The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


July 16, 2014

‘Guns’ for Life

It pays to get physical for long-term benefits

With the latest World Health Organization figures showing global life expectancy increasing from 64 years in 1990 to 70 years in 2011, staying healthy enough to add quality to the quantity of life is an important consideration.

Friends Tom Rapp and Bill Sweeney, both 77, believe their consistent commitment to exercise has not only extended, but also enhanced, their lives.

Rapp has been a member of L.A. East Fitness, Beckley, “since they opened the doors.” He was a Golden Gloves boxer for three years in his youth, “then I got a desk job and got soft,” he said.

Rapp was 40 years old before he hopped back on the fitness wagon, adopting a routine that has stood the test of time … and helped him to make the most of it.

“I lift weights four days a week, no matter what. If you lift weights fast enough and do things like squats, there’s cardio involved, too. The key to it is consistency.”

In addition to his young-looking “guns” of muscle definition, Rapp enjoys the other tangible fruits of his enduring labor. While peers tote pill organizers with a rainbow of pharmaceuticals for various ills, Rapp takes his baby aspirin-a-day. Nothing more.

“I feel great! I could wrestle a tiger!” he attested. “I think it’s crazy when people say they are too old to work out. You are never too old.”

Sweeney, a longtime friend of Rapp’s, knew he needed to do something about his health when he was diagnosed with and treated for diabetes.

“I wasn’t overweight when I was diagnosed. The medicine for diabetes makes you hungry and when your blood sugar drops too low, you have to eat to get it back up.”

Sweeney remembered days as a kid when working out meant grabbing a hoe and heading to the garden. Facing a a chronic disease and the pendulum swing of his blood glucose readings, the retired coal miner embarked on a mission to improve his health through exercise.

In 2001, he joined L.A. East and started lifting weights with Rapp. He’s done so ever since.

“I work out three days a week here and then I work at home every day,” he stated.

Sweeney mentioned his garden as a simultaneous source of exercise and healthy food.

“I raise my garden, I mow two acres of grass. I’ve done manual labor since I was a kid.”

His blood sugar levels have also regulated through exercise, with fewer peaks and troughs and the associated symptoms.

Sweeney seconds his friend’s proposed notion that consistency makes the difference.

“If I miss a day at the gym, I make it up. If I hadn’t kept it up, I don’t believe I’d be here today,” he said.

L.A. East owner and fitness trainer David Chinn has experienced a demographic switch since buying out the fitness center in 2001.

“(Gyms) used to be thought of as ‘meat markets’ — and any time I hear people say that now, I tell them, just come once and see what it’s really all about.”

Chinn’s facility, with 24-hour/seven-day-a-week secure access, has opened another avenue to the fit-curious through online membership activation.

“They’ll sign up online, I’ll send them their security code, and they come in during off-times to check it out. It’s not so intimidating to get started that way.”

As a consequence, Chinn has witnessed a mostly 30-something crowd expand to include “50-year-olds who look like they’re in their 30s.”

On the other end of the age spectrum, Chinn has added programs like Crossfit Kids, tailored to the 12 and under crowd.

“It’s like fishing or hunting. Exercise is something you pass on to your kids and they will look up to you for it.”

Chinn’s wife keeps a saying stored on her phone as a background, one Chinn has adopted as his own philosophy for promoting active lifestyles. “It says ‘Food is the most abused anxiety drug. Exercise is the most underutilized antidepressant.’”

And if you don’t believe that, take it from a doctor.

Dr. Walter Klingensmith, an 85-year-old retired surgeon and his wife, Betty, 83, are also L.A. East faithfuls, keeping a five-day-a-week habit of an hour-long workout in the gym to supplement walking the dogs on their farm and to otherwise stay active.

“I was always active in sports — baseball, basketball …” he stated.

These days, he begins on the stationary bike and works his way up to the weights before heading home.

Betty prefers the treadmill, set at a clip that has her walking like she’s about to miss a boarding call.

“This keeps your body and your mind sharp,” said Betty.

Sometimes, she looks around to find she’s the only older woman in the room. Where have all the active ladies her age gone?

“Some people think this is mostly for young people. But I like it here. It’s a good place and it has everything I need.”

And where have all those the good doctor’s age gone?

“Most people my age are dead,” he said.

Point well taken.

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