2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  YOUNGER NEXT YEAR:
TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH & FITNESS

JUNE 26

 
"It is inexplicable that our society, plagued by soaring medical costs and epidemics
of obesity, heart disease and cancer, cares so little about these things. The simple fact is
that we know perfectly well what to do. Some 70 percent of premature death and aging is
lifestyle-related. Heart attacks, strokes, the common cancers, diabetes, most falls, fractures
and serious injuries, and many more illnesses are primarily caused by the way we live.
 
If we had the will to do it, we could eliminate more than half of all disease in men and women
over fifty. Not delay it, eliminate it. That is a readily attainable goal, but we are not moving
toward it. Instead we have made these problems invisible by making them part of the
'normal' landscape of aging. As in 'Oh, that's a normal part of growing older.'
 
'Normal aging' isn't normal!"
 
- Henry (Harry) S. Lodge, M.D., co-author of Younger Next Year --
Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Until You're 80 and Beyond, p.29
 
 

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 about 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 rapidly increasing 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 model 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 of rot.

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 training, nutrition, 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 it.) 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 it.

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 60s.

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. We have 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 those races.


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.

Books like 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 it:

"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 survival rate).  The progression is stepwise, so each rung up the fitness ladder put women a corresponding rung up on the risk/survival ladder.

Dunno about you, but that's enough to motivate ME out the door!!

"HARRY'S RULES"

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:

1
Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.

2
Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.

3
Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.

4
Spend less than you make.

5
Quit eating crap!

6
Care.

7
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
to show 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 gradually. Some 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.

Two 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 exercise you 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 3 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 longer runs.)

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 the program."

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 physical health.

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 sleep.

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 when 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." (p. 74)

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 (starch/sugar). The 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

As Harry 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 are lost.

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 life.

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 intrigue me.

All this ties into exercise, too, according to Harry. Staying physically active increases our likelihood of staying socially connected.

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 and meaningful.


Taking care of my abs. Need to work more on those quads, too!
Jim's are more pronounced.  (6-25-08)

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.

RELENTLESS OPTIMISM

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 Harry's Rules:

" 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 and 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 or handicap 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 health.

It's really sad if you could have prevented the poor health.

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 of shape.

I'll spare you from my alter ego's entire internal rant. You get the idea.

Chris 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 with us.

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!

[Link 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

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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