When I was 43 and John Hay 41 he said life was a tragedy after 40, and I disputed it. Three years ago he asked me to testify again: I counted my graves, and there was nothing for me to say. I am old; I recognize it but I don’t realize it. I wonder if a person ever really ceases to feel young — I mean, for a whole day at a time.
Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.
Although I’m 53, I feel great — pretty much the same or better than I did in my 20s. I look 35 (my wife says), and (if I wasn’t a pacifist of the “walk softly but carry a big stick” variety”) could beat the crap out of most 25 year olds (the smaller ones).
How did this happen?
When I was 38, I fortuitously read a book called something like Fitness after 40. It was by an MD who was also an athlete who was reporting on established wisdom plus the latest results of experimental physiology.
It was the first time I’d heard about things like moisturizing your skin and the usefulness against aging of supplements like CoQ10 and Fish oil. But the concept that really landed was the idea that I could, if I wanted to put in a little work, stave off most of the bad effects of aging.
I’m fundamentally lazy, despite all appearances to the contrary.
I always sleep in if possible and I like to eat stuff like pastries and drink things like milkshakes and cocktails.
On the other hand, I have a strong streak of what my wife calls “self-prez” (a strong self preservation instinct). This lead me into martial arts at 15 and it eventually led me to start taking better care of my body in my late 20s (because I didn’t like feeling weak or sick more than I didn’t like doing a little preventative maintenance). I learned how to lift weights (in a year and a half streak 1989-90, gaining 20 lbs) and quit smoking.
I learned pretty early the wisdom of the phrase “measure twice and cut once.”
Another good version of this idea is the old phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
My take on this is I like to research a lot before taking action, to learn from other people’s experience and mistakes. I read a bunch, compare and contrast and collate, and then decide on the minimum effective dose of whatever it is I’m trying to do. I want to get pretty good results for the least effort within my schedule
The gist of what I learned from that book I read at the onset of my 40s is that you can offset or eliminate many of the problematic aspects of aging with a relatively small amount of preventative effort. Its like taking care of your mechanical equipment. If you get a nice set of garden shears, use them, and then throw them into the shed wet and covered in plant juice, they will rust and fall apart in five or ten years. But if you wipe them down (the minimum) and maybe put a little 10W-40 on them (the next level but still pretty minimal), they will last a long, long time.
And if you sharpen them now and then (the third level) they will be as good as new for life.
We all pretty much know the drill. If you read on the internet or watch TV, you can hardly avoid it.
Get 8 or 9 hours of good sleep every night. Eat a “good” diet. Nowadays this means Paleo: minimize the carbs and eat high-quality food (that would go bad in a week in the sun and that was not shot full of chemicals and hormones). Find ways to deal with your stress (social life, love life, fun activities). I would add that you should stay sane (and improve your long term chances of sticking with it) by eating 10% whatever you want – I do this on Saturdays and Sunday morning.
That’s Level One.
Level two is add exercise. Start by walking, then build up to maybe running or rowing or biking, 3 to 7 times a week. The minimum effective dose is anything more than nothing; the effective but still pretty easy dose is 15 minutes a day of medium cardio.
Then some weight training, at a minimum a push up a day, a squat a day.
Level 2 would be 15 minutes of body weight stuff three times a week (push ups, free squats, leg lifts). Level 2b would be a brief weight machine circuit. The gold standard (level 3) would be multi-joint weight free weight training (Bench, Squats, Deadlift, Military Press). The minimum easy dose is once a week. I was doing a half an hour workout (bench, squat, dips, press) when I took the pic above. Once a week for the previous 6 months. Plus WC twice a week.
Level Three is to do a dedicated sport, like Wing Chun, which engages your body and mind to integrate your muscular and cardio development. Which uses balance, eye-hand coordination, timing, and which requires you to learn to deal with your strong emotions. Which helps you learn to let things go and to take direct action.
I just listened to another book recently called Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond (great title).
It delivered pretty much the same message and got me back to the gym, back to cardio, back to weights., after a layoff that started with a shoulder injury. It helped that my shoulder was finally on the mend enough to do some (but not all) of what I wanted to do.
Unfortunately, I do great for a while and then start to slide for a little bit, maybe dropping to Level 2 or even Level 1, so what I do is find new books with “new” ideas to reinvigorate myself and light a hotter fire under my ass!
Of course, there is really nothing new under the sun, but I do like to do body weight for a while (calisthenics) then switch to weight training, then throw in some sprinting, just to mix it up and keep interested.
Hopefully the articles on this site perform that function for some of you.
In terms of the applicability of all this to doing Wing Chun “after 40,” I think the most important thing is to understand that you need to have all this other stuff going to support your higher level sport. Or you’re going to get hurt.
If you are mainly doing Chi Sao lite (which I think has Tai Chi-like benefits), then you are probably OK. But if you are going up against big or young (or big and young) guys in challenging Gwoh Sau, then you need to fortify yourself with all the other bricks of the foundation.
And PS, its OK for guys to moisturize!
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