I Got Game

I stayed up until about 1:20 last night watching the US soccer team play Mexico in the World Cup qualifying round. And the damnedest thing was, we were playing for a tie. Playing Mexico at home in Azteca Stadium is virtually a guaranteed loss, so we were playing for the tie. A tie was a win. And we won. I mean, we tied, 0-0.

So I was thinking. At 61, working out 3 or 4 times a week at CF, I’m not really playing to win. I’m playing to tie.

I grew up watching Jack LaLanne and his dog, Happy, on black and white TV, and I remember one episode where he read some viewer mail asking whether older people could actually build muscle mass to look like him. “No”, he shook his head, “you have to do it when you are younger. Once you pass 50, you just are what you are”. I remember clearly thinking that that would never happen to me. I would start building myself up sooner or later.

Now, later, I guess I am what I am. My LDL might be descending, but I am what I am.

Meanwhile, I just came back from a marathon night at CF: I ran 6 laps in 12 minutes, 3 miles on the cyclotron (maybe more, I forget), the dreaded Circuit with the dreaded Jenn (“do your 12 reps while I set up the next machine ” – no rest for the out-of-shape). (She’s great).

And finally, exhausted, ready to leave, there was my daughter Anna starting a TRX class right in front of me. I joined in.

After a night on the hunt for fitness, I wasn’t at my best. Someone has figured out that there is an exercise method in hanging ropes from the rafters and calling it something inscrutable like TRX. I was shaking, yes, like a leaf, and feeling like my muscles were begging for forgiveness. And Anna next to me was doing superhuman things, as was the woman, maybe my age,next to her who, Anna told me later, had once run across the Sahara. 400 miles. Did I mention that I ran 1.5 miles on the treadmill tonight while watching Jeopardy?

But there I was, trying to put my toes into the rings and doing push-ups. Nope. I reverted to a yoga pose. When in doubt, do yoga.

But I’m feeling good tonight. I’m playing for the tie. I’m not trying to look like Jack LaLanne anymore, although I am eating like he did (spoiler alert!)at the end of his life (he was 96). But I’m going to prove him wrong. In the Circuit last week, Ross, a fit young man who guided me through, started chatting about March Madness, and I remarked that I hadn’t yet had the courage to enter the CF Gym, as in basketball gym.

He said he was more of a football guy but maybe we could play sometime. And I thought yeah. Let’s play some ball. (I played a lot as a kid). I’m still six foot three and I think I got a little game left. My skyhook is still a lethal weapon.

Don’t tell Ross or Jack. I’m playing to win.

 

Kickboxing: Don’t Be Afraid!

After crawling out from under a hectic schedule, I was looking for something to change up my cardio routine.  It’s been a while since I’ve tried a kickboxing class, and by that I mean somewhere in the ball park of a decade.  I vaguely remember it being a great workout, but also that it was really, really hard.  (I guess there was a reason I didn’t go back.)  It also brings up 90’s-era visuals of Billy Blanks in a shiny electric blue singlet, which may be either fun or scary, depending on your level of exposure to the “Tae-Bo” fad.

Anyway, I took notice of it on the group exercise schedule when I started here at Club Fit, but since it was labeled as an intermediate class, I stayed far away.  Even now, though I’ve been working out consistently for months, each new activity definitely makes me feel like a beginner again, and I wasn’t sure about jumping right into an intermediate class.  But this week, I considered kickboxing again, because I felt that my cardio endurance had improved (thanks to Spinning), and that my core stability had started to improve as well (thanks to Pilates), and that I had a pretty good chance of getting in a good workout without injury or a traumatically embarrassing fall.

There were definitely a lot of missed steps and a little bit of flailing around, but also a lot of sweating, a lot of using new muscles, and a lot of fun!  The music was definitely inspiring, the moves were fairly easy to follow, and there was a good amount of air-punching involved, so it’s definitely a great way to end a stressful day.  I probably shouldn’t have been so timid to try this earlier, but I won’t worry about it. Now that I’ve started to get the hang of it, I’ll definitely be back.

