As you pass middle age and become a senior, you may never recapture that teenage youthful energy you once enjoyed. There’s hope, however, with alternate exercise regimens for senior men. Learn how I discovered the health benefits using some moderate exercise techniques with an oriental flavor.
Having been a martial artist for most of my life, I discovered that after about 45 my body just wasn’t up to the punishment any more. When you’re 19, martial arts is a lot of fun and involves very little pain, but with each passing year the fun declines while the pain increases, so I went looking for an alternate regimen to keep me fit as I passed through middle age.
The first regimen I discovered was Tai Chi. Though my hard-core martial arts buddies harangued me for taking a “dance class,” I pressed on in spite of the ribbing. This ancient Chinese exercise regimen is practiced by many millions of Chinese. It is rooted in the movements of animals who seem to keep fit even if they’re caged. Tai Chi is the manipulation of life energy (Chi) which flows smoothly through a normal fit body, but stalls where injury or illness blocks the flow. It’s as much a spiritual practice as it is a physical one and it requires minimal exertion. Just because it doesn’t require grunting and sweating doesn’t mean it doesn’t work though. A older woman was in my first class who could barely hobble in and had been stiff and sore all over her body for years. Six weeks later, she was lithe, light on her feet and totally out of pain. That sure convinced me.
Tai Chi practitioners are renown for their longevity. Near my home on a Southern California beach, every morning at sunrise, a 95-year-old Chinese man walks three blocks to the beach and goes through his morning Tai Chi regimen. He’s friendly, active, flexible, and still sharp as a tack. There is little doubt that this practice has helped maintain his fitness and health.
The study of Tai Chi, led me to discover an even older, and more diverse study called Qigong (pronounced chee-goong.) Qigong is also a Chi manipulation exercise and is the practice that led to the more formalized Tai Chi. Its roots can be traced back to the origins of Chinese writing, over 4000 years ago. Qigong is repetitive, that is movements are repeated a number of times, rather than Tai Chi which is one long complex movement that must be memorized. There are thousands of Qigong movements but they’re generally grouped into what are called brocades, or groups of movements. For instance, the most popular 8-section brocade consists of 8 movements done 8 times each. Some asymmetrical movements are repeated for both right and left sides. For instance, one movement is called “drawing the bow” and is done once on the right side and once on the left. That pattern of right-left is repeated eight times.
One of the most interesting Qigong patterns is called Fragrant Qigong. This form of the exercise is supposed to have incredible curative powers. In China, testimonials have attributed Fragrant Qigong from curing everything from headaches to terminal cancer. It consists of 12 very simple movements, performed with zero exertion. Each movement is repeated 20 – 30 times (you do not keep count in your head. It distracts you.) I have no idea if it cures any disease, but I can assure you, you will feel great after doing it, refreshed and de-stressed. It is called Fragrant Qigong because sometimes the practitioner smells a sweet aroma as he is performing the exercise.
While the Chinese exercises do help your body to maintain its flexibility and sensitivity, the real exercise that will keep you in-shape, flexible and agile is Yoga. Yoga is a practice from India. I’m sure you’ve seen the yogi masters twisted up like a pretzel and thought – no way! I thought the same thing. My wife has been a yoga practitioner for many years and has suggested that I go. Naturally I refused, thinking that is chick stuff. Wow, was I wrong. After the first class, I smacked myself on the forehead wondering why I’d waited so long to try out this fascinating practice, for two reasons. The first was that I’d spent my entire life working out with sweaty, smelly guys in baggy martial arts attire, and suddenly I found myself in a room full of shapely, sweet smelling women all in spandex.
The second reason is that yoga is not kids stuff. You work – hard. Yoga is not like pumping iron, but this exercise for mature men does require exertion. You’re encouraged to breathe through the difficulties, while holding poses. You walk out of the yoga class loose as a goose and having felt like you’ve really been exercising. If you’re big and out of shape, you will sweat – plenty. The best part though is that you can take these exercise regimens for senior men with you. The exercises you learn can be performed on your family room floor, in the park, or even in your office. (Make sure no one is watching or they’ll think you’ve really lost it.)
I’ve been doing yoga now for two years and can really feel a return to a youthful flexibility and balance to my body, and an all-round well being that many men either start to lose or perhaps never had. Yoga and Qigong have become central to my life. These Asian exercises truly can help you maintain your health to keep the gold in your golden years.