Who among us doesn’t wish to turn back time? Or at the very least, feel young again? Well, happy birthday to you because most of what we call aging can be halted if not completely turned around by living a healthy lifestyle. What we have come to accept as “normal aging” is, in fact, decay from misuse and/or abuse. That’s critically important as we are fated to age while wasting away is optional.
Nature balances growth with decay. Though the signals aren’t strong, they are there in our DNA waiting to take action. For the first three to four decades of our life, the growth phase dominates. But somewhere around our late forties and fifties the free ride of youth is over.
In the absence of signals to grow (and thrive), the body and brain subtly receive the signal that it’s time to decay (and rot). While there is not much we can do about the cycles of nature, we can override those default signals and age with ease and grace. We change the signals sent to our bodies with daily exercise, emotional engagement, and reasonable nutrition.
Our bodies and minds are precision instruments designed to align with the natural environment – to be alert, to hunt, to explore, to laugh and play, and run. To do all of this, our bodies and minds need to be strong and active. We are not suited for the idleness of modernity. Our bodies are particularly ill-equipped for the affront of processed Frankenfood that is becoming a staple of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Sad, indeed.
Biologically, we have not changed from our early ancestors. The basic needs of our body are the same: exercise, engagement and nutrition.
It is inexplicable that our society, plagued by soaring medical costs and epidemics of obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer, should care so little about teaching healthy living. Some 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle-related. Heart attacks, strokes, common cancers, diabetes, brittle bones and many more illnesses are primarily caused by the way we live. Attributing these inflictions to “normal aging” is bogus. Over half of all disease and illness can be eliminated. Not lowered, not delayed. Eliminated.
That is not to say disease won’t happen. Awful luck happens. What we don’t want is for it to happen due to bad choices. Longevity is a fact of life. You are likely to live well into your eighties and nineties whether you want to or not. The quality, however, in which you those final years is largely under your control. That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, great health will not alter the outward signs of aging. Hair will grey, skin will wrinkle, and parts will fall from their upright position. No matter how well we care for ourselves, we are going to look older as we age. But we do not have to feel old. We can turn aging into a surprisingly slow and graceful process.
Luck does play a role in good-fortune. Some of us will suffer no matter. I do not like that fact, but am enamoured with how much we can control. Aging gracefully with joy, vitality and purpose is not for a select “lucky” few. It is available to all it starts with exercise, connection and commitment.
Your body watches your behavior like a hawk. In nature, there is no reason to be sedentary except lack of food. Because our bodies are fine-tuned for survival, it reads the excess food, lack of exercise and isolating as “winter is coming, find a cave and start shivering.”
A certain amount of depression during times of scarcity has been a normal part of being human for thousands of years. We used it every winter and for every drought or famine. Not clinical depression, but survival depression. Metabolism slows, energy lowers and fat storage builds. All but the most critical functioning organs are left to atrophy. All normal. What isn’t normal is that we are prematurely sending the signal that we are done living when we go against nature. We go against nature when we sit all day, eat crap food and call “liking” a post social engagement.
Thankfully, these signals for normal depression are weak. Once again, we can turn them around with modest signals to grow. A decent workout, even a brisk walk, will drown out the noise. And therein lies the caveat. We have to do something, every day, to tell our bodies it’s springtime. Decay comes from lack of effort.
Nature designed us humans exquisitely. It is our lifestyle that has become public enemy #1. On the bright side, exercise and engagement trigger great waves of “grow” messages throughout body and mind. It tells nature, we’re not done growing. We still have things to learn and see and do. If you send the right signal, you have several billion years of evolution on your side to back you up.
In a remarkable triumph of ego over intellect, we assume we have adapted to our modern lifestyle. Or, at the very least, we fail to question it. We must wake from this illusion. Our ancestors ran for their lives for hundreds of millions of years. That genetic coding runs deep within each and every one of us. Think about it. Our modern lifestyle is a but nano-blip on the human timeline. We are wired to connect and move.
Modern lifestyle, with its hours of sitting and unheard of plentitude, has become our greatest threat – especially as we age. Remember, 70% of premature deaths are preventable. Thankfully, exercise and social engagement can bring our bodies and minds back in alignment with nature.
The beauty is that we don’t have to walk ten miles a day to do it. Nor do we have to hunt or forage for food. We simply have to send enough signals to our wonderfully primitive, survivalist brain to “grow.” Every single one of your ancestors are rooting for you to thrive. Three and half billion years’ worth of family are cheering you on!
Jump-Start a Healthy Lifestyle
The best way to start is to go all in. Take a deep breath, make a profound commitment, and jump in, full tilt, for life. Do it with as much hoopla as you can muster. Celebrate the sh*t out of it. Make it a personal declaration. Tell everyone you know. Hold yourself accountable but also get excited about this. You’re embarking on a new venture that is going to transform how you live.
This is not easy. Modern life offers unlimited avenues for distraction and avoidance and unparalleled comfort and convenience. Just as we are biologically built to move and connect, we are hardwired to eat, sit down and rest whenever we can because in nature it was never clear when – or whether – the opportunity would come.
Thankfully we can trick the brain with less than an hour a day of exercise. Do this and you will be rewarded with a mind and body that is fit, alert, energetic, healthy and optimistic for decades to come. And, please, don’t just “give it try.” You know you have to do this. So think about it long and hard and then go all in.
Decrepitude is not a given. It is your birthright and destiny to live well into old age with ease and grace. For some, this is great news. For others, the idea of committing to daily exercise feels like a life sentence! I happen to belong to the latter group, so I feel for you. I’d rather curl up with a book and a cup of tea over trip to the gym ANY DAY. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to deny reality. If we want to live well and independently, we must work for it.
Twenty million American women have osteoporosis, a preventable disease.
Hip fractures kill more women than breast cancer.
25% of all women break a hip each year. Of those who survive, half will never live independently again.
25% will live at home, but dependent on a wheelchair or walking to get around significantly impairing their quality of life for the remainder of their lives.
These are grim statistics for something that need not happen. We must brace ourselves. And by that I mean, grab some weights and make yourself strong!
Strength training is great for building bone density. But did you know it’s critical for coordination? Not just eye to hand coordination, but the kind that involves fine muscle detail through elaborate networks of nerves that link your brain and body. This is referred to as “neural coordination” and it’s super important if you don’t to fall.
Strength training creates an intimate connection between your body and brain. Nerve decay is not something that registers on our radar as we age. It begins to imperceptibly decline as we get older. Yet it’s the main reason our joints wear out, our muscles get sloppy, and our ability to be physically alert begins to fade. And it is all reversible with strength training.
That’s huge. And beautiful and awesome and inspiring. Just a few days a week of intense strength training can bring neural connections out of hibernation. Calcium supplements aren’t a bad idea. So take those, too.
Align and Shine
I’m a bottomless pit of optimism. As long as you are breathing, it is never too late for healthy change. Everyday we get to make the choice and there is tremendous grace in that. We can mess up, be radically imperfect and still get a chance to begin again.
When you’ve lived enough years, you realize that life is an endurance test. To live it well to the very end, we have to align with nature. When we are in synch with our essential self, everything else falls into place. Which brings my final point home: you are not alone. We are all a part of something much larger than ourselves.
While this formula may not be the fountain of youth, per se, it’s definitely a good long drink of vitality. And know that it is never too late to start. If you want to age with strength, agility and grace:
Get your heart pumping.
Lift something heavy a few times a week.
Eat your veggies.
Stay socially connect.
Keep your mind active.
Most of all, have fun! Truly, the whole point of it all is to get the most out of life for a very long time. 🙂