Most things get easier the longer you work at them: long division, stick-shift driving, putting on a condom. Working out, on the contrary, can get more difficult as the years go by. When you're 25, going to the gym might seem as fun as a day at the mall (and just as cruisy), but by the time you’ve hit the half-century mark, exercising can seem as tedious as, well, going to the mall (especially when the only cruising you’re interested in involves a tour of the Greek Islands). But in our modern age, being fit isn’t just for the young; it’s for the young at heart.
Since the trick to physical longevity varies, we talked to three fifty-something athletic men about how they stay in shape, keep it up, and keep from getting bored. For those youngsters out there, here's hoping some of their thoughts will rub off on you, so that when you hit the 50 mark, you’ll not only feel as fabulous as they do, but you’ll look so hot that that condom-applying skill will be more necessary than ever.
Glenn Wharton, 52
A New York University professor, Glenn thinks that, ultimately, the reason to work out has to be based on the feeling and energy you get from activity and not just the lustful glances. “We all lose our looks,” he says. “For gay men, it’s easy to get to a mindset where you think, ‘I’m not going to attract the same kind of guys, so why keep at it?’” Wharton thinks that this kind of societal narcissism is the quickest way to burn out, and why your motivation needs to be about endurance and energy and life.
“Besides,” he adds, “If you feel good, you’re going to look good.”
Wharton swims four to five times a week with a gay and lesbian masters team, in addition to the hour or so he spends stretching and lifting weights almost every day at home. He’s more active now than he was at 30, and he gives a lot of the credit to the competitive route.
“Swimming on a team never gets boring,” he says, “because you’re all together complaining or having fun.” There are cool-down benefits too. “What can be better than showering with a bunch of men after a workout?”
A former vegetarian, Wharton now eats fish and free-range chicken and beef, as well as salad, and he tosses aside the notion that the older you get, the less time you have for working out.
“I’ve always been the type of guy to work seven days a week,” he says, “and it’s always easy to convince yourself that you don’t have the time to exercise. But the truth is, the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have to exercise and to do other things. You have to get into that mindset. If get bored, mix it up.”
John Mumford, 50
Mixing it up is exactly what John does as part of his weekly workout regimen. The co-owner of Barry’s Bootcamp in Los Angeles, he takes three bootcamp classes a week (classes vary daily, and each session is part cardio, part weights), then he jogs on the weekends.
Whereas, like Wharton, Mumford’s been athletic all his life, his motivation now that he’s hit 50 is a bit different. On the immediate front, he says, “I want to tighten up that layer of whale blubber I didn’t have when I was 30. When it comes to the larger picture, the reason he still pumps is still all about his picture. “Being attractive to other people is the greatest motivator in the world,” he says.
But lest you think Mumford, a straight married man with children, is as beautifully shallow as a (gasp!) gay man, he firmly believes that working out makes you feel good too. “When you look hot, you feel confident,” he says, adding that that being active “clears your mind. All kinds of inspiration occurs to me while I’m exercising.”
Mumford admits that as he gets older he sometimes has trouble rationalizing an intense workout regimen. “Your view of life shortens, so you think more about how you spend your time,” he says. “But working out shouldn’t compete with everything else, because you don’t feel well if you’re not fit.”
It’s a view he can’t express enough when he hears about younger guys doing steroids and lots of recreational drugs. “Drugs come back to haunt you, and Mr. Universe-looking guys don’t look good when they age.”
The other problem symptomatic of the younger generation is not knowing when enough is enough. “When your body is in pain, it’s telling you to take it easy,” says Mumford, who’s only real injuries over the years have been back-related. Mumford says it was easier to stay in shape at 30, and that he did heavier weights at that age. The trick is finding something that sticks, something that will help maintain your strength and endurance.
Patrick Wanst, 52
Patrick, a Los Angeles-based actor, agrees. “I’ve never been able to compete with the guys who played sports in school or were dancers or marathon runners,” he says. “It’s like they have a built-in motor. The guys who just lift weights don’t have the endurance factor.”
Admittedly, he says, he’s one of those guys. “I never even looked at a gym until my 20s,” he says, “and then it was all about looking hot so I’d get a date. Now I swim and do yoga and eat much better, but I’ve always felt like I was a little behind.” To that end, Wanst exercises six days a week, switching from weights to cardio, and tries to do something completely different, like cycling, once or twice a week.
“I learned a long time ago that there will always be someone bigger than you and prettier than you and more attractive than you, so why compete? At gay gyms that I’ve gone to, a lot of guys take steroids—there was a time when my body didn’t look normal because it was normal. I don’t see [steroid use] as much now, but that was when I decided to start working out for myself as opposed to for other guys.”
Not that he’s avoiding mirrors altogether. “I still look pretty good in a Speedo,” he says. “And I love it when a young guy checks me out. But I’m in this for the long haul.”
The long haul is what all these guys are after.
“It’s great if you can find some kind of sport that you can keep working at as you get older,” says Mumford. “You’ll look more like Jake Gyllenhaal than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that’s not a bad thing.”
I think most of us cowboys could live with that.
David Toussaint is the author of Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony. He can be reached at www.DavidToussaint.com.