Old-age childishness

After a meeting in town, I walked home by the cliff path. The meeting had gone well and the sun was shining so I felt chipper. Scrambling on the 5 to 10 metre-high cliffs was irresistible and lots of fun. Now in my mid-sixties, I felt privileged to be enjoying fluid movement on questionable rock under an autumn sun.

The scrambling stopped for a brief moment as I asked myself whether this kind of joyful childishness should be a privilege. Why can’t every sexagenarian enjoy physical idiocy?

The potential handicaps are as likely to be mental as physical. Responsible types might never dream of playing out in their old-age. I don’t mean fear of heights. Rather, it just wouldn’t occur to them. Some possibly might sneer, but all of the dog walkers I had met before leaving the path had been cheerful so I doubt that.

Others may be incapable because of ill-health. In some, sad cases the restriction on movement may be completely unavoidable. Being physical isn’t the only way to enjoy retirement. I hope this group of my peers has found what works for them.

Modern, chronic health problems will, of course, be hitting hard for many pensioners. A lifetime of working on the development of a multi-factorial illness will have begun limiting what individuals can do before before a work-place pension kicks in. By the time that first pension payout reaches the bank account, the end could be in sight.

Please don’t travel that route. Look after yourself because reaching retirement with a reasonable degree of fitness and health is bloody brilliant. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Apigill and the Flow Country, again

Approached from the east, Apigill Hill had never been quite as daunting as it had been when climbing from the Borgie River.  However, this time, after a gorgeous ride from Kinbrace Station, I was floating upwards.  On a loaded Thorn xTc, my progress was steady, to put it kindly, but entirely free from lactate.  With no one able to accuse me of needing a rest, I had no qualms about stopping to take photos.

A realisation dawned.  I was nearly 10kg lighter than I had been when living just a few miles from the big hill.  There lies the beauty of retirement.  Consistency is possible in a way that it never can be when work is exhausting and plagued by meetings which go on into the early evening.

My previous best at sticking to a training effort had been four weeks on the surprisingly excellent Lance Armstrong Performance Program.  One retailer at Amazon UK currently has that book on sale for a penny, which suggests most people are unwilling to remember that Lance occasionally did good things.  As far as my own programme of pre-breakfast physical jerks and a wholefood diet is concerned, I’ve managed almost a year so far and the consistency appears to be paying off.

Back to the riding.  The weekend in Tongue was highly enjoyable but Monday morning meant battling into a stiff wind on the way back to the train at Lairg.  I stopped too often for photos and then lost more time fighting the wind on the endless climb from Altnaharra to The Crask.  Once over the top, I had to put the hammer down or miss the train.  I arrived with 15 minutes to spare.  Then the train was another 15 minutes late.  And if I had been late, the train would have been on time!

All of the photos were taken with a 50mm lens.  No wide angle shots.  This is pretty much what Flow Country looks like.

Between Kinbrace and Syre
Loch Badanloch under a big sky
It was a long way up from Strath Naver
And there is still a bit more to do
The summit, where granite ribs run through the psammite
Loch Loyal, east of the ben with the same name
Loch Loyal
Ben Hope from the south east
Near Altnaharra with Ben Griam More peeping over the moors
Ben Klibreck

Exercise versus ageing

Between the ages of 77 and 95, Olga Kotelko set more than thirty world records for running and jumping.  A book was written about her by Bruce Grierson, a man who had started feeling  a bit frail after turning 47.  Shortly after an article appeared on the BBC website about her, Olga died.  Her death may have been delayed by exercising but that’s not the point.  The reason for carrying out endurance and strength training after retiring is to stay as active as possible so that life is as fulfilling as possible for as long as possible.  Olga certainly achieved that.

Is there anyone who wants to sit in a chair till the minibus comes to take them down to the Centre, where they can sit in another chair?  Is there anyone who wants to face up to the statistics on the many old people who die within a year of falling and breaking a hip.  Ageing can be grim if you do it sitting down.  So, health permitting, get up and boogie.


Here are a few of the many articles on the internet about the effect of exercise on ageing.  The first, from the Daily Mail, discusses telomeres.  Let’s face it, no discussion of ageing would be complete without giving a mention to our cellular aglets.

Can endurance exercise SLOW ageing? Intense aerobic training ‘prevents cells from shrinking and breaking over time’ 

Please note that lengthening telomeres may also require reducing stress and improving the quality of both your diet and sleep.  Warning: the following reference contains traces of Ornish.

Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging

Promoting independence by defeating chronic illness

Staying active is what it’s all about.  Arthritis and diabetes brought on or aggravated by obesity is certain to put a damper on things.  Here’s what the US Department of Health and Human Services has to say on the benefits of exercise for the elderly.

Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging

The Guardian has this positive offering.

Could extreme exercise help slow down the ageing process?

Sadly, Dr Charles Eugster, whose photograph begins the article, has also died but, as with Olga, he did not go gentle.  I quite fancy being a wild man who caught and sang the sun in flight so it’s a good job I like backpacking.

The fight against muscle wastage

The next article, from the New Scientist, suggests that a pill may help those who cannot maintain muscle mass through weight training.  It discusses sarcopenia and alleges the problem is the biggest killer you’ve never heard of.  Free radicals are at the heart of it.

Exercise may be the best anti-ageing pill

I wouldn’t mind betting that Olympic athletes are already abusing the drugs mentioned in the article.  You heard it here first!  For the rest of us, Mens’ Fitness has this practical advice.

The anti-aging workout

The Brain

Remember that the brain is a physical structure which responds to the burdens you place on it.  According to 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald, one of the reasons we tire when running is because the brain gets tired.  Training strengthens the brain and so we are able to run further and more stylishly.  Personally, I’d learn to paint, a language such as Italian and coding in Swift if I wanted to get smarter but the Independent has this article on how exercise can improve brain activity.

Do these exercises to make you smarter?

 I’ll end with this reference to an article in Time because most readers (both readers?) will have given up a long time ago.

Exercise Slows Brain Aging By 10 Years

Ten more years of sharp thinking because exercise helps to maintain an effective blood flow to the brain.  Sounds good to me.



Citius, altius, fortius for the Over Sixties

A demanding job can erode the willpower needed for making the best health decisions on arriving home from work. My fitness had certainly started to slide by the time I reached retirement age. Luckily, retirement is a wonderful opportunity and health became one of the projects I took on to occupy the time once spent earning a crust.

Apparently, serious illness is common in the first year of retirement. In my case it was shingles. Buying a house was the next distraction so only last Autumn, following weight gain during a visit to Paleo friends, did I finally get serious about my health and fitness project.

A confession is needed. Thanks to cycle touring, backpacking, jogging and some kayaking, I’ve always been fitter than average. The job was demanding enough, though, in terms of time and energy, to ensure that I never reached my potential in any physical activity. Also, I didn’t enjoy gym work and never realised how important physical jerks are till being incapacitated by back trouble ten years ago. The pain was astonishing.

The doctor said the back problem was age related. In other words, I needed to get used to it because it was going to get worse. Luckily, he was wrong. I did what the physiotherapist said and was soon free of pain. But I was inconsistent, doing enough work on core stability to stave off back trouble but no more.

Last Autumn, that pattern changed.  At least five days a week since then, I have exercised before breakfast and the consistency has paid off. I can run faster, jump higher and lift more than I could five years ago.

Obviously, I’ll never again achieve the athletic prowess enjoyed thirty years ago. I could run a half marathon then in the time I now need for ten miles, but improvements are still possible.

And that is the takeaway message. There is no need to cling to the shreds of what once was. We can improve on every physical measure by wise use of the opportunities provided by retirement. I’m not just talking about endurance. We can improve speed, strength, coordination, balance and flexibility after our sixtieth birthday. I’m even walking more fluidly than I used to.

The key is putting some work into the muscles of the lower abdomen and also into the muscles around the shoulder blades. I had to start with Sarah Keys Back Sufferer’s Bible. Then came the 12 exercises of the 7 Minute Workout and a move on to Adrian James’s three apps. This morning I kept pace with Mark Lauren’s EFX Workout Number 1. Progress is addictive and fun, even though I get nothing from these recommendations.

The reason for starting with exercises for the torso is that good technique becomes easier for any other activity, meaning fewer injuries. Over Sixties are likely to be slow recovering from damage so injuries need avoiding. Many years ago, a brilliant rugby player told me that his secret was the strength in his abdominal muscles. I wish I had understood what he was telling me because a lot of running injuries and that back trouble could have been avoided.

Bones need help from muscles in keeping us upright. If the muscles of our torso are effective in rotating our pelvis, supporting our spine and in moving our shoulders, there is little we cannot achieve.

Even if we are Over Sixty.

Getting fit for backpacking

Prepare to hike.  Hike!

