Frail and triathleteIn the delightful movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Dev Patel’s character has a saying, “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it’s not right, it’s not yet the end.” Patel’s motto is right on the mark, in my view, when it comes to how we’re progressing on keeping ourselves healthy. Last month for example, I reported on some new scientific evidence that exercise can significantly extend mris of quadsyouthfulness in the realms of strength, agility and leanness. One recent study found that the muscles of triathletes in their 70s and 80s ressemble those of 40-year old triathletes, while sedentary people lose most of their muscle mass by that age. A second study showed that exercise suppresses the appetites of fit people.

Did this amazing news hit the headlines and prompt people to exercise? Hardly. The reports hovered on the periphery of the media, barely noticed. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that as Patel says, “it’s not yet the end.” For one, our historical behavior shows that we’re hard-wired to take advantage of new knowledge about our health, only it takes a number of generations for us to change our habits in the right direction. In the process it can even appear as if we’re going backwards. Look at the general population’s increasing weight issue and continued love affair with smoking in the face of clear evidence that both habits shorten life. I think we’ll eventually get it, even though it will take a few generations before people consider eating healthy food and exercising regulary as obligatory as brushing their teeth.

the better angels of our natureBefore you call me a cock-eyed optimist, I’d like you to consider one more scientific study about our health that came out within the year. Last October, Harvard psychologist and world renowned thinker Steven Pinker published the findings from this study in a fascinating book called “The Better Angels of our Nature.” Pinker’s book makes a powerful case that human beings are gradually but steadily moving away from their old self-destructive ways. In his preparatory research Pinker exhaustively surveyed human violence through history, and he came to a surprising conclusion: In spite of what we see on the evening news, human violence has steadily decreased throughout history. For example in past centuries, people were prone to stabbing each other and cutting off each others’ noses at the dinner table. Dinner knives are for that reason round at the tips.

Fighting at the dinner tableToday the world in which that kind of boorish behavior was an everyday occurence is too far in our past for us to appreciate how far we’ve come in our table manners. Violence has decreased significantly even in the past 50 years, and we’re getting nicer to each other in other ways, among them bestowing human rights and fair treatment to others.

How do Pinker’s findings relate to exercise? Though Pinker doesn’t go into detail about whether we’re treating ourselves with increasing kindness, his research points clearly in that direction, and recent mass changes in behavior do too. Before the 1960s, new mothers wore girdles rather than exercising to get back into “pre-baby shape.” Before the 1980s, people rarely thought about planning for a high quality physical old ago, just a secure financial one. Another sign of change is the fitness industry’s growth from a bare existence 50 years ago to a $25 billion market last year. My reading of these shifts is that they confirm we’re in the learning stages of instilling good manners into ourselves towards our own bodies, a process that’s ultimately going to involve parents en mass teaching children from an early age about good food and regular exercise. The obesity epidemic looks bad to us now, but press the zoom-out button enough times, and I think the trend away from obesity and towards a full payoff from exercise will come into view.

8 replies
  1. Michael
    Michael says:

    I may not believe that we are becoming less destructive in our human nature (think global/earth warming and catastrophe) and I think you are absolutely correct about the power of exercise with aging.

  2. donna
    donna says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’m 53, and after level 2 Bar Method class today at Carmel Mountain Ranch, I jokingly told some of the 20 somethings they should bring their moms to class, so I wouldn’t be the only “old lady”. They shook their heads and one said, “No, you kick ASS!” Made me feel great that they thought I was keeping up with them so well!

  3. WordyDoodles
    WordyDoodles says:

    I love that factoid about dinner knives! This whole post is inspiring. I want my daughters to see a fit mama who takes care of herself and encourages them to do the same.

  4. Susan
    Susan says:

    I, too, got a chuckle when I read about the dinner knives… wow! Who knew? I was also shocked (and dismayed???) to read about the differences in muscles throughout the aging process. I DO exercise, but perhaps not enough to keep my muscles in the proper condition. This article really helped me realize how important that is! I wonder how quality of life could be compared with an average 80 year old and the 80 year old with 40 year old muscles?

  5. Susan
    Susan says:

    I’m glad that you are optmistic about people changing. A great motivation for me to exercise and eat right is my belief that it will help towards a high quality of life in my later years. It’s hard for me to understand why not everyone is similarly motivated.

  6. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    I have taken Bar classes regularly for about 15 months. Although I struggle through at times, when I am leaving the studio I feel amazing and carry that vibe with me throughout the day. Yes, the physical benefits of these classes are positive but the psychological benefits are even more beneficial in preventing stress and therefore disease, depression, etc.

  7. Mary
    Mary says:

    Hey I would love to see more physically fit older people at the Bar. I feel like Grandma Moses at age 64 but am more inspired than ever to really stay fit after reading this article. Bring it on!!


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