Archive for the 'health' Category


The metaphysics of Athletes and Age

There comes a time when age causes an athletes decline. But how long can the decline be held off?

Longer than most believe. The natural decline in athletic ability is primarily a function of disuse, not actually aging. Take any 18 year old kid and sit him on the couch all day. He’ll undergo the same effects of detraining that a 40 year old person does. When we were young, we wanted to explore the world, to get out and move and challenge ourselves. As we grow older, we find our comfort zones. We also have many responsibilities, such as work and children. And of course, not everyone has the desire to be an athlete. But exercise is good for us. Not only our bodies but our minds, receive many benefits from exercise. It’s a great mood-lifter as well.

Recently, athletes like Dara Torres have gained the spot light. Torres proved many doubters wrong when at 41 years of age, she won the silver medal in a swimming event in this past Olympics.

In my mind the greatest active American athlete is Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong is 37 years old years old. His victories in the Tour de France are the stuff of legend. Recently, he announced that he’s coming out of retirement to compete in what may be the most grueling athletic event on the planet. Armstrong embodies what I believe is the core ethos of athletes and those in my profession (soldiers). He never quits. Here’s a quote from Armstrong: “Pain is temporary, it may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” He beat cancer. And most satisfying–he beat the damnable French at their own sport–and they hate him. They spit on him as he smoked past them to Tour victories. They chided and called him nasty names. But Armstrong–I can see it in him–does exactly what I do. He draws on an inner anger that makes him, momentarily, into the Ubermensch. I’ve seen too, that he knows his past experiences with cancer and loss have made him much better than he would have been otherwise.

For me, at my age, athletics is more metaphysical than physical. I’m 37. I prove to myself and others that I can still compete and I hope I can inspire others along the way. I learn about myself when I train and compete. Yes, the body hurts in ways it didn’t used to. My back and knees. But I won’t need those forever, and they’re of no use anyways if I don’t keep them strong and use them.

In his classic treatise on strength and health: The Way To Live , George Hackenschmidt states that wrestlers peak in their early 50’s. Hackenschmidt wrestled in the early 1900’s. At the age of 85 he could reportedly do standing vertical leaps over the back of a chair. He feats of strength during his prime are astounding, even by modern standards. Was “Hack” correct”? Is a person of 50 capable of competing at the highest levels?

Maybe. Injuries will be the aging athletes major obstacle. For as we age, we accumulate dings and dents that continue to get worse. Also, Hack was speaking of wrestling, which is a very technical sport, in addition to being a power and endurance sport.

There are many technical things I could go into here about how older athletes should train. Plyometrics, the importance of resistance training for older athletes etc. That, however, is beyond the scope of this article. I’d like people to consider the benefits of athletics and exercise that go beyond being the popular captain of the high school football team. The older I get, the more I learn from everything I do. That includes training. It’s no longer just about building muscle and running faster. It’s about mental toughness, never giving up, and exploring one’s boundaries.


On Fitness and Diet

It was my father who first got me into fitness when I was young. Little boys want to be like Dad, and my Dad would do some pretty weird fitness routines when I was young. He was usually training for a canoe race, or just burning off excess physical energy.

He was a welder at St. Regis mill in Maine, and the men he worked with called him the Three Million Dollar Man. I’m not sure if he was half of Steve Austin’s height, or capabilities, but it didn’t matter to me: He was cool. He’d walk on his hands around the living room, or hold onto one toe while jumping over his leg with his one planted foot. All of this from a guy who was over 40. He had virtually no body fat either, and looked young enough that people used to think he was my older brother.

When we were out to camp, I’d be sitting on the beach and he’d wake up to me. “Time to go for a run, Doug.” We’d run around the lake on the beach. People would look at us like we were nuts. I guess we were. Then we’d paddle the canoe around the lake or we may paddle to some remote location like “Thirty Nine Tannery,” at which lie the ruins of an old tanning facility. I’d help port the canoe, which built some pretty tremendous upper-body strength for a 10 year old.

Because of all this, I always did really well in my fitness tests in Junior High and High School. I was a little kid, but it didn’t hold me back.

I think I was blessed with a combination of good genes, and a father who knew how to make exercise fun. There was always some random physical challenge he’d come up with, and he never shorted me on praise.

I think that the attitudes he passed down to me are still of help, as I routinely max my physical tests and am told that I look much younger than I am. So, from Dad I learned that physical training should be fun and random. One day I may lift weights, another I may go for a run or just a walk. I rock-climb, do body-weight exercises, just about everything you can imagine.

In recent years, two types of training have been of considerable benefit. The Combat Conditioning routines advocated by the controversial Matt Furey (It’s an all body weight routine) and working with Russian Kettlebells. Kettlebells are iron balls with handles on them. You can do various swings and presses wih them, and they build an excellent balance of strength and endurance. One other form of exercise that I like and science has proved to be a great training protocol, is interval sprinting and hill sprinting.

I plan to begin training with kettlebells again as soon as I’m out of AIT.

As far as diet goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Some say 5 or 6 small meals a day is the way to go. Most experts agree, but from what I’ve noticed, these experts don’t appear to be in very good physical condition themselves.

Here’s what I’ve found to be effective, and what recent science is suggesting may be of great benefit. It’s called controlled fasting, and yes, it’s controversial. The person who got me onto this is named Ori Hofmekler, and his book–The Warrior Diet–has helped a lot of people with their energy levels. It’s premise is that the best diet is one large meal at the end of the day, with some nuts or small amounts of fruit during the earlier parts of the day. Coffee is advocated, which of course I like. The diet may not be for everyone, and I personally don’t agree with everything that Hofmekler says, but he does back his ideas with science, and my own experiences say there’s something to his ideas. Mice, subjected to a fast, then given the opportunity to eat as much as they pleased lived approx. 30% longer than mice who were fed a normal diet. This occured without the normal negative effects of reduced calorie diets (muscle loss, lowered labido, loss of strength).

To sum up my overall attitudes about fitness and diet:

1) Make exercise fun.

2) Don’t make exercise something that breaks you down. It should build you, and make you feel more energenic.

3) Eat instinctively and naturally. You know what you want to eat, but the easiest and quickest food available may be what you grab for. Resist the urge and eat natural food as much as you can.

4) Finally–don’t make your eating too Spartan. Treat yourself every-so-often and if you have a food you don’t believe you can live without, eat it. I like beer and wine. I also like ice cream. I eat them and drink them in moderation and my results are fine. And, actually beer and wine in moderation are probably a good thing. Here’s to Heineken and Merlot.

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