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Sunday, 22 January 2023


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One word: cycling.

This past summer I became inspired to ride again, after several decades of ignoring my bicycle buried in the basement. I have managed to keep this form of exercise alive now for 7 months which is a record for me. I'm in my latter sixties and was gradually becoming weighty and too sedentary so I really needed it.

I highly recommend it as a way to get healthy exercise without needing to dress in any special way, or join a gym. You can cycle a short distance or a long distance and it's all doing you good.

Plus I get a chance to just ride around and view the world more slowly and stop for some photography now and then. And of course, a cafe.

Of course! Fitness is a lifelong marathon not a sprint which lasts until its boring or you injure yourself.
Use it or lose it.

I think hidden in this excellent post is a message for folks of any age: just start, but start small! Don't start trying to run three miles (or 5 km ;-) three days per week. In fact, don't even start running. Just start walking, or riding your bike (slowly), or swimming in the slow lane (or whatever is your preferred form of movement), and, for goodness sake (sorry to say this Mike), don't start by performing interval sprints!

If you feel you need to get your heart racing, just start by jogging really slowly down the end of the block, once. If you don't have blocks, pick a sign post and get to that post and then stop! Walk to the next one. Do it many times over many weeks. Then you can slowly add distance and frequency, if you feel like it. In my humble opinion, the lasting effect may well be all that walking you'll do in between the running.

I know I should be careful about prescriptive advice when I have deep knowledge for myself (and a few people around me) but very little knowledge to advise anyone else. I'm 63. Up until about four years ago, I rode my bike to work everyday (including up a hill) so I have the advantage that you have identified: I never stopped being active. That said, I can't run more than two blocks at a time anymore because of lack of doing so for the past thirty years and I know that if I start that again, I would have to start small.

It is indeed important to exercise throughout life, but it is important to also understand that exercise should be helpful to your body, not harmful.

I have lots of friends who have tried starting exercise programs by stressful activities like running and now hobble around on bad feet, knees and hips - bad or artificial.

Walking is low stress and healthy, especially if combined with moderate elevation changes. People who live in cities walk a lot more than suburbanites of course and I have lived in cities most of my life.

In a few weeks I will turn 77. I take no medicine, prescribed or otherwise, and I typically walk 2 hours a day, part for exercise part just running errands - the post office and multiple markets are a few blocks away. We also have a park nearby where my wife and I go 3-4 days a week for our afternoon walk - ~1.5 miles with a 200 foot elevation change - just right for us.

The advice is simple - get off your butt and just move around. Don't abuse your body - it is really good at telling you what is good for you.

PS: We lived on a farm from the mid-50s to early 70s and I can assure you that there is no better exercise, until it's too much!

Running really isn't what I think of when I think of lifetime activities. It is quite hard on your joints. You need to look into golfing, pickleball, bowling, hiking, etc.

In your area, hiking opportunities are very abundant. It is both good for exercise and good for the mind (getting out in nature).

Stairs are great for exercise (although, be gentle coming down since that can damage your joints). It can tax your heart without damaging your knees. I know that several of the state parks in your area have stair-like sections that will really get your heart pumping.

I’m not sure about serious strenuous exercise. Do the benefits outweigh the risks for the middle-aged or older? I have a theory, unsupported by any real science, that you have a pretty good chance of reaching 70 or thereabouts as long as you’ve followed these broad guidelines:-
A) above all, don’t smoke;
B) don’t drink too much (or at all);
C) keep your weight in check; and
D) go for walks - it’s not just the exercise that does you good, it’s also the getting out in the air.

After 70 (for men), or a bit older for women, then it’s more of a lottery. The Obits are full of articles concerning men who led an active-enough life style up until their early 70s or so but then were diagnosed with one of the hidden nasties e.g. a cancer or a serious unsuspected heart condition, and they died after “a brief struggle with [whatever]” in their mid 70s. Other men, of course, live on, sometimes for decades, but as I said, I think it’s a lottery. Many men get prostate cancer, or rather their their prostates turn cancerous, but not many die of it, and in any case nothing seems to affect your chances of that happening, including whether you’ve exercised or not.

