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September 17, 2017

The importance of being active as we age

There are two primary sections of the newspaper that I read most carefully. The first is the sports page, and the second is the comics. After that, I can take my leisure and go through the rest of the paper for any news that keeps me up to date on what’s going on nationally and locally.

There are times while reading the comics that the topic of fitness is the punch line. Dennis the Menace is a good example. It is refreshing to get a kid’s point of view of the actions and behavior of adults.

This week was a perfect example of how Dennis looks at his parents’ trying to get in some exercise. His mother was on the floor, reaching to touch her toes, when Dennis passes by with a friend. The comment from this innocent young kid was, “I guess when you get too old to play... you have to exercise.”

It made me think a bit on that phrase now that I am a little older. When did I stop playing and activity became exercise? I played for quite a number of years; and I guess the last year most of my activity is now “exercise.” My definition of play is doing something that I really enjoy and look forward to doing it. Even entering competition for me is play.

In my educational years, it consisted of football, track, wrestling, gymnastics, weightlifting, body building, marathon running and power lifting, with a year of Golden Gloves boxing and some judo thrown in there. Then the wear and tear of all that activity caught up with me.

First it was the cartilage in my knees that curtailed the powerlifting sport. Then one hip went out and it needed some replacement parts. I was advised by the doctors to not lift heavy weights – which I didn’t listen to - and so my very supple shoulders no longer have that full range of motion.

Looking back at these things when you reach an older age, you often ask yourself, “Would you have done anything different now that you know the end result?” I think about it, and then say, “Nope, I had a great time getting to this point and wouldn’t change a thing.”

I have just moved on to lifting lighter weights, riding a bike and walking for exercise. And looking at this activity now, I guess you could call it exercise; but in a way it is still play, because I still enjoy doing all of it.

I have a shirt that I purchased at the Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance convention when I taught. On the back it reads, “We don’t stop playing because we got old; we got old because we stopped playing.” It still holds some meaning today. Dennis just periodically has a good comic to remind me of that point.

There is one other shirt that I wear with a statement on the back that keeps me going in my activity. This one states, “If we don’t take care of our bodies, where will we live?”

Years ago I remember reading an article that mentioned that, after the age of 40 years, you’d better see a medical doctor before you exercise as your body starts to go downhill. Today you see people changing that to “60 years is the new 40 years.” We have age groups over 70 years for almost all of our races here in San Marcos, and a couple have an age group for over 75 years – and one for 90-plus years.

I go down to the gym when I don’t lift at home. At a certain hour of the day, there is a group of lifters who are well past 60 years old, and they are still going strong. And this includes a few women as well.

They all represent a well-conditioned and fit body that they are living in. You might say they are fighting the image of an old person sitting around and getting sedentary and fat, because they are supposed to slow down after 60 years – or before that. There is a big difference between slowing down versus coming to a complete stop.

It just takes a comic strip to remind us of how important being active is for a lifetime. Dennis just brings some humor and a young person’s perspective to some things now and then.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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