 

When the going gets tough…literally.

I'm a big fan of the rowing machine, thanks to my trainer, Susie.

This week has been unusually frustrating for me.  A multitude of personal commitments outside of work, both morning and night, have kept me from visiting the gym for the last 3 days.  I won’t say that’s any kind of devastating fitness drought, but it is a big deviation from my recent 5-6 visits per week.  When I exercise, I feel better and sleep better, and when I don’t, I feel stiff and lethargic.  So, feeling “blah” instead of great on top of a busy week was really starting to grate on my nerves.  Once this thought crossed my mind, a shocking realization came to me: I have become one of those people!  A person who craves exercise!

I can’t even tell you when it happened.  It’s been about 6 months since I started working out regularly, and it feels like only yesterday that I was so concerned about my ability to commit and stay motivated enough to get to the gym every day.  But when scheduling is your obstacle, and not motivation, it can be especially irritating.  The feeling of not having enough time for yourself is not a good one.

We’re now in mid-March where the weather warms up, social calendars start filling up again, and New Year’s resolutions sometimes fall by the wayside.  I can see that this is a turning point where a person could be tempted to say “this isn’t working with my lifestyle anymore, I’ll take a break and get back to it when I have more time.”  I’ve even done it myself in years past, which only led to me shamefully cancelling my gym membership a few months later.  Not this time!  The gifts that exercise has given me are too wonderful to let go of now.

This week has taught me an important lesson: no matter what you’re doing (exercise or not), it’s important to always make time for yourself, or you may find yourself tempted to give up on the thing that keeps you going.  Thankfully, one thing that IS on my busy calendar today is an appointment with Susie, and she won’t put up with any of this giving up nonsense.

Baby Steps

When I gave up meat and dairy 13 months ago, my advisors – my wife Louise and my cardiologist Dr. Ostfeld at Montefiore – assured me that those cravings for steak, chicken skin, and butter-soaked lobster would diminish. That hasn’t entirely happened. The aroma of roasting salty chicken regularly seeping through the floorboards of my workshop from the downstairs deli often calls the question: now why am I doing this again? Oh yeah. Trying to postpone death. Shit.

And my fitness friends assure me that once I start to work out, I will begin to crave it. I won’t feel satisfied until those endorphins are coursing through my quivering, expanding muscle fibers. After 2 weeks, I would have to say that hasn’t happened yet either.

But the positive news is that it’s not quite a living hell.

My first contact at CF, the person who would orient me, was Liz Swan, schooled in England, a social media specialist, who, in addition to her patience and kindness to weenies like me, was known as Slash Borden in Westchester’s Suburbia Roller Derby, a flat track roller derby league. ( That I have watched it many times while channel-surfing tells you something about me, and that she was a touring athlete in that tough league tells you something about her. ) She’s impressive.

She sent me on to Ted Gilsinger, the Fitness Director of CF, who used to train cadets in their workouts at West Point. Not weenies. He debriefed me on my general health and skinny-ass physique and plotted a workout plan of attack. I told him that if he made it too onerous, I would just stop coming, blame him, and choose the heart-attack option. He said not in this man’s army.

So I’ve been showing up to CF on snowy days in my Nike shorts and T-shirt, trying to look nonchalant, like I know what I’m doing. I come dressed because, unlike you endorphin guys, I’m still a little shy about the locker room, and every time I go, it takes me extra time to figure out which way to insert the card in the locker to get the key.

My routine – yeah, I guess that’s what I call it – is to bike a while, do the Circuit, and then run uphill on the treadmill for literally minutes. I’ve been at it for a couple of weeks now, three times a week. No endorphins yet. No muscles either. But it’s getting easier and even, occasionally, fun. I need to find ear buds that stay in place while I run. So much to know.

In the days of Michael Jordan I wanted to “Be Like Mike”. To all of you spinners, runners and weightlifters around me at CF- I just want to be like you.

Pilates; Take 2.

