The Humor and Pain of Baby Boomers Keeping in Shape

Someone once said, ‘It would be nice to die young … at an old age.’ BoomerCafé contributor Larry Lefkowitz has that in his future. But as he writes, it’s not always fun.

Several years ago, I got workout religion. It was not an epiphany; I was recovering from triple bypass heart surgery.

My rehabilitation involved going to the gym three times a week for a specific workout, meant to help heal repaired areas and exercise my ticker. I had never used a gym prior to this, as I was a very active athlete. I played basketball, softball, ice hockey, and tennis. As my body broke down with age, sports were eliminated until only tennis and an occasional bike ride remained.

Larry_LefkowitzWhen it was discovered that I had cervical spine arthritis, my serve went in the drink and tennis was history too. During my rehab in the hospital gym, I met many terrific people who had similar experiences. We commiserated over what lay ahead for us, compared notes on each other’s miseries, and most of all, made each other laugh.

The therapists were equally fun, encouraging us and laughing along with us. It was a terrific experience and I did well, thanks to this positive atmosphere.

Soon enough, I ‘graduated’ from the cardio rehab gym and had to move forward on my own. I joined the local gym and established my own regimen, careful to listen to my body on any given day about what it was capable of doing. The old adage of doing it until it hurts was in full effect, though I frequently and impatiently went beyond that. Each time that I injured a knee, an ankle, a shoulder, a toe, I experienced a setback in my level of performance and had to rebuild. It became frustrating. I was doing this on my own with only the faith that this exercise would extend my life as the reward. Sure, that is enough within itself, but I needed some short-term satisfaction. I needed some fun. I needed laughter.

The wife of my next-door neighbor from marriage number one was often in the gym at the same time. Her husband had also been my doubles partner back in the good ol’ days of tennis. She worked long and hard and here she was, five years older than I and a reformed lifelong smoker. We always exchanged cordial greetings and went about our routines.

One day, however, as we sweated through the drudgery of the elliptical ride to nowhere, we started talking about what this exercise meant to us. Quickly we established that we hated it. Every minute of it. We hate that our schedules revolve around when we have to go to the gym; we hate that it hurts our creaky bodies; we hate that to work out in a public gym is to immerse yourself in a germ and bacteria incubator; and we hate that neither of us looks any better than when we started.

What I can tell you I loved, though, was how much fun it was to complain about it. The time on the machines goes by faster; the commiseration is funny; and the observations universal. But we can’t do this every day in the gym, so I started noticing the variety of people who put themselves through this. For sure, there are the young, beautiful folks who would not seem to need the pain, but of greater interest to me were the folks older than I am. Oldsters, bent over and shuffling; blue-hairs with designer sweatpants; myopic prunes bedecked in wigs and lipstick; old gents wearing kakis and soft loafers to stroll on a treadmill … all of them doing their level best to be active and keep their bodies going.

The sight of them often makes me chuckle, but I admire them so much for pushing on. It makes me work harder, even when I don’t want to, and it gives me satisfaction. The common theme here is the desire to stick around. There is an unspoken camaraderie amongst us elders, and even more fun is the unspoken respect we get from the young beautiful people. In the end, we hope that “no pain, no gain” is a fact.


  1. I think some people are “social exercisers.” They need the camaraderie and, as you say, commiseration to get through their workouts. Others, including me, are more “[Whatever our preferred torture instrument is] is right downstairs, where it’s dry and warm and no one is laughing at my bulges and lack of grace. What the heck excuse do I have for not ‘going to the gym’? None? Then get down there, slacker!”

    Larry, do you find that going to the gym (and the corollary, I guess, paying for the gym membership) is a greater incentive to exercise regularly than exercising at home would be?

    1. Rhana, my incentive is purely to stick around, but I will say that the regimen of going makes it easier for me to be compulsive about it. Relying on using my home equipment has never worked for me. I found it too easy to get lazy. Its pretty subjective.

  2. Great description of the gym addicts…I thoroughly enjoyed it, thanks for sharing!I’m not a gym addict myself and fortunately so far – touch wood and anything else handy that might help! I haven’t yet had doctor’s orders to do so. But I’ll share a secret: I do my own gym workout in the secrecy of my bathroom, 5 to 10 minutes every morning before entering the shower. I started doing this 15 years ago because of persistent back ache (after a disastrous trip in Ethiopia visiting field projects – in an emergency aid UN program – riding in a half-broken down jeep and being jolted along from one road bump to the next, 12 hours a day for 3 weeks). Well, the simple gym exercises to strengthen my back muscles were a God-sent and I’ve never had any back ache since…Which goes to show that steady exercise does work!

    So, yes, it’s utterly boring but it does help…As so well explained in this beautifully written post!

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