The Key to Longevity

Beard of the Day

Uncle John says, 'And who's your lover?'

Gerard sent me today’s beard and it was too amusing to ignore.

I’ve enclosed a photo of my wife’s Uncle John, a big, tough,pipe smoking, whiskey drinking Irish farmer. An eccentric, his opening line to strangers is always “And who’s your lover”?

The Key To Longevity

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with a lot of different people; young, old, big, little, fat, skinny, healthy, and various health problems or anatomical issues. I’m always impressed by folks who most young people consider “old”. This is anything above the age of 45, and especially over the age of 55 and 60. I honestly don’t consider my friends in this age range as “old” — mostly because when I’m that age I will refuse to consider myself old. Ever since I was younger I wanted to show that good eating and exercise/training habits would be the formula for longevity.

Because of this I’m infatuated with people who are outliers compared to old people. The norm of older adults consists of being out of shape, unhealthy, and taking plenty of medication. They can’t really enjoy the same activities they did when they were younger because “life got in the way”. I’m not chastising them; full-time jobs, families, and the government telling you how to eat and exercise is hard to overcome. Yet in spite of all of that, there are people who are in great shape, don’t ache constantly (or cite such aching for their immobility), and are active, healthy “old people”.

I like talking to these friends or acquaintances to see how they did it. I like to ask them how old they are, compliment them on their success, and most importantly, ask them what the constant has been in their lives. The answer is always slightly different, but it can be derived to the same idea; they have always been active. None of them have ever said, “I eat a specific diet,” or “I’m just lucky”. They always have been consistent with activity and exercise.

One of my friends in Texas is 65 years old and has a hobby of climbing mountains. He has always been a fan of hiking, running, and exercising. He lifts in Rippetoe’s WFAC, so he squats and deadlifts on a semi-regular basis (easily handling 225 for reps in both lifts), and has chiseled calves that most of you would buy if you could. I recently met another man, 59 years old, who has sculpted pecs and biceps that would put us all to shame and he has enjoyed running throughout his life. Another friend is around 63 and has always enjoyed cycling. Dr. Kilgore is in his early 50s and has always enjoyed lifting and has pretty good blood lipid levels (and has had a total of six months of endurance/conditioning training accumulated in his entire life). This small sample size of close friends lean towards endurance exercise, yet they all engage in weight training regularly.

As a person ages, their training will probably reflect that of a generalist approach. They should lift enough to maintain their strength (or improve it if it’s lacking) and do some kind of “cardio” related activity to maintain a baseline of cardiovascular and respiratory function. Focusing on one or the other may neglect some important health benefits, yet severely lacking in strength will cause problems into very old age. Common examples are getting off the toilet, carrying groceries, and maneuvering stairs and steps without struggle or injury. Full body loading will allow the muscles to continue applying force to move the body or external objects and keep structures like bones and tendons from injuring easily (which will avoid things like stepping off the curb and breaking a hip). Yet all of this is for naught if the older person tries to implement it when they are already old; taking the preventative measure will have that trim and healthy when they achieve oldness. The preventative measure is not taking a break from exercise and activity. The only way to ensure that your body avoids adapting to a lack of activity (insert image of the unable sedentary person here) is to consistently exercise, train, and move.

If you plan on being around when you’re older, this should put things in a different perspective. Failing that PR squat isn’t as traumatic because it’s a process. Thirty years from now, your failed PR will just be a training day. Training assumes that progress is the goal (otherwise it’s just working out), and the overall goal is to still be able to train when you’re 50, 60, or 70 years old. It’s hard to look at the big picture when you’re young, but the best thing you can do is commit to a life of exercise and activity, no matter what’s going on in your life. There are 24 hours in a day, and 96 segments of 15 minutes in that span. If you can’t take two of those 96 segments to train several days a week, then you won’t have to worry about being around when you’re old.

And since the CrossFit people are already considering it, nutrition doesn’t mean dick if you aren’t exercising. If the body isn’t experiencing an event that will make it perform better, then fuel or hormonal manipulation through diet is worthless (unless you’re doing a hardcore calorie deficit, but that’s just weird, and you’ll end up 90’s small and breaking a hip when you leave Wal-Mart’s senior citizen sale). Force your body to be more efficient through consistent exercise; it’s what fit older people have done.

30 thoughts on “The Key to Longevity

  1. I had a great uncle like this. Retired Mountie. He was one of those guys who weren’t 70s big, he was 40s big: farm work + hearty meals. Handshake that would break your fingers. Just a brawny guy who maximized the body that genetics gave him.

    He was also the type of cop who enjoyed breaking up the Friday night fight outside the tavern. Gave him a good change to throw some people around.

