The Four Pillars of A Long and Strong Life
What if you could experience your 90th year with your 50-year old body? If it’s possible, it will take an overhaul of what you think, and what you do. You must clear six hurdles and construct four pillars upon which your life must unfold. (Yep.)
Note: This is the Introductory article to my FREE four-part series about how to build a strong and youthful body. This post sets up the series.
FREQUENT READERS of this blog know that I’m into life extension. If there’s a way I can live longer, I’m open to doing what it takes.
This doesn’t mean that I seek to live the last 10 years of my life as an invalid just so I can reach some vaunted age. What it does mean is that my aim is to live both a long and strong life.
Long means living longer than normal, hopefully well pass 90.
Strong means a vibrant equilibrium that balances mind and body sufficient to make my way in the world under my own steam and with a smile on my face.
It was reported recently that Americans life expectancy has risen from 75 to 78 years over the last 15 years or so. But these are not strong years. Rather, the U.S. is near the top of countries whose people are living with disabilities.
Many of the specific underlying causes of these disabilities are avoidable, such as poor diet, tobacco and alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and physical inactivity.
These specifics come from a more general set of hurdles we need to clear to live a long and strong life.
These are the hurdles:
– A negative attitude
– An unexercised mind
– An unexercised body
– Consuming manufactured food and drink
– Taking unrealistic physical risks
– Poor genetics unchallenged by good epigenetic behavior
I’ve explored each of these in various posts on this site, and so will be liberally linking to them as I explain what I mean by these “hurdles”.
After that, I’m going to share with you what I consider are the four foundational pillars for a long and strong life.
How Attitudes Are Formed
Let’s get some context. Look around you. Given that you’re reading this, it’s likely that yours is a relatively abundant world.
You have friends and acquaintances and most of them probably perceive the world similarly to you. You live in a society that assumes basic things that have been demonstrated to be largely true, as far as you can discern.
If you’re like way too many people, you work long and hard at something unfulfilling. If lucky, eventually you’ll have the financial means to retire, but by then your mind and body will keep little of the youthful energy of bygone years.
Chances are that you’re overweight and achy, seldom learn something new, and go few places that engage you in novel experiences.
Just treading water until death comes, it seems.
As all this unfolds, you immerse yourself in soothing balms. Entertainment is paramount. God bless TV. (And sports.) Sex is paramount. God bless Viagra. Comfort food is paramount. God bless Doritos. Intoxication is paramount. God bless Budweiser. (Geez, at least make it Anchor Steam.)
Yeah, it seems like I have an axe to grind. But really I don’t feel particularly outraged or otherwise emotional about this. It’s simply an observation, some noted in my mirror.
My overarching point is that a certain construct has been foisted upon us that forms what we believe and how we conduct our lives, and that this is suboptimal for living the longest and strongest life that’s possible. (Not to mention, joyful.)
To achieve that, it’s highly likely that some big time changes need to be made, starting with attitude.
Attitude is made by your beliefs, thoughts and emotions, all. It’s how you deal with your world. It’s how you control cortisol.
Yeah, that came out of left field.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress. Some medical types refer to it as the “Death Hormone” because too much of it too often contributes to an early demise.
Nobel laureate Elisabeth Blackburn demonstrated how chronic stress could actually cut the length of your telomeres. Telomeres are the tips of chromosomes and their length mark the length of your life. (Read Why Stress is the Biggest Super Ager Of Them All.)
This is one of many examples of how behavior can decide which of your genes get expressed, which is referred to as “epigenetics”. (Read The Surprising Reasons Your Kids Should Care About Your Genetics.)
Here’s an example about which we can all relate: You’re stuck in traffic, with horns blaring and people fuming. Are you among them? If you are, you’re stressed and the cortisol is surging. But unless your wife is in the backseat giving birth, you have no good reason to let sitting in traffic stress you. You have a choice to adopt a different attitude about it. You could be listening to some inspiring music and modulating your breath, recognizing that a piss poor life reducing stressed out attitude about the situation you’re in won’t make it disappear.
Which brings me to the unexercised mind.
A Mind Unexercised
An unexercised mind is one that, perhaps like your butt fixed all day to that chair, is static. If you’re going to live a long and strong life, which is what precious few of your comrades are doing, you’re going to have to learn a lot of new stuff.
In fact, given the relatively recent research in brain plasticity, we know that to keep your brain young and your mind expansive, you’ll need to keep learning. Reading, puzzles, writing, luminosity – like your legs, heart and biceps, your brain needs to be kept in exercise mode your whole life through.
So, if you haven’t learned anything new that’s substantial lately, perhaps it’s time you did.
With that said, I’ve nicely teed up the next exercise part, your body.
