General Maintenance – How to Stay Fit and Healthy

Being young just doesn’t get old, but you inevitably will. The earlier in life you start you take into account your future as an old fart, the longer you will be able to postpone the moment you start to feel ancient.

Youth and beauty
Even more than society in general, gay subculture attaches value to youth and beauty. Wisdom may come with the years, but in the eyes of a majority, it can’t compete with silky, soft skin and a rock-hard erection. A lot of men keep looking back longingly to their own past, at their younger self, and try hard to cling to their twenties or even their teen years. This inevitably leads to disappointment, as there is no way to win the battle against aging. Dying is the only alternative, but not exactly a more promising one. A dramatic death at a young age, as is occasionally glorified by Hollywood (“Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.”) is nice in theory, but would be a major downer for the people who love you and would deprive you of many worthwhile years, even if you are old and gray during the last of them.

It’s best to make peace with your ever-approaching future as a senior citizen while trying to slow down the aging process in small but effective ways, without compromising your dignity too much. As is often the case, preventing damage is easier than repairing it, so start early. And as your body slowly becomes a bit more creaky, a mental adjustment is required as well.

“What older men may have lost in terms of firmness of muscle or dewiness of skin they have gained in technique and versatility and sexual worldliness.”
– Dr. Charles Silverstein & Edmund White, writers

Salute your skin
Skin is seen as the largest organ of the human body. This organ is often the first to show the passing of time, in the form of wrinkles. How fast and how badly you start to wrinkle is partly a genetic affair; a light skin tends to crack faster than a dark one. There are external factors that can make things worse: smoking, sunbathing and excessive consumption of caffeine. These all dry out the skin and make it less supple, resulting in premature aging. If you want to lie in the sun or on a sun bench and expose your skin to damaging UV rays, be sure to use a large amount of high factor sunscreen, but even so, don’t overdo it. An excess will make your skin start to look like leather. A little caffeine is not a problem, but try to cut down if you are a hard-core user. Smoking isn’t healthy for a variety of reasons, but also negatively affects your skin.

Research suggests that a small daily dose of pure, dark chocolate keeps the skin supple; it contains ‘flavonoids’ that aid blood circulation. Other tips: drink plenty of water, make sure you get enough sleep — around eight hours each night — and use some moisturizing cream on your body and face. Expensive brands aren’t necessary, pretty much any lotion will do. Apply after a bath or a shower or at any other moment when soap may have dehydrated your skin. There are creams especially made for you face and those you’re supposed to use specifically at night or during the day. These tend to be more expensive for marginal extra effect, but if you have money to spare, try a few to find out which gives you the best result.

If you’re a heavyweight with the intention to lighten the load, do this while you’re still young: when you get older, your skin will become less flexible. This means that if you lose a lot of weight at an advanced age, you skin won’t adjust itself to your new form, but feel loose and is likely to sag. The same applies if years at the gym have made you buff and built, but you stop going for some reason and start losing muscle mass.

“I will never get back the six-pack I had in my twenties, but I am trying to keep from developing a belly. It’s easier to prevent that than to get rid of one, once it’s sagging over your belt. That’s not to say I never sin. I eat too much or the wrong things sometimes, but in general I am trying to maintain a healthy diet. Once I give that up, I’ll get into real trouble.”
– Bart

Smart foods
Diets don’t work in the long run and can lead to the so-called yo-yo effect. A diet gets your body used to running on less fuel, meaning it stores larger amounts of fat as a reserve once you resume eating normally again. This causes you to gain weight as soon as you stop your diet, requiring you to go on a diet again. The best way to stay in good shape is to find an eating pattern that’s healthy, varied and which you could realistically stick to without an expiry date.

Don’t make things too complicated for yourself. If you set unrealistic goals for yourself, chances are you will start to feel disillusioned because you are not meeting them and give up. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, but keep an eye on the amount of sugar the last category brings into your body. Get enough fiber in your diet and eat whole grain foods; these contribute to a regular stool and keep your colon clean, which will have a positive effect on your sex life if your butt is part of it.

