“It sucks getting old.”
That’s what someone told me the other day after they were experiencing a bit of pain in their knee during exercise. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone lament about getting old. But this time, it kind of stuck because the guy who said it is the same age as me.
Next month, I pass the “early 30s” threshold into my “mid-30s.” Wow, has it flown by. One minute, I’m getting a bike for my 7th birthday, and the next — college, career, marriage, and children happened. It feels like it went by so fast.
I am by no means an old man, but I’m no spring chicken either, and his comment was a reminder of that. But I don’t subscribe to the idea that as we leave our 20s, we’re supposed to accept that aches, pain, and weight gain are inevitable. Being in the gym for the last 19 years has shown me otherwise. I’ve seen enough men and women who have demonstrated that getting older doesn’t mean you’re getting old.
So how do we age without our bodies falling apart, waistlines expanding, and health deteriorating? Well, part of getting older is knowing that the rules change. What worked back then won’t work now, so you have to adapt. There’s no use in crying because you no longer have a teenage metabolism. So here are some truths about aging you need to keep in mind that’ll keep you tip-top well into your golden years.
Getting older means shorter feedback loops. When you’re young, you can basically do whatever you want, and you don’t feel the consequences. But as you age, everything you do provides immediate feedback. When you’re 21, you can throw back shots of tequila on a Friday night and run a 5K the next day. At 40, three glasses of wine might level you for an entire weekend. This is a blessing and a curse; it means when something isn’t ideal, your body will tell you right away. So pay attention to the aches and pains you feel now. They are feedback that requires you to adjust accordingly.
Be mindful of lifestyle debt. The thing to understand as you age is that most of what ails you is not from getting old in and of itself, but rather, the habits of your youth are catching up to you. Years of not eating well, poor sleep, and bad movement patterns accumulate debt that your future self will have to reckon with. Good or bad, what you do now will ripple out years down the line. The secret of longevity is developing good habits long before you need them.
Train to build, not lose. Too many people exercise to “lose” something. They beat up their bodies to work off calories or a bad diet and ultimately lose weight. But the key to longevity is to train with a focus on building. Building and development of strength, muscle, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility trumps the fear-based approach of beating your body into the ground until it loses 20 pounds. I heard someone say recently, “I’d rather go 70 percent for five years than 110 percent for six weeks.” I think we should all follow suit.
Maintenance matters. All machines require maintenance. Your body is no different. Everything your body does takes a toll, whether running, lifting, or sitting at a desk. For your human machine to keep humming, you have to conduct routine maintenance of the joints.
Old is an attitude. And finally, if you truly believe your best years are behind you, they will be. But if you embrace getting older by treating your body well, you might surprise yourself (and the young bucks) by what you can do long after your 20s. spt