Dear Class of 1980, Your Genetic Free Ride is Ending

wanderer-455338_960_720If you are in your 50’s and if, mostly due to your work, you’ve been pretty darn sedentary (PDS)* for the last 20 years, there are some things you need to know.

*Pretty Darn Sedentary (PDS), for the sake of this post, covers a range from the Total Desk Marshmallow (one who really does nearly nothing active beyond what is required to work, commute, eat and sleep), to the Weekend Warrior (someone who gets out two to twenty times per year,  at something like: skiing, hiking 7+ miles, running a 5k, playing ultimate frisbee, hunting, crabbing, fishing, moderate-major gardening). Basically, the defining element of PDS is a lack of consistent, weekly, moderate and intense, physical activity.

Whether or not you’re a Total Desk Marshmallow or a Weekend Warrior your Genetic Free Ride has, up to now, allowed you to:

  • Be anywhere along this PDS spectrum
  • Not have any diseases in the Top Ten causes of death
  • Be able to be a weekend warrior, and enjoy actvities, without training, and without getting hurt

Now, your Genetic Free Ride may continue for another 5, 15, or 25 years, depending on, well, your genetics, among other things.

But, it may also run out at any time … suddenly and unannounced. 

As in “boom!” you’re up 25 pounds, and diagnosed pre-diabetic.  Or worse.  

But let’s not go there. For now. Because you can fix this.

There are some fun and effective ways to start stretching your free ride, as in practices that amount to “paying for the good ride ahead.” These simple, enjoyable practices can make the rest of your life way richer, more fulfilling and enjoyable (…and you have a lot of life left! )

AND, better yet, make every one of your days measurably better, starting now!

There is a good news, bad news scenario to consider.

Let’s Start with the The Bad News
(Distilled, because I hate this part, the depressingly voluminous body of depressingly bad news about aging, that I touched on in my last post Functional Fitness Over 50. )

  1. Your muscle mass is decreasing, along with your brain volume and functions
  2. Your physical capacities are decreasing, including strength, flexibility, coordination, etc.
  3. Your physical stature and posture is shrinking and curling, including your gonads**.
  4. Your chances of contracting the most common early (and-sometimes-horrible) death causing diseases are increasing
  5. The rate of all of these changes is going to increase and accelerate for the rest of your life

Rate is the key term here. Rate of decline (and onset of accelerated decline) is what you can impact. These changes are happening. They cannot be stopped. But they can be delayed, and slowed, significantly.

So, here’s the reality (and this particular Good News / Bad News scenario blows me away): You are likely to live for another 40 to 50 years.  

Really!?!  At 50 and healthy, you are fairly likely to live another 50 years! That means you are just over halfway done with this ride called your life. This can be Bad News or Good News, depending on your health, finances, attitude, happiness level, etc.

Now The Good News (I love this part)

  1. All of those Bad News changes can be slowed down, and delayed
  2. You can have have 20-40 more really good years. Complete with adventure and sex and all the fully alive human things that you like to do. And, you can still be able to clean your own backside, and otherwise take care of yourself for another decade or two beyond that
  3. Exercise is the most powerful factor in creating these benefits, delaying the physical and mental decline
  4. You can begin enjoying these benefits, and begin extending your free ride as soon as this week, with as little as 10 minutes of walking per day.  Research Note: Walking 20 minutes per day, as compared to being sedentary, has a REALLY BIG positive impact on all of the Bad News items
  5. Ten minutes per day gets you almost halfway to those REALLY BIG improvements, and is a compounding habit***, and a fantastic start!

Who does not have time to walk 10 minutes per day?

The Long(-term) and the Short(-term) of It

I could go on about the long-term medical and anti-aging benefits of exercising all day long. I have studied the heck out of them…

But frankly, they don’t motivate me much.

How about you?

Perhaps it’s because, being healthy now, and not being close to anyone suffering from the any of the Top 10, I can remain in denial, and believe that those things don’t apply to me. Because I am NOT sick. And I don’t feel old. (Except when I fall when skiing or playing ultimate or such — Damn!  That hurts a LOT more than it did in my 20s!)

But I sure do love skiing steep trees and powder for 4-5 hours, ripping out multiple pull ups on a whim, and putting a heavy barbell over my head, all at age 52

The REALLY Good News

The most compelling reason to start exercising, especially functional strength training NOW, is what you will get back, NOW! You’ll benefit during the workout, the day of the workout, today at work, this ski season!!!     

