Monday, January 21, 2013

Young Adulthood Is a Trap

As I look at my life and swing between feeling ancient (when I'm outpaced by geriatrics in the pool, or struggling to keep up with my walking stick) and between feeling the same age as I did in college (a surprising amount), I think the calorific bounty of our age lays a terrible trap for younger people; a trap that I walked right in to.

When I was in my teens I was strong, fit, lean and healthy. I also ate a frankly vast amount, and it didn't affect me much: I was growing enough and active enough that I could shovel great piles of junk food in my mouth and be little the worse for it.

College involved less food, but also less activity, and a lot more booze (lots of calories!). In my early twenties, I could still eat a bunch, drink plenty, and stay in reasonable shape with as little as 45 minutes of squash every week.

What I didn't realize, until it was too late, I was 40, and I'd had a stroke, was that I had encoded the idea that I could eat anything, do a little exercise, and be just fine, into my brain's world view. Because it seemed to be true. I made a habit of eating large amounts, and exercising only rarely.

Therein lies the trap: it is true, but only for the quarter to a fifth of your life (assuming you'll be 80-100 years old) when your brain is most malleable. The sad reality is that for the majority of your life, you will need to eat less and exercise more to stay healthy, all evidence to the contrary.

I guess it's one of the modern tests of adulthood: can you override your biology to account for our time of plenty, and thereby survive to old age? Not everyone is as lucky as I was and gets to retake a failing grade.

(Of course I'm aware that not everyone is living in a calorie glut; I hope this isn't obscene and offensive.)


  1. I have very recently started to try to deal with a similar revelation (even though I'm only 26). I injured my shoulder almost two years ago b/c I was trying to get stronger, but I was impatient. If I'd been 17, my shoulder probably would have been fine. At 24, I tore my labrum and had to stop raising my arm above my head for three months. I have pretty much failed at doing my PT since then b/c I get so frustrated with the fact that I can't do what I used to be able to do. I keep thinking, "What's wrong with me? Why am I so slow and old?" It's only recently that I've tried to look at it in a different way. I'm not slow and old, but I am older, and my body has changed. I can't eat vast quantities of food without gaining weight. I can't do strenuous shoulder exercises every day with injuring myself. But it doesn't mean anything's wrong with me. It just means I'm not a teenager.

    Or something like that. Haha. I'm still figuring it out and still trying to come to terms with my shoulder injury and the limitations it presents, even now.

    1. PT is psychologically weird and interesting. Even among stroke patients there are many that just don't do the exercises. Our brains seem really bad at relating long-term benefits to short-term boring things, and want us to stop them. That's why I'm trying my brain experiment, attempting to anticipate the good when planning the dull or energetically costly.

      One way to look at it, that is a lot harder for younger people, is this: The choice is not about the cost now, it's about the next SIXTY YEARS. I think it's worth spending a few minutes a day for several months if it fixes a problem that may be mild but will last forever.

      It's also bunk that you can't do strenuous exercise. You just can't do it without working up to it. You'll spend a lot more of your life not being a teenager than being one, so it's worth living by the rules of an adult body (something I singularly failed at).

  2. I think you're totally right. Part of the problem is that my PT only might help alleviate the problem. To fix it, I'd have to get surgery. I guess the six-month recovery time isn't that long in the scheme of things, but it seems like forever. Also time off work, whether insurance will pay for it (my guess is they'd consider it elective surgery), etc. etc. And I can't afford trapeze right now anyway, so I have nothing to motivate me other than a vague "well, this MIGHT help you compensate for your torn labrum" from the physical therapist and the knowledge that I really should take better care of myself. I hate the vague-ness of it. I want to know that it either will work or it won't, and otherwise, it feels like a potentially huge waste of time. But of course there's no way to tell without doing the exercises, and thinking about it that way guarantees I won't improve.

    It's all about the brain training, like you said. And my extreme impatience, which is what got me the injury in the first place, is really something I need to keep working on.

    1. Well, if the brain works like I think it does, if you practice patience (in the sense of try to do repeatedly), then you will become more patient. Of course, the practice requires patience, so you might need a do-over on your childhood.


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