Every day I experience some shift in awareness, and with each shift my desire to learn increases. This clearly defines me as the eternal student, but in that role I can also become a better and better teacher, a more empowered revealer of truths.
Friday was an interesting day. I worked out at 5:30 AM and enjoyed a word exchange (that means conversation . . . face-to-face . . . nothing to do with IM or text) with Sol, a 92-year-old man who I see at the gym every time I work out early enough. He shuffles a bit, one eye is sort of lazy, and he pauses sometimes between sentences . . . but . . . 15 reps on the Hammer Shoulder press with 50 pounds appears athletically perfect. A few sets of 15 and he shuffles off to the Free Motion Bicep machine where he concentrates on every repetition. Over the course of 15 minutes, Sol and I talked about the Bronx, the Yankees (even though I’ve always been a Mets fan) and his high school girlfriend. His wit is sharp, his memory is solid, and he hasn’t failed to get at least 5 days of exercise in any given week since he was 70. He does have a running joke that gets old after you’ve heard it 50 or 60 times, but it might be based on a truism. Whenever somebody comments on Sol’s dedication he faces them, asks them how old they are, and then dismissively says, “I have socks older than you” and moves on to his next exercise. Maybe he could use a new joke . . . but when it comes to health and longevity, I’d say he’s figured things out.
This is not as rare as it may sound. Everyone knows at least one octogenarian (or someone advanced to Sol’s age) who has come to appreciate and evidence the virtues of exercise. Keep in mind, I didn’t set out to impress you with the story of Sol. I set out to discuss a shift in awareness.
After the gym I went to the Hilton Suites where I’m spending a few nights. They have a great breakfast with a master omelet maker (egg whites, fresh spinach, fresh mushrooms, some jalapenos, and salsa) and I enjoy the food and the people watching. At the next table a couple I would guess were in their 60’s sat down. Slowly. They barely looked at each other. They didn’t speak. As soon as they were seated, she reached into her purse and pulled out some containers. She methodically, ritualistically, sorted out capsules and tablets. Together, as if they were in some weird seated zombie ballet, they each took their respective glasses of orange juice, and began the dance. Pill in hand, hand to mouth, insert, sip, swallow, repeat. I looked at the time on my phone. 7:44. Mesmerized by the slow zombie hand-to-mouth ballet, I was amazed. She finished first. 7:48. He didn’t swallow his last pill until 7:50. Then . . . she reached back into the purse and pulled out some little packet. She poured half of the powder into his remaining juice, the other half into hers. She mixed vigorously, and they both drank without any sense of expression. Then . . . they got up and returned . . . with pancakes, bacon, and muffins. They didn’t smile. They didn’t joke. They didn’t talk about socks. They just performed their ritualistic pill orgy and stuffed their faces with refined carbs and fat.
If you know me, you know I can’t sit there and observe without inviting myself into conversation. “Are you guys from up north?”
We spoke about snow, about their new villa in Boca Raton, and . . . about health. I wound up sitting at their table. Doug has been on statin meds since he was 45. Today he’s 54! One year older than me! I honestly thought he was well into his sixties. I didn’t ask his wife her age, but . . . we spoke about their pill ritual. “This one’s for cholesterol, this one’s for blood pressure, this one’s for anxiety, this one’s for . . . “ I wanted to scream. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something . . . but I listened . . . and wondered how many pills 92-year-old Sol took every morning.
I told them about my ALIVE program, they jotted down the website, and we’ll see whether they’re so immersed in their zombie ballet they’ll continue it for the rest of their lives, believing their blood pressure problems and hormonal disruptions are being “treated,” or they’re open to the possibility of change. Time will tell.
I haven’t seen Sol again yet, but “how many pills” will be the first question I’ll ask him when I do. Thankfully, with my Reticular Activating System now tuned to the differences between pancake-eating pill-takers and committed exercisers, I was happy when a short time after breakfast, my father’s old army buddy, now 79-years old, called to ask if I’d like to meet him for lunch.
I wrapped up a meeting at 12:45 and headed to Juice & Java, one of my favorite South Florida lunch spots where the fresh organic fruits and veggies are delivered every morning. Jerry was already there. We spoke a bit about my Dad’s recent neurological challenges, but with my new perspective, I took note. Jerry must weigh within 10 pounds of what he weighed when I first met him, 40-something years ago. He’s sharp, witty, and full of stories. He travels, studies, and attends classes to continue to learn. Of course we got to the exercise discussion. He runs every day, did four miles that morning, and is healthfully addicted to tennis. The differences between avid exercisers, especially those who enjoy an organic lunch, and resigned pill swallowers is so striking, it almost accounts for a 25-year difference. Not chronologically, but biologically. I mean . . . show me a pill-popping 54-year-old resigned to the zombie ballet, and I‘ll show you an exercising 79-year-old who can run circles around him.
How exactly does this help me, or what relevance does it have for you? I’m not sure, but it’s typical of how my awareness takes note of new evidence every day. It’s part of the stacking of proof. As I work with fitness professionals to help them understand the true power they have as healers, as I work with the medical field to drive acceptance of exercise and eating interventions as curative, every new recognition leads to greater validation of the biological power we have to affect the aging process and the mistakes that come along with it in the 21sdt century civilized world.