Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash
Ponce de Leon missed the Fountain by miles. But we don't have to.
I am a Florida native, although these days I get my rain and green in the Pacific Northwest. One joke we loved to tell as I was growing up was that nobody was born in Florida. Most folks went there to die. As unkind as that may sound, there's some truth to that. It's an aged state. As most of us who grew up in the Sunshine State can attest, hordes of old folks head there to visit or buy a condo. Sometimes I wonder if it's less about avoiding the arthritic pain of cold mornings than to somehow, bathe in the magical waters of the Fountain of Youth, which, sadly, despite Ponce de Leon's very best efforts, hasn't been found.
Promised, but not discovered.
What we do know, however, is that what can indeed keep us youthful, albeit not necessary ageless in one regard-we still look old(er) if you will- is inside us. That potential is largely available to most, if you and I can summon the wherewithal to stop seeking external perfection on the outside, and focus instead on excellent health on the inside.
In 2018, Ball State's Scott Trappe published a smallish but very significant study which compared the VO2 and muscles of folks in their mid-seventies, forties and twenties. What he found underscores just how much what you and I do consistently can add up to a remarkable level of youthful health. While you and I are of course going to age, and our bodies will most certainly show it externally, inside us can be very different.
This is the NPR article which discusses the results.
Here's what leapt out for me.
From the article:
... people in their 70s who have been exercising regularly for decades seem to have put a brake on the aging process, maintaining the heart, lung and muscle fitness of healthy people at least 30 years younger.
In other words, if you and I establish consistent fitness habits-and please note that this does not say extreme endurance, which can damage our joints and heart if we're not careful- those habits can indeed have the effect of the otherwise elusive Fountain of Youth. Our bodies work far more efficiently, and that means we are much better able to stave off the onslaughts of old age.
Again, from the article:
Although the study was relatively small, the findings, which were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in August, suggest a dramatic benefit of lifelong exercise for both muscle health and the cardiovascular system.
"Lifelong exercisers had a cardiovascular system that looked 30 years younger," says Trappe. This is noteworthy because, for the average adult, the ability to process oxygen declines by about 10 percent per decade after age 30.
While it's clear that a lifelong and consistent commitment to regular exercise is ideal, you can also get benefits no matter how old you are. Truth, you aren't likely to regain a tiny waistline or the super slim hips of pre-adolescents. However you may well be able to improve your health when your cardiovascular system improves, you eat better fuel for your body type, age and activity level, and stop smoking. Reducing alcohol consumption can also pay off, especially since many drinks have signficant amounts of added sugars for taste.
Trappe says the findings are clear: 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day may be the key to a healthy life. But you don't have to run marathons or compete in cycling events. "If you want to do 30 to 45 minutes of walking a day, the amount of health benefit you are going to get is going to be significant and substantial," he says. "Will it equal the person training for competitive performances? No. But it will outdo the couch potato."
As a 68-year-old lifelong athlete, I enjoy some if not all of the benefits described above. None of that makes me less susceptible to injury. If anything, the fact I'm so active ensures I will injure. What won't happen is that I stay down longer, heal more slowly, for the immune system is bolstered by good exercise and food habits. What I do enjoy is youthful energy, if not a youthful face. My Special Forces veteran buddy Michael, who is 71, is even more active than I am, and throws himself with abandon into skiing, sailing, hiking and biking. His energy shows up in his voice, and his great love of life.
Age is inevitable. Decrepitude is optional. The best possible news is that what Ponce de Leon was searching for all those years in Florida was always inside himself, just as the potential for a more energetic life exists for you and me, if we are willing to put in the work.
To review the study findings, see this from Ball State.
Karsten Winegar, at Unsplash
Finally, you probably don't need to move to Florida to enjoy feeling a bit more youthful. It might well be as easy as taking a brisk walk more often, and putting that morning danish aside. You might be surprised at how you feel.