Unfortunately, many people let one misunderstanding destroy their health. In most cases, it destroys their lives. People clamor for fat loss and stamina; but they tend to completely ignore the single capability which makes those two things possible. When this misunderstanding runs amok, they get the trends which are only intensifying in the developed world: rapid acceleration of the loss of health. If we can just keep this one item in mind, we can begin to reclaim a lot of our lost health prospects.
There is only one thing missing in all of the elderly people in assisted care or nursing homes: strength. Some are thin. Some can walk all day. Some can stand for hours. None are strong. None. Endurance and body comp are nice. But there is only one thing we’re destined to lose when we don’t attend to it. This is a particularly damning problem, because the remaining physical abilities are all contingent on how much strength potential is left.
Be strong. Be mobile. Be enduring. Perhaps, be relatively lean. But don’t throw away health because of idolatry to body composition.
I once had a client who was in the best overall shape of her whole life just three years before she totally threw away her life. It was one of the starkest examples I’d ever witnessed of a person opting directly into rapid loss of health.
She was at her peak while we were training only twice weekly. At the time, she was plugged in with me, with a yoga practice AND a variety of endurance training and activities.
A busy season of work and life began to chip away at her availability, first bringing us to unpredictable once weekly meetings. At that point, her strength did remain, just barely. However, she stopped yoga AND any cardiorespiratory efforts. Body composition began to slightly worsen, only slightly; but it was evident that her top-end endurance vanished.
Over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, our frequency lessened all the more, all the while I increasingly encouraged her to find a way to become more plugged in through the week, perhaps finding a new yoga studio, signing up for a cycling club or ANYTHING.
I no longer had the availability to take her more than once every two-to-four weeks or so. Otherwise, I would’ve encouraged her to return to the template which worked, our original weekly split. She began reporting back “exercise” as “going for walks.” This would be a win for someone who was completely sedentary. But for someone who had been very athletic, this was a significant downgrade and a probable sign of continued worsening.
In exercise science studies, strength can be maintained and even built a little in as infrequently as once weekly. If it’s a targeted practice, there need not be high frequency. In fact, too much frequency will not allow progress. But at far less than once weekly and with no real targeted effort, strength will vanish. This is not “getting older.” This is a specific request we make to the body, pleading to get weaker. Young people, too, get weaker if they train the body to get weaker.
Unfortunately, strength is the key to all other aspects of health and fitness. Endurance, mobility and body comp can all be achieved pretty rapidly once there’s strength aplenty. Without strength, they’re a dice roll at best and an impossibility at worst.
Long story short, this same client I described above decided to become incredibly weak. The first thing I noticed was that her frequency of colds and regular illness skyrocketed. I tend to followup with people for years after we worked together, just to check in and make sure they’re alright. In her case, every check-in was substantially worse than the prior. I worried for her, as she had become quite slight, and now had really big risks of bone break or trauma with even a light fall. In fact, this is precisely what happened almost at the three year mark to the day from when she’d let busyness first distract her. She took a routine simple fall at work one day, resulting in traumatic brain injury. In the three years since, she has not recovered cognitive function. She did not rebuild her strength. And without rebuilding it, I don’t see her making a neurological comeback.
I still check on her. At last look, she was attending her therapy, but had become even less regular in her fitness practices than when we discontinued working together.
The most worrisome report of hers was the all-or-nothing false religion that so many Americans errantly believe. Since she couldn’t be immediately lean and high cardiorespiratory output, why bother even strengthening, right? Never mind you’ll never get the leanness and high output capability without strength. I worry for her. I worry for a lot of people in the developed world.
Her false religion is ubiquitous. If people can’t lose weight readily, they quit strengthening. If people don’t have high cardiorespiratory capacity, they stop with mobility practices. This single misunderstanding is literally killing us.
Fitness is bigger than magazine covers. And force production is THE ONLY thing that will keep you out of the nursing home. There are plenty flexible, thin people with endurance in the nursing home. There isn’t one person at the nursing home who can squat 200-500lbs.
Don’t throw away your health just because you misunderstand fitness. Don’t let this one item destroy your life.
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