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Male Fitness in the Middle Ages: Not a Historical Essay

7 mins

You haven’t been to the gym since Little House on the Prairie was a prime time hit. Yes, you have entered a demographic they call The Active Adult. In your case the verb in that descriptor is wildly inaccurate. A few equipment-free body exercises will help launch your new era of tuning up.

Table of Contents

Things … are different. If you didn't know better, you would think you were getting older.

Your co-workers seem to be skewing younger and younger. When you all meet at a bar for an after hours drink, someone inevitably orders you an Old Fashioned amid much smirking. There are other indications that you are being run over by the march of time. 

Your Johnny Carson impression used to get loads of appreciative laughter. Hoo boy! You have that impression down cold!

And your Anthony Newley?! Holy cow, what brilliance! All those dramatic gestures and swooping around the room, the over-expressive singing. That used to really crack them up, the whole office applauding and laughing... 

OMG, your Bette Davis impression? Who can do Bette Davis like you can? Nobody, that’s who! Maybe Bette Davis at one time, but Ms. Davis has left the planet. Jerry Lewis? That nutty impression was the talk of the office! And now? Nada.

Your young co-workers take in your once-beloved portfolio of Hollywood impressions with wide blinking eyes and frozen smiles. Your attempts at office humor hush the room with a deafening stillness even the crickets don't want to interrupt. One time your wildly flailing Jerry Lewis act cleared the conference room, people desperately tripping over each other to get out like escapees from a four-alarm fire. What's happening? Is it them or is it you?

It’s you.


Helloooooo! You have become the scary, mildly intriguing Older Coworker™. At weekly department stand-ups, your comments now draw solicitous facial expressions and vigorous nods; like the overwrought support you used to throw at the office Old Guy when you first started. Remember? 

Everyone would be discussing KPIs and Rodney would bark something like “The place needs more staplers!” To which you and your young colleagues would nod vigorously, eyebrows arching with empathy and affirmation — like the huge-eyed children in bad garage sale paintings.

Rodney near the end of his tenure
Now you are receiving those same signals when you make a comment in a meeting, all the young heads turning as one to over-assure you of your relevance. Face it. You’ve become the new Rodney. It's time to reassess.

Exercise for the Vine-Ripened Adult

You have entered a demographic they call The Active Adult. Notice how pairing “active” and “adult” suggests these are typically mutually exclusive terms. 

It’s true; last time you were at the gym, your favorite show was about a frontier family living on a prairie! (What the hell?!) Now you’re eager to get back into shape, but fear pulling a hamstring at the drinking fountain.
How to re-approach actual fitness at your age (which is still comparatively young!) without blowing something out? Is it even necessary? Harvard Medical School describes what you're facing. Their fancy schmancy young doctors tell us that for men, middle age includes a loss of elasticity in blood vessels, a dip in testosterone levels, and the swapping out of lean muscle for a butterball layer of body fat.

Pshaw! What else you got, Harvard Medical School? "After the age of 25, the average man's maximum heart rate declines by about one beat per minute, per year."
Okay. The theme seems to be in the “decline” category. You win this round, Harvard Medical School.

Go Gently Into That Good Gym: Your Living Room

 For a guy your age (quite young, actually!) experts recommend 150 to 300 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week — like running, swimming or cycling — and strength training twice a week. If this sounds like hell on Earth, that may be an indicator of your readiness for rehabilitation. There are ways to ease yourself back into a life of fitness.

Middle-aged Man®, here are some low-impact exercises that will get your heart going, make you stronger, add to you energy, and give you the ability to lift one end of a parked pickup truck—like Steve Austin in that episode of The Six-Million Dollar Man. You know the one.

Middle Age Workout Magic: Lunges 

Not to be confused with “lunches” (a misunderstanding evident in your waistline), lunges are great for exercising your butt, hamstrings, quads, and calves. If you have no experience with lunges, it's recommended you begin free-handed -- without weights. As your conditioning improves you can add to the workout by holding a weight, which increases the difficulty as you rise. 

NOTE: "completely bald and faceless" is not a prerequisite for this exercise.

