Body Work

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According to the 2013 report from the Bureau of Statistics, 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. An estimated 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study) showed that 1.7 million Australians have diabetes but that up to half of the cases of type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed. By 2031 it is estimated that 3.3 million Australians will have type 2 diabetes (Vos et al., 2004) – stats from Diabetes Australia. Throw an ageing population into the mix, and you have a nightmare. These statistics are nothing short of frightening. Every day we are inundated with conflicting impressions – both in reality and in the media – of body image. On the one hand we have a population becoming so obese it is bordering on terrifying. If the trend is not halted, the cost of health care is going to spiral up at a frightening rate. On the other hand, we are also inundated with images of sculpted 6 and 8 packs, biceps and pecs that are almost impossible for us to obtain, let alone maintain. They fill my newsfeed with promos from gyms, supplement companies, models, celebrities, health and fitness magazines, clothing and underwear companies. What seems to be missing is a healthy norm. And gay and HIV+ people we are not exempt from the fat/thin dialectic. And some of it seems to be based in history. There is some research into the problem that indicates that for many long-term survivors the problem is a flow-on from the dismal days of the 80s and 90s, when emaciated bodies were a common sight. To them, over-weight means healthy. It appears that the longer people are healthy, the more common it becomes to end up over-weight or obese. This trend signals a need for doctors to change their approach to caring for HIV positive people. It’s time to shift the focus to the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure and weight gain. The problems of being at both extremes affects us as a population in general, and I think it heeds to be tackled from as many angles as possible.

Getting older is one of those things that seems to have crept up on me very quickly. One day I was 40, then 50 and now at 59 rapidly approaching 60. I’m not complaining. I’ve survived AIDS – with a couple of disabilities but nothing to hold me back – and when all is said and done I’m actually enjoying the experience of getting older, that quietening down of life and the intuitiveness that seems to come with it. HIV is no longer something I am concerned about – in fact, it is very much a backwater in my life. My health is under control, and has been for a long time, so as far as I am concerned it is not even an issue. Some things, even disabilities, become so integrated into your life that you just carry on regardless.

However, there are aspects of ageing that I have not liked. I may be approaching 60 but I live very much in the contemporary world. There is a lot about it I love, like the latest music – I still collect dance music; technology and all the wonders it brings; the sheer quantity of goods available for sale, and I am unashamedly a consumer. I still like to dress well, though I try to avoid the mutton-dressed-as-lamb scenario. No skinny jeans for this boy! i still groom myself well, look after my skin, and like the fact that despite my age I can still look pretty good when I hit the streets. However, 4 years ago I started to notice things about my body that were in stark contrast to what I liked to think and feel about myself. Having been blessed with good genes that have allowed me to keep all my hair – and still all black – and for most of my life a slim profile I was disconcerted to find that gravity was finally having its wicked way and changing – for the worst – my body shape. I was flabby with a very discernible spare tire waistline, flabby tits, mishapen arse and bad posture. I was actually starting to look so “old” that it was beginning to depress me and really knocked my self-esteem around. It also didn’t fit in with how I dressed and groomed myself and I was really aware of the fact that I wouldn’t go out in anything that clung to me, or in anyway showed off my body shape. To make matters worse, I started to go up in clothing sizes, from SM to M in shirts, and from 32” trousers and shorts to 34”. I wasn’t happy! Other nasty things that were happening were finding myself sitting on the edge of the bed to put on trousers and shorts, having my partner comment on how bad my posture was getting – that was a real “shit – is it” moment. The doctor starting me on cholesterol meds, which was an additional pill on top of what I was already taking, was a real eye-opener.

When I lived in the Eastern Suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s, I made a decision – despite the fashion for toned bodies at the time – to avoid going to the gym. They were places full of gay guys who were there not to get fit but to mould themselves into an image of what it was perceived that gay men should look like. They posed, preened, plucked, depilated and fake-tanned, and when they went out to the bars, only ever hung around with, and picked up, guys who were mirror images of themselves. To ensure I never felt out-of-place I hung with the scrawny brigade. I viewed the gym bunnies as body fascists, and in some respects still do. However, a move to the outer edges of the Inner West brought about a change in my thinking and perceptions. Then I had my “mirror” moment! Stepping out of the shower one morning, I caught sight if myself in the mirror, and the first thing that crossed my mind was…who is the tubby old man in the bathroom. That was a provocative moment, and the impetus for change. Burdened with the prospect of the body rapidly getting out of shape, with my self-esteem taking a beating, along with the prospect of 60 looming, with a potentially rickety ride into unhealthy mature years imminent, it was time to do something about it. The word “gym” entered my vocabulary.

