Don’t Get Fat In The First Place, or Graceful Aging

It really chaps my ass, the way people accept the inevitability of aging. Understand up front that this is not a “rally against the dying light” type of post but rather an effort to display proof of concept regarding aging gracefully with leanness, power, and vitality.

This morning, a client of mine was asking about how many times a week he can do the evil wheel to help him flatten his midsection. In response my blood pressure shot through the top of my head and I had a mini stroke. When I recovered from my stroke-induced euphoria, I explained for the 1,000,000th time that training doesn’t give a flat stomach, doesn’t give a six pack…that’s all diet, baby. Citing myself as an example, the client’s response was, “yeah, everyone has a 6 pack in their 20’s.” I about shit a brick.

* Childhood obesity affects 1 in 6 children…obesity, not “babyfattiness.”
* A full 26% of adults are obese…not in need of losing 10lbs for a damn reunion.

However, if you ask middle-aged people, there tends to be this golden longing for their 20’s, where they could eat anything and not gain a pound. Given the stats I just cited, you apparently become round as a kid, magically become ripped and capable of eating any garbage you want in your 20’s, only to lose it all due to “aging” once you hit 30. It’s a load of crap.

* College kids are fat and getting fatter as they’re getting smarter…and deeper in debt, given this economy.
* Aging doesn’t reduce metabolic activity very much… at least not until one is deep into their 50’s and beyond, though it’s difficult to parse how much of that is muscle loss due to disuse or metabolic slowdown due only to aging.

Also remember we don’t have a good model for aging; most Americans (hell, the Western world) have lead a long tail diseased aging model: they get sick and fight side effects for decades, maintaining a stunted work capacity and functionality before dying…a slow, painful death. A few rare instances of the opposite are available to be gleaned from: 91 year old track star with gnarly fast twitch fibers to Jack Lalanne dying of pneumonia (which kills at least 2 million children a year, let alone 96 year old men).

Speaking of aging gracefully, I was inspired to finish this post because of some whining and silly commentary over at The Daily Lipid in response to Masterjohn’s review of “The New Evolution Diet.” V/vmary states on numerous occasions how she doesn’t value a 20-something’s opinion:

I tell you this because I think when you are young in your 20s, it is very easy to lose weight with many different approaches, including eating lots of soy which is a no-no in your book I believe. Therefore, I seek the advice of older people who are have more metabolic challenges with advancing age. For example, I would tend to follow Richard Nickoley’s advice over a 20 something’s.

I get that but this is a two way street; I’ve presented evidence that the mythical 20’s metabolism isn’t stopping the onslaught of obesity. If you never gain the weight to begin with, never let your eating habits go to shit, you’ll never have to save yourself in your 40’s or 50’s. So absolutely value someone in their 50’s who turns the ship around; also value the person in their 20’s who figured it out earlier and won’t ever have to be the 50-something inspiration. But if you find yourself in your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s there’s still hope to turn the whole thing around…fitness is not a game limited to youth. Fitness is youth, regardless of age.

In other words: they’re both fingers pointing at fingers pointing at the moon. Take heed.


Sean offers the corollary that if you’ve been thin all of your life that, yes, it can happen to you too. Little changes now and awareness of what could lie ahead can go a long way toward steering the ship. But hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Great insight, Sean!

9 thoughts on “Don’t Get Fat In The First Place, or Graceful Aging

  1. You young Turk whippersnappers need to shut up and listen to your wise old elders! And get off my lawn!

    Seriously, good points. And an even better example of a shocking fat kid who really turned it around is Martin Berkhan. Not that he was that shockingly fat, just that a guy that ripped was a fat kid.

    I’ve made statements along those lines, but only in the context of people who are young and present themselves as evidence that paleo/LC/whatever is bullshit because they eat only bananas or everything and are in good shape. When I taped drywall I used to eat a giant mixing bowl of oatmeal with plenty of sugar and about drink about a gallon of orange juice for breakfast (usually while driving). And I looked quite good. Doesn’t make that the ideal diet, of course.

    I tend to be of the opinion that loss of muscle mass and its requisite caloric maintenance along with long term metabolic breakdown effects of eating crap are what’s responsible for the mythical metabolic slowdown. Perhaps combined with lower testosterone levels, higher stress levels (it’s more stressful being 45 than 25 IMO), etc.

