A se­nior’s jour­ney to get­ting back in shape

South Shore Breaker - - Sports - PETER SIMP­SON FIT­NESS MAT­TERS pe­ter_simp­[email protected]­mail.com

Fit­ness and good health are two of the great­est gifts you can give your­self, and those love you.

Baby boomers, those folks born from 1946 to 1964, are plac­ing tremen­dous pres­sure on the health- care sys­tem world­wide — mul­ti­ple med­i­ca­tions, re­peat doc­tor and hos­pi­tal vis­its for an as­sort­ment of ill­nesses and dis­eases, both phys­i­cally and men­tally. Sadly, this sit­u­a­tion is ex­pected to ac­cel­er­ate.

The youngest among this sil­ver tsunami de­mo­graphic will turn 55 next year, while the old­est will be try­ing to blow out all 73 can­dles on their birth­day cakes.

My mom and dad beat the boomer rush by a cou­ple years, re­sult­ing in my birth in late 1944.

Grow­ing up in north Toronto, I was your av­er­age kid who idol­ized the Toronto Maple Leafs and par­tic­i­pated in hockey, soft­ball and what was to be­come my pas­sion, track and field.

In my early 20s, I was a com­pos­i­tor at the Toronto Tele­gram. When the Tely folded in 1971, I was for­tu­nate to land a job right away at the newly launched Toronto Sun, where I worked my way up the pro­duc­tion and word­smithing lad­der to the stress­laden po­si­tions of colum­nist and sec­tion ed­i­tor.

Sun staffers were heav­ily into team sports, mainly hockey and fast-pitch soft­ball and I joined right in. Our hockey team was de­cent, but could have been bet­ter if some guys didn’t smoke on the bench. The Sun fast-pitch soft­ball team, how­ever, of­ten topped the Toronto Press League stand­ings.

We re­warded our­selves af­ter win­ning a game by guz­zling back a few pitch­ers of beer at our favourite smoke-filled press bar, Crooks. Come to think of it, we all shuf­fled into Crooks af­ter a loss, too.

I had tons of fun, and banked many fond mem­o­ries, but a dis­turb­ing trend be­came clear: work­ing to meet tight dead­lines in a fast-paced news­pa­per en­vi­ron­ment, drink­ing gal­lons of cof­fee, smok­ing (at my desk, no less), then pound­ing back postgame beers un­til the bar­tender kicked us to the curb.

My life­style ex­posed me to a pos­si­ble down­ward health spi­ral, and I needed to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion quickly and re­spon­si­bly

o, on my 40th birth­day, I gave up my tri­fecta of habits — cof­fee, cig­a­rettes and beer — cold tur­key. And I fig­ured if I fo­cused in­tently on work­ing toward an achiev­able goal of some kind, the ef­fort would help to make me for­get about what I had given up.

That’s when I turned to my afore­men­tioned pas­sion, track and field. At age 40, I was el­i­gi­ble to com­pete in Masters ath­let­ics. Ath­letes com­pete in five-year age group­ings — 40 to 44, 45 to 49, etc.

I had met world- class sprint coach Char­lie Fran­cis at a sports me­dia event, so I called and asked him to train me. Sur­pris­ingly, he agreed, but his one con­di­tion was that at train­ing ses­sions I didn’t bother his elite ath­letes, namely then-fu­ture Olympians Ben John­son, An­gella Is­sajenko and Mark Mccoy.

Un­for­tu­nately, John­son mor­phed from Olympic 100-me­tre champ to chump when a banned drug was de­tected in his sys­tem and he was stripped of his gold medal. Is­sajenko and Mccoy soared to greater heights, win­ning

Olympic medals, in­clud­ing a gold for Mccoy in the 110-me­tre hur­dles.

