Training for longevity
It’s hard to find a greater human achievement than the rise of life expectancy in the 20th century. Excluding child mortality, the typical life expectancy during the 12th–19th centuries was around 55 years. Today, in a developed country, it’s more common than not to live into one’s eight decade.
But although the quantity of life has risen, we can’t always say the same about the quality of those later years.
We rely on the medical system to keep us “alive” in our old age
We often ignore the preventive measures available to us. We don’t act until we get sick and frail. By then it’s like trying to fix a broken pipe with plumber’s tape. Too little, too late.
Part of this is in our genes. We’re notoriously bad at predicting the future and preparing for it. Especially when the issues our ageing bodies will face are so far into our future.
Yet, we can’t keep our heads in the sand forever. If we want to increase the quality of our years, we have to act. Today.
Increasing the odds of having quality later years
We need to look at our training and lifestyle through the longevity lens. And not only for the sake of our physical resiliency. Keeping active now and later will also improve our brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Nothing is certain. But by including a few exercises into our training, we can control a big part of how well we age.
The movements necessary for a vigorous old age
And the exercises that support them.
Movement: Bend down to tie shoelaces
Exercise to support it: Touch your toes and complete four full cycles of breathing in the bottom position
A movement we should all practice daily. If you can’t touch your toes yet, start practicing. And then do all you can to maintain the toe touch for the rest of your life.
Being able to breathe in the bottom position means that you truly own the toe touch.
Movement: Tall, decompressed spine
Exercise: Dead hang
The unappealing look of a hunchback is one thing. But having limited movement in the spine will also negatively affect your ability to breathe correctly.
Stiff spine will also reduce the shoulder, neck and hip range of motion. All of which will then cause compensation in the joints next to them and further along the chain.
Movement: Prevent falling and avoid having to use a stroller
Exercise: Single leg deadlifts and squats + walking while focusing on proper step length instead of shuffling
The risk of falling goes up significantly as you age. And each fall in old age risks fractured bones. Which often leads to limited mobility and independence.
Movement: Getting off the ground
Exercise: The get up to half kneel
If you fall, the next best thing is to know how to get up off the ground. It might surprise you to hear how many people, old or not, struggle to get on and off the ground.
Most of us have heard the horror stories of an elderly person who lived on their own, fell and couldn’t get up. Only to be found a week later, still lying on the floor.
Movement: Pick a crying grandchild off the ground and into your arms
Very few activities tick as many boxes for longevity as picking heavy things off the floor. Bonus points if you can then push the same weight overhead for the next exercise.
Movement: Lifting objects to overhead compartment or cupboard
Exercise: Overhead press
Whether you’re flying to Cabo or taking the train to Melbourne, do it without having to ask for help with lifting the luggage. Or it could be something as mundane as putting a heavy food mixer into the top kitchen cupboard.
Movement: Carrying shopping bags or luggage
Exercise: Farmer carry
Doing your weekly shop and lifting the groceries into the boot of your car. And then up a flight of stairs at home for a true Clint Eastwood moment.
Farmer carry is also a great way to improve grip strength, which reflects the health of your nervous system. Some experts are now going as far as claiming that we should look at the grip strength test with the same importance as a blood pressure test.
Movement: Getting in and out of the car
Exercise: Deep squat
Being able to maintain a deep squat late into life increases your independence. Not only when driving (or being driven) but also when getting off a chair, a soft couch, or a toilet.
Movement: Getting in and out of the pool or bath
You can swim and take baths with confidence, knowing you can lift yourself out when you’re finished. But it’s also rewarding to lift your body out of the pool or bath without having to rely on outside help.
None of us enjoy feeling older. But we can reduce the rate of our physical decline by looking at our training through the lens of longevity.
We have the tools to age gracefully and full of vigour. But we need to act now to increase the independence of our later years. Both in terms of our physical and mental resilience.
All it takes is a bit of time and focus.
And if you haven’t started yet, the best time to start is now. Regardless of your age.