    Ok, I’m off to write a disgruntled letter to New Bride Magazine. P.S. I am NOT a crackpot!

    1. Now I have Rod Stewart in my head; thanks Sean!


      I tend to be of the opinion that loss of muscle mass and its requisite caloric maintenance along with long term metabolic breakdown effects of eating crap are what’s responsible for the mythical metabolic slowdown. Perhaps combined with lower testosterone levels, higher stress levels (it’s more stressful being 45 than 25 IMO), etc

      Yep, that about nails it. There is a “perfect storm” of factors, lots to juggle, but it’s not magic.

  2. I recently read by the all-wise unquestionable “they” (?) somewhere that people who wear uniforms have less physical signs of aging and decay than their non uniform wearing peers of the same age. They surmise that since those with long careers that require uniforms have less cues of themselves in “age appropriate” dress, so they tend not to accept an aged self image, and resist slowing down. I have no idea to the validity of that but it seems to make sense.

    I always credit vanity and immaturity along with diet and exercise in looking and feeling younger. And virgin blood. Can’t forget the virgin blood.

    1. Jeanne,

      I think science is slowly coming around to the idea that Extra Virgin…er…Virgin’s blood is the way to go to get all the spookynutrients. Any other method of processing leaves one feeling less like Dracula and more like Leslie Neilson.

  3. I mostly agree, in that clearly proper diet and exercise recommendations are largely the same no matter one’s age…but with some caveats.

    For one, youngsters like us can get away with overtraining, or even have the priviledge often times of fewer chronic injuries and pain in joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones. The older and less conditioned you are, the more likely you are to hurt yourself exercising, or just have it be a more painful experience. Granted, if you train intelligently in the first place and avoid overly risky training and lifestyle, you’ll be more pain free in the long term. But still, there can be additional hurdles for the older or anyone with a more broken down body.

    Similarly, yes diet is diet, nutrition is nutrition, and only a few factors really change with age. But, there are definitely cumulative factors to account for, health/disease complications, effects of medications, effects of cumulative stress (physical and psychological), accumulation of toxins, etc. that can make losing weight or gaining muscle mass more complicated if one has had a lifetime of less-than-healthy behaviors or was born into a less favorable circumstance (e.g. poverty). For example, many people are not aware that various medications—including most anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and other extremely common prescription drugs—mess with your body in various ways that make it MUCH more likely you’ll become obese. Add in things like menopause for women, or just the enormous number of endocrine disruptors in our man-made environment and it does in fact make it a whole lot easier for young people who’ve never gotten fat in the first place (or who have lived in relative priviledge, not in a ghetto or other dire poverty) to lose weight, be youthful and healthy etc.

    Your general point is still valid however, in that kids are obese (but didn’t use to be quite so much, hence the objection from older folks now since obesity wasn’t an issue then), college aged young people are obese, and adults are obese, and overall very few people are following the basics of health and fitness.

  4. Skyler,
    good thoughts about aging. At 61, I get taken for younger sometimes (if folks see me at a distance, ha,ha) simply because I’m not fat. That’s a huge thing in our society. I’m not talking about actors/actresses on botox, personal trainers, and ‘roids. If you are “normal” , you stand out. My wife and I began strength training because it had very real effects on our ability to go on vacations and walk/stand all day, hike with the dogs, and chase grandkids. We learned a long time ago you can’t outrun the donuts. We are not exercise lovers and like to keep our workouts short, but intense.
    This is not just vanity; it’s simply wanting a good quality of life.
    Jack Lalanne was a bit of a mixed bag. He was an inspiration to some, but a lot of older people think if you don’t exercise like he did, (2 hrs./day) you won’t see results. so they give up.

    1. Griff,

      My father is nearly your age and, after getting him training in a high intensity fashion 5+ years ago, he now goes it alone with lots of intense hiking and Total Gym work. He has a fused right ankle and doesn’t let it stop him. He’ll never be mistaken for Mr. Olympia but your point about being “normal” and standing out is very relevant.

      I cited Lalanne because he was a very visible figure as of late; perhaps Clarence Bass would be a better suggestion of someone who has a lot of balance in his healthstyle (1 weight workout, 1 HIIT workout, leisurely walks).

      Thanks for the comment and insights; if I’m lucky I’ll be there someday and wish it to be the best it can be!

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