Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Problem of Aging

At some point in every person’s life, there comes a time at which they notice that they no longer recover as quickly from injuries or exercise as they did when they were younger -- if they even recover at all. Even great athletes notice this deterioration in their familiar responsiveness to all challenges -- which they, more than most, notice as a rapid drop-off in their abilities to remain at the top of their game, in peak condition. Many plunge into a lifelong spiral of depression because they’ve never experienced such an unrelenting deterioration before, and their inability to respond to these changing circumstances. Lesser people are more accepting of deterioration and low performance as a way of life -- thinking rather perversely, that age is a great equalizer in that even the great athletic champions have to bow to the ravages of time.

Or does one have to? All that I’ve discussed previously about the need to exercise better -- rather than simply more, is critical for optimizing health and functioning in the older years. Rather than being an inviolable constant, aging may be the greatest variable that distinguishes well-being and well-functioning, as opposed to disfunction accelerating deterioration.

The overlooked factor in most discussions on exercise is recovery ability. Exercise is a drain on recovery ability -- and so the more energy drained by exercise, the less is available for recovery -- and growth. As people get older, their recovery ability decreases, so even the same amount of exercise they have been doing may require more time to recover and benefit from. Thus, it is critically important to understand that simply more exercise may not be what the body needs. Instead, what it needs is less -- but better exercise, which means improving the economy and efficiency of one’s movements -- most noticeably at the hands, feet and head (face). In fact, how animated and vibrant a person looks, can be determined almost exclusively by noting the expressiveness of these extremities of expression. That is what makes people look old or young -- the degree of expressiveness and articulation in their face, hands and feet.

Exercise physiologists have long correlated body health by grip strength. Most people will notice that too in their everyday lives -- as difficulty opening a bottle, tearing open a candy wrapper, popping a top. Without adequate foot strength, one is vulnerable to falling over, which is probably the greatest hazard to the old. People with superior foot strength, are virtually impossible to knock off their feet! And those who think cosmetic procedures that freeze the face in a youthful constant expression, have no clue that it is the wide range of expressiveness in the face and movement of the head above the neck, that conveys liveliness and vigor -- and not any frozen, fixed expression of unliveliness.

Most, but not the largest muscles of the human body, are located in the extremities -- which is the uniqueness of human beings. That is what they were made to do -- more than any other animal or life form. That’s why we have the great paintings and art of the world. The universally admired physique for most, particularly women, is that of the dancer’s body -- in all its variations. The characteristic thing about the dancer is not how high they jump, or how fast they move across the room, but ultimately, the amount of articulation they express at the hands, feet and head -- with the greatest economy and efficiency of movement. To age gracefully, one’s exercise and life should be like this dance -- and not struggling evermore vainly to beat back the ravages of time.


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