How to use Fitness to Age Better

Despite being a fitness author for the last decade, I’ve never been overly fascinated with the day-to-day routine of leading a healthy and fitness-forward lifestyle. Eating well and moving well is at odds with my yearning for more hedonic activities like alcohol and inactivity. Even with that listlessness, I’ve persistently toiled in gyms, parks, and at home, performing many reps, holds, and warm-ups for 15 years now. I dutifully follow my master that is my workout log. Obeying my orders as I exert my body to squat, bend, pull, push, and perform a myriad of different exercises. But why do I do it? Why do any of us do it? Wouldn’t we prefer to do something else instead? Each of us has our own reasons for why we may or may not work out — here are a few.

Some of those reasons are centered around just wanting to look good naked. Sometimes that’s for vanity. Sometimes it’s to get laid. But mostly because of a herd mentality and just falling into the slipstream of ‘this is what people do so I’m going to do it too.’

Some of us want to post pictures on Instagram to signal our social group that we identify as someone who is fit and healthy and oh so sexy.

Some of us do it for health reasons. Perhaps to keep blood pressure down or type 2 diabetes in check.

Some of us, perhaps the more enlightened, exercise for the sake of movement as a pathway to better living in the moment. Something that a movement practice can provide.

We are all complex creatures, and in all likelihood, each of us will be some combination of those reasons and other reasons as well. It’ll even shift over time. I remember when I was 19-years old I would be lifting weights because my primary motivation was to look good naked. I told myself that I was working out to be ‘healthy’ but in reality, it was a ploy I told myself. The truth is that I used my fitness and muscle mass as a signal mechanism to women that I was attractive. I hoped that this would increase my likelihood of getting laid.

I’m 32 as of writing this, and I have been in a relationship for seven years. I still work out religiously and ‘keep it tight’ but my primary reason to exercise these days isn’t just about getting laid.

Or so I tell myself.

Functional Longevity

My personal fitness journey has a more evolved meaning than it did when I was 19. There are certainly more than the following two reasons. Such as, I still work out to look good naked, camaraderie, and the need to get out of my head and into my body.

These two reasons are the main reasons why I maintain a solid training program:

  1. I now use fitness training as means of experimentation and exploration to dig deeper into my craft and have interesting things to write about. It’s research. I find it fascinating to have a movement practice that takes on a deeper meaning than my own personal fitness ambitions. My learnings from my movement practice very much influence my writing.
  2. I also use fitness towards more personal goals. I use it to increase my functional longevity. Functional longevity is the idea of looking at the age not as in total years lived but rather total years where we are functionally capable both physically and mentally. It’s the idea that it’s better to live to 95 while still being able to care for yourself rather than living to 95 and having spent the last 15 years being depending on someone else.

My Grandpa

I’m lucky to have a grandfather that espouses this virtue of functional longevity and inspired me to adopt it for myself and write about it for you.

What does Functional Longevity look like in practice? Let’s use my grandpa as an example.

My Grandpa does all of his grocery shopping. Cooks. Drives. Manages all of the upkeep of a 4 bedroom house with 2 yards and a coy pond. He paints the house. Helped someone build a fence. Goes to the gym. Spends time with his family and loved ones.

In essence, he’s able to take care of himself.

He managed to do this with many different strategies. Eating well. Can afford healthcare. Good financial planning. You know, all those things you are supposed to do.

In addition, he spent 50 years of strength training. All the while he owned his own business.  I believe much of his capacity he has at 86 has to do with his fitness routine he kept up for all those years.

To me, that is a successful example of using fitness to improve one’s quality of life. It’s something I admire and will follow.

Biomarkers for Aging

The idea of ‘Functional Longevity’ is ambiguous and doesn’t inspire long-term action and planning. Me telling you that my grandpa worked out for 50 years and contributed to his 401k is nice and all but let’s get a little more actionable than that.

To do so, let’s take a look at what specific physiological changes can be tracked that will lead to better longevity.

According to Skyler Tanner, an Exercise Physiologist, there are 10 measurable attributes that impact longevity. These are all ranked from most to least important.

  1. Muscle Mass
  2. Strength
  3. Bone density
  4. Body Composition
  5. Blood lipids
  6. Hemodynamics
  7. Glucose control
  8. Aerobic capacity
  9. Gene expression
  10. Telomere Length

These are ranked from least-to-most important. The ones that are highlighted can be managed and improved with a strength training and fitness routine. My Grandpa may not have had this list in mind, but the work he did directly improve important biomarkers that helped him get where he is today.

What this list tells us is that functional longevity can be something that our fitness training can help us towards. If this concept is interesting to you, take a look at the following video. It digs deeper into each of these 10 biomarkers and how they influence longevity.