A guy who used a cane had his phone slip out of his pocket on the bus, so I offered to pick it up for him. Taking it he said he appreciated young folks looking out for old folks like him.
I thanked him for thinking of me as a young folk, and didn’t tell him it’s my birthday. Or which birthday it is.

One signifier of a fast-approaching birthday (when you get to be my age) is that you get ads for life insurance. I mentioned to Jackie that we don’t need life insurance, and she said that it especially didn’t matter because she was counting on me to outlive her.

“For one thing, you’re younger than me. For another, you’re doing all you can to do so. Well, not to outlive me, but to live a long time.”

“I’ll admit,” I replied, “It’s getting rather late for me to die young.”

During the pandemic I followed something of a training plan—a mostly bodyweight exercise plan with minimal equipment beyond a pair of gymnastic rings, based largely on Anthony Arvanitakis’s Bodyweight Muscle books and YouTube channel.

Post-pandemic (once my local fitness room reopened, and exercise equipment became available again), more activities became possible. As they did, I added some in. With extra stuff to fit in, I let the program go. Instead I began exercising more intuitively—simply trying to fit in my strength training and my running as best I could. Each day I’d decide what to do influenced by how I felt, and what I’d done (or hadn’t done) the previous day or two, trying to cover all the bases, while allowing adequate time for recovery.

It has worked pretty well, but not as well as I was doing with an actual program. However, I don’t want to go back to the bodyweight rings program, because I feel like I’m getting real benefits out of the kettlebell and heavy club activities. So, I’m working on roughing up a training program that includes all the stuff I want to do.

Goals

It probably doesn’t make any sense to talk about the activities I do without thinking about the goals I’m trying to achieve.

Of course, I want to feel fit and healthy.

In the spirit of Peter Attia’s Centenarian Decathlon, I want to not only be capable of all the activities of daily living, but have enough reserve capacity now that I’ll still be able to do those things when I’m eighty, ninety, or (as I like to joke, except I’m totally serious) eleventy-one.

Among those things are the obvious—be able to hike a few miles on a rugged trail, climb a steep hill or several flights of stairs, carry a heavy bag of groceries home, put a suitcase in the overhead compartment, get down on the floor and back up again, etc. Besides those, I also want to be able to do well at longsword, which requires the ability to stand and walk in a low lunge, hold the sword with my arms at full extension (both forward and over my head), etc.

Fitness Activities

I figure the first step is just to document the activities that I think will support these goals, so that I know what I want to fit into the week. Here’s my first pass at a list. (Note that I already do an extensive warm-up every day, because it makes me move and feel better all day, whether I do a workout or not. I also walk my dog, and she rather insists on at least 6 miles a day.)

HEMA practice

My group has 2-hour meetings three times a week. They’re mostly skills training, so not too intense, although now that I’m approved for sparring the intensity has gone up.

Running

I want to go for two runs per week. One is a “long” run, in the 6–10 mile range (although I may want to work up to half-marathon length). The other is a “fast” run, which might include sprints, hill sprints, or just a hard run in the 3–4 mile range.

Kettlebell swings

This is primarily to work the muscles of my posterior chain, which needs a regular workout to keep me functioning well. In particular, I learned the hard way what happens if I don’t work my glutes. Currently I’m doing a heavy/light cycle, where I alternate between swinging an 18 kg (40 lb) kettlebell and a 24 kg (53 lb) kettlebell.

For the light kettlebell I’ve worked up to 10×19 swings emom. For the heavy kettlebell I’ve worked up to 10×12 swings emom. I try to add one swing per set every week.

Somewhere around sets of 25, I’d no longer get any break at the end of a minute. I don’t yet know if that’ll mean I’ll be able to do 250 straight swings.

Heavy club swinging

This is one of my newer additions, and I have already seen it do great things for rotational strength, plus grip, arm, shoulder, and core strength. As the weight has gone up, it has started hitting the legs as well.

I do three exercises (outside circle, shield cast, inside circle) in sets of 5 left and 5 right, and I work up from 5 sets on each side, adding one set every workout or two, until I get to 10 or 12 sets on each side, and then go up in weight. I’m up 8 sets with a 13.75 pound club. Soon I’ll go up to 15 lbs.

Kettlebell clean and press

This one seems especially useful for longsword, where you often need to hold the sword over your head, with your arms near full extension.

I do these as a reverse ladder, starting with 4 reps on the left and 4 reps on the right, then 3, then 2, then 1 rep on each side. Then I take a short break and repeat for some number of sets. Each workout (or every other workout) I add one set.

I just did 7 sets. I’ll work up to 10 or 12, then either increase the weight or else start the reverse ladder at 5 reps left and right, and go back to workouts of 4 or 5 sets.

