In celebration of Healthy Aging Month, which happens to be September, I figured we could take some time to talk about what it takes to age poorly. In other words, what would you need to do if you wanted to age faster?
When I talk about aging faster, I don’t mean literally going up in years faster. That would not be called aging faster. Instead, that would be called time travel (there are a few laws of the universe that we have yet to crack, and time travel is not one of them).
Aging faster, then, means something completely different. To help you understand what it means to age fast, let’s talk briefly about the body.
What it Means to Age Faster
The parts of the body can generally be broken down into 2 functions: anatomical function and physiological function. Parts that fit into the anatomical function are generally the physical areas of the body that help you move. Think of things like arms, legs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and so on.
Things that fit into the physiological function of the body are things or processes that need to happen to keep you alive. Think of things like the heart, blood vessels, digesting food, breathing and so on.
So, now that you’re a master of the human body, you can start to understand what it means to age faster. Basically, to age faster means to cause the body’s anatomical and physiological functions to deteriorate at a quicker rate. In other words, although you may be 40 years old, your anatomy and physiology may function in such a way that you look like you’re 50 years old.
But Isn’t This Just a Natural Process of Aging?
While I’m certain you understand the difference between what a 30 year old and a 60 year old looks like and how their parts may function differently, you probably also believe that the process of aging is simply, well, a process that we all go through.
Which is partly true. After all, when you’re a teenager, you’re going to produce many more hormones and a much more pliable brain than you will when you’re 90. However, rather than accepting aging as simply a process we go through and, thereby, have no saying in, the truth of the matter is, aging is a disease.
Yes, you heard me right. Aging is a disease more than it is a simple process. Which is why there are certain things you can do to speed up the aging process. After all, if you had no effect on aging at all, then it would simply be a process.
On the other hand, since what we do to our bodies as we age has everything to do with how our bodies function at the same rate, then we are better off to view aging as a disease we can slow down and possibly stop rather than a process that we can’t control.
Viewing Aging as a Disease Rather Than a Process
To help you wrap your head around the aging-as-disease paradigm a little better, let’s take a closer look at what started this conversation. Let’s see what it takes to speed up the process of aging so that we age faster and, thereby, increase our diseased state.
If you take a second to research the #1 factor in aging fast, you might be surprised at the answer: living a sedentary lifestyle. Yes, sitting is killing you faster. That seems crazy since the world we live in is geared around sitting.
However, it’s no accident that sitting causes us to age quickly. We are perpetual motion machines that are meant to be up and moving, climbing trees, ducking under branches, maneuvering through rivers, and outpacing lions, tigers and bears.
For proof that living a sedentary lifestyle speeds up aging, we just have to look at a few studies. Most notably, we can look at 2 studies that link sedentary behavior to the ultimate diseased state: death.
The 2 studies in question each show that replacing sitting with physical activity significantly lowered the risk of all-cause mortality (dying from anything). The first study showed specifically that replacing 30 minutes of sitting per day with 30 minutes of moderate activity decreased mortality risk by 50%! That’s a very significant increase for such a small change.
The second study, similarly, points out that sitting 9.5 hours a day or more leads to a significant increased risk of death. And simply incorporating about 45 minutes of moderate activity per day can decrease that risk by up to 70%.
How to Stop the Aging Disease in its Tracks
While it’s never fun to talk about death and how to speed that process up, it’s always good to know what you can do to decrease your chances of getting there faster. And since we’re looking to overcome the disease of aging and slow it down, it makes sense to look at these types of studies to know what we need to do to make that happen.
And since living a sedentary lifestyle is the strongest factor to increasing our mortality risk, reducing sedentary behavior is what we need to do to slow down the disease of aging. I call this becoming an anti-sedentarionist.
Basically, living the anti-sedentarionist lifestyle means finding any and all opportunities to move. This doesn’t mean you should strive to exercise all day every day. That would lead to a diseased state as well.
What that does mean is that you should keep your eyes open and become aware of those moments when you’re trying to convince yourself to move LESS. This is a natural human tendency since our ancestors needed to conserve energy as much as possible in case one of those pesky lions came running after them.
Fight Your Lazy Elephant
I call this awareness fighting your lazy elephant. As I mentioned, our natural tendency is to want to conserve energy. Ironically, at the same time, our bodies need to move in order to function properly and, as we’ve seen, to slow down the aging disease.
Think of this tendency as the lazy elephant inside of you, trying to keep you from moving too much. We all have one. And we all need to CONSTANTLY be on guard to its laziness. Heck, as I’m writing this article, my lazy elephant is telling me to quit working so hard and to sit down and relax!
Instead, you have become the mindful rider who guides the lazy elephant toward those opportunities of movement. For instance, if you have a chance to go up a flight of stairs, take it. If you the opportunity to part at the back of the parking lot, do it. And if you have the unique good fortune of living close enough to the grocery store to walk or ride a bike, take advantage of it!
This is what it means to fight your lazy elephant. Become the mindful rider looking for those movement opportunities and over time, your lazy elephant will become less lazy. It will never go away COMPLETELY, so don’t be surprised when it rears its ugly head now and then. However, if you remain diligent in your efforts, you will reduce your sedentary behavior and stop the disease of aging all together!