Rewriting conventional wisdom as we age is half the fun.
IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE, GUYS. Really?
Here are the old saws, and what I heard as I inched past fifty in 2003:
You will slow down.
Your immune system weakens and you heal more slowly.
You will get dementia.
You can't learn anything new. Kindly......
Balderdash. Let's take each in turn, shall we?
You slow down
Huh. Coulda fooled me. Coulda fooled all the Senior Olympic folks who leave me in the dust running stairs, hiking, swimming. Coulda fooled all of us who lace up, head out and get going. Who swim and hike and paddle. Who ride and row and, well, you get it.
You WILL slow down, guaranteed, if you stop moving. You betcha. But that's true at any age. Here's a piece from Outside Online which underscores what happens to your blood pressure, VO2 (your cardiovascular system), muscle size and mood when you quit working out.
The news isn't good. You don't have to be eighty. You can be twenty-eight or fifty-eight. The point is that the body thrives on work. Besides, it keeps you and me from becoming the Grinch. From that article:
Grumpiness Takes Over
A single hike, swim, run, or ride almost instantly makes you happier, thanks to a rush of feel-good endorphins. But turn that one afternoon outing into a long-term daily habit and you’ll see bigger mood boosts every time, according to a study in Psychosomatic Medicine. Get out of the habit and your emotional drop will be much steeper, too.
Additionally, staying active may fight anxiety. Michael Otto, a psychologist and professor at Boston University, explains that exercise can mitigate anxiety by firing up your fight-or-flight response, the evolutionary trigger for adrenaline, sweat, and increased heart rate when faced with a challenge. When you stop exercising, your body forgets how to handle stress. Because you’ve allowed your natural fight-or-flight response to atrophy, you’re less likely to experience something tough—whether an interval workout or a stressful workplace relationship—in a positive way. Instead, you get anxious.
When you stop working, the body takes that as instructions to slow way down. That's great for injury recovery. It's not a good strategy for vibrant old age.
Work out all your life, and while you may lose a step in speed, you don't lose as much as you may think you will. What you may need to do, like Tom Brady and John Elway and Peyton Manning and any other aging athlete, is to learn to accommodate what naturally changes with age: eyesight, reaction times, and injuries.
One veteran friend of mine who is 70 ran the Pike's Peak Marathon a while back. He was so utterly delighted that he made it to the top, where he placed in the crowd was meaningless. It was brutal. He finished. That's his Olympic podium.
He has never slowed down- what he has done is stop trying to beat everyone else. After a while you realize, unless you're competing for prize money, that you're running only one race. Yours.
Your immune system breaks down and you heal more slowly
While aging does affect your immune system as you age, how quickly varies enormously. Regular exercise, eating well and sleep, as well as reducing sources of unnecessary stress boosts your immune system at ANY age.
This WebMD article goes into a bit of detail.From the article:
Move more often. Moderate exercise helps keep you fit, which makes your immune system stronger. Research also suggests it helps cells move more freely, which helps them do their job better.
Eat well. There’s no one diet that improves immunity. But researchers do know that a varied diet full of vitamin- and mineral-rich foods (like fresh vegetables and fruit) helps your body -- including your immune system -- function at its best. Eating a healthy diet also helps you weigh what you should, which may put less stress on your body and improve immunity.
I'm 68 in two weeks. I had my ovaries out back in early December. I was told not to pick up anything over ten pounds for six weeks.
I threw the instructions out.
Ten days after the surgery I drove to Portland, loaded my car with furniture and unloaded an 80-lb oak and glass curio cabinet from my car into the garage.
Alone. I was just fine, thank you very much. Didn't hurt and I didn't bust a stitch because I was already healed up.
This isn't magic. Our muscles and our VO2 capacity have a great deal to do with our immune systems and our ability to heal. When we have healthy muscles and an excellent cardiovascular system, our bodies are far better at delivering the oxygen, nutrients and all the healing powers of our incredible bodies where they need to go.
My aging friends who work out hard heal far faster than other folks our age. None of them smokes, which is one reason why immune systems suffer. Smoking impedes breathing, which impedes every other bodily function. Just makes sense.
You will get dementia
Not only does age not mean decreptitude, aging doesn't mean dementia. Some folks get it, and those odds are increased with a bad diet, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol and drug use and other lifestyle factors.
Some studies suggest that regular exercise can reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer's by up to 50%. This article suggests just how much. From that piece:
Exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may:
- Keep thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
- Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment
- Delay the start of Alzheimer's for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease
Are you by any chance seeing a pattern here? Good. There is one. Stay with me here.
You can't learn anything new
Sure could have fooled my Floridian buddy Maggie, 68, who just got her Rescue Scuba Certificate by pulling a 300-lb man out of the Gulf of Mexico. AND is working on another novel. AND just got her IFR license (Instrument Flight Rules).
Sure could fool Betty Goedhart, who learned how to be a trapeze artist after she retired.
Tell ME that, after I have learned to kayak, skate, bungee jump, mountain bike and much more all after sixty. Please. AFTER I took up adventure travel and had to learn all about gear, and safety procedures, and a whole lot more.
To sum it up.
SURE. Things fall out, roll under the table and gather dust bunnies. My dentures do that on occasion. My hair, well. Look. I should have bought stock in Clairol.
SURE, You forget stuff. I forgot stuff when I was twenty. I didn't have dementia then and I don't have it now. And these days I have 22 concussions, and I still manage to run my business better than most.
SURE. You don't have a wrinkle-free body, or an endless ocean of decades ahead of you.
However, how you spend those decades, how active and happy and engaged you are, depend on just a few key things:
1. How much you move, regularly, including aerobic and weight work
2. How well you feed yourself for fuel, and limit your alcohol
3. Who you surround yourself with: people who complain about what ails them as opposed to what puts the wind in their sails, and then go sailing. People who suck the marrow out of life and do NOT let the ageist naysayers bark them back into the Barcalounger
5. A purpose that gets you up and out and active. Without a reason for being other than to watch reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, it's hard to get excited about life.
Getting older? We all are. Looking forward to it? I guess that depends. I'm already there. I turn 68 soon and I can't wait to see what this year brings.
I hope you feel that way too.