Review Feature

Middle age fitness: Pumping up or pooping out?

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"Look at yourself," say my sweaty, out-of-breath friends in their color-coordinated, major-brand-name exercise suits.

"You're a pudgy, pasty, inert mass of human flesh. You've got to get in shape." Pause. "If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your kids."

They have a point. No child wants a dad who is commonly mistaken for the late Chris Farley ... several months after his death. And no father can fully bond with his offspring if he's developed a deep-seated spiritual relationship with his La-Z-Boy recliner.

But I am not so far gone as my pals, whose brains are so horribly pureed by physical activity that they refer to exercise as a "fun sport."

Ha.

Take running ... please.

Needless to say, running is NOT a sport. It's what you do to keep from getting mugged, to catch a bus, to avoid the parking-lot crunch after a Beatles reunion concert, to punish your child for committing arson, to beat the rush at the announcement, "Last call for happy hour!"

If God had intended people to run for fun, he wouldn't have invented opposite sexes. Or La-Z-Boy recliners.

Consider the Australian aborigines. For millions of years they have run only to secure the basic necessities of life. Since kangaroo meat is chief among those needs, they can hardly afford to waste energy on pleasure jogging. And if they did, their smarter neighbors are bound to holler, "Hey, bud! Save it! Take a nap! If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your kids!"

That's solid reasoning. But it doesn't keep my fleet-footed friends from proselytizing. "Try it, you'll like it," they promise. "It's a fun sport. But before you start, check with your doctor."

I do not consider that a winning sales pitch. Remember the old line, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it?" Well, it seems to me that if you can't have "fun" without first getting an OK from a heart specialist, you'd best remain as inert as is humanly possible.

With that goal in mind, I chose to precede any stressful medical checkups with a slow, low-impact stroll to the library. The first running book I found was written by a fellow described on the jacket as having been declared "medically fitter than most college athletes." It was written by once-famous jogger Jim Fixx, who died of a heart attack in his early fifties ... while jogging.

I did come across some fascinating historical information. Apparently, competitive foot races were initiated around 490 B.C. to commemorate the Greek warrior Pheidippides, who once ran 26 miles to tell his fellow Athenians that their army had won an astonishing victory at Marathon.

And now, as commentator Paul Harvey would say, here's the REST of the story. Moments after relaying his message, Pheidippides dropped dead. Almost certainly, it was then that history's first idiot looked at the poor guy's twitching, overheated remains and exclaimed, "Wow! That looks like a fun sport! If we can't keel over like that for ourselves, let's do it for our kids!"

Undaunted, I continued my research. But the actual running tips I culled failed to tell me anything I didn't already know or practice. For instance:

Never run without first warming up.

Believe me. The idea has never entered my mind.

Move at your own pace.

That's been my personal motto for as long as I can remember.

Never stop abruptly at the end of a vigorous run.

The very last thing I'd do.

Never over race.

The next-to-the-last thing I'd do.

One of the most valuable assets you can have is consistency.

Hey! I'm starting to feel like a pro!

Don't engage in strenuous workouts merely to impress others.

They're kidding, right?

Always listen to your body.

I do. Granted, the sounds aren't always pretty, but I listen. Usually from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy recliner, where there are no honking cars, passing DC-10s, squeaky Reeboks or panting, moaning joggers to drown out any important noises.

Try it. You'll like it. It's fun. And if you won't do it for yourself, do it for your kid who'd no doubt prefer to be known as Son of The Blob than Pheidippides Jr.

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