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August 21, 2007

Age, Exercise, and the Soul

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A long weekend at the beach with old friends turned out to mean more physical activity than I've had in a long time ... Swimming, tennis ... Even a few hours of beach volleyball, a first for me. What a rush volleyball in the sand is. I crouched, jumped, scrambled, and managed a couple of diving, twisting, face-planting saves. Who da Man?

I haven't treated myself to that much athletic excitement in a long time. For a few minutes again I was (or at least I felt like) a young bull. Yoga, walking, and Gyrotonics, my current preferred physical activities, are wonderful -- I owe them much and recommend them highly. But it's also true that they don't deliver primal energy-blasts. (Learn about the "Gyrotonic Expansion System" here and here.) After our beach volleyball marathon, I plunged into a cold pool, did some vigorous lap-swimming, and emerged feeling like a swaggering alpha-male, seven feet tall, all-powerful, and ready to rumble.

It's interesting the way that sports can make you feel, isn't it? Exertion crossed with a spirit of play -- the laughs, the competitive effort, the occasional feats of prowess -- can deliver some serious adrenaline-surges, as well as a high that stays with you for a while. A few days later, and I'm still enjoying the buzz. I wonder if retirement is especially hard for professional athletes. Are they ever able to experience such highs again?

My weekend adventures reminded me of a couple of observations and reflections that I've been chewing on for a while on the topic of the body, exercise, aging, and (brace yourself) the soul.

I wrote back here about how going through some fairly serious surgery six years ago affected my experience of my body. Short version: Before surgery, my challenge had been how to manage having too much energy. At 47, I felt physically young still; I felt like a 25 year old who had a few more aches and pains than most 25 year olds do. Since the surgery, though, things have been much different. My energy levels never returned to their pre-op state, so my challenge since has been contending with having too little energy.

In other words, I had the funny -- bewildering, upsetting, interesting -- experience of going into surgery feeling like a young adult and emerging from it as someone in the midst of late middle age. Subjectively speaking, my body aged overnight from 25 to 55. Took some getting used to.

What I've recently found myself thinking about has to do with the developments I've just finished describing. It goes like this: When you're young, you tend to identify with your body. Impulses translate into action near-instantaneously. You think, it does; when your body is tired, you go to sleep. When you're young, injuries to your body affect your very nature, and physical triumphs can convince you that there's something special about you.

When you're young, there's such a small gap between you and your body that, for all intents and purposes, you and your body might as well be one. You see this state of affairs in its most naked form when you watch an infant or a puppy. The little creature's chaotic and bewildered mental-emotional processes are of a piece with its flailing limbs and its pulled-three-ways-at-once bodily movements.

By your 50s, that 1+1=1 equation has fallen completely apart. Energy levels plummet. You find yourself figuring out how to manage your ever-more-limited physical resources. Pain is another indicator. When you're young, it's almost never a mystery why you hurt when you do hurt. It's clear what caused the pain; now it's time to focus on recovering from it. In your 50s, though, cause and effect separate. Pains don't always have traceable sources. They often just show up.

All of which means that your relationship with your body changes not just in quantity but in kind. You and your body fall apart, one from the other. I no longer identify with my body. Instead I experience it as something other -- as my vehicle, perhaps, or my envelope.

The best comparison I've been able to come up with is to owning a car. When your car is brand new, you roar around in it, relishing the speed, the nimbleness, and the responsiveness. It isn't just that your car is an extension of you. You're a team, merging into one fabulous, even better organism.

By the time your car is 10 years old, though, you have a different relationship with it. Your car has developed intractable quirks and failings. Things often go wrong for no apparent reason whatsoever. And when a reason is apparent, there's often nothing that can be done about it anyway. In order to keep this car running, you have to take its weaknesses into account. You need to be prepared for surprises, as well as for the fact that few of them will be good ones. You and your car aren't roaring around together any longer, celebrating the power that together you represent. You're now your car's caretaker. You're clearly in charge, you're definitely responsible, and fate will do what fate's gonna do anyway.

When you're young, in other words, you are your body -- at least things can feel that way. When you're older, you no longer feel like your body, you no longer identify with it. Instead, you're you, and the body is the body. You're now watching the body (like life generally) go its own way.

Which prompts one great big question: If you aren't your body, then what are you? Who is the owner / driver of this car that's slowly falling apart? Where is he / she to be found?

I can't pretend to volunteer an answer to these questions, of course. I simply find it interesting that, with age, such puzzles come up at all. Still, it's hard not to wonder what an answer or two might be. For myself, I like what Advaita Vedanta proposes. The You that isn't your body but instead inhabits it for a short time is the "Atman," the little Soul that reflects and is part of the Brahman, the all-pervading soul that is the universe.

An image that often comes to mind when I read or think about Vedanta is foam on the ocean. The bubbles and scum on the ocean's surface are part of, yet distinct from, yet also inseparable from, the ocean itself. Life may seem to arise from and return to the primal whatever, yet in larger point of fact it never actually takes leave of it. It only seems to. That sense you have that you're individual, distinct, and something-special? Completely mistaken. Or rather, the sense itself is nothing but a minute part of the general cosmic warp-and-woof. As for you ... Well, you're -- at best -- a face in a gigantic crowd scene in a movie that God is staging for his own amusement.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth ... I find that yoga does an amazing job of minimizing the aches and pains of middle age. After gym exercise (and after beach volleyball), I'm a bundle of sorenesses. After yoga, 80% of the pains that plague me subside.

Yoga, in other words, puts me on much better terms with my deteriorating body than I'd otherwise be. Partly because of how debilitating pain can be, this 80% improvement leaves me enjoying life much more than I otherwise would. Yoga doesn't return me to youth, darn it. But it does help me experience my own situation, whatever it is, much more cheerfully and rewardingly than I would otherwise. It flips my attitude and experience from negative to positive. And that turns out to be miracle enough.

