Yes. It may be exercise. As I near (really close) 82 and am in good health, I get indicators that not only am I doing well (for my age, as everyone adds), but that the exercise has something to do with it. Several factors:
genetics: longevity in the family and general good health on mom’s side (dad’s unknown except for him and he lived to 90)
build: slight, short, with a tendency to a belly
overall health: always good except for severe allergies in youth (gone now) and frequent bouts of bronchitis in youth plus two bouts of asthma.
injuries: eye, nose. no problems
medical history: several surgeries including 2 hernias, double knee replacement at 75, high blood pressure
exercise history: no athletic activity; two years of unremarkable judo in youth; weight lifting starting in 1968 and continuing off and on along with lots of jogging and aerobics.
social history: working class White, Midwestern but growing up in the West. Middle-class due to education (master’s degree). Married for 59 years as of 2023. Interracial marriage. Two children, one adopted. No pathological/criminal behavior.
psychological and family history: raised by a single mother after divorce, maintained contact with father, put out to strangers’ homes until age 9 with no untoward incidents but with psychological sequelae, somewhat passive role in marriage. Interracial marriage in early 60s most outstanding feature of social/familial history.
employment history: first 20 years as a counselor, next 25 as a classroom teacher.
interests and hobbies: language, culture and ethnicity, history, music.
personality: extrovert, sociable, political, flirtatious, given to enthusiasms but cautious in all areas of life.
Given all that, what might account for the remarkably good physical and mental health that has got better in my later years?
What are “remarkably good” physical health and mental health? Infrequent occurrence of pathological features like cancer, enlarged prostate, skin eruptions, arthritis, cardiology problems, etc. When such things do occur, they either evince no sign of harm to the organism (me) or I recover from them or they just go away. Examples:
I get funny things on my skin: little skin flaps and weird “seborrheic keratosis” things. All but one have gone away. I got “Grover’s Disease”, a almost burning itching on the skin of the chest. I had it for years and finally got a diagnosis and steroidal cream. That worked but had to used sparingly. It got to the point where I never needed it. Poof! My heart doctor diagnosed about six things wrong with my heart and gave me lots of tests (see other blog items in this category) and finally said I do not have a heart condition, just high blood pressure which is under control with low-dose meds. Arthritis in the knees dealt with by total knee replacement at age 75 with such outstanding results the hospital specializing in such surgeries said I set a high bar for other patients. Zero problems and I do squats now. And I outgrew severe allergies.
What is going on? As mentioned above, I began exercising seriously in 1968 (in all truth, in response to the assassination of King) and have never stopped. Then in retirement I doubled down on the exercises to the point that low heart-rate readings drove me to Google where I found that such readings occur normally but only with heavy – not light or moderate – exercise. So apparently I work hard. Once I asked a trainer who was notorious for literally chasing people out of his gym for not working hard enough if I was working hard and he said yes. He also said my son was one of the hardest workers he had seen. One thing I have always noticed in gyms: the guys benching 350, 400 pounds are the most likely to encourage you to reach your goals and perfect your technique, even if your bench press goal is your body weight……. in my case, even less.
What is this hard work? Just think of any hard physical labor you’ve done. Often there is a goal: so many cords of wood to chop, so many miles of swimming or running, so far to row, so far to bike, something that has a goal you struggle to reach. Working out hard entails setting a goal, a reasonable goal, and gaining it. Once gained, you move the goal posts a bit. It really is that simple. If you manage one pull-up, you work that until it offers little challenge and then go to two.
Don’t worry about comparing yourself – us guys tend to do that – just keep upping the ante. Ten push-ups this month and go to twelve next month. Within a year you can amaze yourself by doing twenty-five push-ups, more than your teenage kid can do. My powerfully built nephew admitted, when I knocked out 30 push-ups the other day, that he might manage 20. I am close to twice his age.
What do you gain from the effort? Most people would say “good health.” True enough, and on a daily basis it is just how good you feel: bouncy, tight, your pants fit, no side handles to embarrass you, and, most of all, ease in your movements. You can lift the garbage can over your head, pull heavy bags of groceries out of the trunk without straining your back, and maybe even pull yourself up over a backyard fence to get your grandkids’ ball. And then there’s the chicks. Downer alert: the last item applies only to those under 40.
However, I’ve saved the best for last. Mood and self-confidence. While the self-confidence is part mood, there is also the daily occurrence of meeting the requirement of physical movement, flexibility, endurance, reaction time, alertness. Two examples: yesterday I was cleaning the shower and my feet were slippery with soap. I sat on the tub, then started to stand on one foot which slipped out from under me. I tightened both legs to regain my balance and did not fall on my face. Another example, also while cleaning the shower (the most dangerous place in the house?): As I stepped out backwards both feet flew out from under me, putting me a few feet off the shower floor and parallel to it. As I came down, judo training I received over 6 decades ago kicked in; what it was was the technique of slapping the floor hard with your hands just before you come down when being thrown. Without a thought, I slapped hard and just lay there checking for any broken stuff. I was OK, but last night I got to thinking about that incident of about 5 years ago and remembered with a shudder that my neck had come down on the blade of the shower threshold. That could have crushed or severed something in my spinal cord. The shock absorbent of slapping the floor a split second before arriving there may have saved me. How possible would that have been if I had not maintained overall body strength, core strength and reaction time?
Enough of all that. There are several things I would like to see: confirmation of input as the way to learn a language and of the salutary effects of exercise.
July 15, 2023 – next day
I thought of another self-healing item: the skin on the backs of my hands. It was so thin a couple of years ago I complained about it to my dermatologist who just said “old age.” The next visit I was able to tell him the problem had gone away. Now I can thrust my hand down between mattresses to tuck sheets in without pulling back a bleeding hand. He said that that was highly unusual since that seldom improves. Exercise? (I do something called roll-ups where I hold a short bar with a rope and weights attached and roll it up, very much a hand and forearm exercise).