I’m still learning.
After nearly 50 revolutions of the sun, 30 of which have been spent squeezing as much fitness and adventure out of my body as possible, I’m still learning and relearning lessons that can make me a better athlete and human.
Many of the lessons I’ve been taught have come through mistakes. Bad choices, letting my ego get in the way, and stubbornness have all played their role on the stage known as my life. Other lessons have come via sheer survival… sticking around long enough to weather enough storms to know that no matter the calamity, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west.
And still others have found their way into my consciousness via observation; looking and listening at the world within my field of vision and formulating opinions based on those observations.
As a long time endurance athlete, sportswriter, race director, and emcee, I’ve had the pleasure of observing a wide age range of athletes. While the ranks of the youth are impressive, it’s the latter category who inspire me the most with their vitality, energy, and courage, in spite of the date on their birth certificate. When announcing award ceremonies, I take special pride in “saving the best for last,” and making a big deal of the finishers in the older age groups.
My up-close-and-personal observations have taught me many things about aging, especially as it relates to wellness and vitality. I like to call these lessons “The Immutable Truths of Aging.” It’s my one part guidebook and one part preacher book, free of charge save for the time you take to read it. Choose one tip or choose ten to help you find the vitality enjoyed by the healthiest septua-, octo-, and nonagenarians.
1. There are no obese 90-year olds. Or 80-year olds. And very few 70-year olds.
2. Smoking kills. Drinking maims. Poor eating habits cripple.
3. We kill ourselves a forkful at a time. The best exercise is pushing back from the table after you’ve had a small plateful or bowlful of food. The triceps exercise is just a bonus.
4. Stretching gets a bad rap. The healthiest people over 70 are the most flexible (physically AND mentally).
5. Helmets don’t save lives. Riding a bicycle defensively, on low-traffic roads and paths, is a better way to stay safe on the bike.
6. But don’t forget your helmet.
7. Low-impact and non-impact exercises are not the same. Both have their place. Research and understand the difference.
8. High-impact exercise has its place. A bit of hard running is not going to kill you (for that, see #2 and #3 above), regardless of your age or gender. It can actually save you.
9. Regular exercise is good. Regular exercise with friends is great.
10. Our training partners keep us honest.
11. So does a scale.
12. There’s a reason why treadmills are nicknamed “dreadmills.” Get outside like the old folks do.
13. Same for CrossFit or other gym workouts. Carry a freaking rock from your house to the garden and back, move some logs in the forest, jump up a set of stairs and back down again. OUTSIDE.
14. Water should be one of your best friends.
15. You should always have a tube/stick/bottle of sunscreen with you, and use it daily. Always.
16. Don’t be afraid to get some natural sunshine on your skin and in your eyes.
17. Challenge your MIND, every single day. Crossword puzzle, a lively debate with a friend, number puzzles, quiz games…whatever. Something outside of your profession and unrelated to your hobbies. The most vital older people are still mentally sharp.
18. An addiction to television or online viewing can be as bad as a drug addiction when it comes to longevity. Wean yourself from Walking Dead binge sessions and go for a walk. Replace a Breaking Bad marathon with a real marathon.
19. If you’re 30-years old or under and overweight, STOP what you’re doing and do something different. It’s much easier to attain your optimum weight now that it will be in 10, 20, or 30 years. Your 60-year old self will thank you profusely.
20. If you’re over 30, it’s still easier to modify your behavior now than it will be in two or twenty years. It’s just going to take more work.
21. Choose your parents wisely, but don’t chalk up all your ills to genetics. Create your own reality.
22. Listen to all types of music. Be open to new styles, songs, and performers. Ever watch an 85-year old dance?
23. Everything in moderation, including moderation. Have a glass of wine every now and then.
24. Showing up is half the battle.
Go forth, and be vital.