One of the things I have noticed at the athletic club is that there are a number of guys, like myself, who are working hard at “staying young”. Nonetheless, it’s pretty evident that age is winning out; we are not staying young. But we still work at it. After our routines, be it on the tennis court, in the pool, or at the weightlifting machines, we converge and talk (which sounds strangely like the locker room chatter I remember in high school). Guys still try to talk big, tell jokes, and in general ways attempt to prove their manhood. But unlike high school, some of the talk focuses on how to slow this rapidly aging process. Back then, we wanted things to speed up. Not now. So when one of the guys, Glenn, recently suggested a must read, Younger Next Year, I added it to my summer list.
Those reading this, and are actually young, may begin to check out. But actually, I wish I had read this when I was in my 20’s. The book is written by a practicing physician and a retired lawyer, and it has gotten some pretty significant reviews. The Washington Post referred to it as “brain-rattling”. Their main point is that while we cannot slow the aging clock, we can decelerate the rate of decay. And given that death and decay work in us, no matter our age, it is good to know we can change the signals we send to our body. We can be functionally younger if we want to be. And that is significant, considering that most of us will have another third of life to go after retirement. The good news from the authors, Crowley and Lodge, is that aging doesn’t have to be “a dreary panoply of obesity, sore joints, and apathy.”
Here’s the bad news: 70 per cent of premature death and aging is lifestyle related. The good news: most of us can change our lifestyle; we can eliminate more than half of all disease if we have the will and discipline to do it. In their research, they have come to conclude that the key is exercise. Being sedentary is the most important signal for decay, while exercise is the signal for growth. Here’s how they put it: “Decay is the dry rot caused by our modern, sedentary lifestyle.” Exercise sends a different signal—it , along with the right diet, have the potential of sending waves of “grow” messages.
Up to this point, we might find this pretty basic. And this is why I put the book down for a while. But then I picked it up in India and read more, and I found that what they had to say was quite informational. They underscored that the exercise required to stem the rate of decay has to be pretty hard core. It must be at least six days a week. No give. No excuses—especially after fifty. It has to be serious, aerobic exercise, the kind that elevates the heart rate and keeps it elevated (so long simple walks!). Along with this is strength training, lifting weights at least twice a week. This is critical to countering the loss of bone and muscle mass, which comes as one ages. Aerobic exercise saves your life; strength training makes it worth living.
The second learning is what the stress of exercise does to the cellular makeup of the body. Exercise is the “master signaler” that sets hundreds of chemicals in motion, leading to better sleep, weight loss, resistance to heart attack, stroke, diabetes, etc. It’s when we seriously exercise that cells break down and must be replaced. Think of it as like a renovating crew coming in after the wrecking crew has just torn down the house. Exercise turns on inflammation which automatically turns on repair. Decay, programmed erosion, is replaced with growth. Blood is circulated, and circulation is the key to good health, for movement is life. Circulation controls the capacity to get fuel and oxygen to the muscles, where they are burned to create power, which then take away the debris from the burning process. There’s a lot more to this process, and the book goes into much greater detail. You will especially enjoy it if you are a biologist.
There is some good stuff on food and nutrition that can be reduced to a couple of points: First, diets don’t work. 95% fail. This is quite obvious to me. The only way to really lose weight, and keep it off, is steady exercise and eating less. Say no to supersize portions (wow, this totally takes the fun out of study tours to Turkey and the buffets at the end of the day!). Second, quit eating “crap”. Watch the kind of carbs and the level of carbs and sugars, for they spike intense cycles of renewed hunger (no wonder I can seem to eat pasta without stopping). And never add salt again. The authors have little regard for fast food, referring to their outlets as “gardens of evil”, factory farms where people go to like hogs to the slaughter (other than that, Taco Bell and Burger King are great places to satisfy one’s hunger).
When Paul exhorted his readers in Rome to present their bodies a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), he probably did not have all of this in mind. But he was making a statement that what we do with our bodies matters. We are stewards of these vessels, and how we treat them reflects upon our respect for their Maker. I’m not sure I am interested in living a long time on this earth (heaven sounds more appealing every day). But that is up to God. What I am interested in is living well, stemming the rate of decay, and it is clear a lot of that is up to us.