Dingle, Ireland. Photo by Cliff Hackel
I was one of the lucky ones. Thanks to Superstorm Sandy, United Airlines canceled my return flight from Ireland. The flight was to land in Newark on October 31st, not a great day to do that.

So aside from the hassle of having to rebook a flight with all the other thousands of stranded travelers, I had the luxury of spending four more days traipsing around the country from Galway to the spectacular Dingle Peninsula to The Cliff’s of Moher, The Burren, and ah, yes, Doolin, for some sea and traditional music on at Gus O’Connor’s Pub.On my extended tour of Ireland, my homeland, as I like to call it, since I have dual citizenship, I had time to ruminate on, of all things, fitness–something that struck me during The Dublin part of my visit. (More on this in a second.) That’s when I had the chance to spend time with two of my best fiftysomething Irish pals-James McCarthy and Jonathan Westrup.

We’ve been friends for more than thirty years. We met when they were working in the U.S. during the summer of 1981. My brother, Mike, and I became friends with them. And over the years, we’ve stayed in close touch with both of them and their families.

Just seeing them makes songs from Springsteen’sThe River, which was getting radio play that summer as he toured behind its release, and Tom Petty’s Hard Promises, such as The Waiting, start playing in my head. Strangely enough, I heard songs from both albums one afternoon sitting in a pub beside a peat fire in Clifden the day before my husband and I drove over to Dublin to spend my birthday with them.

Climbing Mountains

The minute I saw them I knew something was up. They starting talking about their “hiking” club, an expedition they took trekking through Iceland this past summer, the one through the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain last year. These weren’t hikes from B & B to B & B. Nope, these were rigorous camping and carrying your own gear “vacations” with challenging terrain and climbs. This kind of getaway demanded certain endurance, good health, and some hiking experience. They explained that they walked roughly 6-8 hours per day for six days covering more than 35 miles.

I was exhausted hearing about it. Turning 50 had in many ways spurred both of them to get in shape. I suspect becoming fathers may have played into that as well. Jonathan climbed Kilamanjaro for his 50thand has never stopped thinking about the importance of staying fit. He has since run and completed the Dublin Marathon.

I want what they have. They’re energized, focused, forward-thinking, engaged in their work challenges–we did spend quite a bit of time covering these issues, too.

In sum, they look and give off a vibe of energy. Both men’s careers weathered the Irish economy’s freefall and are flourishing. Plus, they each have two wonderful, bright, young children and amazing multi-tasking spouses-one is an oncologist, the other is now studying for a master’s degree.

My Irish visit reminded me once again how critical physical fitness is to our core well being both personally and professionally. It’s not just being able to keep up with young children.

When midlife career switchers ask me for advice on how to succeed, I always begin by saying, “Get a fitness program.” Same advice goes for 50+workers currently job hunting. Potential employers notice someone who is in shape. Subliminally, it says something about you and your character.

This counsel works even if you are staying in the same job and must remain relevant, be nimble enough to tackle new assignments, and prepared to weather workplace challenges–all of which can be stressful and energy zapping.

It may sound superficial, but a fit and energetic appearance is a key calling card in the work world for us boomers.

Staying in shape is non-negotiable.

When you’re eating healthy and have a normal workout regime, you have more physical vigor and mental sharpness. You’ll need that get-up-and-go to face your career challenges ahead. Here are three things I recommend you consider to help you ramp up a healthy body.

1. Hire a personal trainer. Trainers can charge anywhere from $30 to $60 an hour and up. It’s not all mats and machines. A good trainer can offer nutrition counseling as well as design a workout regime with weights, bikes, balls, and resistance bands, if that’s what you’re after. You might opt for a trainer who is a running mate to spur you on. As Dave Kergaard, 65, a former high school physical education and health teacher, who is now a personal trainer, told me when I interviewed him for Great Jobs for Everyone 50+,  “Many people won’t push as hard unless you are there with them 100 percent.” “I love seeing the looks on their faces when they see the change in themselves that comes from what they’re learning about fitness and health,” he says. “You feel their energy and see the smiles.”

2. Start or join a walking club. Check bulletin boards for fliers advertising clubs and seeking new members. You might find them posted in running shoes stores, local parks, or a nearby health club. Ask friends to see if there is one active in your town. You might check out the American Volkssport Association (AVA) which has a nationwide, grassroots network of about 300 active clubs. Or start your own, you can drum up like-minded walkers via social media-calling all local Facebook friends, for example. My Irish friends belong to the same walking club in Dublin. It keeps them accountable to one another with regular walks scheduled. And it’s a fun social outlet on the weekends too.

3. Plan a healthy vacation. Setting a vacation as your goal can fire-up your fitness plan today. Hike the Appalachian Trail, Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain, Spain’s Pyrenees, or Ireland’s Ring of Kerry, paddle through the Everglades or Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, bike the coast of Maine, or the alpine passes of the Dolomites. Most trips require three to five hours of physical activity daily. To go on a challenging trip, you must be fit enough to hike or bike for up to seven hours over steep or rugged terrain at elevations that sometimes exceed 10,000 feet.

Some tour operators, like Backroads, tailor activities to suit the group, offering more than one route to a destination, for example, and support vans to transport anybody who needs to take a break. Some offer deluxe lodging and meals to delight foodies; others put up tents at remote campsites and cook over the fire. A few more tour operators to consider for “adventure” travel include REI AdventuresCountry Walkers and Abercrombie & Kent.

You won’t fully enjoy even the tamest trips without some physical exertion. Having a destination in mind motivates you to get there via a workout routine well before your departure date.

And, with some perseverance, you’ll keep that workout moving after you return… and begin mapping your next outing.


I am a MetLife Foundation Fellow on Aging. Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon I’m the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available here www.kerryhannon.com. Check out my column at AARP. My weekly column  at PBS’s NextAvenue.org is here.

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