I really believe that society’s apparent acceptance of the inevitability of slowing down and getting sick with age is cultural rather than biological.  It is propaganda pushed by the healthcare, pharmaceutical and “elderly” industries, and supported by the convenience of being sedentary.  “Slowing down” is voluntary.

Yes, some things seem to change only as a result of age, like hair color, or maybe having hair at all; but that’s not health threatening.  Other things that seem to come with age, but are not necessarily a result of aging, perhaps just require a long period of time to develop, like various skin lesions and cancers that result from long-term sun exposure.  Avoidance of overexposure to sunlight is thus preventive.

Being sedentary takes a long time to have its ill effects, and those effects come gradually.  Slowing down comes imperceptibly, day by day.  After my father died more than 20 years ago, my mother, who had macular degeneration, stopped taking the long, daily walks they had previously been taking together.  When I would make my weekly visit, I would walk with her.  But that wasn’t often enough.  After a few months, I noticed that our standard route had become too difficult for her despite my urging, and we had to shorten the route a bit.  And then shorten it some more, although she did fine during the many years she walked daily with my father.

When you actually look forward to using your manual can opener, knowing that it will help keep you healthy and physically capable, you’ve gotten your brain attuned to the benefits and necessity of exercise, and it’s become fun.

Clearly, “exercise” to some is an unpopular notion, maybe because it evokes visions of sweating in a gym.  If that’s not your “thing” that’s OK!  Really, any kind of fairly strenuous activity is essential.  You should look for physical activity as desirable, not an inconvenience to be avoided.  Convenience can become an addiction, like Diet-Coke has become to an old friend of mine.  Don’t use an electric can opener unless you’re a cook in a restaurant and time is money.  If you only have a couple of grocery bags, take them out of the shopping cart and carry them to your car instead of pushing the cart to the car.  You won’t see many people doing that, and that’s a big problem.  Convenience (to the great detriment of one’s health) has become the norm.  Doing the inconvenient thing makes a person appear odd.

I recently spent three days at a hotel for a college reunion and only used the elevator twice, to take my luggage up to my 4th floor room, and then when checking out.  No, I didn’t hunker down in my room the whole stay.  I made frequent trips up to my room using the little-used staircase.  I thought it was absurd to see people coming out of the elevator on their way to the fitness center!

When I tie my shoes, I stand on one leg and hop around if I need to, for balance.  But usually I’m pretty stable that way.  I’m very happy to be able to maintain that ability because it helps ensure I won’t fall or otherwise injure myself due to weak muscles in my foot and leg.  When I go to the store, invariably, I’m the only one running to the store from the car.  I can understand not wanting to get sweaty; but, running 50 or 100 feet won’t get anyone sweaty, unless they’re unfit.

If you read the AARP Bulletin, you may think you must buy a stair lift for your house, or a walk-in bathtub as you get older.  But, that’s only if you’ve become physically unfit or have a special need.  There’s nothing inevitable that happens as you get older if you maintain at least a moderate level of fitness, and that doesn’t require spending hours at the gym.  The trite “use it or lose it” mantra applies to every part of the body.

Harvey H. Liss

Harvey H. Liss

Harvey H. Liss, a former Irvine Planning Commissioner, holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mechanics and is a California Licensed Civil Engineer. Dr. Liss is a longtime resident of Woodbridge, the iconic Irvine village he helped design in the 1970s. He now reports for ICNV on environmental issues.
Harvey H. Liss