Those are very powerful -- and empowering -- statements. Read them
again and let them really sink in. When you read this book, you'll
understand what the norm SHOULD be, and hopefully you'll want to
join the party. It's your choice, and within your control.
THE NEW SCIENCE OF AGING
(The italicized headings
like this one are some of the chapters in the book.
The others are mine.)
This is not an exercise or diet book. It's a change-your-life book.
However, it doesn't promise to change your life
FOR you. Here, just take this pill or follow our (rigid, weird, expensive) diet
and you'll be young forever. No, this fascinating book makes you
work diligently yourself for that fountain of youth. And after reading
about a third of it you'll already be encouraging your partner, your
parents, your siblings, your kids, and all your friends -- fit or not -- to read
it, too! It's that sensible and that optimistic a view of aging.
When I was writing the last entry about the new wellness program my
former employer is initiating to encourage employees and retirees to
take more responsibility for their health and fitness -- and even
compensate us for doing so! -- I almost went
on a rant about the sorry, un-fit state of affairs in our country, what with
two-thirds of adults, and 'way too
many children, being overweight
and even more being in less than optimal health; even many slim
people are not fit, after all.
But I didn't go on the rant. I decided to save it for its own special journal entry!
The more I stewed about all the poor nutrition, super-sized food
portions, lack of physical
activity, obesity, preventable illnesses, high medical costs, and
premature deaths of middle-aged folks and young seniors, the more I realized I could perhaps inspire
more people to change their minds and their habits if I played the role of Cheerleader
rather than Nag. As much as I sometimes want to "guilt" people into
becoming more fit, I'll have more success motivating folks to WANT to
become more fit if I present this essay like the affable Dr. Henry Lodge and
his exuberant co-author Chris Crowley do in their insightful, humorous book,
Younger Next Year and its companion,
Younger Next Year for Women.
Jim and I first heard about the book last winter from our favorite radio
talk-show host, Neal Boortz. Neal is about our age, maybe a couple years older
(late 50s, early 60s). He'd either begun sliding down the "slippery slope" toward rapid
aging that can occur in your 50s and 60s -- or he was afraid he was going to --
when he read the men's version of the book and began transforming his own life. He so
enthusiastically recommended it to his listeners that Jim
ordered both versions of the book for us to read, the original that was
written for men and a newer edition that was modified a bit for
women (mine's got an additional chapter and several more pages!).
This despite the fact that we think we're already pretty fit and
healthy and functionally younger than our years . . .
. . . and we loved the books! We also enthusiastically
recommend them to people who ARE fit and those who know they aren't, and
to anyone of any age -- not only Boomers but also anyone over the age of
thirty, because that's about when the body stops growing and starts
decaying. The authors don't mince words, although they remain very
positive about aging. They often refer to the "decay" and "rot" that
occur in our bodies if we don't stem the tide physically, mentally, and
emotionally. Fortunately, they tell us very specifically what we need to
do to encourage growth and discourage decay.
I mentioned the book in my introductory entry to this year's journal
in January. Jim and I read our copies while we were in Arizona. I
enjoyed the women's version so much that I read the guys' version, too, in case I missed
any good information regarding men's health. There's enough
gender-specific information and advice, and the paperbacks are cheap
enough (about ten bucks each from
Amazon), that I recommend getting the
version for your own sex. Or check it out free from the library. It also makes
a wonderful gift. If you loan yours out, you probably won't
ever see it again.
THE BIOLOGY OF GROWTH & DECAY
Even though Jim and I have been living most of "Harry's Rules" the
last thirty years, we learned a lot from him about the science of aging and how
to stall as much of it as possible. That is why we recommend that even
people who are already physically fit read the book. It is written for
everyone from couch potato to star athlete. All you have to do is modify
the levels of physical activity to match your own ability. The sections
covering good nutrition and the mental/psychological aspects of aging
are applicable to everyone.
And since he is always referred to in
the book as "Harry" and not "Dr. Lodge," I'll call him Harry. I mean no
disrespect for his profession.
