Today is my Dad’s birthday, the day on which he could officially retire if he hadn’t already done so some time back. Good for him I hear people say.
But what I’m thinking about here is the difference between his generation and mine in terms of lifestyle and health. I can’t help but speak in generalisations so forgive me if I overlook key factors such as job and class when it comes to summing up between the generations.
My Dad had an active job all his working life. He ran a shop business and was on his feet pretty much all day every day from 6:30 in the morning to 7:00 at night. It wasn’t exactly physical, like working in a factory, but it did keep him moving and it was certainly not a sedentary or an easy job.
All his life my Dad has been slim and active without ever doing any exercise beyond some regular weight work in his home gym (not nearly so grand as it sounds) and regular, almost obsessive gardening. He has never done anything remotely aerobic and I doubt that his cigar habit has helped his lungs there either – these days shows signs of much lower stamina when working in the garden. But he’s never broken any bones like I have or risked his health doing ‘extreme’ sports.
On the other hand, for as long as I remember I’ve been someone who takes part in sport. Starting at school I did a bit of football and plenty of running plus I cycled 3 miles each way, each day to school for my entire secondary school career. Since then I’ve attended gyms, been skiing a few times, done a bit of running and for the past ten years ridden my bike regularly off-road. Basically I’m always doing something physical and yet never feel truly as fit as I know I could be.
I have a sedentary job and aside from bikes, remain sedentary at home in my uber-geek habit of building websites. I slump, I slouch and generally spend long periods of time in front of a computer screen. So in many ways, I think my lifestyle is actually worse for me than my Dad’s ever was.
My Dad laughs at me for riding bikes. ‘Why would you ever do a pointless and childish thing like that’ he says in some of his more polite statements on the subject. Well, the point is I’m lucky to be able to choose. I do this MTB thing because I choose to do it and if I didn’t I reckon I’d be in far worse shape than my Dad was at my age. I don’t kid myself that I’m any fitter than my Dad was at my age, but I hope I am.
What I worry about—not in an old fogey way but in a simple recognition of trends—is that the next generation have even less reason to be active than I do. Chances are their texting thumbs will be unreasonably muscled but everything else could be seriously out of condition. I’m lucky to be well informed on the way to stay fit and I know how much enjoyment you can get from just being outside, in all weathers, exercising with friends.
But you can’t know what you don’t know (risking coming over all Rumsfeld-esque there). I try to get my kids interested in sport, knowing it’s a lifesaver in the long run. But the risks are all on the downside to be honest that it will prove disturbingly easy for them to not do stuff. I hope I’m an example to them that they’ll want to emulate in that sense.
Who is better off? My Dad, with his limited opportunities that forced him to slog it out for years but saw him retiring early and well; me, who has so much information at my fingertips, the opportunity to exercise and enjoy life but who will probably have to work well beyond my Dad’s retirement age; or my kids who have more choices than ever before but potentially the greatest inertia against any kind of activity and the greatest propensity toward mental illness?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy, my Dad’s happy and my kids are both happy and lively boys. I just don’t want to be complacent about what we are lucky enough to have, not just the opportunity but the enthusiasm to go out each week and ride ourselves into the ground.
Have a good ride this weekend!