(A few friends have marveled over the amount of money -- probably around $2000 -- that I spend annually on yoga and Gyrotonics. I see it this way: Imagine God appearing and saying to you, "Dude, here's the deal. You give me two grand, and I let you enjoy this upcoming year far more than you otherwise would. Or you can keep the two grand and spend the year feeling aching, peevish, and crabby." Happiness, minimal tension, and cheeriness guaranteed? And for only two grand? Strikes me as a good deal.)

One thing that some younger people often don't understand about aging is that age isn't merely the failure to be young. Age is its own thing. Younger people sometimes look at older people and see people who just aren't trying hard enough. The aches, the protectiveness, the irritability ... If only the graybeards would try harder, none of that would be a problem.

Young people often seem to explain age to themselves as a failure of will, in other words. What they miss is that it isn't only the body that changes as you age. Your values, your abilities, and your desires change too. Excitement becomes less important, for example -- something often to actively avoid, because it's just too damn rattling. Besides, been there done that. Calm and peace become more important. Youthful willpower -- aka push -- evaporates, to be replaced by a determination to enjoy life as it is. Dissatisfaction and the lust to achieve is replaced by gratitude for what is. It's not just that the ability to will things into being vanishes, it's that the desire to do so also goes. Energy and inspiration can no longer be ordered up and bossed into performing. Instead, maybe they come, maybe they go ... They do what they do on their own schedule. Life's good either way.

(Small secret: With age, other kinds of energy, other sources, and other ways of accessing all this open up.)

Adjusting to this new state of affairs does take some doing, which I think helps explain what's sometimes thought of as "male menopause." Guys are so prone to rely on excitement and adrenaline for their reason-for-living ... They can enter a crisis when their bodily systems and their lives no longer deliver what has always worked for them. (We guys do tend to be creatures of habit. If something works for us, we'll go back to it hundreds of times.) What's the point of life without these beloved blasts and jolts? So, as we hit 45 and 50, we buy motorcycles, we take up rock-climbing, we start second families. I have one friend who began playing the sport of squash at 55. At 55! He's enjoying the sport and is wringing some testosterone jollies from it. But I worry about him some anyway. How long will he be able to play squash, after all? And what will he do with himself, and for himself, if he should damage a knee? Will he enter a deep depression? After all, he's spending time that he might spend adjusting to midlife trying to deny and overpower it instead.

It's funny how people come in different flavors where this relationship-with-the-body thing goes, isn't it? I know some people -- heck, I'm related to some people -- who barely seem to register their bodies at all, and who are fine with that. They're happy living in their heads, and so long as the body manages to haul them through the day, they're happy enough with it. But my own life tends -- and tends strongly -- to be a more enjoyable thing if I eat well, sleep well, and move and stretch and breathe on a regular basis.

What kind of relationship do you enjoy with your own body? Have you observed any changes in this relationship as the years have gone by?



posted by Michael at August 21, 2007


The you that isn't your body but instead inhabits it for a short time is the "Atman," the little Soul that reflects an in turn is part of the Brahman, the all-pervading soul that is the universe.

I've never been able to figure out what this means, exactly. When pushed, people who talk about this sort of thing will admit that the all-pervading-soul/God/ground/etc has no feelings or wishes or even awareness. It's true of course that from matter/energy we come and from matter/energy we return, but it seems to me that this Atmans/souls/whatever talk adds more confusion than clarity.

I'd honestly love to hear an explanation that makes sense to me.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on August 21, 2007 4:05 PM

Less sex.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 21, 2007 4:09 PM

What an interesting post! I had a different experience yesterday. I had to get in a car, drive 2-1/2 hours to a meeting, sit in the meeting, and then drive 2-1/2 hours back. I--my brain and my body---was silently screaming to get out an walk around. I almost need it MORE than I did when I was younger. If I can walk relatively freely with some frequency during the day, I don't need to run somewhere at night. If I've been trapped sitting all day---I absolutely MUST go do something active at night. I won't even sleep without it. It's much more agonizing than when I was younger. Or the consequences are more severe---perhaps that is the better way to put it. I stiff, sore, and grumpy now, and I wouldn't have been after riding in the car for a day 10 years ago.

I think I'm more conscious of my physical self now, because I can't take it for granted anymore, which I was lucky enough to once be able to do. Not my waist size or my ability to endure discomfort. If its a vehicle, it used to be a very low-maintenance vehicle---it just turned over and started up when I needed it to. Now I really do have to change the oil regularly!!

Posted by: annette on August 21, 2007 4:16 PM

JA -- It does seem like a lot of pothead baloney, doesn't it? Works for me, though. I think what appeals to me about it most is the way it dodges the monotheism/polytheism trap. Advaita calls itself "non-dualistic," which for some reason gives me a huge amount of pleasure. Maybe I just admire its style ...

Charlton -- Too true, sigh. Along with so much else, it becomes a more reflective sort of activity. I find I think about it as much as ever, though. Certain old habits die slower than others.

Annette -- That's a great evocation of what it's like, tks. Out of nowhere, care needs to be taken.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2007 4:25 PM

The one thing that I won't do now (60s) that didn't bother me in my 20s is to eat lunch at my desk. I insist, if at all possible, on walking a few hundred yards, or cycling a mile or so, to have lunch. And if I don't, my afternoon tends to be unproductive.

Posted by: dearieme on August 21, 2007 5:44 PM

JA, I agree it's a bit vague, but an Atman-like system is one that rings very true for me as well. From the non-sentient soup we arise as sentient beings for a brief time, then return to the soup. Truly amazing. For some, too amazing, therefore the soup becomes God or whatever. I can understand how that could ring true for people.

Back on topic, I'm 39 and have been working out for the first time in my life. I've never looked or felt better, but one thing that has diminished is my energy level. Not physical stamina, just the energy to concentrate on one thing or to motivate myself to get things done. I find that yoga combined with some cardio does wonders. Yoga really is amazing in its ability to flatten out the dissonance and allow you to focus.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 21, 2007 5:54 PM

I would suggest getting a bike if you don't already have one. None of the pounding on the knees and ankles but a great cardio work out. My wife calls me a serial cyclist, meaning I won't ride for a week or so but all of a sudden I'll go for a fifty miler. Nothing better for the mind too. While riding I'll find myself thinking of all sorts of different thoughts. it has a way of clearing the mind of the clutter of the work week.

