HEALTH SPAN V. LIFE SPAN
It’s been my good fortune to know several people who have lived with rare vitality and gusto well into their 90s. What was their secret? Good genes? Mineral water? Luck?
In individual cases we may never know the exact answer. However, there are through-lines in those achieving this if we look closely. While it’s certain that our time on this earth is finite, we are more in control over our “health span” (long-term quality of life) than you may think. And prioritizing health span (quality) over life span (quantity) is central to aging well, in my opinion.
A whopping 70 percent of the causes of premature death can be prevented or reversed with a well-rounded fitness program and good nutrition. So if you are past the halfway mark in life (or just want to plan ahead), I encourage you to take stock of your current state, take ownership of your “health span” and fearlessly pursue an active, joyful aging process of your own. A willingness to challenge yourself, consistency, and a few hours of focused effort each week are all that is required.
As the old saying goes: “The best time to start an exercise program is 20 years ago. The second best time to start is today.” If you want to be in great condition when you’re 80, it’s super helpful to have already been in shape when you were 79. Maintaining fitness is much easier than gaining it. That said, fitness gains ARE possible even into the ninth decade of life. So while it’s never too late to start, like planning for retirement savings, the earlier the better.
A well-conceived, balanced fitness program doesn’t have to become a full time job. Always keep in mind that the reason to pursue fitness is to enhance your life. Training in a gym should make your daily tasks and leisure activities easier and more enjoyable. Look for a program that includes these components: fun, social, safe and sustainable.
FOUR RULES FOR GREAT HEALTH AFTER 60
1) Get off the couch. Sitting on the couch all day will literally kill you. If you don’t want to lose it, you need to use it. Choose to walk or bike when at all possible. Take the stairs. Get up from your chair and take a lap around the house or office hourly.
2) Eat Well. Commit to eating colorful vegetables, high quality proteins and healthy fats at every meal. Avoid sugary drinks and processed foods. Occasional “treats” that aren’t great for you are ok. Just make sure it’s something you truly enjoy.
3) Work harder AND smarter. A mix of weight training and interval training will help you maintain bone mass, muscle mass, a healthy metabolism and relieve stress. Functional training like CrossFit will also help you improve flexibility, coordination and balance. Getting the right amount is very important. More is often NOT better. A professional trainer can help you know the right load (weight) and volume (repetitions). Every workout should be tailored to your current level of fitness.
4) Recover. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of fitness and the one that is especially important past age 40 is recovery. Two to three sessions of focused hard work per week are plenty. More will wear most people down and have a net negative result. Make getting sleep a priority, do low intensity activities you enjoy, add mobility work like yoga or a stretch class into your routine and don’t hesitate to tell your coach/trainer if you feel at all run down.
Look for a program that has a long track record of positive results. If there aren’t any participants in your age range, it’s important you ask why. At CrossFit Discovery, we take a long-term approach to building exceptional fitness. We have found that seeking steady incremental improvements over time leads to a much better quality of life. We advise looking for the same principles regardless of whether you decide to train with us, at a commercial gym or on your own.
FOUR SIGNS OF A GOOD PROGRAM
1) Is moving well the priority? Mechanics should come first. Learning how to move properly, safely and efficiently are the foundations of your fitness. Going for “high intensity” too soon is high risk, low reward.
2) Is consistency valued? Consistent incremental improvements yield amazing results when compounded over time (yes, just like interest). Work hard, yes. But working so hard that you are wrecked and can’t function for a period of days? Totally counterproductive.
3) Is intensity relative? Your coach and/or program should be committed to lowest effective dose. To get the most positive response to training stimulus, working at a level appropriate for you and closely monitoring the amount of work is extremely important.
4) Is it a winning investment in your well-being? Given today’s health care costs, improving your fitness and overall health may be the most impactful way to lower your cost of living in later years. The value of living independently, feeling good and having improved energy levels is not to be denied. But fitness training isn’t cheap. Experienced coaches offer a professional service at corresponding rates. Group class programs can offer great value for the price. Commercial gyms can be inexpensive, but you’ll be on your own in figuring out what to do each day. Finding the right fit for yourself is the key.
At CrossFit Discovery we offer a free consultation for people who are interested in the programs we have to offer. If you are interested in these programs or consultations, please call us at (843) 813-6343 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to schedule an appointment.
Robert VanNewkirk is owner of CrossFit Discovery in Downtown Charleston and on Daniel Island.