Chasing Longevity with Fitness
When I was a kid I used to watch this old man dance salsa with a life-like doll. I think he lived in the same neighborhood because I bumped into him a lot. He would go to parts of town where a lot of tourists would hang out. He would wait for a crowd and then he would simply start dancing with his doll. People gazed with astonishment.
I wondered if they gazed because of how mobile and agile he was at his age – this man was in his 80s. Were they baffled on how he made the doll move? Or were they simply taken away by his joie de vivre? I believe it’s a combination of all three.
Here’s a video of him that I found on Youtube (fast forward the video to about 1:10.)
I really don’t like the title of this video. I don’t think he’s a creepy man at all. He’s creative and he’s artsy (not sure if that’s a word). He’s mobile and graceful at the same time. He’s even young at heart. I haven’t seen him in a few years but I think of him from time to time. I have always been impressed by his vitality.
If you juxtapose the old dancing man with his doll to the old men in the picture below, you can see a distinctive difference (do you see the old man walker in the pic?). The old men in the picture may or may not be healthy and fit for their age. But I’m certain they don’t share the dexterity of our dancing man.
I’m jealous of dancers
Dancing is a celebration of movement. Dancers express themselves with movement like painters express themselves with their brush. People dance to feel something.
Have you ever seen a pissed off dancer? I haven’t. Dancing fills someone with emotion, energy and enjoyment. It connects people, even strangers. Almost anyone can dance, regardless of age or ability. It can be breakdancing, Argentinean tango, ballet, tap dance or a step or two at a family wedding.
But maybe you are a shy person, like me. You can still practice other whole body disciplines. I like Animal flow or Yoga. I like these disciplines because you can practice them by yourself.
There is also running. Humans have been running since the beginning of time. My friend Telsys Tarallo, co-founder of The Athlete Race, describes her runs like this:
When I have an amazing run, I feel like an Olympian. I just won the best medal, I won my gold. Because I run for myself, I run to feel free. I run to feel powerful. Fulfilling my goals and knowing I crushed them is the best feeling.
A Random Old Lady
I usually take my bike downtown to see my personal training clients, and in my daily paths to work I usually come across this old lady that lives in my neighborhood. We always wave to each other even though we don’t know each other. I even look forward to that path just so that I can wave hello.
She is usually working outside doing yard work. The yard work I’m talking about will get any younger person tired. I’ve seen her carry relatively heavy stuff. I’ve seen her crouching and climbing to upkeep the vines that grow on her wall. I’ve even see her mow the lawn and most of the time I see her smiling while doing her duties.
The old dancing man with his doll and the random lady from my neighborhood share something in common- they embrace their bodies. I can speculate that they have probably been this way for a long time. This approach to life has kept them young and supple.
40s is the new 30s
I have been following a lady on Youtube named Coach Tara for the last couple of years. Not only does she look fit, she is fit. She is very creative with her movements and workouts. They look hard and even complicated, but they look like a whole lot of fun, at least for me it does.
She uses kettlebells, sandbags, iron clubs, ropes and even parallettes. Some of her routines are simply bodyweight. Her bodyweight movements are crisp, graceful and functional. In the video below she is currently 49 years old.
Whole body movements like these are not only a great way to stay fit, but also a fantastic way to nourish your mind as well. I’ll mention more of these benefits in the following section.
Miracle-Gro for the brain
We know that by working out frequently we can help build and retain muscle tissue. Everyone knows this. What most people don’t know is that physical exercise can also keep our brain strong by creating stronger connections to process new information.
Dr. John Ratey is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, he points out how exercise increases alertness, motivation, focus and even mood. This is possible due to important neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
There’s also an important protein that helps protect the infrastructure of the brain, it’s called BDNF or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. Exercise stimulates and supports the production of BDNF and thus helps the creation and growth of new brain cells.
Dr. John Ratey illustrates the following…
When we exercise, particularly if the exercise requires complex motor movement, we're also exercising the areas of the brain involved in the full suite of cognitive functions. We're causing the brain to fire signals along the same network of cells, which solidifies their connections.
hmmm… what do complex motor movements look like?
Complex motor movements are movements that require coordinated actions of many muscles to produce organized movements of a limb(s) to a particular point in space. Sounds complicated doesn’t it? Well yes, in the beginning it is.
Practicing a sport, learning new dance steps, fine tuning a yoga sequence, trying a new move in Pilates, running, incorporating martial arts or learning advanced kettlebell techniques are all considered complexed motor movements.
The Wellness Mindshift
Exercise can help you lose those unwanted pounds, but it also does so much more.
Everything I’ve described to you so far has nothing to do with reps, sets or counting calories.
Some people are basically hamsters on a wheel trying to achieve their ideal body image. That’s ok, we all have ideas of how our bodies should look. We all want to look good. I’ll be lying to you if I told you that I don’t care if I gained fat and lost muscle tone. I care about the way I look, absolutely.
Taking a deeper dive into the benefits of movement and exercise could be useful. Instead of trying to befriend the mirror and scale, some people should just focus in getting healthy, strong, mobile and flexible. They should eat to fuel themselves as opposed to only eating to satisfy their cravings. And over time, as a by-product of this approach, they might accidentally be surprised with a different body.
So why am I talking about longevity if only forty two percent of people that visit my blog are between the ages of 35-54? Because I think we need to adopt a new mindset. I get it, some of us think we’re young and that we can get away with anything. Having vitality and having a strong brain isn’t sexy stuff, but it’s important stuff.
Your health and livelihood is important.
You can exercise and move frequently so that you can feel good about yourself.
You can do it to get more energy.
You can do it to slow down the aging process (internal and external).
You can do it to help you focus.
You can do it to make your body more resilient, agile and mobile so that you can live your life without restrictions.
And you can do it to be happier.