Not Too Much, Not Too Little

A TOJ needs to be smart about exercise because too much can be as harmful as too little. TOJs like to exercise so much that maintaining a healthy balance between exertion and rest can be a challenge.

In his book Ultra-Longevity: The Seven-Step Program for a Younger, Healthier You, Mark Liponis, M.D., makes the case that the key to a long and healthy life is to get your immune system functioning at its optimum level. Before explaining how to do this, he gives an overview of the amazingly complex interactions between bone marrow, glands, the lymphatic system, and various types of blood cells which function as your body's Department of Homeland Security. It's the best explanation of the immune system for a lay person I've ever read.

Most times the immune system works perfectly to protect us from toxic viruses, bacteria, parasites, allergens and other types of micro-body snatchers. Working quietly in the background, it turns on and off as needed, 24/7, year round. Only once in a while it lets its presence be known, like when you have a fever because you are fighting a flu or redness around a scrape.
Like most things physical, the immune system isn't perfect. Sometimes it can become hyper-active and not turn off. This can be caused by stress, food allergies, and other subtle culprits. Medical experts call the condition chronic inflammation and suspect it might be the root cause of a long list of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease. Dr. Liponis thinks chronic inflammation also accelerates aging.

In the mid-1990s some alert doctors at Harvard Medical School noticed that when inflammation is present so are elevated levels of C-reactive protein and cytokines. Today there is a standard CRP test that is a very early and accurate marker of heart disease. To keep the immune system in a non-aroused state, Dr. Liponis recommends correct eating, supplementation, good sleep, love/social life and relaxation. He also prescribes exercise because it is associated with "reduced levels of immune activation and lower levels of cytokines and CRP."

But he recommends exercising for less time and at lower intensity than many TOJs would ever limit themselves to. Clearly the target market for his book is not exercise nuts like TOJs, which might explain why he never mentions another probable cause of chronic inflammation -- over-exercising. And that's likely why so many doctors prescribe what could be called Exercise Lite, i.e., sweat, but not too much.

There is no way to avoid a certain amount of inflammation if you exercise hard. It is an inherent side product of developing strength and endurance. Mild inflammation is the reason you are sore a day or two after a tough workout. The miracle is how the body breaks down slightly with each workout, then rebounds stronger if you follow a mindful training regimen that stresses you just the right amount, then gives you time to rest and recover. You do not want to work out so hard each and every day that your body doesn't recover and is in a state of chronic inflammation.

The length of time each of us needs to rest between exercise varies from person to person. But the recovery period is always going to be longer for a TOJ because you do not recover as quickly when you are older as you did when you were a teenager. I notice telltale signs if I am over-exercising. My resting pulse stays slightly elevated, even hours after working out. I feel vague aches in parts of my body that were not specifically stressed during exercise. There is a general feeling of fatigue that lingers for days. Once these are present, I'm vulnerable for a cold or flu.

If some exercise physiologists and medical researchers are right, the risk to a TOJ's long term health due to over-exercising is much higher than just catching a head cold, a topic to explore in my next blog.

A TOJ has to know his or her body well to maintain the subtle balance between too much and too little. Without this balance, exercise, your best friend, can become your enemy.

May You Live Long And Prosper

TOJs live to exercise more than they exercise to live. But we have a natural interest in wellness because without wellness you have no energy, and without energy you have no strength and endurance.

Because many wellness books are written by aging Boomers for Boomers, they tend to focus on anti-aging and longevity. The titles promise you an easy six week plan that will make you look twenty years younger and feel as horny as a teenager. Rarely do they say their recommendations may not work at all, or if they do, might take a lot of time and effort on your part for relatively modest gains. In truth, nothing stops aging. But some of these books are based on solid science that will help you stay healthy, which is good reason to read them.