Posted by: Darby Shaw on August 21, 2007 6:36 PM

JA, I don't know who you've talked to about Atman and whatnot, but Vedanta identifies the 3 fundamental faculties of the divine as Sat-Chit-Ananda, or Being, Consciousness, and Bliss. Matter and energy would be consigned (AFAIK of course) to the Maya side of the Atma/Maya duality, and could never therefore be the source of That Which We Really Are (pardon the pretentious title casing, but the idea is central to Vedanta, again IMO).

Great post about the aging body, Michael. I'm approaching my fiftieth, and I've been getting more and more into various forms of yoga, including the vigorous hot room stuff like Bikram, as well as an intriguing complement to the vigorous practices called Yin Yoga. You might want to check it out...tailor made for the aging body, and the best cure for those aches and pains you and I and our co-generationalists are really beginning to feel around now in our lives.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 21, 2007 6:37 PM

It's true that the recovery time necessary after great exertion is longer as one gets older. But it's also true that up to the very end the body is capable of great extended exertion and does bounce back when given a day (or occasionally two) of recuperative rest after effort.
The bonus is that none of this is taken for granted anymore. On top of the high of overcoming the resistance of whatever you're overcoming - Picasso said that everything out there is the enemy - there's the added fillip of, "Take that, ya bastids!" when you've overcome. Who're the bastids? Everyone and everything. But don't let on; never let on. Or they'll lock you up!!!

Posted by: ricpic on August 21, 2007 8:13 PM

As an exercise, please restate this entire blog entry in half the words, leaving out nothing. you can do it if you will exercise your mind as well as carcass.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on August 21, 2007 8:20 PM

As an exercise, please restate everything in this entry in half the words. It's time to exercise your mind.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on August 21, 2007 8:23 PM


Is it possible that the permanent reduction in energy levels resulting from surgury may be due to improper anti-biotics? Opportunistic infections are common in hospitals and are treated with various anti-biotics. Some of these anti-biotics can do permanent collaterial damage.

Another possibility is that the anti-biotics and other injections you were given had themerisol in them and the themerisol is the cause of your reduced energy level.

see for more details.

What heppened to you sounds fishy and does not sound like normal aging. I would investigate this further.

On aging, in general. If the experiences you describe are common to most people, how can this be effectively harnessed to build support for SENS ( and other biotechnological approaches to eliminating aging?

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 21, 2007 8:40 PM

So, say I take your word on it that yoga is beneficial (no reason here not to, of course.) Give me a short primer on how the harried traveling salaryman makes it all work. It seems like the kind of thing I have to be able to do every day, or almost every day. How much time should I set apart to learn the basics so I can do it in the random hotel room, and how much time per day should I set apart to do the standard at-home yogaing?

FWIW, I agree 100% with all of your observations of the physical side. I personally hate my damn body for rejecting me at this late date. I need to make my tiny peabrain catch up with it's repeated failings, and that's not easy.

Posted by: Scott on August 21, 2007 9:46 PM

45 here, and it's true that I don't have the energy levels I did when I was younger. I don't plan on picking up any major physical sports, either, but I still do go to the gym.

Some years ago, I decided that no, I was not going to learn to ski / rock climb / snowboard / etc. Not in this lifetime, at any rate. The risks of getting seriously injured were far out of proportion to the potential enjoyment, at least as far as I was concerned.

As for Kurt9's comment above, as a medicinal chemist, I have to disagree, especially on the thimerosal idea. I have yet to see any convincing evidence on that.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on August 21, 2007 10:23 PM

Dearieme - That's very interesting. I've been noticing recently that if I take a walk in the park at lunch I often have much better afternoons. You're smart to make a regular thing of it.

Patriarch -- I had no idea there were so many Vedanta buffs around, I mean outside actual Vedanta temples. Good for you for getting in shape too. It can feel pretty good, no?

Darby -- I'd buy and use a bike in the blink of an eye if only I didn't live in NYC. Riding a bike here seems suicidal to me, not that that stops many people. I envy you the chance to get out on your bike.

PatrickH -- Bikram's amazing, isn't it? Nothing quite like it for wringing every bit of tension out of me -- which can sometimes be a disconcerting experience. I've heard about Yin and have been tempted to try it. I sometimes do something called Restorative yoga. I wonder if they're similar ...

Ricpic - That's a hilarious Picasso quote. He certainly lived that way. It sounds like your body's holding up much better than mine. Big efforts? Except for beach volleyball once every five years, mine's saying "No thanks."

Richard -- You're right, with a good editor, this posting could probably be cut down to three paragraphs. The trouble is that if I were to work with a good editor, I'd expect to be paid for all the trouble. And then this wouldn't be blogging any longer ...

Kurt9 -- That's very intereting, tks, I'm making a note to bring it up with my doc. I suspect, though, that what's weird isn't my energy level now -- I seem to be in line with most of my friends. It was my energy level pre-op. I suspect I must have been maintaining (via willpower or something) a much-younger-than-I-was energy level, all cranked up and pretending still to be young. I think that when I went through the surgery that will to keep the youthfulness thing going dropped out of me and I finally turned into someone the age I actually am ...

