October 4, 2014

Making Peace With An Aging Body


Watching (and feeling) my body age is not much fun. Bags, sags, and wrinkles are what I see. A loss of muscle mass means the rear end seems to have left town, the area under the biceps wobbles more than is proper, and lawn work is more a chore than a joy. 

Even though I go to a gym at least three days a week for cardio and weight bearing exercises, there is no halting the cosmic joke of decay that is my future. Certainly, the time spent in physical activity means that inevitable slippage is occurring more slowly than in someone whose only exercise is using a TV remote. And, for folks with serious medical issues my complaints seem petty.

But, my point is simple: I must make peace with what is happening. Obsessing about my aging body and erosion of capabilities only leads to frustration or, even worse, resignation. Even if I spent several hours a day on my physical conditioning I may slow the ticking clock a bit, but I am not going to stop it.

A couple we know are several years younger than Betty and me. They think nothing of biking a dozen miles before breakfast, running up and down the side of a mountain, or hiking for longer distances than I like to drive. Heavens, I get tired just hearing about their exploits. Really, I enjoy hearing about what they do but I won't try to replicate all of it. Our energy levels and physical conditioning are different. What I also will not do is just give in to my body's slippage.

So, how do I make peace with an aging body? In a word: acceptance. The amount of money Americans spend on trying to look young and deny reality is staggering. In 2015 Boomers are expected to spend over $100 billion dollars on anti-aging products and procedures.

We have all seen the older man with a comb over that starts just above one ear, or the woman with so much plastic surgery her face is tight enough to bounce a quarter. We probably all spend some money on vitamins and supplements that most studies show are unnecessary if we have a decent diet and exercise regime. We join a gym, go for a few months, and then stop for a whole variety of excuses.

My hair is thinning and there is some serious scalp showing on the crown of my head. In fact, my eyebrows and ears show more aggressive hair growth than my head. Rogaine for me to fill in the gaps? No. This is what my head is programmed to look like at this stage of my life, thinning hair and all.

Can I bench press my weight? No. I am lucky to bench press my gym bag.

Can I run a marathon? No. Do I want to run a marathon? No.

Is my pulse, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood work and lung capacity all good? Yes.

Do I intend to continue to go to the gym for thrice weekly workouts and then a session in the steam room? Yes.

I accept the reality of the limitations that an aging body imposes on me today. Hopefully, I will be smart enough to do the same as the calendar marches on and I can avoid this fellow's fate for as long as possible.






56 comments:

  1. My passion for physical fitness has kept me lean, strong and pretty healthy. I'm fortunate that I love to be physically active. I eat healthy, and have come to appreciate and love a diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean protein. (And always a little bit of chocolate for the soul!) Long ago my husband and I agreed to forego any attempts to alter our physical appearance simply for vanity's sake. Wrinkles, we'll take them.

    Having said that, I am adjusting to the fact that my body does not always cooperate with my brain. I discovered this year that I have some arthritis in various joints of my body. It is not crippling, thankfully, but enough where I have had to alter what I do physically. For example, when we stay in our FL condo for the winter, I used to walk the stairs up the 12 floors, just because it felt good and because it became part of my interval training. I was initially in denial that my body would not cooperate with what I demanded of it physically. But I realize now that I may have to alter some of my activities to accommodate these newly found ailments.

    Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself about such things, I quickly give myself a reality check. I am grateful for the health that I do have. I still have all of my limbs! The rest of my health is still great. And there are plenty of other active options for indulging in my passion.

    I'm also a believer that a positive attitude and outlook on life goes a long way in your self perception, and others' perception of you. I know someone who has turned into a "grumpy old man". His negativity about most things and his overall grumpy demeanor make it hard to be around him. Depression will age you quickly. Mental health is as important as physical health as we age.

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    1. I have a post in a few weeks about how we live the lifestyle we choose to live. We can accept our situation and live life to the fullest, or we can go the "grumpy" route and rail against all the unfairness of it all. Clearly you, Carole, are in the first camp!

      I have a little stiffness in some of my fingers when I wake up each morning, but some flexing takes care of the problem, for now. I am thankful, too, for where my body is now.

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  2. Nice post Bob. Acceptance is critical for a satisfying retirement. We can't expect to have a thirty year old body at 65+. $100 billion, WOW and I'll bet a rather large portion of that is to the snake oil salesmen of our times. But then again a thirty year old has to get up early everyday and face a stressful job with an often overbearing boss. I think I will take the aging body instead....

