Feeling tired? Stiff? Lethargic? Sore for no reason? Painful muscles or joints? Gaining weight? Unmotivated? Don't have what you used to?
Most people associate these symptoms with “getting old”. But what does that mean? When I was 20, I thought 40 year-olds were ‘old’. Now that I’m in my 40’s, I sure don’t feel “old”. (maybe more mature, which is a mental thing, but certainly not physically old!)
Unfortunately in the clinic however, I meet a lot of 'old' people. And I’m not talking about white-haired little old ladies using walkers. I see a lot of 30- and 40- somethings who come in to my office associating their symptoms with “getting old”.
And it drives me nuts.
As you can guess, these people really aren’t old. They do however, have a condition that makes them feel old. No, it’s not the next tabloid health scare – It’s Sedentary Death Syndrome, or SDS. Of course, SDS isn’t a true health condition, but a tongue-in-cheek way of describing what happens to our health when we lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Without regular, vigorous exercise, we age and begin to develop chronic health conditions that can drastically shorten our lives. In other words, we age and get ill when we don’t use our bodies.
Some people are still stuck on the idea that exercise ‘wears’ the joints out. Others think that we’re only allotted a certain number of heartbeats before the heart gets tired and quits, and still others say that exercise creates free radicals that age the body.
Fortunately none of this true, and even more importantly scientific research shows the opposite. Exercise doesn’t wear the joints out, nor make the heart tired, or accelerate aging.
Exercise is the true fountain of youth, and combined with a youthful mental attitude, aging can be made relatively irrelevant for many people, regardless of age.
Craig Alexander was the World Ironman Triathlon at age 39.
Sister Madonna Buder became the oldest woman to complete an Ironman triathlon at the age of 79 years. Oh and she's completed 45 Ironman-distance triathlons. Forty. Five. !!
Dara Torres won 3 sliver medals at the 2008 Olympics at the age of 41.
And there are thousands of other athletes like this who aren’t famous, but continue to express their health and fitness in incredible ways.
No, you don’t have to be an Ironman or anything even like that to head off SDS. You just have to move, and keep moving. Health is a journey and a process; it isn’t something that you can obtain, and then relax. Maintaining health requires constant effort. You have to exercise and eat well, every day.
I realize I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but this is an important point that I make over and over to my patients. It takes work to get healthy, and often times it’s painful. When you’re deconditioned, exercise will make you sore, tired, grumpy and hungry. Eating salad isn’t nearly as fun as eating a burger, fries and chocolate shake.
But the physical and equally important mental well being that one can obtain from a regular fitness and healthy eating regimen is so worth it, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Yes, you will age. No one gets out of here alive. But, you don’t have to be old in middle age and beyond. Keep at it; it’s definitely worth it.
With that said, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on aging:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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Often times I am asked, “just how long can I rest while I recover from my injury/illness, before I start to lose my fitness level”? All of us are hesitant to give up the gains we have made from all of that training. Although this is not a straight forward question, there is plenty of enlightening research on this subject.
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