You Have To Get Old, Not Feeble
Feel old? I don’t.
Hey, I heard that. You kiss your momma with that mouth, son?
Seriously, curse me all you like. If that’s what it takes to get your attention then I will consider my efforts successful. There has been a ton written about the obesity epidemic in the US, and yes, it’s bad. I went to the Alameda County Fair on July 4th last year. I saw it with my own eyes. But people being overweight is only part of the story, and because I’m a politically savvy guy who cares as much about social justice issues as I do about health and fitness it does not escape my notice that, for the most part, the obesity epidemic is a product of social class. It’s not just about food, but availability of quality food in the communities inhabited by the lower middle class and working poor. (That is, however, a topic for another time and place.)
The other story, and the one I’m on about today is about getting older without aging. The Buddhists are fond of saying that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Getting older and aging run the same course. Louis CK has a great bit (and I’m paraphrasing here) where he talks about how young people ignore their health and make bold statements about how they’re going to live fast and die hard. They’re not going to get old. They’re going not going to fade away. They’re going to go out in a blaze of glory! Except there is no blaze of glory. There is no dramatic, cataclysmic ending for most folks.
As Louis says, you don’t flame out brilliantly. You just have a long, painful second act.
People today do not die of lifestyle diseases the way they used to. Heart disease is so common and so much money has been poured into researching its treatment that surgeons can carve you up and harvest parts that are still functional and patch them to parts that have failed to keep you going. The pharmaceutical industry no longer operates on a business model of curing disease, but rather focuses on managing it.
Diagnoses that were once grim death sentences of impending doom are now merely notices of long-term chemical and surgical interventions that may actually grant the patient 20 or 30 years of life extension.
Pretty impressive, huh. Medical science can keep you breathing for decades with conditions that only a generation ago would have put you in the grave in a few months. Except the reality of living a major chunk of your lifetime as a patient, dependent on medicines (and subject to their side-effects) and procedures (and the physical and emotional trauma that naturally accompanies being cut into) is not great. It is one thing for this to happen to you if you’re the victim of something that’s utterly out of your control, like cancer, infectious disease or an accidental injury, but it a wholly different thing to find yourself in that position simply because the compound effect of your everyday choices boxed you into a corner.
I titled this post You Have To Get Old, Not Feeble for a reason. Most people assume that elderly people are weak and not able-bodied because of their chronological age – “Of course that man can’t walk, he’s 90.” Nonsense. Flimflam. Hogwash.
Older people lose mobility and strength as the cumulative result of too much immobility.
In other words, each minute you spend in a chair creates cumulative disability in the future. Some people have even gone so far as to say that sitting will literally kill you. I think that might be a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit. At the very least, you are what you do most of the time. If you spend 7 hours a night lying in bed and 2 hours sitting in a car or bus for your commute, 8 hours at a desk and then another 6 to 7 hours on the sofa watching TV why in the actual cuss do you expect to be able to walk when you’re 90? That’s 8,395 hours per year spent not moving. Do that for 30 years and you’ve spent 251,850 hours not using your muscles to do much of anything. Even if you maintain your weight that will not end well.
And I get it. 21st Century TV is awesome. I am literally angry at my TV and DVR. Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Americans, Modern Family, The Bridge, Archer, Orange Is The New Black, etc., etc., etc. I was excited for the finale of Breaking Bad at least as much because it meant that was one show I didn’t have to find time to watch as I was because it was such a great series. (Side note to my friends: Stop telling me that such and such show is awesome. I actually get mad at you when you introduce me to great TV shows now. Enough is too much.) And work in this modern world is stressful. If you’re not among the 10 million or so unemployed or chronically underemployed people in America today, you are faced with a heavier, more demanding workload and less pay for that work than practically any group of working people since the modern era began. Oh, and if you’ve got kids, well then *head-desk* *head-desk* *head-desk* – Music lessons, play dates, sports practices and games, school events, girl scouts, boy scouts and so on, and in a culture that will not tolerate kids being left to their own devices because of irrational stranger danger.