Ever since we purchased our home in Rockland, I have been fascinated by the number of people who walk down our street. Rockland’s walkability makes it ideal for all ages to get outside and move. Our street, with quaint houses lining it and beautiful views of Penobscot Bay, is very popular with walkers and runners alike.
There is one person in particular who intrigues me. Her name is Elizabeth. I think she’s in her late 70’s. She is tall, thin, has beautiful snow white hair, and sparkling blue eyes. But what is most striking about Elizabeth is how she moves. She streaks down our street like a gazelle. Unlike most people her age, she moves briskly and confidently as though she can’t wait to get where she’s going. I have come to recognize Elizabeth’s stride over the years and if I’m outside and she stops to chat for a minute or two she sprints to where she perceives she would be in her route if she hadn’t stopped to talk.
Elizabeth knows the secret to health and happiness as we age – movement. The adage “If you rest, you rust” is as true as it is cliché. Yes, there are physical changes that happen to us as we age. But many of them can be slowed or arrested by exercise. The natural tendency is to not push as hard as we age. It is true that we may not have the strength or stamina we had in middle age but what we do with our bodies signals the brain to either get older or younger.
In the ground-breaking book, Younger Next Year, authors Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge outline the need for strenuous exercise as we age. The importance of pushing ourselves physically and emotionally is the antidote to the belief we can’t do as much in old age as we would like. All around us there are examples to show us that we don’t have to shrivel up and become sedentary as we age. There are 80-year-old bodybuilders who look and act 30 years younger. There are 85-, 92- and 104-year-old marathoners who defy physical limitations. In fact, the 85-year-old finished the marathon in less than four hours in December of last year.
Everyone should consult their physician before starting an exercise program. But you don’t have to run a marathon to make a difference in health and longevity. Walking for as little at 15 minutes a day at a pace that slightly “pushes” you can make a significant improvement in your health and well-being.
So much of what we can accomplish as we age is a function of mind over matter. Baby boomers are in a unique position to change the perception of what it means to age in this country. Belief systems and cultural norms about aging and what is possible as we age are changing as a result of the large number of boomers who refuse to be defined by the number of birthdays they have celebrated.
If you want to see remarkable examples of determination and defiance, tell baby boomers they are too old to do something and then get out of the way. Of course age has limitations, but more and more scientists are finding that what we believe is possible has far more bearing on the outcome than any other factor.