Daily #8 On Physical Fitness

I want to be able to do squats and push-ups when I'm 85. Why? I first got this idea in my head when I saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg training with a personal trainer, doing exactly that at that age!  

The real reason why I suppose it that I value self reliance and want be mobile and independent when I'm old. My grandfather is turning 95 in 2 weeks. I have 3 grandparents over the age of 85. So I am going to assume I'm going to live that long. Genes and all. So it only makes sense to plan for it. Plan to keep this body functional, mobile, self-sufficient as long as I live, if I can help it.

So how do you do that? Be active, eat healthy, sleep enough. The usual basics right. But what's the minimum that I can practice sustainably.

A funny hack I thought of: If I do squats every day for the rest of my life – not many, just 10 or 15 – then I will automatically be able to them when I am 85!  Like your joints and muscles don't just stop working overnight right. If I can do my squat the day before my 85th birday, I'd be able to do them on my 85th birthday (kinda like a proof by induction). I know, genius right. So I did those squats, for a over a year (from March 2020 to June or July of 2021) but then I stopped for because..I can't remember exactly when or why. doh. plan fail.

But It's okay. I started up again couple weeks ago, let's see if I can keep it up until age 85 this time. [note to self: my writing needs some emojis]

Back to learning the minimum viable sustainable practice for longevity. In fall of 2019 I got really into reading and learning more about fitness stuff (and my very first "failed startup" had to do with fitness so I had an excuse too).

I read books like Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto, NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. I got Delavier's Women's Strength Training Anatomy Workouts and followed the program and did those sets and reps each week. I learned more about strength training and muscle mass. I also became one of those people who ate protein bars regularly.

I learned this term healthspan – the amount of your life when you're physically fit and healthy. Lifespan, on the other hand, is just how many years you live. I decided I wanted my healthspan to be equal my lifespan.

Prior to then, I had never given exercise or physical fitness much thought (probably because I was in good shape, not intentionally but as a side effect) I happen to be active by doing things like hiking, rock climbing, playing badminton and ultimate frisbee. I did these things not to exercise or with fitness in mind, I had friends who did those things and it was simply a way for us to hang out. This was all BK (before kids). For about 4 years from 2015 to 2019 that all changed and now I had to find a way to exercise intentionally and I didn't have free time. Hence my interest in learning this stuff and finding the minimal sustainable practice.

In addition to reading stuff, coming up with my exercise routines, logging my macros nutrients and eating protein bars, I also talked to people in the fitness industry in early 2020. I cold emailed (before I knew that's what it was called) some personal trainers and physical therapists. I went to a few local gyms, did their health assessment and peppered the staff with questions to cross-reference stuff I was reading. Most gyms are focused on helping people with specific weight loss goals. They smiled when I talked about increasing my healthspan and my goal of longevity. No one replied to my cold emails except one. I did talk to one gym owner in San Francisco who used to be an engineer and had transitioned to fitness industry. That was a nice conversation. I also had a call with someone from Nerd Fitness after reading about them on Indie Hackers.

[add story about the 12 week core rehab program, and the habit tracker I built]

Ultimately I decided to not to pursue the fitness business idea in early 2020, around the start of the pandemic.

I kept doing my squats, sometimes added planks and push-ups. And I also walked 40 minutes and got my step counter app on my phone to be green every day. That was the basic level I could keep up with for over a year. (I stopped couple months ago as life got a bit stressful but I started again few weeks ago and it's been green since November 7.)

Physical fitness is definitely one of those long-term game that compounds. Small steps every day. Almost boring. And it's okay if you fall of the track, as long as you get back on.

My grandfather is relatively healthy for 95. I don't recall him ever being in a hospital for anything until recently. Here are the habits I know he followed:  

  • He walked for 1 hour every morning for 50 years. From age 40 to age 90. I've also seen him to breath work and meditation.
  • He fasted every Monday. Ate once a day, just lunch no dinner. In general, he had a rule about stopping eating when you're 90% full.
  • He read and kept his mind active in general

I recently read a book called Blue Zones. It's lessons about living longer from some of the oldest people all over the world. Essentially what they mention in the book is not too different from how my grandparents live and habits I mentioned above.

No fancy workouts. Some daily low intensity steady state cardio with walking. Food in moderation and staying mentally active.

So maybe that's it. That's all there is to it.