I’ve never hurt myself from exercise in the way you mentioned though I have had a couple of instances of badly hurt muscles in the front of my thighs that affected me for quite a few day. These were from walking down long, steep descents. One was coming down from a mountain in Glen Nevis; I’d lost the official path and found myself coming down a much steeper mountainside. Nothing dangerous, just long and very steep. The other was the result of the first stretch when walking the Samaria Gorge in Crete - two or three kilometres descending about 3000 feet down an endless stair! In both cases, however, it was worth it - I wouldn’t have missed those walks for the world.

I grew up as a vegetarian and was skinny but incredibly strong and fit. At 18 I could do unlimited pushups; I could just keep going as long as I cared to. 200+ no worries! I remained active and did lots of scuba diving until age 42 when I realised I needed to do regular exercise rather than relying on my natural fitness. So I started running and worked up to 5km a day for at least 6 days a week. Kept that up until about age 60 when I started having minor knee problems. I then started fast walking instead of running and have continued that ever since till present age of 75. I also do balance, yoga and strength training. My partner and I did marine biological consulting for many years which involved regular trips with about five hours of scuba diving a day for days on end, swimming several kilometres a day and we found that our bodies loved lots of low intensity exercise and after about three days you got in a great state where you felt really good and could just keep going. So in my experience lots of regular moderate exercise is how we are meant to live and how our bodies thrive! The other thing is having a plant based diet and keeping skinny!

I am now in my 7th decade. I have rotator cuff injuries (rugby) and various groin (soft tissue) injuries that come and go in severity. Yet I go to the gym for three hours each week minimum being 2 hours of weight training (with a trainer) and 1 hour of cardio training (mostly HIIT) including warm ups stretches, etc (I would like to do 6 hours but life keeps getting in the way). My stated goal is to turn up to the dang gym three hours each week minimum for the rest of my life. My motto when training is: "no pain, no pain". It works.

Like many virtues, the whole point of exercise is just doing it, rather than reflecting, ruminating or over-thinking it. (I loathe Nike for appropriating that motto. Well, that and child labor). And there's nothing magical about continuing to exercise right through life, though it's obviously optimal. I always found running to be soul-crushingly boring, not to mention painful. I worked my way up to 7 miles a day while in medical school, and waited in vain for that fabled "runner's high". Nope. All I got was pain.
I was an avid rider of road bicycles in high school and college. Living in Brooklyn in the 1980s this was no longer feasible. I didn't exercise at all through my middle years, and this was not helpful. Now in my mid 60s I hike a lot, and diligently use a stationary bike in my basement. A runner friend was baffled, stating "It's like being a squirrel in a cage!" But for me it's a weirdly Zen experience.
The main point is, don't overthink it. Just start walking, or peddling a stationary bike, or swimming. Start slow so you don't hurt yourself. You'll start to feel calmer, happier, quicker in just a few weeks. After you get past the initial speed-bumps of stiffness and fatigue.

Do not forget the genetic factor in osteoarthritis (OA).
I blew out my knee at age 16 incorrectly tackling someone in one of the ubiquitous pickup tackle football games in the late 60s in Western PA. I should have been practicing for my cross country/track team. My long distance career evaporated. My knee was not broken, according to the ER doc, of course. In retrospect I clearly blew out my medial and maybe lateral meniscus but I was not sent to have it correctly evaluated. In 1984 I had my first surgery after a 5k race where I ran really well and could not walk the next day. The orthopedist removed my entire meniscus about which I was unaware. This is very rarely done today. He said my knee OA looked like hell. I thanked him. I had my second surgery 5 years later. We discovered the entire meniscus was gone- a surprise to me and the surgeon, based on that new imaging technique, the MRI. He said it looked like hell. Today, almost 35 years later I do your 2-4 mile walking bit with occasional jogging, fast enough to make the Doberman run, on my original damaged equipment. In contrast my wife had a small meniscal tear ten years ago, an appropriate repair and now has both knees and her left hip replaced. We share identically unfavorable BMIs. Her inoperable right hip pain binds her to her wheelchair. I climb ladders, but not like a 35yo.
Ret. rheum doc.

Hey Mike,

I'll chime in here and say that running is pretty hard on the joints, especially if you're carrying excess weight. I've discovered Pilates a few years ago and I'm doing that at least twice a week. Walking is good as well. I got a TRX suspension trainer--so this suspension-based body weight training has been an excellent choice for me to supplement the Pilates work. I ride a bike in the seasons that allow it (I love riding a bike in the winter too--but I don't love the rust that happens).

Keeping moving is good. I also look pretty damn good for the effort. I do note that stuff I would do in my 20s and 30s that I could quickly recover from (leg and arm abuse) takes longer, so I'm more aware of what those things are and no longer push myself to the point of stupid.


I second the suggestions about moderate exercise. I practiced about 20 different sports, but not all of them had a positive effect on my body. I actually think most had some negative consequence, but they were a lot of fun. Now, at 67, I do not want anymore to risk an injury. I have a cyclette in front of my TV, some rubber bands, some little weights. Every couple days I practice while watching some TV show. I can decide how hard and how long I practice - usually 75 minutes - and I do not risk to fall or else. No weather troubles, no cars, no insects. Very relaxing.

Mike, please do not run.
Walk daily.
Walk faster next week, and faster still the week after that.
Start off with 15 minutes AWAY from the house and then 15 minutes back.
After a couple months, use the car to measure just 2 miles away.
Next day walk there and back.
Try to make the walk faster every day.

Most of the 5 am track users at the Y in Kenosha are old guys (of which I am one) and we all walk. Some of us walk faster than others.
Most of us are older than you.
During the better weather I am back walking my measured 4 miles near my house.

Most of my working life involved travel, sometimes a 14 hour flight.
But, the day before a flight I would spend 2 hours in the gym, and I made sure that each hotel I stayed in had a fitness room.
In those days I mainly used a stationary bike. They are great when the weather prevents walking. I have one at home and I use it. I even read my I pad while on it. Less than $400 bucks from Amazon if I recall correctly. They have them for even less money now. Just type in 'cheap stationary bike'

I'm not sure I agree with your self-assesment. Please don't take it the wrong way, but your problem with running was probably caused by your weight and not the three decades disuse. If I recall rightly, you're over 6 feet tall and weighed a little more than you liked when you resumed running. Middle-aged runners tend to be lean and for a good reason. It's less wea and tear on your joints as you put stress on them.

I've played tennis competitively for the past 10 years after taking about 15 years off with kids etc. I'm a little younger than you but not that much. Believe me, the first few months getting into it was hard. After that, the stamina part was easy.

Having said that, I think running is a terrible exercise for most everyone. The only thing it teaches your body is to run. It does nothing for your core or upper body strength. It doesn't help you keep your balance or keep your reflexes sharp. It's pretty useless for anything but increasing your stamina for a repetitive motion. When you're 75 and need strength to keep yourself from taking a fall or getting up after a fall, being able to run a couple miles won't help you. So your knees probably did you some good.

Not advice in any way. But I recall shortly after photographing a Jane's Addiction concert about 20 years ago, an interview on the radio with lead singer Perry Pharrell. For some, probably sarcastic reason, the DJ asked this long known addict and otherwise NOT-picture-of-health, what he did for exercise? I found his answer fascinating. Paraphrasing, he replied, "I go outside one time every day and run as fast as I can." Very interesting!

"Walk before you can run." The human body was designed for walking but since the comparably recent invention of transportation technologies, eg. automobiles, we do not walk enough to meet design specifications.

Similar to "one camera, one lens, one year," I advise walking daily for one or two years, in order to build ligament strength (and facilitate digestion), before trying to run. Walk as far as you can, for as long as you have time for, taking breaks when you need to (enjoy stopping for coffee, etc). See if you can get up to around 10 miles a day. And then worry about running, or don't. But, after two years of walking, I suspect you will no longer go "sproing" with surprise injuries.

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