We all go through at least a few life-changing moments during our winks on this good earth. For me there have been a dozen or so, most of them deeply philosophical, a few from the school of hard knocks, but two, detailed herewith, that related to physical fitness. I can see the eyes rolling already; “yeah, yeah, yeah, another message about how important exercise is for good health and what the heck does that have to do with fly fishing anyhow”. Well, bear with me…
Step back in time some 36 years: the location is Camp Pendleton – a United States Marine Corps base in very arid southern California that stretches over 125,000 acres of coastal land made up of salt marsh, floodplain, oak woodlands, coastal dunes and bluffs, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral – basically a very inviting environment for long leisurely walks…
While the weather was quite bright and warm, the greeting committee we NROTC midshipmen met was, well, less than sunny, shall we say? And the accommodations – Quonset huts right out of Gomer Pyle, USMC, complete with a resident mascot bulldog that had the undershot jaw only an orthodontist could love. What stands out as most memorable about Camp Pendleton were the leaders we served with for that week – a Latino gunny sergeant whose name escapes me now but who talked about chevies (with a hard “ch”) and cleaning the rifle chamber (with a soft “ch”) – and a most charismatic “bully pulpit” major by the last name of Hatch who unabashedly took us “young guns” to task for being pathetically out of shape and then proceeded to lead us on runs through the hilly terrain complete with oh-so-colorful jodies. I recall one “speaking to” after a run through the hills when we were severely dressed down for not being able to keep up with a man twice our age. So taken was I by the espirit de corps of the place that I remember leaving Pendleton wanting to become a marine officer. Asthma prevented me from walking down that path and while that might not have set well with the mighty major, I think he would be pleased that I have tried to remain at least reasonably fit all the years since…
Fast forward to the summer of 2008: I’m fishing the Chenango River, late one summer afternoon. I round a bend in the river and see another fly fisherman – hunched a little, butt-deep in the river – he false-casts his fly two or three times with nice loops in an easy, almost effortless motion. It’s a rare sight: he is only the second fly fisherman I’d seen on the river in the course of 10 years. I slowly fish my way down to him.
I wade with the river, working my streamer down and across, then pull out just upstream of him. He has a gentle manner about him, and is so soft spoken that I have to draw close and listen cup-eared just to understand his words above the river’s soft murmur. He’s an older man, late-60’s – maybe early 70’s. His face is drawn, his eyes worried…
We talk fly fishing; he prefers fishing dry flies, but laments the days of chasing trout in the faster rivers of the Catskills are largely over. As he says this he glances down at the long wooden wading staff attached to his waist and wagging atop the water below him.
I wish him luck and wade downriver as evening sets in. A few times I turn upriver and observe him in the same spot, but eventually, almost imperceptibly, he removes himself from the river. As I finish my evening of fishing and hike back to the car, I double back on my promise to keep physically fit but this time the promise is targeted on fighting off aging so that I may actively fish well into my eighties, and even beyond, God-willing.
Sometime after my riverside re-awakening, I came across a book that would be that second life-changing moment related to physical fitness. The book was titled, “Younger Next Year” co-authored by Chris Crowley, a 70-something ball of energy, and Henry “Harry” Lodge, M.D., his internal medicine doctor. The two trade chapters: Chris providing the application and real-world experience side of the book and Harry, the facts and reason behind the advice. The book’s premise: if you can fight the biological clock by sticking to some basic rules, you’ll live like you’re 50 well into your 80’s and beyond. I read the book and was compelled to read it again with highlighter in hand.
Harry’s Rules are so simple that one might question buying such a book. But it’s what’s behind the rules that fascinated me most. The medical detail behind each rule convinced me of the book’s worth and reminded me of a common criticism I have of the medical profession: that many doctors preach rules, order tests, but rarely take the time to explain “why”…
So, here are Harry’s Rules:
1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
2. Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life
3. Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
4. Spend less than you make.
5. Quit eating crap.
7. Connect and commit.
Notice that the rules go beyond being just a gym rat, another thing I loved about the book. And even the importance of non-physical rules, such as “Connect and Commit” are backed by sound medical rationale.
The book is a delightful read, especially for us older guys. It’s written by a guy who can relate to age and by a doctor who sees daily, the results that lifestyle can have on one’s aging. Harry and Chris use the mantra, “grow or decay” throughout the book and it is a good one to remember as is their chart that depicts normal aging and what “old age” can be.
Here, according to the authors, is how we typically age…
And here is the aging process if we live by Harry’s Rules…
According to Harry, over 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle related and that through simple lifestyle changes, captured in Harry’s Rules, over half of all disease in men and women over 50 could be eliminated.
The choice is ours. We can look at aging and all the associated aches and pains and limitations as normal, or we can choose to delay the onset of the slippery slope, and continue to live well into our 80’s.
And so I’ll begin 2016 with another read of Younger Next Year. I’ll think of all the fishing left to do in my life and remember the old guy on the Chenango. I’ll re-commit to fighting the relentless tide of old age, with Harry’s Rules in hand, so that I can still venture out and wet a line into my 80’s. And with a little luck, maybe I’ll hear the young bucks over the roar of the fast water say, “would you look at that old guy?”