The older we become, the more ingrained our habits become – the good ones and the bad. The way we eat, our lifestyle choices – it’s just the way we are. Or is it? If you’ve eaten a basically unhealthy diet for most of your life, is it worth the bother to try to change it? And if your lifestyle has been sedentary rather than active, would adding a bit of activity make a difference at this point? It’s a Choice

Mickey Mantle, the legendary baseball great once said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” Many of us can probably identify with that way of thinking. Habits that have been refined over 40 or 50 years or more are difficult to break, and after all, are changes made later in life enough to compensate for years of bad habits?

We’re all aging, and that’s a good thing. If you’re not, you’re dead! Not such a good thing … But many studies have proven that we have a choice about how we age. The way we eat, the activities we choose to pursue, the relationships we have, our interests and our passions – they all play a part in how old – or how young – we appear to others. Think about it. We all know people in their eighties who are healthy, fun and vibrant people. And we all know people much younger who are overweight and out of shape with numerous health issues, so their lives are restricted and their attitudes reflect it. Which sort of life would you prefer?

Can we turn back our biological clock?

In an inspiring book titled Younger Next Year (2004), Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. lay out both guidelines and medical support that promise we can do just that. The book is targeted for the 50 and over crowd, and it is a training guide for the next third of your life. The presentation makes it very readable. Crowley writes from a layman’s point of view. He’s in his seventh decade, retired, and wanting to just live the good life. Lodge is his physician, an internist specializing in gerontology. He provides the medical facts and has outlined his “7 Rules” for living longer and living younger.

I won’t go into the rules in-depth, but what stuck with me when I read the book were the words “for the rest of your life”.

It was made very clear that the changes that we need to make - whether they be eating or exercising or relationships or passions - need to be for the rest of your life. Not just for a month or two, or even a year or two, but permanently. Wow! A little commitment needs to take place. Is it really worth it?

I think it is. It is quoted in the book that some “70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle-related”. Common health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, common cancers, diabetes, and most falls, fractures and serious injuries are primarily caused by the way we live. If we have the power to change that result for ourselves, it is certainly worth it.

Dr. Lodge, or Harry as he is called in the book, is emphatic that three major things need to happen – Exercise, Nutrition, and Commitment. He feels that exercise is the most important of these things. He proposes exercising nearly every day – at least six days a week, and two of those days should be strength training (lifting weights or resistance training). “For the rest of your life.”

Regarding nutrition – he is not in favor of dieting, but rather avoiding those foods you know are bad, such as fast foods and simple carbs, and just eating less of everything. Being at an ideal weight can eliminate many unfavorable health conditions. In his words, “quit eating junk”. Again, “For the rest of your life.”

The commitment he refers to is not just to exercising and eating right. He truly believes that when one is committed both to relationships and to particular passions that the quality of life is elevated. Do you have reasons to get up in the morning? Does anybody care that you’re still around? If you can answer yes to those questions, your life will be enriched.

So how do you start?

You didn’t develop all these bad habits overnight, so you can’t expect to change them quickly either. Change is always a process. Before any meaningful physical change can ever take place, your attitude must be in the right place:

MENTAL

  • Acceptance: Admit there is a need for a change in your life – not because somebody told you to do it, but because you know it needs to be done. Intrinsic – you believe it’s right for you.
  • Goal Setting: Don’t expect miracles. Set reasonable goals that you truly believe you can achieve – slowly.
  • Small Steps: Choosing small changes in your eating and exercising to start with – ones that you know you can accomplish – will fuel the spark to keep future, bigger changes attainable.

PHYSICAL

  • Eating: Choose credible sources to guide you in the proper way to eat. No gimmicks, no fad diets – just learn to choose the right foods in the right portions. Remember – you’ll be doing this “for the rest of your life”.
  • Exercising: Similarly, have a fitness professional give you guidelines for exercise that are designed specifically for you and your physical condition. The right plan will make a difference in your conditioning while keeping you safe at the same time. You also need to periodically have that plan reassessed to constantly keep you challenged. If you stop seeing progress and boredom sets in, you’re asking for failure.

A real life example

I have clients of all ages, but Jim Salyer is currently the oldest at 86. Jim had quintuple heart bypass surgery in 2009. Before that time his main form of exercise was a weekly hike in the Sedona, Arizona mountains where he and his wife, Dee, had first retired. After moving to Kerrville in 2005, those hikes didn’t continue, nor did any other form of regular physical activity. A fall caused a broken hip in 2007, followed by the heart procedure two years later. By the time I met Jim, shortly after his heart surgery, he was understandably weak and deconditioned.

With his doctor’s approval, we began a light weight strength training program two times a week along with aerobic training on a recumbent bike. We’re still at it, and after four years Jim is considerably stronger and healthier. Jim and Dee are happy to be able to live independently, drive all over Texas to vacation and visit family, volunteer in the community and just enjoy life.

Perhaps if Jim had begun a more structured fitness program years ago he would have not developed some of his heart problems, but the proof remains that even at a late age, beginning an exercise regimen can enhance quality of life. He’s living proof!