Monday, June 23, 2008

Let's Get Physical

Plato said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." and I think he was wrong -- plenty of folks are happy without being introspective, and probably more so than many navel-gazers. However, for those of us who do stop and look around or within, certain epiphanies are possible, and sometimes, these can make the examination worthwhile.

I never thought of myself as a jock. This was because, back in high school, the football players were jocks, and I never played football. I did run track one semester, but was kicked off the team for sassing the coach. Still, track didn't count back then, football was king.

But, of course, I am a jock, in the sense that I've always participated in some kind of physical activity. I seriously ran, swam, lifted weights, rode bikes, did martial arts, hiked. Played the odd sandlot -- or down south, swamplot -- softball game, volley ball, badminton. Tried tennis, even golf, though those faded fast. Even did a short stint race-walking, but looking like a duck on speed didn't appeal.

I have been very lucky so far -- knock on wood -- to have mostly escaped serious injuries. Pulled this, strained that, broke a couple of those, but by and large, not much down-time given more than half a century of sweat and lactic acid production. The worst of these have been after I was well past my physical prime and into patch-patch-patch on the downslope. I have bad thumb joints I have to tape to keep from jamming them when I punch. I tore a calf muscle in my early fifties. Tore a rotator cuff a few months back. Bunged up knee a few weeks ago. Something is always sore, even if just from overuse and not injury.

So, why risk more of that? To what end? I get asked that sometimes by folks who don't see the need for all that huffing and puffing about. Why bother? You have a TV set and a car, right? Where is the fun in maybe getting punched in the face in a class you are paying for?
It ain't none of it gonna guarantee you'll live any longer, will it?

True. There is no guarantee that exercise allows you to live longer. Your number is going to be up, and maybe, maybe not, having a slow pulse rate and the ability to carry the garbage can out to the street rather than roll it will make an hour's difference. I happen to believe that clean living and moderation does shade the odds in your favor, but I don't know for sure. I could drop dead of a heart attack or a stroke this afternoon. Guys in better shape than I have keeled over dead and I expect they were really surprised at that.

What I do know is that the quality of life I've enjoyed -- and enjoyed it I have -- has been improved by feeling at least moderately physically-fit. That being able to climb the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, or to move the file cabinet without having to call somebody for help has added to my joi de vive. That feeling as if I could handle myself in a push-come-to-shove situation has let me walk places without feeling the worry a lot of people feel.

I'm not a bug about it, I have no desire to summit Everest, nor rappel down the side of the Washington Monument, nor to do a Triathalon. I'm a jock, but not that much of one.

At sixty, I have to acknowledge that I am not bulletproof as once I thought I was, and that some of what I could shrug off at twenty, thirty, even fifty, is going to cost more than I want to pay these days. Still, I'd rather risk the twisted ankle or the strained back than settle for the inevitable decline without protest.

In Norse mythology, there is the notion of Ragnarök. The final meeting between the gods and heroes of Valhalla -- the Æsir and Odin -- against the Jötnar and Loki. The gods will go into the battle knowing they are fated to lose to Chaos, with creation being destroyed and then reborn. The real life Vikings fought and died to win a place at that table -- just to be on the losing side.

We are all going to go away in the end. Better, I think, to rage against the dying of the light and go down swinging ...


Anonymous said...

my father who is 73 has bad knees back, elbow, and probably more besides still swings a hammer, saws, and luggs lumber around. why? hes been a carpenter all his life and thats what he loves doing. time is the biggest gift were given might as well use it as you see fit. Keep going steve!!

Kai Jones said...

Heh. I've always joked that if the unexamined life really is worth living, I'll never know.