There’s a response to my fitness activities that’s common but it makes me feel misunderstood. I hear it enough, and maybe you do too, that I thought I’d try to sort out what it’s all about.
The person says, as if this never occurred to me, “You’re just going to die anyway. Why work so hard? You can’t cheat death, you know? ”
I know. I know.
I teach a philosophy course all about death. I think about mortality a lot. I know death is inevitable.
As Buddhists say, “Death is inevitable; it comes without warning. … This body will be a corpse.” A confession: Ever since watching the NFB documentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I hear that quote in Leonard Cohen’s lovely voice. He narrates the film and it’s very much worth watching. We view it in my class on death.
The thing is, I’m not trying to chase off death. I’m trying to age well. To keep mobile and active in midlife and beyond. There are many adventures ahead, I hope, and I want to be fit enough to pursue them. I love the physical activity I do now. It’s not bad tasting medicine.
So the criticism misses both my motivation regarding the future and the attitude I take towards physical activity now. Where does this misunderstanding come from? I think it’s in the language people use around aging. I have a friend who uses the phrase “fighting off decrepitude.” All that battle talk…
Age isn’t the enemy. When I read good news stories like this one–Ageing does not have to bring poor health and frailty, say King’s College scientists–my first thought isn’t that it means we can avoid aging. I get excited instead that aging well is possible.
Ageing does not have to bring poor health and frailty, scientists have claimed, after discovering that the most active people in their 70s are as fit as those in their 50s.
A study of older cyclists found that there was little physical difference between people aged 79 and those aged 55 if they maintained similar levels of exercise
I know it’s not that the 79 year olds won’t die. We’ve all got to die. But I’m excited they’re still having fun riding their bikes. I don’t ride my bike just for instrumental benefits. It’s joyful in its own right and I hope to keep doing that for as long as possible.
I don’t expect to avoid aging. I do hope to age well.
More thoughts from me on aging:
- Run for your life!: Stories of three amazing older athletes
- Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice?
- Women who care most about their looks have the toughest time aging
- On not growing old gracefully
- Aging and the myth of wearing out your joints
- Silver haired speed: Bicycles, racing, and age
- Three books about inspirational older athletes