A Body Unexercised
An unexercised body cannot possibly age well. Sure, you may get to 95, but in what shape? No muscle, bent over, shuffling.
Somewhere in your thirties and accelerating during your fifties, an unexercised body will have a net loss of lean muscle mass.
“People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30”. (Source)
Strolling through the park, pausing to sniff the roses, will not reverse this muscle attrition; rather, your body must meet resistance. Gravitational forces applied to your own body weight will do, so will walking up steep hills, push-ups, squats and the like.
Basically, it needs to be a type of exercise that breaks down muscle tissue (catabolism), so that when through proper nutrition it builds back up (anabolism) enough to keep up it’s level of size and strength, or exceed it (muscle growth).
Simply put, without a lifelong exercise program, you’ll get bent over as you age and fall down and break a hip and suffer a painful death.
Rather than this woebegone outcome, change that attitude, learn how to exercise and go do it. Naturally, you’ll need to properly feed yourself so that during the anabolic stage, you build a better body.
Consuming manufactured food and drink will not get you to the Promised Land of a strong, hale ninth decade and beyond.
By “manufactured” I mean food and drink that have been altered to your disadvantage. Much of the stuff that comes out of a box or can does not resemble the food from which it was derived… you know, the produce grown on a farm.
Eating manufactured/fast food takes its toll. Some health experts say that this wheat-dominated, preservative-laced, fat/sugar/salt infused “food” is the reason for the obesity epidemic that has overtaken much of the industrialized world.
Hey Baby boomers – if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, reconsider eating it. For younger generations, you’ll have to stretch further back in your ancestry.
Simply put: eating the crap so artfully advertised on TV is taking an unnecessary, unsavory risk against living a long and strong life.
If you’d like some tips about eating well, check out my post, Diet 101, and the truly gun-ho among you can go to “Categories” in the sidebar to the right, drop down to “Diet/Nutrition” and feast on more articles than Arnold could bench press.
The bottom line here is that you can count diet among other risks that could shorten your life, such as driving without seatbelts, smoking, biking without a helmet, skydiving, etc.
Which brings me to the last hurdle to living a long and strong life, genetics.
Genetics vs Epigenetics
As “they” say, “Genetics loads the gun and behavior pulls the trigger”.
Have heart disease in your family? Might be a good idea to adopt a really good diet, and build your heart’s capacity with exercise, both anaerobic and aerobic.
Low birth weight? Well, that could predispose you to a shorter than average lifespan, and/or age-related disease, so it would be fine idea to counter this deleterious potential by adopting healthy habits.
The role of behavior cannot be overemphasized. To quote from What A 50-Year Old VW Can Tell You About Your Lifespan:
“The idea here is that although you may have a genetic predisposition for hale health, or its opposite, your behavior (ie choices made about eating, drinking smoking, exercising etc.) could enhance that predisposition.
“Your behavior can accentuate the positive or negative expression of your genes, just as changing the oil, repairing rust and tuning up the VW keeps it alive even if the sheet metal and other parts used for make it was a bit fragile to begin with.
“The scientists who study this stuff know that specific behaviors can help you live a longer and more satisfying life by, in effect, turning on (expressing) the genes that enhance lifespan”.
This distills down to:
In most cases, poor genetics are no excuse.
Remember how I started this section with that quote up there? Don’t pull the trigger. You can reload with better bullets manufactured by the right behavior.
That said, now to the “Four Pillars”…
The Four Pillars of A Long and Strong Life:
Yes, I made these up by my very own self. You’ll soon recognize that they’re the “hurdle” busters.
For many years, I’ve thought long and hard about how to age better than how most people do it, and have committed myself to this path. Along the way, I’ve read a lot about what people smarter than me have to say about the topic. This I’ve synthesized, much of it practiced, and I think it can be distilled down to four foundational pillars that if followed will result in a long and strong life.
It all starts with mindset, or put in another way, how your mind is set. If your thoughts, behaviors and emotions – your attitudes – are set in cement, it’s unlikely that you’ll be willing to adapt to a new way of thinking and being about age.
Fundamentally, you need to be willing to rethink what you think you know or believe is true. You have to be willing to learn new things, adopt new behaviors and experiment.
This is not easy.
We all have much invested in who we are and how we see the world. But, as “they” say, if you want a different result, you have to do something differently.
A proper mindset will enable you to say, “yes” to what you need to learn and do to have a chance at living a longer and stronger life.
If you’re resistant to change, nothing else presented, such as Pillars 2 – 4, will be useful, because you won’t use it. You can buy all the self-help books in the world, a treadmill and 300 pounds of weights, but if they all remain unused, nothing changes in you.
You need the right mindset.
These articles may be worthy of your time and consideration:
Pillar #2: Reset
By “reset” I’m referring to resetting your body.
