It Only Gets Harder with Age

Nearly five years has past since I returned to semi-serious running, and an obvious pattern has emerged.

I get overweight > become disgusted with myself > begin running again > get in decent enough shape to handle a 13.1 mile race > then stop exercising in November until the cycle begins anew.

It’s not hard coming up with reasons to overlook exercising: traffic on the commute to work, busy schedule, kids, need time to write, dinner has to be fixed or vegetative television watching.

Coming into the end of February 2016 I wasn’t critically overweight yet, but I was on my way. Anytime I’m purchasing Hostess fruit pies or HoHo’s, something is going in the wrong direction.

We all have certain pressure buttons in life that trigger a need to chill. Some folks smoke, maybe a cocktail helps, I personally reach more often for comfort food when stressed. There is something peaceful and easy about a pizza or jambalaya.

But there are certain realities to getting older. My metabolism has slowed. I can’t consume a diet primarily filled with comfort food and expect it not to impact my waistline.

Nor at 49 can I just hop back out on the pavement and snap into shape. I’m carrying more weight, and it doesn’t drop off as quickly either.

Every extra pound is weight that must be carried for each mile and contributes to added wear-and-tear on knees, ankles and my lower back.

The other hitch is injuries. I think anyone who has attempted to get back in shape has likely become impatient and overly ambitious in whatever routine they pursued. I certainly have been guilty of increasing miles too quickly or exercising on too many days.

Getting hurt in your 40s and above is no joke. It can put one on the disabled list for a month or more. Simple ankle and muscle strains if not listened to properly can become nagging injuries that morph into something more serious.

Running is humbling, especially if you have done it well at some point. I don’t have any visions of grandeur that I will return to my 1996 form. That has me loosing 60 pounds.

But dropping 25 pounds sounds doable. And instead of looking at my running times as a sign of improvement, I’m more using running as a tool to see a drop in weight. This also helps improve the numbers on my blood work whenever I’m at the doctor’s office.

As an added bonus, consistent training and weight loss will also lead to better run times. The idea is all the goodness conspires together to improve several aspects of a healthy life.

What I’m working on this year is changing my mental outlook to exercise from viewing it like a chore, to instead looking upon it as an escape to ease stressful situations. I want to welcome my time to exercise, not dread it.

Picking up my gym bag for the first time this year found a crumpled bib number inside from the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon held in Louisville last October, and my crusty running clothes from that race. It was like a time capsule in there, untouched for four months.

Thankfully I hadn’t been off so long that running again seemed like such an arduous ordeal. I stepped back out in early March and haven’t stopped.

It’s not pretty, it’s not easy, but I’m running 3-miles four times a week and have some extra cardio-strength training built in to work my mid-section and tone my build.

My times are down from running 12:30 minute miles when I first started back to 9:30 and below.

What I’ll advise is don’t overdo it. Slow and easy is a much better recipe for success. Stretch either before or after exercise, and listen to your body. If there is even a minor injury, address it. Take an anti-inflammatory and apply heat or cold depending upon the injury.

There is way more generic maintenance involved these days in order to have my body ready to go back out there for even moderately consistent exercise. It takes time and patience.

Remember, it’s okay to take a couple days off, or have a step-back week, where you let the training absorb and the muscles can get some needed rest – just make sure to get back out there soon. But it is better to take a rest and heal up than run on an injury that becomes worse.

The biggest thing, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is diet. Unless you have runs that are 10 miles long or above, once you reach your 40s I find it hard to drop weight unless my diet is reasonably clean.

Fast food and soda are the first things that need to go. Yes, even diet soda.

As a starter it’s okay to buy some treats like cookies and chips. It’s considered a victory if those are being substituted for fast food. Really, the more items that can be prepared at home, that are not processed, the better – and get right with drinking water.

Sadly, rice, bread and pasta are big offenders when trying to drop weight. My problem is these are staples in my house, where there are five mouths to feed. Here is where portion control comes into play. Eat anything you like if the portion is small enough.

Red meat is another item that isn’t the best choice to consume when trying to drop weight. Try a week of no red meat, and then re-introduce it for a day or two a week.

As previously mentioned I like my comfort foods. I’m not silly enough to think I can instantly drop them all from my diet and adhere to any regimen for the rest of life.

I believe in having the weekends be cheat days. If I’m working out five days a week I’ll eat what I like at times. I do also limit the alcohol/liquor intake. Those are hollow calories and usually the more you drink the easier it is to skip the next workout. A great compromise is Michelob Ultra. Those are decent enough and I can drink several with little damage.

Everybody is different and it’s important each person find the exercise routine and diet that works best. I will just add that if you try to make too much happen at once, often that will become a difficult burden to maintain in the long haul.

Relax, be flexible in missing exercise days and remember there is the rest of your life to slowly get in shape and drop weight. Take it a day at a time, and if you fall off the schedule, don’t try to make it all up – there’s always tomorrow to begin a new slate.

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