A newly-published book by West Hartford fitness couch Doug Melody offers advice on how you can be healthy and feel good in your later years.
By Tracey Weiss
“Being fit is hard work. Being unfit is harder. Choose your hard.”
That, according to Doug Melody, can make the difference between how you live the last years of your life.
The 73-year-old fitness coach uses his four decades of experience to explain just how to be fit in the third and fourth quarters of our lives in his book, How to Die Young as Old as You Can: A New Script on Growing Healthier Into Your 60s, 70s, 80s, and Even 90s. The book came out in earlier this year.
“Friends ask me, ‘When do you get older?’ When you decide you’re old,” he said. “I want to change the narrative on how we grow old. How a person becomes like this is largely defined by chronology and we experience infirmity and aches and pains that we ascribe to age. That has everything to do with doing nothing, it’s our 21st century sedentary lifestyle. We sit in a tractor to mow our lawns. We order online. In our jobs we sit in a chair.”
According to Melody, “We gain 100 calories each day. Add that up. In one year, that’s an extra eight pounds we gain.”
Melody coaches at the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford. He does one-on-one coaching, live, and on Zoom.
“I have friends complaining about how their knees hurt,” he said. “I can help you get better. I can help you manage it by strengthening every muscle.
“When I start to work with you, the first question I will ask is, ‘What’s your why?’ I want to get to the emotional level, find out why you want to work on yourself. I want to connect to you holistically, not just show you some exercises, but instill confidence. Life science and chemistry helps us understand how we age. We don’t age at the same pace.”
We experience the aging process down through lifestyle choices, he said.
In the book, he explains, through scientific explanation and transparency about his own experiences, the how we age and why we age, and how to change the “script” we have created for ourselves to achieve a healthier lifestyle. The last section of the book has a number of exercises anyone can do, with illustrations that also showcase each exercise.
Melody has a counseling background. He has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (with a specific emphasis upon self-efficacy, achievement motivation and sports performance), and personal fitness credentials through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and TRX Suspension Academy.
An athlete in college, he’s coached athletes, taught, and has molded his educational prowess – he was also a teacher – to keep up with the times. He’s also been committed to his own personal activity regimen for decades.
He works out 90 minutes a day in his home gym. His workouts include pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, and hinging. “I do rotation and balancing twice a week,” he added.
“People go to a gym and do 30 minutes of exercise, then they leave and sit all day. You need to be active. Three days a week I go hard. I take myself to an anaerobic state. Day after I go hard, I go easy.”
The secret to staying healthy, he said, is managing your health span in coordination with your life span. That’s why he chose the title of his book, “to get people’s attention,” he said. “I want people to extend their health span to coincide with their life span. The average health span in the U.S. is 66. Our average life span is 77. You don’t have to live the last years of your life in compromised health.”
Pat Kazakoff has been working with Melody for months. A member of the JCC, she watched Melody train other people, and was impressed by his “thoughtful approach.”
The way he trains, “is all about living,” she said, “walking, carrying groceries, putting them in the car, bending … most people at a certain age have little accidents, and they have major consequences.”
Since she started “training for living,” as she calls it, Kazakoff feels that she is in a better place than a lot of her contemporaries. “I watch myself compared to others in my demographic. I can do more, and have more capacity than a lot of people my age.”
Melody will be the first one to tell you he has his ups and downs, which he has been able to overcome, thanks to exercise and active living.
“It happens to all of us. I’m 240 pounds and 6’4”. Six years ago, I ran six miles and then I went to pick up a box and pulled out my back. An MRI showed I had a herniated disc and I did my own research. He was told to have surgery, which he didn’t want to do – and he didn’t. “The best defense against back surgery is a strong core,” he said. “My core has never been stronger.”
For the person who wants to get started, he suggests engaging a personal fitness coach. “I would perform an assessment on each new client to determine what they can do and where their limitations exist at that moment in time. It involves balance, push strength, pull strength, and an overhead squat that can reveal a host of issues (or not), including compensation patterns. From that, I design a program that capitalizes on their strengths while incrementally pushing them outside of their comfort zone. It takes full attention on my part as well as the client’s.”
Melody personally charges $50-75 per hour for one-on-one fitness coaching, small group, and training on Zoom.
His client, Barry Lastro, said he has benefitted greatly from Melody’s coaching. The 84-year-old spends half of his time at his home in Bloomfield and the other half in California. “I was looking for someone here to help me with toning and maintaining,” he said. “I called the JCC and they recommended Doug to me. I’m in pretty decent shape but I don’t want to fall over. I was looking for balance and agility training. And functional training is Doug’s specialty,” Lastro said.
“We worked together for six months and we outlined what he outlines in his book,” he added. “I found it valuable, and I do what he taught me in California. I bought half a dozen of his books and I gave them to friends.”
Lastro plans on working with Melody again when he comes back to town. “He’s showed me how to use my brain as well as my body. He looks at the person and he works with that person, and he explains it in terms I can understand.”
Healthy living means changing some of your habits at work and at home. Here are a few tips from Doug Melody to get started:
For more information, go to dougmelody.com. To purchase the book, click here.
A version of this story previously appeared in the March 2023 issue of West Hartford LIFE.
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