Scott -- Not easy adjusting to new physical realities, is it? Grrr. Yoga's great if you're in the mood for it -- a lot of people try it and drop out. It isn't what they're looking for, or something. But it works for a lot of people too. Interested to hear suggestions from others. I'd venture that it's worth doing even if you manage only once a week. But there are lots of ways of doing yoga. You can attend 90 minute classes, or you can do a 20 minute session at home before work, or you can mix it all up as you see fit. I'd suggest two things as worth going out of your way a bit for: Get some decent teaching at the outset. You can buy a video and do it by yourself after a while, but initial pro coaching is worth the trouble. Sad but true -- people do hurt themselves doing yoga. A good teacher and good fundamentals can minimize the chances of this. So try a few different classes and studios. You'll probably like some teachers and studios better than others. And don't be afraid to start out with Basics or even Gentle Basics classes. Don't be afraid of sticking with them either. I've been doing yoga three or four times a week for four years now and I'm still in Basics, and feeling no need to move on. The goal isn't to compete and get ahead, it's to enjoy the process and feel good. As for traveling, there are tons and tons of good yoga DVDs you could watch and work out to on your laptop. Sarah Ivanhoe makes nice DVDs, as does Yoga Zone. Pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page has a "Yoga for Regular Guys" book out that's pretty funny and, god knows, a lot less color-coordinated and Om-y than most yoga books. Oh, a final tip: Don't even bother giving it a try unless you make a deal with yourself that you'll go at least a dozen times. Classes can be pretty bewildering at first, as can the physical sensations. So making a snap decision after one or two classes seems silly. But after a dozen tries you should know whether you like it or not. Eager to hear if you give it a try.

Derek -- Have you found that you're less of a daredevil now than you were when you were younger? I'm certainly more protective of myself physically than I was when I was a resilient, dumb kid. If pain can be avoided, then I'll avoid it. But there's never been much of the daredevil in me, so age hasn't really affected that for me.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2007 11:08 PM

I'm a bit younger than our blog host, but not that much younger; if I were a professional athlete, I'd almost certainly be retired by now. For most of my life "fitness" and "exercise" were almost meaningless concepts. It wasn't until I was past 40 that I finally decided that couch potato-dom simply wasn't the way to go. Now I hit the gym four or five times a week, pumping iron, running on the treadmill, and working the punching bags. And it's wonderful. Sure, I get some aches and pains, but nothing I can't manage, and the old cliche "no pain, no gain" really has some truth to it.

My only regret is that I didn't get interested in fitness until such a comparatively advanced age, but there's nothing I can do about that. Besides, it's a nice feeling, knowing that I'm way more fit than most men my age (who consider a weekly round of cartball an exhausting workout).

Posted by: Peter on August 22, 2007 12:20 AM

This a great description of a life transition that I'm quite afraid -- perhaps even terrified -- of. Everyone I know who's old enough seems to hit a point where there's a *blow* to their body, like your surgery, and they don't have the same energy or vitality again. I live very much in my body and rely on that kind of easy energy, and I wonder how I'll adjust without it. I'm currently dating a woman ten years younger than me as well, and I also wonder...what if I have to absorb that blow before she does? All of a sudden she'll be trapped with an old man. I've seen this happen to couples as well.

Irrational, I know, you describe well in your post some of the compensating benefits, but still...

Posted by: mq on August 22, 2007 12:59 AM

I remember reading in my twenties a Garcia Marquez (forget which book) character describing the experience of old age - he could feel, he says, the exact size and shape of his liver. This really struck me, as it was beyond my imagination at that age to feel one's body as separate functions and systems. The glory of youth, as you describe, is to know oneself as a perfectly integrated whole, everything inseparable and running harmoniously. Twenty years later I haven't reached the point of being able to isolate my viscera, but now that precisely limned liver is within the compass of my imagination - I begin to understand what it means to feel like a collection of parts rather than all one piece. I blew out my shoulder a few years back: if I want to delude myself that I'm immortal for a bit, I put my left shoulder girdle through all its moves and enjoy its well-oiled, precision-engineered perfection. If I want to meditate upon age and death I attend to the creaking, sputtering, popping, piece-of-crap manufactured-from-inferior-materials-in-some Chinese-Walmart-factory that is my right shoulder girdle.

I don't experience this as a separation of self from body, though it does dispose one more to thinking about the nature of self. It's probably a matter of pre-existing views - since I don't conceive of self as separate from body, I don't feel "disembodied". I just feel like the connections from one part to another are getting a bit frayed. That fraying will eventually re-arrange my view of self, no doubt.

I am definitely less of a daredevil. I blanch thinking about all the stuff I used to get up to - diving off cliffs, jumping out of planes, climbing up rocks, and doing some stuff that by rights should have qualified me for a Darwin Award nomination, that I'd be too embarrassed to actually 'fess up to. Now I think I've gone too far in the other direction, and will end up a big ol' wuss. Hey, you can damage yourself! And it won't knit up nicely again, ever!

One thing that some younger people often don't understand about aging is that age isn't merely the failure to be young. Age is its own thing.

Great line. It's hard to explain to the young (and to the sort of older person who mindlessly, desperately clings to youth), that not participating in youthful pursuits is often a matter of lack of interest, nay boredom, not a lack of capacity or a regret. "The last of life, for which the first was made" is lost and stays lost on some people, I guess. I do notice though that in middle-age I notice the slowness of old people in a way I never did when I was young. I've decided this is so because, when I was 25, I did not really believe, at any gut level, that I would get old. Mortality is strictly abstract at that age. Now, at 49, while still in possession of health and strength, I yet now realize in my bones that the fate of shuffling vulnerability awaits me, too. So now I hate and fear old people! (Just kidding. I think I'm actually more attentive to old people's needing assistance than I used to be.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 22, 2007 11:15 AM

It's hard to explain to the young (and to the sort of older person who mindlessly, desperately clings to youth), that not participating in youthful pursuits is often a matter of lack of interest, nay boredom, not a lack of capacity or a regret.

Moira, I was thinking along same lines recently, while visiting friends (physicists in Philly), of same generational bracket as me. They are highly energetic people, going on diving vacations (domestically and abroad), hiking in the woods and mountains, engaging in all sorts of related socializing. I couldn't make them understand I have no genuine interest in this kind of life.

Agree, also, re: the disconnect with self and the body - or rather lack of it. Don't feel any disconnect at all; if anything, I pay more attention to my envelope now since staring regular Pilates sessions. After a good class you become aware of all kinds of muscles you only theoretically knew existed.

