Up on the fridge there’s an old photograph of me from oh so many years ago. It shows me standing next to a sign with a picture of Lucille Ball that marks the entry to the I Love Lucy exhibit at Universal Studios in California (now in Orlando). My hair is cut short, I’m tanned after spending a few days in Venice Beach, and the T-shirt I’m wearing clings tightly to my body. My arms look big and strong. I’m smiling with self-confidence, and I like the way I’m looking and smiling into the camera. That is one of the few pictures of myself I actually like and have on display. In all the other photos, I’m not as scantly clad or display my body as much. I’m not a big man by any means and genetics continuously conspire against me to make me look thinner than I’d like to—although with age my waist has given in to expanding and succumbed to a slower metabolism. Back in those days when the picture was taken, I used to hit the gym a few times a week and my body, encouraged by the protein shakes, exercise, and innumerable number of grilled chicken breasts and unsavory foods I ate managed to bulk as much as it would without the use of body enhancement substances that are so popular and readily available these days in locker rooms.
Now, years later, I don’t look anything like that photo anymore. I’ve lost the bulk, arms, and fitness I once enjoyed. For a number of reasons, none of which are good enough to go into detail about, I stopped going to the gym when I decided that I was burned out. I did not want to do it any more and had enough of it. I could not stand waiting in line to use the equipment during every workout; I did not want to deal with rude gym members who talked more between sets than they lifted; and the shenanigans that went on in the steam rooms and showers was more than I could bear.
I’m the kind of person who dislikes working out enough that when I do actually go the gym, all I want to do is go in, do it, and get the hell out. I don’t make it a social event nor a full day affair. I’d much rather recover in an outdoor cafe drinking coffee and stuffing my face with a plate of pasta than chatting up the new boy who joined the week before and finding all the details which will circulate among the rest of the crowd after a day or two.
I’m feeling a little anxious these days because this Wednesday, after three years of not working out, I’m going back to the gym. Although I turned 50 earlier this year, I feel I can help turn the age-clock back a few weeks and start a habit that will be good for me in the long run. Every day, at clinic, I exhort my patients to work out, exercise, move, do any form of activity that will help them circulate their body’s energy and keep their bodies in shape. I’d like to be able to practice what I preach, and encourage others by example. Maybe taking these last three years off was a nice break, but now I feel I’m ready to start up again where I left off. Although I’m dreading the soreness, the hard work outs, and the treadmill every day, my body is begging for activity and movement to help me recover from three years of arduous studying. Today, I’m putting a list of tunes together to listen to while I pump iron just so that I can block and ignore the people around me who can lift twice as much as I do, as I squeak along. The Tiger Balm is already in the bathroom cabinet ready for application. And the coffee to keep me up and going in the mornings when I’m so sore I won’t want to get up from bed is ready to be brewed.
Aging gracefully is hard. Aging gracefully and looking good is harder. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge. But if they sold the perfect body in pill form, I’d line up for a case right now.