Today: Advice for a happy and healthy life from 92-year-old fitness expert Terry Robinson.
It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s dark, quiet and most people are asleep. But not Terry Robinson who greets the new day with 15-minutes of stretches, for as he says, “Everybody should stretch. It’s like warming up a car when you turn on the ignition.”
Soon Terry showers, prays, has breakfast and reads, until 4:15 am when a car arrives to take him to the Sports Club/ L.A., one of Los Angeles’s finest health clubs, which he helps to manage.
Arriving at 4:25 am, he walks the club to see that it sparkles, checks the exercise equipment to be sure it works well, and lays out towels, displays hair dryers and does all the other duties essential to a well run facility.
At 5 am, Terry opens the doors of this magnificent, nearly a city block long health club and begins greeting members often by name, with a warm handshake, a smile and encouraging words as he makes each of them feel special.
For the next hour, he welcomes people and offers tips to make their workouts more effective and safe. Then from 6 am to 7 am, he lifts weights and then swims to stretch and relax his muscles.
In his youth, Terry was a body building champion, who lifted heavy weights. Today Terry lifts light weights. “I do either 2 sets of 50 reps or 4 sets of 25,” for each major body part. “People should do more endurance and not heavy lifting,” he advises. This allows the muscles to get the exercise and blood flow they need to function well and reduces the likelihood of injury to them.
If you’re not sure which exercises are best for you, Terry suggests you hire a trainer to teach you as this person will learn your medical history, your concerns and your goals. Even if you employ a trainer for just a few sessions, it could make a big difference in your results.
After a brisk shower, by 7:30 am Terry joins a group of members for breakfast at the club, where they exchange books and discuss “business, politics, religion, everything [including] whatever is going on we see in the newspaper,” Terry said. “I’ve been doing this in clubs for 50 – 60 years,”
At home, Terry has a library containing some of history’s finest books, and he brings them in to share with others because he and they love the intellectual stimulation. Quoting Socrates, Terry said, “All that is good in the world comes from knowledge. All that is evil comes from ignorance.”
At 9 am, Terry is driven home where he joins “my little Silvia”, his companion of 35-years. Terry takes a nap, has lunch and then enjoys a relaxing walk. His afternoon is one of reading, in which he also memorizes quotes from great historic figures to keep his mind sharp, and he paints for he is a top caliber artist, whose works hang in many homes, including Anne’s and mine.
Terry met Silvia when her sister brought her in to the health club he was managing, a year after a drunk driver hit her car, leaving her a paraplegic in a wheel chair, paralyzed from the waste down. There was little the medical profession could do to help her.
Caring for a physically limited person can be very difficult and Silvia’s husband left her leaving her to raise their son by herself. But Terry saw her warm smile, her ability to find humor despite what had happened to her and her unbeatable spirit and was determined to help her.
Terry taught her exercises to stretch and strengthen her upper body, and encouraged her to use a non-electric wheel chair to exercise her shoulders and arms. Soon she became what Terry calls “handy-capable” instead of handicapped, as she is to this day.
“A lot of my friends said, Hey, what are you doing dating her,“ Terry recalled. “She’s in a wheel chair. I said, what are you doing? We’re all sitting in chairs for large portions of our lives. So what was different about Silvia or anyone else that sits in a wheel chair?”
It’s true. Most of us sit at a desk, we sit in a car, we sit when we eat, we sit in front of the TV and we sit in practically everything else we do. We sit for hours on end.
And this irony is an important point Terry made for good health. Don’t sit too long at one time, or as he put it, “Get off your touché.” Periodically get up and walk for a while to relax your spine and to get the blood circulating more effectively as your leg movements pump it up through your body rather than to let it pool at your feet.
Here’s another important tip from Terry. “We live by our inner organs,” he remarked. “If you want your body to function properly, think of posture. Stand-up straight, sit-up straight, walk straight.”
Look around and notice how many people slump. Consider the pressure this compression causes their organs from the heart to the lungs to the digestive system and even to the brain, and nothing functions as well when it is unnecessarily squeezed.
As a final tip, Terry wants you to enjoy exercise, not have it be a burden. “Exercise every day,” he said. “If your exercise is dancing, do it. If your exercise is gardening, do it. Vitality is the will to live and to grow. [It is] our mental and physical strength. If you want vitality, exercise – dance, swim, walk – all movements give you vitality.”
Think of exercise as stress relief as well. Forget your worries and relax as you do what you enjoy.
In learning from Terry, please notice how he lives his life. He’s socially engaged with others not isolated. And his activities stimulate his mind, which is a form of mental exercise. He also has a sense of purpose, something he looks forward to each day that will challenge him. Whatever our age, these are crucial tips to a happy and healthy life.
As our interview ended, Terry told me with enthusiasm ringing in his voice he was looking forward to the UCLA basketball game on TV in an hour. And I thought how typical of Terry this is. He can share great stories from the past, but he doesn’t try to live there. Instead, he passionately lives in the now and he makes the most of each day.
Whereas many people complain about their aches and pains, or find fault with others or condemn the world, Terry lives life with optimism and passion and offers kind words. He thinks positive, and that may be the most important point of all for a happy and healthy life.