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How to stay fit in an ageing body

Submitted by on Wednesday, 8 October 2008No Comment
How to stay fit in an ageing body

If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, get busy and stay busy as you grow older, writes DAVID GEMMELL.

Do you want to be happy as you grow old? Then do more. People work all their lives to retire; next they slow down, act their age and grow up. All of which paradoxically accelerate ageing and inhibit being happy. To be happy while ageing – you have to get busy. Don’t be like the American pianist, actor and well known curmudgeon (grump), Oscar Levant (1906 – 1972), who when asked what he did for exercise replied, ‘I stumble and then I fall into a coma…’ (The Portable Curmudgeon – Plume.)

I’m not suggesting you act young and start speaking like your kids; or God forbid, dressing like them. I’m not suggesting you ‘act’ anything. If you are reading this, you are too old for that. The time for ‘acting’, has passed. Start doing.

In our parent’s day, gyms were for boxers and hoodlums. It was difficult for the man-in-the-street to join one, unless he smoked and wore a hat pulled over his eyes. Few people actively exercised. They kept in shape through work. But today in millions of jobs, work has degenerated to sitting in front of a computer; with the only exercise for some, intermittent walks outside to give themselves bad breath and an incurable disease.

But with the proliferation of gyms, it is now easy to join one. So do it. Then institute an exercise programme which, to slow the degeneration in your muscles, includes light weights. You’ll be amazed how quickly your muscles firm and become defined; and how rapidly the light weights become heavier weights. Fear not that you will soon bulge out of your clothes like a body builder – you should be so lucky! That requires hours of training and a specialised diet. But if you want your muscles to look an integral part of your frame, and not like gnarled steaks randomly draped on your bones, then do weights.

And do some cardio. They joy of cardio is it covers a multitude of disciplines – walking, rowing, cycling and, which as you age are usually the same thing, jogging and sprinting. Do cardio three times a week for minimum thirty minutes. ‘No matter what your age – unless you have a truly unstable condition – getting your heart rate up several times a week is really important,’ says Dr Miriam Nelson of  The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.(‘How to age gracefully’- Time magazine 31 May 2005)

Again, you won’t believe how quickly you see the benefits. Soon you will survive your weekly bout of coitus, without needing a rest or an oxygen mask.

As you start improving overall, the inclination is to regret you didn’t do more when younger. Wrong. If you didn’t do healthy stuff when young; don’t repeat the mistake. And if you did the right things; keep repeating.

Once you have planned your weight training and cardio; the next thing is to eat properly. Not all the time; most of the time. If you enjoy a good fried breakfast, but have a cholesterol problem; then only have a fry up once a week. You will enjoy it more as a rare treat than having it daily and committing suicide in instalments. Eat less red meat, more fish, chicken, salads and vegetables. Occasionally, grab some fruit – as opposed to your partner. And stop smoking. Would you eat food if it came with a message that said, ‘This product causes cancer’?

What about mind exercise? Listen to your friends reminisce. How often do you hear them say, ‘I really wish I had learned to, (pick one): fly, sing, dance, cook, play the piano/ chess/ bridge, etc.’? So why aren’t they doing ‘it’ now? Do they think there’s another chance? When? To exercise your mind, find a new challenge. The French Philosopher Jean Rostand (1984 – 1977) said, ‘A man is not old as long as he is seeking something.’ (Espoirs et inquietudes de l’homme 1959).

Take playing the piano. The hardest part is finding a teacher. After that, it’s max three weeks and you are playing proper tunes. It is amazing how if you do something regularly, and stick to it, you quickly begin to master it. Go for a cooking lesson; one of the great joys in life. Once you’ve grasped the basics you will find yourself concocting meals, without recipes, that are better than the food you get in restaurants, (hardly a challenge – but at least a start).

Read more. Everything; fiction, non-fiction, biographies, history, geography etc; become an expert on a subject you dare discuss with your children, who know everything.

Art Linkletter (1912 – ), host of Kids say the Darndest things said recently, “We know that the brain continues to grow just like everything else in the body, if it is used”. He is 96 and still gives hour long talks without notes. (

Get a computer and research the stuff you are interested in. Don’t claim you are not computer-literate, because it no longer washes. Computers these days are cleverer than you and show you what to do. And they are getting cheaper, easier to operate and more intelligent – exponentially.

No-one has a choice about getting old. But if you are blessed with the privilege of ageing, you owe it to those who weren’t, to make the best of things. Remember – you are a long time dead.

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