this many years?

Those readers who opt to surrender may now go back to their television sets. This article is for you fighters and for those of you who would like to become fighters. The good news is that at whatever age you decide to begin or resume a fitness program, studies with men in their 70s and 80s have shown you have the ability to build muscle and develop cardio-vascular fitness and flexibility nearly as well as much younger men.

Common sense should tell you that you need to take it easy at first, but many of us who feel inwardly much younger than our calendar age may cast aside common sense in our renewed determination to get ourselves into shape. The most common mistake men of all ages make when first starting out a new exercise program is pushing too hard too soon. Blame testosterone. Blame Sylvester Stallone and the endless series of “Rocky” movies. Men tend to be competitive, and we can probably never quite forget our high-school coaches’ booming voices pushing us to try ever harder even though we’re now old enough to be those coaches’ older brothers or uncles, at least. So, do yourself a favor, and take it easy at first. Don’t assume you can jump back into the same weight routine you last did five years ago or even five weeks ago. Trying to do so not only is likely to produce painful injury or at least very sore muscles, but you may feel too discouraged to continue the fight. We want and need a fitness program that is doable right now and sustainable, too.

The easiest, safest way to begin exercising after a long break is simply to take a walk. The high price of gasoline has got me walking to the store and to take the bus now for the first time in years. In just a few weeks I’ve had to tighten my belt to keep my pants from falling off. Even a short walk is better than none, and as your level of fitness increases, you’ll feel like walking farther and faster. Regular walking can whet your appetite for other fitness activities, and we’ll look at how to begin those in my next articles.

Tags: Advice, Health, Fitness
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Post written by William Schindler (View Author Profile)
About this author: William Schindler, a.k.a., Brother William, founder and Spiritual Director of Ashram West, obtained a B.A. in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley (1975), where he also studied Hindi and Bengali, and a Master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University (1986). He has been studying and practicing traditional Hindu Tantra since 1969...
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Comments

You make some excellent points William. I've been doing the occasional walk on the beach and find that my lower back gets sore and my knees and ankles hurt a bit. I usually walk for 30 minutes or less at a fairly slow pace. Any suggestions for warming up or stretching? The soreness is definitely a disincentive to keep up the exercise.

Hi, Mitch.

Thank you for your question.

Pain is a signal from your body to pay attention. It is common to experience some muscle soreness when beginning exercise after a break or when doing new types of exercise. This delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) usually last only a few days and disappears as the body adjusts to exercise. Gentle heat, as from a warm shower or bath, often relieves this kind of pain at least temporarily.

However, pain in joints, especially for older men, can be a sign of a medical condition requiring a doctor's attention. Lower back pain can also signal one or another medical condition, but one of the most common causes is weakness of abdominal muscles that puts added strain on your back.

The best exercise for strengthening abdominal muscles is the crunch. Lie flat on your back with your legs bent. Place your fingertips lightly on your temple, but never behind your neck. Look toward the ceiling, not toward your feet, keeping your neck in line with your spine. Take a deep breath and then breathe out forcefully, at the same time contracting your abdominal muscle as hard as you can. Your shoulders will just barely rise off the floor, if you have sufficient abdominal strength. In any case hold the contraction with empty lungs for a couple of seconds, then return to the starting position as you take another deep breath. Repeat to muscle failure, i.e., until you cannot do another repetition. Start with one set of these crunches every other day, and after a week or two of regular exercise, add another set. After another week or two more add a third set.

Contrary to popular belief, doing crunches or other abdominal exercises alone will not significanty reduce abdominal fat. I will write at length about converting that keg to a six pack in another article. However, strengthening abdominal muscles will relieve pressure on the lower back and help eliminate that as a cause of lower back pain.

Stretching may also help relieve lower back pain. After walking to warm up or after a warm shower, lie flat on your back on the floor with your legs fully extended. Lift and bend one leg and gently pull the knee toward your chest, paying careful attention to the stretch in your lower back. Never force a stretch. Hold the stretch for a slow count of twenty, then repeat with the other leg. Then pull both legs together toward your face for another count of twenty. Extend your legs again, and this time bend your right leg as before but let your leg cross your body toward your left side. This will create a gentle twisting stretch in your lower back. Hold this stretch for another count of twenty. Again pay carefull attention and take it easy. Repeat with the left leg. Finally, pull both legs toward your chest, holding them in the stretched position, and rock gently forward and backward, like the “rotten egg” game children used to play. This gentle rocking can help align your vertebrae and complete the stretch.

Although walking on sand should eliminate joint stress from impact, walking on an uneven surface like sand does employ stabilizer muscles and potentially stresses joints by excessive pronation when stabilizer muscles are not very strong. See if walking on a solid, even surface helps.

Best wishes,

William Schindler

I agree very much with your thoughts.
I joined a gym at 60 and I am now 70.
with abs and a 30 in waist... I just hired a trainer and
am working out a new routine at the gym.

I'm very lucky as I live in the downtown Portland area. There's always something exciting and interesting to see, plus you get the added bonus of being able to walk to all of the major events that take place in the city.
The other thing about walking, especially here in Portland is that you get to walk in the rain. I know how that sounds, kinda nutty/kinda kooky, but try this. It's a great way to help you clear your head of unnecessary cobwebs and garbage. :)

Just read your article, I retired in June and started walking/jogging/running 2 miles a day and went up to 6-8 miles a day and finally up to 10-11 miles a day when the weather is not to cold or raining. I have lost about 30# and 5-6 inches in my waisteline. So I whloe heartedly agree with you just turned 61 at 6'1" , currently 214# working to get down to 185. ( 11 miles is just under two hours currently)

oh,the picture of the two guys are so fucking handsome.
If I can meet them at that park it will be wonderful.