We don’t slow down because we age. We age because we slow down.
You’ve heard that so many times before that it’s become trite and meaningless. But it is absolutely true, and a much more powerful statement than you might believe.
Ultimately, that’s what this website and this blog are all about. Scientists would have us believe that slowing down – losing function across all modalities – is the inevitable result of the aging process. The Hypothesis presents logical arguments, backed by overwhelming evidence, that loss of function – the infirmities of old age - is not inevitable. It is also not what evolution intended for us.
I’m not an athlete. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a life scientist. So why did I feel compelled to establish the Institute and sponsor the Hypothesis?
I do know something about aging. My dad passed away at the age of 50. He had all of the symptoms of aging – cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, pulmonary problems, you name it.
I wanted to avoid his fate. So I made some lifestyle modifications. I never smoked. I did a lot of running. And I outlived my dad. At age 54, I was still alive and healthy “for my age.” But I was exhibiting the typical symptoms of aging. My immune system wasn’t as effective as it had been; I was more susceptible to colds and flu and they lasted longer. I looked like an older runner – slightly stooped posture, underdeveloped upper body. I was physically pretty weak. I was having minor problems with constipation and had to get up frequently at night to go to the bathroom. I took a lot of medications. I wasn’t mentally as sharp as I had been when I was younger. And so on. The dreaded “infirmities of old age.”
By chance, I started working with a brilliant personal trainer. It didn’t seem like we were doing anything all that different; I was just working with more intensity and less recovery time. Much less running and more other types of exercise. And the results were striking. It became clear to me that intensity was the key. So when my trainer ran off to England, I decided to give CrossFit a try at the age of 58. Now, about five years later, my trainer is back, and I alternate between personal training sessions and CrossFit.
The results are striking. I no longer look like an old runner; I have the body of a thirty-year old athlete with a few wrinkles and prematurely grey hair. No constipation. No getting up at night to go to the bathroom. I haven’t had so much as a cold in over a year. Other than the occasional Advil, I haven’t ingested a single pill of any kind in the past year. No hangovers. My mental acuity is better than it has ever been. Everything functions better than it did when I was thirty. That’s right. Not just better than when I took up intense exercise when I was 54. Everything works better than it did when I was thirty.
In terms of physical ability, I’m far superior to where I was thirty years ago. I can jump as high and as far as when I was on the track team in high school. I’m much stronger with far more muscle mass than I have had at any time in my life. I’m not claiming that I am any kind of athlete on a comparative scale. I’m only comparing me in my 60's to me at 30. At 30, I was below average when it comes to strength. I’ll never be able to exceed my genetic limitations. I’ll never be able to dunk a basketball, and I’ll never be all that strong compared to people who do training comparable to mine. We’re all limited by our genetic makeup. But because so few older people do intense exercise on a regular basis, I am one of the strongest and most physically fit people in the world for my age.
For example, earlier this year I participated in the 2016 CrossFit Open. One of the workouts involved deadlifting a barbell loaded with 185 pounds. I know for a certainty that I could not get that much weight off the ground when I was 30. The first time in my life that I was able to deadlift my body weight was when I lifted 165 pounds on August 13, 2012. One time. But during the Open, I was able to deadlift 185 pounds the required 55 times. And then go on to the next exercise.
To anyone in the fitness community who is familiar with high intensity training, these results are in no way surprising or particularly noteworthy. Anyone who puts in the same amount of high quality, high intensity training as I did would show the same results. At any age, the functionality of the skeletal muscle system relative to one’s natural ability is purely a function of one’s training program.
Except scientists disagree. The current prevailing theory among scientists who study aging (biogerontologists) is that the loss of function that affects people as they age is genetically hardwired into all of us. According to them, functional loss and aging are the same thing, and neither can be reversed. All that can be done is to delay the loss of function by delaying or reversing aging. That somehow involves extending longevity, which is something that only biogerontologists and geneticists can hope to do.
The biogerontologists are saying that what I am (and thousands of others are) experiencing is impossible; the fitness community would say that my experience is 100% predictable. Simple logic tells me that somebody is wrong. The scientists say that slowing down is an inevitable aspect of aging, and it cannot be reversed without changing our genetic programming. My experience is that anyone of any age can improve functionality by engaging in the right type of exercise program.
The conflict is so stark that I felt compelled to ascertain what does happen when we exercise and how that impacts health and aging. So I established the Institute. The result is the Hypothesis.