The Older You Are, the Steeper the Slope

The average age of a Pack Member at Thriveology is around 52, give or take. Of course, we have Members much younger than this and we have Members much older than this. However, the majority of our Pack fits within 5 years of this age on either side.

The reason many people start to workout around the age of 50 is that they are feeling the effects of taking care of others for the last 30 years, and not taking care of themselves. In other words, because most of this age group has put their heart and soul into raising kids and providing for their family, they haven’t taken the time to prioritize their health along the way.

Ironically, although many in this age group believe that they should improve their health and fitness, it’s also around this time that we tend to develop the mindset that AGE = POOR HEALTH.

And, because age = poor health, there isn’t too much I can do to improve my health. All I can possibly hope to do by starting to exercise and eat right is to slow down the misery that may ensue as I age.

Well, this is wrong. And it’s not only PARTLY wrong, it’s COMPLETELY wrong. Because, as we talked about in last week’s essay, exercise and movement help increase your healthspan, which then indirectly helps increase your lifespan.

Today, I want to expand on this idea and show that, no matter what AGE you are, increasing your exercise and how much you move has a significant impact on both life and health span. AND, paradoxically, the OLDER you are, the GREATER the impact that these activities have.

But before we get to that, there’s another concern I wat to address. There seems to be an underlying concern about the impact of TOO MUCH exercise on the body. And to that, we will go first…

Too Much Exercise Hurts You…or, Wait…

I’m sure you’ve probably warned by a friend and counseled by a healthcare practitioner to make sure you’re not doing too much exercise. And to make sure that you aren’t pushing yourself too hard, especially if you’re over the age of 50.

It seems commonsensical to think that too much exercise can be bad for your health. And, in fact, this is the case. Just like ANYTHING you do or eat, the poison is in the dose.

You see, exercise is a stress to the body. Chronic stress, as you may know, kills you quickly. Acute stress, however, is NECESSARY for health and longevity. That’s because stresses allow for an idea called hormesis.

Hormesis is simply the idea that moderate doses of potentially poisonous things can cause the body to become stronger and more resilient. And this is exactly what happens when you exercise.

When you workout hard, you tax your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nervous system, and cause your body to release hormones that put it in a state of stress. However, it is this process that is the beginning of the hormesis cycle, if you will.

Because once your body is stressed, it then builds back your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nervous system to a stronger state.

And, it is in this process where too much exercise can be an issue. The question is, what is too much exercise? And are any of us normal people in jeopardy of reaching that level of intense activity?

What is Too Much Exercise, Exactly?!

For someone to be doing too much exercise, there must be a negative impact. There are a couple of negative impacts that are important to track in the short term. However, for our purposes, we need to look at the long-term implications that excessive exercise might have.

A few of the implications that come to mind are heart disease and death. I bring these 2 up, especially because these outcomes are what most healthcare practitioners are concerned about when they warn you not to exercise too much or too hard.

So, to help us see what happens when we exercise at the extremes, we can review a few studies that have tracked this sort of behavior and measured the outcomes.

One such study, for example, tracked 600,000 individuals (that’s a lot of people) to see how their exercise level impacted their health over the course of a decade.

The results found that extreme exercisers who exercised more than 10X the recommended amount (which is 150 minutes a week. So, multiply that by 10 and you get 1500 minutes a week.) did NOT have a higher rate of death or heart disease than those who exercised at a rate that was 5X the recommended amount.

Another such study of 22,000 people found that extreme exercisers (500+ minutes a week) did not have higher or lower rates of death or heart disease relative to moderate exercisers (150 minutes a week).

So, as you can see, to even be CONSIDERED an extreme exerciser, you need to be doing an absurd amount of exercise and movement. Needless to say, given that the average person sits 10 hours a day, the LAST thing we need to be concerned about is exercising too much.

So, What About Exercise and Age?!

This previous point brings us back to what we began our story with: the belief that age = poor health and that there’s nothing you can do what hope to reduce your misery as you age.

You see, while it’s apparent that A LOT of exercise isn’t harmful to our health, what’s less apparent is that SOME exercise is incredibly helpful. And, as I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the older you are, the GREATER that benefit is.

To help you understand this point, take a look at this graph:

This graph comes from a survey study of 50,000 people over the course of about 25 years. The study tracked the physical activity habits of the participants over the course of time and measured against the outcomes of their health.

It shows the mortality risk of different age groups (the vertical line is the mortality risk) relative to the average physical activity per week measured in calories (the horizontal line of the graph).

If you look at the different age groups, the bottom age group (25-49) has the flattest line. This means that, on average, the more exercise this group does, it has a small impact on positive health outcomes.

The top line, on the other hand (ages 70-84), has the steepest slope. This means that the more this group exercised, the GREATER the impact on their health. If you want to put this in quantitative terms, the 70-84 age group saw a 50% decrease in mortality risk if they increased their exercise to 2,000 calories a week.

Contrary to popular belief, it turns out that exercise does a huge impact on your health, no matter your age. And, the older you are, the greater the impact. AND, as important, the more you are physically active as you age, the more you decrease the risk of mortality.

If this final point doesn’t hit home for you, I don’t know what will. The lesson for the day: move well, move often, exercise more, and change your mindset about what’s possible.

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