PUMPING IRONY: Dare to Be Different

A new study found that the one in 10 people who maintained an exercise regimen as they aged were seven times more likely than their sedentary counterparts to be healthy. I’m with them.

At summer camp back in my teen years, my camp counselor gathered us teenagers together in the cabin on our first night and asked us who we most admired. This was 1967, and most of my compatriots piped up to support the president, Lyndon Johnson, who at that time was under some public duress for his role in escalating the war in Vietnam. When the question came around to me, I admitted that I was most impressed with the courage of Muhammad Ali, who at the time had been stripped of his heavyweight boxing crown for refusing to be inducted into the military.

That drew some weird looks. But I was no dissident; three years later I was in the military myself, learning how to operate a teletype machine (?!?!) in Wichita Falls, Texas. But I often found myself back then — and now — challenging conventional wisdom, taking the path less taken.

And that hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. It’s interesting to me how this point of view affects my behavior today when it comes to health and fitness. Whenever I feel myself slacking off or mired in some sedentary rut, I can almost always get rolling again by reminding myself that most 62-year-olds aren’t swinging a kettlebell and cranking out 50 pushups every morning before pedaling a bicycle up a nasty incline to their place of work. I cling to the idea that I’m just a little bit different, and that’s enough motivation to keep me on track.

A Healthy Aging Boost

It also helps when I stumble upon new research that validates my view that the best way to stay healthy in your old age is to maintain a regular exercise regimen. The latest comes from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which published a study last week showing that “regular physical activity boosted the likelihood of healthy aging sevenfold compared with consistent inactivity.”

This study followed 3,500 Britons, with the average age of 64, for more than eight years. About one in 10 of the participants adopted an exercise regimen during the study period, while the rest didn’t change their sedentary behavior. The results? About four of 10 in the sedentary group had developed a long-term chronic disease, about one in five was diagnosed as depressed, a third suffered from some level of disability, and one in five was cognitively impaired. Those who remained physically active during the entire eight years of the study were seven times more likely to be healthy as those who stayed inactive.

One in 10 remained active. Challenging the cultural norm. Daring to be different. I’m with them.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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