October 6, 2013

How fit you need to be

PEOPLE WHO PUT OFF CRUISING until retirement age sometimes ask how fit you need to be to sail a boat at sea.  I always tell them that “reasonable physical fitness” is all you need for cruising.  That’s a cop-out, of course, because everybody’s needs are different, but what I mean by it is that you don’t have to go to the athletic extremes of deep-sea racing crews.

If people do seek advice about exercise programs, I advise them to check with their doctors, and tell them that they’re interested in anaerobic exercises that improve strength. Aerobic exercises such as running, swimming or cycling actually don’t contribute much to the needs of sailors, unless they happen to fall into the water a lot. They do, admittedly, improve one’s general level of fitness if it has fallen to an unacceptably low level, and they do benefit the heart, lungs and circulation, but otherwise they don’t help much.

Being reasonably fit means you can tug on a halyard without pulling a muscle, and haul up an anchor without straining your back.  A fitness regime for sailors should concentrate on strengthening the back, shoulders, arms, and even fingers.

But the fact is that once you’re living on board you can hardly help getting enough exercise to keep you fit. It’s interesting how many times a time you find yourself climbing up the companionway ladder. And if you’re anchored out you’ll get plenty of good exercise from swimming, walking the dog on land, trying to get the darned outboard started, and (eventually) rowing the dinghy ashore.

Of course, if you’ve been physically inactive for some time, you might want, out of an abundance of caution, to see your doctor for a physical check-up before you start a major voyage.  But if you’re under 35 and don’t suffer from cardiovascular disease, and don’t have any known primary-risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoker’s cough; or secondary-risk factors such as a family history of heart trouble, obesity, stroke, or diabetes, you’re pretty much good to go. And go you should.

Today’s Thought
We can now prove that large numbers of Americans are dying from sitting on their hands.
— Dr. Bruce B. Dan, NY Times, 27 Jul 84

“I’ve got nothing against you personally,” said the hefty boxer to his weedy opponent. “In fact, after this bout I’ll even stand you a pint — as long as we’re in the same blood group, that is.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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