Health and fitness

Health and fitness

The second life domain for the well-rounded retiree is attempting the healthiest outcomes from an ageing body and mind. Can I write about mental health in the same way as physical? And is my leaning to self-inquiry in these musings part of my mental health? I will put that aside for now and concentrate on the physical, although potential hypocrisy lurks there in not recognising body and mind as one, when I have been talking up total health for a couple of decades.

I’ve been focused on how my body looks since I was an awkward, skinny teenager. I swam, I ran, I lifted weights. I’ve done floor exercises, and dieted; although none of these as arduously or consistently as really fit people. Just about the whole baby-boomer catastrophe really, but the idea of being fit for health’s sake didn’t really take hold in me until a few years ago, when I started cycling in earnest. All those previous years (say 14 to about 55) the real motivation was vanity; wanting to look good. Avoiding a pot belly and spindly legs got me up in the morning to go to the pool to swim lengths and/or aqua-aerobics; to do press-ups and sit-ups, to walk to work as fast as was compatible without having a shower available.

So, less of the vanity and more of the longevity? Actually, there’s not much dissonance here—being fit and flexible tends to make you look better in any case. And if vanity helps me find the way to get vertical in the morning, particularly when the weather is too hot or too cold, I welcome it. These days, it feels almost unthinkable to get out of condition—I think I am addicted to feeling physically stronger and lighter on the feet—but I still steal those quick glances in the mirror, just checking that the overall result is about as good as can be expected. Vanity, I hope, that is well under control and serving a useful purpose.

Now I have retired, I’ve thought about stepping up the exercise—how about an extra 50 kilometres a week on the bike, and a couple of longer swims? Some friends have gone this route, with masters’ games levels of ability beckoning. For now, I’m content with regular moderate exercise. I have no desire to beat anyone else, just to keep up this level of fitness for as long as I can. Sure, time does weigh heavily sometimes with no day-job to go to, no early planes to catch, no papers to read the night before. But ever-increasing amounts of exercise doesn’t attract me as a way to work on that particular sense of missing out.

What of mental health? The easy bit is the endorphin rush and the feelings of achievement that physical activity usually delivers. Feeling down and a bit out-of-sorts when I wake up? I know that I will almost always get into a good head space if I get vigorous for an hour or more—even 15 minutes of floor exercises will improve things. Bigger, ongoing issues need more thought, even, heaven forbid, listening to some advice. This writing is part of my strategy to find new ways to keep my balance; to find new relevance, to be useful, to have lots to look forward to. Mental health is more than those of course, but they are a good start. Throw in not drinking delicious wine past the almost-certain hangover-to-come stage, getting enough sleep, spending enough time with people I love, and managing stress as effectively as I know how. That’s my mental health plan for now.

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