I get a steady stream of email from people saying, “I saw you linked to some webpage and I thought you might want to share this other webpage with your readers!”
This is never going to work.
What might work is treating me like a person who might have common interests: Send a link. Tell me what it says (so I have a reason to follow it). Let me decide if it’s so interesting I should share it with my readers.
Among the things that I pay more attention to than I ought is a vast swath of preliminary research (and guesses based on preliminary research) about how large physical things (like diet and exercise) work at the scale of cellular biology.
To work though an example:
It seems likely that eating soup, or just drinking good, gelatinous bone broth, will provide your body with the amino acids that it needs to build connective tissue: tendons, ligaments, cartilage, as well as skin and hair.
Actual growth of those tissues is mediated in various ways. It seems virtually certain that mechanical transduction is involved—just pulling on tendons and ligaments, as well as pounding on cartilage—spurs them to get stronger and thicker. But it seems likely that it’s mediated by chemical signals as well. There’s pretty good evidence that Human Growth Hormone signals all these tissues to grow, provided all the building blocks are available.
Even if (like me) you’re quite leery of exogenous supplements of Human Growth Hormone, you can nevertheless raise your circulating levels in various ways, such as by getting a good night’s sleep. In particular, exercise will do it, both resistance exercise and aerobic exercise. In fact (I have heard) a hard leg workout will raise your circulating HGH level temporarily higher than the level produced by a typical dose of supplementary HGH.
This suggests a simple protocol, good for your tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, but also good for skin and hair:
Drink some bone broth. (Make sure you have some vitamin C as well. Doesn’t have to be extra; an ordinary amount is fine.)
After 30 minutes or so, do some stretching exercises and some light lifting. (Your tendons, ligaments, and cartilage tend to have poor circulation. The mechanical action of pushing and pulling them produces the fluid exchange necessary to get the amino acids into them.)
Do a heavy resistance workout, focusing on your largest muscles. Squats are the obvious choice.
Get a good night’s sleep.
This is why my thighs are really sore this morning.
Walking outside yesterday I realized I was not SAD, even though the solstice was just three days away. In fact, I was very nearly gleeful. And the feeling has persisted. It’s like it’s late February and spring is coming!
Great advice on the right way to handle fall risk for seniors. Includes an excellent video.
Elliott Royce takes practice falls at least five times every morning. He doesn’t just practice; he preaches, too. He goes to assisted living centers, senior centers and community centers to talk about how to prevent serious injuries if you take a tumble.
For my fall-semester OLLI class I took “Ballet for Adult Beginners,” taught by Lei Shanbhag.
I took the class as enrichment of my movement practice. I felt like adding something very different to my existing range of taiji, running, natural movement, a tiny bit of parkour, and so on, and I thought that ballet would be very different, and yet still fall within the broad spectrum of “movement practice.”
I also took it as cultural enrichment. I wanted to learn a bit of the vocabulary of ballet—both the literal vocabulary (Allongé, Battement, Ronds de jambes), and the movement vocabulary (learning to see a dance as a conversation between the dancers and one another, and with the audience).
As far as enhancing my movement practice, I’d have to say it wasn’t a complete success—I did the moves in class, but I didn’t really learn them.
That’s entirely a matter of my own abilities: I’m just very slow to learn movement stuff. I have crappy mirror neurons, and I can only learn movement stuff verbally—I have to watch the movement, describe it to myself in words, and memorize the verbal description. Only then can I attempt to do the movement, by playing back my memorized description and attempting to execute it.
As perhaps you can imagine, this is not the quick and easy way to learn to dance. The upshot is that I need to go more slowly than most people (so I have time to create the verbal description), do it more times than most people (so I have time to memorize my verbal description), and then do it yet more times (so I can learn to execute the moves that I’ve described).
I could probably have learned, let’s say, half or a third of what was taught, if we’d done just that much, and spent two or three times as long on each thing.
As it was, I enjoyed the moving very well, but didn’t leave each class with one or two specific things I might practice between then and the next class.
I don’t mean this in any way as a criticism of the class, which was enjoyable and informative. I had the sense that other people in the class (all with some sort of dance background) were picking up much more of the movements than I was. And Lei was constantly asking if the amount done was the right amount. I could have said, “Wait! Before we go on, let’s do this one thing 5 more times.” I chose not to, so that’s all on me.
Despite not learning the movements, I nevertheless did the movements (as best I could), so the classes were a nice workout—well structured, with a warmup, stretching, practice of the moves we were learning, and more stretching.
