Somewhere in the mid-west there is a man – he is 93 years old and despite his age, he is more active than the average American though he never considers this. This man wakes up daily at 4:30am and walks on his treadmill for 30 minutes, followed by another 20 minutes of stretching and bending. He eats nothing but whole foods – and he eats scarcely at that. The man reads more books than he watches TV, he still drives his car, loves gardening – takes care of his own lawn, and he has a charming woman in his life whom he has adored for 60+ years. When asked about his secret to living long and living well, he refers mostly to his healthy eating habits, his daily exercise, and points the woman beside him as his primary mechanisms for his longevity.
Somewhere in the deep south there is a woman – she is nearly 102 years old, and might be the oldest person in her county though she never considers this. This woman wakes up daily at 4:30am and immediately clicks on the TV to CNN and moves from her bed to a tattered recliner chair in her livingroom. She consumes a hot buttered sticky-bun and a Dr. Pepper for breakfast followed by a small glass of whiskey as she has each morning for nearly 50 years. She never married, doesn’t talk much, she spends 13 of her 17 waking hours stagnating in that recliner watching shows such as Jerry Springer, CNN, The Price Is Right. Her lunch consists of hush puppies, fried fish sticks, and a belt or two of Jim Beam. When asked about her secret to longevity, she refers mostly to the Dr. Pepper, the Jim Beam, and that no man has stuck around long enough to complicate her life.
These are just characters born of my imagination, but they likely represent somebody you know, or have known of. Jim Fixx, author of the famous book, The Complete Book Of Running, died of heart failure in his 50’s. America thought he was in great shape when he died. As a point of fact, he was in great shape. It was not his lack of conditioning which killed him. Teddy Bruschi, a Pro-Bowl linebacker for the New England Patriots had a stroke – in his early 30’s. America thought this was impossible – for such an athlete to have a stroke. Again, this stroke was not for a lack of physical fitness. These are real characters who you probably know of. You no doubt know of other “fit” people like them who have suffered medical traumas or early death despite their high fitness level.
My friend Rich Thompson died in his mid-30s – of cancer. He was as active as any man I have known. He ate well, exercised daily, played baseball regularly, loved life, and had many good friends around him all the time. Most of all, he was a great father. Rich took very good care of himself. I know of nearly a two dozen people who have battled cancer and other life threatening illnesses in past couple of years – many of them under 40 years of age. Some have succumb to these afflictions while others have survived. Some of these people took good care of themselves physically, others not so much. The only thing they have in common is that they never saw it coming. Clearly there are no guarantees, despite what precautions one might take in staving off the grim reaper.
It is a crap shoot. Genetics, environment, circumstances, as well as those all-important choices, contribute to when we go. Many great minds dedicate their lives to finding on how to avoid disease, illness, and minimize the affects of aging. Despite this, there are many more unknowns than there are knowns when it comes to wellness-science. We live, and we go. We go when we are told to go – be it at 43 or 101 years of age.
I exercise because first, I enjoy it. Daily exercise is the methadone of my consciousness. I also exercise because I do believe it will help me function at a higher level longer, but I know there are no guarantees. I think it should also be considered that should any of us face life threatening illness or events, being a better conditioned person may enable us to recover from said affliction in a more complete fashion. Being a well conditioned person can better enable one to deal with harsh medical treatments and medications.
There are increasing medical studies which relate regular exercise to a higher level of brain activity, memory, and reaction time. Also there is evidence that suggests daily exercise can help stave off certain diseases such as (types of) cancer, heart disease, and other potential aliments. Not eliminate them – just minimize the risk. I say so often that exercise really does matter in life; that to fulfill our time as the upright hominid stewards of this Earth, we must be in control of our hominid machines. I say nearly as often that exercise really doesn’t matter in life; that in the end we are judged by who we are and what we give, not by the shape of our abs, the speed of our run, or the ability to tie our own shoes. It’s a crap shoot – exercising with the expectations of longevity and a higher quality of life.
Yes, I believe my daily workout does put me in a much better field position than most to live a longer, more active life. Still, I know not were my cancer hides, for it has not exposed itself – yet. I feel no tiny holes in my heart, but they could be there. Aneurysm? Aneur-maybe, and probably when I am least expecting. If a stroke is right around the corner in my day today, I am no more aware of it than I am of that little piece of space junk aiming for my forehead right now. Each day is a gift. And yes, I believe my daily workout will help keep me from being just another wagging tongue of drool, seated in a wheel chair and haphazardly shoveling Salisbury steak into my trembling mouth at Shady Acres when I’m 83 years old. But ultimately I know each day is just a throw of the dice.