It seems like decades past that I attended a class in college on Physical Activity. Actually, it was only about forty or fifty years ago. I remember talking about height and weight, about charts and graphs, and about the relevance of somatotype. Now, decades later, I am wondering about the relevance of young adult measurements to an older adult body.
When I was assessed as a young adult the height weight charts of the day suggested I should weigh 147 pounds. Taking my body type into account, the recommended weight was 160 pounds. At that time I weighted 160 pounds – the whole thing was quite convenient. My somatotype score was 172 – that applies somehow to the height weight charts and supposedly more accurate projections are formed.
A quick note on somatotype. There are three fundamental types: Ectomorph (tall and thin, little body fat), Mesomorph (Strongly build, broad chest and shoulders), and Endomorph (stocky, a large round body). Each category is measured from one to seven. One suggests little tendency, seven is the whole cow (in a manner of speaking.) My 172 suggested this: Tendency toward Ectomorphy – 1, toward Mesomorphy – 7, and toward Endomorphy – 2; thus – 172. This is a great somatotype for a young man – not so good if care is not taken over decades.
Over time I have become less active. I have also developed a taste for pasta, pastries, and ice cream, and even ice cream on pastries. In recent years I have taken up the culinary art of ‘smoking meat.’ There is not much in the world that beats smoked baby back ribs with macaroni salad, followed by German Chocolate cake with creamy vanilla ice cream. That endomorphy measurement of ‘2’ has come home to roost. I have gained weight. I have regular physicals with my family physician. He was never much concerned about any weight gain – until my check-up last spring. It seems for the first time in my long life my cholesterol and triglycerides are above the target range. The doctor’s prescription: diet and exercise and come back in three months (that was five months ago). The doctor’s office called last week and forced a scheduled blood test for tomorrow – this doctor fella takes his job seriously or something.
In the past my weight gain was dismissed by the physician. All of my physical measurements were within tolerance. My blood pressure is low, my resting heart rate is low, my sense of humor is high, my writing skills are marginal, and my chemical balance was always good. The weight gain was dismissed as a product of aging – our metabolism naturally slows and most of us also become less active. We eat more. We gain weight. Pot bellies in older men are accepted as a natural phenomenon. Older women often have to fly first class to fit in their assigned seat. But this turns out to be a great charade, a trick of culture, a time bomb threatening good health.
I have been working out vigorously. I have lost ten pounds. I have to ‘fast’ tonight to have an accurate blood test in the morning. Did I mention that my life style does not include ‘fasting?’ My workout has extended to over 90 minutes every day. I get dehydrated and water does not quench my thirst – so I now drink at least one 16.9 fl oz of Propel every day (That is 500 ml, but the discussion on America’s transition to metrics is for another post.) The Propel has electrolytes and antioxidants which are not supplied by mere water. If I do not drink the Propel then I have leg cramps in the evening, so I guess there is something to the argument. I am paying the price for listening to cultural ding dongs.
The debate about aging and weight gain only requires a little logic. If at age 30 my systemic physical self operated best at 160 pounds (convert that to grams if you wish), then it would seem only logical that the same systemic physical self, fifty years later, would operate best a Less Weight.
Here is my new found reasoning: I have less muscle mass, meaning that my muscular system offers less support to my skeletal system. My bones are weaker, requiring more muscle support to carry the same weight. The cushioning cartilage in my joints is less flexible, requiring more muscle to support the joints. These elements of reality should be enough by themselves to promote weight loss as we age. But there is more.
It seems that as we age our cells have less capacity to regenerate. Our heart weakens. Our lungs become less efficient. Our digestive system is less selective about what it allows to pass. Our filtering systems for toxins, our liver and kidneys, are not as efficient. Fat cells store sugar – and other unpleasant toxins – this increases our risk for diabetes, heart disease, and fall-asleep-on-the-couch syndrome. I don’t even want to talk about cancer – a product of cellular degeneration, many times associated with aging.
All of this seems so clear to me today, and I even took a class on Physical Activity when I was young. One might have thought that I would have come to these realizations much sooner in my life. I think I probably did ponder some of this – but those baby backs are just too good. What is one bowl of ice cream in the grand scheme of things? Who wants to go for a walk when we can just sit at our computer and write about walking?
None of this is complex science. Most of us are aware of the need to take care of ourselves. My supposition from this whole diatribe is this: We should loose weight as we age. (That ‘should’ word pops up in inconvenient places.) In any case, when your physician dismisses your weight gain as a natural phenomenon of aging – don’t buy it. Don’t use age as an excuse for weight gain. Use age as a logical reason to lose weight.
I think I will print this post and give it to my doctor. Or not.