Where I live, almost without exception, people over fifty have given up physicality and now live in a state of bodily deterioration. With each passing year, their health slowly sinks from functional to abysmal, rendering them depressed, stagnant and physically inept. Hip replacements force them to stop running, lifestyle diseases like cancer, heart disease, and obesity stand in their way of vibrant and energized health. Most people accept that this is the inevitable reality of life and do little to slow the aging process. However, I don’t believe that this kind of physical degeneration is inevitable, not by a long shot. Yes, our bodies do begin to slow down over time, but the vast majority of physical ailments in older people (and all people for that matter) are highly preventable and can be directly linked to choices in movement, diet and lifestyle.
Unfortunately, most of what is regarded a common “preventative medicine” regarding diet and exercise lead many people down paths of over use, under use, injury, and non-functional physical boredom. When I’m sixty, I don’t want to simply exist, but have a body that still allows me to scale walls with ease, run miles at a time, and move as fluidly and deftly as I could as a teenager. While I can’t give you a foolproof formula derived from personal experience with old age, I can offer what I believe will give you (and me) the best possible chance at defying the odds and feeling just as strong at sixty as you did at twenty.
I’ve broken it down into six sections, what I call the six pillars of lifelong movement. However, contrary to the claims of popular diet books and exercise programs, total health is not linear and is comprised of many different factors both internal and external. While this guide is intended to help you maintain your physical body, the mental and emotional aspects of health should not be disregarded.
The Six Pillars of Lifelong Movement
1. Go Barefoot
It seems that the concept of bare-footing somehow appears in nearly every single one of my posts here on Wile Movement, because it’s that important. Cushioned footwear has been the downfall of countless people over the years causing hip, knee and foot problems that are directly related to the shoes that are supposed to prevent them. Ironic huh? The Tarahumara indians of Mexico, as documented in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run, have been known to run strong well into their eighties and beyond and many scientists now believe this is largely due to their lack of cushioned footwear. If you are serious about physical longevity, the first thing I recommend you do is lose the shoes. To learn how to get started with bare-footing click here.
2. Mix it Up
Specialization and injury are intrisically linked. When you stop to think about it, it’s no wonder that runners, bikers and other specialists have such high injury rates. They perform the same motion over and over, day after day, month after month, year after year… eventually something has to give. The healthy alternative is simple. Instead of doing one thing, do everything. Instead of moving your body in one repetitive way, move it in every way you can think of. Run, jump, climb, swim, balance, lift… every day challenge yourself with something new and unexpected.
Just as specialization and injury are linked, generalization and strong injury free bodies go hand in hand.
A few weeks ago, my dad challenged me to a foot race, thinking that after all these years he could still out sprint me. Not only was he wrong, but he also awoke sore the next morning, complaining about how his legs were killing him. For most adults, exercise means weight training or low intensity cardio, a trip to the gym or a plod in the park, never high intensity sprints. Because of this, most adults slowly lose the explosive sprinting side to movement.
Sprint hard every few days, your body will thank you.
4. Go Functional
In order to maintain a physically capable body well into old age, a body capable of running fast, lifting heavy objects and performing at a high level, you must practice real world functional movements in your training. If you want to be able to lift more weight, don’t bother yourself with exercise machines. Instead, get outside and lift something heavy. If you want to improve your running ability, don’t slave away on a treadmill, go run through the woods. Dodge tress, hurdle logs… train your body for the real world by performing real world functional workouts.
5. Muscles Are Built in the Kitchen
…Is a phrase I heard once and have never forgotten. It’s true, acheiving optimum physical mobility and maintaining it is so much easier when your diet compliments your activity level. Granted, it is possible to stay in decent shape while eating junk, but you will have to work ten times harder at it. In addition, a poor diet decreases energy levels and increases your chances of other physical complications.
6. Go Flexible
In addition to being a natural movement aficinado I am also an avid yoga practitioner and thoroughly believe in the benefits of keeping your body flexible and limber. If they aren’t regularly stretched and contracted, muscles become fossilized in bands on non-pliable iron. Stiff backs, tight hamstrings, pulled muscles… the body transforms from a flexible and highly adaptive machine to an achy and outdated burden. stretch, bend, roll, repeat.
In a Nutshell, maintaining physical vitality comes down to one insight: if you don’t use it you lose it. Or, even better, if you don’t MOVE it, you lose it. Run, jump and bend your body every day and it will stall limber, strong and fast. Combine this functional activity with a clean, fresh diet and regular stretching and you are setting yourself up to feel as strong at sixty as you did at twenty.
Life can make finding the time to move your body difficult, but as many rich, successful yet unhealthy people will testify, you are nothing without your health. Feeling strong, healthy and energized undeniably improves your relationships and perception of the world, allowing you to fully experience the one life you have.
Your body is your temple, don’t neglect it.