Personal trainer Brad Messenger instructs Doloris Learmonth while she trains with him at Cincinnati Sports Club in Fairfax on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. Learmonth has been training with Messenger for about 20 years. (Photo: Hannah Ruhoff)
For gym rats everywhere, no salute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt more appropriate than the final tribute from her personal fitness trainer of 20 years.
On Sept. 25, during the nation’s official mourning in the U.S. Capitol, Bryant Johnson walked to the foot of Ginsburg’s flag-draped casket. He inclined his head. A moment later, he dropped to the floor and from the tips of his fingers and dress shoes fired off three push-ups. Then he popped to his feet again.
The gesture spoke to a deep friendship but also to Ginsburg’s dedication to her twice-weekly workouts with Johnson through bouts of cancer and broken bones. She died Sept. 18 at 87, and nearly every video obituary included a few seconds of Johnson putting Ginsburg through planks and biceps curls.
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A week later at the Cincinnati Sports Club on Red Bank Road, retired lawyer Doloris Learmonth kicked off her 77th birthday on a 30-minute weight routine with her trainer, BradMessenger. Ginsburg was not only a legal role model, Learmonth said, but she also demonstrated for older Americans how to keep an aging body strong and flexible.
Learmonth has been working out twice a week with Messenger for 20 years and, “If I look good now, he’s at least 50% of the reason.”
In the past 20 years, research has shown the widespread benefit of regular workouts with weights and flexibility exercises, no matter how old you are. About 150 minutes a week of strength training can slow the loss of bone and muscle and improve balance, reducing the risk of a fall. And amid a pandemic of an infectious virus, regular exercise also defends the body’s immune system.
“There is science and evidence-based research that it does work, it does help, it does keep you young,” said Dr. Angelo Colosimo, a UC Health orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. At 62, he said he’s lifting four or five times a week.
Alex Williams is a Sharonville personal fitness trainer with clients in their 80s. He says anyone can get stronger and more flexible, no matter the age. (Photo: Provided)
The federal government estimates that fewer than half of adults older than 75 and about a third of those 65 to 74 are physically active. Colosimo said genes play a role in how the body ages, but exercise can help an older person push back.
“Too many people think you can’t build muscle after 60, but in your 60s, 70s, 80, you can definitely build muscle, which can help you keep your independence and keep you going a lot longer,” Colosimo said.
Sharonville personal trainer Alex Williams of Alpha Wolf Training and Fitness said he has clients who start with him in their 80s. In a month, they notice their bodies have adapted to the workload. They experience improved sleep and mood.
Williams said he appreciates the push-up sendoff that Johnson gave the Supreme Court justice. “Very respectful,” he said.
“A friendship grows between a client and trainer,” Williams said. “You talk about a lot of things. You get to where, when her trainer did that, it lets me know that they had a great relationship, and that was his way of responding to her passing. It worked my heartstrings a lot.”
Colosimo and Williams said people can start a workout program anytime at home, with squats against a wall and standing push-ups against the edge of a kitchen counter. The important value is regularity, they said.
At the Cincinnati Sports Club, as Messenger got Learmonth’s birthday workout started, the two talked about the trainer’s farewell push-ups, and Learmonth said, “I fully expect Brad to do that for me, in 30 or 50 years.”
Messenger laughed. “If I outlive you,” he said.
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