What do David Boreanaz and John Stamos have in common?
It’s not their debonair demeanor or their striking eyes. No, it’s something you’ve noticed but never quite put your finger on. Wait a minute! Holy crap, John and David are both Time Lords.
Seriously. It’s like the aging process went, “Oh, you guys are too pretty. Let’s skip over John and David. Everyone else, you’re screwed.” And these days it feels like age pounced on you like a cat on a mouse. One day you’re feeling vibrant and young, and the next your hips ache, you discover lines under your eyes, and your knees snap, crackle, and pop like they’re made of Rice Krispies.
Getting older sucks. But staying healthy and fit as you age doesn’t require a magic potion from Professor Slughorn, either. Science has shown us time and time again that exercise helps you live longer. And exercise combined with not eating like an asshole can help you prevent issues like heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and injury.
But isn’t there more that you can do to make sure that you’re staying tip-top shape as you get older?
1. Maintain (or Build) Strength
Have you ever helped an older family member who needed assistance to get out of a chair? Or have you known someone who had a hip or knee replaced?
According to The National Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Strength training, however, can help your body maintain – and build – stronger bones as you age, preventing or blunting the effects of osteoporosis.
In fact, a review of dozens of studies found that heavy resistance training is better than the traditional pharmaceutical or nutritional approaches for improving bone density, strength, balance, and muscle mass.
So get to lifting now before you get so old and frail and have the strength of wet dollar store toilet paper.
2. Sleep: Your Body Needs that Shit
Americans sleep less, drink more coffee, and push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion. Sure, you can do that in the short term. But over time, that will derail and screw up your health worse than a Kanye West Twitter rant.
Here’s a shocking, kick-in-the-dick stat for you: the CDC estimates that 35% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Why is that bad?
Because depriving yourself of sleep:
- raises your risk of hypertension and weight gain;
- weakens your immune system; and,
- can turn you into a raving lunatic who has no friends because none of them want to be around your irritable ass.
Sleep is where your body recovers and rebuilds the lean tissue that you’ve been trying so hard to build in the gym. Sleep keeps you mentally strong and alert and helps in maintaining good hormone health.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults over the age of 26 should get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. And though exercise is one of the suggested activities that experts recommend to improve your sleep, there are other things you can do to get more shut-eye.
I created this nifty acronym, because I’m cool like that, that you can use to help get more and better sleep. Follow the acronym SLEEP:
Sleep in a cold room
Leave yourself 30 minutes to of no screen time before bed
End any caffeine consumption before 3 PM
Establish a relaxation ritual to wind down your mind before bed
Pursue the Robbie Farlow rule: the bedroom is for sex and sleep. Keep all electronics — phone, computer, tablets — out of your bedroom. It is a sacred space that should never be breached by attention-demanding electronics.
Do you want better mental, physical, and emotional health? Hell yea you do. Then you need to do what that kids book that’s read by Sam Jackson says, and go the fuck to sleep.
3. Do More Fun Shit
As a kid, thanks to the movie Twister, there was a brief stint in my young life where I aspired to chase tornadoes. But then that morphed into a desire to play college basketball at North Carolina, and then the NBA.
There was one problem with that dream: I was a lazy “husky” kid who fell in love with video games and Star Wars.
Needless to say, my days in the NBA never happened, but I never fell out of love playing basketball. And if there were one way I could stay active outside of lifting heavy, it would be playing basketball.
Are you staying active with activities you love? Do you:
- Take hikes
- Dance in your underwear (or naked)
- Play ultimate frisbee or disc golf (or actual golf, golf)
The science is clear on that lifting weights can help you live longer. But exercise doesn’t have to be a punishment that you’re required to perform in order to pay for your malfeasance(s). You don’t need science to tell you that if you hate something, you’re more likely to stop doing said activity (read: calculus).
One of the best ways to stay active as you age is to do stuff you love. Do physical things that make you happy. All exercise should improve your quality of life—period. And if it’s not making your life better, why the hell are you doing it?
4. Show Up or Shut Up
“Walking into the gym is half the battle. Once you’re there, you just do the work.”
That’s what a 63-year-old man said to me at a gym I once worked at while he pounded out some one arm rows. But showing up doesn’t mean you need to go into a blind rage and attempt to lift heavy every time you’re in the gym.
Life — no matter how much you love your job, family, or friends — will throw stress at you when you least expect it. And those stressors all affect you in numerous ways. Sometimes it affects you and you don’t even know it. So listen to your body.
Showing up is what’s important. But how you show up, and what that means to do that day, that’s the most important thing to think about as you age.
Find different ways to challenge yourself with intensity — it doesn’t have to always be about pushing heavier loads. Try slowing your movement down and focusing more on your mind-muscle connection and feeling the squeeze of each rep or decrease your rest time by 30 seconds, that will challenge in a completely different way.
5. Listen to Ancient Wisdom
To Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who’s considered the father of modern medicine, it was the most important medicine known to man:
“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.”
Hippocrates was the first human being (that we know of) who believed lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise were the best options for treating most diseases. And as you get older, nutrition becomes even more paramount.