Your back and abs will also get ancillary benefit from lunges, and your knees will be strengthened. "How do I do lunges?"

  1. Stand straight with your feet spread to hip-width.
  2. Put your right leg forward…
  3. Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Your right shin should be vertical ...
  4. To stand straight again, put weight on your right heel and raise yourself to you starting position. 
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Middle Age Workout Magic: Squats

Doing squats will naturally help tune up your balance. Simply lower yourself slowly from a standing position, keeping your back straight, like you’re preparing to sit in a chair. Note: THERE IS NO CHAIR. Don’t forget that on the way down or your meeting with the floor will be humiliating.

Keep going lower with straightened back until your thighs are parallel to the floor, your elbows lightly touching your knees. Hold that position for 5 seconds, and slowly stand upright again.

Keep the back as vertical as possible during the squat. If squats are a new exercise for you, aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps three times a week.

Again: balance, mobility, butt, hamstrings and quads. If someone walking by your house sees you doing squats through the window, pretend you are picking something up. Oh, and wave.

Middle Age Workout Magic: Pushups

Pushups principally work the arms and chest, but your heart will start loping along, too — just to get the oxygen to your startled muscles. If this delightful exercise is a brand new addition to your fitness regimen, start with 2 sets of 10 pushups, with a 30-second rest between them. 

Whether two sets of 10 are pitiably easy or surprisingly difficult, recalibrate. You’ll know when you have found a sustainable beginner's sweet spot. 

Before this and all exercises—while in your “getting back to fitness” phase —  you may want to notify the neighbors what you will be doing, lest your mid-pushup cries of alarm compel your well-meaning neighbors to call the police. 

Middle Age Workout Magic: Carries

It makes sense, doesn’t it? You have to carry stuff all the time. Yes, for the past several years you’ve been taking elaborate measures to avoid carrying things, but now you are back in the fitness saddle.

For starters, simply pick up a 5lb weight—a dumbbell or kettle bell, something with a handle will be best— and walk around with it until you feel the need to sit. Take a little break and then get back to it. 

Carries improve grip strength (which will come in handy once you start pumping iron or baling hay), balance, and give you awareness of your core while improving your posture. There are also benefits to your shoulder rotator cuff and upper back.

This exercise can be implemented anytime. When your life partner asks you to take out the garbage, walk around the block with it several times. Take care your shoes don't become fouled with garbage juice.

Middle Age Workout Magic: Walking

Possibly you’ve heard of this exotic body movement. Ordinary walking has so many benefits, people tend to think praises for this basic exercise are overblown. They’re not.

Walking strengthens your muscles, keeps your joints flexible, boosts your mood (thanks to your enduring pal dopamine), raises your stamina, and literally strengthens your bones.

For starters, try walking 10 minutes per day for the first few weeks. After that, build up the duration by 5 minutes a week with the goal of reaching a 30-minute walk per day, six days a week. Get a wrist or phone pedometer to track your distance, speed, and number of steps covered.

Almost immediately you will feel a difference. Walking is so crazily effective you’ll feel embarrassed you didn’t start sooner. Don't look too delighted while doing it, though, or passerby may regard you with suspicion.  

The Middle Age Workout and the Human Condition

When you were a kid you would watch with fascination as older couples walked briskly side by side through the neighborhood, pumping their elbows and energetically tossing their heads as they maintained a deliberate, rapid gait. It confused you no end. Admit it -- seeing those springy older couples filled you with a strange kind of wonder. 

Well, this is the circle of life you may have heard of. Not the euphemistic one we nervously invoke when a lion tackles and eats an adorable gazelle on TV. The other one.

We grow, we learn, our lives deepen.  Age isn’t the enemy. A narrowing of abilities is. Raking the leaves shouldn't make you feel you've been beaten with lead pipes. A little exercise goes a long way. It doesn’t take much to feel ten times better than your former sedentary self.

Best of all? Your new energy at work — your wit, your bounce, your radiant positivity — will likely confuse your young colleagues even more; something to look forward to. Now all you have to do is explain Jerry Lewis. Good luck.


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