Posted by: Tat on August 22, 2007 11:54 AM

Derek Lowe,

I have to disagree with you about Micheal's situation. Aging is a slow gradual process. I think you need to read his account in the previous, linked post.

If you read his previous post, you will read that his decline in energy level was a sudden event, resulting from "something" that occurred during or after his surgery. His account makes it clear that there is direct causality between the surgery and his subsequent decline in energy levels.

This is one of these cases where you ask yourself "What is wrong with this picture?". There is something not right here and is definitely not normal.

It is obvious from his account (do read it carefully) that the MDs did "something" that screwed him up.

In any case, the more general question here is how to translate these feelings and experiences into support for the development of effective anti-aging medicine (like SENS, for example). I think this would be a more fruitful line of discussion.

Check out the news at ( More heavy hitters have put money into the methuselah mouse prize.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 22, 2007 11:59 AM

Great post M.

You accurately articulate the sensation as I've experience it, too; you go from being the car to realizing that you are merely driving the car. I wonder if there's some sort of correlation between this and an infant's moving from thinking the mother is an extension of herself, and gradually realizing they are two separate people.

I also concur with the move from preferring excitement to preferring calm, with a big slice of been there done that. Exactly.

Posted by: yahmdallah on August 22, 2007 12:42 PM

I do not ski or rock climb, but I do scuba dive, kayak (ocean and lake), and sail hobie cats. I also like to hike in the woods. These are relatively low-impact fun sports that you can do at any age (I know guys in their 60's who do all of these things). I have always refused to ski on the grounds that at least 50% of the people I know who ski have had a major injury (usually knees) and they never recover fully from the injury, even if they are young (20's).

I began weight training when I was 25 specifically because I read that resistive weight training (body building) does increase your body's production of both HGH and IGF-1 and it also maintains and strengthens bone density (both of these claims have been scientifically proven), all of which help to maintain "youthful" biochemisty (before I was 25, I thought weight-training was a "muscle-head" thing and was dumb).

I take the standard LEF Mix (we like to call this Saul's pill - Saul Kent, founder of LEF) as well as CoQ10 (100mg), resveratrol (200mg), and carnosine (1000mg). The LEF also offers cheap blood testing as well. The LEF ( is a very good source of information on supplementation. I highly recommend them.

At 45, the main difference between now and 20 years ago is that I am way more protective of my joints. I have no joint problems but do not want them. Injuries to joints and tendons are the main cause of why people stop working out in the gym. Both of these kinds of injuries can be avoided by slow, full range of motion while executing each exercise. Also, try sets of 15 reps, rather than the standard 8-10 reps.

Tendons take much longer to build up than muscle and take longer to self-repair from injury than muscle. A good case of tendonitus will take you a year to get over, even if you are in your 20's.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 22, 2007 1:14 PM

Didja ever notice how - when you're in a cafe or a coffee house - the yutes are talking intently to the other yutes about their incredibly significant selves, all the while noting whether they're being noticed by still other yutes in the joint, while sitting off to the side is some oblivious old gent staring off into space? Hallelujah! Out of it at last.

Posted by: ricpic on August 22, 2007 5:34 PM

What's this about people being too old for physical activity?

Also, try sets of 15 reps, rather than the standard 8-10 reps.

I disagree. More sets of lower reps are a better way of avoiding injury.

Posted by: Peter on August 22, 2007 8:41 PM

ricpic, did you do it intentionally? Out of it at last - in the thread where old (and oldish) talk intently to the others about their incredibly significant selves?


Posted by: Tatyana on August 22, 2007 11:17 PM

Tat - Didn't do it intentionally...but, come to think of it, you may have a point. ;^)

Posted by: ricpic on August 23, 2007 6:46 AM

Scott -- That Yoga for Regular Guys has worked wonders for me. I started doing it whle traveling to various conferences & trade shows, and found it to be an excellent 30-minute workout that I can get done just about anywhere. I never went to a yoga class, but sussed it out from the descriptions in the book. I've yet to injure myself.

(Except when I had 3-month layoff from working out (minor surgery), got back to it, and found that my hamstrings were so sore that I couldn't do another workout for a week.)

Posted by: Gil Roth on August 23, 2007 7:50 AM

> Which prompts one great big question: If you aren't your body, then what are you? Who is the owner / driver of this car that's slowly falling apart? Where is he / she to be found?

> For myself, I like what Advaita Vedanta proposes. The You that isn't your body but instead inhabits it for a short time is the "Atman," the little Soul that reflects and is part of the Brahman, the all-pervading soul that is the universe.

Christianity has traditionally maintained that one is both body and soul; for an example of one of God's people both acknowledging the decay of the body and nevertheless expressing his faith in a physical, bodily resurrection, see Job 19:25-27:

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.

It is a mystery to me how people within the Christian fold came to see heaven as the ideal place/state (rather than an intermediary state, prior to the Second Coming of Christ), and not the physical, bodily resurrection on a renewed Earth, as was and still is taught in traditional Christianity, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, or Reformed. The hope has always been, the reunion of both soul and a renewed, rejuvenated, incorruptable body, to live on a renewed Earth. Somehow, Christians, esp. evangelical Protestants it would seem, got off track, and started overemphasizing heaven, and "shuffling off this mortal coil". ("I'll fly away, O Glory!", "When The Roll is Called Up Yonder", etc., came to replace the older understanding, amongst many.)

Anyway, I suspect this change in understanding is the main source of the body/soul dichotomy in our society, even amongst non-believers (who, not necessarily believing in the existence of a soul, might think more in terms of a body/identity dichotomy.)

Posted by: Will S. on August 23, 2007 12:48 PM

Will S.,

Your description of a physical, bodily resurrection sounds a lot like cryonics, assuming that it works.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 23, 2007 5:35 PM

The more I think about it, the more I think all of you guys' attitude towards aging and activities is completely wrong. I think you are arbitrarily limiting yourselves.

I live in the Pacific Northwest. I know one of you guys who posts here also resides in the Northwest. Do, you will know some of the examples I mention now.

