Friday, August 22, 2008

Fit at 70

In my professional life, I study neurodegenerative disease, the mechanisms of aging, and what the two have in common. I was reading through a textbook on aging a few months ago, and I came across an interesting series of graphs.

The first graph showed the average cardiorespiratory endurance of Americans at different ages. It peaks around 30 and goes downhill from there. But the author of this chapter was very intelligent; he knew that averages sometimes conceal meaningful information. The second graph showed two lines: one representing a man who was sedentary, and the other representing a man who exercised regularly for his entire life. The data were from real individuals. The endurance of the first man basically tracked the national average as he aged. The endurance of the second man remained relatively stable from early adulthood until the age of 70, after which it declined noticeably.

We aren't taking care of ourselves for nothing, ladies and gentlemen. We're doing it because the stakes are high. Just look at Jack LaLanne, the fitness buff. He's been working out regularly and eating a whole foods diet since before I was born, and he's still pumping iron every day at 93.


Charles R. said...

I met Jack LaLanne last year. My wife and I were sitting having a drink in Malibu at a restaurant on the beach. We were sitting by the fire, laughing and having a good time, when I look up and see this little bandy-legged guy in a brown jumpsuit and dark glasses on his head coming over.

"You guys need to keep it down!" he said, smiling and sticking out his hand. I looked at him, and realized who it was.

"You're Jack LaLanne!" A brilliant comment, but I was pretty much speechless. The guy at 93 years of age just radiates energy. It's almost a cliche to say that shaking hands with him was like sticking my fingers into an electric socket, but it was. I've met a fair number of celebrities in my life, but I gotta say this was different. He is absolutely the real deal.

"I said, "My mother and I used to watch you on TV, and exercise with the chair!"

"Have you ever seen a fat chair?" he said, walking away.

We just sat there with our mouths open for the rest of the night. We were both just blown away, and felt like we were still vibrating with his energy. I don't care if he eats too many carbs with all that fresh juice, the guy has as much or more energy coming out of him than Laird Hamilton (the surfer) who we also ran into on the beach a few months earlier. And Jack is 60 years older.

Whatever he's doing, it's doing him right.

Steve said...

If you haven't seen this video of Jack Lalanne yet, you should definitely watch it. Smart guy.

Methuselah said...

Just been reading a story on Ross Enamait's site which certainly provides some inspiration on this theme and also added a story of my own in the comments....

Another woman who defies age

Pay Now Live Later

Stephan Guyenet said...


Great story!


That video is a classic.


I don't even think I'm that fit right now!

Unknown said...

That's inspiring information for those of us older than 30 (and a healthy reminder that we don't have to be average). With enough awareness we might see the average age of peak endurance increase. Even past the peak we can live healthy and active lives. Jack LaLanne is a good rolemodel for the way we can age if we stay fit and stick to a properly balanced diet.

Stephan Guyenet said...


Great point about being able to live active lives even when endurance drops.

Anonymous said...

Jack doesn't eat a whole foods diet based on what I've read. He praises egg whites, lean meat, and soy milk as superior foods. He takes like 60 supplements a day and exercises 3-4 hours a day. The exercise and fresh juices and supplements are probably keeping him young. He also has good genes. His older brother lived to 96 or 97. Was he a health nut? Also money is a factor. People with more of it tend to live longer and have fewer health problems.

Charles R. said...

I read the MalePatternFitness link that Bruce K. included in his comment above. It basically describes Jack LaLanne as some sort of obsessive freak because he chooses to work out a few hours a day.

So if you work out a few hours a day, you're obsessed with physical exercise. But if you work at a job like being an accountant 8 hours a day, you're not obsessed with being an accountant?

I'm not quite clear why it is that working out is seen as abnormal, but working one's self basically to death (or to terminal boredom, metabolic syndrome and heart disease) in an office is seen as normal and admirable?

Who the hell says we have to have a "balanced" life, and who gets to decide what that balance should be?

Let's see, Jack is 93, as happy a person as I've ever met, radiates good will, and has been married to the same woman for 50 years while doing what he loves and bringing a lot of good to the world.

That doesn't sound like obsession to me. Maybe I'm crazy, but that actually sounds like something to emulate and aspire to.

Rather than criticize his lifestyle as being unattainable and unrealistic, it might be more helpful in the long run to see why we have glorified, and accepted as natural, a modern, work-worshipping lifestyle that's killing both our bodies and our spirits.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I agree that it's better to spend a few hours a day exercising than the daily grind at the office. Watching TV is another way many people waste their time, but nobody says they're obsessed with TV. I only showed the MalePaternFitness article, to point out his low-fat diet and that he is taking 30-40 vitamins a day. I also wonder how long he would have lived without exercise, since his brother lived to 96-7.

The original article about Jack was in the Wall Street Journal. He said some things in that article that do not make sense, like saying that 4 egg whites have as much protein one pound of steak. Eggs whites have 3g of protein. A pound of steak has 90 or so. They are nowhere near equal. And egg whites are deficient foods. Why not eat whole eggs or throw out the white and keep the yolk?

Stephan Guyenet said...


Thanks for the information.