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  /  News   /  Biden’s exercise routine a mystery amid age concerns

Biden’s exercise routine a mystery amid age concerns

When President Biden moved into the White House in early 2021, a debate ensued about whether he could bring his Peloton bike with him because of the security risks it might pose.

Biden had grown attached to the bike, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the New York Times reported he and Jill Biden would “engage in regular morning negotiations” about who would get on the saddle first.

The bike became part of Biden’s morning routine, along with weights and a treadmill workout, the newspaper reported at the time, now nearly four years ago.

A February memo about his annual physical said Biden exercises at least five days a week and is “fit for duty.” But little is known about the president’s workout routine and how he stays active.

There have been a handful of photo-ops last summer of Biden riding along bike paths in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where he has a beach house. Biden has also gone on a handful of golf outings. And last summer, while the first family visited Lake Tahoe, a White House pool report said the Bidens were participating in a Pilates class followed by a spin class.

Biden’s age — 81 — has been a focus of his second White House bid, with the conversation around it reaching a fever pitch and even some Democrats expressing some worry about the issue. He has what even his doctor calls a “stiff” gait as well as “significant spinal arthritis.” And cameras have caught him stumbling at times, prompting speculation among Republicans that he isn’t prepared for the rigors of four more years in office. 

The lack of transparency about his physical fitness has raised concerns. And Democrats are worried the White House isn’t doing enough to counter the narrative.

“Basically, the narrative in this race is focused on Trump’s crazy versus Biden’s age,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “His health and age are of serious concerns to voters, and they should be doing everything they can to push back on those concerns.”  

“This is one of the things that bothers me,” Bannon continued. “You occasionally see pictures of him biking and he looks great, especially in contrast with Trump sitting in his golf cart with his gut hanging out. But despite that, voters have concerns about Biden, and the White House should be pushing against that with all their might.”

Another Democratic strategist agreed: “If you have a president who is being portrayed as old and frail, why wouldn’t you punch back and show him active?

“This is a narrative that will haunt him every day of his campaign. Don’t just show a hyped-up Biden during the State of the Union. Show how active he is every f‑‑‑ing day of the week,” the strategist added.  

The White House did not provide The Hill details of Biden’s workout routine.

To be sure, Biden will be opposing former President Trump, 77, who does not hit the gym and is known to love fast food and other calorie-rich foods. While he spends his spare time on the golf course, even Republicans acknowledge their candidate isn’t one to pump iron or hit a treadmill. 

In recent months, after Republicans have piled on to the age-related attacks, Biden’s campaign and his allies have sought to go on offense, showing the president recently completed a tour of eight swing states in 18 days.

“I’ll tell you this: There’s a difference between the two candidates in this election,” Biden wrote on social media late last month, plugging his swing state dash while contrasting it with Trump on the golf course. 

But while the two rivals are close in age, Biden is the one who has been singled out for it, along with fitness for office and mental acuity. 

Some of that chatter started during the pandemic, when Trump’s campaign and its allies accused Biden’s advisers of keeping him out of the public view, claiming it was to not draw attention to his physical and mental shape, which his campaign routinely denied. 

This time, as Biden seeks another term in office, he’s under a bigger microscope, with Trump allies eager to spotlight any fumbles.

Some experts say he could benefit from being more open about what he does on a regular basis to stay in shape, especially when there’s a long-stated interest from voters who want to make sure they’re supporting a physically capable nominee.

“In some ways, it would be helpful for Biden to reveal more about his workout routine, since voters are clearly interested in his health, and we know that exercise is correlated to greater physical vigor and overall well-being,” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, author of “Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession.”

“It is curious that he has not shared more about his exercise program, since for decades, sharing about the personal fitness routines of presidents has been an uncontroversial way to convey their strength, discipline, and relatability,” Petrzela said. “Presidents work out, too.”

Indeed, other presidents have historically been candid about their workouts. Former President Obama — who was caught on camera while working out in a hotel gym in 2014 doing lunges, step-ups and using an elliptical machine — was not only detailed about his morning workout routine but what he had on TV when he was exercising: ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

In an interview with Runner’s World in 2002, former President George W. Bush also discussed how running “breaks up my day and allows me to recharge my batteries.”

“Running also enables me to set goals and push myself toward those goals. In essence, it keeps me young,” Bush said. “A good run adds a little bounce to my step. I get a certain amount of self-esteem from it. Plus, I just look and feel better.” Bush told the magazine at the time that his “times have become faster right after the war began,” referring to the war in Afghanistan. 

The hyped-up version of politics now, compared to the Obama and Bush eras, allows for the littlest things to be scrutinized. With that added pressure, however, there’s also an opportunity for Biden to be more transparent in ways his predecessors couldn’t. He can cut clips of his routine on widely watched social media platforms such as TikTok, where his campaign recently established a presence, and show off his moves. 

“The campaign should be doing everything they can to show him lifting weights, on the treadmill,” Bannon said. “It mystifies me why they’re not pushing this a lot harder with pictures and videos.”

Despite his poor food choices and apparent lack of a cohesive exercise plan, Trump still often manages to appear energetic for hours, hosting rallies and talking off the cuff. Democrats could use the obvious differences to show Biden’s strengths in contrast to Trump on the campaign trail, some experts said. 

“My guess is that the best they can and should do is to talk about how much time he puts in on a stationary bike, or whatever he does, and then perhaps note his opponent’s age, girth, and infamously bad diet,” said Michael Messner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California who studies gender and sports in politics. “And then maybe get on to the issues?”

Still, there are some risks, experts say, with trying to appear overtly in-shape as an older politician on the world stage. Biden could make a misstep that could be used to fuel more negativity for the opposition that has shown a willingness to engage in personal jabs.

“It does occur to me that as the Biden team is trying their best to put forward an image of a vibrant and active President Biden, they must take care not to produce a [Michael] Dukakis-like image that people will poke fun at,” said Messner, referring to the former Massachusetts governor, who was mocked for a photo of himself next to a tank.

Petrzela, who has studied fitness through a social justice context, agreed. “It is possible that Biden is worried that revealing details about his workout program will only provide more fodder for scrutiny and criticism of his physical state. I think that is a reasonable fear, given the cruelty of the internet, and especially on this issue.”

Beyond Trump, Biden may also be compared to his third-party rival, Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is the most publicly active among the three main contenders and has centered part of his campaign on letting the public know that. 

Last month, he demonstrated the importance of fitness by extending that benchmark to the rest of his ticket, saying he specifically wanted an “athlete” when exploring options for his running mate before choosing Nicole Shanahan, who plays volleyball. 

At the start of the year, the 70-year-old Kennedy challenged Biden and Trump to a fitness contest, aiming to distinguish himself as more physically capable than either of the two men. He posted a workout video on social media, writing: “Getting in shape for my debates with President Biden!” 

A website created by his super PAC, American Values, even created a contest for a now-closed $25,000 home gym giveaway. On it, the homepage features a photo of Kennedy saying, “No matter where you’re starting from, everyone can get up and get moving! It doesn’t have to be complicated; it just needs to be consistent.”

“When RFK Jr. released that video of him doing pushups at Gold’s Gym, which I thought was objectively impressive for a 70-year-old, many tore him apart for form,” Petrzela said. “I cannot even imagine if Biden revealed the details of balance and flexibility work, which are absolutely important parts of a workout regime, especially as we age, opponents would portray it as a sign of his weakness rather than commitment to smart training.”