I know guys in their 50's and 60's who climb and ski. The Whittiker brothers (Jim and Lou) climbed mountains well into their 70's. Fred Becky (the Becky guide to climbing the Cascades) is in his 80's and he still climbs. My mother's friend from law school (who just passed away of cancer) skiied up until last winter (when he was diagnosed with cancer). I know two guys who work out in my gym, both are 45 years old, who are competitive cyclists. Both of them say they feel better than anytime before in their lives.

I think a lot of it is a matter of attitude. I think you guys are limiting yourselves with your negative atitudes. This is no good for either physical or psychological health.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 23, 2007 9:43 PM


I suppose it does sound similar, indeed. From all that I've read, though, most cryonics enthousiasts are basically optimistic materialists, hoping that humans will eventually be able to cure currently incurable conditions like cancer, or even death itself, and so are thus freezing themselves while they await that day.

I have no such faith in mankind; but I do have faith in God. Thus, like Job, I will let my body rot in the ground upon death, rather than freezing it indoors, replacing my blood with antifreeze, etc.; I will do this in the hope of God reviving me in my resurrected body, not some scientist.

Posted by: Will S. on August 24, 2007 12:03 AM

Will S.,

I understand what you are saying. My comment was that the two are very analogous. In both cases, you are "dead" as conventionally defined. At some point in the future, some agency then rebuilds your body and reanimates you. The only difference between your view and mine is the agency who does the reanimating. You and I seek the same objective. You and I just utilize different approaches to accomplishing that objective.

I say all this to make a point. Some christians have no problem with cryonics and bioengineering life extension. Others go absolutely apesh*t over it. I think the reason for the latter reaction is because they are fully aware of the analogous similarities of the two concepts and can't handle it. I think they feel that we are some kind of threat to their world-view.

A useful historical analogy is nazism and communism. Nazism is national socialism. If you read "Main Kampf", Hitler did really elaborate on the "socialist" part of national socialism. This is what made the communists go apesh*t over nazism and visa verse. Intellectuals of both parties were well aware of the convertability between the teo concepts and, thus, felt threatened by the other.

In any case, I have chosen the cryonics/bioengineering life extension approach. I wish you well in your chosen approach.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 24, 2007 12:04 PM


I haven't given cryonics a whole lot of thought; I certainly am not freaking out about it. But for the same reason ("You shall not murder") for which I oppose abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, etc., the key question for me is, is the person who is undergoing the cryonics process in fact already clinically dead through natural causes before being frozen, or is clinical death being induced artificially prior to freezing? I certainly would strongly oppose the latter scenario being permitted, while I'm inclined not to be opposed to the former being permitted, any more than I would oppose someone asking not to be resuscitated if gravely injured. In such cases, I'm inclined to let people have their choice, just like not being resuscitated, put on life-support machines, etc. (I also don't have particular problem with morgues freezing corpses for autopsy purposes, or mummification, or the like, not that I think much about such matters, lol.)

The apparent similarity between the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting on the one hand, and cryonics and bioengineering life extension on the other (I still don't believe there is a lot of similarity myself, other than superficially, for reasons I'll discuss later), doesn't really concern me, or enter into consideration, in terms of my concerns with cryonics; I'm mostly concerned in terms of, is a human life being deliberately ended (even if there is the intent to restore it later through unproven, speculative future technological advancements), or not? That is the crux of the matter, IMO.

Now, that it isn't to say that I like the idea of cryonics, even though I might entertain the notion of some forms of it being legally permissible. My dislike for it, though, stems not so much from any concern over the supposed analogy between resurrection and post-cryonic resuscitation, so much as I dislike the worldview, the underlying principle that life and death are mankind's to control - same as my opposition to abortion and euthanasia and stem-cell research and birth control. But I don't feel threatened in my worldview, by the existence of others who have other worldviews. No biggie, IMO.

(To get back to the apparent similarity between the resurrection and post-cryonic resuscitation, I see such as only superficially similar, due to fundamental differences in understanding between the materialist worldview and the Christian worldview on various matters, such as how the revived body is related to the body prior to death, and how it is related to natural, physical processes that act upon living bodies in our present world.

In brief, Christianity holds that there was an ideal state in which humanity and all of creation existed, in which there was no death or decay acting upon living creatures; sin changed this, and so now creatures die, undergo cellular decay; thermodynamics plays its role, etc. And further, Christianity holds that upon resurrection, the human body will be transformed into a perfect body, that knows no death nor decay.

In materialist conceptions, usually with reference to the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe and the physical laws governing it, and the theory of evolution by natural selection being the cause of life on Earth, there was no such idealized state wherein natural forces as we know them today didn't act upon humans, and cellular decay and breakdown and death always occurred as they do now. Consequently, instead of a return to a state of existence which previously existed, a materialist view of a post-resuscitation revival would entail, on the one hand, the overturning of naturally acting processes that have always acted on living matter, thus making possible what has never been, in nature; and yet, the revived body would nevertheless still be subject to the same physical laws that governed it during its lifetime, and still presumably be capable of dying again, in time. (That strikes me as a logical paradox, BTW, but never mind.)

There are probably other implications which I haven't considered, but the bottom line, IMO, is that the transformation envisaged by the Christian worldview, of resurrected flesh, is, in some ways, one more radical and complete, than that posited by a materialist conception of reanimated corpses, and yet at the same time, is also less radical a transformation, as it is considered a return to the previously existing ideal state of humanity; whereas the cryonics-optimist is seeking something that, by his/her definition, would be something that never has been, before, in nature, since, far as we can see, death is the way of all flesh.

Anyway, thus why I don't see much similarity between the resurrection and post-cryonics resuscitation.)

Posted by: Will S. on August 25, 2007 11:55 PM

Will S.,

Thank you for your comments.

I have another question for you. Say that SENS ( or some other biotechnological approach to curing aging is successful in the next 20-30 and we do become "post-mortal" (we have cured aging, but one can still die from traumatic injury or infectious disease). Would you choose to undergo these therapies? If not, would you have any problem or opposition to others choosing to undergo such therapies? If so, why?

