Carpe Diem, The Series: Man’s Best Friend and Core Strength

By: Paul Stevens

We’re definitely into the shoulder or ‘tweener’ season weather-wise. It’s not quite spring and not quite winter as the cold and snow still wants to hang around, hence the ‘tweener’ designation. Despite what has been a very mild winter to date, we just received a healthy dump of snow with about 20 cm or 8” for you Imperial measurement fans, received over the past 24 hours. This is not totally unexpected as it is still March but with the tease of warm weather we have had as of late, getting the snow now that we didn’t get all winter just seems like a bit of a punch in the face. Kind of like winter telling us, “Hey, I’m down but I’m not out!”. OK winter, you win for now but it won’t last – we hope. As the saying goes for the month of March, “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. For those of us in the northern part of the continent, I’m sure we are all looking forward to the lamb part to arrive in the near future.
What this boils down to is that heavy snow cover makes it difficult to get out and enjoy regular activities. Heavily snow covered paths and sidewalks make it difficult to do things, like a run with the dog for example. You can only slip and slide so much before you decide to throw in the towel. If you decide to cut the run short, you then have to deal with your four-legged friend looking back at you as if to say, “That’s it?” “I’m afraid so amigo ‘cause I don’t have built-in four wheel drive like you do so we have to head back.” The rest of the conversation, or at least the imaginary one, goes something like this:

“OK, but can I have a treat?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too but how about you get a job?”
“Ain’t gonna happen dude. That’s not we do. We’re at our best when we’re just lying around, waiting for your take us out again.”

Man’s best friend? Sure.

With some serious snow cover, going for a bike ride is not even on the radar screen and won’t be for a couple of weeks, unless it gets freaky warm again real soon. So we’re left in the twilight zone of the activity schedule with a limited number of options. This is where being a member at a fitness club would be useful. I still have my twice weekly hockey games to look forward to and it was nice to compliment these with some outdoor running in between. For now, I’ll have to ride the stationary bike and look forward to getting back outside again.
With the extra snow, there is no avoiding shovelling the stuff. With many things, it is often said that, “If some is good, more is better”. This is not the case when it comes to shovelling snow. Too often you hear about the tragic demise of those who try to move mountains of snow via manual labour. Sad as these stories are, the ones you don’t hear about are the ones that involve that all-too common refrain of the snow shoveller, “My back hurts!” If you stick your head out the door for long enough and listen carefully, I swear you can hear these calls wafting throughout the neighbourhood over the night air.

As a piece of architecture, the back has not held up well over the ages and would likely receive a failing grade for its inherent structural weakness. Rare are those among us who have never had any back issues. Personally, I’m skeptical of such claims and can only assume that such individuals are either hopelessly forgetful or they just can’t handle the truth. My back and I have a working relationship; I don’t bother it and it don’t bother me.

When I was in my late twenties and into my early thirties, our relationship was being seriously tested. I would get back spasms literally just standing there, doing the square root of nothing. These would last a couple of days and I would be walking around in a bent over position like an octogenarian or worse. As I came to learn, back issues are not uncommon for that age group as it is the period when our spines start to compress and your muscles have to get used to living in a new order. Spasms and the like are the result. At one point, I was obliged to hit the chiropractor’s table and after a few ridiculous twists, I felt a deep body ‘clunk’ and a sense of instant relief. Whatever was misaligned was put back into place and I could look the world straight in the eye again. It was during those times of back issues that I thought we should have all stayed as knuckle draggers. By way of social commentary if I may, there are those among us of course who have remained so, figuratively if not literally.

Since that time, I have incorporated core strengthening as part of my regular exercise routine and will do a number of crunches and upper body lifts while lying on my stomach. This isn’t something that I need to do every day but 3-4 times weekly seems to do the trick. I have not had a serious back issue for several years (knock on wood) and that includes the recent period when we moved to our new location. Lifting box after box, bed after bed, I would have bet cash money that something was going to blow. I did not see it ending well at some level. Well, a little attention to back exercises during that period and voila!, no back problems. Whew!
I use one of those ab-exerciser gizmos that help support your head and neck while you tilt yourself up. I do 50 crunches straight ahead, 50 with my legs to the right to work the obliques, 50 to the left and finish off with 50 straight ahead again, so 200 in total. As said above, I’ll do this three or four times a week. Daily however, I’ll do 35-40 push ups at the start of the day as I find this really fires up the core and shakes off the stiffness that can settle in overnight. My back feels pretty good with this routine so I am incented to keep it going.

By no means do I have anything that approaches a six pack. While my son Evan delights in showing off his well-defined abs (he is only 25 after all), I counter that while he has a six pack, I have a keg, and who would be more popular at a party? That seems to arrest further discussion.
Having all the really great information from such a knowledgeable pool of contributors that is available on the FTG website, I am starting to think seriously of getting a high level fitness test done for myself. I am getting increasingly curious about where I stand in terms of fitness level for someone in my age group. I’m 60 so how do I stack up against the norms in this age group? Better? Worse? Or somewhere in between? All those cool parameters you hear about like BFI and VO2 max will be spelled out and I would like to know where I fit in. Would I need to up the ante if I’m in the lower quartiles or will I be able to maintain my current regimen with a few tweaks as opposed to a major overhaul?

I could probably do this at a decently equipped fitness club but I would assume that at some point they are going to try to sell me something so how impartial can they be? The better alternative may be to try one of the nearby universities – lots of skilled people with nothing more than an academic interest and perhaps adding to their data base.
I’ll keep you posted on this one and if anyone out there has done this and has a suggestion, I would welcome your thoughts and comments.

Your friend, Paul.

And remember – Carpe Diem (but in relaxed sort of way)!

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