One of the greatest gifts from my college experience (aside from my education) was core stability, thanks to Pilates. My new goal is to rediscover that strength.

More than a decade ago, in college, I studied musical theater performance.  This may sound like a cupcake degree to some, but it was a rigorous and multifaceted program of study that involved every aspect of performance.  In addition to a host of performance classes I spent most of my day in a sweat, moving between movement, dance, and stage combat classes, with instructors who relentlessly pushed us to be our best, and always better than the day before.  Aside from the inherent life lessons there, I’m very grateful to those professors for introducing me to one essential and valuable practice: Pilates.

Almost like boot camp, one professor led us through a 45-minute Pilates mat workout each day of our freshman year at the crack of dawn.  At the time, Pilates was not as much a part of the public consciousness; there were no Pilates studios in town, and no local gyms had classes around the clock as we see now (and as we are so lucky to have here at Club Fit.)  My fellow students and I didn’t even really know what had hit us; we would crawl back to our dorm rooms, cradling our exhausted and sore abdominal muscles, and silently cursing Joseph Pilates for inventing such torture.

After a not-so-long period of time, we all started to notice amazing changes, not just in our physical appearances, but more importantly, in our capabilities.  In dance classes, our leaps and turns got bigger and better. In stage combat we had better balance, stronger “punches”, and we fell down less frequently.  We had greater energy, injuries became fewer and further between, and we improved rapidly in all of our other physical practices.  Even though I carried a significant amount of extra weight, I found myself able to double pirouette with the rest of my ballet class – I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful that felt.  It wasn’t long before we realized that the Pilates mat workouts had given us an incredible gift: core stability.  The workouts we dreaded became practices that we craved, because of the miraculous abilities it gave us.  As upperclassmen, we would continue to practice anywhere we could find time and space; even in our tiny apartments and dorm rooms.  We were converts!  Some days, we’d sneak into those early morning freshmen classes we used to fear, to squeeze in a guided mat class alongside them.  One of my classmates was so devoted to the life-changing benefits of Pilates that she went on to become an instructor after college.

All of these memories came back to me one day as I was looking through old photos from college, and I asked myself, how did I forget how valuable this practice was, and why am I not incorporating Pilates into my workout routine now?  Even though I’ve changed career trajectories off stage and into nonprofit arts administration, the benefits of this practice are no less valuable to me, or anyone, especially when it comes to preventing injury.  I got myself to a Pilates mat class at Club Fit as soon as possible, and I can’t say it was like riding a bike.  After ten years away, it really felt like starting all over again.  It’s hard work, the exercises seem unusual at first, and my abs hurt just the same, but I’m here to tell you that sticking to the practice equates to a really miraculous transformation.  I’m committing myself to rediscovering that core strength, and if you haven’t tried Pilates yet, I encourage you to give it a try – not just once, but a few times, to see what it can do for you.

A Superhero Massage


Last week, I treated myself to a massage at Club Fit Briarcliff, and I’m so glad I did!  In the prior few weeks I’d felt tired, unfocused and sluggish, even though I’d been drinking plenty of water and getting lots of both exercise and sleep.  I saw my doctor, who confirmed that everything was fine and dandy, but it left me wondering why I was feeling so “blah.”

I used my birthday as an excuse to book a massage appointment.  I’ve only had a couple of massages in my lifetime because I’ve always seen them as a luxury or a treat, but recently I’ve heard about the health benefits of massage, and how it can can help your body purge itself of lingering toxins.  I hoped a massage would help me push the proverbial “reset” button and that I’d start feeling a little better.  Well, it definitely worked!

When I met Jessica for my massage appointment, she took the time to ask me lots of questions about my health history, how I’d been feeling, and what I hoped massage would do for me. The massage therapy she gave me was absolutely fantastic.  Afterward, I immediately felt more relaxed, but at the same time, every muscle in my body felt energized and awake.  I even noticed myself drawing longer, deeper, fuller breaths, and that night, I slept exceptionally well.