Harry is a member of the clinical faculty at Columbia University's
College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is also a well-respected
Manhattan internist and gerontologist. The latter is a medical specialty that is in
demand -- and decreasing supply -- as Boomers and the generations before
them get older and older. It's not the most lucrative or glamorous
medical field, but doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who
specialize in gerontology/geriatrics will never want for a job the rest of their
lives. Harry has a keen interest in sound research that
applies to his aging patients. He wants to promote their health and wellness, not
just care for them when they are sick. As an internist he treats many of his patients for
several decades and he hates seeing them either die too young or live
too long in poor shape.
He also practices what he preaches: he is
in excellent physical shape at about fifty years of age, a great role
for his patients. Our kind of doc!
Cardio machines at our YMCA (6-25-08)
Harry's detailed but interesting explanations of the science of aging cover fields
as diverse as cell physiology, biochemistry, evolutionary biology,
anthropology, psychology, ecology, nutrition, and neuroanatomy. He
explains how our brains and bodies are wired with primitive signals
perfect for their natural purposes millions or billions of years ago,
but they aren't designed for life in the 21st century. He teaches us how
to send different signals/codes to our cells to make them grow instead
He emphasizes that aging is inevitable, but decay -- most of what we
dread about getting older -- is optional until most people are quite old. He doesn't tell us how to
avoid superficial things like wrinkles and gray hair but how to remain as functionally young as
possible through our 80s and 90s with heart-pumping aerobic exercise,
effective strength training, good nutrition, and meaningful connections with other people.
Those are the cornerstones of the book: exercise, strength
caring, and commitment. Sensible stuff.
Don't start moaning and groaning that you already
know all that because you probably don't -- at least not all of the
reasons behind the recommendations, even if you have a medical or
scientific background. Some of the research is relatively new. We have been avid readers of health
and fitness information for many years and we both learned quite
a bit from this book. Read the whole thing with an open mind and
learn interesting facts from sound scientific research that can
make the last third (or half) of your life more
pleasurable. Knowledge is power.
SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE
That's the serious stuff, although Harry writes quite well. Who knew
cellular biology could be so interesting?
Then there's the irrepressible Chris Crowley, Harry's co-author, good
friend, and patient. Chris' exuberance, humor, and even irreverence are
intertwined with Harry's levity throughout the book. They pretty much
alternate chapters. Harry's mostly the straight man, Chris the funny guy
with lots of motivational examples to illustrate Harry's scientific
principals. We wouldn't have enjoyed learning the science anywhere near
as much without Chris' sense of humor and inspiring stories from real
people, including his own experiences with "Harry's Rules" the past
decade. You'll enjoy following his metamorphosis from dismay in his 60s
about getting older and initial skepticism of Harry's recommendations,
to the sheer joy of life now in his early 70s with a body and mind
twenty years younger than his chronological age.
It's an interesting collaboration. You'll never look at the ocean in
quite the same way again after reading the graphic descriptions of the
"relentless tide" of decay as we age. That's one of the more memorable
metaphors in the book!
By Jef Mallet 6-17-08
You also won't have near as many excuses to shirk your responsibility
(like Coach Hacker in the Frazz panel above) to keep as fit and healthy as possible
as you get older. The book helped Jim and me stay
more active this past winter and spring when the weather was dreary, we weren't sure what this
year's race goals would be, and we didn't have a lot of motivation
to get out the door.
You read that right. Younger Next Year has motivated us
since the beginning of the year to try to do at
least the minimum amount of aerobic exercise and strength training
that Harry and Chris recommend. Believe it or not, it's been a challenge
to do everything they recommend! But don't let that scare you off. Even exercise nuts like us sometimes
look for excuses to be couch potatoes for a little while. After peaking for the Across the Years
24-hour race at the end of December we needed the authors' extended pep talk to avoid
succumbing to athletic hibernation. Every time we wanted to slack off we
thought about the "slippery slope," the tide that turns against us as we
get older, the rot that sets in if we don't fight back against it . .
. . . and we (usually) got our butts out the door to "exercise the
demons," as a friend of ours jokes. (No, not "exorcise." Think about
We will benefit from the messages in the book the rest of our lives, and
we want our journal readers to do the same.
IT TAKES WORK
Jim and I are not athletic paragons of virtue. Because we run ultra
marathons and look trim and fit at age 59, some people consider us to be
fitness fanatics -- or freaks.-- who never take a break or slack off.
