For me, good health has always meant good exercise.
Some news flash. Doctors have been telling people for decades to walk, swim, ride their bicycles — anything to put arms and legs in motion.
As middle age stops tapping and starts knocking on my personal front door, I’m trying to fit more exercise into the day.
Hasn’t been easy. At 55, I’ve pretty much left full court basketball behind. I haven’t played softball in two years now, and figure days of triples to center field and line drives snagged on the pitcher’s mound are gone for good.
I have found other sports. In recent years, I’ve put over 1,000 miles on my bicycle during the summer months. Logged a bunch of those miles pedaling from Albany to Schenectady for work here at The Daily Gazette, leaving my house by 6 a.m. to beat traffic and leaving my desk at 6 p.m. for the same reason.
And I was swimming for a while, 20 or 30 laps in the pool of the Guilderland YMCA.
But the bike days just got too long. And the pool days — it seemed the cement pond was always crowded, and I was never crazy about sharing lap lanes.
For the past year, I’ve been doing more running. I don’t have to worry about flat tires — although the cyclist’s concern about vehicular morons remains — and I’ve never really had to share the sidewalk with anyone.
And I’ve been doing more smart running.
I used to build up to five or six miles, increased speed and stamina, and always pulled muscles that shut me down for a week or two. Now, I’m walking a mile or two before I begin 45-minute skips through the neighborhood. I’m taking shorter strides and don’t worry about velocity. Slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop used to say.
Sometimes, I’m just walking. I don’t really consider it a workout, but I’ll be on the march someplace around home. I’ll start at 3 p.m., see how far I can get by 4 p.m., then turn around. Back home by 5. Even if I’m just doing 12 or 13 minutes per mile, that’s still a nine- or 10-mile exercise session.
I run more if I have a goal, like a road race. I’m looking at some fall races now, and already know I’ll be near the starting line of Albany’s “Last Run” near the end of December. It’s just fun to be on the quick step after dark.
Last fall, I started another regimen. After years of thinking about a martial arts class, I decided to join Pil Sung Taekwondo at the Guilderland YMCA. There were three reasons — the “Y” is five miles away from home, there were some middle-aged adults in the class, and both instructors seemed like patient guys.
Taekwondo’s the ticket
I try to make every Tuesday and Thursday class, and the regimen has paid off. I’ve lost about 18 pounds since last year, and think the taekwondo workouts are one of the reasons why. I’m stretching, using muscles I haven’t used for years, and sweating like a maniac by the end of each hour-long session. I’m even wearing a bandana over my head — enduring the goofy look — to keep sweat out of my eyes.
“Taekwondo offers a great cardio workout and will help tone the entire body through movements you won’t make in any other daily activity,” says Master Joe Hasan, who runs the classes. “At first you’ll surely ‘find some new muscles’ as parts of your hips, legs, shoulders and back will be worked in ways you may not have ever used before.”
Flexibility, balance and overall strength are other upgrades that come with the program, which also includes Saturday class.
I think the commitment factor has helped. You’re supposed to show up, so it’s not like leaving work at 6 p.m. and saying, “Run tonight? Nahhhh — think I’ll go home and watch the Orioles.” Commitment to the course is also a promise to exercise; I know that even during busy work weeks, I’ll be getting at least two nights of athletics.
There’s also a mental health component. You focus during class, especially when learning the patterns — routines where punches, blocks and kicks are done in short arrangements. “Forms practice requires the memorization of many intricate physical movements that give both the mind and body a great workout,” Hasan said.
Can’t forget those mental workouts. I once read that seniors who do simple mental exercises like crossword puzzles stay a little sharper as they grow older. My father, now 89, watches baseball games every day for seven months out of the year and is always on the numbers — keeping score in his head. He’s still on the mark mentally.
I want to be watching baseball games when I’m 89, too. And I still want to be walking and swimming in 2044.
Seems like a long way out. Duty now for the future.