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Old age and emotion prevail

by Frank Forencich on July 26, 2010

What does it mean when a supple, young creature gets up in front of a group of people and shows them how to move their bodies? Does it have any significance? Does it offer any motivating power or inspiration?

I suggest that it doesn’t really tell us a great deal. Of course the youngster can move. Of course he or she can jump, stretch and lift. Of course he or she is slender and beautiful. That’s the nature of young bodies. When you’re twenty or thirty years old, you look great and you can do almost anything. And thus, your exceptional performance doesn’t really carry much weight. We may be impressed or jealous, but we’re not truly inspired.

I have long believed that health and fitness credibility lies with those who’ve figured out ways to sustain their performance over the course of decades. These are the people who have the formula.These are the people that we should be listening to.

Paul Chek once suggested – tongue in cheek, I’m sure – that doctors should practice naked or nearly so, in order that patients could see how they managed their own health. If your physician is in terrible condition after all, it really takes a bite out of his credibility.

In a similar way, I’ve come to the conclusion that there should be a minimum age for health and fitness instructors. Let’s say 40. Or better yet, 50. If you can stand up in front of a group and demonstrate your long-term results in the flesh, then you’re qualified. No exams or certifications necessary.

Over the years, many of us have been struck by the powerful imagery of “Getting Old is Not for Sissies.” This cover photo stands as an enduring icon for what’s possible. At the time this photo was taken, John Turner was 67 years old. As a practicing psychiatrist, he spoke a refreshing philosophy: “I think physicians have a responsibility to sell health at least as much as they sell pills.” (He made this statement in the early 1980′s, before the medical industry dove headlong into techno-pharmaceutical fixes for every human affliction.) Who wouldn’t want this man as a teacher, fitness instructor or physician?

In this same spirit, I’ve recently discovered a powerful new book called Fifty Athletes Over Fifty. Author Don McGrath has interviewed a series of rare individuals, athletes who are still in the game, still living a highly physical life well into what some people call “old age.” The individual stories are fascinating, but it’s the core idea that really carries the quest. For McGrath and his lifetime athletes, it’s all about developing the right relationship with the body, the process and the sport. In short, it’s about falling in love with movement.

McGrath sums up his findings in a simple paradigm: Love it – dream it – live it – powered by feelings of joy, fun, sensation and accomplishment. It’s a powerful formula, one that has been obvious to young, independent athletes for a long time. Surfers, skateboarders, rockclimbers and free runners have built entire lifestyles, sub-cultures and movement disciplines around quality life experience. For them, no extrinsic motivation is required. It’s the experience and the dream that pulls them into active, committed participation.

Sadly, this auto-telic approach has been largely eclipsed by linear thinkers who seek to reduce human health to spreadsheet-ready numbers and formulas, as if emotion and spirit had nothing to do with physical engagement. On the contrary, emotion, spirit and aesthetics exert a powerful pull that lasts a lifetime. If you fall in love with your practice, your art or your discipline, the technicalities are just a sideshow.

Listen to Don’s interview with Frank Forencich.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Samantha Moore July 26, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Another wonderful post. My goodness, you say things I don’t hear said: “If you can stand up in front of a group and demonstrate your long-term results in the flesh, then you’re qualified. No exams or certifications necessary.” I feel that way about horse trainers who train in their seventies and eighties- their presence on the horse’s back is credential enough- at that age they have surely figured out how to get along with horses, stay lively and fit enough, and turn loose to the journey. That’s all there is anyway.

Laura K B July 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

Frank – I totally agree that older athletes can be the most inspiring. I recently took a call from an 82 year old ultra-marathon runner who’d just completed a 100km race in Italy and wanted to learn a few new running tips to keep his time down. Wow! He just loved, loved, loved running. He told me, “Every time I start a race I win, and every time I finish it’s a bonus”.

Frank Forencich July 27, 2010 at 10:44 am

That is just so golden! “Every time I start a race, I win.”
Not only a motto for athletes, but a guide for procrastinators everywhere. Keep starting!

António Ribeiro August 3, 2010 at 5:40 am

Thank you all, very inspiring … aging healthy is really that … keep smiling, moving, playing, living, dreaming … but we can not do it alone, we should all be part of it!

Josh August 3, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Great post, Frank! “Old” is a mindset!

Paul Ingraham August 16, 2010 at 8:00 am

Genetics are a factor. Many people are going to look older than others no matter what they do.

Angelika Burns September 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Greetings Frank
Good article.
Fit and healthy humans do come in all different kind of shapes, however and featuring the athletic poster boy that also hangs in my work environment is not always the best example for a healthy lifestyle well rounded.

Martin Kallesøe November 2, 2010 at 6:13 am

Just came across this.. Great blogpost!
I agree! At least the creators of “fitness-systems” should have the decades of experience to prove the long term impact. (if there should be systems in the normal sense..).

@Paul, DNA matters – yes. But as I see it, performance is not always depended on looks.

Sharron Clemons December 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Genetics are a factor. Many people are going to look older than others no matter what they do.

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