At any age, exercise is the best anti-aging drug available

Body Parts. Those two words bring various images: science fiction, voodoo, pornography, Baywatch. But right now when I think of body parts I am thinking of hinges.

After 81 years of use, one of my hinges is not working properly. The miracle, of course, is that any one of them is working at all. Shoulders do not come with lifetime guarantees. Oh well, neither does anything else.

Fixing hinges is a major industry in this country. Doctors achieve miracles with new body parts, but a lot of the work with joints is being done by physical therapists. If you have never had a PT stick a forefinger through a muscle clear to the bone, you have not lived. No pain, no gain.

The professional torture chamber, otherwise known as a gym/athletic club/health club/fitness rehab center, where I start my day a couple of times a week, is full of people who are strengthening non-functioning or inadequately functioning joints. Of course, none of those people is as old as I am, which does give me a little bit of comfort.

The human body is a miraculous creation, but since it is covered with skin, we don’t know much about it until it starts to hurt. My favorite PT showed me a plastic model of a shoulder recently. It looked horribly complicated to me, but she insisted that it was really quite simple — this muscle fastened to that tendon fastened to that bone — like the old song: “The ankle bone connected to the ah leg bone, the leg bone connected to the uh knee bone.” If you will strengthen that muscle it will feel better. OK.

After much nagging from my physical fitness friends, I finally gave up and started a weight-lifting program about a year ago. When I say weights I do not mean a 200 pound press or anything in that class, but something more in the range of two or three pounds, maybe five. I am fairly sure that some of those bumps in my arms are muscles. Certainly I can walk faster and longer. But when the hinge started to hurt, I was ready to call the whole thing off and return to my easy chair.

My PT would have none of that. She has me working harder than ever to get that hinge flapping again. As I sit in the big room with heat or ice on it, it is interesting to watch the people building and repairing muscles and joints. The machines are formidable, but the patients, as a group, are remarkably cheerful. So are the people who are helping us, all of whom look about 15 and as though they could run a marathon without breaking a sweat. We’re all convinced that we can do it, too, in a little while.

Before I got involved in this whole physical fitness thing, I assumed that it was a somewhat esoteric activity indulged in by jocks with bulging muscles and young things with lithe, hard bodies. But no, it is for everybody.

One rapidly growing group on the scene is the senior-citizen contingent. There are lots of us. We are told that many of the physical changes that we assume are part of the aging process are really due to neglect.

Dr. Evans of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts College says that, “We can make a 95-year-old as strong as a 50-year-old, and if there are no underlying disorders, mental sharpness is maintained.”

Well, now, that’s good news for kids like me. Maybe I can shoot a few hoops when I’m 95. Another gerontologist, Dr. Alex Leif of Harvard, says, “... exercise is the closest thing to an anti-aging pill there is.”

Of course, I still have that hinge that isn’t working right. But think how many times it has bent in 81 years. Truly, it’s a miracle.


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