I didn’t understand. My father was 51 and exercised every day. He was known in the neighborhood for his big smile, powerful voice and large biceps.
How could he have had a stroke? The doctor told me that I should say my goodbyes because it would be a matter of hours, not days, before he passed away. My father lived another 17 years, albeit with partial paralysis and a speech impairment.
His disability spurred me to redouble my own efforts at exercise. I continued to feel invincible.
When I became a father, my focus and priorities changed.
Across the globe, new fathers are getting older. Several recent studies show the average age of fathers of newborns has risen to 30.9 in the U.S., 33.1 in Germany and 36.3 in Japan—from averages of around 29 in 1972.
Like any guy, I retained my desire for big arms and six-pack abs, but dancing at my daughter’s wedding and the desire to tease my son as his kids and I out-hiked him began to take up space in my imaginings about the future. The urgency increased when I had my last child at the age of 48.
That’s when I developed a deeper motivation for my fitness and wellness. I had a bigger “why.” Healthy living became a part of my identity. I started to pay attention to studies that talked about the 5% loss in muscle mass each decade after the age of 30, eventually leading to sarcopenia (degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass).
I began to notice people as young as 50 moving with a stiff gait and using an inordinate amount of effort to get up from a couch. That wasn’t going to be me.
With kids and a hectic schedule, I decided to apply the Pareto principle (whereby roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes) to my nutrition and exercise plans.
I scheduled my workouts the same way I scheduled business calls or doctor’s appointments. I planned short strength and mobility workouts of 30 minutes, four times per week.
The workouts were full-body using mainly bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, squats and handstand push-ups. I also used barbells and kettlebells for front squats, military presses, deadlifts, bench presses and curls. Curls are usually a vanity exercise, but I do them for “elbow health.”
Joints are some of the first body parts to break down as we age, with continued wear and tear often leading to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Aerobic exercise, weight-bearing activities, stretching and ice can all help maintain joint health later in life.
I’m able to keep my workouts short by using a form of circuit training called Peripheral Heart Action, which works the smaller muscles around the heart before larger muscles at the extremities and has been shown to burn fat while reducing the buildup of lactic acid. I alternate upper- and lower-body exercises and keep the rest intervals between exercises short.
When you’re older, you don’t bounce back from injury as quickly so form is more important to me now than the amount of weight lifted or the number of repetitions completed.
I keep a workout log of the exercises, number of sets and repetitions, and the amount of weight lifted so that I can constantly progress.
I bear-crawl, frog-hop, crab-walk, skip and jump outside when the weather allows. In the beginning, doing these movements felt embarrassing, but they were an important conditioning/strengthening tool and a barometer of my mobility and flexibility. If you can bear-crawl or crab-walk for one minute, you’ll be able to keep up with kids of any age.
Off days include yoga or Pilates mat work. Every day includes walking at least 7,000 steps.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, but just 30 minutes of daily physical activity can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
It seems that my father had high blood pressure that he kept hidden from the family. I now monitor my blood pressure and fasting blood sugar on a weekly basis. I restrict my diet to foods from the local farmers market or that have no more than three ingredients. Too many people make the mistake of believing that you can out-exercise a bad diet.
Improving my sleep quality is also a critical part of my wellness regimen and one I’m still working on.
Wondering how you can get more shut-eye? Read: Dads Need More Sleep Too!
When the doctor gave me my father’s prognosis those many years ago, he also warned me that there was a good probability that the same fate awaited me when I turned 50.
I recently turned 60 and can hold my own in dance contests with my 12 year-old daughter and in workouts with my 17-year-old son, who plays varsity basketball and American football.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, but I think I’ve given myself the best shot to make it to my children’s weddings and on those hikes with my yet-to-be-born grandchildren.