Younger Next Year...by Chris Crowley, Henry S. Lodge
Updated: May 24
I’ve been asking folks what one book they find themselves recommending most to others. A new friend I met on the road recommended this read, and I valued it very much.
The benefits of putting into practice the book’s recommendations seems to offer a compelling return on investment. After all, health really is wealth, and especially as we age, we would be wise to embrace it as the most important currency of all. Even bigger than crypto. :-)
I found the physical health recommendations helpful and the live-life-well wisdom spot on in their simplicity. The chronic stress stuff also hit home, and “proprioception” was an important eye-opener.
Enjoy a super compelling recipe for living a vibrant, healthy life (physically and emotionally) all the way to the end.
And should you have a book/podcast/video/etc to recommend, please share with me via social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s to living well to the end, together!
P.s. friendly reminder that all of my book summaries use only the author’s words.
Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, Sexy, and Smart—Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley, Henry S. Lodge
So here’s the lesson of the book: You do not have to get old the way you think.
Over 50 percent of all illness and injuries in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your lifestyle in the way we suggest…70 percent of the “normal” decay associated with aging—the weakness, the sore joints, the lousy balance, the feeling crappy—70 percent of that horror can be forestalled almost until the end.
This is the good life, and it’s out there waiting for you. A life characterized by strong, aerobically fit muscles, a healthy heart, lean body, good bones, good immune system, high sex drive, and an alert, inquisitive, optimistic mind geared toward working well in groups and building strong social networks.
IMPACT OF CHRONIC STRESS
Chronic stress, whether physical or mental, tells your body that the environment has changed for the worse and that you’re in for a long-haul survival challenge. Low-grade depression combined with physical decay is your body’s preferred state of health for this situation…If the stress is short-term, the decay triggers further growth. But if the stress is chronic, decay remains firmly in charge.
Your brain is part of this, too. Chronic emotional stress also produces a trickle of background C-6. Loneliness, boredom, apathy, worry–You can change this by being fit, or filling up your life, or both. Both is better by a lot.
We commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours at a time. We stress at work all day long. We don’t go back to foraging, we just run from the lion over and over again, and that creates a novel, modern chemistry of chronic stress…Not chronic stress as in two months of drought or four months of winter, but chronic stress as in decades of emotional strain.
Chronic stress alone won’t kill you. It will melt big chunks of you, but it won’t kill you.
GROWTH | DECAY | AGING
Aging is up to nature, but decay is up to you.
“Normal aging” isn’t normal. In fact, you will probably get-old-and-live. You can get decrepit, if you like, but you are not likely to die; you are likely to live like that for a long, long time. Most Americans today will live into their mid-eighties, whether they’re in great shape or shuffling around on walkers.
“Normal aging” is intolerable and avoidable. You can skip most of it and grow old, not just gracefully but with real joy.
Biologically, there is no such thing as retirement, or even aging. There is only growth or decay.
In our forties and fifties our bodies switch into a “default to decay” mode, and the free ride of youth is over.
If you don’t send any signals to grow, decay will win, but even a modest signal to grow—a decent workout, even a good, stiff walk—will drown out the noise…You need to do something every day to tell your body it’s springtime. That’s the key to this book. It isn’t complicated, but you have to work at it every day.
There’s a critical distinction between aging and decay that you need to keep in mind from here on in. Aging is inevitable, but it’s biologically programmed to be a slow process. Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay. That’s critically important because we are stuck with real aging, but decay is optional. Which means that most of functional aging is optional as well.
So you will look old, no matter what. But you do not have to act old or feel old. That’s what counts….And even on the appearances front, there is a huge difference between a great-looking, healthy older person and one who has let go.
What we can do, with surprising ease, is override those default signals, swim against the tide, and change decay back into growth. The keys to overriding the decay code are daily exercise, emotional commitment, reasonable nutrition, and a real engagement with living. But it starts with exercise.
Remember, without your input, your body will constantly misinterpret the signals of today’s world. It will trigger the “default to decay” setting. You’ll start to deteriorate, to die.
It’s the sitting around that your body hears. Lock that image in your head. Your body reads idleness as a sign that you are starving to death as slowly as possible, no matter how much you eat.
This whole book has one core message—either you grow or you decay.