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    1. We spend $52 billion on pet food, so maybe $110 billion on our bodies and appearance isn't completely out of line. What is sad is so much of that money is spent in an attempt to deny reality.

      BTW, did you notice my post about you has made the "most popular" post list on the right sidebar? For those reading this post, your story would make a nice appendix.

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  3. Sometimes when I first wake in the morning, and see myself in the mirror, I wonder what in the heck happened to my younger self. When I think about all the ups and downs of life, the close call with cancer, and general wear and tear, I smile because at least I'm still here! That's a good thing. I think the most important thing we can do is to be honest with ourselves. Right now, I need to adjust my eating and exercise to drop 10 pounds. The only way I'll manage that is to set my mind to it and also change my ways. There's a Bible verse that says "as a person thinks, so is he/she." Having an optimistic mindset will take all of us a long ways in these challenging days of our lives.

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    1. I have been struggling a bit with an intestinal issue over the past week that has meant I have been on a very bland diet, with no glass of wine before dinner, and little fiber. That is the not so good part.

      On the other hand I have lost 3 pounds in 5 day, putting me thisclose to my goal of being under 190 pounds....a positive unintended consequence.

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    2. I think the Bible passage is Proverbs 23, but it doesn't sound like what you may have meant. In context starting at verse 6:

      6 Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
      Or desire his delicacies;

      7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
      He says to you, “Eat and drink!”
      But his heart is not with you.

      8 You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
      And waste your compliments.

      9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
      For he will despise the wisdom of your words.

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    3. Anonymous, you are absolutely right. The quote as I intended is from Buddha (paraphrased it states that whatever you think upon, you will become). I sincerely appreciate your correction.

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  4. I think the aging process goes in 30 year spurts. We seem to look and be fine from age 30 to age 59. BUT something happens to us the moment we turn 60. I don't know what it is. First off, people (and doctors) start treating you differently at 60. Then the body just rapidly deteriorates regardless of our fitness/health routine. I've never seen or felt anything quite like this before! I'm not going to accept it. I'm going to ward it off for as long as I can. I have no intention of getting plastic surgery BUT I am still going to hold on to youthfullness as long as I can. That is my acceptance plan. If I start to 'think' old, I feel I will 'act' old long before I am ready.
    As for those 'youngin's' who tout their prowess, it's just a matter of time. It's just a matter of time.

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    1. For me, medical issues started to become obvious the second I got my Medicare card. I have been very healthy my whole life, and still am for the most part. But, something clicked when I turned 65. Doctors, specialists, and "issues" are now part of my routine. So far, nothing serious, or even very debilitating. But, still, how did my body know when I finally had decent medical insurance coverage?

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    2. I think part of the secret is to find something you can do well and take it to the max and push just a bit beyond that. I am 65, took up running at 58, hadn't run since high school. I have since ran 115 races and done pretty well, especially compared to guys in my age divison. Ran all different distances from 5k's to half marathon's. This year I decided it was time to go to the Mecca of races, the Boston Marathon. Took several months of training and three Boston Qualifier marathons, but on the third try in September, the very last day and last race of the year before the cutt-off for 2015, I qualified for Boston in 4:03:23 running the Ventura,Ca Marathon. I am not a great runner, very little natural ability, but experience that comes with age helped to get me through it. The wisdom to know what your body is capable of, the sense to start slowy, keep a steady pace regardless of how many runners start out like jackrabbits, knowing I will pass many of them later in the race, knowing for every minute you "bank" going out too fast at the start will cost you two minutes or more in the second half. The point is, use the wisdom we have built over the years and take the lessons learned from failures in our younger years to get what you are after now, be it sports, wealth, love or?
      Age can be an advantage, not a handicap.

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  5. I hear you Bob! As I type this message I sit with an ice bag on my shoulder and another on my elbow - standard for post-workouts these days. I also stick with a regular exercise routine and fight the good fight. But the sags and wrinkles are inevitable. As you say the most important thing is to come to grips with and accept the inevitabilities of aging. That is not easy. I try to reconcile with the fact that I have learned a lot along the way and have much to be proud of with the family. But I do miss those biceps that I was so proud of decades ago. What can you do? Enjoy what we have and wear baggy clothes! :)

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    1. Because of the old man/disappearing rear end thing I have actually gone from relaxed fit jeans to regular fit. The last thing I want is extra bagginess back there!