Great Ways To Feel Friggin’ Great

  • Walking can be really enjoyable. Try it for the experience of it sometime. Soon.
  • Walking can make you more productive at work – you probably don’t exercise because you tell yourself you are “too busy.” You’re 50-something now. Work smarter, take a  five minute walk. You will come back with a clearer head, fresh insights, and you will make more money! (Your brain and your body are more unified than you ever knew)
  • You can be stronger (and able to do more things, physically!) from 50-70, than you were from 30-50, when you were working your butt off and not really living the adventure of life. And feeling strong, at 51 or 72 years old, feels fabulous, right now!
  • My friend Skip Demuth is 73, and can do three sets of 9 pullups. How do you think he feels when he is doing that?
  • At 50 years old I smashed my college rock-jock record of twenty-three pull ups, by doing twenty-seven at a go. I can tell you how that felt friggin’ great! Especially after not doing more than five at a go, and only very rarely, for over 20 years!
  • The first, best buzz of strength training for people in their 50’s or 60’s often happens at about 2-3 weeks in, after 4-8 workouts. They get to feel strong for the first time in DECADES!  It is a very satisfying and empowering experience, for them and me.
  • Weight Lifting has big immediate payoffs, and is a compounding habit***
  • Strength Training feels good. Who Knew!?  How would you know, if you haven’t tried it since high school, or ever?  We need some intensity, and some physical resistance in our lives. Russell Sparkman, my training buddy for ~5 months now, is 55. (he was 28 last time he did any weightlifting) He told me tonight after some pretty intense olympic lifts “I enjoy that. I don’t know why.”     I know why…   

Five Ways Feeling Strong Feels Good!

  • In Your Body: Your human body was meant to move under load, and it likes it!
  • Intensity: We work so much in indoor cages, we forget how great intensity feels. Intensity brings back  a familiar but forgotten feeling of being really alive!  This may startle and delight you, as it did me, when I came back to it after a decade+ hiatus.
  • Stature and Grace: Improving the way you stand and move, feels good, right away!
  • Psychologically: If you have felt bad about not exercising for years, quietly beating and loathing yourself about it, you will get a huge mental-psychological payoff from starting something. Feeling strong in your body brings strength to your feelings of self-esteem.
  • Mentally/Emotionally: Exercise has proven more effective against depression than Prozac and related antidepressants in double blind studies. Twice.

When you exercise, you feel better, NOW. Look at the literature. Marvel at the longer, way better life you will have from upping your weekly activity habits. Then, go walk or workout, for how great it feels… NOW!


Some Key Takeaways

Start walking ten minutes a day.  Start this week. Notice after 2-5 days; Do you feel better?

Do it until it is a habit.  Then bump it to twenty. (Note – all walks count, minutes are additive – four walks at 5 minutes each counts for 20, and contributes to BIG gains.)

Get interested in something intense and strengthening that you can enjoy a few times per week. Boxing, calisthenics, CrossFit, Circuit training, martial arts. Give your self a start date, and start your research.

You can learn to do strength training at home.

Additional Random Thoughts and Notes

**In a recent study, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky gathered a group of mice that had been bred to age at a hugely accelerated rate, such that their entire “natural” lifespan was less than a year, at which point most died of “extreme physical decrepitude”. Half of the mice ran in a wheel for 45 minutes, 3 times per week, starting at 3 months old.

The other half were left to normal life and movement.

“At the age of 8 months of age, about in their early 60’s for us, the animals were extremely frail, with spindly muscles, shrunken brains, enlarged hearts, shriveled gonads, and patchy, graying fur…. Every one of these mice died before reaching a year of age.

Except the mice that exercised.

… At the age of 8 months… The running animals appeared vibrant and youthful,  little furry Betty Whites. They had full pelts of dark fur – no salt and pepper shadings. They also had maintained almost all of their muscle mass and brain volume. Their gonads were the same size as when the mice had been young, as were their hearts. While the aged sedentary mice could barely stand without wobbling, the exercised mice balanced easily on narrow rods, the show offs….While Dr. Tarnopolsky , an athlete for most of his life, was relieved to see that the active aged mice had kept their hair, his graduate students were more concerned with the animals robust gonads. Their testicles and ovaries hadn’t wrinkled or shrunk, unlike those in the inactive elderly mice. 

“ I think all of my researchers exercise now”  he said.

-From: The First 20 Minutes, by Gretchen Reynolds


*** on high-power habits…

”… a habit like lifting weights has an extremely high rate of return. Getting stronger will make you more fit, give you more energy, increase your focus and mental performance, reduce effects of aging, raise your metabolism and help your body process food better, and so on. Ironically, lifting weights would probably make you a better Starcraft player, whereas the opposite is definitely not true.

That’s because lifting weights is a highly compounding habit. Its benefits reverberate out across other areas of your life, making many other positive habits and skills easier to acquire. Therefore, when setting out to drastically change your life, some form of exercise like lifting weights is likely to be one of the most efficient places to start.

              -from Mark Manson: Your Goals are Overrated


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