I have a beef with our cultural story about aging.
As currently conceived, the story goes like this: as we get older, aches and pains are inevitable. Our knees begin to hurt as do our hips and our backs. Getting up and down, into and out of a chair becomes arduous. And never mind getting down on the floor…you’ll never be able to get back up! Or so the story goes.
Whether we say it out loud or not, we tend to view aging simply as a period of decline during which we become less and less physically capable. Our cultural story about aging also includes mental decline, but countering that nonsense myth is for another time.
My gripe with this story is that it’s incomplete and misleading.
While it is true that muscles strength and power can be expected to decline from their peak levels over time, the story omits the bit where we have the ability to influence the rate and amount of decline and, in some cases, even reverse it. The same can be said for cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity: absent an intervention, we can expect a fairly predictable and steady rate of decline over time.
Building muscle mass is by far one of–if not, the–most important and useful things that a person can do to improve the quality of their life, both now and in the future.
Another thing that vexes me about our shared cultural story is that it’s also a rather disempowering one. Much like the dominant approach to medicine, the idea of prevention is nowhere to be found in the narrative. The fact is that there are things we can do that will make aging better. Things we can do to improve our quality of life–both now and in the future–and these are things we can start doing at any age.
Strength training and cardiovascular training can improve your current levels of strength and power (building some muscle mass* along the way) and increase your stamina and endurance by improving your lung capacity. These improvements now will have a knock-on effect down the road, making your body feel better, stronger and more capable.
Making a life-long habit out of doing these things will have a significant impact on whether and by how much you experience the kind of decline in capability that our current cultural story about aging suggests we will experience.
This is not intended to be a throw-away comment about the importance of strength training and cardio throughout your lifespan. For some of us, we are now having the challenging experience of seeing how some of our elders–parents or other relatives–are becoming less and less able. And it’s hard. And, in some cases, it’s feeling like quite a motivator for changing our own fitness habits.
Let’s take this one step further: what sorts of things would you like to be able to do when you’re older?
Actually, let’s be a bit more specific: what sorts of things would you like to be able to do as you approach 100 years old?
I’ve stolen this idea from the book, Outlive by Peter Attia, MD. He calls it the Centenarian Decathlon: a list of ten things you’d like to be able to do in your marginal decade of life (meaning what is likely to be your last ten years of life).
Perhaps you’d like to be able to squat down and pick up a grandchild (or someone else’s grandchild, if like me, you’re not interested in having children of your own).
In that case, we can translate that into some goals relating to the strength and mobility required to do a goblet squat with the weight of a kid. How much does a typical grandkid weigh? That’s how much of a goblet squat we’ll be aiming for…when you’re 90. In order to ensure that you have the strength to do a grandkid squat when you’re in your 90s, we can work backwards–taking the expected rate of decline in strength into consideration (roughly 10% per decade)–and get a rough idea of how much weight to aim for now.
Or maybe you’re looking forward to going on hikes in the mountains? This could translate into some goals relating to leg strength, agility and stamina.
Training with an agility ladder–a Reimagym staple–would be useful for practicing footwork and, well, agility. Step-ups would be relevant here, along with some form of speed/power training for those times when you might want to do a little hop from rock to rock or over an obstacle of some sort. Step-downs would also be important to train so that you can control your body on those times when you might lose your footing and need to quickly regain balance (which, to be fair, comes in handy much earlier than when you’re in your 90s).
If we wanted to get nerdy, we could figure out the lung capacity needed to navigate the kinds of hikes you want to do…and then we could map it backwards in time to get an idea of what sort of cardiovascular capacity to aim for now. But we’ll save that math for another time.
Let’s circle back to our cultural story about aging.
It is (partially) true that we can all expect to experience some age-related decreases in strength, mobility and cardiovascular capacity…but we are all also capable of improving our strength, mobility and cardiovascular capacity at any age and thus, putting a stop to or at the very least, slowing the decline. Most importantly, no matter what age you are, we’re capable of making changes now.
So what now?
If you’re not currently training and would like to get started, come give us a try. You can learn about our current trial here.
If you’re currently training and, after giving it some thought, you’ve got some Centenarian Decathlon goals…let’s talk about them. Let’s map out a plan for how to make sure you get there.
Either way, we’re here for the long-haul and we’re happy to help you on the journey.