Men and Aging: Deal With It

by Tom Furman

Aging is an emotional issue as well as a physiological one. When you were young and seemingly invulnerable, you were resistant to injury, duress and abuse. Then Father Time, sat you down to have a talk. For the sedentary male, aging is accepted earlier. Like, “Gee, what do you expect? I’m getting older!” This can even be announced in the the 30’s. The acceptance is tougher for the athlete or for those who train. Realizing you don’t improve as quickly or recover as well, is sobering. Very sobering.

Rather than compare young athletes to old ones, have you ever attended a fitness convention? It makes a 1960’s traveling carnival sideshow look like a Hollywood California, high school prom. It’s the extreme ends of the human spectrum. From young, synthetically curvaceous fitness models with carefully tanned, stained and botoxed skin, next to aging strongmen who chew meds like Tic Tacs, breathe like Darth Vader and constantly point at world class triathletes proclaiming, “They don’t look like they lift.” If you look at things like simple movement, gait, extra poundage and vitality, the older attendees often look worse than the general public. Health was not first and foremost. It rarely is. The drive needed to be, ‘better’, is not about well being. It’s not the cutting edge. It’s the bloody edge. Please don’t confuse being best with well being.

Aside from a hopeless fight with the hairline, what can men expect in their 40’s, 50’s and 60's? Change. Yes change. If you can objectify the loss of ability and youth to a problem solving exercise you can manage this battle. Notice I didn’t say WIN. I said manage. Conflict is never won, it is managed. By all means, don’t jump to the quick fix. That would be a young, hot, future ex wife, needle in the ass and a mutual fund’s worth of ink. Those fixes [aside from the HRT] will not address the aging mechanisms. They look cool however.

Here are several themes you may want to adopt.

  1. Health. This is not only getting a physical, but a Male Hormone Panel. Women have been WAY ahead in this ballgame. Check for optimal levels and find a physician that treats the patient and not the numbers. This may take several tries. Don’t give up.
  2. Get Un Fat. You have total control over what you put in your mouth. The worst thing that can happen is a decent physical examination while you are overweight. It doesn’t give you an incentive like illness. Your ego can largely manage weight gain with large, loose, shirts and talking about what your lifting records were ten years ago. The extra weight will catch up. Maybe you have resistant genes that process the poundage well, but your feet, knees, hips and back will tell you a different story. As my friend, who is former USMC, SWAT and Corrections Officer said, “If you can’t push yourself away from the plate, check yourself out of the gene pool, you are not fit to breed.” Reducing calories and eating real food is the only solution. Avoid extremes. They are usually not sustainable as a lifestyle.

3. Shift Your Goals.

Ray Floro in action

When you are 25, you may skip a 1000 calorie fast food lunch to play touch football. When you are 55, you may skip 20 minutes of treadmill to have a 3 martini lunch. Priorities change. “How much do you bench?”, is a less potent challenge when you’ve had a total shoulder replacement. My friend, Ray Floro of Australia was not only a Filipino Martial Arts practitioner, but a competitive fencer as well. He recognized the toll that staying competitive had on his body. He shifted to full time martial arts and defensive tactics instruction and focused on, efficiency. He’s still doing it. By changing from rugby to hiking, you are still being active and challenging yourself. However, the damage is managed. Think about it.

4. Consistency.

Mike Stone NOW and THEN

Simply showing up and doing the work is perhaps the most powerful tool you have. If I could instill one quality to help aging, it would be consistency. One of the inspirations in my youth was karate legend, Mike Stone. He was an all around athlete growing up in Hawaii in the late 50’s. This included boxing and aikido. He discovered Shorin Ryu Karate under Herbert Peters after enlisting in the Army. Born in 1943, he still does it. He shows up. Do you want to be a legend? Act like one.

5. Sensible Variety.

Sly walks the talk.

Sly Stallone was born in 1946. His films have earned billions of dollars. His photos, shown to the unfit are almost universally commented on by the word, “drugs”. His use of HRT through the years is well known and probably ahead of its time. What is not generally known is how his trainer, Gunnar Peterson, alters his program to keep the stimulus. He also works it around injuries that have accumulated over a long career of doing stunts. This, ‘same but different’, training philosophy keeps enthusiasm high, manages injury repair and stimulates not only the body, but the brain. Learning and trying new things keeps you adapting. Adaptation beats death or weakness.

6. Compete With Yourself More Than Others.

There are those that need competition to motivate themselves. Some, as they age, set personal goals and use the, “inner game”, as a tool to refine, define and succeed. By simply focusing on getting a bit better, slowly, you might be shocked where you end up. Jason Statham, born in 1967, used to train with a US Navy SEAL. He got competitive and got hurt. Jason began to figure out what his body needed between weights, cardio, martial arts and recovery. Now he doesn’t have to film for 12 hour days with training injuries. As well, when getting lean for a movie role, he writes down everything he eats. “If it goes in the mouth, it goes in the book”, is his motto. Indeed, what you record, improves.

7. Practice Moderation and Recovery. As you age, accept sensible boundaries and focus on recovery. In the area of recovery, I would include, injury management, sleep, hypertrophy and mobility. This doesn’t even address mental health or well being, which are beyond the scope of this article. However its importance cannot be overstated. As well in the area of hypertrophy, focus on maintaining muscle mass as your ability to get gains in that area may be limited as you age. By shifting to sensible cardiovascular exercise, you can see ample gains/reward and nothing motivates us like results. Don’t give up strength training however. It’s as close we have to Longevity Medicine.

8. Keep Learning. Don’t stop learning, whether it is fitness and health oriented or languages, music, new roads to drive, new books or bigger social circles. We need to be challenged to adapt and sitting in front of the TV or staring at your phone does not present a challenge akin to fighting off a sabertooth tiger. Very simply try new things.

There are probably way more points but these eight cover a lot of ground. Sit down and write out some ideas now. — TF

Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and fitness most of his life. He’s currently a fitness coach and been blogging since 2005.