I thought I felt great right after my massage, but it wasn’t until the next day that I really felt amazing!  My whole body felt relaxed, but at the same time, engaged and alert. My breathing was deeper, my mind felt more focused, and even my posture had improved!  In fact, as I sat in a meeting at work that day, I wondered if we’d gotten new conference room chairs because I felt so much more comfortable than ever before.  When I looked down and saw the same chair, I knew that my massage was worth every penny.  Even after a strength training workout that evening, I didn’t “undo” any of my massage benefits – I continued to feel amazing. (Thank you, Jessica!)

Taking Control

My personal health philosophy, which has worked for me for about 60 years of more or less conscious life, has been to treat all aches and pains the same way: don’t say anything about them to anyone until they go away.

This has for the most part been a highly successful method. Okay, that blood clot in my leg a few years ago that I was hoping would disappear didn’t, and I won’t bore you with that whole thing. Hospitals, embolism, a little lung damage. It was an outlier for God’s sake. I’m healthy.

The second outlier arose last year. My brother, a year older than me, had a heart attack resulting in angioplasty, a stent and a pacemaker. It sent shock waves through my family (I’m one of six), especially since I had been waiting for about a year and a half for some chest pain behind my own sternum to resolve. It had gone from occasional to persistent and had me worried. I had opted as I always do, not to tell Louise, my wife. She would just make a big deal of it.

The diagnosis from the cardiologist came in and it wasn’t good. Dangerously high cholesterol, bad family history (at my age my mom had a bypass, later a stent, and a little later she passed away).”You are in trouble”, the doctor asserted, “you have Coronary Heart Disease. You are at the highest risk of having a heart attack. You have to lower your cholesterol right now, and ultimately we need to think about rearranging your plumbing”.

This happened a year ago, so I’ll just say that I went online and learned about the possibilities of reversing heart disease with diet and lifestyle, and am lucky enough to have found Dr. Rob Ostfeld, a cardiologist at Montefiore-Einstein, who, with my wife Louise, has helped me to change my life.

The diet is the same as Bill Clinton’s, actually. No meat, no fish, no chicken, no dairy, no oil of any kind, no exceptions. That’s it. “What do you do for protein? Why don’t you eat olive oil, isn’t it heart-healthy?” If you google Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, you’ll see why Bill and I did it. Scientists have proven that this diet is a powerful tool and can repair the arteries and heart – blockages can actually disappear.

So, that’s it. A month later, my cholesterol was down 100 points. My blood pressure – oh yeah, that had been borderline – was way down, heart rate down. I sleep better, rarely get sick, no more heartburn, etc. I’m historically a skinny guy but middle age had hung a 30 pound gut on me which 4 months later was gone. My 36″ waist Levi’s which were too tight went down to a roomy 32″. I feel great.

All of this happened through major pantry and diet changes. And the best part was – I did it without exercising! No running! No stretching!

Ostfeld said “Nice work” but your LDL should be a little lower, and that only comes through exercise. This is why you hate doctors. I had to start working out.

I don’t really believe in exercise, laughing cruelly at runner friends with foot and knee problems, secure that I am a 1951 Human with some body damage but very, very low mileage. That, Louise and Ostfeld said, needs to change.

And so here we are, in the present. I found Club Fit, went through the doors a couple of times, looked around and thought – No, I don’t think I can do this. These are not my people. I’m pretty sure Norwegians and their descendants like me shouldn’t exercise. We are genetically calm, slow, stiff, and we try not to lift heavy things. Change my diet, yes. Start to treat my body like a temple, no.

I mean yes. I have 3 great kids in their twenties who need my continuous oversight (although they have been pretending to ignore me for years). I’m still paying college bills and a mortgage, so the banks need me. Great friends and family – I guess I’m not done yet. Oh, and a business making and restoring violins that still makes me happy.

And although I’ve gone a good distance in the fight to repair my heart and arteries, I know there’s more to do. I get it. And I’m going to try to do it with those exercise fanatics at Club Fit.