This post was updated in 2023.
We all expect to get older and slow down.
Our knees don’t like stairs, trips to the chiropractor become more frequent and our heart rate goes up just thinking about exercise.
It’s a predictable downward slide that eventually finds us slumped in a lazy-boy, sipping lukewarm beer watching NBA playoffs.
Enter Younger Next Year
The New York Times best-seller, Younger Next Year by retired lawyer Chris Crowley and the late gerontologist Henry Lodge delivers some of the simplest, most practical advice on healthy living.
Crowley is a recovering workaholic who’d neglected his health to the point of seeking medical help. Enter Dr. Lodge. Together they paint a pretty scary picture of what happens when we ignore our health and what’s possible when you put just a bit of attention every day on your health.
Younger Next Year isn’t heavy on theory, but you will get solid advice that’s easy to put to work. That’s why I recommend it to all my friends who’ve fallen off the good health wagon.
In the past, I would train like a madman when there was a race on the calendar and then slack off until the next one. Younger Next Year helped me shift from an opportunistic athlete to a more consistent and intentional one. Now I’m very consistent – booking a minimum of 30 hours every month without fail. Here’s how it works:
My goal has always been one hour of exercise every day. Some days I’m traveling and the best I can do is a 15-minute hotel room workout. But my average is always 30 or more hours a month.
That might seem excessive, but a big chunk of that time is made up from a fast morning walk with my dog, added with a hard workout paddling, a run, or 30 minutes of weights in the gym.
Most important to me is consistency—I don’t want the mental drain that comes from thinking about logging a workout—I just want to know it’s going to happen.
For motivation, I log all my workouts on a calendar and I have calendars going back 20 years. As obsessive as that might seem, the act of pulling out the dog-eared calendar at the end of the day to record my workouts is a big motivator. Every entry is a reminder that I had the willpower to overcome resistance and get the work done.
Now, let’s deal with resistance.
Anytime is a good time
Your knees might be shot, bending over leaves you winded and you’ve let your belt out a notch (again).
That’s not a problem.
According to Crowley and Lodge, it’s never too late to regain balance, coordination, muscle, and aerobic capacity. “Most aging,” wrote Lodge, “is just the dry rot we program into our cells by sedentary living, junk food, and stress.”
But you have to start somewhere.
In a five-year study of 10,000 men (hard to argue with those numbers), the fittest had one-third the mortality rate of the rest. But here’s the great news – the guys that got fit during the five-year study were able to drop their mortality rate by 50%!
Crowley, who’s now in his 70’s and still enjoys daily hard-core workouts, didn’t start turning his health around until his 50’s.
This is important: your body is ready to respond to what you throw at it. Sure you might be sore after your first bike ride or visit to the gym in 20 years. But that just means your body is working – doing what it was designed to do – replacing old cells, adding muscle, and burning calories.
I always encourage my audiences to start with convenience.
Choose an activity you can maintain every day, like walking, yoga, meditation, or cycling. And then choose the diet change you can keep every day, like drinking water in the morning, cutting back on coffee and alcohol, or reducing consumption of anything white (pasta, bread, muffins, potatoes).
If you look at what you tried to change but quit in the past, it probably failed because it wasn’t convenient.
Let’s start with something convenient, like walking, and why it might be a waste of time (the way you’re doing it now).
It wasn’t until I read Younger Next Year that I realized I was missing out. With a little more effort, I’ve been able to turn my walks into a workout. Here’s how it works.
According to the authors, we all need to elevate our heart rate to somewhere around 60-65% of our maximum heart rate to get any health benefit.
You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 (medical experts will roll their eyes at this crude math, but for most of us it’s a good place to start.) For me, that is 220-64 = 156 BPM (beats per minute.) So a good, steady workout for me would be: 156 X .65 = 101 BPM.
The whole premise of Younger Next Year is to build healthy living every day. That means finding every opportunity you can in your day to get the body working. When you raise your heart rate you’re exercising your heart, building oxygen-carrying blood capacity, burning fat (that only happens when you exercise at 60-65% of max. for extended periods), and building muscle.
And you live longer, stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, heart disease, and stay slim. It’s also how you ski, swim, run, cycle, hike, or play pickleball into your 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
You don’t need a heart rate monitor to know if you’re getting a workout. Just pause, take your pulse for 15 seconds, and multiply by 4. That’s your heart rate.
