For several years of my life, I worked as an exercise physiologist for a cardiovascular clinic, where I ran treadmill tests all day long, one after the other. I was 21 at the time and considered myself to be somewhat of a philosopher after reading one CS Lewis book. So, as a philosopher, I made it my goal to learn life lessons from each patient I tested. And my all-time favorite patients to learn from were the 80 and 90-year-olds that were still living healthy, active lives.
They performed better on the treadmill than many patients in their twenties and thirties. They walked without canes or help, were on few medications, and exuded this incredible, contagious joy.
I wondered how they lived so well, physically and mentally, despite their advanced age. And so I asked. And here’s what I learned.
Life Lessons in Exercise
First, surprise, surprise, none of them attended CrossFit. No one exercised an hour every day, or visited the gym for regular kickboxing classes. No one attributed their current good health, or even their health 50 years ago, to extreme exercise regimens.
Are you ready for the secret? It’s walking. Just a daily walk.
Every single person said that they went for a walk around their neighborhood every day, and that they had done it all their lives. The general consensus was that you just have to keep moving. And they didn’t just move on their walks.
They moved around the kitchen to cook a meal instead of ordering take-out. (I’m guilty there!) They moved around their backyard and local parks, instead of sitting down in front of a tv, computer, or phone. (Guilty again!) A body in motion stays in motion.
Life Lessons in Diet
Second, not even one patient told me they followed a particular diet – not low fat, not low sodium, not Atkins, keto, or the Master Cleanse. Every one of them had simply practiced moderation all their lives. Sure, eat your cake, but eat a small piece and learn to savor each bite.
They all held a certain level of self control that they applied to every area of life, including food. Many mentioned the current mindset of “treating yourself” to a snack or soda every day, and suggested that it’s no longer a “treat” in that case, but a habit.
Many also spoke of younger people having an emotional tie to food, and that people today eat because they’re lonely or depressed, or even happy and celebrating. But 70 years ago, people ate because food is fuel, nothing more. And those patients still have that practical, non-emotional relationship with food today.
Life Lessons in Mindset
And finally, the biggest and arguably most effective secret? Their mindset.
I’ll always remember a patient asking where she could set her book while she walked on the treadmill. What book was she reading? A language book to learn Spanish.
She was learning a new language. In her nineties. She told me that she was learning Spanish so that she could talk to and help more people, and that you should never stop learning.
Some of the most common life lessons on mindset that I heard from patients were:
- Pray every day and trust God.
- Always put your family first.
- Don’t sweat the small things.
- Never stop learning.
- Don’t worry about what other people think.
- Don’t hang around negative people.
Wrap It Up
And so, it’s not anything mysterious or drastic that’s causing people to live really well and enjoy life into their nineties and older. They’re simply moving their bodies every day, practicing moderation with food and drink, and maintaining a positive and balanced mindset.
So why are we working so hard to follow fads and push ourselves to extremes in every area of our lives, all in the name of “hustle”? If we want to live long, happy lives, maybe we should start listening to the life lessons of those that already do.
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