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Perspective: What were you doing at 4 a.m.? This 88-year-old senator was out running

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley posted a video of his exercise routine. It shamed me, but is great for the GOP

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, questions Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during a hearing on March 22, 2022.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questions Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

From Joe Biden biking to Marjorie Taylor Greene doing pullups at the Iowa State Fair, following politics these days can seem like an exercise in, well, exercise.

But Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley recently posted the best workout video yet, and it’s perfectly on brand for the GOP.

In the video posted to Twitter, Grassley emerges from his house in the dark wearing a baseball cap, headlamp and running shoes. “I get up at 4. I run a couple miles. That’s my habit,” he says, as the camera cuts to the senator lacing up his running shoes.

He goes on to explain that he started running at age 65, when he was chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “I found out that recreation directors in nursing homes found it very difficult to get people in nursing homes to do very simple exercises, and I figured, boy, I can’t let that happen to me.”

The senator’s running regimen is impressive not only for the regularity and early morning hour (chosen so he can leave for work before 6 a.m., Roll Call reported in 2019), but also because Grassley doesn’t particularly enjoy running; it’s an act of will. “Anybody that says they love to run is lying,” he has said.

Them’s fighting words to me and many other runners, but Grassley’s devotion to fitness is admirable, particularly in the context of his political party. Republicans, and conservatives generally, have long held that there is a component of personal responsibility that is too often left out of the conversation about health care.

While that idea is a hot potato politically — as it should be, given that even people who do all the “right” things can become seriously ill — it’s one that came up repeatedly during the pandemic since obesity is a risk factor for dying of COVID-19.

Grassley, however, rings the “personal responsibility” bell perfectly with this tweet. He’s not pointing the finger at anyone else. He’s just saying that he doesn’t want to be the person in nursing home unable to do even the simplest movements or yoga stretches.

And chances are, he won’t be.

An editor for The New York Times recently interviewed nonagenarians who competed in the track and field competition of the National Senior Games. Like Grassley, “Many of the runners were 75 to 99 years old and didn’t pick up running until they were in their 60s,” Talya Minsberg wrote.

She summarized the 90-something athletes’ advice for younger people who want to remain active for as long as possible: “Stay consistent, stay persistent and stay in motion.” Or, as 90-year-old Yvonne Aasen of Westminster, Maryland, said, “Run every day, even if it’s a short distance.”

Whether or not Grassley should serve another term in the Senate is a different matter altogether, and one that will be put to the voters of Iowa on Nov. 8.

Despite polling last year that suggested Iowans might be ready for a change, Grassley has been leading his Democrat challenger, retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken. The running video amounts to a campaign ad in a year in which the age of candidates nationwide is under scrutiny, with some younger Americans complaining that the country’s leadership is “geriatric.” (Franken is 64, a year younger than Grassley was when he started running.)

That said, how many of Grassley’s critics were out running at 4 a.m. today? Probably not many. And regardless of how they feel about Grassley’s politics, younger Americans should be grateful that the senator “took responsibility” for his health. Every day that he’s healthy enough to be running the streets of D.C. or Iowa is a day with fewer Medicare charges billed to taxpayers. In fact, let’s hope that all the baby boomers start running; their coming decline, which has been called “the 2030 problem,” is predicted to be economically painful for both the federal government and the boomers’ families.

As for me, I have a new running goal: Keep up with Chuck Grassley. The six days a week is no problem, but I hope he’ll change the start time to 5 a.m. when he turns 89 next month.