Old But Not Weak: Mastering Your Body As You Age

old body

When I looked at my father as he got older, I often felt sorry for him. He was quite healthy as late as his 80s, but past the age of 90, he slowed down significantly and his speech declined. When I touched his body with my hand, attempting to teach him some exercise, he would flatly refuse. All I could do for him was recommend good food, massage his arms and legs, and apply cream to the age spots on his face. I thought as I looked at Dad that I should have taught him some exercises to manage his health, at least when he was in his 80s. In his 90s, his physical power and endurance were so weak that it wouldn’t have been easy to develop a habit of exercising.

The younger you are when you develop the habit of taking care of your physical strength, the better. But it’s never too late to start. “The old are weak” is merely a socially accepted myth. Everyone becomes weaker if they don’t develop and use their strength. Many older people suffer from stiffness of joints, muscle, and connective tissue, along with loss of balance. The best way to improve these symptoms is to move your body and exercise. It’s up to you whether you will just stand by, lamenting the decline of your body, or move actively and build your physical strength. You will grow stronger if you develop and use your strength, even when you’re older. Let me give you an example.

The protagonist of the story is 105-year-old French cyclist Robert Marchand. Born in northern France in 1911, he made a living in many professions, switching from fireman to truck driver, lumberjack, and farmer. He had done some cycling when he was young, but he was 67 years old when he started again in earnest. In January 2017, at the age of 105, he set a new world record, completing a 22-kilometer course in one hour. His maximum oxygen uptake (VO 2 max), heart rate, and heart and lung health were measured over two years, and it was discovered that his aerobic capacity was that of a 50-year-old, some 55 years younger than his actual age. Even more amazing was the fact that his VO 2 max increased 13 percent.

My eyes popped when I read about him. Unless you’re a professional cyclist, it wouldn’t be easy to cover 22 kilometers in one hour, even if you were young. It was shocking that he was able to maintain such health and vitality to the age of 105. I printed a picture of him cycling and attached it to the front of my desk. It’s there to give me hope and stimulation every time I see it. I hope that I can break the fixed idea that the body grows weak with age and develop my own physical condition.

old body
Robert Marchand setting a new world bicycle speed record. Photo: Département des Yvelines via CC BY 2.0.

We occasionally hear about people who are said to be the oldest in the world. What amazes me every time is that many of them, like Robert Marchand, start something new at a relatively late age. In 2015, pianist and cancer survivor Harriet Thompson of San Diego, California, at the age of 92, became the oldest woman in the world to complete a marathon. She first resolved to run in a marathon when she was 76. Since then, she has participated in marathons to raise more than $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In an interview after one race, she said, “I think that if I can do it, anyone can do it. I’ve never received training in running even once.”

When you hear stories of such old but strong people, hesitation or excuses may pop into your head. My reason for introducing these individuals is not to suggest that we exercise professionally as they do, challenging ourselves to take part in competitions or pushing our physical condition to the limits. My intention is to give you hope and to suggest that we have plenty of potential to live vital, healthy, lives at any age, depending on how we take care of ourselves.

Of course, aging is a natural phenomenon that no one can avoid. As you get older, the vigor and functions of your body may decline, and you may develop diseases large and small. But you have a choice. Will you just give up and watch as aging and disease come for you, or will you actively manage your health as the master of your body?

This passage is excerpted from Ilchi Lee’s “I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Life Transformation.”

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