Lethal Luggage


We all know that being overweight is bad, but I haven’t seen a whole lot written about how very much worse it is for the elderly…almost to the point of being a fairly reliable death sentence.  However, I immediately grant that the potentially presumptuous statement I just made is based on no scientific research whatsoever.

Still, I have eyes, and I find it remarkably suspicious how many overweight people I’ve known who’ve died young.  Conversely, all the “spry” older folk I’ve known, who are not only still alive in their 90s but healthy and happy, are thin as a rail.

But my second caveat is to express true sympathy for those who honestly cannot lose their excess weight.  Weight lose can be frustratingly elusive, even when doing all the right things.  And I fully respect and sympathize with those dealing with other medical conditions such that they really can’t do all the right things.

Finally, my last caveat is to point out that I am completely unqualified to dispense medical advice to anyone, so naturally anything I say should be tempered and/or vetoed altogether by a doctor’s advice.

All that said…

For myself, I have found it extraordinary to discover how much of the supposedly inevitable symptoms of aging disappear completely when the bathroom scale starts registering the right numbers.  As I write this, I feel myself teetering on the brink of mad, born-again-style ravings; I can well imagine your wondering if perhaps folding the laundry would be more intellectually stimulating than reading the rest of this (and, besides, who wants to feel guilty about last night’s hot fudge sundae), but it’s true.

In my early sixties I stopped working a desk job after decades of desk jobs.  My knees were so bad I’d sought several specialists’ advice.  I was overweight, but even worse than my physical sluggishness was my reduced mental energy.  And even worse than that was a dearth of youthful joie de vivre.

For me, the biggest lesson I learned was that…at least in my sixties…it wasn’t too late to challenge my body, forcing it to correct all of these things.  But I couldn’t accomplish anything until I let go of the delusion that I could achieve all this and still hold on to my first-world illusion of never having to work at anything potentially exhausting, and even downright painful, all that hard.

Suddenly I had the great gift of time, so I walked, figuring it was the safest way to start…but assuming the kind of transformation I was looking for wouldn’t be possible unless I walked a whole hell of a lot.  Walking, I concluded, was the default physical activity our species is designed to be able to do no matter what.  Our original survival niche was our ability to run down prey; our ancestors had to either keep up with the nomadic tribe or get eaten by whatever preyed on the stragglers.

So I walked, working up to as much as eight hours in a row.  Nuthin’ fancy, just one foot in front of the other.  In Crocs clogs, because they were the only shoes roomy enough not to give me blisters.  Boring at times in a big city?  You bet.  I soon discovered audiobooks.  Did I get hungry?  Yeah, but I could always munch on something healthy while I walked.  My knees?  Here’s where I have to say, “don’t try this at home…especially without your doctor’s approval,” but for me, stubborn bitch that I am, what worked was continuing to walk despite considerable pain.  If one or the other knee really couldn’t stand another step, I’d sit and rub them a bit.  But only for a minute or two, figuring the saber-tooth tiger hadn’t yet had time to single me out, before I continued to walk despite the pain.

In my case, all vestige of the considerable pain and problems I’d had with my knees for decades vanished and has not returned, even though I started my long walks almost a decade ago, and I’m now in my seventies.  I’d written my inability to spring up from sitting on the floor without twisting around and holding on to something off to age.  Now able to do it again, I realize it was correctable weakness in my knees and balance.

I’ve gone on for bit, so I’ll shorten the rest.  In addition to long walks, I now work out on a mini trampoline (rebounder).  The workout I do is brutal, but remarkably effective at strengthening a myriad of muscles and giving me the flexibility to feint and dodge when I play tag with my grandchildren…all without any impact on my joints.  But it’s not fun.  (I mute the video, now that I’ve memorized the routine and can just follow along visually, and again distract myself by listening to audiobooks instead.)  Again, I feel it’s all about letting go of the illusion that you can be perfectly healthy without ever leaving your first-world comfort zone.  For instance, I do not eat all the things I would like to eat and have decided that going for periods of time when I’m hungry but do not eat right away is what our species did for a very long time and has advantages.  (In addition to helping me control the constant threat of putting on weight, no matter how much I fight it, It gives my aging digestive track a nice long rest, though I always am sure I’m drinking plenty of water throughout.)

Despite all the above blab, I’m really not remotely interested in diet or exercise.  I rarely, if ever, talk about it to anyone I know, let alone think about it…now that I know what I have to do and what seems to work for me.  Instead, I talk and think about things like great books, magnificent music, and fabulous films.  But I’m old.  And I do care deeply about how long I live and what kind of shape I’m in.  So if I have to take steps and make sacrifices to very markedly/visibly improve the quality and length of my life, it’s something I’m willing to do.

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