I recently put out a series called “Fitness Over a Life a Lifetime” laying out what to focus on during different decades of life, what to avoid, and the contrast between what a life of fitness and life lacking will look like over the decades. This email is long because it has a section for every decade. Feel free to read the entire thing or just read the decades applicable to you. Either way, I hope you find it helpful.
Every child is born with the potential for fitness. Their growth and development happen right before our eyes as they learn to roll over, crawl, sit up, walk, run, jump, climb, etc. The only necessities during this time are quality food and plenty of playtimes. Avoiding childhood obesity is critical which is easily accomplished through proper nutrition, limited sedentary time, and lots of activity. Foundational movements and sports can be introduced but the majority of activities should be play-based.
Activity will shift from primarily play-based to more instructional. You’ll need to begin developing and mastering the 11 basic movements:
Squat and Hinge
Horizontal Press and Pull
Vertical Press and Pull
Run, Jump, Throw, Carry
These will be foundational for everything else you’ll do for the rest of your life movement-wise so learning them now is key. Otherwise, you’ll have to play catch up at some point to learn them and keep from losing them (unfortunately many people lose these quite early in life, for example: losing the ability to do a pull-up or squat below parallel without pain around).
You’ll need to capitalize on going through puberty and the hormones associated with it. During this time you’ll be able to increase your muscle mass, strength, power, speed, and overall fitness level tremendously. You only get this opportunity once so don’t miss it. Avoid the temptation to be sedentary. That is unacceptable at any point in life so don’t let it enter your mind, especially during your youth. You’ll also need to avoid the temptation to be a single sports athlete in middle school and your first two years of high school (at least). Many people with good intentions including your coaches, parents, and yourself will pave a road straight to hell this way. It’s terrible for your overall development. Don’t do it.
Congrats! You’re now in your first real decade of adulthood and ideally your second decade of training. If you didn’t train in your teens, now is the time to do it. Your twenties are all about learning habits for success that you can take with you throughout life, in both the world of employment and the world of fitness. Learning to manage your time properly exercise regularly and eat appropriately gets harder when you add a spouse, kids, and more job responsibilities to the mix so learn them now so you can carry them over when those events happen.
You’ll need to avoid building relationships with people whose values don’t match up with who you want to be in the future. Want to be healthy and fit throughout your life? You’ll need to avoid spending significant periods of free time with those who don’t share those same values. This is even more important when it comes to the people you date.
This is the first fork in the road decade, meaning this is the first decade where the difference between a life of fitness and a life without starts to really show. Ideally, you’re in your third decade of training and hitting your peak levels of fitness. Twenty-plus years of deposits in your fitness account have provided you with a robust surplus of capacities and skills to pull from and you look, feel, and perform like a superhero, more fit at 38 than you were at 18. The habits needed for success have been deeply established. This is your way of life and who you are, it is part of your values which you live by example for your family to follow.
If you haven’t started yet, now is the time. There is never a bad time to start but there does come a time where your ceiling of fitness and velocity of progress lowers significantly and that time is fast approaching. You’ll need to avoid the personal desire and social acceptance of justification. Yes, you are in the busiest time of your life and your resources (time, money, energy) are spread between different responsibilities. When you look at the actions needed to reverse course (diverting said resources from that which does not improve your quality of life to that which does) it can seem like too much and the temptation to justify can be great. Don’t do it. Don’t look to your peers who are also heading down that path. Look to the person you want to be in 10 years and find a guide to help you get there.
You’ve now reached your cruising altitude or you are potentially starting to make your descent. The thirties are the first fork in the road decade in which the gap between those who have continued to build their fitness and those who have not becomes quite evident. This evidence is exacerbated with each continued decade. In your forties, you begin to see “the decade gap”. This is where an above-average 40-something-year-old appears biologically (in health, performance, and physique) 10 years younger and a below-average person appears biologically 10 years older.
Your forties are your last opportunity for making large deposits into your fitness and health account. It’s not that you can’t make great progress if you start later it’s just that, much like compounding interest, at some point, you just can’t overcome the impact of the loss of time and your ceiling is just going to be lower. You’ll need a robust “health and fitness account” filled will skills and capacities to carry you through life. To give you some goals, here are some standards to shoot for:
-You’ll need a sufficient amount of muscle mass and a healthy body fat percentage. On the Inbody that will look like a minimum of the 100 percentile for muscle mass (120+ is ideal) and sub 20% BF for guys and sub 25% body fat for girls (sub 15% and sub 20% would be ideal).
-You’ll need sufficient strength so a minimum of a bodyweight squat and deadlift is necessary (2X BW for both would be ideal).
-You’ll need sufficient endurance and stamina and the ability to move your body well so you’ll need to be able to pass any of the military PT tests (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, running).
-You’ll need sufficient mobility and stability so you’ll need to be able to do an overhead squat without any major movement faults, compensations, or severe pain.
-You’ll need true functional fitness, meaning you shouldn’t be or feel limited in what you can do. Anything your children can do, from playing games/sports, to skiing, to climbing, etc, you should be able to participate in as well without limitation.
If you’re now in the fourth decade of training, 30-plus years of fitness will make all the above quite easily. If not, everything above is achievable in a decade but you’ll need to work hard and smart.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you what to avoid in your forties.
