Age and Assumptions

Most of my readership knows I’ve written before about how age is simply a number. All too often people seem to carry beliefs that some capabilities and disabilities accompany certain ages. We expect children to start walking at a certain age, give or take a month. We expect them to start talking (coherently) at a certain age, give or take a couple months. Their ability to walk is followed by run, climb, etc. But what happens when we get older? A lot of people seem to believe that with age inevitably comes infirmity. That is one assumption I wish to challenge. The other is that “age” looks a certain way. Do we have to “look old?”

To the first point about age and infirmity, I have previously related an experience I had and will share it here briefly again. To me, it clearly demonstrates that age does not cause infirmity. Our lack of motivation, initiative and discipline AS we age is what causes us to become infirm.

When I was 12 years old, I met a 92-year-old man in the mountains of Pennsylvania. He was sitting on the front steps of his farm house, feeding a fawn from a baby bottle (apparently a hunter had killed the mom and he had adopted this fawn to care for). When I met him, he had just come back from his 2-mile run along the mountain roads. The farm house sat on his 215 acre working farm (which he worked) and he was still a practicing attorney. At 92 he seemed more spry than many of my father’s friends and they were in their late 40s or early 50s!

Right then and there I learned a valuable lesson: everyone I had always considered “old,” which mostly included my parents’ friends, siblings and parents, really weren’t. Sure, their bodies had been alive for a certain number of years, but “old” was a matter of outlook. That was the lesson I learned from that 92 year old man. I wish I had thought, way back then, to find a way to stay in touch with that gentleman. It would have been interesting to know just how long he lived. Certainly, at 92, he was still living a very active and fulfilling life.

To the second point of age looking a certain way… I think we need to remember that “how people look” has a lot to do with how we perceive them overall. I’ve met people who were in their 30s and I’d have guessed they were in their late 40s or early 50s simply because their entire demeanor was just so run down; so worn out. I’ve also met people in that age group and been amazed to find out that they weren’t in their early 20s. Why? Because they seemed to vibrant.

The same can be said of folks in other age brackets. I have friends who are in their early 50s but they look and act like they’re approaching the end of their lives. They haven’t cared for themselves well at all. They suffer with multiple health challenges, disabilities, sleep challenges and more. Reality is that they put themselves where they are and while that’s a harsh thing to say, it’s absolutely the truth.

Sure, circumstance happens to everyone. I could go out and be in a traffic accident today and end up disabled (or worse). I get that. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the person who spends their late teenage and almost all of the years in their 20s eating unhealthy, drinking heavily and never exercising. Then in their 30s they try to clean up but undoing all of the damage of a decade+ of an unhealthy lifestyle isn’t easy and if they don’t stay committed and motivated they don’t make a lot of progress. Then they hit their 40s and think, “Well, I AM middle aged so this is just reality.” Then they hit 50 and start thinking it’s perfectly okay to not be able to do things because they’re “old.” They hit sixty and think “retirement soon!”  Then they actually retire and are so used to NOT doing anything that their bodies continue to deteriorate as they take multiple medications, have multiple surgeries and soon just have no quality of life.

How depressing is that as a projected lifestyle? The thing is, anywhere in there they can make a commitment to change their lifestyle and if they stick with it, they can have a good impact on it. Attitude and discipline make all the difference.

Now, let me end with this anecdote: Just recently I was out with a group of friends to celebrate the pending marriage of one of those friends. One member of the party was a fifty year old guy who is pretty overweight. I’m 55 and although I still have a few pounds I could trim, I am in generally good shape, a decent weight and regularly eat clean as well as exercising near daily. It was amazing to talk to this 50-year-old guy, who was very overweight (near grossly overweight) and to discuss health / nutrition / fitness topics. As he lectured me about what I should be doing, because it was working so well for him (as he sat there, six feet tall, weighing 340 pounds, with blood pressure and blood sugar management issues), he reassured me that I could be as fit and spry as he is when I got to his age.  The look on his face when I told him I was five years older than he is was priceless.

I’m no shining example of fitness and there have been big time periods in my life where I ignored healthy eating, rarely (if ever) exercised, didn’t sleep well, etc. I have paid attention to my fitness and health on and off; mostly “on” when I was in the military and had to pass physical fitness tests as well as weighing in annually. Due to a joking conversation held long ago with my son, I committed to living to 120 years old. While nearly everyone who hears that agrees it’s not likely, very few say it’s impossible. Normally the outlook is, “Yeah… why not?”

Keeping that in mind, at 55 years old, I don’t consider myself “middle aged” yet (that’ll come at sixty). I have committed myself to eating cleaner (fueling myself better), exercising regularly and insuring that my exercise regimen includes strength, flexibility and endurance aspects. I am more active and far more fit than many people I know in their 30s and 40s (and a few in their 20s just because they are either grossly obese or simply lazy as piles of sh*t).

My point in all of this is, as I have said before: Age is just a number. It only measures the amount of time you’ve been alive. It doesn’t, in any way, indicate your health, your capabilities, your growth status or your limitations. ALL of that is between your ears and/or a result of your lifestyle. It’s not too late. Are you in your 30s? 40s? 50s? 60s? It’s a simple decision to start eating healthier and moving more. And I tell you this…

It’s addictive. When you perform a period of exercise and feel awesome upon completion, you find yourself wanting that feeling again soon. When you take health measurements (weight, waist, arms, chest, blood pressure, resting pulse rate, etc) and see improvements, you feel proud and want to continue that feeling. If you have a partner you can go on this journey with and can see how happy they are with the same types of results it’s an even better feeling because you want THEM to keep enjoying it. That makes YOU want to keep working out and eating clean beside them!

So… how old are you?  Remember: We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing.  The lesson: “Old” is a state of mind, not a state of reality.

 

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