Exercise and the Older Generation

Today, the average American lives until nearly 78 years of age. In 1900, it was less then 50. So my parents, who were born in 1923, must have been the “Jack LaLanne” of their time – eating well and exercising daily. Dad lived until 84 years and 3 months. He dug a garden trench 3 feet deep and 10 feet long on the day that he died. Mom lived to 87 years and 5 months, the last six years with dementia. But both substantially exceeded the average life expectancy of most Americans. So what did they do to beat the odds by 10% or more?

Well, my dad smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes for 75 years. He liked to cook in lard and fry most everything. He gained nearly 100lbs between graduating high school and old age. He never stepped in a gym in his life.

Mom, as many of you know, liked tasty food. This meant when she had a salad that it was covered in three tablespoons of Thousand Island dressing coupled with three tablespoons of Blue Cheese dressing. She never worked out. In fact, she thought if she were to sweat that it meant she could have a heart attack. She smoked for 20 years.

So why did they beat the odds and live longer?

Here are my theories:

Pure Food.  They ate pure foods – grew their own vegetables, fresh milk right out of the cows, killed their animals for meat. No additives or preservatives.

Active.  They never worked out in a formal sense, but they were active. My dad was always working doing something. My mom worked like crazy until age 55 and then kept busy with grandkids.

Stress.  They didn’t have the stress I feel I do today. They did their work and it was done, with no emails to answer or early conference calls.

Medical Diligence.  They were both a little on the hypochondriac side. They were quick to go to good doctors, who found ailments quickly and treated them appropriately. My dad had several cancers and heart issues that could have killed him much earlier if he was less diligent.

Companionship.  Although they were both single when they died and had been divorced over 40 years, they had people in their lives until the end. My dad married his third wife at 78 and she was 39. He said it was the best exercise program around.

When you think that eating your Kashi® cereal and going to spin class three times a week for 45 minutes is going to make you live to a 100 years old, think again. Our parents were our parents for a reason, they taught us.

One Comment

  1. Victor Mills
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Boss- Missed you last week, but had a productive meeting in Seattle.
    Since this topic is one of my Passions, I wanted to provide some light hearted dialogue and fuel for thought:

    – The “average lifespan”, particularly in prior generations, was adversely affected by infant mortality and war.. Quote from an article on this topic- “It is important to note that life expectancy is an average. In many cultures, particularly before modern medicine was widely available, the combination of high infant mortality and deaths in young adulthood from accidents, wars, and childbirth, significantly lowers the overall life expectancy. But for someone who survived past these early hazards, living into their sixties or seventies would not be uncommon. For example, a society with a life expectancy of 40 may have very few people dying at age 40, most will die before 30 or after 55.”
    So 70’s may not really be all that long. I have a couple who are both almost 100 and high 90’s for some of my most active and healthy residents.

    – I completely agree on the issue of whole, pure food grown locally – My Grandparents grew or raised 98% of their foods- plant and animal. Thus, I believe their immune systems were more adequately developed and equipped to deal with life’s later assaults- Unlike the fast food, processed crap of mass production and distribution of modern day which is increasing obesity, diabetes and cancer at alarming rates.

    – I also agree their lifestyle was their work-out. I remember visiting my Grandparents farm as a boy and tyring to keep up with GrandMa milking the cows, tending the garden and THEN snapping beans and cooking and cleaning. It was Cross-training a la naturelle.

    The mistake, I believe, is to not discern the differences in our lifestyles and make the wrong conclusions. As we sit in front of computers instead of work the farm; drive vehicles instead of walk; drive through the carwash instead of dry the horse, and compound that with eating worhtless fast food, liter size sugar water and Pepsi acid; instead of the fresh snapped peas and eggs from the hen; I would say the need for the “spin class” and “Kashi” is accentuated, not diminished. Otherwise, the playing field is not equal.

    -As an avid anti-smoking advocate, this is of particular curiosty to me.. There are <25% of people who do not get cancer from smoking, and noone really knows why- something immune system or genetic related. However, that doesnt change the statistic that smoking accounts for more deaths than murder, suicide, drugs and car accidents combined. I know you are not promoting smoking, just stating the fact of your parents, but we simply do not know if they could have been active well into their nineties with the positive things you listed in addition to not smoking….. that is the unknown.

    My Grandmother lived to 99 years and 10 months, but my Dad (her Son) lived to 83- The Dr said his CHF related to an illness he had as a boy! The uncertainties certainly abound, but it would seem to me that our health can only be enhanced by the best possible choices we make the highest percentage of the time….


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