The Good News and Bad News About Being Forever Young. You CAN Reverse the Effects of Aging. There’s a Catch, Though….
At a time when some of my Medium.com peeps send me notes that their students wail about turning twenty (OH WILL YOU FOR CHRIST’S SAKE GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY), I come bearing good news.
You can indeed, especially if you are the ancient, doddering, falling-over-half-dead age of twenty or thirty (my god, one foot in the grave already) do a great deal about longevity and quality of life. You can, in fact, hang on to your excellent musculature and your good strong lungs. That’s the good news.
You cannot, however, if you spend all day, every day, on your expanding butt watching TV or with your face in your device.
That’s the bad news.
For those of us who have been extolling the virtues of lifelong exercise, it feels so very good to be proven right.
An NPR program that aired December 10th at 5:03 am (I’d already been up for two hours) pretty much says it all. (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/10/674380082/exercise-wins-fit-seniors-can-have-hearts-that-look-30-years-younger.)
You measure the cardiovascular capacity and muscle quality of a bunch of 75-year-old folks who exercise regularly at least an hour a day (running or cycling, NOT GOLF thank you very much) -and have for most of their lives-you will find that their hearts and muscles are easily the equivalent of people thirty years younger.
Hey, look. I hate to throw ice water on the cosmetics, personal products and plastic surgery industries, but there is an enormous difference between the appearance of youth and actual youthfulness.
Lots of folks can pay a pretty penny to look better, but their energy level, the raft of diseases and infirmities they force onto themselves for lack of exercise, proper nutrition and self-care make such efforts largely meaningless.
What good is looking better if you feel like sh*t?
Here’s what I mean:
We as a country spent $16 billion on plastic surgery procedures in 2016. Injectables, like Botox were way up, and we can expect the trend to continue. (https://www.allure.com/story/americans-spent-16-billion-dollars-plastic-surgery-2016). For far too many, we end up looking bloated, our faces stretched as though we’re standing in a wind tunnel, and far too many of us, like the stars, end up as grotesqueries of our former selves. And still we get old. Get over it.
We spend nearly a quarter of a million bucks during our lives- as women- on makeup, and men aren’t that far behind at $176k over a lifetime. Creams, lotions, potions, color, blushes, all to appear youthful and attractive (https://nypost.com/2017/07/06/vanity-costs-american-women-nearly-a-quarter-of-a-million-dollars/). Bad news? We still age, wrinkle and get old. Get over it.
The weight loss/diet industry was worth about $64b in 2014, with some of the emphasis shifting away from dieting per se to just a healthier lifestyle. Yet obesity continues to grow (pun intended). Obesity and all the related problems age us swiftly, nothing that a cosmetic procedure or a pricey blush can hide.
The so-called anti-aging market worldwide is expected to hit some $216 billion. Yet still we age. Because Mother Nature doesn’t want us around that long (hey look, given the war we’re waging on Her Paradise, can you blame Her?) We are designed to diminish, and we all owe the Earth a body. However, She designed that body to be supremely effective, healthy and capable of giving us a fantastic life, if we care to take care of it.
Here’s the wrinkle in all this (okay okay, pun intended): the ONLY thing that keeps us young is pretty damned cheap: exercising good and hard (not to extremes), once a day for about an hour, seven days a week. This could be no more expensive than a pair of sneaks, shorts, a top and head out the door.
The beauty about running (or speedwalking for that matter) is that you can do it nearly anywhere, although recent studies have shown that it is a really, really bad idea to run next to a busy road( https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/07/a-frightening-new-reason-to-worry-about-air-pollution/564428/). Exhaust fumes contain particulates, those particulates can cause inflammation, and that inflammation can cause diabetes, among other problems (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/27/air-pollution-is-the-new-tobacco-warns-who-head). That’s also very bad news. But then, we always knew pollution killed, not that this Administration gives a flying crap about that. But I digress.
Now look, I can’t speak for you, but this Ball State study emphasized what I see in all the uber-healthy post-sixty folks who exercise where I do: on the steps at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver. Rain or shine, all year long, we’ re out running, jogging, hiking. And we radiate youthfulness, because our bodies are being challenged. The keys are regular, steady, daily, aerobic and muscle exercises which push our bodies to stay fully engaged.
No cosmetic, no procedure, no fancy machine can do for your body, brain, and attitude what regular, daily, lifetime exercise can do. That turns back your body clock. Nothing else works as well. Period full stop. No amount of stretching, Botoxing or any other external procedure can make you FEEL young. You may look new and improved, but your innards aren’t.
The single most important factors in both our longevity as well as our overall physical health are regular movement and a diet that is full of good, natural foods. Those diets are unique to each of us, which is the whole point (look, your love of kimchee aside, I am NO fan of fermented foods, especially smelly products that send the houseguests running for the hills). Finding out what works for your metabolism, energy level, exercise output and personal preference is part of self care. That’s self respect, self love.
These Midwesterner oldies demonstrate that a big bowl of greens every day goes a very long way towards fueling an energetic life (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/05/582715067/eating-leafy-greens-daily-may-help-keep-minds-sharp).
