When I first came to Steamboat Springs, I was retired for a couple of years and intent on becoming a ski instructor. In 1990, I was pushing 60, and the average age of an instructor was about 25. A friend of mine introduced me to another recent retiree named Joe Vacarro. We decided to train together on the mountain and take the ski instructor test the following year. As we became familiar with our new town, we realized that our quest to become ski instructors in the autumn of our lives was shared by quite a few other retirees.
As I recall, there were few openings in 1991 and not many, if any of us, made the grade. But we were a persistent bunch and the following year, after our initiation, the average age of a Steamboat Ski Instructor became 40.
After becoming ski instructors, we really learned to ski. I found myself getting stronger physically and soon realized that it wasn't how old you were, it's how hard you trained.
Aging: We all do it
How old are you when you're old? Is it when you reach the age of 40, 50, 60 or 70? Is it when the waitress at the Shack Restaurant asks you to prepay before she serves you your breakfast? Is it when you stop buying green bananas?
According to David Shields, author of "The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead," your muscular strength and coordination peak at 19, your flexibility at 20; after that, there is a steady decline. Your brain starts to shrink at age 25. Your handshake begins to weaken at 30; at 40, your memory starts to slip. Your stamina is best in your late 20s or early 30s. All marathon records are held by people between 25 and 30.
Your maximum heart rate is attained by subtracting your age from 220; therefore it falls by one beat every year.
As we approach 40, our white blood cells, which fight cancer and infectious diseases, have a lower capacity to regenerate. Every year, more fat gets deposited in the walls of our large arteries. Skin cells regenerate less often, causing the skin to weaken and dry. You begin to notice wrinkles, gray hair and loose skin.
At age 60, you've lost 25 percent of the volume of saliva you normally secrete for food; it becomes more difficult to digest meals, especially heavy ones. Your blood cholesterol increases. If you're fortunate enough to reach 65, you'll discover that you've lost about 35 percent of your aerobic power. The walls of your heart thicken, and you're more likely to develop coronary disease. The overall efficiency of the cardiovascular system drops significantly.
The up side
When you're 45, your vocabulary is three times as large as it is at 20. By the time you reach 60, your brain possesses four times the information than it did at 20. Can older people use this advanced maturity and knowledge to somewhat overcome all that negative information listed above? I think so.
How about exercise? Could this be the answer? My mother lived to be 93 and never exercised a day in her life. To the very end, she could not figure out why I ran so much. However, she was thin and ate like a sparrow. She never drank or smoked.
I once had a physical trainer who said you're never too old to gain muscle and strength. Does this advice also pertain to speed, endurance, and agility? I think it does, but it isn't going to be easy. As a matter of fact, you have to work harder to get in shape at a later age than at a younger age. Just at the time when society says it's time to start taking it easy, you must work twice as hard. This advice doesn't sit well with the majority of older folks. Hal Higdon, author of a book entitled "Running for Seniors," states very clearly that some speed and strength is lost through age, but not as much as one would think. The key, he says, is train smarter, take a little more rest between hard workouts but still train hard for gains. Basically, it's your choice to "wear out" or "rust out."
Mental strength. This is your control center for everything previously mentioned. Exercising your mind via reading, crossword puzzles, games, hobbies, (especially new ones) classes, socializing, family, etc. are all vital to happiness and contentment. It takes a strong mind or will power to have the stick-to-it-tivness to achieve healthy goals.
On July 21, I summited Long's Peak on my 75th birthday. It makes me feel good to be "putting my money where my mouth is." Am I going to become a world-class, 75-year-old warrior? I doubt it, but I feel as if I'm making the comeback of my lifetime and will keep training harder to see how far a man my age can go and what my personal limits are.
In conclusion, there are a lot of questions unanswered, and you will have to experiment with your body to find out just how far you can go with exercise in regards to your present age and condition. I would suggest you begin with a visit to your doctor, get his or her advice and make adjustments from there.
Exercise, diet and mental conditioning may not add any days to your life, but even though there are no guarantees in life, I guarantee it will add a lot of life to your days.
Contact Bill Spinder at firstname.lastname@example.org.