Younger Next Year

Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

If you are between 50 and 80 years old you can be younger next year in all the ways that matter.

That is the claim of this book, co-written by a professor at Columbia Medical School in New York City and a retired attorney, who is living the message of the book.  Apparently in the last decade there has been much new information about the science of aging.  The authors make the cogent case that you can keep the same general level of fitness and physical capacity between 50 and 80 and even beyond 80.  Chris Crowley, the retired attorney, supplies the motivation.  Though he can be a bit foul-mouthed, he is also hilarious.  Henry Lodge, professor at Columbia Medical School, provides the science.

Here is a summary of the book.  There are three essential things to becoming functionally younger:  exercise, nutrition and commitment (by commitment they mean engage meaningfully with people and with a purpose or a cause).

“The biggest one – and the biggest change for most people – is exercise.  It is the secret to great health.  You should exercise hard almost every day of your life – say, six days a week.  And do strength training.  Lift weights, two of those six days.  Exercise is the great key to aging” (p. 14).

Elsewhere Dr. Lodge summarizes some of the key findings about the science of aging:

“Some 70 percent of premature death and aging is lifestyle-related.  Heart attacks, strokes, the common cancers, diabetes, most falls, fractures and serious injuries, and many more illnesses are primarily caused by the way we live.  If we had the will to do it, we could eliminate more than half of all disease in men and women over fifty.  Not delay it, eliminate it.  That is a readily attainable goal, but we are not moving toward it.  Instead, we have made these problems invisible by making them part of the ‘normal’ landscape of aging.  As in ‘Oh, that’s a normal part of growing older’” (p. 29).

The authors distinguish between aging and decay.  Aging is inevitable.  But what really matters is decay, physical decay, which is optional not inevitable.  That means that functional aging is optional also.  We keep ourselves from decaying by changing the signals that we send to our bodies through daily exercise, emotional commitment and reasonable nutrition.

The key is exercise, six days a week for the rest of your life.  No negotiations.  Think of it like a job.  “In 20 years, failure to exercise six days a week will seem as self-destructive as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”  Join a gym.  Try an exercise class.  Pick a regular time each day to work out.  Tap into an athletic passion if at all possible.  But unfailingly, exercise six days a week.  At least 45 minutes.  Four days a week, do cardio work.  Two days a week do strength training.

They do not have stringent rules about eating, but they do insist on a reasonable diet, which includes to stop eating junk.  (This one will be the challenge for me.)  They insist that you should never go on a diet again, but you should avoid the worst foods and you should eat less of everything.

They provide some impressive research on the dangers of isolation and purposeless living.  Lots of studies support the truth that living in community, having emotional bonds with people, having meaningful work or volunteer activities, are all critical to your physical health.

Some of the science is tedious, especially the evolution stuff, but most of the book is a fast and fun read.  But more importantly, it could really make a difference in physical health.