I just finished the excellent book Choosing the StrongPath: Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging, by by Fred Bartlit, Steven Droullard, and Dr. Marni Boppart. Fred is 85 years old, and vigorously pursues various athletic activities, including downhill skiing. His story alone is inspiration enough to make it worth reading the book. Stephen is closer to my age, and is a more typical adult in the modern world who had not kept up with exercise and good eating habits. But after a wakeup call from coronary bypass surgery, he has turned that around impressively, with much encouragement from Fred. Dr. Marni is an exercise physiologist whose own research is particularly relevant to the themes of the book.
I have argued previously that many of the declines that are commonly attributed to aging are really caused by inactivity. They are not inevitable, but can be staved off by vigorous physical activity. That is the main argument of this book. In particular, sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass, is shown to be a major contributor to age-related decline, and is entirely preventable. Exercise is the key, particularly resistance training.
The key mechanism for sarcopenia is summed up in the saying “use it or lose it”. Muscles are controlled by motor neurons. The body does not want to keep unnecessary tissue around, so the muscles related to neurons that have not been fired in a long time can waste away. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, that is a lot of muscles. You use leg muscles walking around in activities of daily living, but even in your legs you don’t use the large fast-twitch muscle fibers unless you do something more vigorous like running or briskly going up stairs. Muscles of the upper body are used even less in activities of daily living. If you are sedentary for decades, considerable muscle mass can be lost, leading to the “inevitable” frailty of aging.
But this is preventable by proper exercise, and reversible if you’ve been sedentary up till now. All of this is explained in detail in the book, which argues earnestly for preventing frailty by choosing the “Strongpath”. What is mind boggling is how few doctors seem aware of this. Training in exercise physiology is not mandatory as part of MDs education, unfortunately. The authors are on a passionate mission to turn this around by making more doctors and members of the public aware that sarcopenia and much of age-related decline are not inevitable. This is a passion that I share.
Read this book if you want inspiration to exercise vigorously and age like Fred instead of the average adult. The book is also a good resource for how to follow the “Strongpath”. In addition to Fred and Steve’s stories, motivational stories from other people are sprinkled throughout the book.