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Great Bod or Good Health — Why Do You Work Out?

by StephenKelly

There seem to be two trains of thought regarding what motivates men to keep themselves in shape: A lot of younger guys are in it for the aesthetics; they're all about the outer man. Very often, their workout has little to do with health or sports performance but is instead focused on building the body beautiful. Not that there's anything wrong with that. While some may look down on this type of body-centric attitude, these guys are still getting the health benefits that come with a consistent workout routine, no matter what their motivations.

And lest we judge too quickly, haven't most of us been down this road? Trying to maneuver in a sexually charged, image-conscious community isn't easy, and it's only natural that guys will do what they can to get ahead. After all, you still need a little honey to attract bees.

But something almost imperceptible happens as we approach our mid-30s and early 40s. We're eating better, drinking less and getting eight hours of sleep — and our address books now have as many numbers of doctors, specialists and therapists as ex-boyfriends. Somewhere along the line our perceptions of health and fitness take a subtle yet profound shift away from the aesthetic benefits toward a better-balanced approach to working out.

It's no coincidence, explains San Francisco psychologist John A. Martin, that our philosophies about, and motivations for, working out change as we progress in years. As men mature and face what Martin jokingly refers to as "the upcoming disaster of aging," they begin to see the bigger picture. "The cosmetic benefit doesn't sustain for long," Martin said. "Our needs change as we grow older. As men mature, they tend to exercise in a less faddish way and become more concerned with keeping healthy."

The timings of these maturity shifts are different for everyone, even though for some it's like they never occur at all. But for most these changes are inevitable, and men begin to find that they put less importance on body image and more on the physical and mental wellness that comes with a consistent workout routine. Martin explains that as men grow older and gain rich life experiences, they find that keeping healthy becomes a part of the overall fabric of their lives.

"As a man grows older, the narrative of his life gets more complex," he said. "Men will begin to confront how their physical selves will be part of that narrative. It's when men make a statement of their bodies beyond the physical, when they can talk to themselves about themselves and their bodies, that the narrative becomes richer."

And, as men age, they tend to shed the mantle of body image issues and focus more on self worth. Just committing to a disciplined, consistent workout routine, Martin says, adds to the sense of pride. "Being able to look at yourself in the mirror and knowing that you are the type of person who is disciplined and who is committed to himself is a huge shot of self-esteem," he says.

This commitment to the betterment of the overall self is part of what motivates older men to hit the gym with the same fervor as they when they were in their 20s, only now with different goals. And, like the 20-somethings whose motivations may be the different, the older guys are still getting the enormous health and body building benefits that come with a sustained, challenging workout regimen.

Growing older is challenging in any society, but in our particularly image-conscious corner of the world, older men aren't finding many role models among the media bombardment of young, chiseled bodies selling everything from cologne to booze, the type of images that younger men feel the need to emulate.

"It's a problem that will not go away," Martin concedes. "Imagery draws people in, and I wouldn't expect to see aging men in magazines or ads. Part of the problem may be that we haven't managed to determine what constitutes aging."

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