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get fit for walking just by walking.  Ray Jardine has an excellent chapter on physical conditioning in Beyond Backpacking, now updated as Trail Life, which bases training largely on hiking.  I like the way he talks of building up slowly and regularly until he is comfortable carrying 35 pounds for 12 miles.  Given some of his accomplishments, this might seem modest, but his target is in the context of logging 500 miles over the 5 months before turning up at the start of a 2000 mile journey.

He also writes of the importance of training on uneven ground and suggests a little gym work for those who have no hills to train on near their homes.  Ascending while carrying a backpack is one of my few strengths.  I’m slow on the flat, concerned on scrambley bits and uncertain when descending*.  All of these attributes I owe to the miles spent cycle touring.  Cycling strengthens the thighs and helps make light work of walking up hills so there is no need to go to the gym for barbell squats on a sunny day.  Just ride a bike.

Too much of a good thing

Unfortunately, for those of a certain age, and particularly for those who have walked over all of the Munros, spent eleven months tramping in New Zealand and enjoyed several trips to the Pyrenees, overuse injuries mean that reliance on preparation solely by walking can be problematic.  Will the plantar fasciitis flare up again?  Is the scar tissue in my calf muscles going to stop me?  Will the damage to stretch receptors in my ankle ligaments caused by previous sprains contribute to another serious sprain?  In other words, will walking stop me from walking?

A lot of anything will eventually harm anyone who lacks a perfectly symmetrical body and whose performance is other than perfectly stylish, which is why getting fit to walk just by walking isn’t a great solution.  Sadly, symmetry and style are two qualities I cannot lay claim to.

Why bother?

In the Autumn I put on a few pounds while visiting friends and my BMI hit 24.9.  Another stimulus for getting some proper training done came from memories of the difficulties I had experienced starting my Kintyre to Cape Wrath hike.  I had prepared by catching shingles, moving house and failing to break in my footwear.  This meant not having a clue how far I could walk each day and so being unable to plan effectively.  Finally, when I met other walkers who had trained before starting, they made coping with the demands of the Cape Wrath Trail look far easier than I was finding it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the initial benefits of doing a few minutes of physical jerks before breakfast.  For once, I have persisted.  Improvements continue.  I used to walk like a cyclist, with a fairly rigid torso.  I feel far more fluent now even though the exercises I have been doing have little to do with walking on the face of it.  I don’t know yet whether I’ll be backpacking more effectively in the summer but I’m a minute per mile faster while running than I was in the Autumn, my BMI is down to 23.9 without dieting** and I’m in a great mood.  Even if the exercises turn out to have no value for backpacking, which is unlikely, they have already proved worthwhile.


Apps I have found valuable for workout guidance, advice on style and timers include

  • Mark Lauren Bodyweight Training
  • Adrian James Boot Camp
  • Adrian James High Intensity Interval Training
  • Johnson and Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout

Warning!  Only the last is free.  I paid for the others.  One type of app has not helped at all – yoga apps.  Their fondness for the downward dog is completely at odds with the muscle damage in the top of my calves so I’ve given up on yoga.

I don’t just do exercises!  Of course I include walking in my preparations for backpacking, although I will not reach the 500 miles recommended by Ray Jardine at my current rate of progress.  Measuring routes on maps and counting contour lines have, as the Americans say, become very old so I use apps to record walks, runs and rides.  Logging in before an app will work or having to turn off social media is unacceptable to me so I avoid MapMyAnything, Nike+, Strava and Runtastic.  Yes, I’m a curmudgeon.  The apps I enjoy using despite having handed over money are

  • iStepsPro
  • iSmoothRun
  • Cyclemeter

Crossed fingers

Note the word enjoy.  I enjoy all of this stuff.  That’s why I do it.  I’m hoping that once the walking starts, I’ll see a greater ability to cope with carrying a backpack over the hills and that I’ll suffer fewer injuries but benefits are already clear.  Most aspects of life are a little bit easier and people are accusing me of looking younger so the time and money seem well spent.  I acknowledge your right to disagree.


*Ray Jardine includes  a paragraph in Beyond Backpacking on improving balance.

**Despite their doctorates, the experts who claim exercise cannot help with weight loss are wrong.  Quantity matters and backpacking is ideal.  After all, we are the ape species which evolved to walk around carrying stuff.




Fitter, stronger, older

One thought fills my mind as I approach small towns during cycle tours.  Food.  Specifically bakery products and milk, the original isotonic sports drink.  Going slowly means the expensive food-like substances used by real athletes are unnecessary.  It doesn’t matter if some of my blood flow is diverted away from my limbs and towards my gut for digesting the real food which fuels me as I have plenty of time.