I loved – and still do – the gym, which sort of came as a bit oif a shock to me. From the word go I felt comfortable, and a lot of the fallacies that I attributed to going to the gym were dispelled. For starters, no one gives a fuck about what you are doing, and nobody is actually watching and assessing you – except yourself. Everyone there is too much in their own world to care about what you are up to. An initial assessment with a Personal Trainer helped me to set some goals – the major ones being to get fit. I also wanted to loose excess fat, generally tighten my whole body up, fix my posture and improve my general health. I aspired to reclaim my hips and arse, both of which had long ago disappeared. In other words, I had a determination to transform myself. And at 72kg, I wanted to do all this without losing too much weight, as weight wasn’t the problem. The other noticeable thing was the number of other mature aged men and women who were there, really working hard and doing their best to get fit and healthy. There is now a few older role models around to encourage us to do something about being fit and older. Actors like Rob Lowe (God, how hot is that man), Rick Springfield (who despite his demons looks fabulous for someone in his 60’s), and Robson Green, who looked so hot in “Being Human” he almost gecame a masturbation fantasy.

So, goals set, and with a regime to follow, it was off to the beginners studio for a 10 week starters program. The first week…I suffered. Every muscle ached, and I looked at the piss-weak weights I was using, wondering if I was ever going to be able to do things at the heavier end. And don’t think it doesn’t get tedious! Doing the same routines over and over gets very boring. I started to vary things myself, made a lot of changes to what had been set out for me and found that helped me to get through the boredom barrier. I started going three days a week, for 1 hour each visit. And I bloody worked hard! Nothing was going to deter me from the goals. Within 7 weeks of starting, the miracles began. I was using a lot of resistance equipment, and found that the weights started to increase. The spare tire didn’t just reduce – it disappeared. My pecs tightened up and I started to show a firm profile. Muscles even appeared in my arms. My energy levels also increased, as did my flexibility. My self-esteem started to go through the roof, and in turn this prompted me to work harder, to really start to challenge myself. At the end of the 10 weeks, I looked fantastic. I couldn’t believe just how different I looked and felt. I started getting encouragement from others, and that really started me pushing the limits.

So, after the 10 weeks in the beginners studio it was time for another assessment, and a harder program, starting in what I jokingly called “the big boys room” where all the weights and serious resistance equipment was. I continued to flog myself three days a week, still for a total of three hours a week, and the changes continued. I was still having some problems getting a flat stomach – I wasn’t after a six-pack…I could probably get one but at my age it would be a constant battle to maintain it – so the tweaking of our diet at home started. Thankfully I love cooking, so doing a diet tweak wasn’t a big issue as I knew that I had the recipes to over-ride any chance of blandness or boredom. I should point out that I don’t approve of diets, especially fad ones, but I do believe that you can create a healthy diet for yourself without going to extremes, and without cutting out carbs and proteins. Your body needs these things to function properly – it is all a matter of proportion and balance. We cut out a lot of fatty foods, a lot of sugar – have a terrible sweet tooth so this wasn’t easy – and increased the amount of raw vegetables, fish and poultry in our diet. This helped a lot, as well as a lot of repetitions on the Ultimate Abdominal machine at the gym, and a lot of time in the suspension frame. So I pulled, and pushed and strained and grunted through the main weight floor of the gym for the next 3 months.

By this stage, I have to say that I was starting to find it harder and harder to get myself to the gym to go through the routines. I realised that I needed to add some sort of variety to
my program, so at the New Years weekend I decided to do my first class. I looked at all the alternatives, and assessed what I thought I could do, and couldn’t do. I have done yoga before, and enjoyed it, but felt that it wasn’t dynamic enough to maintain the body profile I was aiming for. I still haven’t tried Pilates, but it is on my list. Anything that involved balance was out due to peripheral neuropathy in the feet…the numb type, not the painful. This means I have no feeling in my feet and ankles. Anything involving too much co-ordination was out as I’m unco-ordinated at the best of times, and anything done in dark rooms – such as Spin – was out, as I’m partially blind and have night-blindness. So, this left me with Body Pump, a class that involves dynamic work with weights, and is very muscle and cardio-orientated. You really push your heart rate up doing these classes. I found I really loved Pump, and have stuck with it right through to recently. I avoid lunges for balance reasons, and do squats instead, which means a double session of squats every class, which can really push you to your limits, especially when you have 25- 28 kgs of weight sitting on your upper back to add to the challenge. So, I started doing two morning classes a week on Monday and Friday, and usually the token male in the class at that time of day, and did one day a week in the weight room to work whatever muscles didn’t get worked in the class.

Having just moved from Sydney to Brisbane, I found the break in routine disconcerting, and it took time to get back into the rhythm. But a deal from our local Goodlife gym got me back into the groove, and I returned to my Body Pump class. Having done this weights class for four years now it has its disadvantages. Because of the pace of the class, you don’t really have the opportunity to challenge yourself, as you don’t have the time to swap and change weights. It had reached the stage where I was really using the class for its cardio benefit, and boy don’t you get a cardio workout! I have had three different resistance workout programs on the main floor, including a isometric/fitness ball/body weight program which I derived a lot of benefit from.. However, we have moved on again.

I have now gotten so tied up in the fitness and health lifestyle that this year I decided to get my Certificate III in Fitness at Southbank Institute of Technology. This has had an incredible influence on how I now view fitness in general, and exercise. A dispute with my Goodlife gym when they ripped me off when canceling my membership – DO NOT USE GYMS THAT TIE YOU INTO CONTRACTS – has meant I have moved on to a new gym and now use my local Jetts’. So, no group fitness classes any more, but with my new knowledge I’ve also moved on from that style of exercise. Having used gyms now for four years to just get fit and maintain it, it’s time to up the ante. There is nothing wrong with just staying fit, but without a real challenge it can be demotivating. Personal Trainers are affordable through Jetts. If you can workout unsupervised, you pay them a monthly “retainer”, and once a month they do your body fat and muscle mass measurements, do a fitness test and set you up with a new program. I am now moving on from general fitness, into the world of hypertrophy – building up muscle strength and mass. This really is starting to push my limits, and is really inspiring me to challenge myself. Six weeks in and big changes are happening already. I am slowly starting to bulk up, and my strength has increased considerably. I’m starting to pump weights that really surprise me, and every time I think to myself “I’ll never get through more than one set at this weight”…I get up to three sets. Limitations really are in your mind. I am also now doing what I said I would never do – supplements. I use a pre and post workout amino acid supplement, and mid-workout boost supplement. Why…well, I’ve been researching, and the consensus seems to be that they are beneficial. And they really do give you a boost, aid the prevention of muscle fatigue during my workout, and help with muscle recovery after. They only seem to last for the period of my workout, so no lingering affects. However, I had stipulations; they couldn’t overtax my system, had to have some ongoing body fat burning benefit – called thermogenesis – and no side effects. I have around 8% body fat that I shouldn’t have, and it is sitting around my stomach and hips – typical male – and just will not go. Time to get the big guns out! My goal for this summer is to appear at the pool in Speedos, and not feel self-conscious. I don’t feel the need to have a six or eight-pack abs, but I would like a “V” shape, and a flat stomach. I feel that goal is within reach at this time.

So at this point in time, where do we sit? Our diet continues, but no longer to lose weight. It is now being used to maintain it. We have lived low fat/low sugar/portion-controlled for a couple of years now, and it has been very successful, and easy to maintain. With my new routine there will be some changes as I need to increase my calorie intake to about 2000 kilojoules a day so the body gets enough energy for the now tougher workouts, and I need to add in more fruit – I have never been a big fruit eater – so have started adding bananas and berries into my diet. I look great. I’m trim, have full flexibility, heaps of energy, and some body definition now. The cholesterol meds have gone bye-bye, one of the great benefits of being fit and healthy. I am now hopefully looking forward to a progressive ageing that will see me avoiding most, if not all, of the illnesses and crippling conditions currently associated with getting older. No walking sticks, Zimmer frames or mobility carts for this boy! I intend to be still pumping out sets of squats when i’m 80 – just watch me!

What would I recommend to other guys my age? If you smoke…STOP! If you have a bad diet…FIX IT – it’s not rocket science. Don’t think that walking the dog is all you need to do. You need to exert some energy! you need to sweat! If you are over-weight, do something about it! Look at the long-term, not the short. It is not about having the body beautiful, though it helps. It is about being fit and healthy, and prolonging your prospects for good health and wellbeing as you progress through the years. Don’t think, like I did, that looking fit and healthy is just for the young. The flow-on affects of a good exercise routine and good diet are endless, both in your public and private life. Look good and feel good – you’ll thank yourself for it

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2013

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