The elite ath­letes, who were likely bored, of­ten wan­dered over to of­fer point­ers, so Fran­cis turned a blind eye. One day, John­son, af­ter try­ing new sprint spikes for 10 sec­onds, de­cided he hated them, so he tossed them to me. The spikes were too small for me,.but I took them any­way. I still have them.

Af­ter a year of heavy train­ing ses­sions, typ­i­cally four to five days a week, I had shed lots of fat, gained a lit­tle mus­cle, im­proved my aer­o­bic ca­pa­bil­i­ties and re­fined my tech­ni­cal form.

Fran­cis said I was ready to en­ter a Masters track meet, so I com­peted at an in­door meet at Brown Uni­ver­sity in Prov­i­dence, RI and came home with a sil­ver medal in the triple jump. I was hooked.

Many meets fol­lowed, in­clud­ing a World Masters Games, where I won gold and sil­ver medals. It was a to­tal rush. More than 8,300 vet­eran ath­letes from 61 coun­tries par­tic­i­pated in 22 sports. In my mid-50s, my en­thu­si­asm for com­pe­ti­tion waned, so I hung up my spikes and ceased train­ing or work­ing out in any form. In my mind, there was noth­ing left to prove, and I re­tired to a La-z-boy.

Fast for­ward two decades.

I’m 74 years old, 30 pounds over­weight, my mid-sec­tion looks like it’s hid­ing an in­ner tube and it’s been years since I tucked in my shirts. Trudging up a hill gets my heart pound­ing, my joints ache and my favourite clothes are stored in a gar­ment box in the base­ment.

If there’s a pos­i­tive side to all this, it’s that I still don’t smoke or drink cof­fee, but I do en­joy a craft beer oc­ca­sion­ally. And I’m still ca­pa­ble of vol­un­teer­ing with our lo­cal fire depart­ment.

It’s never too late to be­gin im­prov­ing fit­ness lev­els and next month I in­tend to start do­ing just that.

The Lynds Den Health and Fit­ness Cen­tre and I will be in­sep­a­ra­ble un­til at least my 75th birth­day. Work­outs will be mod­er­ate and tai­lored to my age and abil­ity. My com­pe­ti­tion days are long gone, but I want to be able to spend a few more qual­ity years with my wife, daugh­ters and grand­daugh­ters.

I will chron­i­cle my progress on the jour­ney to im­proved health in this monthly col­umn, along with some per­sonal sto­ries of my gym mates and a lit­tle ad­vice on fit­ness and nutri­tion from Bridge­wa­ter Lynds Den own­ers and fit­ness ex­perts Mike and Al­li­son Lynds.

Mike is a pro body­builder and cer­ti­fied per­sonal trainer, while Al­li­son is a na­tion­ally ranked fit­ness com­peti­tor. Both said they were in­volved in track and field some years ago.

Mike said he likes to share suc­cess sto­ries about ded­i­cated peo­ple who are clearly on the path to im­proved fit­ness lev­els.

“Ev­ery month we fea­ture in the news­pa­per a mem­ber who has achieved an ex­traor­di­nary im­prove­ment in his or her fit­ness level. Some mem­bers have lost well over 100 lbs, while oth­ers have changed their life­styles for the bet­ter and no longer have to take med­i­ca­tions,” he said.

“We want to cre­ate in our mem­bers the need to be more ac­tive, and start eat­ing nu­tri­tional food. As we age, our bod­ies slow down. The less a per­son moves, the more prob­lems they might de­velop.”

Mike said fit peo­ple spend less time with their doc­tors. “If you have high blood pres­sure or el­e­vated blood sugar lev­els, one of the first things a doc­tor will tell you is to de­velop an ex­er­cise pro­gram.”

I’m ex­cited about tak­ing this first step on a jour­ney to im­proved health and fit­ness. Stay with me.

Next month: The equip­ment I am us­ing, ad­just­ing my diet, what my body is telling me, more ad­vice from Mike Lynds and ex­cerpts from a new study on the con­se­quences of agere­lated mus­cle loss.

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