It’s a word that usually makes us think of age groups and it’s easy for the more mature to point their finger at one of the younger generations and make a sarcastic remark. I believe one of the first things we ‘forget’ as we get older is that we also did some pretty wild, crazy, and yes, meaningless things when we were that age.
However that is not the sort of ‘generation’ I want to address today. I want to point my finger at those of you that have fallen into the trap of de-generation. It’s a sneaky little trap, easy to fall into, and the black hole of good health.
I’d like for you to think for a moment of the older people you’ve known that have died. They generally can be grouped in two ways – the group that had been ill for years and finally passed away, and the surprise group; the ones that were still kicking it at 86 or 96 and suddenly died without warning. My goal in life, and I hope to convince you that it should be yours, is to be in group two.
A prime motivator for me is the lack of respect I have for the health care industry. The further away from them that I can stay, the better I like it, and the best way to stay away from them is to eat good food and get plenty of exercise. I’ve written a lot about food and made a lot of suggestions about the variety of fun ways to get exercise, but I’ve never given a simple explanation of how that exercise keeps you healthy. I’ll start at the bottom (or inside) and work my way out and up.
Let’s begin with the skeleton, especially the long bones. The strength of the bones in your body can be kept at a much higher level with a combination of resistance training and impact activity, such as running that will give the bone a jolt. Those are two subjects that are worth several discussions each. In a nutshell, the bones in your body will bend before they break. A lot of the things that active people do cause those long bones to bend ever so slightly and it signals the bones to increase in density. In addition, impact activity causes a minute amount of electrical current in the long bones that helps that bone build more mass.
The amount of material written about building muscles would dwarf the Library of Congress. But unless you have a desire to learn more, most let the subject go with exercises and a few tips on nutrition. That’s a shame because so few understand how important strong muscles are in our overall health.
I’m not talking about body building or competitive strength training. What I’m advocating is resistance training of all the major muscle groups to keep them continuously challenged and the reason this is so important is deep down inside each cell of each muscle.
Most people I talk to remember a cell has a nucleus and they know it primarily as the location of genetic material. Thanks to the fight to get genetically modified foods labeled or prohibited, we have a constant reminder of genes and genetics. But there are a lot of other things floating around in that cell and they’re all called, “organelles,” microscopic structures within the cell that perform specific functions. The one we care about in relation to overall good health are the mitochondria.
Think of the mitochondrial as an energy source, the ‘generator’ that powers the cell. The more that is asked of that muscle cell, the more (and better quality) mitochondria the cell will produce. With bigger stronger ‘generators’ and more of them, the quicker and easier it is for them to convert fuel (think blood sugar) into energy. Sounds simple so far, most body builders and athletes understand that part, but let’s look at it from another angle.
What if your body is getting too much ‘fuel’ at times? What about those times when you dip your hand in the cookie jar, or eat three BIG meals instead of eating more moderate amounts more often, or like me, give into an addiction for Blue Bell ice cream? If you have lots of fuel craving mitochondria they can help to handle that momentary lapse of dietary discretion. However, if you have been sedentary, and your ‘generators’ have degenerated, it will become fat.
When doctors advise you to keep your blood sugar level slowly rising and falling within certain parameters, they know that in that range your body is humming along like a finely tuned sports car. A good diet and eating habits make that possible. Getting outside of those parameters, especially if it happens frequently, will cause problems in every area of your body. Just ask someone with diabetes if you don’t believe me. There is a very good reason that so many have totally recovered from Type II Diabetes using nothing but a program of strenuous exercise and good nutrition. The healthy diet gives your body the fuel it needs in the amount it needs and when a spike should occur, the abundance of high quality mitochondria will convert it to stored energy instead of it becoming stored fat.
There’s one more place that can degenerate from lack of activity and that one is a bit more . . . shall we say, “cerebral.” Again let’s go back to those older people in your life that we mentioned earlier. Which of those that you’d classify as ‘sharp as a tack’ until the day they died were both physically and mentally active? In my case, it was every single one. Exercise affects your mental mood and attitude too, and mental exercises, like playing chess or doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles, will keep those brain cells strong and healthy.
With the holidays approaching, it’s a peak time for depression among all ages, and especially for the elderly. If you know anyone of any age that you suspect is suffering from depression, get them up, get them out, and get them moving. Going for a run is the greatest tonic I know of for getting out of a ‘blah’ mood. It’s also a fantastic stress buster and attitude adjuster, but not everyone can do that. Unfortunately the elderly are the most susceptible. However they can go for a walk, even if they have to use a walker. Many gyms have a heated pool. Get them into one of the pool exercise classes that are designed to combat the problems caused by inactivity of the elderly.
The thing to remember is “try to do more” and in this case both ‘try’ and ‘more’ are good. Motivational speakers and authors will tell you that ‘try’ is an excuse word and should never be used. And ‘more’ or the desire to have more than someone else isn’t supposed to be good either. However for our purpose here, we want to try to do a bit more than yesterday.
If all you can do is walk to the end of the driveway and back, tomorrow take two or three steps beyond the driveway. If you’re a newbie to running, run until you have to walk, and then walk until you can run, slowly trying to take a few extra steps running each time until you’re running more than walking. Turn off the TV and challenge yourself to do a puzzle of some sort each day. If you’re 65 or older, join Silver Sneakers and get with like minded folks putting more life in their lives.
Our motto at “Older & Active” is, “It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years.” If you want more life in your years, don’t let your generators degenerate.