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.)