The best workouts to do with your aging dad

One day, the man who taught you to ride a bicycle won’t be able to ride one himself.

It’s a bit sad, yes. But it’s also a worthy reminder to spend all your time getting around with your dad on bikes, hiking, playing pickleball, whatever while you both still can. As for a longevity rotation zone, consider this: The more your dad starts moving right now, the more he’ll be able to make it in his twilight years.

There were fans around here of a broad, low-risk approach to fitness, which is especially pertinent when assessing an aging parent’s fitness. Start with gentle workouts (Trojan horse hobby, essentially) and build up from there. Don’t worry about personal bests or performance. The goal is just movement and the type of movement that you both will really want to do again.

There’s no way you can repay your parents for everything they gave or taught you, but training with them towards the end of their days is probably the closest you can get to reciprocating the gift of life. Plus, it can lead to a real awesome time and give your relationship a literal breath of fresh air. (When was the last time you rented a canoe with your dad? It’s a little more dynamic than standing around an in-law’s kitchen with a beer.)

We’ve rounded up our nine favorite workouts to try with your aging dad, with three in each category: gentle, intermediate, and advanced. As always: heating and ice baths are your best friends.

How to train with your father

gauthorize: Golf, long walks, gardening

File these activities under things he probably would have done anyway. If your dad is of retirement age (or even more than decades older), these are three accessible/approachable exercises he should take full advantage of and that you should encourage if he ever starts losing his way.

There are studies out there that show golf jumps from low to moderate intensity when you walk the course instead of driving it, but don’t worry too much about that. Use golf to hang out, change scenery, and have some bonding time. As maddening as the game can be, it’s ultimately good for the soul. (And your neural pathways.)

The length, intensity and frequency of our walks tend to decrease as we age, and especially in the winter, after an injury or illness, or following the loss of a pet. It’s well known how critical walking is to longevity, so if you live near your father, try to make it a habit to go for long walks with him. Even just once a week. It’s not as fun as texting during a surprise tee time, but it could help both of you foster a habit of super weekend walking. Look for uneven ground where you can and always keep a useful elbow close by.

Lastly: As long as your dad isn’t trying to be a backyard hero (e.g. digging holes in mid-July, wielding a hedge trimmer off the bottom rung of a ladder), garden work is also a safe and surprisingly effective pattern of motion. . Numerous studies have linked regular gardening with lower levels of potentially harmful blood fats and better biomarkers of strength and endurance. Read more about the benefits of construction site work here.

Intermediate: Tennis, canoeing, cycling

We have pickleball fever like everyone else, so if that’s what your dad likes these days, all power to him. (Get some gear so he can play when he’s visiting.) Don’t sleep on tennis, though, probably the most aerobically demanding of the retreat games. It’s a gold mine for longevity, great for heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic function, bone density, and reaction time. We like that it’s easy to pick up at any age and a game that really rewards regular practice. Plus, he can use matches with you as a water lily to play more frequently with friends at a local racket club.

Canoeing, meanwhile, is a perfect intermediate exercise model: it’s somewhat thorough and low-impact while pushing the water builds up your back, arms, shoulders, chest and legs, without the risk of wear that accompanies traditional strength training. It’s also a boon for weight loss (you only need to paddle about 3 mph to see serious calorie burn) and a great way to have an adventure in even just a county jaunt on the books.

The great thing about cycling is that it’s infinitely editable. The public-facing cycling community (all Lycra and single-row lines) may not be appealing to your dad, but he should feel free to do his own thing. Like: gravel biking, which involves taking your bike off a paved trail and onto fire roads, electric trails, or farm trails. Or ride on an Assault Wattbike, the favorite cardio weapon of New Zealand’s famed All Blacks rugby team. Or even easier racing with a pedal-assisted steed. Just let it work. If traditional cycling is in his wheelhouse, help him work up to 20 miles.

Advanced: Rucking, open water swimming, kickboxing

Some dads, the rare ones who bring home master medals at local road races, don’t need much persuading to get up and follow him. You you may find yourself struggling to keep up with them at times. We recommend presenting these kids with challenges they may not have read about or considered before. Basically: a chance for both of you to make some memories, the sweaty way.

An activity like rucking, the foundational training method of military fitness, is a great place to start. Rucking requires carrying your weight over distance, typically with a change in elevation or terrain, and it works wonders for the body; according to recent research, it is capable of burning more fat than running, and that cuttingnocome at the cost of muscle loss. Ruckers actually tend to do that I earn muscle during walks, while simultaneously burning an ungodly amount of calories, increasing their VO2 max, and reducing their cholesterol counts.

Being in that outdoor vein, swimming in open water or the ocean is likely an activity that an aging dad (however adventurous) will have a hard time selling to his loved ones. So go with him. Follow key principles, some of which we learned from Ironman champion Timothy O’Donnell: water polo-style stroke is your friend, know what the colored flags mean, watch out for currents, swim along a path adjacent to shore (such as around to a buoy and back), and relax. For reference: half an hour of swimming is more than enough for a triathlete.

As far as kickboxing, judo, Muay Thai, or any demanding martial arts practice you think your father might be interested in enrolling in a class can be intimidating, no matter his age (or advanced fitness level). We tend to overrate others’ experience/eagerness when trying new things, so if he needs a little nudge, go ahead and take him to a class. See how he does it, he might love it. And he remembers: he once he did it for you.


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