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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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Fitness: Working Out
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Up to the summer of 1995, had someone asked me about my body image, I would have referred exclusively to my childhood, when I was very skinny, not very big, and certainly not very strong, a time when I also did poorly in athletics.

But I didn't think about it much after the grade-school years, because my physical self didn't seem especially relevant to my life as it had by then evolved: I suppose I was conventionally good-looking as a teenager and a young adult. I was reasonably popular socially, I had proved proficient in certain sports (swimming and tennis), and when I became active sexually, I was certainly sought after, enough that whether I had a muscular body was of no great interest to me.

I did notice people who did have good bodies, and I greatly appreciated the bodies of certain kinds of athletes: swimmers and gymnasts and (later) rowers. On the other hand, I had no aesthetic interest at all in weightlifters, bodybuilders, or other beefy types like football players. You might say I preferred cat-like sleekness to bear-like brawn.

As for what I was like, although I was only 5'7" (170 cm) tall at age 17, I grew in height until I was 25, when I was just over 6'3" (191 cm) tall. I was always fairly slender, and as an adult usually weighed between 170 and 180 lbs (77 and 81 kg). There was one much heavier period -- lots of rich food and immoderate drinking pushed me up to just under 200 lbs (90 kg) in 1970.

Determined not to hit 200, I went on a relaxed but careful diet, started running several miles every day, and in about a year had taken off 50 lbs, pretty soon bouncing back to about 155 lbs (70 kg), which is a good weight for a distance runner my size. I also added downhill skiing to my sports skills; I really loved going fast and being scared.

Then in 1971 I broke my foot in a skiing accident and my running days were over. Once again my weight rose, but it seemed to stabilize at about 170, where it remained for the next almost 24 years. I certainly wasn't fat, but I didn't have any shape, either, because though I continued to ski and occasionally to swim, I didn't routinely do anything physically demanding.

More significant to me than the appearance aspect, actually, was that during my 50s I became keenly aware that I was losing strength. I found increasingly often that I needed help with heavy objects. In addition, at 59 I took up motorcycling and was somewhat intimidated by the weight of the machines. This too was a strength issue.

As to diet, I've always eaten well, and except in what I call my fat period (1970), I've eaten healthy food, very little meat (no beef at all for over 30 years, with one or two very special exceptions). My main animal-fat sins were dairy products: milk, cream, cheeses, and ice cream.

Maybe the worst thing I've done, from a health point of view, was smoke cigarets.

How all this came to change is too complicated a story to tell here. Suffice it to say that in the early summer of 1995, I joined a local athletic club and for the first time in my life began to work on my physical body as part of a conscious program of more healthful living.

I doubted that this would do much, but to my surprise and delight, it has worked fairly well, taking into account setbacks from being over-zealous, injuring myself, floundering around quite a bit over what would be right or reasonable for an out-of-shape man who had just turned 60, and so forth.

So here's what I did and what I've learned so far, etc.:

  • Quit smoking! It has been a goal from the first, with some temporary successes (in other words, I haven't actually quit, but you can at least see what I've tried).

  • Losing weight by changing the diet. But longer term, one needs a very different kind of dietary regime for working out than just something for weight loss.

  • Cardiovascular exercise, virtually essential to losing weight and keeping it off.

  • Lifting weights, which can have an amazing effect on what your body looks like, even at my age, though you can't achieve miracles without illegal substances.

  • Dealing with pain, getting hurt and recovering: it's a long, slow process.
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