Worse yet, some think we were "born" this way and don't have to work at
Ha! If only they knew.
Jim helps calibrate the scales to weigh runners at
the 2006 Leadville Trail 100 race
Keep in mind that just because a person is thin doesn't mean he or
she is fit. The reverse is also true -- some folks who look somewhat
overweight are actually quite fit. It's a bit embarrassing when stocky
runners finish an ultra and we don't, or they're able to run faster than
us. I'm sure it's the same in other endurance sports like cycling, too. Jim and I try to stay
both slim AND fit, but the "slim" part is an increasing challenge as we approach our
We were both thin when we were young but we've experienced that
insidious "weight creep" as we age, just like nearly everyone else does.
maintained our weight fairly well over the years only because we work at
it. Running consistently, doing other physical activities, and eating
properly keeps us within any of the various "ideal weight" charts you can find on an
internet search, although we are both currently near our highest
historical personal weights. That always happens when we take our
annual rest break and lower our mileage for several weeks.
As we increase our running/walking mileage significantly this summer for
the ultras we plan to run in the fall and winter, our fitness
level will steadily improve to a peak for ATY in December. In the
process we will increase our metabolism, gain some muscle, lose some fat,
and end up a few pounds lighter -- about five pounds for me and ten
for Jim is the goal. One of our best indicators of proper race weight, however, is
how our jeans fit, regardless of what the scales say! When the little pudges of fat around our waist and hips are gone, we'll be ready for
Free-weight area at our YMCA (6-25-08)
I don't know that Jim and I are the best examples to follow, but
there's some more history in another entry about our athletic and
nutritional backgrounds that helps explain how we got to the brink of 60
in pretty good physical shape. We like to think we've cheated Father
Time and Mother Nature just a bit through the exercise "decoding" that
Harry and Chris talk about in their book. We've done some things right
and some things wrong (before we knew better). Maybe someone else can
learn some "take home" messages in what I've written. I'll put
the link at the end (it's not on
the topics page).
LIFE IS AN ENDURANCE EVENT - TRAIN FOR IT
Jim and I are
"animals" compared to the general population but we aren't as
fanatical about it as we could be. Running and staying fit is only one aspect of our
life. An important one, obviously, but ONE aspect. We get bummed out by crappy weather, stressed
out from life, and need rest breaks just like other
people. Maybe we're
"different" because we don't usually take the easy, sedentary way out.
Since we've started running about thirty years ago, we've stuck with it
because we love the results.
We're eternal optimists and keep coming back for more instead of giving up on
reaching our goals -- one of which is staying as fit as we can until the
day we die.
Folks who don't like to exercise as much as we do can take comfort in
the fact that Harry believes a full social life and caring about other
people have the same positive effects on aging -- but you'll get the
best results if you
combine the physical and emotional aspects.
Younger Next Year give us hope that if we continue doing what we
know is right, we can lead healthier, longer lives. The trick is
remaining healthy enough to enjoy the extra years we hope to get. I love how Harry puts
"Americans have achieved such staggering longevity that the real
problem is outliving the quality of life, not running out of quantity.
It is simply a fact that the average American who hits fifty or sixty in
reasonable health is likely to live well into his or her eighties. And
given the way things are heading, if you're in that category, you have
to plan against the risk of living well into your nineties.
That's a remarkable new way of looking at it! For all intents and
purposes, one of the great risks of our age is living far longer than we
can live well." (from the introduction to the books)
By Brian Fairrington/Cagle Cartoons 6-18-08
The whole point of the information and advice in Younger Next Year
is to teach us how to live better in those later years.
I often say I want to live to be 100 years old, but there's an important
caveat here: NOT if I'm so physically or mentally deteriorated
that I'm drooling in my lap all the time!! That's the kind of risk Harry
is talking about. Jim and I don't want to be so physically or mentally
incapacitated that we can't enjoy the final years of our lives, however
many that may be, and that's powerful incentive for us to stay as fit as
we can for as long as we can. It's hard for us to understand why
everybody doesn't think ahead like this. That's why I'm writing this
-- so more people will hear about this remarkable book.
MAKE IT YOUR NEW JOB
The heart of Younger Next Year is how to take charge of our
own individual aging process.
