Strange times we are living in when so many people hardly have to work physically anymore that the fitness industry becomes a multi-billion enterprise – and at the same time, more and more people see their health and fitness decline. We live longer, but not better.
What really counts to each and every one of us aren’t, perhaps, the statistics and averages, however, but our personal observations and attitudes. And all too often, when it comes to fitness and aging, there seems to be one or the other of only two notions:
One, the thought that “I’ve never been good at sports, I never liked them, quit talking to me about going to the gym now that I’m old enough to avoid anything even remotely looking like P.E. class.”
Or two, the idea that “I used to be good at athletics alright, but these glory days of my youth are over, and there’s no turning back. So, just leave me alone to do as I please.”
Now, it is true that a body becomes less flexible with age, doesn’t build muscle so easily, doesn’t learn new patterns of movement so well.
Your skin will sag.
But at the same time, we see ultramarathon runners often get better with age (to a point, of course) as physical and mental stamina develop together.
We see the world records of yesteryear now broken by people in the master’s class.
We see longer lifespans, and an ever-increasing importance of keeping up skills of movement and fitness, as the burden of disease also looms larger.
After all, what good is a longer life when the increased time is spent in debilitating conditions?
Here’s the craziness:
We need to be able to move, to keep up our physical capacities, as a foundation for whatever we want to do and whatever the future may hold.
It is not cars and couches on which we can build a good life, after all, but our sinews and muscles, our endurance and strength – even if that just gets used for walking in interesting landscapes, or even just our neighborhoods, and for handling daily chores well.
We can keep muscles strong and see endurance improve over time, in our own lives. Certainly, we can keep them from declining too much.
But more and more, we don’t.
Sure, if you started out the athletic jock, your glory days in ice hockey or football are over, but you can still play to be better than the average of your age group, than you formerly were, in many a skill… and you should have gained the knowledge and experience to do better, to develop in a more balanced way.
Certainly, you can do something for your flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance so that you’re declining less and remaining in a better state – and it’s going to help physically as well as psychologically. It’s a game, or it’s a serious endeavor, as you wish.
Nothing is worse than sliding into a state where you can’t move anymore, depend on others for basic activities of daily life. And it may happen anyways. Increasingly, with rising obesity and declining average fitness, we’re letting it happen even at a young age.
When I went to high school, it was before the obesity epidemic was a topic. Most of my classmates had more or less normal weight. And yet, even at that time, only two of us were able of doing more than one chin-up. Most did not even manage a single one.
What would they do if they ever needed to pull themselves up on a roof, for example – and from doing sports to exploring new places to getting to safety in a flood, we’ve seen enough cases where that would be helpful or necessary!
Don’t want to just circle the drain as age progresses, as it inexorably does? Interested in being able to live well? Then be active. Not even insanely so. Becoming a health or fitness nut isn’t necessary, it may not even be helpful. But do something you must. Move.
P.S. Funny thing here. I have been writing this for a while, and now it sounds as if I’d been riffing off Will Gadd – whose blog post on this same theme, and the video it inspired, I can (and just did, which made me want to finally publish this piece) highly recommend: