Vol 7 No. 30 - April 18, 2007

The new science of aging: Live long, fish long

Fly fishing icon Lefty Kreh's passion for fishing and living keeps him going strong at 82

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

I suspect that you, like me, have a passion for your fishing. If I were to tell you that there's a good chance that you could fish into your 80s and beyond, feeling as if you were in your 50s, would that increase the passion? It should according to Dr. Harry Lodge and his star patient and co-author ("Younger Next Year") Chris Crowley.

They claim that new research is revealing that up to 50 percent of what we experience as aging (illness and injury) is preventable through exercise, nutrition and strength training. In their words "aging is inevitable, decay is optional."

Lodge, a board certified internist, gerontologist and a researcher in the fields of nutrition and exercise, noticed his patients deteriorating as they got into their 50s, 60 and 70s Being a serious student of the new science of evolutionary biology, he realized that as a nation we had set the bar pitifully low with regard to exercise and general nutrition. The new research made one thing abundantly clear. "We will all get old, but 70 percent of the decay (feebleness, lack of coordination, sore joints and feeling crappy) can be forestalled almost to the end."

In a nutshell, our bodies (to a large degree) are run by our primitive brain, which has evolved over billions of years. The ability to stand on the bow of a boat, alert for the shape of a tarpon in the shallows, was forged in the distant past to help us survive in nature, a nature consumed with eating and avoiding being eaten by others.

In the last 100 years, there has been a revolutionary shift. Today the problem is not too little but too much (to eat), coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, which the primitive brain reads as stress. This stress signals the body to shut down and prepare for hibernation and hard times.

The good news is that our primitive brain doesn't know the difference between exercise and hunting and foraging in nature. This column is too short to do the science justice, but new research has determined that exercise stresses the muscles, releasing two classes of chemicals (a massive simplification but to the point).

The first, C-6 (think demolition), removes dead and damaged cells and then another class of chemicals, C-10 (plumbers, electricians and carpenters), builds new and stronger cells. The reason this matters to us is that in our early 50s the body releases a background trickle of C-6 that increases with age. If there is no exercise ,then there is no C-10 to rebuild the body, and we begin to decay.

As I approached 50, I resolved to be in the best shape I had ever been in and worked to increase my stamina as I grew older. There was only one problem. Through my early 50s, I did just the opposite. I spent more time working on images and articles at my desk and less time exercising.

This was about the same time that I noticed that my legs and feet tired more quickly when I stood for hours on a casting platform, fly rod in hand, looking for those elusive bonefish, permit and tarpon. Add some chronic back pain and all of a sudden, things were taking a turn for the worse. I enlisted a personal trainer who introduced me to the "Younger Next Year."

After following the program prescribed in the book (one hour of cardiovascular exercise six days a week and strength training) for four months, I made a trip to Turneffe Flats Lodge in Belize , where I spent nine hours on the bow of a flats boat for six straight days. The amazing thing was that my feet and legs felt noticeably stronger throughout the day, with little or no fatigue, making me more alert and less likely to miss shots.

I hadn't started the program to improve my enjoyment of fly fishing, but I suddenly realized it was another bonus of my commitment to being in great shape. With this new awareness, I began to notice people my age and younger suffering the effects of a sedentary lifestyle: unsteadiness in a boat and on a platform, fatigue, sore joints and slow responses. I resolved to create a different outcome for myself by committing to this new lifestyle, for the rest of my life.

If you're sedentary now, the medical literature has encouraging news. Researchers gave 10,000 men two stress tests five years apart. When the study was complete, the fittest men had one third the mortality of the least fit. The men that were sedentary at the beginning of the study and fit at the end reduced their mortality by 50 percent. Better still, the result showed the benefits were on a continuum,. Every additional minute a man could spend on the stress test, there was an 8 percent reduction in mortality.

Having more energy and endurance on the casting platform is a result I can see after only four months on my program. When tarpon season rolls around, I'm looking forward to having more power to pole into the path of tarpon, my favorite species. While I never had plans to spend less time fly fishing as I grew older, I was beginning to enjoy it less. Not due to any lack of enthusiasm, but because I didn't have the stamina to fully appreciate the experience and be alert for the opportunities that so often slip up on us while were on the water.

Success in the demanding world of saltwater fly fishing requires us to be ready so that we can harvest the luck that happens when "opportunity meets preparedness." Develop the mindset that everything you do - on the water and off -determines your enjoyment of the experience. Follow some simple and straightforward advice about health and you'll have a whole new appreciation for what a fit body and mind brings to the game.

The benefits of exercise and nutrition have everything to do with being "out there," whether you are 24 or 94. They affect everything from our casting ability to our capability to be alert for hours on a platform and our stamina to effectively fight big fish. More importantly, you'll feel good and enjoy the passion, feeling like 50 until you're 80 and beyond!

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