  2. What’s in Uncle John’s shirt? Insulin pump? Gotta love the redness holding true in his beard.

    I’ve recently been “teaching” an older guy at my gym. I have a rule of not speaking unless I’m spoken to at the gym, or unless I see an incredible Feat of Strength (rare at Gold’s), but one day this gentleman complimented my squat depth. We got to talking and it turns out he’s been reading SS and trying to learn squats and deadlifts for the first time at age 64. I helped him with form and now he’s doing 165 for 3×5 and deadlifting 185+. In his words he, “wasted the past 30 years playing racketball and jogging instead of lifting weights.” He’s put on 15 pounds or of muscle in the past four or five months and reports greater energy and better sleep than ever before. Oh yeah, he’s also a badass US Attorney. So not only does he lay down the law on a regular basis, he can now also lay the wood.

  3. Does anyone have experience with USPA meets? There’s one coming up in the San Diego area in a few weeks, but I’m a little put off by the fact that their California state records page shows a big ol’ blank for the 100kg raw class. It’s hard to believe they haven’t had a single raw 100kg lifter in any of their competitions.

  4. There’s an amazing guy at my gym: 68 years old, two-time cancer survivor, and can’t bend his knees anymore because of arthritis. Yet he still deadlifts (stiff leg, essentially, because he can’t bend the knees) 405. He takes it from the rack (from the top down), and only goes to the lowest pin on the rack, not the floor – so about 1.5-2 inches higher than DL-ing from the floor. But still, 68, all that other stuff, and can pull 405 straight legged. Such an inspiration!

  5. I have an older client, 60,goes by Scooter, who’s an old stoved up cowboy, who’s had two hip replacements. The first hip replacement was 12 years ago and the other hip was replaced 11 months ago. About 3 months ago he came in to watch his wife workout because he didnt believe she was really doing what she said she was. So he asked me if I could help him out. His surgeon 12 years ago had told him he could walk and he could sit, and other than that he didnt want him doing anything that would hurt his new hip. So that’s what he did for several years and had just decided to start riding his horse again, despite his doctor’s orders. When he came in he had extremely limited hip mobility. He couldnt pick up his keys off the floor. He had a hard time reaching his shoes to tie them, he couldn’t cross his legs, if he went into a room and there were no chairs that had arms on them he wouldnt sit down because he couldnt get up unless he had arms to push up off of. He also was unable to get up off the floor without someone helping him. So we got started. I had him push the Prowler at the beginning and end of every session, and had him step over hurdles to open his hips up. Did an A and B session that we alternated. Session A was a squat onto a high box. Worked up to 10 sets of 5 with just bodyweight then started lowering the box height. Then he pressed 3×5 and did 3 sets of max rep pull ups with a band. Session B we did rack pulls, that we have been lowering the rack height on as we are able to, Bench Press 3×5 and dumb bell rows 3×10. We have been increasing the weight linearly on all lifts and have even started adding in some conditioning, like tabata intervals on the rower or with kettlebells, or pushin the prowler and doing farmer’s walks and things like that. He is now deadlifting 160×5 off of just a 3 inch block, squatting 65×5 off of a below parallel box (remember he used to not even be able to get out of a chair), And pressing 3x5x85 and benching 3x5x135, and we had started very low on both of these. He can easily get up off the floor, he can bend over and grab a 60 pound dumbbell off the floor, and can sit with his legs crossed. His posture has also improved immensely. I guess what I’m saying is, is that it’s never too late to start, but staying out of the hole is a lot easier than digging yourself out.

  6. This past weekend was my first powerlifting meet and it went great.
    Squat: 402.2# (PR)
    Bench: 275.5# (PR)
    Deadlift: 529# (PR)
    1206.7# total, good enough for Silver in the 220# Open Class

    I would like to give a special thanks to Brent Kim for helping out during this meet. From holding someones place in the weigh in line at 7:30am to breaking down the platform at 6:30pm, he was a huge contributor to making this meet as great as it was. I would also like to thank him for giving my brother solid advice. After my brother had PR’ed with a 501# deadlift on his second attempt, he was considering passing on his third. He asked Brent what he should do and Brent replied “quitting is not a sport.” My brother went on to pull 507# for a “good lift” and also win silver in the 198# Junior Class. We’ll do it live.

    It was a pleasure meeting you Brent, thanks for all of your help, and I look forward to competing with you next time.

  7. My gramma is 86, 87 on New Year’s day. She carries laundry from the second floor down the stairs into the basement and back again with no help. She’s frail too. I think the laundry and the crossword puzzles are keeping her sound.

  8. Thanks for addressing the longevity angle, Justin. I agree it’s a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition. I started learning the Olympic lifts at the tender age of 34. I’m 39 now and will be 40 in about eight months. I can’t believe I’m about to be (or have already become) middle-aged, because I don’t feel the years (yet). I still feel very youthful and want to remain active, agile and healthy, but I know I’m no longer in my 20s and can’t take my health and recovery for granted. This is why I asked the other day about heart-disease, eating big and those elite guys who smash records, but apparently paid a high price in the process with shorter lifespans. I really appreciated your answer and agree with your reply.

    While I’m certainly not as strong or flexible as I should be (always working on that), my lifting technique is decent and barring disease or serious injury, I think Olympic lifting is a sport I will enjoy until I simply can’t do it anymore. Like life in general, with lifting you only really compete against yourself and there is always a way to improve. You also forge relationships with others you might not ever have outside of the gym. I’m training on my own at the moment, but value the relationship I have with my coach and others on my team. I sent my entry in to a local competition last week and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again.

