When do you "get" old? Who is in charge of your perception of aging? How does your approach to healthy living aid or hamper your photography?

"Old" men with no beer guts, swimming fast. 

I have an acquaintance who is about my age. When I think about him he seems at least ten years older than me. He's just a bit taller than me but he weighs a good 50 or 60 pounds more. His belly hangs over his belt and he's always got a sore back. The sore back is his go to excuse for not wanting to/being able to exercise. Then there are the sore knees (most likely from supporting excess weight) and the sore feet. His idea of recreation is to sit on a couch with his wife and binge watch shows on Netflix. His idea of exercise is walking from his car to the grocery store or from his car to the local Starbucks. He imagines that everyone "dumb" enough to run in the Summer will keel over and die. He has been deeply involved in nearly every fad diet you can think of. He went all vegan last year and lost 20 pounds. Then he rediscovered cookies and ice cream and gained back 25.

He'd like to get in better shape, and with three college degrees is smart enough to understand and calculate the cost/benefit calculus of exercising and improving his diet, but he is addicted to sitting in front of his computer for hours and hours each day researching websites and watching videos... and snacking.

He's had a number of health issues and his doctor tells him he is "pre-diabetic."  Thank God he's not also a smoker.

I understand that bad habits of a lifetime are hard to break. I understand the process of getting in shape for the first time in decades is uncomfortable and not nearly as much fun as already being in good shape. But there's nothing other than this acquaintance's own reticence to make lifestyle changes that stands between him and better health; and potentially a longer life. He's just continually making the same choices because those choices seem to be the path of least resistance and are more comfortable, in the moment.

I have a friend who is a couple of years younger than me and he's the opposite of the acquaintance described above. My friend just broke the world's record in his age group for the 200 meter, long course backstroke. He still competes in triathlons and is a national contender in his age group. He's good about diet and I can't remember ever hearing him say he'd been to his doctor. He's got great muscle tone and not much body fat. None of this came about by accident. He was a UT swimmer in college who never stopped exercising and he exercises, generally, for at least a couple hours a day. And yes, he holds down a job, is raising three younger kids, and still has time for fun stuff. But he makes choices. He gets out and makes time to exercise because he can't imagine anything more fun. He passes on the donuts and margaritas. I never see him wolfing down scones, candy bars, Frappucinos, etc. It's a consistent pattern of combining discipline and goal setting in order to see the long term advantages to his short term behaviors. And yes, he can do 50 push ups without breathing hard or breaking a sweat.

We all get to make a choice. Which guy do we want to be? Which protocol will best benefit our active working lives?

Some people couch the choice for fitness as being something for which you must give up something else. If so, I have absolutely no clue what people would need to give up other than their resistance to movement or their habitual sweet tooth.

But what does this have to do with commercial photography? Or even recreational photography?

I don't know about everyone else but I find commercial photography (especially working outside, on locations) to be physically demanding. Where a hobbyist can carry one bare camera and a single lens the professionals are usually bringing along redundant camera gear, lighting equipment that they may or may not have to use, modifiers for the lights and support gear for everything (tripods and light stands). They may walk miles a day with the gear, or pushing a heavy cart with gear. There are rarely convenient elevators in industrial settings. You'll probably have to climb some ladders... Sometimes you have to walk a mile or so to work to get to more remote locations. And you might need to be able to do all this in weather extremes.

Clients aren't interested in whether or not you are tired, your back hurts, you are out of breath. None of that is their responsibility. They have engaged you to complete a job which you accepted in complete awareness of what was required. In order to do the jobs and make the fees you need to be in good enough shape to complete the contracted tasks. Whether you are 63 or 23 you are engaged with the same set or parameters and you have accepted the same scheduling and rigor. Being in excellent shape means more profit, more efficiency, more accomplished in a day, more fees.

Being out of shape means being miserable by midday, having to cancel work days because of a lack of energy, or from the exhaustion that comes from not using muscles and the whole cardiovascular system on a regular enough basis; such that normal, physical work seems...extraordinary. And clients who are confronted with a photographer who isn't up to the task of shooting and moving through a job, physically, will almost certain NOT book that person again.

If you are a hobbyist/photo enthusiast you don't necessarily need to be worried about your income stream as a result of self-induced poor health but if you are not fit you most certainly cheat yourself from getting full value from opportunities. If you sign up for a landscape phtotography workshop in a remote location but you don't really feel comfortable walking more than four or five hundred yards from a trail head you'll miss so many opportunities to see and photograph amazing sights. If you book a trip to Rome to photograph in the streets but you haven't stayed in good shape by routinely walking for hours with your gear over one shoulder you'll most likely truncate your daily schedule and miss so much.

You are paying for the potential in every shooting opportunity. You pay for plane tickets, hotel rooms, meals in restaurants, entrance fees and so much more. How sad if you can only enjoy half of the potential of your vacation/shooting trip/personal project. It's like paying to see a good movie and having to leave halfway through.

I'm pretty sure the difference in exercise perspectives is a combination of factors but there are certain cities (and neighborhoods within cities) that are more focused on fitness. Austin, Texas, Boulder and Colorado Springs, Colorado, Eugene Oregon, etc. are places where so many people in the total population are regular, and consistent, exercise fans. The same places seem to have community support for healthier eating and lifestyles. And then there are the rural and rust belt communities where fitness (real fitness, not a half hour at Orange Theory or twice a week at Yoga) is an almost foreign concept. Where pushing into momentary physical discomfort for a long term benefit is laughed about and minimized.