It's a very positive, optimistic formula that the vast majority of folks can follow
IF THEY CHOOSE. No one can do it for us. We have to make it our job to
carve out the time to stay fit, whether we still have a job that pays
money, kids to raise, or we're retired. Doesn't matter. We have to make
the time every day. Consider it the best investment you can make.
Some of our YMCA's Life Fitness weight machines.
At 10 AM on weekdays, the Y is full of retirees at
their "new job." (6-25-08)
Harry asserts that most of the way we look and feel
after fifty or sixty is in our control, not our genes. Although it's
possible to "stem the tide" for a decade or more if you just start working
diligently at it when you're fifty or sixty, it's a lot easier to start
at thirty or forty -- and the results will last longer.
Aerobic exercise is the master signaler, according to Harry. Muscles control
the chemistry of growth throughout the whole body.
"If enough of the
growth signals are sent at once, they overwhelm the signals to atrophy,
and your body turns on the machinery to build up the muscles, heart,
capillaries, tendons, bones, joints, coordination, and so on . . . [exercise]
leads directly to the younger life we are promising, with
its heightened immune system; its better sleep; its weight loss, insulin
regulation and fat burning; its improved sexuality; its dramatic
resistance to heart attack, stroke, hypertension, Alzheimer's disease,
arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, high cholesterol and depression. All
that comes from exercise. But let your muscles sit idle and decay takes
over again." (p. 71-2 in the women's version of the book)
A few pages later (p. 82) he cites studies
that show the more fit a woman is, the lower her risk for getting both cardiovascular disease and four types of cancer,
including breast cancer, and the lower the mortality rate (i.e., higher
The progression is stepwise, so each rung
up the fitness ladder put women a corresponding rung up on the
Dunno about you, but that's enough to motivate ME out the door!!
Although most of the book focuses on our bodies
and how to stay physically younger for years to come, Harry and
Chris also talk about the importance of the emotional and mental aspects
of our lives as we age.
Here's the succinct version of Harry's Rules for building a
complete package of a healthy body, mind, and spirit so folks can live
as long and as fully as possible until they die:
Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest
of your life.
Spend less than you make.
Quit eating crap!
Connect and commit.
I'll explain a little bit about each of these "rules."
RULES # 1-3: AEROBIC EXERCISE & STRENGTH TRAINING
The first 80% of the book describes the importance of aerobic
exercise and strength training in regulating the chemistry of our cells.
Aerobic exercise = steady indoor and outdoor endurance
activities like walking, jogging, running, cycling, spinning, swimming,
rowing, kayaking, downhill and cross-country skiing, and using cardio
equipment like elliptical and step machines and treadmills that elevate
your heart rate and keep it elevated for several minutes to several
hours. Although intermittent sports like golf and tennis are fun and
good for you, they don't have the same benefits as steady aerobic
activities. (Although one of our friends who plays a wicked game of
tennis might argue with that!)
Strength training with free weights or weight machines becomes
increasingly important as we age. Two of the most devastating problems
for older women are osteoporosis and crippling falls. Strength training
helps make the bones and joints stronger and improves balance and
proprioception. It's best, of course, to do strength training all your
adult life because it's difficult to stem the tide of bone loss after a
certain point, but even seniors who don't start lifting weights until
they are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s can show remarkable improvement in
their strength, balance, and coordination.
Working on my biceps. Jim
thought it would be cute
the flower growing out of my hair! (6-25-08)
Bottom line: weight training is serious therapy to halt or
reverse the ravages of aging. We're all gonna get old but we don't have
to be old and frail.
In the appendix of the book the authors describe several levels to
give readers an idea of how to begin this "one-size-fits-all"
aerobics and strength program. It is important to do
aerobic activities four to six days a week, regardless of the level.
They say seven days would be better, but they don't want to scare everyone off!
Strength training is in addition to all that.
LEVEL ONE: The first goal is to do 45 minutes of long and slow
aerobic exercise six days a week without any discomfort. Heart rate
should be at 60-65% of maximum throughout the workout (the authors
highly recommend using a heart rate monitor). Many people won't be able
to start out at 45 minutes for six days in a row. They are advised to do
as many minutes each day as they can, and build up their endurance
folks will be unable to progress beyond this level. That's OK. As long
as they can maintain it the rest of their lives for six days, they'll be
in much better shape than the majority of the more sedentary population.
