Fitness as We Age: Five Lessons From the “Ground Game” in Football

I love football analogies, man. I probably use them too much. I ought to invoke the images of a symphony or a wild-flowered meadow more often.

But some football analogies just make sense to me at a visceral level. Especially this one: pursuing long-term body-and-soul health (at 40, 50, 60 and beyond) is like committing to the run as a football strategy.

When a team declares “we WILL run the football,” they commit to guiding principles like: Having a more-patient approach to victory – not trying to “win quickly”…Depending less on flashy or gimmicky approaches – what you see is mainly what you get…and Reducing costly mistakes – fumbles are less common and less damaging than interceptions.

Let’s consider what lessons this holds for the pursuit of decades-long fitness. I see five of them.

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I love football analogies, man. I probably use them too much. I ought to invoke the images of a symphony or a wild-flowered meadow more often.

But some football analogies just make sense to me at a visceral level. Especially this one: pursuing long-term body-and-soul health (at 40, 50, 60 and beyond) is like committing to the run as a football strategy.

When a team declares “we WILL run the football,” they commit to guiding principles like:

  • Having a more-patient approach to victory – not trying to “win quickly”
  • Depending less on flashy or gimmicky approaches – what you see is mainly what you get
  • Reducing costly mistakes – fumbles are less common and less damaging than interceptions

Let’s consider what lessons this holds for the pursuit of decades-long fitness. I see five of them.

FIVE LESSONS FROM THE GROUND GAME

When I see 40+ guys successfully “doubling down” on fitness, nutrition and wellness…I see them doing five things that a good-running football team does. It this is already you – keep it up, brother. Or if you’re intent on evolving your habits to take better care of yourself, these lessons are a good place to start!

1. Come from a place of confidence.

You can do this. You might need to experiment some to see what works, to endure some failures and setbacks. Just like our notional football team needs to work on blocking schemes and to dedicate practice time to the running playbook. But despite ever-present time pressures, injuries, motivation challenges, and the barrage of white flour, sugar and booze the world throws our way…you CAN find a way to make holistic fitness be part of your life. If you decide to.

2. Invest time and energy on technique basics.

Whether it’s strength training, swimming, yoga or whatever…at our age, it’s more important than ever to move correctly and mindfully. Just as in football, the run game is so dependent on blocking techniques and backfield coordination. So when it comes to your health, return to being a “student of the game.” You may know all there is to know about your preferred fitness activities, but in some ways that’s a sign that you should be experimenting with other ones, too. In the big picture, we’re all beginners and always will be. It’s freeing and empowering to embrace that rather than deny it, dude.

3. Mix things up.

The Green Bay Packers of yore once ran something like 17 “power sweeps” in a row. Cool. But for the most part, running the football demands that you mix things up from play-to-play to keep your opponent off-balance. Run the football, yeah, but do it in different ways. We need variety within our fitness game plan, too…to balance strength, endurance and flexibility…and to allow rest and recovery for different parts of our no-longer-25 bodies. That’s how to vanquish some of the toughest opponents we face: injury, boredom, apathy and low energy.

4. Minimize costly setbacks.

Overall, teams fumble less than they get intercepted. Fumbles are also less likely to be run back for substantial yardage or touchdowns. So running the football is partly about “not defeating ourselves.” In fitness, the equivalent ideas are preventing injury (see “mix it up” above), and also bouncing back from setbacks so that we don’t get into longer-term “out of shape” ruts. On this latter point, research on aging and performance decline shows that one of the biggest factors is that we can’t get back into shape as quickly as our younger selves…so the focus should shift to not getting out of shape, man.

5. Be patient.

Not every day can be a “triumph” in our fitness lives. Some days we have less time than ideal, some days we’re just not feeling it, sometimes it’s just really hot or cold outside. And so on. But we should still “move the ball own the field” a little, and be OK with that. And we should also generally avoid fitness or nutrition approaches that promise miraculously fast results. Just like our run-first football team sometimes plays the field position game, where a long drive to shift field position is still something not-bad. They don’t start going to high-risk plays in the third quarter, just because one given drive didn’t score.

CONCLUSIONS

Just so I’m clear, I’m not advocating a reduction of your ambitions. Just like teams that run the football aren’t doing so to lose…they’re doing it to WIN.

Having confidence, focusing on technique, mixing it up, avoiding setbacks or reducing their impact, being patient – these are winning ways-of-being for us, guys. It’s like running the football. I’m sure it’s also like a symphony and a wild-flowered meadow…I’m working on those angles.

 

“Well, I’m taking my time, I’m just moving on.” (Boston, Long Time – click to listen). Note, this is the long Foreplay/Longtime version off the beyond-iconic Boston first album. If you’re impatient — ironically given the topic if this article — and want to jump into the Long Time part, it starts at about 2:28.

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