Denny McClain was the last major league pitcher to win 30 games in a season. Now 74, reflecting on his past 50 years of triumph and tragedy, McClain said, “I’ve got a whole lot of things to talk to God about. Number one is, you have this damned old-age thing screwed up. We should have been born old people and aged into childhood.”
Die first and get this out of the way. Pass the wisdom of age onto a younger version of myself when my vitality is at its peak and end up a glimmer in my parent’s eye. What an enchanting idea! Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Time marches on, and all of us yields to the unchanging law of entropy.
My reading vision started to fade in my late 40’s. In my ignorance, I asked my optometrist what percent of people experience declining eyesight. His response was 100%. I have had one knee replaced. The skin above my knees is getting droopy despite the number of squats and lunges I do. Eventually my hearing will start to fade, and my reaction time will slow down. There is a world of difference though between the intrinsic effects of aging and the preventable effects of aging.
For example, with the proper mental self-care and good fortune, I don’t expect my mental facilities to diminish. My mother at 95 years old is still as sharp as a tack. According to the MacArthur Foundation Study on Successful Aging, “the three key features that predict strong mental function in old age are: regular physical exercise, a strong social support system, and belief in one’s ability to handle what life has to offer”, and I am fully committed to these habits.
I have aged well though. I will be 67 this month, but I look much younger than that. My biological age is much younger than my chronological age because of my unwavering commitment to a healthy lifestyle. My increased focus on resistance training has paid off too; my last caliper measurement in December showed that I have decreased my percentage of body fat to 12.6%; my lowest since my early 40’s.
I also have better than average genes. My mother still has more brown hair than grey. I have a smattering of grey in my beard, but I don’t plan to touch it up with “Just For Men.” However, the MacArthur study has shown that heredity is less important than environment and lifestyle in determining mental and physical health as we age. I also recognize that some health issues are outside of our control, and many people face neuromuscular, oncological or other health challenges that are not related to their lifestyle choices.
I am thankful that I am still able to keep up with everyone in the challenging interval group fitness classes where I am typically the oldest person in the class. Last year I lowered my walking half-marathon personal best by seven minutes to 3:10. Eventually my physical prowess will succumb to the effects of aging, because nobody wins the battle against time.
There was one day though when I felt old. I came in for an interview for a personal trainer position, and there were a couple of 20 something trainers sitting around the desk who cast what appeared to be a disbelieving glance my way. Then it occurred to me, “THEY THINK I AM OLD.” “Old?” “I’m not old,” I protested to myself. And then other occasions came to mind when similar things happened in my interactions with younger people. It was like in the movie “The Usual Suspects” when the detective played by Chazz Palminteri drops his coffee cup when he realizes who the real Keyser Soze is. I understand though, after all I was young once too. However, it took me a day or two to shake this feeling.
Maybe they are right though – maybe I am old. I just don’t feel like it yet.
In some ways I have aged backwards. I was a church elder in my 20’s and now I am a personal trainer in my 60’s. I once again have a kindergartner living in my home, so I interact with parents who are half my age. Mentally I have never felt younger or healthier than I do now.
Our physical body ages and deteriorates, but our spiritual person is eternal. Maybe I feel younger now because I am more conscious of tapping into my spiritual person on a daily basis. Eventually, I will have an incorruptible body for eternity. In the book “Where is God When it Hurts”, author Philip Yancey describes the contrast between the struggle of aging and the hope of eternity:
“Belief in a future home beyond this one should affect more than how we die. It should affect how we live.
Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia Bible College, was once approached by an elderly lady facing the trials of old age. Her body was in decline, her beauty being replaced by thinning hair, wrinkles, and skin discoloration. She could no longer do the things she once could. And she felt herself to be a burden on others. “Robertson, why does God let us get old and weak? Why must I hurt so?” she asked.
After a few minutes’ thought McQuilkin replied, “I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty which is forever. It makes us more eager to leave behind the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!”
I don’t always understand the meaning of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, but the words “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” in his epic song “My Back Pages” ring true.
(P.S. There is a great book by Miranda Esmonde-White titled “Aging Backwards.” It is an excellent read about how to reverse the debilitating effects of aging through Essentrics flexibility training.)