Gym and Tonics

“So what’s the biggest change since you’ve returned to work?”, I’m asked. That’s easy. It’s the physical one. The title of my blog was meant to reflect upon themes that should interest mostly middle aged men and women. Any read of the national daily newspapers would tend to back this up (although maybe I should have included “Celebrities” to be accurate). I didn’t rank them in importance, more by order of potential interest, and I felt my experience of early retirement might re-order them in my own mind.

But, now I’ve returned to work, the earliest indication of change is mostly related to the subject of Health. Being retired, I was aware that I was spending a lot more time in the gym compared to when I was working, usually at least an hour a day and at least five days a week.  I wasn’t committed to any particular programme or regime, but tried to focus on things that would improve my aerobic capacity – the treadmill or rowing machine – or physical strength – free weights – and flexibility – stretching or yoga routines (based on an excellent Ryan Giggs DVD, in case you’re interested). And I’d swim quite a bit as a good all rounder.

The gym was a major part of my daily routine, and I generally enjoyed going at about eight in the morning, walking or biking past the lines of cars transporting people to work which reminded me of how lucky I was not to be doing likewise. I actually snipped a quote from Mr Money Moustache that I’d read as an  inspiration and reminder that I was leading the good life:

As a retiree, I have a special place in my heart for Monday mornings, because that’s when I would have had to go back to work if it weren’t for the joy of early retirement.  Despite the option of complete leisure, I woke up at 5:30 this morning because the sky was starting to brighten and I was too excited about the new day to let any of it go to waste.

I’m writing to you right now, but later on I’ll be building stuff, riding bikes, meeting with people and teaching kids. Later on as bedtime approaches I might fiddle around in the music room, read a book or listen to a podcast. It’s my idea of the perfect life: self-directed activities in pursuit of knowledge, self-improvement and even getting a chance to help others if you’re lucky.

This was the great thing about it. Going to the gym really felt like a choice because I had the ultimate flexibility to change the routine – a late evening sauna and swim was every bit as enjoyable when I decided to do that, for example. Or, on a rainy afternoon, putting in some time on the treadmill while I listened to a podcast or watched something on iplayer felt like a constructive way to put in an hour or so.

It wasn’t just the gym though. With time on my hands, I’d walk and cycle way more than I ever had. Two or three times a week I’d meet up with my DOH for lunch or coffee and I’d either walk or bike the three miles into town to do so. Seriously, Monday to Friday in the working week, who can fit in a three mile walk? I certainly can’t any longer. My Fitbit already attests to this fact – last year, 10,000 steps a day was a breeze. Back to work, and already the 3,500 days are back on the dashboard.

WIth the bike sitting in the garage I’m now back in the car everyday for a half hour commute to and from work. I’m lucky, I have a lovely drive through splendid Yorkshire scenery to work, but that’s an hour a day in the motor that takes five hours out my week that it didn’t used to. That’s not the killer though, and it’s not the main thing that’s brought my body to moan and groan each morning as I get out of bed. No. The main culprit and contributor to my new sedentary lifestyle is the desk, the chair and the PC screen. I can hardly bare to acknowledge that I might now be sitting six hours a day at a computer! Thirty hours a week! My God, that’s an outrage. Is it any wonder that I’m physically struggling with it? In my retirement days, I never spent even two hours sitting on my backside, unless it was in the evening with a good book and a glass of red.

I’m now trying to compensate by making my gym visits almost compulsory and at least that makes me feel a bit more “worthy” when I’ve managed to complete a session! It is hard though. Do I really have to get out of bed at six in the morning to go for a swim before the office? Do I really have to swing the car into the Bannatyne’s carpark on an evening when I’d much rather be heading home to unwind after a hard day at the office? That’s the change in the question: “Do I have to go to the gym?” instead of “What time do I fancy going to the gym if I don’t go this morning”?