Gymnastic rings circuit

Versions of this were my main workout all through the pandemic, when fitness rooms were closed and kettlebells impossible to come by. These were push/pull/legs workouts preceded by a starter and then ended with a core exercise. I had at least a couple variations of each exercise, so the starter was often jumping rope, but sometimes some sort of quadruped movement, push generally alternated between dips and some version of a push up, pull alternated between pull ups and inverted rows, legs was often air squats, but sometimes hindu squats or lunges or wall sits, and core was often hollowbody hold, but sometimes planks or reverse planks or V-ups.

I’d set the number of reps of each exercise at what I thought I could carry through for 3 rounds, and the 3rd round I’d aim to push to technical failure.

Toward a schedule

Putting all these things into a weekly schedule has proven to be difficult.

Me standing in zornhut

One issue is that my HEMA practice sessions occur at specific times, so there’s a certain lack of flexibility in the schedule there.

Besides that, there’s simply more stuff I want to do than fits easily into a week.

One solution to that would be to abandon the idea that “weekly” is the right structure. I could fit things into, let’s say, a 9-day cycle—but there are enough inconveniences with that, that every time I’ve considered it before, I’ve ended up sticking with weekly.

I’m pretty close to having a first cut at a weekly schedule ready to post. Look for it here in a day or two. (Update: It took much more than a day or two, but you can now see my Personal exercise program for winter 2023-2024.)

You don’t have to know much about me to know that the latest video from The Bioneer on training for longevity is like catnip for me:

You will not be surprised to learn that the advice comes down to move more, move more diversely, and learn a lot. (Of course, adding diverse complex movements is learning.) But there is also specific useful advice re: power, bone density, tendon strength, etc.

I have long made it a general practice not to blame my age for any declines or limitations in my capabilities. It’s not that I don’t think my age matters. It’s just that I can’t do anything about my age, so blaming it doesn’t seem useful.

I now realize that I’ve been enabled in this by the fact that I spent my 20s, 30s, and 40s as a sedentary office worker. I did “exercise” some, but not a lot, and not very effectively.

The result of that was that when I finally started making exercise a priority in 2008, I was improving my fitness from a pretty low level. That meant that all through my 50s I was able to report, pretty much every year, that I was in the best shape of my life. (It was in 2014, when I was about 55, that I initially reported that I was getting enough exercise. A year and a half later I wrote this somewhat smug post on the myth of age-related illnesses of middle age. (I tried pretty hard not to be too smug about becoming fitter all through my 50s. Smugness is never very attractive, and it definitely doesn’t age well. I think that post holds up okay as being not so excessively smug.)

Looking back on it, I think my conclusions were the result of having a pretty skewed picture of what sorts of improvements in physical capability can be expected in an “older” person, based on have started from such a low base. Based on my experience these last two years, I’m beginning to think that I’ve made about as much progress as I can expect to make.

A photo me in in the Winfield Village fitness room doing shoulder-taps.
Me doing shoulder-taps.

That’s not definitely true. I continue to exercise. I continue to seek out new modalities of exercise. Maybe one of those will yet do great things for my physical capabilities. And it’s still true that I’m in the best shape of my life. But for the first time in a decade, I’m not in better shape than I was a year ago.

Still, I think I’ll hold off on blaming my age, at least for a while yet.

When I was a kid or a teenager, my skin would heal from minor scratches almost immediately. A scratch (like from walking through brambles, which I did all the time) would heal up in maybe a day and a half or two days. Then, sort of all at once, when I was about 24 or 25, suddenly it took twice as long. I noticed it when I was living in Utah and hiked a lot in the mountains and deserts, and would get similar scratches, which would now take three or four days to heal.

I figured I was just getting old, and it would just keep getting worse. But it did not. Instead, it stayed like that for thirty-five years. However, just in the past year or two—since I reached my 60s—I’ve observed a fresh doubling in wound-healing times. Now a minor scratch takes a week to heal.

The surprise here is not that the speed of healing declines as one gets older, but the weird stepwise nature of the change—stability for decades, and then an abrupt doubling in time to heal.

I don’t know if that will continue. Maybe I’ll continue to heal at this rate until I’m 105 or so?

I’ve documented this largely for my brother, who once expressed appreciation for the fact that having an older brother gave him a four-year heads-up for this sort of age-related change. (I’m not sure he appreciates it as much now as he did in his 30s and 40s.)

I looked for some research studies as to whether my observation points to a more general phenomenon, but wasn’t able to find much. My brother found a study, which says in part:

The rate of epithelialisation appears to be different in older persons, but the magnitude of the delay may not be clinically important.

THOMAS, D. R. Age-Related Changes in Wound Healing. Drugs & Aging, [s. l.], v. 18, n. 8, p. 607–620, 2001. DOI 10.2165/00002512-200118080-00005.

I guess, as long as you do eventually heal up, the length of time it takes is “not clinically important,” but it’s still kind of a drag to be wounded for week(s).

The sort of scrapes that are now taking longer to heal than they used to.