Coleman Adams knows a secret about physical fitness.
Before he ever lifted a weight, ran or swam, he trained his mind. It's the discipline and the mental attitude that are the key to fitness.
At 64, Coleman, who is retired after 30 years with the Metro in Washington, embraces a physical regimen that would leave many a younger person doubled over, unable to move.
He shares his secret by volunteering as a strength trainer with the Druid Hill YMCA three days a week. He begins his days there with stretching at 7:30 a.m. On Mondays, he works on his upper body with free weights -- he can bench 210 pounds -- and on Wednesdays he works on the lower body, using a leg-press machine. A favorite exercise is wide-legged squats, and he also does Zuma squats, lifting up to 45 pounds.
Fridays are devoted to biceps and triceps, and he likes to do pullovers, using a curl bar with weights. During the week, he mixes time on the treadmill and stair machine with walking, swimming and a little jogging. He used to run marathons, but now runs just five miles.
Adams always was athletic -- he boxed in the Marine Corps in the early 1950s -- but his real devotion to fitness came as a result of the discipline he learned at the One God One Thought Center for Better Living, a Baltimore church. "Before you can be physically fit, you have to be mentally fit," he says.
The first change was the way he thought about his own body, and the way he thought about aging. "I concentrated on the inner self," he says. "And the body followed. If you change how you see yourself, the body will change through exercise."
Changing the way he thought about food was another key step. Adams doesn't eat red meat, avoids fast food and eats a lot of vegetables. He starts his day with what he calls his "super drink" -- bananas, strawberries, pineapple, rice milk and ginseng powder blended together.
The benefits from fitness, he says, are enormous -- and again, not just physical. He worries that in Druid Hill, an urban, poor neighborhood, people don't have a lot of self-esteem, and he is quick to point out that exercise makes them feel better about themselves. He urges the people he helps train to walk, swim, eat better and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
He particularly counsels older people to rebuild their body strength, and his trim, graceful figure is a testament to his beliefs. "People think fitness is physical," he says. "It's not. It's a state of consciousness. When people reach a certain age, it's hard for them to change, but after a period of time, they start feeling better. But it begins in the mind."