The point of exercise is not to “burn off” calories, but rather to tell every part of your body to grow, to invest in building new tissue, and to run at a higher metabolic rate all day and all night long.
The point is that you can control your deeply primitive cells with your miraculous, Renaissance-creating brain, but not in the way you would expect. You have to talk to your body in code and follow certain immutable rules. We’re here to give you the code and explain the rules. Not our rules, by the way. Nature’s rules, and you can’t get around them.
And the bottom line? Exercise reverses the chemistry of decay.
RULE #1: Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
Sorry, but that’s it. No negotiations. No give. No excuses. Six days, serious exercise, until you die. It is the bit of magic that changes you from the tired old loser you might otherwise become into something quite different. Don’t think of it as exercise. Think of it as sending a constant “grow” message to override that crazy tide! Think of it as telling your body to get stronger, more limber, functionally younger, in the only language your body understands. Do it because it’s the only thing that works.
So exercise is the master signaler, the agent that sets hundreds of chemical cascades in motion each time you get on that treadmill and start to sweat. It’s what sets off the cycles of strengthening and repair within the muscles and joints. It’s the foundation of positive brain chemistry. And it leads directly to the younger life we are promising, with its heightened immune system; its better sleep; its weight loss, insulin regulation, and fat burning; its improved sexuality; its dramatic resistance to heart attack, stroke, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, and depression. All that comes from exercise.
Ignore all that talk out there about exercising three or four days a week. Ignore it! … Remember, your body craves the daily chemistry of exercise.
RULE #2: Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
Steady aerobic exercise, over months and years, produces dramatic improvements in your circulatory system, which is one of the ways exercise saves your life…Long, slow exercise is the opposite of the chronic inflammation of modern living. It’s the tide of youth.
Be sure you get a serious aerobic workout, one way or another, for forty-five minutes a day, four days a week. It is indispensable.
RULE #3: Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
In the normal course, you lose 0.3 to 0.5 percent of your bone mass every year after age forty…Which is one of the things that turns us into little old guys, all bent over and stupid-looking…No matter what, you’re going to lose muscle cells as you age; that’s one of the things you cannot change.
Your joints—the meshing bones and the tendons and sinews and goopy pads that make them work—are even more important at your age because they go to hell first if you don’t do something…The little grippers that attach tendon to bone get brittle and weak as you age. They atrophy. They let go without notice. And the goopy pads between the bones dry out and you make little crunching sounds when you move.
Sounds bad, right? Well, here’s the weird thing. Lifting big, heavy weights stops most of that. Lifting heavy weights every couple of days basically stops the bone loss . . . stops (or offsets) the muscle loss . . . stops the weakening of tendons, restores the goopy pads, and gets rid of the pain. Aerobic exercise does more to stop actual death, but strength training can make your life worthwhile. It keeps your muscle mass from going to muck, your skeleton from turning to dust, your joints from hurting with every lousy step. This is key.
You do not build new muscle cells with strength training; in fact, you continue to slowly lose them as you age, regardless. What you do instead is build new muscle mass inside each remaining cell: the protein, the substance —in short, the red meat. And the potential growth in those remaining cells is extraordinary: certainly enough to keep you strong and fit for the rest of your long life…put another way, you can lose half your muscle cells over the course of your life, lose half your peak fitness, and still end up stronger at eighty than you were at twenty.
Aerobic exercise saves your life; strength training makes it worth living.
RULE #4: Spend less than you make.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? And yet there are ever so many, at all income levels, who get messed up by failing to follow it. You can live perfectly happily on much less if you quit chasing the iron bunny of material and status and things that you don’t really want or need.
The good news first: Above the poverty level, there is no correlation between money and happiness. Elaborate surveys say this is so. Think about it. You’ve been struggling for more dough all your life, and there is no correlation between money and happiness. How can that be? I don’t know, but apparently it’s true.
So what’s the bad news? Deciding to live on less is way, way hard. We think we are what we own. Or drive. Or eat. Or wear. We are material and status junkies. And like all junkies, we are absolutely convinced that we gotta have it…We’ve been trained to chase the iron bunny…It’s not hard to quit eating iron rabbits. But it’s very hard not to want to eat iron rabbits.