Yesterday I discussed the importance of being fit in your forties and some of the fitness goals you should be shooting for. Today I’ll share what you need to avoid.
Avoid the mid-life crisis. Entering your forties and feeling the effects of growing older can spawn the desire to change things up a bit. It’s also common that you now have some extra spending money and, like your friends around you, you’ll endlessly watch HGTV and want to update your house, you’ll want to get that nice car, and you’ll want to go to the nice restaurants and drink the nice wines more regularly. This isn’t necessarily wrong but if you put all your resources into updating and obtaining material things and no or limited resources into your physical form, well…you’re gonna reap what you sow. If you’ve got the resources to do both, awesome! If not, consider your values and your priorities.
Avoid the spousal block. If you and your spouse have been trending on the same trajectory for a couple of decades with regards to your health and fitness and then you throw them a curveball and decide to change trajectory, you can usually expect some resistance. I’ve seen it play out this way more often than not, typically because the other spouse wants to spend said resources on said material things listed above.
Finally, avoid wasting exercise. There are forms of exercise that you may enjoy and/or be more attracted to that don’t actually move you forward in your fitness. For example, if you love going to spin class but lack appropriate levels of muscle mass and strength, then going to spin class isn’t moving you forward in your overall fitness (vice versa would also be true). If you’re going to take the time to exercise make sure you’re using it wisely.
In previous decades, the difference between someone who has stewarded their body well and one who hasn’t is evidenced by the “gap” I referred to early. Higher levels of energy, decreased levels of anxiety, better sleep, better sex, better physical performance, better physique, etc are just some of the benefits of maintaining fitness over a lifetime. What makes the fifties unique is it’s the first decade where the gap can really mean life and death. The average age of heart attack for males is 64 and, if you’re on the more extreme end of poor health and fitness, dying of a heart attack in your 50s is a real possibility. This is fascinating to me because this decade marks the last decade of some people’s lives and the halfway mark of others. That’s a serious gap in health and fitness, double lifespan.
If you’re now in your fifth decade of training, enjoy it. You’re going to be relatively unlimited in what you can do. You’ll be more fit than most people half your age and will have all the experience and momentum necessary to continue forward. If you do get struck by some ailment, you’ll be set up well to fight it. Enjoy the payoff of your hard work.
If you’re just now starting, that’s great. You’re gonna have to run uphill a bit as you battle the prior years of being sedentary but that’s okay, the benefits are worth it. You’ll need to avoid slipping backward. You’ve had a lot of years of doing the wrong things and it’s gonna be really easy to throw your hands up and head back downhill. Don’t do that. Quitting is never a good option and, regardless of what you and the people around you may say, it’s never justified. You are now at the point where your life depends on it so toughen up and keep running.
Time to find out good we are at investing. Now we’re in our sixth decade of training. We made daily deposits into our health and fitness, peaked in our thirties, maintained (and possibly gained) in our forties, and kept our momentum through our fifties. In our sixties, we are going to see some decreases in our over-function, to what degree will be determined by what type of investments we’ve made in our bodies up until this point.
The basic function requires muscularity and strength to deadlift your body weight. We can expect to lose somewhere between 3-8% of our strength and muscle mass every decade if we do nothing. So, let’s say that at 40 years old you can deadlift exactly your body weight of 150 lbs. If you don’t train at all, you can expect your strength to drop down to a deadlift of 141 to 122 lbs, 9-28 lbs below your body weight. This is bad. Daily activities involving picking heavier things up (groceries, suitcases, etc) will be difficult so you’ll do less of it which will cause you to lose even more strength and muscle mass.
Now let’s look at Madre as a real-world example. At 65, she deadlifts 270, twice her body weight of 135. Because she’ll continue to train, her strength and muscle mass loss will be far less but let’s just say, worst case, she loses an average of 10% a decade. In her 90s she’ll be deadlifting around 195 lbs 40% over her body weight and will have better function than the 40 years who could only deadlift their body weight. That’s the power of fitness over a lifetime.
In your 60‘s you’ll need to avoid hanging out with other 60-year-olds. You can probably count on one hand the number of other 60-year-olds you know who are healthy and fit and want to do the things that you want to do. So, you’ll have to find some younger friends.
This is the last post in the fitness over a lifetime series. This is the last stop on the ride for most of us. Life expectancy in the US is 77 years. Since the primary causes of death are lifestyle-related (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease) we can use this as a good measuring point. The less healthy and fit you are the less likely you’ll make it to that number (there’s no such thing as 300 lb 70-year-olds). The more healthy and fit you are the more likely you’ll go beyond that number.
The purpose of this series has been to highlight the gap, the difference in outcome between two different sets of choices. Life expectancy is one area where difference can be seen. Quality of life is the other. You have the choice between more energy or less energy, more pain or less pain, more stamina or less stamina, better sex or worse sex, better mental health, or worse mental health. That choice comes down to the tiny choices you make every day. Hopefully, with each post/decade you recognized the momentum that accumulates across every moment. If you want to be fit in the future you need to start now. If you wait till the future gets here, it will be too late.
Whatever’s currently in the way of you taking action; your busy schedule, your desire to sleep in, your financial management, your work responsibilities, are you willing to die for it? Because you will. And if not, what are you willing to live for, to live fully for, and what are you going to do about it?