Fighting aging? Why the battle language? Why not aging well?


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:

6 thoughts on “Fighting aging? Why the battle language? Why not aging well?

  1. Great article. Some years back, I caught myself ruining my 40s mourning my 30s and realized I could ruin my whole life that way. Now I’m having the best mid-life that I can make for myself. Fitness is a big part of that and will continue to be, so if I make it to my 80s, or even 90s, I will be able to enjoy those years as much as possible – before the inevitable, of course.

  2. I hear things like that too. The thing is, I like what I am doing. It makes me feel good. I think, “I’m not trying to stave off death – I’m trying to enjoy my life now.” Being active feels great, and so does all the day to day energy I get from it.

  3. We boomers (I’m a late one) are already redefining retirement. We will revolutionize senior living and end-of-life care as well. I see two trends developing. The folks who stay active and engaged will enjoy a terrific quality of life for longer than ever. The sedentary people with poor diet are going to have severe and expensive health problems, but thanks to modern medicine, they’ll be kept alive longer too. I wonder if our kids will be willing to pay for that?


  4. Well said, Sam. Aging well, not fighting aging.

    May I add: I see it as an effort to minimize multiple medical complications from multiple medical illnesses (cardio, respiratory, etc.) at any point in life. And especially near end of life.

    Look, I just sustained a head injury. I can drag myself in and out of bed, even if awkwardly and slow by myself,….because I am not overweight. People can help me more easily, because I am not very heavy. I can fit into a shower and someone else can wash me more easily with me.

    My recovery will be easier, because prior to the accident, I never had medical problems in walking, etc.

    You have to be in shape….so you make it easier for people to help you also, transfer in and out of bed….

    My 85 yr. father just died before Christmas. He had prostate cancer. His last 6 yrs. was high quality living until last 4 months…because he had no cardio, respiratory problems. He was not overweight. It is an enormous inspiration for his family. He just ate healthy.

    We are not defeating aging. But improving the quality of living..every single day of living until we die.

  5. I just had this discussion with my MIL. She is turning 68 this year, twice my age. She said she doesn’t share her age with people any more because she’s not proud of choices she’s made to get her where she is at 68. I said that I happily share my age with people because I’ve lived 34 years of ups and downs and I’m still here. I also told her that it’s not important what health choices she’s made in the past, but what she chooses to do with the time she has left. It’s very hard for her to wrap her head around that style of thinking and therefore falls further into the pit of self-doubt. She exercises to chase an impossible dream. I do it because it makes me feel amazing and I hope that at 68 I’m still doing it because it feels so good and not because I’m chasing my youth.

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