Still, there’s a lot to be said for “self discipline” and I find that structuring your interests around the working day can actually help you get things done. And, having done my run at the back of six this morning before heading into the office, I’m really looking forward to settling in with a good book and a glass of red tonight. I’m certain I will feel as if I deserve it.

14 thoughts on “Gym and Tonics

  1. I worry about my health as I near 50. Working from home I value being able to garden (great for bending and stretching) and walk (Ingress, an augmented reality game that pre-dates Pokemon Go gets me doing 14000 steps a day), as I hate gyms. I don’t think I want to return to commuting to a desk job, too few spare daylight hours.

    Indeed the fact that my job restricts my access to the outdoors too much is a key reason why I resigned on Monday. FI. Can I find a health compatible job, or will it be RE for me?

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    • Congrats on hitting a tipping point in your work and choosing the exit door! Whether you find a job that allows you more access to the outdoors or not, you’ll have time to work on your fitness and build a routine. For me, back at work, it’s the routine of exercise that carries me through many days where it would be easier to do nothing.

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  2. I feel your pain. Literally, I’m feeling your pain. Working in IT, back pain is a major issue and I’m trying my best to break up my day with morning dog walks, lunch gym sessions and evening gardening. And still, those 8 hours spent in front of the computer and 45 minutes of commute have a huge impact on my fitness level and my health.
    Long term health is one of the biggest reason why I’m working towards FIRE. Right now I’m just trying to stop the decay :(.

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    • Sitting staring at the screen yesterday I realised I forgot to mention another peril – my eyes, my eyes! Switching away from the screen to focus on print sees the latter as a blur, but that’s not the case later in the evening when I’ve been away from the PC for a while.

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  3. I really relate to this post. I worry that I don’t make time to exercise, but with the limited time I do have, I prioritise the things I have to do (sleep!), then the things I want to do. It is my choice, but right now I have a bunch of other stuff I’d rather be doing. Good on you for keeping up the habit.

    I’m sure another blogger (or was it you?) posted about some research that showed retirees were fitter than they were prior to retirement, and it was directly linked to having more time.

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    • Yup, time is a massive factor but rather than having time to exercise I found I was exercising to fill the time. I suspect that many of the retirees I see at the gym are the same. In that way, it becomes a bit like job that you can choose to do.

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  4. I recently had some significant health trouble due to my job at a computer ( http://howtoretireearly.net/curve-balls-and-stuff/ ) I totally relate with these concerns. I’m 35 and it scares me that I’m now (temporarily hopefully) unable to perform correctly at my job due to my job itself. These health issues, we don’t take them seriously until it becomes too late.

    This just convinced me even more that I need my FU money and get the hell out of there as fast as I can

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  5. I fully empathise with your situation. I too got made redundant and then spent 9 months in early retirement (aged early 50s). I joined the tennis club, played three times a week and went for plenty of long walks. Now I am back at work on a 6 month contract, sitting all day in front of a screen doing hand and finger exercises as I move the mouse and tap the keyboard. Yes, I get some social contact and some intellectual challenge out of it, but I was getting that anyway as an ER (was doing some studying). I only said to myself last week that I don’t feel as well. I feel less fit. I’ll see how I feel at the end of the contract and reconsider retirement or take another break from work. Or possibly go part time. But I know realise what sitting in a chair must have done for all those years. I don’t want a desk job anymore.

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    • I never realised how bad sitting at a desk was until i broke from it, took the year out, and am now back. It really is something we should all be more aware of. I’ve put on half a stone in weight and nothing has changed on my diet – if anything I’m eating less! Carrying the extra weight probably means I feel less fit too. So lose lose.

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  6. Could you cycle to work instead of driving? It’ll take longer, but health benefits are obvious, and it’s not as much hassle as one might think, provided there are shower facilities at work and a closet where you can store a suit and a couple of shirts. Rain is not as much of a problem as people think, but you should invest in a reflective vest and a good set of lights for winter when days are shorter.

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