Don’t stop me now
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash

The words "older athlete" don't get you much on Unsplash. Because we don't even see them. This is how to be one despite the denial.

Commenters regularly rake me over the coals for using younger people's photos in  my articles on aging. Kindly. If you type the words "Older Athlete" into Unsplash, the gentleman running, above, is about it. All other photos are of EITHER very old, decrepit folks, OR juicy young athletes.

The top photo is from Deposit, which has its own awful prejudice. Paying for their pictures at least gets me a greater variety, but I guarantee you there will be NO old biddies like me punching out big weights.We're out there, but as a friend said one time, those Millennials taking photos believe the world is only populated by Millennials (we all do this), so they only shoot what validates their world view.

Their world view, informed by media and Big Everybody Who Has An Interest In Fearmongering (Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Healthcare, Big Government, name your Big) is that anything over fifty is Dead Person Walking.

Deposit photo

The above photo is typical of Deposit, but at least there are a few. They don't show bodybuilders and record holding grammas and grampas who belie the lie that age=death in place.

Because that vision of wellness, that aspirational message of much older folks killing it at the gym, the track and elsewhere, isn't scarey and it doesn't sell stupid crap to fearful folks. When the only vision we see regularly is that YOUNG = healthy, and OLD = at death's bed, is there any wonder that those who don't fit the paradigm are ignored? People don't even see us.

However for those of us past fifty and beyond, there are plenty of outliers and decrepitude deniers. I am fortunate to get comments from many of them, and the one I got this past week from Russell Groves really inspired me to share. This gentleman has thirteen years on me, and he is also very active. His comments (offered with his permission) speak precisely to the law-conformable challenges we all face should we age long enough.

I would suggest temperance of action parallel the acquisition of age. Yes, I can, at 81YO & 156Lbs. do dead lifts of 365Lb. and leg presses with 850-900Lbs. ride my road bike 75-80 miles in a day. The (finally accepted) intention is to gradually see all those numbers continue to diminish going forward due to three factors. 1) recovery, it just takes longer and the harder the effort the longer proper recovery takes. 2) vision, especially when road cycling the ability to switch focus quickly from near to far objects greatly diminishes (and, no, glasses don't help) The greater the speed the more critical that ability becomes. 3) Balance, this becomes a concern with age as tiny flecks of calcium set loose in the inner ear disturb the cilia attached to the nerve endings that signal the balance centers in the brain. the effects from these fugitive bits of calcium can, and will, strike at any time and the results can be unnerving. ENT practitioners can help but I've found the relief (Epley maneuver) is only temporary. This is only more reason to keep bones strong and muscle mass as high as possible as it is a wonderful shock absorber. (author bolded)

In this comment, Russell addresses the inevitability of some of the age-related changes that all our bodies face, should we live so long. And he wraps it with the kind of underscoring I love from people who walk their talk: if we want a vibrant old age, it takes work. HARD work.

That's the preparation. I do extremely challenging balance exercises for this very reason. They're fun, they keep me fit, and they are my insurance policy against age-related challenges. They are coming. But they do not have to completely sideline me.

Balance does suffer as we age, because our ears change. Of course, some of us develop outdoor rugs in them which doesn't help other than to help block out stupid political ads.

And our senses do change as we age, like our sense of smell. Of course, some of  us develop outdoor rugs in them as well, which doesn't help other than to avoid having to smell the dog poop that some kind neighbor left in our front yard.

Honestly, we should braid the two together, at least that way we can hang our bifocals on them.

I responded to a Help a Reporter Out (HARO) request about exercises for aging folk today. The writer's query included asking which exercises led to more energy.

Photo by Ashley Green / Unsplash

My response, and this is for all of us, is that exercise doesn't lead to more energy if we have none to begin with. All the body's future performance begins with Real Food, and eliminating all the toxic sugars, chemicals, crap and junk out of the diet. Without doing this we are poisoning ourselves. We are the worst among the top economies in the world:

I just spent the last three days inhaling the latest book in the triad by Dr. Robert Lustig. In his latest, he takes on, with typical solid research and his ability to peel the skin off the lies of all things Big and also Only After the American Wallet, why we are so ill and getting more so. The book, Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine, is a stunner in terms of what it reveals about how the decks are stacked against our health.

It's a hard read. However, if the book doesn't get you up and clearing the toxic crap out of your cupboard and your fridge, your snack bowl and everything else, then I haven't got a lot of sympathy. I suspect we are at a bit of a crossroads given what Covid forced us to see, but the clarion call for a return to "normalcy" speaks volumes about our unspeakable inability to take responsibility for our health. We don't want to give up our donuts, our heart-attack Starbucks drinks, our magical thinking about diet and weight loss.

We can, though. All the information is there, Lustig's book is one of many. If his material doesn’t support your favorite nutritional zealotry (his term, and I agree) you are likely to dislike him, but if your health ain’t so good, it’s time to challenge said zealotry.

Aging vibrantly begins with a full and honest recognition that our bodies will inevitably decline, and that Nature has designed us with a due date. Barring anything stupid (like my adventure travel lifestyle) in the short term, there are plenty of reasons to age well. Russell points out that no matter what, the body's clock will tick down. It's normal, natural, and for god's sake, we need to get out of the way in a world that is already stretched due to population explosions.

Deposit photos

The point is not to live longer, but to live our natural life expectancy better. There are plenty of ways to do that, and they start with good food (as in, PUT DOWN the bag of Cheetos) lots of movement, good friends and a purpose. You and I can reverse a great many horrific ills by swapping out much of what inhabits our pantry and fridge for foods that actually feed those cells which keep us alive.

Above all, humor. I threw out a bunch of pricey items after reading Lustig's book, not without a good laugh at my expense. I get fooled too, which is why I keep researching.

Other things I find funny:

I find my greying hair curious and hilarious as it pokes out sideways like an old man's final grasp at a hairline.

I find solace in my giggling as various body parts ache and complain in that way that overuse causes our joints to joke at us. That gets me through most days. The more I move the less they hurt. The less they hurt the more joy my body gives me.

The older I get the more there is to laugh about. That alone keeps me youthful, even as Time continues to carve new highways across my face, and joint soreness is one of my morning alarm clocks.

Russell is like I am; he lifts and rides and likely many more activities. Those are available, just as gentle yoga and walking and light weights and water aerobics are kind entry points to movement. However we have little desire to move if the food we ingest is killing our livers and sandblasting our microbiome.

We were all born to be athletes, each in his own way. We make the choices which largely undermine our ability to move with vigor and grace well into old age. You don’t have to be Simone Biles. Just able to move in a way that gives you joy. That is your birthright.

Lustig says protect the liver and feed the gut. He's right.  Want vibrant old age? You can start any time. It starts with mastering our food addictions, compulsions and desire for an easy way out. There is none. Once we're past that, grab a garbage bag and let's start putting the poison in our pantries where it belongs: in the garbage tip.

Baked chips and other bags of reduced fat junk food.
Photo by Ryan Quintal / Unsplash