You have to persuade yourself that that game is over…Some of the most wretched old people out there are some of the smartest and, formerly, the most successful…they could not learn this simple truth. They thought the old rule was so fundamental that they’d be better off as alcoholics, say, than guys in smaller houses or older cars. Until it was too late.
What we’re really talking about here is stepping out of the endless struggle for status in the pack that ran our lives for the last forty years…Live within your means and forget how it looks to the rest of the pack.
RULE #5: Quit Eating Crap
It’s a sad fact that your base metabolism, the rate at which you burn calories automatically, without exercise, goes down steadily as you age. You should sharply limit your consumption of white bread, white rice, pasta, potatoes, and sweets….Incidentally, French fries, which I adore with all my heart, deserve their own circle in hell.
Quit eating fast food.
Do not go on a diet, but quit eating crap. No matter what else you do, cut out the junk. Cut out the starch and the sugar, and replace them with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
And don’t listen to people who malign fruit on account of its sugar content. That’s nonsense. Fruit is loaded with nutrients, and in the context of the sugar load of our modern diets, worrying about the downside of fruit is silly.
RULE #6: Care.
Once you’ve taken charge of your body, you have to think about taking charge of your life…
It turns out we were literally built to be involved with and to care for one another, and that does not change one bit as we age. If we let ourselves become cut off and increasingly solitary as we age—we will become ill and die. Hundreds of fascinating studies demonstrate the point. So “caring” means caring about other people and being involved with them . . . acting like the pack animals we are, right to the end.
The great trick in life is to care. On the surface and at the deep heart’s core.
RULE #7: Connect and commit.
This means rededicating yourself to family, friends, companions…Staying emotionally connected, in particular, turns out to be a biological imperative, a critical part of the good life—and a real challenge as we age in our society.
There is no such thing as a solitary human in nature, because isolation is fatal. We are social and emotional creatures from start to finish…We were designed to function in packs. Strays get the sniffles.
If you happen to have a decent relationship, don’t piss it away in the vortex of change that’s bearing down on yout…A lot of relationships that have lasted decades or more suddenly implode when the players reach their fifties and sixties. People give up, just when those relationships could be turning into something pretty damn good.
An embarrassing number of us turn, with something like tears in our eyes, and expect our partners to take up the whole burden of keeping us interested, loved, amused. Sorry, folks, they can’t. They cannot and should not bear that burden.
Our limbic brain leads us to crave companionship for its own sake. To want to belong to and matter to those around us. To love, and to be loved in return. Because of the limbic way we’re made, we are not emotional islands. Simply put, we complete each other. In both good and bad ways, to be sure, but we do complete each other, and therefore we cannot make it alone.
We are pack animals. Snuggle up.
What to Drink?
Drink eight glasses of water a day. And add a quart for every hour you exercise.
We have only five quarts of blood in our system. That’s not a hell of a lot, when you consider all the stuff it has to do. Bring in the food. Take out the garbage. Carry all these amazingly sophisticated messages and chemicals. Flood your cells with good vibes. You want to keep your blood flowing smoothly…Dehydration prevents blood from flowing smoothly. Your blood gets thick.
There are some remarkable population studies that indicate that drinking in moderation (you’ll want to remember that part) is terrific for you. The New York Times, and later in Scientific American, that steady drinking in moderation (which means two drinks or less a day for men; one for women) is not just fun . . . it is powerful medicine.
Drink a little every day, they all say, ***but do not overdrink***; that is really bad for your health and your loved ones. In other words, while a little booze is good, more than a little is bad. And the sweet spot is pretty small.
PROPRIOCEPTION: Crucial for Aging Well
Now it’s time to think about your brain and a concept called proprioception—the deceptively simple notion that you have to know where the different parts of your body are at all times. It’s how we stand up and how we move….You catch your toe just as often as you did at twenty. But instead of easily recovering your balance, you’re more likely to hit the pavement. There are two reasons for this. To begin with, you have let your proprioception slow down a critical bit. It takes a split second longer before your brain realizes you’re falling, and in that split second momentum and gravity turn against you. The other point is that it takes strength to recover from a stumble. Your toe stops on the pavement, but your body keeps going, building up speed and momentum in a Newtonian drive toward earth. By the time you move your leg, your entire body mass is moving forward and down with increasing speed. It’s like jumping off a low wall. Your legs have to be strong enough to stop your momentum, or down you go.