Training hard to resist aging and weakening
Some of you regular readers may have noticed a lot of recent posts related to working out, perhaps with more focus on strenuous workouts and less on the gentle workouts. This is not always the case, here on MND I talk about the need for regular gentle exercise - walking, outdoor play, an easy bike ride, a nice swim - but I also talk about the need for more strenuous exercise.
I am 43 years old. I keep myself super-fit. As a benchmark, at any time, with no warning or preparation time, I could bang out 500 push-ups in an hour and then jump up and run 20 miles. That’s a level of fitness which I maintain pretty much year round.
However, I notice that a LOT, I mean the vast majority, of people I meet in my age group, do not maintain anything like that level of fitness (in fact, most people I meet in their 20s and 30s too) and most people consider me to be rather ‘extreme’, an exercise addict and some kind of ‘fitness freak’. But if you re-read this old post from a year ago, and think about our ancestors before 15,000 years ago, they HAD to be this fit all the time, throughout their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
Mortality rates in our ancient ancestors
While there has been much discussion about ‘caveman’ not living to a ripe old age, the data is not straightforward and should be carefully analysed. Back in caveman’s day, infant mortality rates were extremely high, half of all humans born did not live beyond their 5th birthday, and many more failed to reach their teens. Small children live on the floor, and the bulk of humans tended to live in warm climates, and there was no hospital to treat bites from snakes, spiders and scorpions. There was no treatment for water-borne disease, malaria or many other fatal conditions. These high infant mortality rates dramatically skew any data about average life expectancy among our ancient ancestors.
Adult mortality was affected by injuries and predator attacks. But, if people could reach adulthood and then not break a leg or get eaten by a bear, the maybe 20% of 30% of humans that reached 40 or 50, could go on to 80 or 90 disease free, mobile, active and healthy for as long as they could avoid dangerous predators. In short, mortality was all about surviving the harsh environment, whereas today, the major causes of human death are degenerative diseases.
Think about the level of physical activity these people in their 40s, 50s and 60s still had to exert. Tracking large animals, the hunt, the kill, the fight, the slaughter, the carry, the butchering. Camp building, fire wood collection, fire building, trap setting, log moving…our early ancestors had to maintain a high degree of physical conditioning for as long as they possibly could. Reaching an age where physical tasks became impossible, meant your life was coming to an end.
As an aside, this reminds me of a story my mother told me. When she was trekking in Nepal she noticed that every time the trekking party took a break, the local Sherpa guides and Nepalese helpers, who carried heavy loads up and down mountains all day, all pulled tooth brushes out of their pockets and started brushing their teeth. This is because they have no dental care provided by the state, and they know that once their teeth rot and fall out, there is no replacement. No teeth means not being able to chew meat, a staple in their diet, which gave them the protein they needed for the strenuous way they earn a living. Once you can’t earn a living any more, with no state support, you quickly become weak and die. In short, these people understand that keeping their teeth clean and strong is a direct way to earn more, keep working and live longer. Just like elephants, once their teeth are gone, life hasn’t got long left.
These hard working folks don’t have toothpaste (modern Western chemical waste of money in my opinion) but they are brushing their teeth ten times daily just using a little water. At the end of my mother’s trekking holiday, they were delighted with a box full of toothbrushes as part of their tip. In the same way these Nepalese mountain guides and Sherpa’s know that the health of their teeth determines the length of their live, so ‘caveman’ would have known that the strength and agility of his body was a crucial factor in his survival and longevity.
The tribe (and one’s own children) would surely help support their old, who no doubt could teach excellent tracking skills, how to build animal traps, how to read the landscape and much more, they were almost certainly fonts of hard-earned knowledge, but none-the-less, once a body could no longer hunt and gather, it became a burden on the rest of the tribe/family, a mouth to feed that someone else had to hunt for.
Giving up sport
In our modern society, I see many people who are fit and healthy as youngsters, playing sport in school and college, and they often maintain that sport through their 20s and often into their 30s, perhaps at a slightly lower standard as they age. But so many people give it all up when they reach “the reproductive years” - I see people get into their 30s, they start having kids and working harder at their jobs, and the sport goes by the wayside.
