Following on Alan’s footsteps

Before I go on about my current love for getting in shape, let me make it clear: I was never an athletic child. I was active in the sense that I was outside all day doing stuff with my friends but I simply *hated* every single sport my parents put me into – from ballet and every other form of dance to gymnastics, swimming, tennis, and volleyball. Much of that have changed since I met Alan.

It is Alan’s personal belief that physical exercise is crucial to maintaining quality of life not only now but as one gets older. Living with him and knowing many of his older friends has made it impossible for me to think otherwise. For those of you who don’t know my husband, he is 60 years old (will be 61 soon) and has the energy levels and stamina of a 20 or 30 year old (and sometimes behave like a 2 year old, but that’s another story). At an age where most North Americans start showing symptoms of all sorts of chronic illnesses, despite having his check-up done every year Alan hasn’t needed to take a prescription drug in nearly 12 years. Genetics is not the only factor here since his family is not exactly disease-free. His brother has had cancer and his sister takes medication to control blood pressure.

Being a child in the 1950s and a teenager in the 1960s did not instil in Alan a healthy lifestyle early on. He started smoking at age 9 and as the typical young man of his generation, his mind was more drug, sex, and rock & roll in the early 1970s than in having an active lifestyle. He started his working life as a jet-engine mechanic in an environment he aptly describes as a “old-boys club” where the major hobbies were smoking and the building and driving of fast cars and motorcycles. But Alan has the uncanny ability to re-invent himself every now and then.

It all changed when he decided to quit smoking. He quit cold turkey and needed something to keep his mind (and body) occupied so joining the gym at the local aquatic club where his daughter swam and dove seemed like a good idea. The club was well-known for its swimming facilities and a friend suggested Alan joined the Masters Swim Team. Masters swimming is an adult program designed to encourage fitness through swimming and based on principles that encourages fun, fitness, participation, and friendship. Being a sociable guy, the idea appealed to him immensely. There was only one problem. He didn’t know how to swim. So his friend suggested he take adult swimming classes, which he did. As soon as he learned the four swimming strokes, he joined the masters team. It didn’t start easy. He says his first 100m in a 50m pool took him 17 mins – 1 min to swim to the other side and 15 mins to recover hanging for dear life at the side on the lane ropes. Most nights he would puke from all the water he would swallow during practice. I’m honestly amazed he stuck with it but I think that has a lot to do with the many friends he made in the team. He eventually got stronger, became a very fast and strong swimmer.

But the best change was in lifestyle. At the swim team he met people of every age group (from 18-95) who had one thing in common: they enjoyed an active lifestyle. So before long they would meet for a bit of cycling, roller blading, outdoors swimming, or running in the summer and skiing and skating in the winter. From that to competing in triathlons was just a short step. Coming from a culture that values exercising almost exclusively for its aesthetic purposes, I began to see the long term impact of an active lifestyle. Meeting Eugene and Roman was particularly inspirational. Both are in their 90s. Roman started exercising later in life, is now 95 years old and doesn’t look a day older than 65 and still does triathlons. Eugene is 96 or 97, looks old but is very proud of still being able to swim 2000m three times a week. An active lifestyle did not necessarily prevent disease – both had open-heart surgery in their 80s – but it guaranteed their body was able to fight anything thrown at them better. They were both back in the pool within a month of open-heart surgery.

When we lived in Montreal, I was really active in the local canoe club and really took to kayaking and dragon boating. Since moving to Toronto, however, I’ve struggled to find a workout regimen to which I could stick. Early on, it was clear that either I worked out first thing in the morning or I didn’t do it at all. So I tried going to the gym on campus but that meant carrying all my work stuff with me and planning to have breakfast on campus. For some reason, it was never all that convenient. Finally, two months ago, we joined the YMCA almost across the street from our place. It opens earlier than the gyms on campus, which allows me to workout without feeling I’m losing my morning, which is my most productive time of the day. So for the last two months I have consistently swam for an hour 2-3 times a week and have done weights 1-2 times as well as done the odd yoga and pilates class. I cycle everywhere and occasionaly go for a long bike ride with TBN. And you know what? I feel amazing! A diet based on wholesome meals helps too, of course, but the truth is that I haven’t felt this full of energy in a long time. The back and hip pain I had from sitting by the computer all day have disappeared. The main challenge now is to see whether we’ll be able to get out of bed at 5:15 during the winter…