What can you say about a 70-year-old guy who can kick your butt in spin class? Outdoors, it's below freezing, and, though technically morning, still dark as night. But there he is, bouncing along on his stationary bike like a jack rabbit and grinning happily at his heart-rate monitor, while I, nearly 30 years younger, manage to keep up only by visualizing coffee. "Just 20 minutes till coffee, just 12 minutes till coffee..."
When the class is over, he places one leg up on the bike seat as if it were a ballet barre and gracefully touches his nose to his knee. Back at his apartment, over a bowl of oatmeal and bananas, he chats nonstop about fitness. The coffee arrives quickly, thank God.
Meet Chris Crowley, who, together with his doctor, Harry Lodge, is on a mission to change your life. Their fast-selling new book, "Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond," is a wisecracking but scientifically serious guide to health for middle-aged men who may be looking at their widening paunches, their aging spouses and their fast-approaching retirement dates with helplessness or panic. "Younger Next Year" has one main message: stay very fit and you will live a healthier, happier life, with more sex and less depression, well into your old age. What sets the book apart from its self-help brethren is its ebullient personality--which is mostly Chris's. Describing himself as "lazy and self-indulgent," Chris laces his very practical how-to advice with hilarious, self-effacing personal anecdotes, like the time he skied so hard "it hurt to sleep." Then, just when Chris's abundant cheeriness starts to grate, 46-year-old Harry steps in with sober chapters on body chemistry, which explain why fitness is the best medicine.
On this point, Chris and Harry are zealots: living a sedentary life is not just lazy, it's lunacy. That's why they follow what they call "Harry's Rules" and think everyone else should, too. There are seven, chief among them: "Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life." And "Quit eating crap." Any book that advocates an easier way is, says Chris, "horses--t." A lapsed fitness buff with plenty of excuses--a full-time job, a toddler, a life--I'm hoping these guys can get me back on track.
Chris and Harry met five years ago, when Chris began searching for a doctor in New York City. They liked each other instantly. Both grew up near Boston and share similar, old-school values having to do with discipline and hard work. At their first meeting, Chris was 40 pounds overweight and exercised only sporadically. Harry was already profoundly frustrated by the number of his patients who had diabetes and other "lifestyle" diseases. Harry started preaching the benefits of intense, regular exercise, and it wasn't long before Chris got religion. He took up spinning, lost 40 pounds and began hounding Harry to help him write this book.
Chris is the flamboyant one: he's larger than life. Married and a father by 20, he had two more children in quick succession, divorced at 32, made partner at the white-shoe Manhattan law firm Davis Polk at 37, married again, divorced again. After a long stint of dating (see chapter 20 for a wonderful description of a middle-aged man trying to ascend a ladder to a loft bed in a young woman's studio apartment), he married again in 1993, and this time, "we're never getting divorced." Chris writes like he talks, in full paragraphs laced with profanity, but always hammering at his point. "I'm a world of fun and all that, but I'm a closet Virgo," he says. "Very, very disciplined."
Harry is the earnest one. Built like a cross-country runner, Harry works out each night on a 1970s-era NordicTrack machine he bought used for $25. He prides himself on being a "mildly Calvinistic Northeasterner. I tend to eat small portions and I don't like spending money." His passion is his work, and the quick success of their book fills him with joy. "We think we're going to start a little revolution," he says.
As for me, I'm trying. After that humiliating spin class, I vowed to follow Harry's rules but already I'm slipping. I've eaten egg rolls for dinner and brownies for lunch. I've skipped scheduled workouts. As inspiring as they are, it turns out Chris and Harry can't make you go to the gym, and reading their book won't make you healthier either. The best they can do--and they know this as well as anyone--is give you a kick in the pants.