Fit for Retirement

Ken Cutler

I HAD A REVELATION while shoveling snow earlier this year. When I was age 40 or so, digging out after a snowstorm was always an ordeal for me, even with the aid of a snowblower. I’d need to take frequent breaks and would be wiped out for the rest of the day. Multiple body aches would appear over the next 24 hours, and full recovery might take a few days.

But in January, at age 61, digging out from two snowstorms within four days was no big deal. I didn’t even bother to fire up the snowblower for the first storm, which dropped about four inches on our area. I was a bit tired immediately after shoveling, but recovered within a few hours. The only pains I felt the next day were mild aches in my right hand and forearm, presumably from exercising lesser used muscles while handling the shovel.

After college, I joined the local YMCA and would work out occasionally. A couple of years later, I decided I wasn’t using the membership enough to justify the cost and canceled it. Through my late 20s, 30s and most of my 40s, I engaged in very little intentional exercise.

This changed in my late 40s, when my athletic son, Dan, convinced me to join the YMCA with him. My first workout there harkened back to my earlier snow removal experiences: I was sore for a week afterwards. Still, I continued to work out regularly because I was my son’s transportation to the gym. After a year, I looked back at the paltry weights and minuscule number of repetitions recorded on my initial workout card and marveled at the progress I’d made.

Dan eventually started doing his workouts at home and I canceled our memberships. I joined the gym at my place of work and used their limited set of equipment. My workouts there weren’t as intense—a significant step backward from the YMCA workouts. I typically did a few different upper-body weight exercises, and my sessions rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. I needed to record 20 visits a quarter to get reimbursed by my company for the gym fee, so I made sure I did at least that.

More than 10 years ago, I read a book titled Younger Next Year. Its key message: consistently engage in vigorous exercise to combat the inevitable effects of aging. Although not everything in the book was my cup of tea, it was an entertaining read and made me think more about the importance of changing my largely sedentary lifestyle. Reading the book should have motivated me to take action, but it didn’t. Still, I absorbed many of the book’s concepts.

My son was never shy about giving fitness feedback to me. A few years ago, his persistent message—that I was neglecting my leg muscles—sunk in. I’ve read that a person’s typical walking speed correlates with longevity—faster walkers tend to live longer. More important, it just makes sense that, if I want to stay mobile for as long as possible, I need to keep my legs in good shape.

In summer 2021, my wife Lisa and I joined a Planet Fitness gym a mile or so from our home. This has turned out to be one of our best investments. My membership only costs $10 a month, plus a modest annual fee. The facility is amply equipped, clean and well managed, with a super-friendly staff.

I regularly use 11 different weight machines. Exercises that strengthen my core and legs are emphasized equally with my upper-body workouts. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that I monitor my progress using a spreadsheet. I’ve never been as disciplined and consistent at exercising as I have been these past few years.

Lisa is even more of a gym enthusiast. She takes fitness classes and has upgraded her membership so she can enjoy more perks. The money she’s saved by avoiding chiropractic visits for her back issues easily covers the cost of both our memberships. A virtuous cycle has been created.

Why am I writing a HumbleDollar article about my exercise history? I understand more than ever that a key component of a satisfying retirement is maintaining our fitness and health. It’s a store of wealth that can’t be quantified in dollars, yet it’s essential to enjoying our golden years.

I’m inspired by my recent snow removal experience. It confirms that I can make significant improvements to my physical condition despite the advancing years. I know I have much work ahead to climb to the top of the fitness ladder. Still, it’s gratifying to know I’m no longer stuck on the lowest rung.

Ken Cutler lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has worked as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than 38 years. There, he has become an informal financial advisor for many of his coworkers. Ken is involved in his church, enjoys traveling and hiking with his wife Lisa, is a shortwave radio hobbyist, and has a soft spot for cats and dogs. Follow Ken on X @Nuke_Ken and check out his earlier articles.

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