Longevity and Late-In-Life Functionality
Longevity - Ready or not, life plunges relentlessly into the future.
Bodybuilder Dave Draper (above) in his mid-20s and at age 70
With so many Baby Boomers still alive and kicking, longevity is a hot topic. As someone that has been immersed in the pursuit of longevity for decades, I would suggest that longevity is useless unless it is accompanied by a high degree of physical function. It is not enough to extend life; it is critical that an extended life be faced with a body capable and a Mind unimpaired. If functional longevity is the goal, and we know how to define longevity, i.e. live long, how do we define a fuzzy word like function?
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was once asked to define pornography. He responded, “I know it when I see it.” I would echo that sentiment when attempting to define functional longevity, I know it when I see it.
I knew it, functional longevity, when I first saw it in action as a 12-year old spectator at an Arkansas baseball game. My favorite uncle’s father, my great uncle, then 66, was drafted into a pickup baseball game. There were two local high schools, one in town and one a few miles outside of town. After baseball season ended, members of each high school team would gather on weekends at the town baseball park to play pickup games against one another.
On this particular weekend, the spry old man volunteered to play shortstop when at the last minute it was discovered they were a player short. The boys laughed and said, sure thing old man. Someone handed him a glove. A semiliterate hillbilly, he was by trade one of our town’s three garbage men. One man drove the garbage truck while the two others trotted alongside slinging garbage and assorted refuse into the moving truck 10-hours a day five days a week.
My great uncle jogged, hoisted, and flung garbage into the relentlessly moving truck all day every day. He got the job at age 28. He neither smoked nor drank (a rarity for men his age in our town at that time) and was told that as long as he would show up, as long as he could keep up, he had a job. He quit at age 70 to spend more time fishing, his lone passion.
He was tanned and leathery and had difficulty expressing himself. He smiled eternally in a beatific way that put children, strangers and animals at ease. His body was whippet lean. Quiet and painfully shy, he rarely talked.
On that day, he smiled beatifically as he effortlessly shagged every line-drive, caught every fly ball, and routinely threw out runners by making pinpoint rocket throws to 1st base. He went three for four at bat, singles, and doubles, including laying down a bunt and beating the throw to 1st base.
He could run, really run. Not, “he runs really good for an old man,” he could outrun all but two of the eighteen players on the field that day. He was Mr. Miyagi come to life. He was balletic and poetic, best of all, it was effortless; there was no strain or sense of overperforming; he was egoless, as soon as the game was over he faded back into the silent background as quietly as he had emerged from it.
I will never forget it. He became my late in life-role-model when I had barely begun my life. At 66, he was a way better athlete than 15 of the 18 high school baseball players on the field that day.
60 years later and I am that man. At age 70, I routinely outlift good high school lifters in my weight class. This despite being on the far downside of my strength bell curve. Even in my diminished old age, I can outlift, and in a lot of cases, out sprint most of the high school athletes I train. I can make mincemeat out of untrained teens. I am strong and I can move. And I don’t work on a garbage truck.
My great uncle built his physique and capabilities through hard physical labor, clean living and hardscrabble rural nutrition: every day doing his job was a sustained-strength (or strength-endurance) training session. Farm-to-table was his nutritional reality: he ate organic, nutrient-dense food and never in excess because they never had excess.
My great uncle sustained his capabilities and capacities late into life by firstly, and most importantly, not retiring. He kept doing what made him what he was. I am fond of quoting Aristotle who once noted, “We are what we do repeatedly.” The nature of his job and his eating habits created his physique and sustained his function. My great uncle would not be able to match the capabilities and capacities he had at age 30, yet even his diminished capacities were more than enough to ensure functional longevity.
How does 2020 modern man, someone that is on the wrong side of 50, obtain (the apparently elusive) functional longevity?
Modern man must skillfully blend intense exercise and studied nutrition to induce body-changing stresses sufficient to trigger hypertrophy and melt body fat. Any human that successfully increases their lean muscle mass while reducing their body fat percentile automatically and irrefutably improves their longevity and functionality. Do not let anyone tell you that past a certain age strength and muscle gains are impossible as improvement is always possible.
To obtain functional longevity, to extend life and improve the quality of that extended life, the serious trainee needs to implement and adhere to a hardcore resistance training program, one centered around the near-exclusive use of free-weights such as barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Combine high-intensity resistance training with near-daily cardiovascular exercise. Sync up this two-pronged training approach with a nutrient-dense nutritional approach, one that compliments and augments the training effort.
Nutrition either amplifies or undercuts training. There are many acceptable dietary approaches; regardless if you are vegetarian or a keto advocate, regardless if you have religious restrictions or strong personal preferences – above all else, stress food quality. Seek out seasonally appropriate, locally sourced, organic, proteins and produce. The fresher the better.
Powerhouse natural foods eaten in ample amounts amplifies results derived from consistent training. Nutrient-dense foods heal and repair muscles battered and traumatized by hardcore training. The perfect balance needs to be struck between precision nutrition and intense exercise.
It is never too late to start. The more out of shape an individual is, the faster and more dramatic their rate of progress – assuming they train right and eat right. Nutrition can be your best friend or worst enemy. A steady diet of pizza, beer, chips, ice cream and empty-calorie fast food will undo and undermine the finest training effort. Clean up the quality of your food-fuel.
The eternal triumvirate of transformation consists of two exercise formats, aerobic exercise, and free-weight resistance training synchronized with a sophisticated approach towards nutrition. Want to live longer? Want to improve your current degree of function? Get onboard with some version of the transformative triumvirate. It is never too late.
We can always improve upon the shape and condition of our current physique and improve our current limits and capacities. Any effective system for improving functional longevity need have a strength training element, a cardiovascular training element, and a nutritional element. When all the elements are in place and practiced in a balanced, holistic fashion, for an extended period, a physiological synergy occurs; a metabolic sweet spot is predictably attained wherein actualized results exceed realistic expectations.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.