There’s something about a U.S. Marine that’s focused and uncompromising. Bob Jackson, a 70-year-old retired USMC colonel, is no exception. He taps into three decades of active-duty military service as he strives every day to improve strength and fitness on his healthy aging mission.
I caught up with Jackson at his boxing class to learn more about the discipline and drive that motivates him to keep at it day after day. “My personal philosophy is you have to keep moving. I don’t care what you do. You just have to keep moving,” he says.
Jackson’s foray into boxing began about a year ago because it looked interesting and is now accompanied by regular rounds of hot yoga to maintain flexibility, along with strength and overall cardio fitness.
“I wanted to do something different. It’s a bucket list thing,” Jackson says of his commitment to boxing classes three times a week. “You’ve got to keep learning until the day you die. If you don’t, life gets monotonous.”
A Vietnam veteran wounded in battle, he fights a lingering shoulder injury from his military days and seeks out workarounds for arthritis aches and pains that are a normal part of aging.
He found Bikram hot yoga last year on whim and a Groupon for 30 days of yoga for $20 bucks. “As a physical trainer, I kind of poo-poohed it at first,” he says. In his classic all-in style, Jackson committed to yoga daily for that first month.
Jackson finds the benefits of yoga for flexibility and balance to be invaluable. “One of the movements in yoga is called a Japanese Sandwich (Half Moon with Hands to Feet Pose). I don’t know many 70-year-olds who can do that,” he says with a smile and a demonstration as he folds his body tightly in half and touches his palms flat to the floor.
Healthy Aging Mission
Jackson does not lead the stereotypical life of a 70-year-old. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of how Americans use their time, most 70-year-olds spend only .2 hours – or 12 minutes – engaged in sports, recreation or exercise daily. That’s not even a warm-up for Jackson.
It may help that Jackson’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in physical education, and he worked part of his post-military career as a personal trainer. As he pursues his healthy aging mission, he works on strength training multiple times a week at his local gym. And over the years, he has pursued a variety of other outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, running, and SCUBA diving.
“Most of my life I’ve been doing something physical,” he explains, adding that the habit of exercise started at the tender age of 8 at a YMCA swimming camp. That experience led to competitive swimming all the way through college, becoming a swimming instructor, SCUBA diving instructor, and eventually being hired as the swimming coach for the University of Atlanta.
After two stints in the Marines and years spent as a high-school physical education teacher in southern California, Jackson officially retired from full-time work in 2013. That’s when he went to work part-time as a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in San Diego.
“I worked with a lot of older clients at that time, and learned there are a lot of gray areas when you work with people over 50,” Jackson says. By that, he means trainers must focus on creating custom- programs for older clients based on fitness history, past injuries, and other areas influenced by aging. “It can’t be a cookie-cutter program for older athletes,” he says.
More importantly is the mindset of a 50+ person who may be new to exercise or are at the crossroads of a life-changing health event that forces them to think differently about fitness.
Jackson doesn’t mince words when it comes to a personal commitment to changing habits in favor of health and longevity. “It’s like telling someone they shouldn’t smoke. They know they shouldn’t smoke. But that life-altering event that could kill them hasn’t happened yet. If you’re absolutely serious about your health, it’s all about discipline.”
During his years as a personal trainer, Jackson never lost sight of his role to educate his students and clients on these five basic movements of functional strength that enable people to perform everyday activities without restriction: pushing, pulling, squatting, twisting and bending.
“My job was to teach them how to do these movements safely, develop a routine for them and let them fly.” Jackson adds that clients should not have to pay a personal trainer forever. The trainer’s role is to instill the knowledge in people so that they can continue to pursue fitness safely and confidently.
Jackson says his philosophy on nutrition has changed over the years. Aging slows the metabolism, and it results in weight gain if diet and exercise don’t come into play.
To be serious about your health, nutrition has to be front and center. “When adults are active, we burn the extra calories. But as we get older and do less, we have to make lifestyle changes,” he says.
One of the most important habits people can adopt at any age is to start their day with healthy, clean protein. Jackson’s morning ritual includes a hearty breakfast of oatmeal loaded with fiber, flaxseed meal, whey protein, raisins, ground ginger, turmeric and cinnamon.
He jokes that with everything in life, food should be enjoyed in moderation “You are the salt of the earth. If you put too much salt on something, you can’t eat it. It’s terrible. “
Gratitude and Balance
As a Vietnam War vet, Jackson ponders life, fate and the journey we are all on. “I’ve been in a lot of combat. The question is why did I get out of there and 52,000 others didn’t. I’m passing it up to God.”
He’s grateful for the simple things in life and feels blessed for every day he has here. “If you wake up every morning and you have a roof over your head and have something to eat and a car to drive, you’ve got everything in the world,” he says. “You have to see the world to understand how lucky and fortunate we really are.
”The bottom line, when you blow the fuzz off, is this has to be a life’s journey. You can’t just pick and choose what you like and don’t like. Because if you don’t have your health, then what quality of life do you have?”