      So far I haven't had to resort to ice bags after a trip to the gym...maybe because I am not pushing myself enough.

      Good to hear from you Dave. Readers, check out Dave's blog, Retirement - Only The Beginning. He has been a steady voice in the field of retirement for several years.

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  6. HIt the spot, I'm writing as we speak on the topic of health for next week. I've finally accepted that in addition to walking, I'm moving to "Silver Sneakers" exercise class and a chair yoga/Pilates class since if I ever got on the ground I would never get up. I'm glad that you do weights though, I'm finding that my arms are really weakening-walking doesnt help them much and this new class is embarrassing as I am using the lightest weights and the smallest exercise bands.

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    1. My Medicare supplement policy does give me free gym membership through the Silver Sneakers program....quite a nice perk.

      Don't be embarrassed by light weights and bands. Any weight-bearing is much better than none, and over time you will probably be able to add a little more weight. My goal is overall toning and keeping my range of motion, so I am not adding weight but repetitions.

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  7. Well, yes, with age come some physical challenges. But our post proves one other thing: With age comes wisdom.

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    1. Wisdom to not get an extreme face lift or tummy tuck!

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  8. Doug and I have been watching old Louis C.K. stand up acts--we find them hilarious (some might find them offensive, which I understand. But alas, we love them.) Anyway he does a bunch about realizing that THIS is the best his body is ever going to look--it only gets worse from here. One of his quotes: "I finally have the body I want. It’s easy, actually, you just have to want a really shitty body."

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    1. Yes, no matter how many miles I walk or how often I go through the gym door, another few thousand cells will have died since yesterday. C'est la Vie.

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  9. This blog likely hit home for a lot of us, Bob. I am one of those people who has never, ever given in to age, but I am feeling myself getting out of shape aerobically since I cannot run for another 8-9 months due to the ankle reconstruction in June. I am still weight lifting, using the stationary bike, and walking (until the ankle swells too much), but the lack of running is causing me concerns. Didn't have a lot of choice since the surgery became pretty much mandatory, but it still bothers me since it feels out of my control.

    When I had a goatee only I colored it regularly, as well as the hair. But since retiring early in April I have decided to grow the full beard back, and let the hair on the head look as much like it did in the 70s as possible length-wise. For vanity I will still color the head, but I may just let the beard go. Too much to color too often, and I guess I could care less what others think after all. One of the definite advantages to not working and feeling as if you have to present yourself as youthful as possible.

    All of us need to exercise as much as possible, eat as well as possible (desserts tend to be my downfall), and keep as positive an attitude as possible. If we do those three, and keep the alcohol intake low, I suspect at the end we will be able to say we did not go easily into that good night. Here's hoping sincerely for the absolute best for you and all your readers.

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    1. My dad is almost 91, takes only 4 different pills a day, doesn't use a walker or a cane, reads a new book every 5 days, and looks closer to 80 than 91. I hope I have inherited those genes.

      BTW, my mustache turned mostly white in my 30's. I think that helped me as a consultant. People assumed I was older than I was and would listen to me.

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  10. I feel your creaks, and raise you arthritis. I have lost my eyebrows. It's the damnedest thing! I've found a product that keeps me from looking like a freak, but it pisses me off that they just up and disappeared! From my car accidents I have arthritis in my spine, and it spreads out to the hips on cold, wet days. So much fun! But, I'm still getting around, still doing whatever needs to be done, and still enjoying life for as long as I have it!
    b

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    1. Losing your eyebrows? That's one I've never heard of. Maybe it is a living in New Jersey thing.

      The move probably hasn't helped your aches and pains but you and Dave are pulling it off...that's all that counts.

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    2. Just a thought, Barbara, but you might see about having your thyroid checked regarding the disappearing eyebrows.

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    3. Betty said the same thing about the thyroid.

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    4. Thanks for the tip! I'll look into that.

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  11. Oh boy, this cuts close to the bone. I have my grumpy days, when I'm fed up with the endless maintenance. On those days, do not tell me "consider the alternative" or I will cut you. Yes, I realize others have it worse, but on those grumpy days, it's the same as "eat your peas, kids are starving in China." In short, I just don't care at that moment and want to wallow in it for a while.