LEVEL TWO: Do 45 minutes of long and slow aerobic exercise
four days a week. Do 45 minutes of weight training two days a week.
safety tips re: lifting weights: warm up first, and use a trainer at the beginning
to be sure you're using the free weights and machines correctly.
More fun on the biceps machine! (6-25-08)
LEVEL THREE: Here's where you can get more creative. During the six days of
get to mix it up with days of long and slow aerobics, harder days at 70-85% max
heart rate, and even a few minutes of hard interval training / wind
sprints at 85-100%. Do weight training two or three days a week, either
by itself or on exercise days. Work up to 2-3 hour long, slow aerobic
workouts at least once a month.
Hmmm . . . I think Jim and I and all of our ultra running friends
are at Level 3½ because of our long runs of
'way more than 45 minutes . . . although we aren't always
out there six days a week. Slackers! (We need some rest after those
The authors advise readers to assess their current level of activity
and physical condition -- with the help of a doctor -- and start a
sensible program that will be neither too easy nor too difficult.
Compliance is key. The activities need to be both fun and effective so
people enjoy them enough -- and see enough progress -- to "stick with
Regardless of where each person starts on the spectrum of regular
exercise, Harry asserts "there are no limits" to where they can end up.
The book has many examples of average sedentary folks, as well as ones
who have overcome all sorts of physical and other problems, who have
improved their lives dramatically using this general "prescription" of
exercise. Chris is a great example, with his endurance skiing and
cycling adventures all over the globe. It's great to read about all the
fun he's having in his 70s.
RULE #4: SPEND LESS THAN YOU MAKE
I'm not sure why this topic is thrown in among the chapters focusing
on our physical health, but it is important at every stage of our
lives. And it's even more critical now that Americans are living longer.
Not only do an increasing number of people risk living many of their
later years in a state of un-wellness, many also risk outliving their
savings and being even more miserable and dependent on others.
Not exactly the "golden years," eh? So Chris and Harry talk a little
about taking responsibility for our fiscal health as well as our
RULE # 5: DON'T EAT CRAP!
Like I said, these guys don't mince words. Two chapters of the book
cover nutrition; another one deals
with alcohol consumption.
This is where Harry and Chris discuss the link between weight and
fitness. They don't consider their program a weight-loss plan and
they don't promise folks they will lose weight -- although most people
who do aerobic exercise and lift weights six days a week are likely to
lose weight for a variety of reasons. They are burning more calories
than couch potatoes, both during the activity and especially afterwards.
The "afterwards" part is really great! Rigorous exercise can increase
your basal metabolism by 50%. Once you get in shape, you're constantly
burning much more energy than a sedentary person, even while you
Nice reward, eh?
Exercise also improves your self-image and makes many people WANT to
lose weight to match the new "picture" they have of themselves.
And if they
enjoy their new activity they realize it will be easier and more fun
they lose any excess pounds. It's a good cycle -- exercise, have fun,
lose weight, want to exercise more and have more fun . . .
Here's a visual I've used effectively for many years whenever I put
on a few extra pounds during rest breaks between training peaks. If
you're above your ideal weight, see if it works for you: for
every five or ten pounds overweight you may be, pretend you're carrying
around bags of potatoes weighing that amount when you're exercising. For
example, I'd like to lose five pounds before the Hinson Lake race in
three months. When I run, I visualize carrying a five-pound bag of red
potatoes under one arm.
Yikes, that's hard!! But that's exactly what I'm doing with just five
pounds of excess fat around my hips and thighs and in my circulatory
system. Imagine how hard it is on your body to be lugging around 20 or
30 extra pounds!
The authors discuss the futility of "diets" as
a way to control weight and point out that failure to lose weight via
dieting alone can sour a person's whole attitude toward fitness. They advise people to
simply "avoid crap," choose healthy foods (they list what we should
be eating), and eat in moderation.
"Exercising and not eating crap is not a
diet," Chris writes, "and you won't fail at it. If you don't lose
weight, you will still be radically better off and functionally younger.
If you lose weight, it's a bonus." (p. 226, men's
version of the book).
