I’m too old for this shit. Are you?
The line was immortalized by Danny Glover in the first Lethal Weapon, and then reused endlessly:
It’s a funny line. Killer. Yeah. The problem is that it has become the rallying cry for a great many folks from thirty onwards. Glover, who was playing a man nearing retirement in the movie, spoke to the zeitgeist of our times.
Too old for what…life?
To that, if I might continue with movies, I would offer one of my favorite more recent movies, The Foreigner, with the extraordinary Jackie Chan, who is now 66 (Okay, so Chuck Norris is eighty- think he looks like a bowling ball?):
Yah. Chan was 63, and yes he does all his own stuff.
But you and I don’t need to be stars with personal trainers to be healthy, fit, and active. We do need to spend more time doing than watching, however, even in times of Covid.
Are you just waiting to get around to it?
I can’t recall the first time someone handed me a Round Tuit. It was wood, and engraved. A joke, but not without some solid thinking behind the punchline. It looked a lot like this:
I can’t speak for you, but I would suspect that all of us have projects and a to-do list that fall into to the “round tuit” category. For so many of us, issues of self-maintenance ranging from quitting smoking to curbing drinking to getting out every day to walk get shunted aside for things that are more pleasurable in the moment. Such as settling into the Barcalounger or Lazy Boy with our remote, even in this year’s challenging NFL season.
Given that this year has had a whole other set of emotional difficulties on top of the financial and physical challenges, it would be so much easier to argue that we just need a break. Some folks can’t get one at all, which is particularly true if you’re an essential worker, happen to be a Person of Color, and are about to be evicted. But that’s another article.
That difficult layer of exhaustion, a miasma on top of everything else, makes it awfully challenging to want to put positive time in on your body.
However, if you and I don’t, we further undercut our resilience, and our ability to fend off what fights us, and can break us down, is reduced significantly. Our bodies are built for the long, hard slog. A battered, unhealthy, diseased body makes coping with tough times far harder. If we’re in vibrant health, we are far better able to handle life’s mean fast serves. But not if we don’t care for ourselves.
One way to think of this- and this is a common analogy but stay with me here- is like being given a Maserati at birth. Okay, so some of us get Volkswagens, some get Hummers, and to be fair, some of us are born, at best, with powered wheelchairs. Be that as it may, however the life lottery may have treated us, we have a body.
That body’s primary set point is health. Its normal set point is vibrant health. In all fairness, that isn’t true for every single one of us but this isn’t that kind of article. So before you gaslight me with your-individual-story-which-proves-me-wrong, which is valid, let’s set the stage. This is about most of us, as a general rule.
If “I’ll get to this later” is your life mantra when it comes to self-care, don’t plan on having a particularly happy or healthy life. It’s damned difficult to be dancing in your eighties if you’re diseased, disabled or dead, for that matter.
Our bodies do a superb job of allowing us to motor on well into life feeling invincible. Until we hit what Mama Nature considers our peak reproductive age, right around our mid-twenties.
While you might argue that you can indeed have kids into your forties, and my mother did, that is not how we’re designed. So, right about our mid-twenties we start losing muscle mass (sarcopenia) and lung capacity. That’s if we do nothing about it.
There are three scenarios I want to offer when it comes to vibrantly aging. One is that you and I establish a regular exercise program early on, and maintain it all our lives. This is of course ideal. Research indicates that oldies like me at 67 have muscles and lung capacity of much, younger athletes if this is a habit we start young and stick with. To that:
Scenario Two: Let’s say that you slacked off after being active early in your life. You gain weight or get sloppy or whatever may have happened to your health. Then you get religion and pick up the weights or the run (both are ideal, as opposed to one or the other). What then?
There’s this article:
For another thoughtful discussion of that from The New York Times please see this. From the Times:
… those people who always had been active, exercising consistently for a few hours a week, were about 30 to 35 percent less likely to have passed away from any cause and about 40 percent less likely to have died of a heart attack than the consistently inactive people.
More buoying, people who had stopped exercising for a decade or two but begun again during their 40s or 50s, working out then for a few hours a week, shared the same relative protection against premature death as the people who always had exercised. (Author bolded)
Yeah, fine, you might say. But what about us oldies? What about if we start really late? Okay, Scenario Three, where far too many Americans now sit (standing is too much work).