So you don't waste another moment of your precious life sliding helplessly towards old age and death, here, absolutely free, are all the oft-cited secrets of health and longevity as distilled from the books I've read:

1. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, preferably organic
2. If you eat meat, eat small portions, only grass fed and without antibiotics or hormones
3. Smile, be happy, don't sweat the small stuff
4. Live in a place with a temperate climate like Palm Springs or Costa Rica
5. Avoid environmental pollution
6. Have a purpose in life that gives you a reason to get out of bed
7. But don't get out of bed too early, get plenty of sleep
8. Connect to family, friends and community
9. Eat fish, preferably from the deep not poisoned with PCBs and mercury
10. Eat good fats like Omega-3s found in flax and nuts
11. Learn to breath deeply with your diaphragm
12. Take anti-oxidant supplements and a daily multi-vitamin
13. Go easy on alcohol
14. Avoid sugar and refined grains like white flour and white rice
15. Don't smoke
16. Eat to live, not live to eat
17. Drink 4 - 8 glasses of water a day
18. And, yes, exercise!

You don't have to workout as hard as most TOJs to gain the life-enhancing benefits of exercise. In fact, the prominent cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., says in his latest book "The Spectrum" that only
60 to 90 minutes a week of exercise is plenty to keep you healthy. For years he was best known for recommending an austere low fat diet to reverse and/or prevent heart disease. However, a huge volume of incontrovertible evidence has been collected in the past couple of decades since the aerobics-running-exercise revolution swept nation that proves the incredible contribution of exercise to health. So now diet gurus like Ornish prescribe it right along with near starvation and fish oil pills. He's not the only one. The latest version of the South Beach diet also recommends a dose of exercise, which before was noticeably absent.

My hunch is that the secrets of longevity are well beyond our understanding, at least for now. It is probably a complicated brew of diet, exercise, genes, personality and sheer luck, like avoiding being hit by a drunk driver or crossing paths with street gangs at midnight in LA.

Being preoccupied with either longevity or wellness can become an unhealthy mania. The actress Suzanne Somers wrote a book called "Breakthrough: Eight Steps to Wellness." The book is a collection of interviews with some innovative and visionary medical professionals who recommend some very extreme measures to stay alive. Somers wants to live to 120. To reach her goal, every day she injects herself with human growth hormone, rubs on estrogen cream, rubs on "a little glutathione cream on top of my liver to stimulate it," injects Vitamin B12 and vitamin B complex, injects Iscador (a mistletoe extract popular in Europe as a substitute for chemotherapy - Somers is a breast cancer survivor), plus she takes unnamed supplements and vitamins, bioidentical hormones, and reverstrol twice a day. Monthly she also receives intravenous Vitamin C and glutathione. She also uses nanotechnology patches which stimulate acupuncture points. As final longevity insurance, she writes that she banked her stem cells in case she every needs a new organ, eyes, teeth, skin or limbs. Her exercise is walking and yoga.

She is not alone in her lust for long life. A more extreme example is the futurist and inventor Ray Kurweil, who is trying to attain a form of immortality in what he calls singularity. Wired magazine had an article that said he takes between 180 to 210 vitamins an minerals per day, plus DHEA and testosterone. His regimen is so elaborate that he employs someone to keep track of them for him. In addition, he spends one day a week being intravenously fed phosphatidylcholine in hopes it will keep his tissues young. He even uses special filters to ensure his water is alkaline, thus producing negative ions to eradicate any free radicals hiding in his body. Visit to see how zany the search for the fountain of youth can get.

Most TOJs aren't too preoccupied with longevity. In fact, their passions put them at risk of inadvertently shortening their lives, a topic I'll address in my next blog. Certainly they would never have the time (not to mention the money) to follow the exotic regimens of a Somers or Kurzweil, even if their elixirs of youth proved to work. Who wants to be hooked up to an IV when they can be outdoors running? Why would you inject B vitamins when you can drink a beer?

About the time I was finishing Somers' book, I read that Amanda Roberts Jones had died at the age of 110 in Austin, Texas. She was the daughter of a slave, the mother of 10 children, who picked cotton and had a deep religious faith. I doubt she ever wore nanotechology patches or laced on a pair of running shoes, yet her life touched three centuries. She knew the real secrets.