I would guess that where you live and the kind of people who surround you have profound effects on your personal perception of what even constitutes true fitness. My advice for people living in exercise deserts, and in places where traditional American diets prevail, is to pack up, sell your house and move to someplace far healthier and then change your own perception about what you can accomplish to improve and preserve your health. It's a hell of a lot more practical than staying put and complaining about being tired, cranky, fat and unmotivated.

Cruel advice? Maybe. But would you take the advice if the majority of the last 20 to 30 years of your own life were much, much better than they would otherwise be?  I would.

Just back from morning swim practice. 3,000 yards knocked out by 8:30 am. Already planning on that long afternoon walk.... What's on your agenda?


Stephen Kennedy said...

The world wants a quick fix and an easy answer to every problem.

Luckily there's "one simple trick" that will start you on the path to sustainable health.

Unplug your TV.

Now grab a camera and go!

Ray said...

My agenda after finishing this comment is to read my daily dose of The Oneline Photographer.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

I second that! Next, limit internet usage. Then walk to anything a mile or less away. Then....

If you are trying to build up a little at a time set some rational, minimal standards. For instance, if you are making walking your primary exercise start by considering two miles as the baseline and go up from there (preferably raising the distance week by week; not year by year). Don't start your baseline with something like 100 feet from your front door.....

Bad knees? Can't walk? Get into a swimming pool and start exercising there instead.

Unknown said...

I am 71 and I think I'v been lucky- and good. My father was always active. Swimming, walking, tennis, some jogging. I got the exercise habit from him and have kept it all my life. I believe if your parents were active chances are you will be as well.
If fit, everything you do in life will be easier and more fun. And for those who have not exerted themselves in years fitness is a long process, not a sprint. Start slow and build your fitness. Don't hurt yourself!

Anonymous said...

I'll chime in here. If you are going to take a hiking, photography trip spend a couple of months prior to your adventure walking five to ten miles a day with your fully loaded camera bag or backpack (what you intend to carry your stuff in while on the journey). A casual walk around your neighborhood once or twice a week won't get you in anywhere near the shape you need to be in for a tour!

You might get sore for a while. That's a good thing!

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Ray, I was responding to Stephen's comment. The comments seem to want to get out of order.

Anonymous said...

If you want even tougher exercise consider replacing your lightweight mirrorless system in that backpack with a couple of "old school" DSLRs and some fast zoom lenses. The extra weight will get your heart pumping. Who knew that old fashioned DSLRs would provide a better workout?

Kristian Wannebo said...

So true!
But a pipe of (really) good flake tobacco with my morning, or afternoon, coffee and a camera with a longish zoom lens beside me on my porch - watching the sun play ever new games in the trees and leaves...

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

A quiet and meditative break can also reduce stress. Sounds like you live in a beautiful place. I'm all in on the coffee but have that knee jerk American attitude about tobacco. As Belinda would say though (chiding me) "moderation in all things."

D Lobato said...

I'm a month short of 64 and keep myself active. Daily hikes in the local woods and strength workouts three times a week at home. I can run circles around most other guys my age. And on long hikes I can carry a camera body, a few lenses, and maybe a tripod with ease. Funny, I wasn't the first old guy to tell my doctor that weight training benefits are like the fountain of youth. He is also a competitive swimmer.

Nigli said...

Hi Kirk, thanks for all your health and lifestyle blogging, in between the photography. I took your advice a while ago, bought a bike and, painful as it was to start, now enjoy 50 - 80 mile bike rides again, at a reasonable if not world beating tempo. The weight hasn't come down (some 13 kg too high), but I'm not overly worried about that. Unfortunately I broke a hand recently, but that has only encouraged me to get into the gym and do some core body work. Sitting around too much make me and my family batty. And today, for the first time in two weeks, I could pick up my camera again.

Kristian Wannebo said...

> "moderation in all things"
!! , :-) .
( Pipe, and cigar, smokers don't inhale, so it is only half as bad...)

Moomin mama says:
"Everything that's nice is good for you."
( ...and without moderation it isn't nice anymore!)

Anonymous said...

Here in Scottsdale the summer routine is on the trail before sunrise; then a 6 or 7 mile desert hike on trail with thousand foot elevation gain with a pace fast enough to make it back before 9. That with a 20 lb pack with enough water and gear to survive a mishap. I am a few years older than you but manage this 2 or 3 times a week.

Mark the tog said...

When in college I ran regularly with friends. After college with a job and kids I really felt I could not afford the time.
As I am now 63 I have spent the last ten years or so really being much better about daily exercise, swimming and strength training. While I wont claim to be in the shape I was in when in my 20's I am in some ways better.
It make a real difference as you note in long days on set.
I just came back from a two day shoot in Arizona ( I live in California) that began at 8am and ended at 7pm with only a couple of short breaks in the day. The client is intensely aware of the cost per hour of this project and will have slight sympathy for a photographer that has lost a step.
While I was tired, I was happy to say I felt as good as I did when I was in my 20's.
That doesn't suck.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Bravo Mark. That's the model we should be setting for our generation and the ones to come. Less bullshit about sitting in front of screens post processing and more real stories about heading into demanding jobs with our physical stamina at its peak and our stamina intact.

Thanks for setting a good example and sharing it here.