Watch the amount of salt you consume, as it can damage your kidneys and dry you out. Cut down on the amount of saturated fats in your food; these clog up your arteries and cause heart and circulatory problems. A glass of red wine a day, on the other hand, seems to be good for your heart and is said to decrease the odds of getting cancer. If you have a snack in-between meals, make sure it is a healthy snack. When you feel the urge to eat something, take a moment to assess if your body really needs nutrition or if the feeling of hunger is driven by emotions or boredom. In principle it is better for your metabolism to be eating small amount throughout the day than to stuff yourself with one big meal.

Fitness & fun
Physical exercise has the most effect if you manage to do it regularly over a longer period of time. Again, don’t set an unrealistic goal for yourself, as that would discourage you in the end. Make an estimate of the amount of time you would feasibly be able to dedicate to exercise on a weekly basis and do your best to use that time as efficiently as possible. If you want to get serious about it and have a specific goal in mind like building muscle, losing weight or getting fit, get in touch with a trainer who can advise you on a plan of attack, taking into account your specific build. Don’t forget to let him or her know if you have any weak spots like a bad back or a heart condition. Once you’ve set yourself a goal and decided on the best way to get there, you’ll have to decide if you want to work out at home or at a gym or want to take part in some kind of team sport. Each of these options have advantages and drawbacks, so ultimately it will depend on your own preference.

If you want to train at home, you might have to buy equipment that not only costs a lot of money but will also take up a lot of space. An advantage is that you don’t have to head out to work out and can go at it whenever you wish. However, this may also lead you to postpone your exercise over and over again, or let yourself get distracted by the many other things you need to do. You do have better control over your environment; while you train you can watch your favorite television series or listen to your own music for example. And your hot shower and a stack of clean clothes are within reach. A disadvantage of having one machine for various exercises, is that you have to keep dragging around weights and readjusting the machine between exercises.

The cost of a gym is lower at first but, in the long run, you may spend a lot more money than if you buy your own training equipment. The monthly costs vary greatly between gyms, so do some comparison before committing to any one place. Stay close to your home, so you don’t get discouraged by the trip to the gym. Having to leave the house after you come back from work can be tough, and sitting down for a moment can be fatal. Especially if you have trouble with discipline, it’s best to have a gym bag ready next to the door, so you can head out again straight away. Or you can go to the gym directly from work, assuming you don’t have important stuff with you which could be stolen from your locker.

A good gym will look inviting and have a wide variety of machines. As a member, you will generally have access to a steam room of the not-intended-to-be-sexy variety and you will be able to join exercise classes which get you fit in an entertaining way. Working out by yourself is easy enough; you walk from one machine to the next, depending on your training schedule. If you have questions, a trainer is around to help. You’ll have people around you who are motivated to train, which can be inspiring, but can also distract if things get too talkative. Be prepared to listen to music which may clash with your own tastes.

Be sure to keep working out from becoming a drag and make it pleasurable. Listen to music, audio books, language courses or podcasts. As long as you are somewhat focused on what you are doing and you don’t skimp on the exercises, it’s fine to keep your brain busy while your body is working out. Don’t just alternate various exercises, vary the order as well. This helps stave off boredom and gives better results, as your body won’t get too used to one steady routine.

If training at a gym or at home seems too boring and being social is also a priority, joining a possibly gay-specific sports club or association can be a good idea. You and the other members will be keeping each other pumped, so to speak, and discipline will be easier to maintain as you are meeting up at set dates and times. There are many different kinds of sports to have a crack at, so try a few to see which ones you like best: martial arts, tennis, soccer, yoga, badminton, volleyball, swimming, climbing, et cetera. Most of these sports will be geared towards endurance rather than building muscle.

