I went swimming today, the first time in probably a quarter of a century. It was an eye opening experience. If I fell off a boat without a life preserver I’d be dead in 2 minutes, maybe even 1 minute. I was never a good swimmer, nor could tread water well, but I had the stamina to struggle along for maybe 50 yards. I could have put up a good fight. At 60 and weighing 232 pounds I’d just go under immediately in open water and not come up.
When I was first married, and we lived at an apartment with a pool, I weighed 155 pounds and could run for miles. I thought before I got in the pool today that fat floated. Boy was I wrong. My fat don’t float! I sink.
For years people have been telling me to take up swimming to help my back. I’ve always said no because swimming is inconvenient. But my neighbor, who has a pool, has been urging me to use her pool, so this morning I gave it a try. I jumped in off the ladder at the deep end and immediately discovered my lack of buoyancy. It was a struggle to get back to the surface.
At first I thought her pool too small to do laps, but then I tried to do a lap, on the short length, which can’t be more than 20-25 feet. I made it, using my flailing doggie paddle style, but I had to grab on the edge of the pool and catch my breath after just the first crossing.
I did some experiments trying to hold my breath under water using the stop-watch feature of my Casio. At first I could only go 8 seconds. Eventually I worked up to 13. That’s pitiful. I guess that’s a sign of getting old. When I was young it wasn’t much trouble to hold my breath under water for 60 seconds or more.
I stuck with doing laps and I went back and forth maybe 10 times, either doggie paddling, or some kind of crude breast stroke. I tried the normal crawl one time but I just don’t have that kind of coordination.
I’m not completely out of shape. After swimming I did 20 minutes of physical therapy and then 10 minutes of Bowflex. But it’s obvious that being overweight and 60 that I’m at a lifetime low point when it comes to stamina. Before my back got bad I did stair walking at work and could do 20-24 floors on my break. I can ride my bike for 30-45 minutes now, but I’ve discovered that unless I’m riding uphill, bikes are so efficient that it’s not much exercise.
It so weird watching my body decline, because mentally I feel like I did when I was 19.
So far I’ve lost 6 pounds on my diet. I do believe if I worked hard I could regain some of my stamina – but will I? I’ve discovered in recent years I’ve adapted to a very sedentary lifestyle. My back limits my activities, especially standing or walking, so I’ve just accepted doing less. I think I need to get an exercise bike to push myself. Sitting on a bike, leaning forward on the handlebars, doesn’t hurt my back. Swimming, or more precisely, trying to swim, didn’t seem to hurt my back either. So I’ll keep it up. At least in warm weather.
On one hand I feel like just accepting getting old and doing less, on the other hand I believe I should fight the inevitable. I see all these natural catastrophes on TV and how old people need so much help just to run away from danger. I don’t want to be like that. I see news reports of people rushing to rescue stuff in their homes before fires engulf them. With my stamina I couldn’t rescue much. And living in an emergency shelter would be very hard on me. I’ve gotten old and soft and addicted to creature comforts, the crutch of modern air conditioned living.
I wouldn’t be much of a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world.
I’ve become an animal highly adapted to a very specific environment. I’ve developed a routine where I expend very little energy to survive. But what will life be like at 70? Or 80? I would ask about 90, but I just can’t imagine my declining stamina letting me live to 90. But I see 90 year-old people all the time – but most of them move very little.
Do I ride the current slope of my declining stamina, or do I made a big effort and bend that declining slope into a rising one? Could I regain the stamina I had at 50 or 40? That might be dreaming, but I do know people my age that are many times more active than I am. However, I think they’ve always been many times more active than I was.
I’ll keep you posted. I need some way of measuring progress though. Have to think about that. Are there standardized tests for stamina?
JWH – 6/30/12