I was more successful at learning the cultural stuff. I didn’t learn every ballet term, but I learned enough to provide some useful context. Now I can look things up and understand them. I also began to learn to see ballet, which is something that I didn’t really appreciate before.
One tidbit that we learned the first day stuck with me: The posture of ballet dance—feet turned out, hips forward, weight forward—dates back to Louis XIV. Basically, turning your feet out lets you activate your glutes, while shifting your weight forward lets you activate your quads. If you’ve got good musculature in your legs, this posture lets you show that off. (Especially if, as Louis often was, you’re wearing tights.)
Basically, ballet dancers stand that way because Louis XIV thought standing that way made his butt look good.
I find it super easy to spend time outdoors in the summer. Anytime the weather is nice, I’ll almost automatically get out for at least a couple of hours per day. I’m a lot less motivated to do so when it’s cold or wet. This post is largely here to help me remember how nice it is to get outside, even when the weather isn’t so pleasant.
How nice is it? Really, really nice. And yet, I forget, so I end up having to manipulate myself into getting outside in the winter.
I find it easy to manipulate myself with perceived health benefits, such as the well-documented benefits of spending time in nature. I’d find the self-manipulation thing even easier if we knew a bit more about what the “active ingredients” are with regard to time in nature.
Maybe it’s visual. Does the appearance of leaves and trees have some effect on the brain? (I have my own theory that dappled shade has soothing effects on the brain due to our evolution as forest-edge animals.)
Maybe it’s chemical. Trees release all sorts of chemicals into the air, as do bacteria and fungi that live in the soil. I imagine that these are reduced during the winter when the trees are dormant and the soil is covered with snow, but I don’t know of any relevant data.
Besides health benefits, the main ways I motivate myself is either by finding a way to perceive the activity as enjoyable (as being outside on a nice summer day) or else to find a way to smugly perceive the activity as so unpleasant that lesser beings could not bestir themselves to get out in such wretched weather. (One of my mottos: If the weather can’t be good, it should at least be bad enough to be interesting.)
One practical idea I used today: In winter the sunrise is late enough to not have to get up early to get see it. Take advantage of that. See the dawn. Watch the sun rise. Then go back inside where it’s warm.
Perhaps because I’ve reached an age where I might be considered a senior my own self, I’m becoming increasingly annoyed by the way public health advisors infantilize seniors.
It’s most obvious with fall risk, where “don’t fall” not only is repeated constantly, it almost always comes with a particular sort of blame-the-victim advice—remove tripping hazards, wear supportive shoes, be careful on wet or icy surfaces, always use your assistive devices (canes, walkers, etc.)—the implication being that if you fall it’s your fault for not having made your environment sufficiently fall-proof.
This advice is not merely useless or insulting; it is actively harmful.
It’s harmful first of all because it conflates “senior” with “frail” in a way that will inevitably lead the public to harass seniors just like the public feels free to harass fat people, smokers, pregnant women (especially those with the temerity to drink alcohol), or anyone who isn’t conforming with whatever the current public health fashion is.
Inevitably too, it will have that effect in the minds of seniors who will start to think of themselves as frail simply because everybody says so.
More to the point, it’s is precisely backwards for what you want if your goal is (as I think it should be) to prevent frailty.
Wrong: Remove tripping hazards. Right: Use pillows, empty boxes, rocks, sticks, 2x4s, and whatever else you have handy to make a little obstacle course on which you can practice navigating tripping hazards.
Wrong: Wear supportive shoes. Right: Wear the least supportive shoes you can handle and do foot exercises to gradually strengthen your feet.
Wrong: Be careful on slippery surfaces. Right: Pay attention to the surfaces you’re walking on and exercise due care on all of them.
Wrong: Always use your assistive devices. Right: Work with a physical therapist if necessary, and then do exercises to make yourself strong enough to obviate the need for an assistive device.
This is perhaps not as harmful as the infantalization of children and youth, which works extra harm because adults have more power to impose their conditions on children, whereas seniors mostly have enough autonomy to ignore inappropriate advice. But it hurts seniors in exactly the same way it hurts children, reducing their ability to become or remain robust actors in the wide world.
Now, I don’t want to fall into reverse-blaming the victim. If you are frail, then taking steps to reduce the risk of injury just makes good sense. My go-to activities to prevent frailty might well put an already frail person at serious risk.
I try to resist the urge to suggest to seniors that they should do hazardous activities in the name of preventing frailty. But the advice I see from professionals (and random strangers) goes too far in the other direction. Following it is going to doom already frail people to becoming steadily more frail.