Or do I?

Researchers have found that the branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine, found in weightlifting supplements prolong the active lifespan of nematode worms.  They knocked out a gene called bcat-1 which breaks down branched chain amino acids and found C.elegans bulked up, had more sex and stayed active for longer.  They then confirmed that feeding more of the amino acids to the worms had similar effects.  The relevance is that we share the bcat-1 gene, and several others affecting longevity, with nematodes.

No wonder Tesco has a shelf of supplements for athletes near the vegetable aisles!  You guys were already on to this.

Two hikers who know all about getting the miles in are EA “Snorkel” Thomas and Gilad Nachmani, the Hiking Father.  Snorkel has several great posts on food on her blog, for example this one, and Gilad knows his onions on helping us flatlanders prepare for hiking in the hills.

The Secret of Eternal Youth

Old fart, flat water

This scruffy, old fool doesn’t look much of a guru but wondrous things have been revealed to him.  Of course, if you live into your sixties, many wonders will be revealed to you, too.  No one needs me as a guru.  You need information.  To the point – here is some information I have chanced upon.  On Saturday, I had to take my belt in a notch.  On Sunday, I ran my quickest three miles for quite some time and the run felt fairly easy.  On Monday, I pedalled the world’s slowest bicycle, a Thorn xTc tourer, for 28 miles, including rough, forest roads, at 12 mph.  That’s the fastest sustained ride my Thorn has ever managed.  The only change preceding these improvements was to begin exercising before breakfast.

This is anecdotal and definitely not a well designed experiment.  As well as just five days of exercising before breakfast, the weather has been glorious.  Light levels have been higher and wind speeds lower than last week here in the far north.  I’m sure an expert could identify many other variables.  Nevertheless, the anecdote is worth pursuing.

For years, I’ve been reading articles in cycling comics which touted the fat-burning benefits of riding before breakfast.  Given the state of Britain’s roads, I haven’t been tempted.  Full alertness is essential and that is more likely after a decent breakfast than before.  Runners also claim that getting out before eating will enhance fat metabolism but I find running very hard and prefer to set off with a nice concentration of sugar in my bloodstream.  So, getting the miles in early had little appeal.

Luckily, I remembered the Michael Mosley TV programmme in which he claimed that short bursts of high intensity exercise build stamina at least as effectively as long, slow distance.  Twaddle, I had thought at the time.  No gym work will build the muscles in the sides of your legs that you need for control while backpacking.  He was looking for a short cut, I decided – a magic bullet which would instantly sort out problems caused by years of abusing his carcass.  I’m right about the leg strength issue.  Only hiking miles of rough ground will do, but, this week, I have discovered he was right about general purpose stamina.

All I’ve been doing is drinking two cups of tea and then cranking into standard physical jerks for between three and eight minutes.  I eat afterwards.  Several apps on my phone help.  They provide timers and advice on how to do the exercises properly.  An app which is both useful and free is the 7 Minute Workout from Johnson and Johnson.  There are many others.  Please don’t ask me why it’s called the 7M Workout because I don’t know.  Twelve exercises lasting for thirty seconds with 10 second rests do not take 7 minutes.

Whichever app I use, and I vary them, the activity periods are short so I do the drills as fast as I can while maintaining good form.  This means going anaerobic.  After five days, my muscles were aching, which is why I took a break from the apps on Sunday and Monday, for running and cycling.  Today, Tuesday, I worked through one 7M Workout set before breakfast, achieving 16 press ups in the thirty seconds devoted to that exercise.  I think that’s as fast as I can do good press ups so I may have to consider doing two sets.

So far, I’ve focussed on fitness but note the bit where I mentioned taking in my belt a notch.  Fat around the waist is considered more harmful than fat elsewhere.  Experts claim it isn’t the fat you can see which predicts diabetes and heart trouble – it’s the fat around the organs so reducing the circumference of my waist suggests that exercising before breakfast may have brought actual health benefits.  (I don’t think Michael Mosley mentioned time of day but I vaguely recall he didn’t eat as he was worried about puking.)

I’m not the most conscientious person in the world.  My haphazard approach to fitness had left me on a plateau where I had begun to wonder if a man in his early sixties really could make much progress.  For example, this Spring I had walked more than 400 miles from Kintyre to Cape Wrath and, at the end of the walk, I was still slower than younger walkers.  However, a couple of hours after breakfast today, I went out for a 7 mile run and that is my longest run of the year.  A personal best and two season bests in three days.  I may have discovered the secret of eternal youth!