Senior Fitness

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

Premium Fitness:“It’s All in the Mind, my Friend. It’s All in the Mind”

At 14,000 feet (4250 meters), we’re six climbers from five different countries, clustered around a stove, barely burning yak dung. We’re talking trash, telling tall tales, and whining about the shortage of yak shit – proving that these three words, “misery loves company” contain more practical sense than the sum total of all the inexplicable, philosophical gobbledygook that passes as wisdom.

Except for one. He’s sitting by himself, looking like he doesn’t belong here. He’s got a big belly, three chins, and, even by mountain standards, where everyone is filthy, unshaven, and smells like rotten fish, he’s disheveled.

I call him to join us. Like a bear just arousing from winter hibernation, he slowly gets up from his chair, shuffles across the room, and squeezes his large frame next to me.

We do the usual introductions and I discover he’s 69 years old, his name is Oscar, and he’s from Iran. Without prompting, he tells me that he hates “the f**king Ayatollahs,” and then proceeds to go on a 10-minute rant about how the “f**king” Ayatollahs are ruining his country.

Now, the purpose of this blog is to write about Premium Fitness and not to share Oscar’s ramblings about the “evil, corrupt, and sexually perverted” Ayatollahs. Therefore, I’ll pass on his stories, which, I might add, if true, are downright scandalous.

You’re a Premium, which by definition means you’re pretty sharp. So, I assume you might be wondering what any of this has to do with Premium Fitness. And, as a very observant Premium, you’re probably wondering what the hell is Oscar doing at 4200 meters, other than possibly escaping from the “f**king Ayatollahs”.

Well, here’s where it all hangs together. It turns out that this seemingly out of shape, Iranian hater of the Ayatollahs is a world-class mountain climber who has summited every major peak in Asia and Europe, including Mt. Everest.

Whew, didn’t expect that. Nor did I expect that Oscar, unlike the rest of us freezing, whiny babies, when asked if he were cold, just laughed and said, “No.” “Oscar,” I asked, “how’s that possible?”

“It’s all in the mind, my friend. It’s all in the mind.”

Know Thyself

Ok, so now we’ve set the stage to talk about Premium Fitness.

I’m going to assume that since you’re over 60, there’s a high probability – to quote the late great Leonard Cohen – that “you ache in the places that you used to play.” In other words, you’re not as fast, as strong, as flexible, and as durable as you once were.

But, here’s the rub. You’re smarter, more self-aware, and more attuned to both your body and your abilities. Let me give you another mountain story to illustrate what I’m talking about.

We’re about 11,000 feet when a group of young, very fit Spanish trekkers come bounding passed us in a mad dash to the 19,000-foot summit.

At 15,000 feet, as we’re slowly ascending, we again meet this same group, but this time they’re looking demoralized and more than a bit embarrassed. They’re descending, having failed to summit due to altitude sickness. Or, more accurately due to that deadly combination of youth, hubris, and stupidity. They ascended too quickly, erroneously relying on sea-level strength and speed when brains would have taken them to the summit. To think, some people would actually like to be young again.

“It’s all in the mind, my friend. It’s all in the mind.” By the way, that includes the experience of cold. We were all freezing; Oscar wasn’t. He had mastered the Wim Hof method of meditation, deep breathing and systematic exposure to freezing temperatures in order to acclimatize himself to extreme cold. While we were wasting valuable energy fighting the cold, Oscar was chilling out.

Oscar explained to me that even though he looks like a doddering old man, he’s an unstoppable force in the mountains. “I train daily, walking the hills around my house or lifting weights. You know that we Iranians are great weight lifters. We’ve learned how to use the mind to activate the muscles…” “When I’m climbing, I go slowly and carefully, using the same mental muscles I trained lifting weights. It’s all about being aware of my body, being totally focused, and present.” A perfect definition of Premium Fitness.

Never Stop

I know something about fitness. I’ve been a lifetime athlete, competitive runner, bicyclist, weight lifter, yogi, and high-altitude trekker. I’m 72 and I’m still moving, albeit a hell of a lot slower than my ego demands. For me, and perhaps for you as well, it’s sometimes a battle between the memory of the athlete I used to be against the reality of who I am.

But who I am is fine. I’m a Premium. I’m the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and challenge. I have a mind that can read my body and the wisdom to let go of nostalgic fantasies of being anything other than who I am.

Ageing is about coming to terms with our increasing and inevitable limitations, but it’s not  about stopping. No, it’s never about stopping. I’d rather be like the 86-year-old woman I met climbing in the Alps. She moved turtle-like, but she moved nevertheless, with grace and style. She would have made it to the same Himalayan summit that we did, passing those same young foolish studs who hopefully learned an important lesson: to climb a mountain you need equal parts brain and brawn.

It’s all in the mind, my friend. It’s all in the mind.

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