    Moods pass, you pick yourself up and get on with it.

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    1. Your comment is very honest, and funny. Thanks for your take on the subject.

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    2. A few decades ago, I sort of knew Brent Musburger. Flash forward to a few months ago when I saw him on tv. My first thought was "boy, he's really aged..."

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  12. I hurt my shoulders from watering my garden this year! How insulting.

    Arthritis isn't much of a problem for me yet, but my night visit sucks. I'm grateful to be healthy.

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    1. With the traveling you and Art do, being healthy enough to do so is important.

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  13. Boy,can I relate. My husband retired at the end of June, took up racquetball 4 days a week (he used to play) and now has had sciatica over the last month. Not pleasant. I can tell when the weather changes by my knees hurting when I go up the stairs. At times I have to climb them like a little child would, one leg at a time. Overall things are good but I definitely noticed changes about 60.

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    1. Occasionally I will get a touch of sciatica in one of my legs, too, after too strenuous a session at the gym, particularly after using a particular machine on the circuit. It isn't fun. Tell hubby I can relate.

      I read that the human body is designed to last to 100. If so, why do we all start to fall apart 40 years earlier than that? Lifestyle choices? Environment? All I know is if my body were a car I'd trade it in about now.

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    2. Bob, you made me laugh out loud!

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  14. I, too, have the typical aches and pains and have been blessed to survive some major health road bumps in the road of life. I try to remind myself daily that I am given the gift of new day and it is mine to mold and shape and enjoy.
    My best friend and I have a running joke....we compare or bodies to the classic '51 and '52 Chevys....gotta run them full throttle sometimes to get the motor running optimum, shine them up and take good care of them if we want to keep them in good shape. Those ole Chevys get a little lead in them once in awhile but are still serving us pretty well:)

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    1. Oh, funny. See my comment just above about a car!

      Any day above ground is another chance to love others, thank God for your blessings, and enjoy our beautiful world.

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  15. Well, to be fair Bob, did you really EVER want to run a marathon . . . even in your younger years? :-)

    Age is a reality, but I'm not sure I understand why it has to impact the joy one gets, or at least that I do, in consistently pushing my own physical boundaries. So we do things a bit differently as we age, what's the big deal? The point of remaining active is that it infuses our lives with energy, and energy is a very big deal when it comes to quality of life as we age.

    Coincidental to this post, we have a family half marathon coming up in a couple of months. My 31 year old daughter's goal is to break 1:30, a sub-7 minute per mile running pace. My goal, at 52, is to break 2 hours, a sub-9 minute mile running pace, conversely my 77 year old father's goal is to break 2:45, which equates to a sub-12.5 minute racewalking pace. Which is a blistering walking pace by the way, if you've never tried it. Anyhow, all three goals reflect a major effort irrespective of their differing times, and all three are guaranteed to generate an incredible sense of satisfaction. The fact that my daughter is going to finish ahead of me, and both of us ahead of my father isn't going to alter the way we each feel we cross the finish line one little bit. A job well done is a job well done.

    It really doesn't matter if you ever complete a marathon, though I absolutely believe you could with proper conditioning should you ever wish to do so. It only matters that you are satisfied with the energy you are putting out today, and the energy you get back in return, wherever you happen to be in your life.

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    1. No, I never wanted to run a marathon. The only serious running in my life was as part of the track team in high school and when a long ago girl friend liked running so I joined her. Not too long after that she dumped me and dumped running.

      Your last paragraph is the key to me: I see my aging body and I adjust to it. But, I don't let it affect how I live each day or approach life. My physical body is just one part of what makes me who I am. As long as I don't use whatever is happening in that area to alter my daily joy and satisfaction I am good to go.

      And, now at 12:33pm I am 3 minutes late for the gym.

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  16. It seemed like my warranty expired when I turned 62. My husband's made it to 66. I'm sitting here nursing my second knee replacement with a cold gel pack. Each new diagnosis, mostly minor annoyances, is beginning to make us laugh. We also have two aging cats so that makes aging all the more pronounced around here at the moment.

    Nice post, Bob. I always thought I'd be agreeable to a nip here and a tuck there but no way now would I agree to any vanity surgery.

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    1. Second knee replacement? Wow. An honest question: is it worth it? A lot of people in our age group get new knees and I have heard some are very happy and others take a very long time to get back to normal. What has been your experience.

