So I have people asking me all the time: How old are you? They seem to sense that I’m older than they think I am.
“I thought you were something like 25.” That’s what they tell me. One guy said: “You’re a mutant.”
To tell the truth, I keep expecting to wake up one day and appear my age–37. Of course I’m happy that I look younger than I am, but at times it’s annoying, particularly in the Army, where respect comes with age. There’s a huge difference in the way that I’m treated when people find out how old I am.
Then there’s my physical fitness test results. I out-do the 18 year olds pretty easily. None of them can stay with me in grappling. Of course in some areas it’s natural for older men to perform better than younger men. Older men are stronger than younger men. But in distance running, there is usually a decline as men reach their mid-30s. At AIT, I was reaching the 100 percentile for the 18 year old bracket. I was like 300 percentile for my age group. My body fat is about 8 percent.
Throughout my time as a physically active person (all my life), I’ve down-played the role of genetics in people’s physical capabilities. But now, I give genetics their due. Virtually everyone here at my unit does the same physical training in a group format at as everyone else. My results are different then other people’s.
There is one factor though, that is tough to measure, and that’s mental toughness and will. I think I have a lot of both. Physical challenges give me a lot of pleasure, were as to many people physical stress is only pain. Is this genetic? I don’t know.
I’ve tried to think back to the times when I was young, very young, to get an idea as to if genetics are playing a role in my physical abilities at my age. I have come to the conclusion that I’m lucky. I was always very strong for my age and size. I was never big, but I was very wiry. The funny thing is, I hated school sports. Had no desire to play until late high school, and even then I couldn’t stand the meat heads and skipped almost all practices until the coaches were pissed off enough to tell me I wasn’t on the team.
This is not to say that I could lay around and do nothing and beat people who train everyday. It just seems that I respond very quickly to training. I can do no distance running for a long time, and then pick it up and within two weeks I’m running at a very high level.
There are a lot of thgings that I’ve done right over the years that had nothing to do with genetics. Here’s a run-down of things I believe contributed to my good health and energy levels.
1) Incorporate Interval training into your exercise regimen.
I’ve done this from my younger days in one form or another, not really realizing until recent years that it’s the best way to exercise. It allows athletes to reap the benefits of weight training and also maintain cariovasular fitness. There are many types of Interval Training, such asCircuit Training, where you pick several bodyweight or weighted exercises and move from one to another. For instance, you could have pushups, pullups, jump-rope and body-weight squats in a circuit, continuing to rotate through them at a pace dependant on your fitness level.
With interval training, you do the same thing but stick with one exercise. Intervals can give your workout an intensity boost and massively increase your performance, particularly in endurance or strength-endurance activities. You can do interval sprints, such as the Tabata Intervals, Rowing Intervals, Fartlek Running, or my favorite: Hill Sprints. Kettlebells also provide a great, portable tool for incorporation into circuits.
2) Emphasize weight training over cardio work. But don’t ignore your heart.
Weight training keeps you young. Too much cardio is associated with fast aging. As this ezine article states, even in the world’s elite distance runners between the ages of 40 and 50, muscle wasting sets in at the same rate as sedentary people. Not good. While I’m not as anti-cardio as I used to be, I still believe that anaerobic exercise in the form of weight training or body weight exercises are a better use of your time. As we age, we lose muscle. Lean body mass is one measure of health, and the more of it you have, you more you’ll have to spare as you age. Weight training works the heart, too. But we can’t ignore cardiovascular health, both for performance reasons and health reasons. Incorporating one or two intense cardio workouts a week should be more than enough, provided you follow the rest of my tips.
Playing is proven to keep you young–and it doesn’t have to be a sport. Act like you’re young and your body is likely to respond. Sometimes when I’m hiking, as my buddies can attest, I’ll break into play mode. I may see a tree that look like it would be fun to climb, so I climb it. Not only does this stimulate your mind, but it can be a great workout. I may see a hill and suddenly decide to sprint up it. Get into a sport. Softball was my favorite. Rock climbing too. Don’t let age deter you. I’m also in Army Combatives, which is like Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a tremendous workout that breaks the monotony of just going to the gym and moving a weight around. Plus I’m learning a valuable skill. Learn a challenging but fun skill, like walking on your hands. It’s one of my favorite and i like to shame the younger guys around here by challenging them to hand-walking contests. 🙂
4) Eat nuts and legumes
My dad always had a can of mixed nuts around. So I picked up the habit of eating them a long time ago. And guess what? Seems like it was one more thing I’ve been doing right for a long time in regards to my health. So says this study, one of many that show the benefits of eating nuts and legumes.
5) Get some sun
I’m really tires of the warnings about the sun. No kidding, getting a sunburn is bad for you. But stop lying by omission, doctors. Truth is, the sun is good for you and will improve your health and life tremendously. There’s plenty of studies that show that moderate sun exposure decreases cancer risk and improves mood. I almost never wear sun screen. I’m careful not to burn of course, and if I think that I’ll have too much sun exposure, I’ll consume foods that give a natural protection from sun damage, such as green tea, or the lycopene containing watermelon and tomato.
5) Take a break–from everything
That includes food. I don’t care how often they tell me I should be eating 6 fricken meals a day. Seems I’m always battling against urban mythology and this 6 meal crap has to die. It doesn’t speed your metabolism! We need a break. Stopping our routine is like hitting the reset button. In neuroscience it’s known as the reminiscence effect. When I’m struggling with a skill, or perhaps I’ve hit a bump in a video game and just can’t get past the newest boss, I’ll take a break for a few days. When I come back–Ouila!,my skills have miraculously improved and what seemed like an impossible part of the game is now easy. That’s why I’m playing Rock Band on Expert now. Well, the same goes for food and exercise. I see it over and over with myself, how much better I feel when I for a couple of days eat much less food. I may skip breakfast, or on days when my activity levels are really low, breakfast and lunch with just a piece of fruit, some nuts and coffee to get me by. My energy levels skyrocket after I do this. I sleep better, my skin regains elasticity. My mood and thinking improve. Almost all ancient cultures–especially the successful ones–practiced fasting. For the most part, their fasts had a religious context, but I believe that they were hitting a reset button even then. Their thinking changed during the fast. Mine does. I write better when I don’t eat breakfast. And the great thing about intermittent fasting is that you get all the benefits of a calorie restricted diet–with none of the negatives such as low sex drive, loss of muscle and energy and moodiness. So as before, I’m advocating some form of the Warrior Diet.
Ori Hofmekler made people start looking at intermittent fasting and realizing that they’ve been fed bunk in regards to needing many meals per day. Hofmekler is a former member of the Israeli Special forces and he said his hypothesis started when he and a friend of his in the Special Forces started talking about how much better they operated when they had little to eat early in the day, but then ate as much as they wanted to later. It works.