“My body is like my old sailboat,” a 60-year-old peer of mine told me recently.
“Every time it gets taken out for a sail, something breaks. Not something major, like a keel falling off; but a fitting here, a line there.”
“The thing with sailboats,” he reflected, “is that you have to maintain them constantly. If you don’t, big things will go wrong.”
The human body is the same way. The biannual inspection or physical exam is a form of inspection and
maintenance. You learn the weaknesses of your boat, and use it accordingly.
You get up-to-date information from the rigger (your doctor) and make the necessary corrections.
So when you hear about insurance companies discouraging annual physical exams, cringe. These exams are where you receive wise guidance, an education about new developments in medicine that may apply to you, and warnings about little things — before they become big things. It’s also an opportunity for bonding with the person who may save your life.
You’ll also redefine the things you can do and can’t do. Moving away from sailing to skiing, I happen to love moguls — but I don’t ski them in the backcountry anymore because if I fall, I die. So I ski them on the main slopes, and only as a treat. I train by doing squats, the key exercise for preventive maintenance and improved performance for skiing.
Road biking is the same. If I do a really aggressive bike ride for a number of hours, my 60-year-old neck is tweaked because I have been
craning to look up for a few hours. I’ve learned to take breaks and stretch out. Each birthday, I like to ride my year in miles: 60 in 2015. Maybe at some point I’ll switch to doing it in two days rather than all at once. If so, I’ll see it as doubling the pleasure, rather than halving the effort.
Waterskiing keeps my entire body strong. Nothing else tunes the muscles so fast and so enjoyably. Yet making that hard carve on the outside turn isn’t as pretty as it used to be, and carries more risk than reward.
And that’s really the whole point.
Is the risk of the extreme activity worth more than the longer-lasting joys of the moderately extreme activities?
At 60, for me, moderately extreme has more longevity and more appeal. Getting older means doing something great often — and passing up
something spectacular occasionally.
Each little tweak, each warning sign, if ignored, can turn into a chronic pain. I don’t have time for chronic pain. So I learn to pay attention sooner, fix the problems and do the preventive maintenance. That way, I’ll get to keep sailing this “old boat” until — one inevitable day — the wind dies.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments.