When my father was two years older than I am now, he had a series of heart attacks and never worked again. He died just over a decade later at the age of 61. By the time I was 35, I was the oldest living male on my father’s side of the family. Genetics are clearly not on my side.
I’m approaching my late 40s* now and I’m not ready to pack things in yet, so staying fit and healthy is important to me.
There are, however, only so many hours in the day. And I can’t afford to spend them all in the gym. So in the spirit of living thoughtfully, I’ve considered carefully the sort of fitness I want to achieve and how I can best maintain it. As well as how I can fit it all together while still leaving myself time to actually live my life.
My fitness goals are quite simple. I want to have good all-round functional fitness that will keep me active into my old(er) age. I want to have sufficient cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance to do the things I like doing without getting tired. And I want to be able to make an all-out effort when required, without giving myself a heart attack.
I’d also like to be reasonably slim and athletic-looking (or, rather, as slim and athletic-looking as someone whose body shape can best be described as ‘chonk’ is ever going to be) and to show that I keep myself in good physical shape.
There are numerous benefits to this. It’ll hopefully keep me reasonably healthy and active as I get older. It means I can work hard (physically or mentally) for extended periods of time without getting tired. It allows me to enjoy the outdoors. I have more credibility at work. And if I ever need to carry an injured dog or drag a loved one out of a car wreck (yes, I worry about these things), I know I’m physically able to do so.
My fitness triangle
While I’m no specialist here, the gaining and maintaining of fitness has, for me, three elements. I call them my ‘fitness triangle’.
Firstly, there’s exercise. This trains my body and my mind. Secondly, there’s nutrition. This fuels my body and gives me the nutrients I need to stay healthy. And thirdly, there’s sleep. This gives my mind and body time to recover and to consolidate the fitness gains that I have made.
I call it my fitness triangle because it needs all of these three things if I am to achieve my fitness goals.
On the exercise front, I try to take a balanced approach. This means a mixture of activities and a mixture of intensities. I do a 30-minute strength workout six mornings a week, alternating between bodyweight exercises (e.g. press ups, crunches, planks) and a whole-body dumbell workout. On Sundays, I do a 30-minute session of yoga, instead.
In my morning workouts, I increase the level of difficulty a little each week. For the bodyweight workout, this usually means increasing the number of repetitions or making the exercise itself harder. In my dumbell workout, I increase the number of repetitions in each set until I reach 12 reps, at which point I increase the weight and go back down to 6 reps. It’s all designed to fit as much exercise as possible into the 30 minutes I have available.
For cardiovascular exercise with a greater focus on endurance, I run with one of our dogs three or four times a week. We generally run after work for around four miles (just over 6 km) on hilly off-road terrain. I usually run wearing a rucksack, firstly to carry various bits of safety gear for me and the dog (it can get quite remote out here) and, secondly, because in the few times in my life when I’ve needed to run, I’ve never been wearing shorts and trainers.
Once a week, I throw in some speedwork intervals or random exercises like burpees, to get my heart rate up a bit. The dog finds this hilarious. And on Fridays, I extend our run to somewhere between 6 and 8 miles (10 to 13 km), which helps to improve my endurance and allows us to explore a bit further afield. I used to run much longer distances than this, but while it’s fun, it eats up time and doesn’t really help me to achieve my fitness goals.
Twice a week, I do a rucking workout, again with one of our dogs. This involves going for a regular walk for an hour or two, but carrying a weighted rucksack**. I currently walk about three or four miles carrying a 15 kg pack, usually on hilly off-road terrain. I’ll increase distance and pack weight gradually over time. The dog doesn’t carry a pack, so essentially she’s just walking.
In addition to this, I walk the dogs for an hour and a half each morning (half an hour with both dogs and a further hour with the younger one) and walk our older dog for half an hour each evening before the younger dog and I go running, rucking or whatever.
Nutrition is my Achilles heel. Mostly because of pizza. But I’m making a concerted effort to get better at eating the right things in the right amounts.
I’m a vegetarian and don’t drink alcohol, which probably gives me a more-healthy-than-average diet right off the bat. I also try to eat (in conjunction with my wife, who does most of the cooking***) things made from fresh ingredients, rather than processed foods.
This is helped by the fact that I grow a lot of our fruit and vegetables. And by the fact that I actually genuinely enjoy eating fruit and vegetables.
I try also to achieve a good balance between carbohydrates, protein and fats. This means thinking consciously about what to put into a meal. And how to make sure that I’m getting enough protein to maintain and build muscle mass. (I get through a lot of peanut butter.)
When I’m working away from home and don’t have access to the delicious ingredients in our garden, fridge and store cupboard (or the wherewithal to prepare myself a packed lunch in advance), I tend to make myself a protein-heavy ‘complete food’ shake (I currently use Huel Black). My wife is not a fan of this, but it works well for me.
I try to hydrate well, too. I drink a couple of litres of water over the course of the day, as well as probably more cups of coffee and tea than a nutritionist would really be happy with.
Sleep is an important part of my life. Not just because I’m essentially quite lazy and enjoy snoozing in my bed, but also because it’s while I’m asleep that my body recovers and consolidates the fitness gains I’ve made from exercise. It does wonders for my mental health, too.
I’d love to say that I get a solid eight hours of sleep a night. But while this remains my aspiration, I’m currently on about six and a half. This leaves me more tired than I’d like to be and doesn’t, I feel, give my body sufficient time to recover from all the running around.
Consequently, sleep is an area where I need to do better. And I’m trying to re-work my evening routine to allow me to get to bed earlier.
So that’s my approach to fitness. It’s intentional. It’s balanced. And it’s focused on my specific fitness goals. Is it perfect? Probably not. I’ve tried to do my research, but I’m no specialist. However, it works for me. And I hope it’ll continue to work for me as I enter my late 40s and beyond.
* I’m 47 now, so if you were being uncharitable you might argue that I’m already in my late 40s.
** Yes, it’s a thing. And it’s great fun. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
*** Don’t judge me. She enjoys cooking and finds it a good way to wind down after work. I do the washing up. (We’ve made sure to balance all the household chores fairly between us, but more about that in separate blog post at some point.)
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