Charles Eugster, an expert in successful aging, on Why Bodybuilding at Age 93 is a Great Idea at TEDxZurich – Transcript
Charles Eugster – Expert in Successful Aging
Let me start first with a brief story.
Before attending a dinner at my rowing club, I went into the bar. Seeing an attractive young lady, I thought that I would chat her up.
Suddenly, there was an influx of people, and we were pressed together. My nose was squashed in the cleavage between two magnificent breasts. My embarrassment made me realize how tall the lovely lady was.
I had, in fact, been introduced to one of the many continuing rapid changes related to our human bodies. The increase of height of 10cm during the last few hundred years seems to have peaked in 1970.
Here I am, rowing at the age of 91 with a 15 year old, who is already well over a head taller than me. There is continuing increase in girth. Obesity is now a major world health problem. World obesity has doubled since 1980. 12% of the world’s population is obese. In the Americas, it is even 26%.
Obesity can cause diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Already 10% of the world’s population suffer from diabetes. A world pandemic of diabetes is already a reality.
By 2030 it is estimated that 50% of the US population will be obese. In obesity, it is the prefrontal part of the brain that shrinks. The prospect of the most powerful nation of the world with 50% of the US population having shrinking brains is frightening!
Never in human history have so many humans been so overweight and so obese. The world’s population is now 7 billion. Very soon there will be 8 billion people inhabiting the Earth. If at this point, a pandemic were to destroy half of the world’s population, there would still be double the amount of people that existed when I was a child!
The continuing aging of the population is one of the most remarkable success stories of the human race in modern history. There will soon be more people over 60 than children under 15. But man has destroyed the wonder of aging by transforming it into an age of degeneration and disease. 92.2% of the over 65 in the United States has one or more chronic diseases. 40% of the 60+ take 5 or more medicaments a day. 45% of the 85+ have Alzheimer’s.
Natural, healthy aging is unseen, covered by a blanket of disease. In fact, it is falsely assumed that disease is a natural consequence of aging. Lift up the blanket and there could be surprises.
Lifelong work, continuous education, competition in strenuous sports, beauty queens in old age could be a reality. The aged now, however, are over nourished, over medicated and physically and mentally inactive. Inactivity is a major cause of death.
How did this happen? Our bodies are still those of the Paleolithic era. When we were hunter-gatherers, food was scarce, that as much food as possible was consumed and the excess stored as fat, so that we could survive the next famine. As physical and mental activity was enormous, unnecessary activity was avoided.
Today, with an excess of food, and survival no longer dependent on huge physical and mental effort, our instincts still tell us to consume an excess of food and avoid activity as much as possible. Those instincts that in the past enabled us to survive are now destroying us.
But successful aging is possible. There are three factors that contribute to successful aging. They are: work, diet, and exercise, in that order. I will address each in turn.
Work. The aged suffer from inactivity, poor diet, overweight, diabetes et cetera, just as the general population does, but in addition, this is severely compounded by retirement. Retirement is voluntary or involuntary unemployment for up to 30 years. We know that unemployment causes chronic disease and mental problems, as well as poor health, disability, more medical consultations, more medication, more hospital admissions.
Work, on the other hand, is therapeutic, good for health, and is an intrinsic part of improving and maintaining health. Work is a determinant of self-worth, family esteem, identity, and standing in the community.
This graph shows the energy expenditure at different ages. One can see that in retirement, the physical energy expenditure for occupation is removed, and the pensioner is left with little or no physical or mental activity. Remember, inactivity kills!
In the UK, retirement was reduced from the age of 70 to 65 in 1946, when life expectancy was 65 years. The retirement age was never intended to be earlier than life expectancy.
Today, however, retirement can start 25 to 30 years earlier than life expectancy. Our pension schemes are financially unsustainable. It is that destructive effects of retirement on physical and mental health that have not only been ignored, but vastly underestimated.
It is essential that the aged be integrated into the workforce, not only for financial, but also for health reasons. Retirement is not the end, it can be a new beginning, a chance… a chance to build a new body, develop dormant talents, and start a new life for the next 30 years. Start a new successful company. The 55 to 65 decade is the highest decade of entrepreneurial activity, with the highest long-term success rate. You have nothing to lose except the chains of convention.