Put Time on Your Side

The call to start working on my letter for this “Feel Great at Any Age” issue came at the perfect moment: It just happened to be my 45th birthday. Fact is, if you had asked me when I was 20 what 45 was going to look and feel like, I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell you.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

Back then, I suspect anything past 35 seemed pretty darn old to me, so I probably wouldn’t have been interested in giving my 40-plus life a whole lot of thought.

Now that I’m officially halfway into my 40s, though, I am happy to report that it feels terrific. In fact, I can honestly say I feel as good as I’ve felt any time in the past 10 years — or perhaps longer. Which makes me realize that, practically speaking, age has less to do with the passing of chronological time than it does with how we look and feel at any given time.

Should I say that I feel 20? 30? Not a day over 36 and a half? I guess I could, but why bother? The fact is, I don’t know that I would equate the way I feel now — strong, healthy, excited about what comes next — with any particular age. And, really, I think that’s the whole point: What we have always thought a particular age or decade meant, and what it actually means, may have little or nothing to do with each other.

Every day at the club, I see people in their 20s and 30s who — if you evaluated them on the basis of their energy and vitality — might as well be pushing 60. And I see 60-year-olds who look and act decades younger. So I am not sure I know what 40 or 50 or 60 even looks like anymore. What I do know is that I feel as healthy and happy and vital as I ever have. And perhaps more important, I’m enjoying the process of staying that way.

In some ways, the past few years have actually improved my health-and-fitness outlook. For one thing, I’ve become much more diligent and consistent in my fitness program. Teaching weekly cycling classes through the winter months and riding outdoors in the summer has gotten me into a more regular, disciplined routine, and I can feel the difference it’s making in my strength, endurance and overall vitality.

Another factor that’s made a huge difference: Cutting out virtually all refined flours and sugars and taking a clean-sweep approach to processed foods in general. In a society where processed foods are the norm, this may seem like an unconventional move, but the way I see it, eating foods in their whole, natural form is an inherently conservative dietary approach. And for me, it’s paying off.

Since I began eating this way, I’ve had far fewer colds and illnesses, and less trouble with inflammation. My energy levels have become far more even. I take no prescription or over-the-counter medications, and I have no trouble maintaining my preferred weight.

Of course, diet and exercise are just part of the picture. I continue to believe that spending relaxing time with friends and family, getting out into nature, and having a clear sense of purpose and spirituality are equally fundamental keys to healthy aging. After all, there’s not much point in living to a ripe old age if you’re not having a good and meaningful time doing it.

I appreciate that in this issue, both the “Ageless Vitality” and “Fitness Redefined” articles emphasize this more-complete picture of health and fitness. They also make clear that it’s about time we all threw out our ingrained ideas of what aging looks and feels like. The generations now hitting their 40s, 50s and 60s may have a very different experience of those ages than previous generations.

So much of how we age, and what we believe our age to mean, is up to us. We can see the passing of time as a foe — fearing and blaming it for the toll it exacts on our bodies — or we can see it as a friend and take advantage of our increasing experience to help us get smarter about maintaining our best possible health and fitness as we go along.

If you want to get smarter about aging well, I can’t think of a better place to start than with this issue of Experience Life. Bring it to the gym, or enjoy it in your hammock on one of these steamy days of July or August, and I predict that you’ll begin to see your current age — and your future ages — in an entirely new way.

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