Friday, June 29, 2001

Slow and Steady

This morning I did my own version of a triathlon.

I ran 3 miles on a treadmill.

I took an 18-mile bike hike.

Then I came home and took a long... long... hot shower.

Except for the shower, none of it was really fun. Oh, it was better than sitting at my desk doing taxes, or better than cleaning out the gutters, or better than listening to the elementary school orchestra do "Pop Goes The Weasel." But for me at least, that form of physical activity is kind of like brushing your teeth or washing your socks. You do it not because of the intrinsic pleasure of the act, but rather because you know it's the right thing to do.

I also do it because I know that the older I get, the more important it is to undertake activities that elevate my heart rate for reasons other than stress. Like most, my day-to-day routine is more likely to consist of sitting and talking, then walking to the next opportunity to sit and talk. Sustained physical commotion only comes when something goes wrong, and running around like chickens with no heads becomes apropos. Otherwise, pulse-quickening activities have to be manufactured.

Contrast that to when we all were a few decades younger. In that day and age, you were always out riding your bike or playing ball or just running from yard to yard. No one ever said you needed to exercise per se, because when you came home from school, you rarely let your heart rate drop below 150 beats per minute. There were no video games to distract you, no web to surf. You couldn't watch a movie from Blockbuster... there were no videotapes and therefore no Blockbuster. Television consisted of just a few channels filled with daytime soaps, and My Favorite Martian didn't come on until 7 at night.

Faced with that reality, running around like a banshee was the only distraction in town. But when you were younger, the only result was that you ran out of breath. Now that I'm elderly, as my doctor points out, I have to pay more attention to my body and all those little aches and pains. That sore back is just as liable to be a pinched nerve as an extra game of tennis, that stomachache an ulcer as much as an extra burrito. I've spent the last 45 years getting in touch with my own physical plant. Up until now, it's had relatively little to say. Suddenly, it wants to light up the party line.

I know that this is what happens when you get to be middle aged. But like all those who plan on living until 120, that means I'm not even half way there. So why are my ilk and I coping with all of the things that befall people of much more advanced years? All around me I see contemporaries with hearing aids, pain relievers and knee braces. Conversations can just as easily be held on the state of the Yankees as on which cholesterol medication we're taking. The sideline at a casual game of tennis or a pickup game of basketball is looking less like a Nike ad, and more like the Detroit Lions trainer's room after a loss.

My father, who's slowing down somewhere north of 70, nailed the conundrum. As he sees it, just when he's got the time and the money and the schedule to do all the things he's waited for his whole life, his body decided it would throw all kinds of annoying curve balls into the process. When asked to describe his feelings, he just smiles and laughs it off, though in an introspective moment he'll allow that he feels betrayed. Or put by another friend more succinctly, "Growing old sucks."

While I refuse to let it slow me down, I can certainly sympathize with that sentiment. Taking the last plane out and the first plane back is getting harder. A short nap before bedtime seems more and more appropriate. Helping out at Little League practice necessitates a two-hour convalescence. Just as having more checks doesn't mean you have more money, so too having the ability to squeeze in more activities does not equate to having the stamina to do them.

For me, this new world order comes home to roost most poignantly on Saturday mornings. A pinched nerve in my back means I can't lie in bed too long. So I get up and go for a jog, which usually helps to straighten out the kinks. About 2 miles in, the pain in my spine fades away... just about the time the burning from my hernia starts to catch fire. But that dissipates quickly at the end of my five-mile loop... just as my knees are stating to creak. So I go to take the weight off of them by lying down... and my back starts to hurt. To say that I feel like I'm chasing my own tail would be an accurate summation.

On the other hand, I've got no major diseases, no degenerative disorders. Other than the inevitable squeaks and rattles than can be expected from normal wear and tear, I'm still relatively low mileage with a dependable engine puttering along on an unbent frame. Lord knows that I'm no Mercedes, but I'm confident that I'm a few steps above a Hugo.

After just one season, the WWF pulled the plug on the XFL. Seems that the fan support just wasn't there to sustain the league, which was supposed to feature unbridled action, trash talking and in-your-face coverage. Unable to deliver on those promises caused viewers to find something better to do with 2 hours a week than watch a game. Well, while I too may not be in sufficient shape for prime time, at least I'm a long way from cancelled. Mark me down more like an old Timex commercial: I seem to be taking more of a licking, but I keep on ticking.


Marc Wollin of Bedford runs 20 miles a week, but it never gets easier. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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