Fitness for Old Guys

Andy Lewicky and the Bright Angel Trail

Here today we have a custom post on demand for SierraDescents lurker Tom, who describes himself as an old guy, and for some strange reason was wondering if I had any fitness tips specifically tailored for old guys like himself.

Well Tom you're in luck! I do have some tips for you and anyone else who is getting up past their prime (which would obviously not include me, as I remain a peppy spring chicken).

Get a bicycle

This one seems to me to be maybe the single best tip, and while I'm going to directly advocate for an actual bicycle, the larger point here is that where fitness is concerned, you should do absolutely everything you can to pair exercise and fun, and aggressively so.

I ride my bicycle even on days where I have absolutely no interest in exercising. I love doing it for the sake of doing it—not for fitness. In this way, I am sneakily tricking myself into building fitness even when I'm feeling lazy (which, to be honest, is often).

As for bicycling, you'll find mountain biking eerily similar to skiing, and wildly effective at building leg strength and aerobic capacity. If properly set up, a bicycle has little negative impact on joints, which becomes especially important as you get older.

Do Not Get Hurt

Do not get hurt. Your entire fitness program (and more) is undermined by injury at this age. Not getting hurt should be a priority in any fitness plan, but especially for old guys like Tom. That necessarily rules out certain activities that younger people, like me, with their hardy muscles and skeletons, can get away with (for example: cliff diving).

Stretch Carefully

Common wisdom used to be that stretching was good, period. Now we have a more nuanced view—in particular, that excessive flexibility leads to injury. Stretch to maintain range-of-motion and healthy posture. Otherwise, there's no need to go crazy with it.

Get a partner

You will motivate each other to get out there when you're not feeling it, and you will also compete with each other, which will up the fitness intensity level.

Weight-Bearing Exercise is Important

If you are in close proximity to a gym, take advantage of it. But remember—do not get hurt. Intelligently do load-bearing exercise, where possible, as this will help counteract the inevitable loss of muscle mass that comes with aging.

If you live near a park, make use of any circuit training stations like dip or pullup bars. You can also climb sets of stairs.

Full disclosure: all of this falls into the category of stuff I hate to do. Do what you can stand, and look for fun alternatives that replicate load-bearing exercise without feeling like a grind.

be a mutant

I am including this one even though there's nothing you can do about it: but having mutant DNA such that you seem to age more slowly than others and outperform people athletically does not hurt. I have been blessed (or cursed) with partners who fit this description, and chasing them has certainly motivated me to try to keep up.

I suppose you could also try chasing your children, if you've got any. Or maybe a new young wife? Alternately, try to remember that we're all built differently, and be realistic about what your body is capable of.

Engage in New Things

Introducing novelty into your fitness regime is very important. Our bodies adapt, and quickly, to whatever routines we throw at them. By adding new activities, or doing existing routines in new ways, we can reap far greater benefits.

This is true not only of physical but also mental fitness. Though Tom did not specifically express any concern on the topic, our brains do age along with our bodies. Seeking out novelty--meaning learning new sports, new tricks, and taking on new challenges--is probably among the best antiaging strategies you can find.


Eating lots of fruits and vegetables seems to be important. I am not a supplement guy; I would rather get my vitamins from my diet (EDIT: I would take vitamin D if I didn't get as much sunshine). Salmon and leafy green vegetables seem to be particularly good for us. Eat as much of those as you can stand. Avoid things that are heavily processed.


Put me in the camp of those who believe sleep is critically important not just for elite athletes but all of us. This is a far larger topic than I can address in a handful of paragraphs, but let me offer a few suggestions nevertheless:

Get a good CBT-I book like this. Do everything in the "Sleep Hygiene" section, and ignore everything else. That will generally mean sleeping in a cool, quiet, dark place, waking up at the same time every morning, being careful about napping, and avoiding screens and stimulating activities an hour before bedtime.

If you are actually struggling with insomnia, I recommend looking into Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for insomnia, which will help you learn how to rest peacefully when you are awake in bed. Avoid everything else—especially control-based strategies—like the plague.

Be Seasonal

I just think this is incredibly important. For everything there is a season, and I think rotating seasonally through sports is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. In this way, everything stays fresh, and your chance of overuse injury is greatly reduced.

In this category I'm going to include some yearly downtime, where you just chill and don't think about fitness that much. I do not try to maintain heroic fitness levels year-round. Instead, I time my schedule so that my fitness peaks around May-June, right when the big lines come due in the Sierra.

Move Your Body

An underrated fitness strategy is simply moving your body whenever you're given a choice. Take the steps instead of an elevator or escalator. Walk to the Grocery instead of driving. Park a little farther rather than using a paid lot. Vacuum the floor yourself instead of having someone else do it.

In this regard, it's probably best to regard your sofa with at least some degree of suspicion.

I of course love my sofa and would never part with it. In fact, I'm probably sitting on it right now. Or possibly lying in bed. Still, in the immortal words of my high school shop teacher, Mr. Ridley, 'Do as I say, not as I do.'

I hope these tips prove useful to you, and if you can think of anything I've missed, please feel free to add them in the comments. :)

— August 18, 2023

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Dan Conger August 18, 2023 at 6:20 pm

My motivation to exercise is to have a TV in front of my equipment so I can watch something or play video games while staying in shape.

Brad Brown August 20, 2023 at 7:34 am

I recently went through the hardest 2 years of my life starting with cancer surgery, radiation the next year, testosterone suppression (think menopause) while care taking for my dear wife and finally her passing on 5-5-23. 9-1 would have been our 50th. And I still work. And I’m 72. My recovery through all was founded in love of-and from-my family, friends, and of the mountains. After the necessities of the first weeks after her passing, I decided to reboot my life. The Memorial Day weekend in Mammoth was the start. For the next 9/10 weekends I was gone. 10 days skiing at Mammoth with daily doubles of either golf or hiking-most with my brother from another mother Bob. 10 months of skiing this year, 6 days in actual summer! One of my daughters lives near Idyllwild so several trips there…along with convenient laps in the San Jacinto region. Deep talks with friends, family, AA crew (38 yrs), and especially erstwhile guru Bob and I’m recovering nicely. I recently found out I’m cancer free. And that’s how I’m starting to feel-free. And a funny thing happened along the way. I started getting fit again. Last seasons high altitude efforts were a bust bc the radiation effects lingered into late summer. White Mnt-nope, 10 mi/13k only, Lone Pk nope-failed 1/3 up the chute, yup Bob completed both. But I’m feeling much stronger this year so there’s possibilities. I lost 1/2 the weight I working off, my mileage is up. I’m also getting all the doctoring I’ve denied self , other than the 911 of cancer. Diet is back on track. Brother Bob says athletes take supplements to improve performance, and have so started. But it was in no small measure that love of mountains (4 new peaks so far), friends and fam that have helped restore my life-my hair is even less grey!?! A guy who runs marathons once told to mind my “time on feet” and the rest will take care of it’s self. I’d add sleep, nutrition, strength training and speed intervals for the senior mountain athlete. Onward!

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