In fact, Harry asserts that a man who is thirty pounds overweight but
does 45 minutes of aerobic exercise every day has a lower statistical mortality than a thin, sedentary
man (p. 74) That statement came as a big surprise to Jim and me! The reason is that daily exercise
-- and positive life forces
like joy, play, engagement, challenge, and closeness -- all trigger crucial
chemicals in our body that foster repair (growth) of our
cells. Stress, emotional strain, apathy, loneliness, too much alcohol,
too much weight, chronic illnesses, not enough exercise, smoking, and other
negative factors trigger inflammation, which causes cell decay.
Jim works his abs. Check out those well-defined
quads from running! (6-25-08)
Further, Harry says,
"About sixty million Americans have some
form of cardiovascular disease. Most of them don't know it, because it's
preclinical, but it's there. . . . It's been the leading cause of
death every year since 1928 . . . Being sedentary is formally classified
as a major cardiovascular risk factor, increasing risk more than smoking
or high cholesterol. Vigorous exercise, the real thing, cuts your risk
of dying from heart attack by half."
In both books Harry emphasizes to his readers that mortality falls with
exercise and he explains why in language that is both graphic and easy
to understand. He calls the "real killers" in our life a sedentary,
stressful lifestyle and dietary fat. The "crap" he says to reduce or
eliminate are saturated (animal) fats and refined carbohydrates
inflammation that occurs from consumption of these foods is strongly
linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and even Alzheimer's disease
(p. 256, women's version of the book).
Another popular fitness author, Covert Bailey, has long advocated
that physical exercise is more effective in controlling weight than the
amount or quality of food eaten. I read his original book, Fit or
Fat, when I first began running (1980) and I thought his advice was
sensible. I've tried to follow it ever since. I don't have the book any
more so I can't quote directly from it. I have read only an Amazon
review of his newest sequel, Ultimate Fit or Fat. He continues to
recommend a lifetime of physical fitness based on a flexible program of
aerobic exercise, cross-training, wind sprints (short bursts of
high-intensity activity), and weight training -- the same things
recommended by Dr. Harry Lodge. Both authors' books are intended for
average people who know they should be getting more exercise but have
problems making physical fitness a regular routine in their lives.
RULES # 6 & 7: CARE / CONNECT AND COMMIT
I have to admit the three chapters dealing with the importance of our
emotional and social connections in regards to aging surprised me the
most -- and I have a master's degree in psychology!! My excuse is that
much of the science behind emotional biology is very recent and it's been a long
time (35 years) since I was in graduate school. New chemical markers of growth and
decay that respond to emotion, connection, and social networks are being
discovered through some fascinating research, and Harry asserts that
they are just as important in the aging process as the chemical changes
that occur through physical exercise.
I think that's pretty remarkable.
Two good buds have fun in Leadville: Jim with Joe Lugiano
notes about the mental and emotional sides of our lives,
"the choices we make there have just as much biological impact
as the choices we make for our physical bodies. Staying emotionally
connected, in particular, turns out to be a biological imperative, a
critical part of the good life -- and a real challenge as we age in our
society." (p. 294)
This is great news, especially for women because they tend to be
naturally "wired" to care about and connect with others. But Harry says
it takes a major, sustained effort for both men and women to stay fully
connected with others, especially after retirement when work connections
Harry talks about the evolution of the limbic (emotional) and thinking
parts of the brain and our biological need to be part of a group, even
in the 21st century. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that people
who become solitary as they age will become ill and die without adequate
social connections. "Having either a good
marriage or just one close friend cuts mortality by a third, and the
benefit increases the more your circle broadens."
(p. 312, women's version)
My best two- and four-legged friends (photo by our
friend, Eric Rathbun)
Even having a dog helps! I already knew that; I've had dogs all
My mother was always very active in work and community affairs until she
retired and moved into a retirement home. I remember being concerned
that she no longer spent nearly as much time with other people, even after moving
from her independent living apartment into the nursing area (in closer
proximity to other residents) as she got older. I encouraged her to get
more involved in classes, trips, and meals with the other residents, but
it seemed like she just isolated herself more and more. And now I wonder
if it lead to an earlier demise than was necessary -- ? It's
something I've had to watch myself since I retired nine years ago and
moved away from the large base of friends and co-workers I had in
Atlanta. These chapters about connections with other people have really
made me think.
