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"Men, Aging, and Physical Fitness"

On Consciously Training at 56 for an Adirondack Climb

the Challenge

In December, I was fifty-seven. Even I can't deny I'm getting older. Somehow, though, the shame I once felt about being an older man has decreased considerably. The proof? I can tell someone my age and stay connected to them. I can hear myself say I'm fifty-seven and stay conscious.

Part of this healing has come through helping me father to accept his age. At 83, he was still lifting engine blocks, a hell of a thing for a son to have to live up to. Still, when he hurt his back doing this at 83, he became so depressed I realized he had yet to even consider he was getting older. In fact, he admittedf to me, after much poking and prodding, that yes, indeed, he was still seeing himself as physically capable of doing what he had done in his twenties!

Helping him to realize his real physical age has helped me accept my own aging, including my uphill battle regarding my declining physical fitness. Sometimes, though, I forget this struggle and like my father, base my estimates of my physical strength on what I remember myself having been capable of when I was still young. An example? My friends Ed's invitation to join him and five other men for a three day climb in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks.

Did I accept? Yes, I'm afraid I did. And I'm still sorting out what posessed me to accept this invitation.

My guess. Men, no matter what their age, love challenges, especially physical challenges. And whatever the case with men in general, I, and most of my male friends, love physical challenges. Thus, accepting Ed's invitation came with a burst of joy. And concern.

The joy: a very fit younger man, Ed, believed I was fit enough to keep up with two twenty-six year olds and three thirty-something year olds. On a three day climb. In the high peaks region of New York.

The concern: At the he asked me, I was less than four months shy of 57 and knew all too well, this climb is dangerous. Thus, I wondered if I was over estimating my ability at 57. I wondered if I would actually be able to pull it off.

Was I Crazy?

Now let me qualify the things I've just said. I said I've come to feel pretty good about me and being 56. I also said I accepted an invitation to a very challenging physical mountain climb. So how can I be accepting my age and accept an invitation to climb what for men much younger than I am is a heck of a challenge? Was I crazy?

My answer is simply this: I was very conscious when I accepted Ed's invitation. In fact, I can still picture the moment he asked me. And by conscious, I mean I was very aware and could picture what I was commiting to do: I was committing to do eleven weeks of what is surely some of the most exhausting physical training I've even done. I was also committing to lose a significant amount of weight, 10 - 15 pounds, and I was committing to improve my general level of arobic fitness, muscle fitness, and balance to the point it was at, at least ten years prior, when I was still rock climbing regularly.

Would I be able to do it? More important, could I do this and stay conscious, including the possibility that I would not be able to do it?

When I asked myself this question, I knew I was safe. I would do my best and then evaluate my physical readiness when the day to climb came. Further, I would use this quest as a way to explore getting older and how physical fitness affects food and weight.

The prospects for new learning excited me. Soon, I had outlined a plan.

My Plan

My plan?

I divided the eleven weeks into weekly increments, then divided my goals into three categories; weight loss, gym training, and actual climbs.

For actual climbs, I committed to do an average of two climbs a week for an average of an hours plus each climb.

For my weight, I committed to lose roughly sixteen pounds, not the most I've lost, but certainly a lot considering I have six weight ranges within this loss. And that sixteen pounds in eleven weeks may be quite stressful and might impact my fitness for the climb.

My starting weight? 184. My goal. 168, my weight at the peak of my climbing fitness some ten years prior. I charted this out and hoped for the best.

Finally, for my indoor training, I chose to use a treadmill with progressive increases in both wrist and ankle weights combined with gradually increasing loads in a backpack.

So how did this work out? And did I reach my goals?

More important, did anything of importance emerge?

Absolutely. A lot actually. Before telling you my conclusions, though, please allow me to describe the process.

Ever start training when you are very out of shape? Then you know how discouraging it can be the first few days. Breathing hard from doing what is essentially nothing at all.

This time, though, I tried to do something I've never done before. I made staying conscious my goal, my guiding principle. Th result?

I found myself being easier on me, far more than I've ever done. For instance,


(to be continued)