I’m Not A Health ‘Freak’, We’re Supposed To Be Fit At 50

For years I feared that I was weird and narcissistic for exercising regularly, but science says humans just aren’t designed to take it easy

An older man runs in a wood
Image: Dominic Winkel/pixabay

THIS WEEK, like the majority of the world, I’m getting back to the same old, same old.

Like nearly everyone else, I’m working again. Like lots of us, I’m trying for a Dry – or at least a Moist January.

Yesterday, I made a point of getting outside and exercising, throwing my leg over the bike for the first proper ride of 2020.  

But perhaps less positively, every morning this week, I’ve disappeared anxiously down a rabbit warren of health-related stories on the BBC website.

Yesterday, I wasted about 20 minutes trying to find one called something like: ‘Could You Go Sober All The Time?’

Today, I read one about how a checklist of healthy choices can add 7-10 disease-free years to your life, with a mounting sense of FOMO because I didn’t tick all of the boxes on the list.

I’ve also restarted one of my slightly stranger health habits – lying down on the kitchen floor every morning with a can of tomatoes… and knocking out 140 Side Planks in the two minutes it takes my breakfast porridge to microwave.

I say ‘restarted’ because I was too embarrassed to plank over the holidays, when the whole family could see me and think: ‘What a twat!’

But, in fact, when my Missus did walk in on me once – face down, empurpled and grunting on the kitchen floor – she sweetly waved away my spluttering apologies about being ‘an idiot’ and said sweetly: “It’s just who you are.” 

And there’s the thing.

I may have got myself in a pickle about exercise – getting slightly obsessive about it, looking stupid in my full MAMIL gear, and worrying that I seemed like a smug plonker.

But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong to work out. In fact, it’s quite the reverse.

That’s because – according to scientists at King’s College – it’s natural to stay in shape until way past your 50s; and it’s modern, sedentary lifestyles that are abnormal.

In the distant past, they say, even very old humans would have been active enough to help out with the hunter gathering (and perhaps knock out the equivalent of modern distance runs or even sprints in pursuit of food).

So, if a modern 50-year-old and an unusually athletic 80-year old are – physiologically speaking – roughly the same age… then it’s the 50-year-old, with their beer and nachos and comfy sofa, who’s the aberration.

Just as there are a lot more people jogging round the park at this time of year, there are also plenty in the media talking about fitness and exercise.

There’s an amusing radio trail running currently for 6Music’s RadMac show, in which Mark Radcliffe reflects on how obviously fitness conscious we’ve become today.

He says a ‘health freak’ in the 60s and 70s was someone who had a fortnightly game of 5-a-side. And, if you were seen drinking water straight from a bottle, the reaction would be: ‘What are you doing?”

Deeper down, Radcliffe’s words reflect the fact that a sedentary lifestyle became normalised in The West from about the 1950s, based on relative physical idleness compared to previous decades, plentiful food and constant comforts.

Also writing this month, Romesh Ranganathan concluded that “having such a bounty of nutrition in your life that you have to find ways to burn it off…” has become “a bad situation”. He was likely, he added, to follow his father into having a fatal heart attack if he did not eat less and exercise more.   

So maybe being a conspicuously active, 50-something is not being narcissistic or freaky. Based on the science – and what you might call observational evidence from Radcliffe and Romesh – it seems that I am living right.

Maybe activities like planking on the kitchen floor are starting to become The New Normal?

Of course, I’m not saying that we should all work our butts off into our 80s and 90s if that’s not what we want to do.

If you’re here for a good time, and not for a long time, it’s fine with me.

But, on the other hand, I won’t feel such a dick about my purple face and smelly exercise gear the next time I run past you in the street.

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