Caring for and about others is important on many levels. Not only does
it make our lives more meaningful, it's great to realize that it
actually helps us live longer. These mind-body connections really
All this ties into exercise, too, according to Harry. Staying
physically active increases our likelihood of staying socially
Jim and I can attest to that. No matter where we've lived, we've
developed friendships with other runners more easily because of our
shared passion. And despite our cross-country moves, we've made
and maintained numerous friendships with other runners around the
country and world. We may not see them as frequently as we see our local
friends, but we stay "connected" through e-mail and races. Although
that's not as beneficial as face-to-face contact, we still care about
and support each other -- and that helps keep all of us younger. We are
also developing friendships at the YMCA when we work out, on the
greenway when we walk, run, and bike there, and at the Roanoke AT
Club when we participate in their hikes and meetings. All these
connections and caring are related to our physical activities.
Caring also means caring about ourselves. We need to be
interested enough in life to get up each day with enthusiasm, take care of our
bodies through proper nutrition and lots of exercise, learn and do new things,
go places, dream dreams, challenge ourselves -- take charge of our life so it is full
Taking care of my abs. Need to work
more on those quads, too!
Jim's are more pronounced.
There is a lot more interesting stuff in these last chapters, like the
"biology of altruism" regarding the pleasure we derive from volunteering and
doing good for the community when it has no immediate primal benefit to us.
The authors also discuss spirituality, sexuality, caregiving,
maintaining strong family connections through the generations, the advisability
of some people not retiring, building a new career or passion,
having courage, and other topics
that are fun and thought-provoking.
That's the title of the last chapter, where Harry and Chris wrap it up and
urge us to stay young until we die. I especially liked these comments from
Chris as he compares his life before and after he began following
" Today, I am more physically fit than I was
twenty years ago. I am stronger, more flexible . . . doing more. My personal
life is fuller and much more intense . . . I have more things to do -- things
that I urgently want to do -- than I can finish in my lifetime. And because it
wasn't always that way, I know what a luxury that is.
[Earlier he wrote about how useless he felt after he
retired from his busy career in law.]
So here I sit, in my seventies, full of
projects, curiosity and optimism. I believe I am going to have an interesting
life, maybe even a useful life, in my very last years. I am not going to pass
them in idleness, petulance and anxiety, which is the way it looked for a
while. Not bad.
. . . I don't assume for a minute that I will be
in radically worse shape ten years from now than I am this evening. Some decay,
sure, but not significant. And certainly not debilitating. All the core dread
about that is gone. And optimism and curiosity stand in its place. Not so many
folks, I'll betcha, have gone into their seventies and eighties with those as
their dominant emotions.
And the bedrock of all of that is this lunatic
exercise program, which turns out to be the only sane way to approach the rest
of your life." (p. 350-351, women's version)
What a great attitude! I want to feel like that when I'm 71!!
IT'S OUR CHOICE
I love all the optimism in this book, probably because I'm an
optimistic person myself. I also like to be in control of my own body
my own life, so the tenets in this book fit my system of beliefs about
personal responsibility. The
authors make it very clear that each person's daily choices affect their
health, longevity, and ultimate happiness for the rest of their lives.
What a concept in this day and age when too many folks just want to
take a pill or blame anyone but themselves for their obesity, poor
health, or other problems. Jim and I have trouble understanding why many people don't make
their health a higher priority.
We realize a few (very few) people cannot
tolerate any exercise at all, but folks with every imaginable affliction
are out there trying to stay fit. You've probably seen men and women who are
confined to wheelchairs compete in running events, basketball games, etc. We know a
40-something fella with an artificial leg and a 60-plus hearing-impaired man
who both run mountainous ultras, including the
Leadville 100 -- when even Jim and I haven't been able to finish
that race in
recent years, for crying out loud! There are visually handicapped
people who regularly use the weight and aerobics machines and pools at our YMCA, as
well as paraplegics in wheelchairs.
What fantastic role models they are for the rest of us!
Some other folks don't get the fitness message until a frightening
wake-up call brings them to their senses. They survive a heart attack or
serious diabetic incident, for example, and THEN
begin an earnest attempt at physical activity and proper nutrition.