This is the best news of all. While this study only addresses men, it most certainly means all humans, period:
From the article:
The protective effect of regular exercise comes as no surprise. But the long-term nature of the Swedish study allowed the scientists to follow men who were sedentary at age 50 but who increased their exercise level between ages 50 and 60. For the first five years, the major result was disappointment, since these men continued to die at the same high rate as men who remained inactive. But over the next five years, the benefit kicked in; by 10 years of follow-up, the men who adopted exercise in middle age enjoyed the same low mortality rate as men who began before age 50. All in all, men who adopted exercise after 50 had a 49% lower death rate than the men who remained inactive, a benefit even greater than the 40% risk reduction experienced by men who quit smoking after age 50. And the protective effect of exercise remained significant even after the scientists adjusted their results for the impact of smoking, drinking, obesity, diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, and socioeconomic status. (author bolded)
Would this work for us girls? Yeah. It does.
Two of my sheroes:
Both of these women had never picked up a weight before sixty.
It’s a useless argument to say that it’s all about your genes. That you have to look like a champion bodybuilder or fitness trainer to be in shape.
While my two examples above are indeed now public figures, the point isn’t to be like them. As the Harvard Study shows, you really can start at any time and reap the benefits. How can you be the best you?
With one proviso. The later in life you start, the longer it might take for you to reap the benefits. Again, from the above excerpt:
But over the next five years, the benefit kicked in; by 10 years of follow-up, the men who adopted exercise in middle age enjoyed the same low mortality rate as men who began before age 50.
A dear friend and fellow professional speaker who had reached his mid-sixties sporting a massive belly and significant health issues decided to try out Body for Life with Bill Phillips. The before and after photos of real people were a huge inspiration. My buddy went to work. Dropped fifty pounds.
He made one huge tactical error: he found a photo of a 30 yo body builder, and carried a photo of that man with him everywhere. Worse, he told everyone far and wide that this was what he would look like in no time flat. The young man, whose waist might have been 32, was an impossible dream for a mid-sixties man who had abused his body at smorgasbords for decades.
He lost weight. But after the allotted time, he was deeply discouraged when he realized how long the process was going to take. Worse, he felt horrible that he’d gone so public with an impossible claim. The last time I saw him he was even bigger.
What fitness is and isn’t
Fit isn’t thin isn’t fit. Functionally fit, a fitness level which allows you and me to fully be in life, doing what we love, playing outdoors or indoors, is the point. If we’re on the floor with the dogs or the grandkids or both, we don’t need the fire department to get our aging butts off the floor. We bound up with all the energy that a good body gives us. That applies to big or little, Black or White, young or old, makes no difference. Healthy and fit are just that, not an age or a body type.
“I’m too old for this” is a time-honored, whiskered excuse for avoiding work. Work of any kind, particularly if the work is physical, and may require that we work up a sweat.
That is an early death sentence. For the moment you stop moving, you start dying. The less you move, the faster you decline. Along with that precipitous decline (for most, not all) come all the unfortunate infirmities that we associate with aging.
Yet none of those infirmities — with the exception of wrinkles, sagging skin, grey hair and perhaps dentures- oh yeah and eyesight- are necessarily automatic side effects of the aging process.
Age doesn’t guarantee terrible decline. Abuse of our bodies does. That would of course include bad food, sedentary habits, substance abuse, and their twins, over-exercising and most extremes. That would include beer for breakfast as a coffee chaser. Hair of the dog likely makes you put your face in your toilet like your dog.
More so, decline and disease are the direct result of poor lifestyle habits, a distressing determination of our Results FAST society to avoid the real, lifelong, upkeep and maintenance. Said maintenance is the only platinum-guaranteed prescription for long term health and vitality.
You and I were born to be healthy, for life. All our lives.
Life nearly always guarantees us boomerangs, bad times, stress, loss, pain and difficulty. A healthy body (combined with the other aspects of healthy life) allows us to best navigate rough times, including right now under Covid.
Too old for this shit? Okay. Then you may well not get very old, or if you do, the journey there is definitely not going to be much fun.
If you do start very late in life, I would strongly suggest a support system: fellow exercisers, a fitness coach, whatever it takes to keep you moving. For as the article states above, after mid life it might well take a few years to see benefits. That is the price you and I pay for not maintaining the vehicle all along.
But all is not lost. You may have lost your waistline, but you can recapture your vigor, your youthful enthusiasm.
And you may well find yourself saying,
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