The reason why I ask is that it seems that many of the neo-cons and conservative christians on the net have a hostile attitude towards bioengineering cure for aging. Yet, my sister and many people I know in my home town (who are also christians) respect my choice and the choices of others to pursue this, even though they, themselves, claim that they are not interested in such therapies.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 26, 2007 5:43 PM


And thank you for your comments, too!

Would I choose to undergo such treatments? No, I would not; since I have immortality to look forward to in a much better place/state than here (in a body that doesn't age nor suffers disease or traumatic injury, and where I and all other believers will be with the Lord), I see no value in extending my current mortal existence beyond whatever it would be right now, i.e. a maximum age of around 120 years.

Would I have opposition to others undergoing such treatments? Well, here's the thing: although I'm certainly a conservative Christian, in terms of faith and doctrine, in terms of politics, I don't identify with any one particular ideological school of political thought, and I don't have a ready, pat, simple answer to everything, including this matter. (I would describe myself as much more akin to a paleo-conservative than to a neo-conservative, but with some libertarian tendencies on certain issues, and some collectivist tendencies on some issues - the latter mostly springing from my British cultural inheritance, since I'm Canadian. I don't fit well into American categories; but then again, as an oddball, I don't fit well into current Canadian categories, either. ;) )

In principle, politically speaking, I incline in many things towards letting people make individual choices on many matters, but not in everything. As mentioned previously, I really don't like the idea of people playing God, and taking such matters into their own hands, but for the most part, I'm not wanting to stop them unless their doing so actually involves taking human life. Thus, I oppose abortion and euthanasia, and would have them outlawed, while I may dislike birth control, but am not strongly wishing to see it outlawed. Since these treatments, as described, would not directly involve the taking of human life, then I might be inclined to see it as I see birth control - something I dislike, but wouldn't ban others from doing.

But, having some paleo-con and British-collectivist inclinations, I have to wonder about the impact on society of this advancement - questions like, would retirement have to be abolished or pushed back in order for social security and pension plans to be capable of supporting retired people who would live a lot longer as retired; would the extension of life lead to, through a great decline in the age of mortality, a great increase in the number of people on the planet? (Up until the 1930s, there was a general consensus across the spectrum of Christendom, on birth control's undesirability; all that began to change with the Anglican church changing its stance, and eventually, much of the rest of Christendom followed suit; we've seen, in the decades since in the Western world, a decline in birth rates and population growth, even though the Third World has exploded in population, since Islamic and other cultures don't generally make use of birth control, and since people are living longer now than ever before, even in poor Third World countries. So there was an impact to that choice, of much of Christendom, to permit birth control. And perhaps one who politically opposes life-extension technologies is inconsistent if he/she doesn't also politically oppose birth control; perhaps I need to consider that some more.)

What would be the environmental impact of that many more people alive? Would the Earth be able to sustain it? What would be the social impact of that many more aged people in our society?

And would enormous extension of the length of life necessarily result in greater quality of life?

To most of these questions, I can only foresee more negative potential outcomes than positive ones.

For all these reasons, I am inclined to think the societal impact would be largely negative, and to my way of thinking, the onus is on the proponents of life-extension technologies to answer these questions and concerns before our various countries should make decisions on these matters.

So, there you have it; I don't merely see it as a matter of individual choice with no societal impact worth considering, and am inclined to oppose it on that basis, unless I can be convinced otherwise.

Does that mean I have a hostile attitude towards attempts to cure aging through biotech? I have an inclination to oppose such attempts, but I don't think my attitude can fairly be characterized as hostile; on the contrary, I think my attitude is reasoned, and hopefully well thought-out, even if I may arrive at a difference of opinion from those who have also given these matters thought but have reached different conclusions.

In any case, I certainly respect your choice to pursue these treatments, and I bear you know ill will for doing so, even though I disagree strongly with your choice.


Posted by: Will S. on August 26, 2007 11:43 PM

Er, no ill will. (Homonyms... It was late at night.)

Posted by: Will S. on August 27, 2007 9:16 AM

Will S,

Thanks for your candid response. My real question is: would you back any legislative or regulatory attempts to restrict or ban efforts to cure human aging? Or do you consider your opinion to be a personal one only, with no applicability to those who think differently?

You may be right that your attitude is the difference between the British and American atitudes. As I mentioned before, I have yet to meet a person face-to-face that opposes the development of an effective anti-aging medicine. Everyone I have mer regards this as a personal choice (civil liberties) issue.

I am curious. You believe that when we die, we do not really die, but eventually get resurrected in perfect bodies. That sounds fine to me. Your position on euthanasia is understandable, but do you oppose suicide (self-euthanasia)? If we do survive death of the physical body, why then the obsession with keeping people in them, even when they are in an obvious state of decay? This is the part of religious world-view that never makes any sense to me. It seems to me that if I believed that we survive physical death, that I should have no problem with "offing" myself whenever I get to whatever age I am no longer able to live the life that I want. Yet, most christians think that this is wrong. They tell me on one hand that we survive physical death and yet, on the other hand, that you must stay in the body you have until it falls apart completely. This is sort of like requiring one to drive a car, even though it is in the shop one day out of two, until it really does fall apart completely, rather than doing the sensible thing and getting a new car when the old car becomes a maintainance nightmare.

It is this cognitive dissidence on the life/death issue that is one of the reasons why I rejected religion many years ago.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 27, 2007 12:33 PM

Will S,

Does your arguments apply to those who invest their own (private) money into developing a cure for aging? In other words, do you think that the government has any business regulating privately financed scientific research? Or are your arguments oriented towards government funded research only?

