Aging Gracefully

Aging Gracefully

When people think about what determines what their body looks like, they tend to rank exercise at or near the top of the list. The reality is that it is pretty low on the list. Gender is the most significant followed genetics and age. Of the things that you have control over, diet has a bigger impact than exercise. Age is the interesting one because we can’t control it like diet or exercise, but it isn’t a constant like gender or our DNA. Aging can’t be stopped but that doesn’t mean people should give up on leading a healthy lifestyle. Through proper care, people can stay highly functional and active as they age.

I had a really interesting case several years ago after I finished a lot of massage training. I had a client in her 70s who was extremely wealthy and wanted to hire me five to six hours a week for a mix of one on one training and massage. At the beginning, she was dealing with a lot of chronic pain and age related deterioration even though she was in decent shape and health for a woman her age.

My initial concern was getting rid of the pain and increasing her physical ability. Over a couple of months, we worked through the assorted issues until all of her initial ones were gone. I assumed that once these issues were managed, she would want to scale back to a more normal amount of time with me but, if anything, she wanted to do more. At that point, we moved from solving body aches and pains to working towards fairly aggressive flexibility and strength goals. Pretty soon she could do the splits, do a dozen rope climbs, double digit pullups, and aerial skills.

It was interesting because she had essentially become a high level athlete with a body that a 25yo woman would happily take as her own. She had a sister who was within a couple of years of her age who she talked about as elderly, barely mobile, and not long for this world. The contrast was crazy.

It was interesting to me that if someone has several thousand dollars a month to spend of self-care, a ton of time, the desire to train hard, and had always eaten healthy and kept fit their whole life, they could be in amazing shape in their 70s. Obviously, very few people have the resources, time, or priorities to make this happen, but it’s cool to know that it can be done. Even at 40, it’s weird to think how much more I could accomplish athletically if I could have someone of my bodywork abilities do several hours of work on me a week. This is what separates professional athletes from common folk.

Given that most of us don’t have the luxury of that much self-care, the next step is finding a compromise. In engineering, we generally look for the 80/20 principle when the optimal solution is quite expensive and unrealistic. This is something that gets you 80 percent of the benefit of the optimal solution for 20 percent of the effort. The lowest hanging fruit here is to never get badly out of shape. Whereas a person can slack off for periods (or years) in their 20s and bounce back into top shape quickly, it gets much harder as we age.

The easiest way to do that is to find something you love so that exercise isn’t a chore and something that is well thought out, safe, well balanced, and holistic so that you avoid injury. Boredom and injury are generally what keep people away from fitness. Another way to achieve success in a healthy lifestyle is to not do it alone. By making things social and becoming part of a community, it is easier to stay engaged, not lose interest, and refrain from blowing off workouts when not at peak form.

When you are young, you can run a marathon, bench press a small car, and climb a mountain, only to get a good night’s sleep to recover and shake it off. As we age, our self-care routine becomes as important as exercise itself. The two blend together and become an integral unit that we can call “training.” Stretching, yoga, massage, foam rolling, posture, and balanced workouts all factor in to keeping you at optimal health. My general thought on this kind of stuff is that a little bit every day is better than doing a lot once a week or once a month. For instance, foam rolling five minutes a day is generally going to produce way better results than an hour massage once a month. If you are in a relationship or even if you just have a solid training partner, learning a set of partner stretches and massage techniques to do together daily will yield amazing long term results.

I have multiple female students over 50 who can do several pullups. I am way more proud of them than I am of my 20 something guys who can pull off far beefier acts of strength because I appreciate how much harder they have to work to get far more meager results than those who are younger (or have Y chromosomes). I cherish my students who are more interested in being strong and seeing what their body is capable of rather than focus on looks and fretting about age. My goal is to help people to better understand their bodies and what they are capable of with their body today with an eye on what their body will be able to do tomorrow.

Comments are closed.