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After almost six decades this writer is having a ball
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

"You've got to work at living because dying is easy."
- Jack LaLanne, the late fitness guru

My Achilles Heel for the longest time in group exercise classes were the gigantic red, yellow, blue or grey exercise balls.

My arms started aching whenever an instructor simply announced we'd be using them that session.

You would think a reasonably fit person would have no issues with picking up a large ball made of ribbed PVC material and filled with nothing but air. The exercise routines that were in vogue 10 years ago literally killed my shoulders and upper arms to the point I couldn't go through the entire set. That's right. A guy who some contend does aerobics with the restraint of the Tasmanian Devil of Bugs Bunny fame minus the coordination was whipped by moving a big ball that fully inflated weighs - according to my scale - just under five pounds. If you think it is easy try grabbing on to one, extend your arms, and move it over your head or in circles in front of you repeatedly, I dare you to try it. Equally fun is being on your back and doing similar movements with the ball pressed between your ankles.

No one was happier than me when the fashion shifted to using the balls primarily for pushups and sit-ups.

Then on Monday after I had talked the class instructor into doing double grapevines she announced we were going to use the balls.

I figured we were doing sit-ups. Wrong. She was going old school.

This wasn't going to be fun especially given it was at the In Shape where I was a relative newcomer and smack dab in the front.

I thought I was going to embarrass myself at the very least.

Much to my surprise after five minutes or so neither my arms or shoulders hurt. In fact I was ready to go 15 more minutes.

It doesn't take much to make me happy. And it was safe to say I was real happy with myself.

The reason I was pleased with myself was simple: It proved to me - once again - that getting older doesn't translate into the wheels falling off the bus.

I'm never going to be an athlete of any sort or even Jack LaLanne for that matter - the late fitness guru who celebrated his 60th birthday by swimming to Alcatraz handcuffed and shackled while towing a boat. But I don't have to accept decline as inevitable.

LaLanne was a pimply-faced skinny kid with a serious sugar addiction who parlayed a humble gym he opened in Oakland in 1936 into a career that earned him the moniker of "the Godfather of Fitness." He was never at a loss for words to get people active and healthier. Nor did he shirk from being physically active. He repeated fitness stints like his Alcatraz swim almost annually until the day he died at age 96.

His philosophy was captured in his one-line zingers such as, "Would you give your dog a cigarette and doughnut for breakfast every morning?"

LaLanne told interviewers his life was turned around when he heard lecturer Paul C. Bragg as a young boy. The following words are what LaLanne said changed his life forever: "It matters not what your age is or your physical condition, if you obey nature's laws, you will be born again."

I'll admit there was a time when I doubted the words that motivated LaLanne to do, in his own words, "use it or lose it."

But then I'd come across people who had gotten off insulin or severely cutback because they had altered their diets or religiously followed an exercise routine. I've met people who have lost 75 pounds and kept it off by simply walking an hour a day. And I've known people who were told they'd have limited mobility in a limb and be on pain killers for the rest of their life who walk today better than a 15-year-old and do so without popping pills.

For years I've told people who've complained about aches, pains or being listless and moody that you can reverse virtually anything at least to some degree if you work at it.

So there I was on Monday. I had put my glasses back on after the high intensity workout class while waiting for the instructor to start her yoga session. I couldn't help but notice the stupid smile on my face.

I knew why I was smiling. At age 50 the exercises she went through with the five-pound ball would have wiped me out and left me with plenty of aches. But on Monday, just over a week from turning 60, it was a breeze.

Then I started thinking about other physical and emotional improvements. I can honestly say I'm stronger and healthier than when I was 30 or even 15.

This is not meant to brag. What I hope it will do is encourage people to "use it" - whatever hand you were dealt from the DNA deck - to avoid losing it.

LaLanne was right. Dying is easy. Living, though, takes work.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.