Everything under control
When you’re in your forties and above, it becomes increasingly important to get yourself checked out regularly by a doctor. You’re not helping anyone by becoming a hypochondriac who runs into the ER anytime you have a cough, but keep an eye on birthmarks and new bumps. Sound the alarm if they change shape, start to hurt or bleed. Monitor your blood pressure and get an annual prostate exam to check for cancer once you hit your fifties. The average gay man will be slightly less panicky about a finger up the butt than the average straight guy, but it remains a not very pleasant but necessary examination. Also, get yourself checked for colon cancer when above fifty. If pain or a cough doesn’t go away by itself over a longer period of time, go see a doctor to make sure there isn’t a larger problem causing the symptoms. Don’t walk around with unchecked symptoms for months.

“I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am.”
– Bernard Baruch, businessman

Midlife crisis
Midlife crises are a phenomenon not to be underestimated. Questions like, “Is this all there is? Will everything stay as it is now until the day I die? Isn’t there more to life?” can make someone ditch their partner or career to have a go at something completely different. Of course, it would be better to be mindful of these existential questions throughout your life and make well-considered decisions, rather than suddenly turning your life upside-down. This makes it less likely that you end up unhappy with the life you find yourself living. But if you haven’t asked yourself these profound meaning of life questions before, it’s better to do it late than never. What do I want to experience in life? What makes me happy? What do I want to represent? What do I want to leave behind?

The big or small changes you make in your life because of thoughts like these, can have good or bad consequences in the long run. There’s no guarantee you’ll be happy with the end result. For instance, someone who has a career in the business sector but decides to move into the health sector may find fulfillment, but could also be disappointed once he actually starts working in his new field. The same goes for someone moving in the opposite direction. There is even less of a guaranteed outcome with regards to switching or dropping long-term partners. You should realize that starting over with someone new means rebuilding the feeling of intimacy you enjoyed, starting from scratch and with more emotional baggage. There is no way to be certain the new flame will burn brighter than the old one in the long run. But if you have a dream that is not completely unrealistic, you may end up regretting it if you don’t give it a shot before you end up lounging around in the old folks home.

“The art of life lies in taking pleasures as they pass, and the keenest pleasures are not intellectual, nor are they always moral.”
– Aristippus, philosopher

Young at heart
A lot of men see themselves aging in the mirror but don’t feel that change in their minds. That can be frustrating, because people start reacting to you differently and have different expectations. It’s true however, that you will likely have grown mentally over the years, through education and experience, even if there is still a youthful spirit at the core of all that wisdom. But as you age, this will actually affect your brain and with it certain aspects of your personality. Learning something new will start to take longer, you become more forgetful and you are likely to settle into certain patterns of behavior, leaving you less open to change. It’s hard to register these changes as they occur, as your own frame of reference changes along with them.

When you’re older, you don’t have to go sit behind a window quietly staring out at the world going by, but you also don’t have to force yourself to keep liking the same things you liked when you were younger. If dance parties are starting to bore you, and you don’t feel like hanging around bars for a couple of days a week, just stop going. It’s a big planet out there, with endless possibilities to keep yourself entertained. Breaking your routines with a friend or partner will likely be more stimulating than yet another night at a bar or dancing to music you don’t really like anymore. If you start to like something your younger self would have laughed at, feel free to shrug at your younger self; you’ve changed and there is nothing wrong with that change in principle. It can be painful to watch when someone advanced in years tries to convince himself that he is still a teenager. Just be yourself and be open to developing different tastes. If you’re in your sixties and you still honestly get excited about a night of dancing at a circuit party, then you should by all means go for it. Don’t fool yourself, however; it doesn’t actually make you twenty or thirty years younger. You will be seen as a somewhat misplaced sixty-year-old, be it an energetic one.

Keep challenging yourself, and avoid getting stuck in a rut. Discovering and learning new things will keep you active and keep you from growing listless or depressed. Keeping your mind busy also serves to decrease your odds of going senile. A lot of people become milder as they get older because they learn to prioritize. What is important? What is worth getting upset about? What should you make time for, and how can you improve your own life and those of others? Not everyone grows wiser as they grow older, but the majority do, and a lot of grey-haired people are of the opinion that life on the whole doesn’t get worse.

Last edit: 18-11-2018 Dutch version here.