“It’s not the will to win that matters, everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters” ~Paul “Bear” Bryant
The seagull, that winged creature ubiquitous to those who have ever spent any time near the coastline, may offer insight into the connection between exercise, longevity and physical performance. For some time veterinary scientists have been interested in the life expectancy of this creature, yet most who tagged young specimens died (of age related diseases) before they were able to complete their experiments. Research observations of the seagull have determined that not only does it have a very long life expectancy (estimates range to 120 years) but also that they virtually never get sick, nor suffer a diminution of physical performance—ever. They live lives of chronic physical exertion in that they need to find and kill living prey every day for sustenance. Finally, after a century’s worth of high speed plunges into frigid ocean swells, the seagull simply takes a final plunge, leaving us humans with perhaps some insight into the connection of a strenuously physical lifestyle and longevity.
As the years press forward with the unyielding rhythm of a steam-powered locomotive, so do the changes to our physical selves. The ravages of gravity compress our skeletal system with forces mighty enough to weaken our bones and hunch us forward. Our bodies age internally beginning at the cellular level with a type of “corrosion” occurring within our cells that are the telltale indicator of the ageing process. The best available medical research, speculates that “anti-oxidants” are the answer to preserving cellular function and slowing the aging process. But this is a field of study that is still in its infancy. A cursory observation of human physical performance (professional athletics as a most convenient study) provides insight into when it is that we humans are at our physical peak. The answer, by and large is between 22 and 32. That will come as little surprise to anyone but it may present a sobering moment for those (myself included) that are chronologically, hence statistically past our peak, yet want to achieve or maintain peak physical performance.
Thus far I have provided a brief discourse on the seagull, and identified a universal concern in reduced human physical heath and performance as we age. The seagull is really a living metaphor for living a fully engaged physical life—really, a lifestyle. Over the course of many years, I have evaluated hundreds of regular folks who simply wanted to look and feel better. Usually as a last resort, or upon the advice of a physician do they finally enlist a strength and conditioning/fitness professional for advisement. With few exceptions, I identify grossly de-conditioned individuals, who are deficient in areas of strength, flexibility, power, coordination, mobility, balance and cardiovascular endurance. Additionally they carrying too much fat on their bodies both unsightly adipose (under the skin) and deadly visceral (trapped in the gut around internal organs). These are fine, upstanding citizens who, wouldn’t dream of going very long without servicing their car, getting their teeth cleaned, or checking their bank statement yet they do little or nothing about maintaining their greatest possession (with all due respect to the brain)—their own physical bodies! This by the way is a phenomena unique to modern western civilization, and it is in my estimation an indicator of an increasingly emotionally and spiritually sick society. More on that subject another day…
With the people that I evaluate, I first advise that they begin the vital habit of exercise by engaging in some form of earnest, reasonably challenging muscular-skeleton movement—every day. Important to note “everyday”. Their will be days were you absolutely, positively can not workout, that day and only that day is your day off. Ten or so a year—that’s right, a year, is all the rest you need. Did our frontiersmen ancestors who settled in the West and expanded our great nation (before electricity) get a day off–ever? The physical health effects of a day without exercise could fairly be compared with the effects a day without brushing your teeth might have on your oral health. Miss a day—not a problem. Disregard the practice altogether—big problem. Think how different, dreadful your life would be, with reduced appearance and function of your teeth and gums? Yep…regardless of one’s current level of fitness, the solution lies with the commitment to daily exercise. For those in the basement level of physical condition, walking, is the place to start but it must be understood that for the great majority, resistance training (barbells, dumbbells etc.) must be incorporated into a comprehensive program. For the majority of the population, strength training should be the centerpiece of a fitness program—especially for woman who are at a genetic/hormonal disadvantage when it comes to acquiring metabolism boosting, skeletal strengthening muscle tissue. Incidentally, the hormonal differential between men and woman shrinks over time as men produce less testosterone (ever notice how de-conditioned old men start looking like old women…?) Although the type of physical activity that one engages in will play a dramatic role in the specifics and magnitude of physical changes one may potentially obtain, the most important consideration is intense muscular-skeleton movement. Simply put-just move it! Whether it is sprinting, dumbbell training, martial arts, “boot camp” drills, or circuit training, make a commitment to do it with as much intensity as you can safely muster with a commitment to progressing your level of proficiency. The strength-training component of a comprehensive fitness program requires guidance, structure and knowledge. This is the domain of the qualified, experienced and accredited strength coach or personal trainer. An investment in training sessions is truly an investment in oneself and will likely pay for itself in reduced medical bills down the road. Remember, physical exercise is and must be a chronic behavior, no different than brushing your teeth. The fact is we Homo sapiens, are designed to engage in physically exerting activity, every single day—just like the seagull. Imagine living a physically active life—120 years in duration. Believe in the possibility. Believe in daily exercise.