By 40, for many people, their bodies have become weak and soft, their fitness had gone to hell and they have a saggy belly and low energy. They talk every day about being tired “because of the kids” or “because they are working so hard” when in truth, while having kids is very tiring, I know, they are using it as one of several ‘excuses’ to let their fitness fall away. I do know from personal experience how hard it is to stay fit and healthy, AND build a career, AND all while losing sleep because of the crying baby in the night - we had 3 kids in 4 years, all while I was building my business, AND all while transforming my own health and fitness ALL at the same time - so trust me I KNOW how hard it is, but I also know that it CAN be done. Having young children does not need to mean you can’t find 4 or 5 hours per week to get out and exercise.
So I do train harder, way harder than most ‘normal’ folks, and I keep myself fitter than most people, but that’s just because I don’t subscribe to this theory that “it’s OK to be fit when you are 21, but after 40 you can let it all go”!! Not at all!
Research studies have shown that parts of the aging process are a story of ’cause and effect’ as much as biological timing. In men, testosterone levels decline after about 40, making it harder to build and sustain muscle mass. However, recent research is now showing that actually testosterone levels decline after about 40 because most men tend to do less physical activity and allow their muscle mass to decrease, which triggers a change in hormone production. It’s not ‘less testosterone = less muscle’, it seems to be ‘less muscle = less testosterone’. So in fact, it looks as though it might be the chicken, not the egg.
Building muscle mass after 40 is entirely possible, I personally have gained about 12 pounds of muscle mass over the last 18 months without even lifting heavy weights, just by backing off my endurance running and doing more bodyweight exercises and high-intensity circuits.
Living and training the MND way
I believe that if I live the MND way, eat a clean diet, sleep well, stay hydrated, avoid junk in my diet and eat clean, real food, and reduce the load of unnatural chemicals going into my body, that I can train very hard and stay very fit for many years yet to come. I currently aim to be in the best shape of my life at 50, and who knows how I will feel then. I have learned a huge amount over the last few years about getting the balance right between massaging my ego (running fast marathon times, etc.,) and treating my body in ways that are long-term sustainable. I train hard, but not in ways that might do me harm if I keep at it for years on end. That’s why I tend to use bodyweight exercises for much of my training, because that way I am moving a “natural load” rather than hefting some 100 kilo barbell around and trashing my shoulder joints.
I try to train a variety of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and I try to vary the intensity between hard weeks and easy weeks, and above all else, I try to train outside in fresh air and sunshine and rain, not in an air conditioned gym with artificial lights and TV screens blaring.
- I don’t have the bulk of a body builder, but I don’t want that, it’s not what I want to look like, it’s possibly an unhealthy pursuit (see The MND Guide to Body Composition for details, page 25 onwards) and the extra muscle weight would be detrimental to rock climbing, my favourite sport
- I am not 6-pack ripped, but I believe the few pounds of fat I have, help keep me healthy, which is why I never ‘catch colds’ or lose a day to feeling ill or weak. Never. I hate down time!
- I am holding off doing an Ironman, despite many friends trying to talk me into it, because I see so many triathletes at that level of the sport sustaining repetitive over-use injuries. For my ego, I would love to complete an Ironman and add it to my tick list, but in truth, I don’t think our bodies were designed to do that. I’ve completed 11 and 12 hour non-stop running and cycling events, and I have felt the drain on my body, and I am not convinced that these kind of endurance events are long-term healthy for most of us normal people
We live in a society where we have gadgets to do everything for us – wash our clothes, shower our bodies, mow the lawn, wash the dishes, etc. We have electric hedge trimmers, vacuum cleaners, treadmills (yes come on people, we ALL know that in truth, running on a treadmill is easier than running outside), dishwashers, floor polishers, car pressure washers and a zillion other lifestyle gadgets making our lives simpler and less physical. But for many people, these gadgets allow our bodies to become weak and unfit, soft and flabby and unused.
I don’t put anyone down for where they are at on their own personal journey, this post is really just about my own personal philosophy and my own logical thinking about why I train hard, but not so hard I might bust myself up! 20,000 years ago, the level of fitness I have now would have enabled me to live a strong healthy life…engaging in one or two big game hunts every week, foraging and gathering, building shelters and fires and defences every day, shaping traps, fishing rods and weapons, cutting animal bone, skin, logs, and all the other work involved in feeding my tribe and staying alive. I intend to maintain or even improve on this level of fitness for the foreseeable future.
If you have not already, I highly recommend you read The MND Guide to Body Composition for more on optimal body fat levels, optimal muscle mass and long term supreme good health.