At this point in life – even if you’re still in your twenties – it’s likely that you’ve absorbed hundreds of the chemicals that are in our food, air and water. Much of these chemicals are stored in our bodies’ fatty deposits, both visceral and subcutaneous.
As I wrote in 4 Steps To Get Rid of Toxic Weight:
- First, you need to stop ingesting and breathing in toxins;
- Second, you need to mop up the toxins already present in your body; and
- Third, you need to specifically address supporting the body’s natural organs of cleansing and elimination.
By the time you’re in your forties and beyond, an additional concern is your production of youthful hormones. If they are not close to the levels being made when younger, it’s harder to lose fat and maintain lean muscle mass.
The chemicals we ingest don’t do our hormones any favors. Men in particular can attribute the feminization of their bodies from high estrogen levels caused, in part, by the ingestion of chemicals, such as BPAs (Bisphenol A) from plastic.
As a study published in May of 2011 in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives reported:
“Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled, independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source, leached chemicals having reliably-detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA-free,” the study concludes. “In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than BPA-containing products.” (Source)
So, “Reset” is aligned with cleansing toxins out of your body and restoring proper healthy functioning of all of your three primary organs of elimination, the kidneys, liver and colon, as well as the lungs and skin.
On this site, you can dig more into those topics with these posts:
Pillar #3: Fuel
“Fuel” refers to what you eat and drink, which is what provides your cells with the basic material to manufacture the energy that lets you function.
Fuel is food, drink and supplements. Your choice of the food, drink and supplements that you consume each day will largely determine the robustness of your health and your longevity.
I have an image for you to contemplate.
The image: Imagine whatever you typically eat over the course of an average day is stuffed into a blender. Turn the blender on. After a few minutes of blending, what do you see?
If your foodstuff in the blender blends up into some sticky muck, well, that’s what your body has to digest and use.
You can do yourself a favor by putting, in effect, a lot of food in that blender that holds water and fiber.
The foods that contain water in it are vegetables and fruits. Fiber foods that won’t muck up your blender include nuts and seeds (flax, hemp, sunflower, chia). This you could blend that up and drink without gagging; in fact, you would thrive.
Although it ruins my blender metaphor, if you’re a meat-eater, add grass-fed meat to the fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as lentils, legumes, omega-3 fats and a bit of complex carbs.
Drink lots of pure water and green tea throughout the day.
If you’re a coffee drinker, try to choose organic, high altitude grown, air-dried beans that have no myotoxins, and limit it to one cup. And don’t adulterate it with a lot of cream, sugar and/or toxic sugar substitutes.
To begin your learning about supplements, I suggest you begin with Dr. Hyman’s 4 Supplements Reduce Healthcare Costs.
There’s also lots of information in the “Supplements” page of this site. (Look for it in the header, and I apologize in advance that some of the links on that page are “broken” – another fix-it I need to do.)
And now I wish to expand on the hormone subject I introduced in “Pillar #3 – Refuel”.
As you get beyond 40 years of age, if you’re not eating, drinking, supplementing and exercising (which I get to below) to enhance youthful hormone optimization, then a long and strong life will be a mirage.
There’s a lot of great material about hormone restoration on the Life Extension Foundation (“LEF”) site. To piqué your interest, I’ll copy/paste what they have to say about male and female hormone restoration, and you can use the links provided to immerse yourself in this important topic.
For men, it largely comes down to testosterone.
What Men Need to Know About Optimizing Testosterone Levels
- Testosterone, the chief male hormone, is essential for libido and erectile function, and plays a crucial role in mood, energy, bone health, and body composition.
- Testosterone levels decline with age, usually beginning in a man’s mid-30s. Diminishing testosterone levels have been linked with disorders such as depression, fatigue, obesity and cognitive decline.
- Low testosterone in men is strongly associated with metabolic syndrome, and may be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Restoring testosterone to youthful levels offers men a wealth of health benefits, including benefits for heart health, body composition, mood, and memory.
- Bioidentical testosterone has not been found to have adverse effects on the healthy prostate gland—in fact, it may help improve prostate symptoms in men with low-normal testosterone levels. Testosterone therapy is contraindicated in men with prostate cancer.
- Regular blood testing can help you and your physician decide if testosterone therapy is right for you. Optimizing testosterone levels requires a multi-pronged approach that includes ideal diet, proper nutrition, nutritional supplements, exercise, and bioidentical testosterone.
(Source: Male Hormone Restoration)
Women, naturally, are more complicated. For them it’s not primarily about just one hormone, but the interplay between a few. Biologically sound hormone replacement for women should focus on their total hormonal balance.
What Women Need to Know About Balancing Their Hormones
The rationale for conventional Hormone Replacement Therapy (“HRT”) is that women’s hormone levels decline with age. Replacement, therefore, should reverse troubling menopausal consequences, which include increased risk of heart attack and cancer.
While the original understanding of menopause and logic behind HRT were theoretically correct, modern science is showing that the true story of HRT is much more complex.
It is impossible to isolate estrogen and progesterone from other hormones. All steroid hormones are created from cholesterol in a hormonal cascade. The first in the cascade is pregnenolone, which is later converted into other hormones including dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), progesterone, testosterone, and various forms of estrogen.
These hormones are interrelated, yet each performs unique physiological functions. Biologically sound hormone replacement should focus on a woman’s total hormone balance, not only on estrogen and progesterone.
Mainstream physicians are just now beginning to recognize estrogen dominance, a term used to characterize the relative imbalance between excess estrogen and insufficient progesterone.
Estrogen dominance helps explain many of the conditions that face modern women in Western civilization, such as fibrocystic breast disease and cancer. Estrogen dominance can occur in any woman. However, perimenopausal women, who typically experience a more rapid decline in progesterone relative to estrogen, are especially at risk.
Conjugated equine estrogen (“CEE”) is obtained from the urine of pregnant mares (horses). CEE is usually given in combination with progestin, a chemical compound modified to for the purpose of appear structurally similar to natural, bioidentical progesterone. However, it is not the same. The structural differences between conjugated equine estrogen and chemical progestin as well as natural hormones are responsible for many of the adverse effects resulting from conventional HRT.
Another major problem with conventional HRT is the estrogen ratio. For example, the ratio in medications such as Premarin® is considerably different than the ratio observed naturally in a woman’s body.
By coupling healthy diet and lifestyle habits with regular blood testing and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, women today have a means to look and feel their best at any age.
Given the preponderance of evidence, women should feel confident that bioidentical hormone replacement, when appropriately prescribed, offers a safer and potentially more effective alternative to conventional HRT to help relieve menopausal symptoms and optimize long-term health.
The addition of several proven nutrients to a bioidentical hormone regimen may help optimize estrogen metabolism and reduce cancer risk even further, offering an optimal, balanced approach to health maintenance.
(I edited the above from this source: Female Hormone Restoration)
Here are some resources to consider reading to get you eating right:
The Baby Boomer’s Guide To Trimming Body Fat
How to Feed 100 Trillion Guests
8 Common Diet Strategies: Myths and Truths
Are You A Bit Addicted to the Holy Trinity of Salt, Sugar and Fat?
Boost Your Testosterone Naturally
Dr. Oz and the Reboot Diet Plan
Pillar #4: Move
Lastly, there’s “Move”, which refers to moving your body thru the time/space continuum. (Sounds better than grunting up a hill.)
Seriously, think about it… how many hours a day do you spend either sitting or lying down?
Let me guess.
Given the presumption that you principally do your work at a desk:
– Working while sitting: 8 hours/day
– Sitting while driving: 1.5 hours/day
– Sitting/lying down while watching TV: 3 hours/day
– Sleeping: 8 hours/day
Total hours each day not moving: 20.5!
Well, the good news is that for 3.5 hours you are moving. Question is, moving how, doing what?
What “Pillar #4” wants you to do is to move in a way that increases functional fitness and mobility.
“Functional fitness” and “mobility” are the two components of Pillar #4 because they work in concert to prepare your body to live a long time with vitality.
Functional fitness means that you’re capable to function as biologically intended. You can lift your body weight off the floor many times in succession. You can carry your body (via walking) up steep hills for a couple of miles or more. You can grab two heavy grocery bags and walk up a few stories without blacking out. That sorta stuff.
Mobility means that you have a full range of motion in all of your joints. You can squat down till your butt touches your hills and then stand up. Your shoulder joints can be fully articulated multi-directionally. You can put your knees on the floor and then sit back on your butt. You can stand up and bend down, knees nearly locked, and touch your toes. That sorta stuff.
Your body was built to move, not sit. To live a long and strong life, you must follow the original user’s manual. You need to keep up a certain level of lean muscle mass and joint mobility to physically prosper as you age. In fact, resistance training to maintain/increase muscle mass stimulates youthful hormones. (Note the first submission among the resources below.)
Here are some resources to consider reading to get you moving:
Boost Your Human Growth Hormone in 20 Minutes!
The Anti-aging Effects of Exercise
Get Strong, Muscular and Mobile (Fast)
Here’s How Joe Warner Got His 6-Pack in Just 12 Weeks!
The Homestead Workout — Watch
Well, it’s time to end yet another crazy-long post. If you’ve made it this far, you have lots to digest.
Comments, questions? Just go to the Comments section below and have at it.
Ciao for now.
If you liked this article and want to read the rest of this series, go here!