By John Aaron
His name is James. He’s over two decades younger than me, built like a brick house, and if you had seen us together in a Montrose diner on that morning—me with my graying hair, slight build, and aging eyes—you might’ve thought I was a sugar-daddy on the make for something outta my league.
But you’d be wrong. What I wanted from James was his mindset.
We met up for breakfast that morning to talk about different aspects of fitness and nutrition, but our conversation kept coming back to personal ambition. The “it” factor—that intangible source of energy that makes us dig deeper to achieve the seemingly impossible.
James reminded me of a younger version of myself, so before I knew it, I began to compare myself to him. Not in a “size him up and keep score” sort of way, but as a reference point to gauge my current levels of energy and focus compared to the levels I enjoyed when I was younger.
Soon, as I began to mentally compare my experiences of working with younger clients versus working with older ones, what I realized was that there really wasn’t much difference at all; only shifts in perception, momentum, and scale.
As our conversation progressed, we surmised one truth—everyone wants to look good and feel their best, regardless of age.
The problem is that many of us over the age of 50 still try to look at our health and aging bodies through the eyes of our 20- and 30-year-old selves—and we judge our aging icons, friends, and family by those same standards. Prejudice like this cuts deep into the soul. It wounds us—and it needs to stop, especially if you’re directing this kind of hate toward yourself.
Now, I won’t kid you about the stoic beauty of aging gracefully. No one wants to hear that. If you’re my age or older, you know that’s just bull. I mean, yes, there is an intangible “beauty” that might come with age, but “age” is not required to find this grace—maturity is.
What I’ve noticed most about getting older is that there seems to be a general sense of malaise among most of us when it comes to health and fitness—a dissatisfaction that seems to increase right along with increasing age. The older we get, the less likely we’ll be to show interest or participate in an exercise program.
It’s crazy to me that when given the option to choose exercise and better nutrition over the status quo of stagnation, disease, and decay, many of us will use age as an excuse—our “get out of jail/get out of exercise free” card, if you will. This is another pattern of thinking that we must change.
Unless you have a disabling medical condition, using your age as a badge of honor (or pity) to avoid physical exertion is in itself unhealthy. It encourages decay, and rapidly suppresses your capacity for physical achievement and personal growth.
So how can we break the belief that increasing age must equal decreasing physical activity? How can we reignite our ambition and ignore what we’ve been conditioned to believe about getting older? How do I get you to understand that your ambition does not need to be any different from the 30-year-old who sat across from me at breakfast that morning?
James wants to look and feel his best—as do I. Don’t you?
If so, let me suggest a simple four-step plan that I use for my clients and myself:
1. Stop comparing yourself to others—particularly your younger self.
2. Eat like you give a damn about your health, appearance, and quality of life.
3. Move more, and then keep moving.
4. Repeat. Daily.
I’m not saying you will become a buff little hottie by doing this. But to get more from your body, you must invest more effort. If you follow these steps, I guarantee that you will look better and feel better than you currently do. The benefits of proper nutrition and exercise have been scientifically proven to continue, regardless of age. Great health looks good on anyone.
This is now where my ambition lives. It’s not in my 20- or 30-year-old past. I no longer look through those eyes.
Instead, I want to become the best that I am capable of, given my current circumstance and all of the additional knowledge and experience I now possess. Who cares that I’ve gotten a bit grayer, or that my muscles aren’t exactly as big and hard as they used to be? These things are not what give our lives meaning.
We must choose to feed our bodies well, challenge them, and make them move regularly—not as a torture, but for the benefit of enjoying every moment that the rest of our lives contain.
With that, I close my commentary on age and ambition. I am no longer James’ age, build, or size, nor will I ever be. But I am still the steward of my own future—as are you, with your future. This responsibility will always remain squarely on our shoulders.
That said, I want to leave you with a little challenge for 2017: forgive your body for aging. Treat it well and make it move, because it deserves more than just your ambition. It deserves your respect.
John Aaron is a Texas state LMT, certified health coach, and personal trainer. He can be reached at johnaaronwellness.com.