That's not ideal, but at least they get the message and start taking
control of their own lives before it's absolutely too late.
These are all determined individuals taking responsibility for their
health and fitness -- despite or because of their limitations -- and I am totally inspired
by them. I've always said I'd try to be a wheelchair athlete if I became
a paraplegic and could
no longer use my legs but still had use of my arms. No matter what
challenges or impairments I may face in the future, I hope I can adapt to them and remain
as fit as possible for as long as possible.
At some point I'll probably have to have my arthritic knees and hips replaced,
unless there are significant advances made pretty soon in cartilage
replacement. We know folks
who've had one or both operations and they still get out and push their
bodies cycling long distances, walking fast, and skiing hard x-country.
I hope I'm still able to do something like that because I'd be a total nut case if
I couldn't exercise in some manner (some might argue I already am
a total nut case!).
The day I dread the most is not the day I die but the day I can no
longer do any aerobic exercise -- or the day it's obvious I have
Alzheimer's disease and can't think for myself any longer. I want my
brain to be fit, too.
"I'd rather die face down on the trail than face down in my soup," one wag
asserted on the internet ultra list. Ditto.
Even dogs swim against a "relentless tide!"
Jim and I are concerned that so many people in our country are overweight and/or
in poor health because of lifestyle decisions -- that 70% of preventable
illnesses and injuries quoted at the top of this page. It
costs everyone in higher health insurance rates and in
other ways. Good health is
very basic to a fulfilling life, regardless of how long it lasts. Even if you have
a wonderful family, lots of friends, a great job, a satisfying spiritual
life, or more money than you
know how to spend, you're not going to truly enjoy any of it if you're in poor
It's really sad if you could have prevented the poor
We are even more aware of the enormity of health problems
in our country because of Jim's insight
as an EMT with the local Rescue Squad. I can't imagine how discouraged
full-time doctors and other health care workers must be. Jim estimates nine
out of ten of the emergency 911 calls he
hears on his radio and/or responds to in his squad's territory are from
overweight and obese patients who require transport from
their homes to the hospital for one emergency or another. Many exhibit
symptoms consistent with strokes, heart attacks,
and diabetic problems. Many of them also
smoke. You'd be amazed how many times the fire department is called out
for "lifting assistance" when three EMTs get to a house and
are unable to lift a 300+ pound patient onto a stretcher and
wheel them out to the ambulance. Jim has to
be very careful that he doesn't hurt his back.
Jim does extensions with his body
weight to strengthen his back (6-25-08)
Jim treats them all with respect and dignity but we just can't help
wondering, "What are they thinking?? Why don't they care about
themselves more than that?" Sometimes it seems like we care
more about them than they care about themselves. I don't think I could
work in the health care profession every day and keep my mouth shut
about personal responsibility.
Sometimes I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut as it is, like
when an overweight smoker learns about my bad knees and
automatically assumes it's because of too much running. Tsk, tsk.
Shouldn't run! Never mind my
family history and the fact that my non-running siblings also have
arthritis. Never mind that my orthopedist and gynecologist say I have "bones of steel"
from all the weight-bearing exercise I've done. Never
mind that I have a resting heart rate lower than most 30-year-olds, very
slow breathing rate, and a
colon that's clean as a whistle.
I'd love to say to them, "I can get new knees and hips if I
need them. Can you
get a new circulatory (or respiratory) system??" I haven't said that out loud yet,
but one of these days I might. It bothers me that it's become socially
acceptable to criticize or ridicule people who try to stay fit but it's
not OK to criticize someone's decision to be overweight or otherwise out
I'll spare you from my alter ego's entire internal rant. You get the idea.
and Dr. Harry
are more diplomatic than I am. They are sometimes blunt in the book
but present their information with such respect, clarity, optimism, and humor
that it's fun to read. It makes Jim and me (almost) look forward to getting
older! No one will ever accuse us of being "normal" and that's just fine
Remember the doctor's mantra about "normal aging" NOT being
normal -- and that most of it is in OUR control. Now go find the book!
mentioned above to "hidden" entry about our fitness history.]
Next entry: some life lessons learned from my
ultra running "heroes," none of whom would be considered normal by
the general population
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil