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A Midlifer's Loss Is His Gain

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Look around you the next time you're in town or at the mall. Do you see any obese, old men? You won't, because they're all dead. That fact alone ought to convince you to get -- and stay -- in shape. For midlifers in particular, exercise is necessary to help ensure your quantity, as well as quality, of life.

I'm 66, and in the best shape I can remember. At 153 pounds, I feel as good as I did in my 40s and I'm wearing 30-waist jeans. I used to nap in the afternoon, but no longer feel tired. My mental energy has also increased. I left my last annual physical, totally stoked because all my health indicator numbers were perfect. And I'm enjoying life and looking forward to attending my seven-year-old grandson's college graduation, down the road.

I've been exercising regularly for a quarter of a century now, changing my program to suit my age and lifestyle. I live in Marin County, California, where it seems like there are more in-shape men and women than anywhere except Brazil, so the motivation to get in shape was all around me. Even so, there are days when inertia feels harder to break than a sweat, and while I shoot for exercising seven days a week, I settle for six.

When I was in my 40s, I was single and mostly concerned about remaining attractive to women, and my ego drove me to the gym four or five days a week to climb the Stairmaster and use the Nautilus equipment. At 5'8" and 160 pounds, I was in shape physically, but fat and flabby emotionally. I realized that I needed more than an in-shape body to create a good relationship with a woman and started a men's group to work off the emotional fat.

In my 50s, I was still dealing with emotional issues and playing the dating field, and working out became about fighting the aging process. My body started wanting to let go and puddle in front of the television, and holding the line was becoming more difficult, partly because I wasn't yet willing to make any dietary sacrifices.

In my 60s, I faltered a bit, and the results were predictable. I gained 15 pounds. I still tried to keep up the program by hiking with my dog on the mountain near my home but was losing motivation. The impetus to get back in the fitness game came from my wife, whom I met four years ago. She was close to my age, a former ballerina who'd been exercising regularly all her life. I only had to mention exercising, and she was dressed and ready to go. Even better, she was working on her emotional issues, too. Staying fit wasn't about my ego any longer -- it was about the health of my body and my marriage.

I began hiking up the mountain every morning with my wife and our two dogs -- 40 minutes straight up and 20 minutes down. My weight fell to 160, but my body didn't feel tight or toned. So I bought a set of adjustable dumbbells -- I love that word -- and began pumping iron while watching the news three days a week. I increased the weight every four to six weeks, and added 120 crunches to each workout. My strength increased noticeably in a few months, and my body grew leaner and harder. I feel like a much younger man and, while my libido isn't as strong as it was in my 40s, it's still powerful.

I also changed my diet significantly -- fewer carbs, no processed foods, lots of protein, and unlimited quantities of fruits and vegetables. I satisfy my occasional carb craving with a pizza or a meatball hero, but my twice-a-year hot-fudge sundae with peppermint-stick ice cream is my favorite cheat treat.

If you're not sure whether or not you're overweight, forget BMI indexes and height-weight charts. Get naked, stand up straight with your feet close together and look down. If all you see are your toes -- or worse, just the floor -- you might want to get your body in motion. Even if you have to slap yourself around a bit, get off your couch and into the gym or some place you can burn calories and get a good cardio workout. If you don't want to join a gym, buy an inexpensive set of weights and start lifting. .

I can't promise you'll live longer, but you'll definitely feel better, especially when you give a stack of your dad jeans, to Goodwill. Your wife or girlfriend will love the new you and she'll respect the mental and physical effort you're making.

And don't let your emotional fitness slide. Join a men's group -- or start your own -- and do the work that will help you get rid of the emotional love handles you've been carrying around for years.

My new book, Act Like a Man, gives you a front-row view of what that looked like for eight guys who've been doing the work together for over two decades. As one reviewer said, "It's a reality show in a book." Read a chapter on my website, www.kensolin.com, and get your copy of the book on Amazon.