Getting older is one of those things that seems to have caught up with me very quickly. One minute I was 40, then 50 and now at 57 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 am really enjoying the experience of getting older, the quietening down of life and the intuitiveness that seems to come with it. HIV is no longer something I feel concerned about – in fact, it is very much a backwater in my life. Everything is under control, and has been for a long time, so as far as I am concerned it is no longer an issue. It is just something that is, and is so integrated into my life that it is not a seperate issue.
However, there are aspects of ageing that I have not liked. I may be approaching 60 but there is much about the contemporary world that I love – like the latest music (and I still collect dance music) and technology and all the wonders it brings for starteres. I still like to dress well (though I try to avoid the mutton dressed as lamb scenario), I still groom myself well and like the fact that despite my age I can still look pretty good when I hit the streets. However, 12 months 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 (most of it in its original black shade) 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 becoming flabby with a very discernable spare tire waistline, flabby tits, mishapen arse and bad posture. I was actually starting to look so “old” that it was starting 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), and the doctor had started me on cholesterol meds, which was an additional pill that I really wasn’t happy about having to take.
Like others that I know, 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 preceived that gay men looked like. They posed, preened, plucked, depilated and fake-tanned, and when they went oiut to the bars, only ever hung around with, and picked up, guys who looked like themselves. I made sure I hung around with the scrawny brigade so as not to feel out of place. It was a form of body fascism that I disliked then, and still do. However, a move to the outer edges of the Inner West brought about a change in my thinking and perceptions. With the body rapidly getting out of shape, with my self-esteem taking a beating, and with the prospect of 60 looming (and a potentially rickity ride into an unhealthy mature years) it was time to do something about it, so it was off to the gym in Marrickville. The fact that I added the word ‘gym’ to my vocabulary was a good start.
I loved – and still do – the gym, which sort of came as a bit oif a shock to me. From the word go I was made to feel comfortable, and a lot of the fallacies that I attributed to going to the gym were dispelled. To start with, no one else cares about what you are doing, and nobody is actually watching and assessing you (except yourself). Everyone else is too busy doing their own thing, and are too much in their own world to care about what you are up to. I had an initial assessment with a personal trainer who in no way criticised how I
looked, but she did help me to set some goals – the major ones being that I wanted to get fit, I wanted to loose excess fat, generally tighten my whole body up, fix my posture and inprove my general health. I wanted 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 weight, as weight wasn’t the problem. The other encouraging thing I found about just going to a local gym was the number of other mature aged men and women who were there, and 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 dare I say it – Tony Abbott (hate his politics but admire him for his committment to fitness) – have given us a new way of looking at ourselves as we get older.
So, having set goals, and having been given 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 starting with, and 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 again can get 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 my 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. I noticed my pecs tightening up and starting to show a firm profile, muscles appeared in my arms. My energy levels also increased, as did my flexibilty. My self-esteem started to go through the roof, and in turn this promted 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. It was noticeable at the gym how regular I was and how hard I worked, and the gym staff gave me a lot of encouragement.
So, after the 10 weeks in the beginners studio it was time for another assessment, and a harder program of work, starting in what I jokingly called “the big boys room” where all the weights and serious resistence equipment are. 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. Now, I’m sure everyone knows from my last column that I cook, 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, without adding supplements, 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 (I 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 repititions on the Ultimate Abdominal machine at the gym, and a lot of suspension work (whereby you suspend yourself, and lift your legs as high as you can for as long as you can, or hold your legs out at a 90° angle – you can really feel the pull on your abs). 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 New Years weekend this year 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 (I have peripheral neuopathy…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 (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 work with weights, and is very dynamic and 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 now. 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. The routine (all Les Mills classes are done in most gyms these days, so it doesn’t matter where you go, you will always know what to expect from a class) changes every three months, so just as you are getting bored with it, it changes. 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, and to a new gym and environment a bit unsettling.I have just got back into my two Pump classes, and will probably get back to my resistence work sometime in the next couple of weeks.
So, what has the end result of all this been. To be honest, the result has been staggering. I still look in the mirror and think to myself “Is that really you?”. I have my hips and arse back big time, and can walk around in a singlet without feeling embarrassed. I have pecs, I have muscled arms and legs. My posture has improved, as has my energy levels and my flexibility. I have gone off my cholesterol meds. My self esteem has gone through the roof, and I can honestly say that I feel absolutely fantastic, and that is reflected in how I look and dress. I have come to realise that there is more to me than I ever thought there was – I can set goals and challenges and achieve them, I can push myself beyond my limits when I have a reason to, and that I can establish routines and stick to them when I have an end objective. I now feel that I can go into my elder years truly fit and healthy, and that in many ways that is going to help cut back the risks that I would have faced without going through this metamorphisis. I can move forward knowing that I am still flexible, that high blood pressure and cholesterol aren’t going to plague me, and that problems that result from being over-weight have pretty well been eliminated.
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 – 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 are endless, both in your public and private life. Look good and feel good – you’ll thank yourself for it.