Rejecting middle age: hit peak fitness at any age with the right mindset
Middle age comes with a bundle of seriously crappy stereotypes. We're supposed to become slower, fatter, creakier, sicker, more easily injured, less easily repaired, and worse, we're expected to do it all while listening to Radio Four and wearing comfortable slacks. Well scr*w that, because as far as we're concerned, that's not middle age, it's a slow death. Instead we're absolutely rejecting middle age, and laying out how you can do exactly the same.
So if you're the sort of person who wants to keep scaling new physical and mental peaks for the next 30 years and far beyond let's get to it. We've got some serious living to do.
1 Language: what you say matters, big time
Over 30 with a sore back, knee, calf, etc? Before you know it a mate asks you about the injury in question and you quip back "ha, I must just be getting old"or something similar.
You think you're joking, but unfortunately this joke's on you because your brain will start believing what you say. Once you start attributing your injuries and ailments to age, the slippery slope begins.
Examine your injuries, they aren't caused by age. They're caused by under-use
After all, if age is the cause and getting older is unavoidable then your injury or ailment is also unavoidable. Hence you might as well not bother putting all that hard work to fix it and get back to your former performance level or above, because that too is impossible.
Before you know it you're eyeing ads for walk-in baths, comfort slippers and ballroom dance evenings.
Whenever you catch yourself putting any injury down to old age, delete the thought and put it down to the real cause which is...
2 Too much sitting, not enough moving
Over the age of 30 is where the modern evils of too much sitting down, too many laptops, tablets and smartphones, and not enough good old-fashioned movement and exertion start kicking in.
We're not about to say you should burn all of your chairs and install treadmill desks in your office (although that would be cool) because we realise that's not practical for most people. The point is, the less you use your body, the less it will work and the more likely it will then be to misfire when asked to perform.
Use those joints, bust a move, and stick one in the eye for everyone who says older means slower
Runners, cyclists and triathletes can be among the worst hit here as full-on jobs can keep us as sedentary as anyone else, while our training demands push hard on joints, tendons, muscles and ranges of motion that haven't been well used in a long time.
At the same time, the very muscles which take up the slack under pressure around these key areas are unfortunately also the very same muscles most weakened by sitting.
The result? A high injury rate (yearly injury rates among runners for example are between 37 and 56%) with many injuries too readily blamed on age.
Instead, these injuries are in fact a time-traveling window into the future.
3 You what? Injuries showing us the future - have you totally lost the plot?
Absolutely not, and nor have we taken up with hokey UK newspaper stargazer Mystic Meg because here's the thing: the injury that stops you cycling, running or swimming hard today, if left untreated, is the same injury that will stop you walking to the shops in 25 years time.
Take a common running injury for example like Achilles tendonitis.
Hurts like heck when you run, but rest it for a bit and there's no pain at all when you're walking. If you hadn't run, you'd never even know there was a problem.
Which is why your doctor will advise you to stop running in a case like this.
Unfortunately, your doctor is a moron.
Because if you don't fix that Achilles after your running's helpful early warning and instead reduce or stop training, then the same things that caused it to flare up while running (lower back tightness, excess quad dominance when running, weak hamstrings and glutes, tight hip flexors) won't get fixed either.
And eventually, they'll start causing problems when you walk.
At which point your doctor will recommend a walking frame, allowing the weakened and overtight muscle chain causing the problem to get still weaker and tighter.
Like we said, your doctor's a moron.
Take the early warning signs your training injuries uncover, work those injuries back to full health with honest graft and stick a bullseye on your next PB (PR).
4 Where's your finish line?
In any race you've entered, there's always a finish line and the clever thing about finish lines is they give you a clear target to aim for.
Whether it's an Olympic triathlon, a 200-mile single-stage ultramarathon (yes, these are actually a thing), a 50-mile Sportive or a mountain summit, you know where your finish line is.
And the weird thing about known finish lines is they also affect your energy and strength.
Run a 50-miler and you won't even think about feeling tired until 30 miles or more. Yet even with the same fitness levels, if you go and run a five-miler we can bet you'll be feeling a bit tired at just four miles all because you're nearing the finish.
The same happens with the way we think about age, and our approach here can change everything.
Currently, average life expectancy in the UK is 79 for men and 83 for women. Which makes it deceptively easy to think of popping your clogs around about 80 as pretty bloody normal.
Follow that train of thought and at 40 you're halfway (and onto the downward slope), at 50 you're beyond middle age, and at 60, heck better start measuring up that coffin!
But 80's only an average finish line. In other statistics news, the number of people living over 100 is soaring.
So continuing with our earlier finish line analogy here, if we assume 100 is our end game, not 80, suddenly 40 is positively youthful, 50 is only just halfway to the end while 60 is still happily middle-aged.
Where you put your finish line makes all the difference.
Personally at 33Shake we're all putting our finish lines at 120, taking inspiration from the legendary Japanese doctor Shigeaki Hinohara who, at 104 in 2016 set himself a target of being at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, spectating, not competing in case you were wondering - even positive thinking has its limits.
He died at 105 before getting there, proving these goals are only that (after all, in life as in in races DNFs are inevitable), but without keeping his strong future goals you can bet he'd not have had the vigorous life he did.
"And next week I'm running across Paraguay to celebrate turning 137" If you want to reject middle age, choose your finish line and make it ambitious, don't let averages drag you down
Parting words here go to the most excellent Charles Eugster, octogenarian bodybuilder and 90-year old sprint champion who memorably said "You can rebuild your body at any age, you can learn something new at any age, you can start a new life at any age".
Age and particularly performance, are all in the mind and there for the taking as long as we are alive and moving.
Where will you set your goalposts?