UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – Generation Xercise

In the early fall of 1981, the kids of Generation X were enticed to get in shape, or just pay attention to fitness, or at least entertain our adolescent selves watching others get sweaty. Oh, sure, we had the first two Rocky movies to get us up and moving, and the third film revolutionized the training montage for sports films in 1982. But it was the early days of MTV that first got us going, or at least thinking about going. For that September featured the release of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical,” and both music videos and adolescent boys were never the same.

Now, as the forgotten generation makes their way through their fifties and approaches retirement age, perhaps it’s time to remember that Aussie’s advice. Everyone should make health and fitness a daily priority, but for Generation X, it’s time to get serious about getting physical, to become Generation Xercise. I hate to say it, my friends, but we’ve gotten soft, and fitness is no longer optional. This is mandatory. We’re running out of time, and our waists can’t wait. Recent studies predict Gen X may live longer than the Baby Boomers, but their overall health will be poorer. Living longer, but in pain and sickness, is a cruel trick of the contemporary age, and we need to flip the narrative. Remember the dean from Animal House: “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.” Well, overweight, out of shape, lethargic, and generally grumpy is no way to go through retirement.

It’s time to make peace with the church of fitness.  Research shows the primary target of the fitness industry is people in their fifties, with age 55 being a prime consumer. So, it’s time, and Gen Xers literally can’t afford to not get moving. In our fifties, we should be hitting the U-curve in terms of overall well being and satisfaction. The kids are older now, we’re settling into the sweet spot of career arcs, and we have time again to pay attention to ourselves. So beyond sprucing up the house and taking some well-deserved vacations, it’s time to get fit. Try a daily 9-minute workout, or heck, even a 7-minute workout, both of which were featured in the New York Times health sections. Walk for thirty minutes a day. Get your stretch on. Take the pushup challenge, or just do some pushups every day. It doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we’re doing something. If the Covid pandemic did anything, it hopefully made us want to get moving, get out of the house. 

Granted, people of all ages and generations should prioritize regular exercise. However, Boomers and the Greatest Generation probably won’t pick up new routines, while Millennials and Gen Z still benefit from youthful vitality. But there won’t be a better time for people of a certain age to get back in shape. Reminders are everywhere, and as the parents of Gen X hit their golden years, we have a good view of where we’re headed healthwise. Being the sandwich generation facing a generational tug of war is not easy amidst midlife crises and the stress of caring for growing kids and aging parents. A commitment to physical and mental health and wellness can help. It will help. At this point we need all the positive endorphins we can get, and we’ve known for years about the link between exercise and mental health. 

Thinking forward, the finance of fitness cannot be discounted either. We should not ignore fiscal arguments for physical fitness, especially in an ever increasingly perilous health care environment. The greatest burden Americans put on personal, state, and federal budgets is the rising cost of medical care. And many health costs for people past age fifty are lifestyle based and entirely preventable. Thus, the best thing we can do for our country and ourselves is to spend as little money as possible treating illness because we invested in health instead.

Olivia Newton John looks and feels amazing at the age of seventy-three, even as she battles breast cancer again. And Jane Fonda is still as stunning and fit as always, and still working out, at the age of eighty-four. So, let’s do this. This is not a drill. This is not optional. This is what has been waiting for us. As we move out of child-rearing and career-building and into our Act III, it’s time for Generation Xercise. 

Let’s get physical.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. Ytou can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com