Paul Andersen: Fair Game
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Tonight at 5:30, I’ll be asking that question of Dr. Glenn Kotz at my “Community Conversations” program at the Basalt library. It’s a question that gnaws on me as I pass each birthday, which I did last week, turning 62. Anything over 60 used to feel venerable – now I regard my early 60s as the bloom of youth.
So how healthy am I? That depends on the day. Sometimes my energy level is super-human, as if I had mainlined a liter of high-octane Kona roast. Other days I feel like my blood consists of 30-weight oil on a cold winter morning with a low battery. The starter grinds, but nothing kicks over.
Kotz is my primary-care physician. He’s the guy I see about my overall health, especially when my energy level drops. In the examination room, he asks me questions not directly related to my physical health but to my mental health, like stress and happiness. He understands the importance of integrating body and mind for holistic health.
As I age and watch as more and more of my peer group is stricken with various ills, mortality is a salient and pressing subject. Staying consistently healthy becomes my chief goal, not only for longevity but for longevity plus a high quality of life. For me, that means staying active and pain-free.
“Where do you want to be in 15 years?” Kotz once asked me after a formal physical. I told him I wanted to still be living up the Fryingpan.
“No, no,” he clarified. “Where do you want to be with your activity level, with your health and fitness?”
I had to ponder that for a moment. I told him I wanted to be doing bike tours, telemark skiing, backpacking, that I wanted to retain my independence for as long as possible.
“Then you need to ramp up your core strength. You need to push yourself.”
I thought I was pushing myself, so now I began wondering how aggressive I should be just to maintain my fitness status quo. My happiness is so dependent on athletic pursuits – skiing, hiking and biking – that pushing myself seems worth whatever risks come with it.
Kotz suggested an exercise regimen that builds and maintains core strength. Instead of the 20 pushups I do, make it 25. Instead of 8 chin-ups, make it 12. Add sit-ups, toe crunches, back and stomach workouts, etc. I have long thought that my usual home chores – cutting, hauling and splitting firewood, shoveling my 100-foot-long driveway, pushing a manual mower – were enough. Wrongo!
Ramping up skiing, hiking and cycling is a lot easier than what I consider contrived workouts because they are pleasurable. What better reason for going on a bike ride or a ski tour than “doctor’s orders?” My wife knows that I’ll probably be around longer if I stay fit, so she supports my indulgence in athletic pursuits. Still, I should be doing more.
At tonight’s program, Kotz will address this balance between athletics and the more mundane aspects of life, the non-electives. This is a particularly important question as the aging demographic in our valley comes to grips with a balance that’s not so easily achieved.
Kotz is, himself, an athlete. He’s also a father, a husband and a physician. He wrestles with serious time-management challenges and faces compromises to his own physical health, so the conversation will be both personal and professional.
No matter what one’s age and physical condition are, balance is important as it determines how well one lives and for how long. As we consider the finite number of heartbeats to which each of us is entitled, we also might consider how to make sure that those heartbeats are healthy and enjoyable.
For me, it’s important to address how to balance life choices against real-life limitations, how to orchestrate health and fitness so that aging can be a beautiful experience. Perhaps Kotz can provide an idea of how that equation figures into the overall health of an individual – and of a community.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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