We all age and die eventually. There is nothing we can currently do to change that, nor would we want to. If we stop aging, we kill off our species through overcrowding, which we’re already doing a pretty good job of already because we neither take very good care of our bodies nor do we take very good care of each other. Or our world. I might note here that those all go hand-in-hand.
Nature ages every living thing for a reason, some at a very slow pace(ancient Redwoods, what the Forest Service hasn’t sold to the highest bidder) and other fabulous trees (https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40224991)- that which we haven’t mowed down for condos and Costcos. We seem to hate what’s old and ancient, despite the wisdom contained therein, ( okay, okay, Nancy Pelosi aside).
Ball State exercise physiologist Scott Trappe, who ran the study mentioned in the NPR piece, said, “Exercise wins. The 75-olds in his study have similar cardiovascular health to a 40- to 45-year old person in excellent health.”
On top of that, his study showed that these people’s muscular health was phenomenal. Trappe found that the muscular quality of these same folks was equivalent to that of a 25-year-old.
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom which assumes that age=infirmity.
That’s a baldfaced lie. What guarantees infirmity is a combination of bad eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle, too many drugs, both OTC and prescription, and the assumption that somehow, something external to us is going to make us younger. Well, let’s see. If you include treadmills, weights, pull-up bars and the like as “external” to us you would be right, but you have to put the work in to get any value.
Aye, there’s the rub.
We are a country in supreme denial of aging, yet right under our noses is the single, best, ridiculously inexpensive way to get and stay young inside our skin.
You and I will age. We will wrinkle. When I do yoga, I am of course not happy to see the skin on my thighs wobble and hang when I’m doing a downward dog.
Tough. The muscles in those thighs are powerful pistons. They just motored me to the top of Mt. Kenya. SO GET OVER IT ALREADY. I will not get my tight, sweet, smooth skin of my twenties back, which is fine by me because I had at least ninety more pounds back then that it had to stretch over. That’s part of why my skin does this now.
The skin on my arms has begun to crinkle a bit in the elbow. Tough. Those biceps and triceps are powerful and efficient. I can do endless pullups and pushups, and my gym workout scorches most folks. That’s youthful. I’m not young, but my body is youthful. That is the whole point here. This is what Trappe’s research proves to us.
The best news is that this has nothing to do with extreme workouts, extreme effort, and hard core, badass gym sessions. Those, in fact, do more damage than good. This is just a good long jog or bike ride every single day, or similar. In this case, more and extreme are not better. Moderate exercise, but that which makes our body work, is the order or the day.
Americans are sliding backwards in life expectancy, and have since 2015. In a Fortune article by Luca Laursen, he writes that while we’ve seen some gains in areas of disease control,
This, however, does not mask a worrying historical trend. Since the 1960s, when the U.S. led the world in life expectancy by almost two and a half years, it has made slower gains than most other rich countries. This all but stopped in 2015, when the U.S. appears to have plateaued before beginning to decline. It now ranks 29th among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations for life expectancy. Researchers writing in The Lancet predicted earlier this year that China will overtake the United States in life expectancy by 2040.-http://fortune.com/2018/11/29/american-life-expectancy-drops/
Let’s be clear folks. It’s not just life expectancy, it’s life quality. It’s meaningless if you stay alive, only to exist on oxygen tubes and feeding tubes and constant meds. That’s life? That’s prison. So much of what we have come to accept as part and parcel of passing sixty is absolute nonsense.
The opportunity to live youthful lives is right here, right now, every single day. It’s available to every one of us who has working limbs. Even the wheelchair-bound can do some kind of workout, as I see at my local swim gym. It’s remarkable what you and I can do if we try.
We spend billions chasing the chimera of eternal youth when the single best way to retain our energy, our youthful exuberance, our joy in our physical bodies, our pleasure on greeting the day is to do what we’re designed to do: MOVE.
You sit all day every day, you deteriorate, you die.
That may be a bit overly simplistic, but it is kinda what the NPR article implies.
Move, and properly fuel your movement, and you and I are unstoppable. Just like the folks in the NPR article-not the highly-paid television ad models hawking toxic prescriptions that interfere with our bodies’ superb design to keep us healthy, and often kill. Most of us, if we exercised and ate well, wouldn’t need those scripts in the first place. But then that’s just too damned easy an answer- stop doing what makes us suffer, and we stop suffering.
You want youth? Two pieces to this: Give up this boneheaded, ridiculous notion of trying to look pre-pubescent for the rest of your life. Second: Get off your tush and use the body you were given. Find movement that you love and that you will do daily. Forever. Amen. Your body will serve you well. But not if you invest your time and dime in avoiding the only two things that guarantee you lifetime results: exercise, and decent food, chosen to fit your unique needs. It’s never too late to start, but the advice is to begin NOW.
It’s simply remarkable what a little food and exercise love will do for a body, at any age.
I can’t speak for you or anyone else. All I know is that the Ball State study validates: there are no easy life hacks around aging. There are, however, plenty of ways to age stupendously well, with joy and energy and enthusiasm, and reap all the benefits of having this body each of us was given. It takes work, and an investment in ourselves. Those tend to pay high dividends.
See you at the gym in January…but then, I’ve been going all year, every year, since my early twenties. Right now, I’m going to go for a run.
In other words, go guzzle from the Fountain of Youth.