An aging budget slow traveler losing weight, gaining muscle

What’s your health plan when you retire early to travel the world? Will you keep up a diet and exercise regimen to maintain decent weight and strength? During our six-week stay in Chennai, India, I increased my effort to lose fat and gain strength.

My diligence definitely paid off. I’ve lost some fat, gained some muscle, and I feel more energetic — more ‘capable’ — to do simple things like get up out of a chair. I can hardly believe I just wrote that! But yep, I sure did. I am indeed an aging budget slow traveler in early retirement.

As our readers know, we retired young to travel the world while still healthy enough and strong enough to easily do it. I was almost 44 when we started, and husband Tedly was 52 and a half. As he pointed out recently, I am at the exact age he was at the time we started this world-wide adventure 8.5 years ago.

In addition to the normal aging process over those years, I had a major operation for breast cancer, five years of hormone-meddling anti-cancer drugs, some broken-bone setbacks, and a long two-year pandemic wait in the boondocks of the Philippines.

Along the way I got lazy and ate a lot of junk — including eating out way too often, as we continuous global travelers tend to do. I will add in here the ill-fitting shoes from Southeast Asia that did not inspire me to walk more than a kilometer.

Then one day I woke up in Transylvania (yep – Romania) in June 2023 and I felt fat and weak — because I was. I said: enough. I finally had good shoes, and I was ready to move and stop eating so much shit.

Tick Tock: Aging budget slow traveler

During our month-long stay in Bucharest, Romania in July 2023, I started walking 10,000 steps a day. Then was Bulgaria, where I continued to walk several miles nearly every day; then Turkey, where I went on solo hikes.

I got back into jogging again by the time we got to Kochi, India, in December 2023. I was up to running four miles a few times a week throughout our southern India travel. Then came their summer season, and our visit to the mega-city of Chennai, where the air pollution and humidity made jogging even before dawn more of a chore than a joy.

I decided to join a gym while we were in Chennai for six weeks. It was my first gym membership since Mazatlan, Mexico, in late 2017.

Oh –the irony! Chennai was at the top of my research list on where to have a double mastectomy for early-stage breast cancer in 2018. It is known as India’s ‘Health Care Capital’ for expats. It has many talented doctors and good hospitals — at low prices. (Ultimately I found a talented doctor much closer to where I was diagnosed, which was in Croatia.)

Right after my surgery, when it was apparent the cancer was out and had not spread, Tedly and I talked about aging and health in general. He warned: This is it – this is the time to really maintain our fitness because it’s not going to get any easier as we get older. I didn’t listen. I packed on at least 25 pounds of fat over the next six years.

Far left: Hua Hin, Thailand, June 2022; middle three: Transylvania, Romania, June 2023; far right, Bucharest, Romania, July 2023

I am not now, nor was I ever, a fitness queen. But I did take an interest once I got sober way back in 2010. I like how it makes me feel – especially that ‘runner’s high’. However, with aging knees, I can’t chase my times from my 30s and early 40s. (I’m now 52 and a half.)

Aging means muscle loss and bone loss. Lifting weights helps slow the progression of bone loss to help prevent osteoporosis, which runs in my family (along with breast cancer). With pollution and humidity, joining an air-conditioned gym in Chennai was an obvious exercise decision. I went six days a week for four weeks. I loved it!

The challenge about gyms for us budget slow travelers is that we are not always near a facility, or it’s tough to find a facility that will sell memberships for a month or less. In fact, our next stop is a 90-minute walk from the nearest gym, or a $10 round trip fare in a tuktuk. That won’t do for our budget.

I’ll have to try body weight exercises that can be done anywhere. I used ChatGPT to round up a list that should keep me inspired to keep on, keepin’ on. However, I will definitely miss the gym.

Me at Muscle Town Fitness on Venkatakrishna Road in Chennai, India.

The gym supplemented my walks, jogs, and occasional swim laps.

There is a little-known secret in Chennai called the Marina Drive Swimming Pool. Nearly every day (except Sundays and Mondays) from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. is Ladies Hour. No guys allowed. I have had the massive pool all to myself — because local ladies don’t go! The cost is about a dollar and includes entry fee, ‘locker’ (guarded cubbyhole), and small tip for the locker guard.

As we continue our travels, I’ll look for opportunities like great public pools and spectacular hikes (like Termessos and Cappadocia in Turkey!) in the areas we visit. And those body weight exercises will always be there — gym or no gym. Plus the occasional jog.

I’m not a perfect specimen of health by any means. But after only one month in the gym, four moths of jogging, and ten months of walking, my clothes fit better and I feel stronger. Prior to July 2023, sad but true: my BMI was in the overweight zone. Today BMI is normal. I do realize BMI is not the best measurement. That’s why the body fat analysis that came with my recent bone density test really pleased me. My numbers will only get even better from here — if I remain consistent in my efforts.

Aging is a gift

We had near-daily health care appointments over several weeks while in the ‘Health Care Capital’ of Chennai: doctor consultations, X-rays, MRI, EKG, colonoscopies, that bone density scan, blood tests, dental exams, new eyeglasses — and more. Thankfully, all of our results show the normal wear-and-tear of our aging human bodies. I’m grateful! (Another post has more info on where we went.)

I’m keenly aware that aging is a gift. I might not be here at all: alcoholism nearly killed me, and I had breast cancer. I know (knew) so many people who didn’t get this far – to 52.5 years old. All I can do is take care of what I have left, while still having fun and still experiencing pleasure along the way. I will always love a great chocolate cake!

What do other aging budget slow travelers do to keep in shape? I’d love to know! Because the longer we are active, the longer we can live a travel lifestyle.

All of these photos are from March and early April 2024

Life is Now!

Thanks for reading, “An aging budget slow traveler losing weight, gaining muscle.”

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