above ground is a good one. Or is it?
living much longer than they did a century ago, but in many
cases this comes despite terrible lifestyles; itís medical
advancements that increase longevity for those disinclined to
help themselves. Conversely, the physically active donít just
live longer, they live better; plus they have "compressed
morbidity? That doesnít sound good. Actually, it is good. Yes,
studies show exercise increases longevity, but guess what else
happens? When you finally go downhill, you go fast. The period
of sickness is shorter. Hooray!
hooray! This is good news. Think about it: Say you live to be
90, almost all the while in awesome shape. Wouldnít you rather
be spry right up to 89? The "body falls apart to let you
know death is looming so make your peace" messaging is
brief; then youíre fertilizer. Cue Elton John: Itís the
circle of liiiifffffeeee ó and it rules us aaaaalllll.
that sounds less than awesome; weíre talking about the big
"D" here, and itís coming for you. Itís coming for
us all. But for many, itís not the rainbows and puppy hugs
compressed-morbidity version. Theyíre dying younger after an
unpleasant and lengthy period of disability.
get into middle age, and their health begins to ratchet down,
often due to specific diseases that frequently occur due to poor
lifestyle: hypertension, diabetes, obesity and coronary artery
disease," said Dr. Mike Joyner, a physician-researcher and
expert in exercise physiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
Minn. Being sedentary is a common cause for a lot of these
what happens is that their physiological function goes down and
they get progressively more disabled," Joyner said.
"By the time theyíre in their 60s and 70s, theyíve
become frail and have this long period of reduced functionality
prior to death. Seventy percent of 70-year-olds canít get up
off the floor without grabbing onto something." He
explained that the biggest predictors of five-year life
expectancy were things like grip strength, self-selected walking
speed and how fast you get out of a chair. Weak and slow equal
get your affairs in order.
early you start and how many years you keep exercising is
probably more important than amount," Dr. Jim Fries,
professor emeritus at Stanford University told me of how to
"delay aging." Fries is a Boston Marathon qualifier
and made it to just below Camp 4 on Everest, just 3,000 feet
beneath the summit. As a pioneer in the subject of staying spry,
he practices what he preaches. "More exercise is better,
but there are diminishing returns. And starting young is better
than starting at 50, but starting at 50 is better than
who once ran a lightning-fast marathon (2 hours and 25 minutes),
was more optimistic about the later-life start. He explained
that a solid effort in middle age could change your physiology
to make it akin to a lifetime exerciser.
just aging that exercise delays ó but death.
adds 16 years in terms of postponing morbidity and nine years
postponing mortality," Fries said, referencing a 2012
research article he wrote for Current Gerontology and Geriatrics
while I go for a run.
Fries is a
fan of running because it trains the entire body and keeps organ
function high. Itís also good for preventing cognitive
decline. He is cautious, however, about committing to any
specific prescription of exercise in terms of type, time or
intensity, saying there isnít enough research to support
"fine-grain" recommendations. Instead, he advises,
"Start as early as you can and do as much as you can. Also,
do something you like." Sound advice.
want to live long and live well, Joyner recommends mimicking the
lifestyle of Seventh-day Adventists, referencing a 2001 study of
34,192 followers published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
They have "optimal behaviors," such as regular
exercise, healthy diet and body weight, and abstinence from
smoking, and this affords them up to 10 years longer life
expectancy, along with a significantly delayed onset of aging.
more prescriptive in his exercise recommendations, suggesting a
combination of aerobic exercise, like running or cycling, but
also advocating that which builds strength, like lifting
weights. "Youíve got to do both," he said.
"Aerobic is more important in young and middle age, but
older people donít need a lot of aerobic capacity to go about
their daily tasks. Seniors are more limited by musculoskeletal
frailty." Iíve shown previously that resistance training
improves bone strength and prevents falls, but it also makes it
easier to look after yourself and stay out of the nursing home
by being able to carry your own groceries and laundry basket or
open your own jars.
training is not just for those meathead guys," said Dr.
Spencer Nadolsky, a bodybuilding family physician in Suffolk,
Va. "My older patients who lift weights do a lot better at
are making fitness way too complicated," Joyner said.
"I donít have a snowblower for a reason. Mother nature
gives you a free workout."
does for my 71-year-old father, who has no running water, heats
with wood, and shovels snow in the winter and gardens in the
summer in northern British Columbia.
news regarding the efficacy of exercise to delay aging was just
published in the Journal of Physiology. It compared old cyclists
to really old cyclists, using 125 subjects ranging from 55 to 79
years, and a researcher looking solely at the collected data of
their various physical capabilities would not be able to tell
how old these studiesí participants were. Yes, the oldest
subjects didnít perform as well as their less senior
counterparts, but compared with the population at large, they
were staying young on the inside.
like the idea of wasting away in a bed, tubes in orifices,
perhaps for years. While Iím on the right side of the dirt, I
want to enjoy life, so Iíll keep exercising. And the
compression of my disabled period means the nosedive into death
should be mercifully brief.