As to your societal concerned about a post-mortal society, Aubrey already answers these on his SENS website (

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 27, 2007 12:51 PM


No, I do not believe that when we die, we don't really die. That is a misunderstanding of the Christian teaching. No, "the wages of sin is death", and death entered creation with the Fall of Adam and Eve. We truly do die. But we will be resurrected, just as Christ Himself was resurrected. Resurrection means to be brought back from death to life, in one's same body, albeit a transformed, radically changed version of one's body. I'm baffled as to how you came to believe that Christians believe we don't really die, because that is not so, obviously; we die like everyone else does, too! (Only Christians alive at Christ's return won't die; the rest of us will, just as all people have, ever since Adam and Eve.) Anyway, properly understood, there is no cognitive dissonance on the life/death issue, given that (a) Christianity does teach that we do all die, and (b) that those who accept Christ as Saviour are raised from the dead, at the time of Christ's return. (And, if I may borrow your car metaphors, it's not that we get a new car, but that our old, totalled-in-an-accident car is fixed up, to become even better than it has ever been. And moreover, our car is not ours to trade in for another model.)

Suicide is a sin, because it is a form of murder, which is a sin: the Sixth of the Ten Commandments forbids murder. Thus, our bodies are not ours to do with as we please; God has laid down His law in this regard. This is why suicide is unacceptable.

Would I back legislative or regulatory attempts to restrict or ban efforts to cure human aging? For the reasons stated in my last post, I might well do so! Or do I consider my opinion to be a personal one only, with no applicability to those who think differently? Again, because of my concerns regarding the impact on society, I hardly regard this as merely a personal matter, not in the least!

Do my arguments apply to those who invest their own (private) money into developing a cure for aging? As long as the research is not carried out in an immoral and illegal manner (e.g. unwitting and unwilling test subjects), hey, I don't mind people carrying out all manner of tests, esp. if its their own money.

Do I think that the government has any business regulating privately financed scientific research; or are my arguments oriented towards government funded research only? Certainly, again, the State has a stake in ensuring that any private scientific research carried out is done in an ethical manner, same as how governments have guidelines today for how pharmaceutical research is to be conducted. And this is equally true of both government and private labs.

I look forward to reading at more length the answers to common objections which de Grey gives, though I'm not interested in discussing them one by one, and I doubt I will be much convinced. Frankly, I view the concept of "curing aging" as utopian, optimist, pie-in-the-sky nonsense; even the language betrays the mindset, wherein aging is viewed as a disease, capable of, and needing to be, "cured". (I, of course, see aging as a natural process; one that is a result of the Fall, and one which will resist efforts to "cure" it. I mean, while I can certainly envision medical advancements which extend life somewhat more, I can't conceive of aging as something that can be "cured".)

In any event, I won't be sharing further thoughts on this subject, because although I have enjoyed this exchange, and have profited from it, I don't think there's much more to say, and see little point in continuing the discussion. So, thank you for the discussion, Kurt9, and I'll let you have the last word; all the best!

Posted by: Will S. on August 28, 2007 1:58 AM

I think we can agree to is to disagree. I'm not going to sell you on life extension. You're not about to sell me on religion.

I have always wondered if christianity was compatible with libertarianism. Your answers certainly put this notion to bed.

I think the notion that we do not own ourselves, that we are owned by an external agency (i.e. a god) is probably the reason why I, personally, just absolutely depise religion so much. I simply consider this notion to be unacceptable to me.

On the aging issue, it sounds like we are not supposed to cure it. Yet, at the same time, we are not supposed to "exit stage left" when the aging process renders one incapable of living an open, active, fullfilling life. One wonders about the "morality" of a god that says your just supposed to "suck it up" and experience the decrepitude of aging in real time. I simply cannot accept this either. Either we cure aging, or we allow people to exit life whenever they want. If christianity opposes both of the these choices, then it seems like an immoral religion, in my opinion, because it demands unneccesary suffering. I do not believe that suffering, in and of itself, to be of any value at all.

I can tell you this, if the government were to attempt to restrict or ban efforts to cure aging, I would no longer consider myself to be loyal to that government. I think any society that requires that a person sacrefices his/her vitality and open personal future, NOT to defend freedom itself (like WW2), but meerly to preserve a certain social order or life pattern, that such a society and life pattern is not worthy of preservation. In any case, I think this is a moot point because I think it highly unlikely that the government will make any attempt to ban healthy life extension.

I do think that life extension is a personal choice. Saving up money, getting married, starting business and what not are considered personal chocies; even though this things have external consequences. Likewise, personal life extension should also be regarded as a personal choice.

I think social and governmental institutions can adapt to a society full of post-mortals, with legal protections for those who do not choose life extension. In any case, I do see why my personal chocies should be limited, just to preserve particular human institutions that may or may not be useful to me.

I will leave you with this. I respect your right to live your life as you see fit. I ask that you please show the same respect for us, who choose a different path than you. Government coercion is never a solution to anything.

Good luck in your life.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 28, 2007 4:48 PM

The collectivist arguments for radical life extension are even stronger than the individual free choice arguments. Collectivism is based on the idea of increasing human capital.

The purpose of collectivism is to promote a strong, robust society. A strong, robust society requires strong robust people. The aging process robs people of their strength and robustness, thus weakening society. Curing aging would have substantial economic benefits. A society free of aging no longer has the need of old age entitlement programs such as social security and medicare. Post-mortal people would be more economically productive as they would be free from the degradations of aging. Some politicians and public policy wonks are beginning to catch on to this and call this the comming "prologevity dividend", similiar to the "peace dividend" following the end of the cold war in the early 90's.

From an economic stand point, old people are a liability, youthful people are an asset. The central purpose of collectivism has always been to convert social liabilities into social assets. As you can see, the collectivist arguments against prologevity (radical life extension) are even weaker than the libertarian arguments against it.

Despite all of that, I still prefer the libertarian argument to the collectivist argument for life extension.

A collectivist life extension society may mandate anti-aging therapies for the entire population, in order to reduce health-care costs as well as the economic costs of aging. This might be a problem for those whose beliefs are incompatible with prologevity. Hence, the libertarian free choice approach is better.

Posted by: Kurt9 on August 29, 2007 11:51 AM

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