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    2. I have had two knee replacements. One is 20 months old and the second is 10 months old. The recuperation and recovery is long, tedious, and difficult. But the end result is ABSOLUTELY worth it because I got my life back. Best wishes to you, Denise! Keep us posted on your progress.

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    3. I don't have any need for one at this time, but I was interested in your experiences, which seem to match others.

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  17. Wow. I am 52 and already feel/think many of these thoughts Bob. I was hoping that this is just a stage where I learn to adjust mentally to seeing myself age.
    Reading the post and, comments it appears this will be an on going battle throughout the rest of my life.
    I find it strange to look in the mirror these days. I just don't see myself anymore. I end up pulling the skin on my face to find the familiar reflection only to let the skin go and, stare at what now has become my face.
    Too, my energy level is lacking. Things I once loved to do for the joy of it, have gone. Now, I piddle through my days mostly giving energy where it is most needed. I do tend to have an up day or week once in a while. Thankful for those days!
    I have battled thyroid/auto-immune issues since I was 32. This is a big reason my energy isn't what it could be.
    I am not complaining so much as I am trying to adjust to my ever changing self.

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    1. It will be on-going, Betty, but how you process it and deal with it will make all the difference in the world. My wife, also Betty, has had auto-immune issues since her early 30s. She has the most positive attitude and refuses to allow all her medical issues to dominate her life. We will celebrate 38 years together next June and she is stronger both physically and mentally than she has ever been.

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  18. Ah yes it is all true...but we are so lucky in ways I cannot even list. Life goes on.

    Be well.

    Barbara

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    1. Our list of why life is a blessing is a long one, isn't it Barb.

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  19. When I turned 50, my now 80-year-old mother jokingly (or not) told me, "From here on out, it's patch, patch, patch." She was right...but it really got my attention when I turned 60 last year. I have aches and pains I didn't have only a few years ago. I've had some minor arthritis for years...it runs in my family. Also probably a result of having my knee scoped and my elbow broken in past years. I guess some residual pain is inevitable.

    Overall, I'm pretty grateful for what I have, and like your other readers, happy to be alive and relatively well. A good friend was just diagnosed with ALS. It really puts things in perspective.

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    1. I love that "patch, patch, patch" comment from your mom. It seems so true.

      Yes, the diagnosis of something serious or life threatening-terminal does make the daily stiffness pale in comparison.

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  20. Bob, I think it's important to distinguish (as you have) between health issues that affect quality of life and appearance issues. I always think that my friends who moan and groan about getting older haven't seriously considered the alternative. At age 50, I was diagnosed with a cancer that had only a 20% five-year survival rate. (In other words, I had an 80% chance of never getting to retirement age.) Sixteen years later, I rejoice in every wrinkle, sag and gray hair (even as I try to get lots of exercise and eat a healthy diet); I know that the alternative to growing old is NOT staying young ;-) -Jean

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    1. Important point, Jean. We must make peace with our body and the change in its appearance. But, we can fight against the physical decline all while thanking God that we still have the abilities we do.

      You beat the odds and are living proof that there is lots of life left after a tough battle.

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  21. I tell people I'm at the "snap, crackle and pop" stage of life. I make noises just walking down the hall.

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    1. Oh, yes, Larry. We can't sneak up on anyone! Maybe that's why Columbo wore a raincoat - to help mask the sounds of his knees clicking as he walked around a crime scene.

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  22. Hope I don't burst too many bubbles, but I quit my seven-year workout/healthy diet program seven years ago because it got totally boring. Now, at age 78, I enjoy life much more without the workouts and have acquired no new physical problems. I'd rather die sipping a martini than running on a treadmill.

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    1. My dad may be in your camp. He is almost 91 and has never belonged to a gym. In fact, I don't think he has walked more than a block in the last 5 years. Yet he has lower blood pressure than a 70 year old. Go figure

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  23. You just gave me me greater peace of mind. I also go to the gym three times a week. walk regularly and visit the steam room but the results are not exactly what I had hoped for. Learning to accept my aging body is the best advice I've heard yet. Being healthy is most important as you mentioned - and my heart, lungs and blood work are all fine, too.

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    1. Glad I could help! I just returned from a visit to the gym and have a nice, mid afternoon burst of energy, even if I still am above my target weight.

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