WHAT, ME 80?
An Octogenarian Looks Back on His Path to Good Health
If you’d known me when I was in my 20s and 30s, a hyper-masculine, self-indulgent, beer-swilling rebel (without much of a cause), you might have wondered if I’d ever reach the age of 40. I ponder sometimes if I even wanted to. But here I am at 80, in pretty damned good shape—healthy, vigorous, and strong.
Obviously, I didn’t consciously set out on a path to nurture my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Hell, I rarely even considered arriving at this realm I once considered to be geezerdom (pardon the ageism). But despite overindulging in alcohol and dabbling in other drugs early on, I have since instinctively pursued a path that supported me to reach this age with almost all body parts in working order, no need for any medications, a resting heartbeat of 55, and at the weight I was as a junior in high school—165 pounds.
Though my mind sometimes wants me to believe I’m still 40 (and cracking jokes of a pre-adolescent), there are some effects of aging that are undeniable. My hair is gray, my skin has wrinkles, my energy level has slipped, and my spatial awareness and balance have declined somewhat. Of course, I’ve worn glasses since my 40s, mostly to read fine print and road signs. And I have a benign enlarged prostate, necessitating drowsily arising in the middle of the night to urinate. Finally, after a decade or two of postponing the inevitable, I was compelled to get my hearing checked following this interchange with my daughter Gracelyn a few years ago.
Me to Gracelyn: So, what’s the best thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to Mom, you can’t hear me.
Me: OK, well, what’s the worst thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to you, you can’t hear me.
And yes, I got the hearing aids soon afterwards. And, they’re pretty cool in that, besides hearing Gracelyn whisper, I can take phone calls and listen to music through them.
So that’s the overview, folks. If you want details, read on. If not, you’re welcome to skip to the final paragraph.
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A timeline of my quest for good health
Ages 6-18: As a boy growing up in the late Forties and early Fifties, I spent a great deal of time outdoors doing the usual kid stuff—bike riding, pickup baseball and football games, running, climbing trees, and more. I was called “sickly” by one of my elementary school teachers, and I underwent a tonsillectomy in 1949. Most notably, at age 13, I biked 50-miles in one day to earn my Boy Scout cycling merit badge. When I got to junior high, I entered the realm of organized athletics, playing on the basketball and football teams, suffering a broken collarbone during a football game And in high school, I took it up several notches, not only participating in those sports as seasonal pursuits, but running in the off-season and lifting weights year-round. My nose was broken in a junior varsity basketball game. To be in the best physical condition possible, I totally abstained from tobacco and alcohol. A footnote of this era: Sitting in my ’47 Plymouth business coupe, my feet on the ground as I changed from my school shoes to my camping boots, a bolt of lightning hit a nearby tree, and I felt the charge of electricity flow up my feet and legs through my entire body.
Ages 18-23: My hard work and intentionality paid off, and I was awarded an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Tennessee. While I was a starter at receiver on the freshman team, big-time football was not what I’d anticipated, and I eventually transferred to Sewanee, a small liberal arts college, where there were no athletic scholarships. If you played football at Sewanee, you did it for the love of the game. It was during my college days that I began drinking beer and, occasionally, hard liquor.
Ages: 23-30: Not much going on in my physical life except a lot of pot smoking, drinking, and occasional pick-up basketball and touch football games. However, after reading a book on yoga in my late 20s, I taught myself to breathe diaphragmatically and have breathed in this manner ever since. According to medical authorities, this type of breathing improves muscle function during exercise, increases the amount of oxygen in one’s blood, reduces blood pressure, and reduces heart rate.
Ages 30-40: When I was 30, I began playing handball and continued until I turned 80. I believe handball enhanced my agility and flexibility, muscle tone, stamina, and promoted my cardiovascular health. I also began weight machine workouts for building and maintaining my strength, and I have continued intermittently. And I played competitive volleyball—beach doubles and six-man indoors with benefits similar to those gained via handball. The drinking persisted.
Ages 40-50: I continued handball, volleyball, and weight workouts, and I began to run as well. Running helped me to build strong bones, strengthen muscles, and improve cardiovascular fitness. I also began a daily regimen of pushups and crunches, a practice I continue. In my mid-40s, I stopped drinking alcohol cold turkey and began eating an organic vegetarian diet. To expunge limiting beliefs and reawaken to my authentic self, I regularly participated in transformative personal growth workshops, including weeklong intensives featuring whitewater rafting, ropes courses, and solo camping experiences.
Ages 50-60: I continued handball, running, weights, and daily exercises. I also began training for marathons and lengthy trail races, and I completed several of each, along with some half-marathons and other shorter races. In addition, an effective stretching routine became an essential part of my post-run and post-handball regimen, a practice I continue to this day. Stretching in this manner has helped me remain more flexible and agile and maintain my range of motion. In addition, it increases the blood flow into my muscles and helps deliver nutrients that aid in recovery after a challenging workout.
Ages 60-70: I continued handball, running, weights, and daily exercises. I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee in 1998 to correct a bouldering injury. And I began to pay even more attention to my mental/spiritual health through meditation, conscious breathwork, tapping, and EMDR. Whenever I meditated and did breathwork, I felt a powerful pulsating at my brow, an area some refer to as the third eye and the seat of intuition. I stopped eating foods containing refined sugar, I cut down on my caffeine intake, and I increased my filtered water intake.
Ages 70-80: I continued handball, running, weights, and daily exercises. I also began ingesting high quality liquid vitamins, minerals, and trace elements daily. And I took up intermittent fasting, which prompts an increase in human growth hormone (HGH), promoting cellular repair. I started paying more attention to my gut health by eating yogurt and fermented foods and ingesting supportive dietary supplements. I underwent a catheter ablation for SVT (occasional rapid heartbeat) in 2018. After being a devotee of the game for 50 years, at age 80 I quit playing handball, only because the pool of local players had dwindled to a handful due to injury, aging, death, relocation, and a dearth of younger players coming along. I persist in trail running (not as far, not as fast), occasional bike riding, and exercising every weekday, taking weekends off. I set aside my weight machine workouts during COVID but plan to begin again
soon. Plus, my wife Shonnie is enthusiastically encouraging me to join her in the ranks of pickleball players, and it’s likely that I’ll succumb. Oh, and I eat a little fish from time to time and enjoy a beer with my evening meal.
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Despite all of this, I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that, no matter what physical/emotional/spiritual practices I undertake, time will ultimately have its way, though hopefully not for another decade or two. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I was not alive for millions of years before I was born, and I suffered no ill effects whatsoever.