It is inexplicable that our society, plagued by soaring medical costs and epidemics of obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer, cares so little about these things. The simple fact is that we know perfectly well what to do. Some 70 percent of premature death and aging is lifestyle related. Heart attacks, strokes, common cancers, diabetes, brittle bones, most falls, fractures and serious injuries and many more illnesses are primarily caused by the way we live. If we had the will to do it, we could eliminate more than half of all the disease in women and men over fifty. Not delay it, eliminate it.
That is a readily attainable goal, but we are not moving toward it. Instead, we have made these problems invisible by making them part of the “normal” landscape of aging. As in “Oh, that’s a normal part of growing older.” How many of you have heard or said this?
The more we look at science, it shows that such ailments and deterioration are not a normal part of growing old. They are an outrage. An outrage that we have simply gotten used to because we set the bar so shamefully low. We walk around this planet unconsciously assuming that we will get-old-and-die: one phrase, almost one word and one seamless concept. As if we are saying we’re okay that a deteriorating quality of life doesn’t matter, it comes with the package of reaching an older age.
It doesn’t help that western medicine is consistently delivering bad news with euphemisms like “we’ll have to run some more tests,” and “this look suspicious” and “Why don’t you sit down so we can talk.” In other words, brace yourself, life is about to take a bad turn. Because doctors are treating problems, and not assessing the thirty years prior of lifestyle choices there tends to be a microscopic view at a singular problem rather than the whole person.
And what statistics show, is that most people will not get old and die, but get old and live. People are living well into their 90s these days with advanced healthcare, because longevity is simply a fact of life today. You may live a long time whether you like it or not. But how you live those years, on the other hand, is largely under your control.
This is why we want to make the Last Third of your life terrific. Not a dreary panoply of obesity, sore joints and apathy. “Normal aging” is intolerable and avoidable. Yet let us be aware of this critical distinction: aging does not mean decaying. Decay is optional. You can skip most of it and grow old, not just gracefully but with real joy.
So just how does one age with joy and grace? If you’re willing to send your body different signals, you can get off the slippery slope and stay on the gently tipped plateau until you’re eighty and beyond. Here’s the key ingredient folks to overriding the decay: daily exercise, emotional commitment, reasonable nutrition and a real engagement with living. But it starts with exercise.
I’m going to say it even if you don’t want to hear it. Exercise. A lot of it. Even if this means getting up at 6am on a dark, cold winter morning and driving to the gym. If you have a partner to join you, then that will help boost motivation. Exercise all the time because it’s who you are. More importantly, it’s also who you were a million years ago. Your body, this amazing inherited gift from ancestors, are instruments of precision that survived because they got a little faster and stronger each generation.
Honoring our primordial selves is a key to our longevity now because we have been constructed to grow in good times—to be alert, to hunt, to explore, to work together, to build, to laugh, to play, to run, to heal, to love…and to survive. We need our bodies to be strong to do this, and we need people in our lives to engage with. Our modern, sedentary lifestyles are proving more harm than ever before, as it’s the most important signal for decay. Our primal body was only still, or not-moving, when it was experiencing famine, therefore the natural response was decay. Depression, low energy, and apathy were part of survival so energy could be stored. When food was consumed the body stored every scrap of excess as fat to survive. This is the same reason that people gain weight after dieting because the body believes it’s being deprived and responds by excessive storing. So all this sitting around watching television is telling our body that it’s time to rot.
We need to do something every single day to let the body know it’s alive! That we are not a primordial human dying in a winter cave, but a spring day where activity, blood flow, abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables are available, and people are out there and willing to interact with us. Join a gym where you can walk the elliptical and make a friend, or try a new exercise class. Who knows, maybe Zumba and you were match made in heaven? What is something you’re passionate about? Walking your dogs everyday counts! Skiing, kayaking, rowing, swimming, jogging, whatever it may be….keep moving and make it part of your daily routine. Get a fitness tracker and just start walking, challenging yourself to get a few more steps every week.
If you are one of those people whose favorite activities are reading, drinking and eating, well please remember that the mind and body are one. Join a book club and ride a bike there if you can. These activities of the mind cannot exist without a body, and that your genetic make-up was once a hunter-gatherer that thrived in a community, contributing and moving.