In a 2012 TED talk titled Why bodybuilding at age 93 is a great idea, speaker Charles Eugster shared his thoughts on the changing physical form of the human race. Particularly, he challenged the audience to think more carefully about aging and the aged. He sought to bring to life the fact that due to the excesses we experience in our youth and the inactivity we experience in retirment, we tend not to experience aging to the fullest as chronic diseases related to obesity and inactivity set in. However, he also explained that age is just a number, and that it is never too late to start a fitness lifestyle. In fact, it is necessary.
“Successful aging requires work, diet and exercise,” Charles says. “The huge mental and physical potential of the aged remains unexplored. Bodies can now be rebuilt at any age and a new life started. Beauty kings and queens in the 80-year-old category or a beach body at the age of 94 are not impossible. We will all, regardless of age, have to take greater responsibility for our own health in order to confront the immense challenges confronting the human race.”
Indeed, long lifespans are new to our society. “It is one of the great triumphs of our age,” Eugster says. In 1946, when the retirement age was set at 65 years old, the average life expectancy was that same number, 65. Since then, thanks primarily to advances in medical science, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has jumped nearly twenty years. Those of us lucky enough to have lived into our 90’s will have lived almost as long in retirement than as a working professional.
But despite this dramatic increase in life expectancy, our society has created a cultural norm of doing nothing in retirement. “Retirement is a time of voluntary unemployment,” Eugster says. This is a problem when we consider that unemployment is associated with higher risk of health problems, poor mental health, and more visits to the hospital. Retirees, therefore, are setting themselves up for rapid mental and physical degeneration. “We have turned aging into the age of degradation,” Eugster says.
There is tremendous potential in the time capital of the aged, which has yet to be fully realized. Part of the problem is that retirement is viewed as a long term resting and leisure period. it is not viewed as a time to be productive, nor a time to be particularly active. Inactivity, unfortunately, is a killer. Especially among the aged, long periods of inactivity can quickly lead to a degradation of the physical body, which in turn leads to most of the health problems we see among our retired population.
Charles Eugster makes the valid point that there are three key elements to an individual’s life that are necessary to remain sharp and active long term. He cites work, diet, and exercise as the ingredients to the formula of longevity, better quality of life, and what he coins as successful aging. He is also an eternal optimist who believes that if every retired person worked, even though they do not have to, that the world would be a better place for it. In his mind, there is tremendous potential being squandered by our aging population.
Work, Eugster asserts, is a necessary endeavor to preserve a person’s self-worth, self-esteem, and perception of place in society. Without these, a person will tend to wither away both mentally and physically. Diet is also important because improper nutrition is a leading cause, along with inactivity, of many age-related chronic diseases. Finally, exercise is a means to maintain a healthy body as we age and stay active, and as Eugster shows us, it is never too late to start. “That’s why I started bodybuilding at age 93,” he says.