I remember my grandfather turning 60 and thinking that was really old. Now it happens that my grandfather was very young at heart, but nevertheless, in those times, 60 was perceived as old. How times have changed!
Life expectancy has increased greatly over time. Life expectancy in Israel is now close to 82 years old. In the United States the average life span close to 79. But one thing that, unfortunately, has not changed too much is the perception that as we get older, our health must begin to decline. Though that may be the standard for western society, it doesn’t have to be. Believe it or not, our bodies don’t have to decline entirely with age—they can even improve until we are in our mid-80s!
Now, it is true that aging—a process that begins in our very first year of birth—and certain physiological changes are going to happen to you no matter what. Your hair and skin will change and your resting heart rate will decrease.
But many aspects of aging have to do with choice—the choice to live like you are in your 50s or just figuring that from 60 and onward you begin to slide down the slippery slope of old age until you reach the end of the line.
If you think that every year you inevitably gain a little more weight, get weaker, wake up with aches and pains and move slower, then read on and you will be in for a surprise! You are in charge of approximately 70% of your aging, but that means you have to take charge, and the sooner you do, the faster the great results. What we are talking about is maintaining quality of life throughout your life and fighting off the common adult diseases. It is NOT inevitable that you are going to have high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or arthritis as you age. The bottom line is: If you take care of your body, as we said, it doesn’t have to deteriorate but it can actually improve in many ways.
Perhaps the story of Mavis Lindgren will prove our point and inspire you (full Mavis Lindgren story here):
Mavis Lindgren, now 103, is the most accomplished elder marathoner. She has run 75 marathons in competition in a career which did not begin until she was 70 years old and continued until she was 90. At age 62, Mavis was leading a sedentary life, spending most of time reading, writing and knitting. She had suffered four bouts of pneumonia in five years and, as a retired nurse, she knew that antibiotics were not the long-term solution. Something had to change.
She was encouraged “to take responsibility for her own health” during a lecture by Dr. Charles Thomas of Loma Linda University in California. Her doctor suggested she try an Early Bird Walking Program organized near her home. Mavis stated, “After I started running, I never had another cold. I was never sick another day.”
She began her walking program slowly to help strengthen her weakened heart and skeletal muscles, —she was also 20 pounds overweight from her sedentary retirement lifestyle. All that incapacity was changed and she lost the pounds as well. As the months and then years rolled by, she experienced a rebirth of her health. She ran her way back to health and showed that the symptoms of “aging” are all too similar to the consequences of “inactivity.” We are made-to-move—it is the stagnation of inactivity that can cause illness.
Gradually, her endurance allowed Mavis to start “jogging,” but she discovered she really loved to run! So, gradually Mavis increased her time and built endurance, and by age 70 a marathoner had been born. She broke world records and blazed new pathways in the (26 mile) marathon for each age stage and for the 10 kilometer race (6.2 miles). She trained an average of 50 miles a week.
Mavis underwent a series of tests to determine how much her body had benefited from the exercise. The tests measured the health of heart, lungs and blood vessel fitness, and Mavis showed that, at 80, she had the heart and lung efficiency of a normal 22 year old woman! She retired from running at age 90 after the 1997 marathon. It was her 75th and final 26.2-mile outing.
You don’t have to run marathons to achieve good health—not at any age. The most important step to turning back the clock is to NOT be sedentary. Daily 35 minute brisk walks are a great start. If you can only start with 10 or 15 minutes at a time, then start that way and add a little more time weekly. A little bit of muscle building exercise twice a week and adding good food to your daily diet while reducing, or even eliminating junk food, fast food and processed food will also help you turn younger. Besides exercising, be active. Get outdoors, walk from place to place and if you have a job where you must sit most of the day, get up every so often for a few minutes to move around. Recent studies show that even exercisers that sit most of the day can end up with health problems.
Yes, in many important respects, you can turn your biological clock back. It requires some effort, but remember the story of Mavis—an 80-year-old whose heart functioned like that of a 22-year-old!
Getting older does not mean getting less healthy. With some effort and determination, you can turn back your biological clock and “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”