Remember how you feel the next day after eating an entire pizza – lethargic, bloated and, if you do make it to the gym to work up a sweat, your entire body reeks of pizza grease. And no, the sweat doesn’t taste like grease. It tastes like the sad memories of every poor life choice you’ve ever made. Which tastes kind of like what it feels like to wake up and realize you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas.
Here are some good tips to follow no matter your age:
Feast on More Fiber: Your body requires more fiber as you age. Don’t run and grab Metamucil or Fiber One just yet. Add in a few servings of berries, replace that quick morning breakfast sandwich with oats, and make sure you’re eating at least 3-5 servings of green leafy veggies a day.
Keep Protein High: Protein is important for recovery, muscle building, and keeping hunger at bay. But protein remains important for all of those reasons as you age. Protein also helps prevent muscle loss. And after the age of 30, if you’re inactive, you can lose anywhere from 3-5% of your muscle mass each decade. After 50 it can even be 0.5-1% of muscle mass lost per year. Resistance training can keep this at bay, but adequate protein intake will help you continue to build and retain muscle as you age and exercise.
Monitor Alcohol Consumption: You mentally (or literally) just gave me the middle finger with this one, didn’t you? I love booze, and I know you do too. But, if you’ve ever had a hangover after 30, you know that they last for 2 days. Alcohol provides no real nutritional value whatsoever. Monitor that shit.
Taste the Rainbow (Eat a Wider Variety of Foods): You need to give your body more micronutrients as you age. So make sure you’re eating a wide array of veggies, fruits, and even different grains. This way you get all the vitamins and minerals you need without popping pills.
Gut Bacteria: The gut biome is the newest craze in the health industry these days. And there’s a ton of research being done on why it might be one of the most important parts of our overall health. Healthy gut bacteria makes digestion easier, especially as you age. It also helps your body absorb nutrients better, and that will keep you performing at higher levels. So add some greek yogurt to your shake, or make sauerkraut to go with dinner, or give Kombucha a try.
6. Do More Foreplay
Remember the days when you didn’t need foreplay? You were ready to get it on whenever and wherever you wanted. (Foreplay be damned!) Well, warm-ups are like foreplay: you need more as you age.
Warming up doesn’t mean stretching. In fact, stretching cold muscles can actually decrease the power of your muscles and prevent you from lifting more weight. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, helps raise your heart rate while targeting the muscles you’ll be using in a more specific manner to the exercises you’re doing that day.
If you’re bench pressing or deadlifting, warm up your chest with light dumbbells or crank out some practice reps with the bar and slowly add a few pounds to get your muscles ready for the main portion of your lifting.
7. Get to Know Your Family Medical History
My Mom’s father dropped dead from a bad heart valve that he’d carried since birth. My Dad’s father died of stomach cancer. As a kid, I was told I had been tested and cleared of the heart valve issue. (phew)
But my Dad’s mom opted to forego finding out what kind of cancer my other grandfather had died from. Selfishly, I’ve been a bit miffed at my grandma since. What if it could be genetic? What if I could get said stomach cancer and die from it? Some stomach cancers can grow undetected for years. I need to know if this is something that I need to keep on my radar.
When it comes to your family health history, there are probably things you need to put on your radar as well.
All the stuff you do in the gym and at home in the kitchen goes a long way in helping you live longer. But we can’t escape our genetics. And shit still happens. Getting a yearly physical is great. But if you had a grandma die of breast cancer and you’re a woman, make sure you’re scheduling mammograms and giving yourself a self-examination once a month.
Same applies to any other cancer: colon, lung (especially if you smoked at any point), liver, etc.
Men, that goes for you too. Even if you don’t have a history of testicular cancer, check your balls once a month anyway. And then after 40, keep an eye on your prostate health and colon. And take care of your heart – heart disease is the number one killer of men in the US.
There is one part of health that our society seems to skip over: mental health.
We know that cancer, heart disease, strokes, and a ton of other diseases kill millions of people every year. But we cannot skip over mental health. This is just as important as any other aspect of health. So please, explore that side of your family history as well: depression, anxiety, dementia, bipolar disorder, etc.
Make sure that if that is a part of your family history that you are on the lookout for symptoms or seeking professional medical help if you suffer from any of these issues.
With my family history, I’m going to keep an eye on stomach cancer and any heart issues (then again, stress was likely the culprit of at least one of my grandfathers’ deaths, so I gotta get a hang of that one.) But my mom also suffers from depression, and as much as I take pride in being an “emo kid,” I have to keep an eye on that as well.
Point is, even if your grandpa smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until he died at 85, there could still be genetic issues you need to have examined.
Thankfully, science has come a long way in the last few decades. And now there are startups like 23andMe who will send you a test kit that analyzes your DNA and can tell you all kinds of aspects about your health and family history.
Make Those Golden Years More Golden
When it comes to maintaining and staying on top of your health, the only person that can hold you back is yourself. Age should never keep you down. So stay active, stay strong, make diet a priority, and keep an eye on these other important aspects of your health.
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