    I have let work and life in general sideline me for a few years, but began reclaiming my training mindset about two months ago. I’m back to weight training and rowing on my non-lifting days (I think rowing has some kind of recuperative properties in addition to the cardiovascular benefits). I’m a bit heavier than I would prefer, even though I’m below 200, and thus, not really an adult male. What got me active again was a desire to drop what I saw as unnecessary weight and get back to a routine that I saw as a way to slow the effects of aging. Oddly enough, my weight has gone up even though I’m much more consistently active and very careful about what and how much I eat. I guess my body just wants to adapt to the load imposed on it.

    While I want to always improve my lifting, I also want to be there for my wife and lead a relatively pain- and injury-free life. Olympic lifting can beat you down if you don’t train smartly, but, as you pointed out, it’s just as likely you’ll develop life-shortening problems if you neglect your strength and look for a less physically demanding life.


    This guy is 80 years old and I saw him pulling 175kg weighing about 65 in the WDFPF worlds last week. He was up dancing in the pub a few hours later too while still wearing his lifting shoes. The evil google doesn’t seem to translate properly but it tells you what you need to know!

  10. My grandfather – Bruce Heggtveit – was the world champion for both cross country and downhill skiing in the 30’s and 40’s. He built cabins and ski resorts with his friends – by hand – that still operate today.

    The war disallowed him from competing in the Olympics, so despite his feats at the world’s, he was unable to go for the gold. As a result he became a crazy, chain smoking alcoholic.

    Despite this, he lived to be 92. I can only imagine how old he would have lived if he had kept up his fitness. Oh, and he was 70’s HUGE. Especially post skiing career. He was 6’6 and I could only guess a good solid 260 – Norweigan.

  11. You should see some ultramarathoners for inspiration; most are older in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and just needed a new challenge that marathons don’t have anymore for them. Very tough and their whole sport is a lesson on not giving up or quitting.

  12. The ad next to this post is of a woman laying on a bosu ball and pressing 2 pound weights with a PT assisting her. It is for some place called “The Studio”.


    Not a good association for the site.

    Would you prefer paying money to view the site, jackass?


  13. That shit generates automatically. If you click it, gets money. Plus, maybe the bosu ball chick gets naked.

    All of my ads are for stopping nuclear war and are written in Chinese, so take that!

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  15. This is a fantastic post, Justin. My grandfather died of cancer a while ago, but even after he’d been fighting it for years he was still strong as an ox. He grew up doing hard labor his whole life, first in a steel mill then trapping in the mountains of Utah during the depression, and later as a concrete worker. He put in most of the sidewalks and gutters in Utah Valley. Never saw the inside of a gym, but in my late 20s he could still move heavier things than me.

    My mom is in her 60s and was recently diagnosed with Parkinsons. She used to go to Gold’s on her own and was complaining one day that she wasn’t making progress. I started going with her, and within a few months she went from not being able to squat at all to doing several body weight squats, from barely being able to lift her shoulders off the ground to doing GHD’s, etc. She regularly pushed herself to the point of losing her breakfast, with very little or no encouragement from me. Before I left for Iraq I got her to start going to CrossFit with me and she loves it.

    Yeah, I work out with my 60 year old mom.

  16. Great post, Justin. If anyone lives near a highland games, I highly recommend going out on the day the masters (over 40) throwers compete — those guys are an inspiration to me every time I step on the field.

    We need more Highland Games posts.


  17. Guess I’m one of those ‘older guys’ at 48 though I don’t feel or act older. Started linear progression in January from a decent fitness base but mediocre strengh. Single max rep numbers in January: B=185, S=215 (not even full depth), D=265 at 6’2″, 210.

    Numbers as of mid November: B=315, S=350, D=425, w=240

    Tore my adductor with a PR 365 squat attempt so am now following Star’s rehap protocol, hope to be back up to full speed in a month or so.

  18. @SurlyBird – do you have the link to where you asked about the eating big, shorter lifespans and older guys (30s), etc. I am 37 and wonder about this.

  19. 85 year old dude, strongest person I ever met. Can out work anyone, even at this age. His whole life was hard work. From farming as a young boy, fighting the japanese as a teen and then returning to fight in the Korean war. From there 40+ year as ditch digger, welder,foreman and eventually superintendent of Lone Star gas(now TXU). He looks 55 and moves around like one too. He eats one meal a day and still works every sigle day(mowing lawn, cutting branches, hauling off trash, etc.) Hats off to you Grandfather.

  20. LOL, I wasn’t complaining. It is just fucking messed up – marking fail on the advertisers end.

    When I first saw the ads I thought, “Good, 70s Big is bringing in some ad revenue.” Then I saw what the ad was and was like.




    I would agree with that. At least I turned off the weight loss ads. I’m going to see if any relevant advertisers want to use the space soon.


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