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The Moving Crew

Younger Next Year? Well, Maybe

Tuesday, January 11, 2005; Page HE03

Many health and fitness books arrive at Moving Crew World Headquarters, and we admit to reading some of them. Too many have titles that promise eternal, or at least really long, life: "Live Forever or Die Trying," "Happy 150th Birthday to You," "Cut a Deal with the Devil With No Money Down," that kind of thing. So it was easy for us to slide a book titled "Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond," by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, MD (Workman Publishing) into the "Yeah, right" pile and forget it.

That would have been a mistake. We read an excerpt, quickly plucked the book from the discards and read it straight through. Although it basically tells you why and how to exercise more, it's brain-rattling, irresistible, hilarious. If you're up for it, and anywhere near retirement, it could change your life.

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"Younger" creates a fresh intellectual framework that explains why the things you know you should do, especially in your later years -- get daily vigorous exercise, "eat less crap" (in the authors' words) and stay close to family and friends -- are mandated not by finger-shaking healthniks, but by immutable laws of biology and evolution. You can ignore the rules, the authors say, but you can't change them.

To vastly oversimplify the theory: Your body and brain have evolved so that behaviors that helped our ancestors survive -- robust daily physical activity and close links to members of a tribe or clan -- send positive signals to our most fundamental biological systems that say life is good: grow, heal, thrive. Being sedentary and isolated tells those deep wiring and plumbing operations to shut down, decay, die.

I think you know where this is going. Be active and connected, and you're telling your body, in code its most primitive systems understand, to turn up the growth juice. Sit around with beer, TV and any snack ending in "-o" (to use another of the authors' ripe phrases), and you're telling your body it's time to close down, its work on earth complete.

Co-author Lodge, a Manhattan internist who is on the faculty of Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, draws on current work in evolutionary biology and human neurochemistry to make the case. I'm in no position to judge the soundness of the theory, but it dovetails awfully well with aging research that demonstrates the many benefits of regular exercise; the superior outcomes of those with close family and friends; and the advantages of eating, well, less crap.

Co-author Crowley is a 70-year-old ex-lawyer and a patient of Lodge's. Ten years ago he was a creature of lazy pleasures, 40 pounds overweight and starting to feel weaker, slower and dumber. For a decade under Lodge's eye he has been living like a model hunter-gatherer, and offers a clear-eyed, funny, liver-spots-and-all report. He says his regimen of exercise and (simple) dietary changes has helped him live like a robust 50 year-old -- skiing, biking, lifting weights and livin' large like a man far younger. While he speaks directly to men on the cusp of retirement, his message applies to anyone in the afternoon of life who seeks an option to the decline, disease and despair of many folks' later decades.

But -- you knew that word was coming -- this all requires a big change: Six days a week of exercise, including four sessions of aerobic activity and two of weightlifting. Welcome to your "new job," Crowley goads: What's your alternative? It is the book's odd triumph that it convinces you that regular, vigorous activity is an iron-clad demand of human evolution, not the whining of the fitness-industrial complex.

-- Craig Stoltz

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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