The authors are big on exercising with heart rate monitors (you wear an elastic strap around your chest, and a matching smartwatch reads out your heart rate). The idea is to get your heart rate up to 60-65% (at that level you’re working hard, but still able to talk) of your maximum heart rate for all workouts, even walking the dog. At that pace your body is building new blood vessels and mitochondria, basically increasing the size of your blood flow capacity, and (good news) burning fat.
To test this, I took a long route I would normally take about 1:20 hours to complete and picked up the pace (I stopped a few times to check my pulse). I kept my pulse at about 110 over the whole course and dropped my total time to just over 55 minutes. I was definitely working harder and, in the end, felt like it was a good workout, but it was an easy pace to maintain.
I didn’t check my dog’s pulse, but she seemed pretty happy.
Hunt Sabre-toothed tigers
Car manufacturers have a trick they’ve been playing on us for decades. They build new models on old chassis. The exterior is all buffed up and new, but it’s running on the same frame.
Our bodies are no different.
Our chassis (the heart, bones, organs, intestines, muscles, etc) haven’t changed much from our distant Palaeozoic age ancestors. Sure, we’re sporting Fitbits and eating salads for lunch, but how our body responds to what we throw at it hasn’t evolved much.
And central to how we respond is our design to hunt and hibernate.
Here’s how it works:
When we exercise we’re hunting. Hunting is good. That’s when our muscles are stressed, breaking down, and getting rebuilt. Hunting stimulates healthy disease-fighting white blood cells attacking bacteria, viruses, inflammation, cancer cells, and all sorts of nasties (my word).
When we hibernate (sitting, reading a book, sleeping, watching TV, or writing) the body stores fat. Hibernation is good…in moderation. When our ancestors hibernated it meant winter must be coming or times were tough. When we hibernate we also load up.
In Younger Next Year, Lodge promotes a balance between hunting (making the body work for its meal) and hibernating (restore, rest, and get ready to hunt again). Do this year-round and you will avoid the worst health epidemic our developed world has ever experienced:
“About 60 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. Most of them don’t know it, because it’s preclinical, but it’s there. That’s the vast majority of Americans over fifty. It’s been the leading cause of death since 1918, even before WW II. Being sedentary is formally classified as a major cardiovascular risk factor, increasing risk more than smoking or high cholesterol. Vigorous exercise, the real thing, cuts your risk of dying from heart attack in half.” (Dr. Henry Lodge)
The good news is the solution is simple. In fact, it needs to be simple and convenient or it’s not likely to last.
The solution is simple
The solution is simple: build exercise into every day. Here are some simple, convenient ways to get started:
- Get up 15 minutes earlier and go for a brisk walk right after your first cup of coffee. Don’t debate it: stack your new walking habit on top of your coffee habit (rain or shine).
- Park two blocks further from your office and walk to work.
- Move your recycling box, garbage can, and water bottle away from your desk (even your printer) so you have to stand up to use them (this strategy is highly recommended by researchers who study the dangers of excessive sitting).
- Build a habit of standing for phone calls or conference calls and taking short standing/walking breaks throughout your day. Aim for standing and moving at least every 30 minutes.
- Three times a week download a favorite podcast and take in a brisk 30-minute walk or cycle right after work.
- Drink a glass of water before meals so you’re less likely to overeat. Also waiting 20 minutes before getting seconds gives your body time to register how full you feel.
None of these are a big deal—you can easily work them into your day without much sacrifice, but the results will be huge.
Not only will you be feeling a change in your body something else magical will happen. And this surprised me:
When you keep a promise with yourself – especially one that is non-essential – and that builds willpower. Willpower is what it takes to get sh*t done, even when you don’t feel like it.
We can both conserve willpower (choose your clothes the night before) and build willpower. And exercising a simple habit like drinking a tall glass of water before your morning cup of coffee is a small way to make a deposit in the willpower account.
Like magic, you are becoming a stronger person in body and in mind. And that’s healthy.
If you liked this post, here are some more about health:
Aging vs. Decay – how to stay healthy, wise and sexy as you grow old
5 Foolproof Tips for Staying Healthy as a Road Warrior
You already have what you need (money, time, health and sex)