Every morning I get up and run before the sun comes up. Sometimes, it seems that no one else in the world is awake.
No one, except my dad. He’s always up before I make it out of bed. I can hear him in his room, moving around and sometimes listening to music. I know what he’s doing in there, as it’s what he’s done every morning for 22 years.
I’ve always thought little of his exercise routine, but as I mentioned it to more and more people here in DC, I started to realize how unique it actually is. So the other day I decided to interview him about his routine. I sat down at the kitchen counter, pen in hand and turned to him. “Tell me in order about your exercises you do in the morning, Dad.”
“Okay,” he said. “First, I do one thousand crunches.”
“What?” I said.
“One thousand crunches,” he said again. Obviously, I’d heard him, I was just surprised a bit at the number. I wrote it down.
“Well,” he continued, “there were a few days when I was on call when I couldn’t those crunches, or really any of my exercises,” he admitted. “But almost every day, I do my routine. Crunches are good for your back.”
I’m gonna stop right there. My dad is 72 years old. And almost every day since he was 50, he’s done one thousand crunches every morning.
I don’t know that I realized before this conversation that it was ONE THOUSAND crunches. That’s 1000. Not 100.
That’s just the beginning.
“Then I do ten minutes of leg lifts and stretching,” he continued. “Those strengthen the rectus muscles and the lumbar paraspinous muscles, just like the crunches. It also helps your quadraceps.”
He kept going, but as usual when my dad (or my sister) starts talking about medical terms, I tuned out. Still, I appreciated a little bit that he takes such a scientific approach to his daily exercises.
“Okay, what’s after that?” I asked.
“Then I do a thousand back arches,” he said. “And then I do push-ups. I used to do a hundred push-ups, but then I found out I was cheating. I needed to touch my nose to the ground. So now I just do 50.”
“That’s pretty wimpy dad,” I said, laughing. “Just 50 pushups!”
He laughed with me, but shrugged his shoulders too.
“Okay,” I said, “is that the end?”
“No,” he said. “Then, I balance on each leg for a minute. It’s called something in yoga, but I don’t know what. My brother told me about it.” I watched him demonstrate it in the kitchen and silently wondered if I would be able to balance that long. I knew I wouldn’t be able to to the push-ups.
“Why do you do this balance thing?” I asked.
“Because people break their hips when they are old because they have poor balance,” he said. “Plus, I need to do all this so that however old I live, I can still play golf.”
Never mind that when he’s with us during the school year, he only plays a couple of times.
“I also walk every day,” he said. “Usually five miles. There are days when I walk more, but I do at least five miles. I walk the kids to school and then I go to the grocery store. When I come home I sometimes have a couple of gallons of milk so that helps build my arm muscles.”
“Wow, dad, that’s a glass-half-full viewpoint there,” I said.
“Well, it’s true!” he said.
I teased him a bit more about his routine, and then I put my notes away. Later, when I went to write this up, I thought about the fortitude it must take to wake up in the dark every morning for decades and engage in an exercise routing that starts with a thousand crunches.
I guess it comes from the same strength that it takes to survive the death of a spouse. The same strength that it takes to raise two teenage girls alone, help them plan their weddings and make sure they grow into reasonably happy adults. The same strength that it takes to leave your retirement behind to help raise three more little kids, one of whom is still in diapers when you make that decision.
Actually, in comparison to a lot of the other things my dad has done, this exercise routine is probably the thing that takes the least amount of fortitude.
I guess that’s why he keeps doing it. That, or maybe because it means that although he’s in his eighth decade of life, he can still pick up Tommy and swing him around the living room.
I think it’s that – more than the improved golf swing – that keeps him at his daily exercise routine.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.