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Forty-four Caliber

Today is my birthday. Number 44. Forty-four magnum, I’m calling it. Like Harry Callahan’s hand cannon. “Do you feel lucky?” I do.

For this double-quad birthday post, I’d like to revisit my fitness efforts one more time. The last time I mentioned my exercise regimen was back in November last year,  when I showed my “final” results after the P90X and Insanity programs. Well, I’ve kept up my exercises, but I’ve dropped to working out just three times a week instead of the hardcore six times a week. I’m just in a maintenance mode, now. I’m happy with my fitness level and my physical appearance, so I just want to stay like this. I don’t need to buff up like a bodybuilder.

Fitness at age 44
Forgive an old man showing his bare physique one more [last] time.

[And forgive the terrible lighting in these pics. Sheesh. Opening the blinds of the big front window just caused harsh shadows. Using the flash just washed out on my pale skin — too embarrassing to use for this post. I thought I could improve on the bathroom shots. I failed.]

Anyway. Something I’ve never mentioned before is that I have a pretty severe case of arthritis. My spine, let my show you it:

Back MRI

This image is my lumbar spine, seen from my left side. Note the solid black cartilage space between the bottom vertebrae. That’s well-developed arthritis. That’s what pain looks like.

This MRI image was taken back in August 2007, almost four years ago. I posted about the experience, but I never came out and said what it was all about. I’ve never talked about having arthritis, here, because I didn’t want you readers thinking of me as some decrepit invalid. I’m only comfortable mentioning it in this blog, now, because I can post the fit pictures with it.

Four years ago, I went from a general doctor to a specialist to find out why I was so regularly having back pain. I always got out of bed achy and groaning in the mornings. I often, (at least once a year), “threw out my back” when doing heavy work.

X-rays and MRI photos showed the answer: pretty well developed arthritis. I was rather stunned. I mean, I was just turned 40 years old. Arthritis is something senior citizens have. The doctor told me that the disease had been developing in me for a while.

“But doc,” I said, “I was doing martial arts several days a week, just a few years ago. I earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.”

“You were fit and strong from the martial arts,” the doctor explained, “and that keeps the pain away.”

Core strength and flexibility, like I had while doing TKD, is the best — really the only — way to overcome arthritis without drugs or surgery. In the years after last doing any good and regular exercise, the arthritis caught up with me. That’s why I was starting to feel the disease as pain.

The doctor explained that there is no way to fix, cure, or repair arthritis, but I could keep it from getting worse by getting back into good and regular exercise. But I had to be careful and mindful of how to do exercise properly; I had to protect my back because with arthritis, it’s easier to injure, and any injury is more painful.

I may have be having pains getting out of bed then, but worst case scenario if I didn’t get back into good and regular exercise would be that one day I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed at all. Knowing how bad my back hurt sometimes getting out of bed then, I understood what that meant.

So I got back into good and regular exercise. Well, sometimes and sort of. I was on again and off again with the exercise. At my worst, I was never really “fat.” I was overweight, yes, but I’m also 40+ years old with a sedentary occupation. I and everyone with whom I ever conversed about body weight considered me average and normal for a 40-something family man. My middle was getting thicker, but my belly never plumped over my belt.

As for my arthritis, very few people knew I had it. I ran and jumped and played with my kids like all the other dads around — more than some dads because I wasn’t fat and completely out of shape like some men my age. Only when getting out of bed in the mornings, or maybe getting up off a sofa or chair after an hour or more sitting around, did I make any groans of discomfort. My inconsistent efforts at exercise at least kept me out of severe pain from normal activity. I only took any kind of drug for the pain, (usually just ibuprofen, but rarely something stronger), when it was particularly bad.

Every once in a while — once or twice a year, about — I’d do something to “throw my back out.” I’d pick something up wrong, twist or jump bad, or just sit too long in an uncomfortable position. It was Arthur Ritus letting me know he was truly moved in for the rest of my life.

When I started thinking about picking up the P90X workout, I honestly didn’t even think about needing it for arthritis control. But I was reminded by a person who loves me that I need to remember my back problem and not do something careless to hurt myself. Starting a regular exercise regimen is a good idea, but going extreme and permanently injuring myself would be just plain dumb. Good advice.

I completed the three-month P90X regimen with not a single back problem. I continued the P90X for another couple of months, and then completed the two month Insanity program, and still had no problems with my back. My core strength and flexibility was better than ever. I’ve been in close to peak physical fitness for a 40-plus year old for a year, now. And I’m still going strong.

Only once did I hurt myself during any of these workouts. Fortunately, (and maybe ironically), it happened during this maintenance period I’m keeping up, now, (not during the first/main rounds of the programs). I got a little cocky and rambunctious during a power jump routine, and lost the proper form and control. I woke up the next morning in back pain. I had to take four weeks off from working out to recover. Frustrating, that was. But after the healing time, I got right back into my exercise routine, and I make sure I keep the proper form and control when doing my extreme maneuvers.

* * *

So, I’m 44 years old today. Forty-four magnum.
Age 44 Arms
Booyah! :-)

And my birthday party, next weekend, will be a wonderful nerd-fest.


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