A Letter To My Body As I Age
Thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years but now is not the time to start faltering
First of all I want to say how much I’ve appreciated your efforts over the years we’ve been together. You didn’t have an easy start, what with all that parental smoking and drinking and the frequent shortages of food. Considering neither of my parents had the slightest idea of how to deal with our accidental arrival in their lives, you’ve done magnificently. I wish I’d been there for you back then, with all my accumulated knowledge and hard-won understanding: I’d certainly have taken you to a dentist long before the age of eighteen, not to mention also buying a much wider range of nutrients.
Back then, however, we were young and we were entirely dependent on bigger people who unfortunately seemed determined to spend all of their time intoxicated out of their minds while simultaneously smoking at least six cigarettes each. And those horn-rimmed spectacles! Whoever invented that particular fashion crime should have been knocked senseless with an IgNoble Prize cast in solid bronze.
But here we are today, decades later. Thankfully you’ve always been an out-of-doors sort of Body and by the time we discovered television at age twelve it was too late to develop the habit of slumping onto a sofa and staring at flickering lights for hours at a time. Better still, as I learned about nutrition I was able to start giving you the things you’d been missing all those years and we both appreciated the difference it made.
You’ve been through a lot over the years and I take full responsibility for my part in some of those travails. Yes, in retrospect it would have been better to have stayed in the aircraft rather than make that last jump on the day the wind had picked up and the novice jumpmaster put us out over totally the wrong place and we tried to track toward the DLZ but ended up slamming into the concrete instead. Still, you recovered from that shattered coccyx remarkably quickly and you even let me take you out running before it was healed — though we had to run doubled over, which at least enabled that group of pensioners to have a good chuckle as we passed.
And I’m sorry about that boy shooting us in the side when we were ten, but honestly, I didn’t expect it. And you were brilliant about letting me stitch you up with my mother’s sewing kit afterward. Sorry about me not realizing how much it would to pull out the threads after the skin had begun to grow over them…
You also did a fabulous job in our mid-twenties, humping that Bergen up and down and all over the Brecon Beacons and all that other stuff including being wet and exhausted and managing to keep going on no sleep for so long. Frankly I didn’t think we had it in us, but you taught me a lot about you being capable of so much more than I’d imagined. It’s true what the directing staff said: “the mind gives up before the body” and since then I’ve developed all those little tricks to keep us going. When it’s miserable weather outside and you’re tired I always tell you we’ll just go on a short run. Then, when we’re out, you get all energetic and we do a regular run like we always do. When we’re tired and feeling like a good lie-in would be lovely, I tell you that we’ll just go light in the gym today. Then, when we get there, you get all excited about moving the regular weights so we get a good workout like we always do. I know you know I’m just tricking you, but you always play along. And I appreciate that, Body. I think we make a really good team.
But, it has to be said, you’re not as young as you used to be. That stuff about the mind giving up before the body was true when we were young but alas it has become progressively less true over time.
I still don’t know if I made the correct decision when you snapped your right biceps tendon. We were only a couple of weeks away from doing the Fan Dance and if I’d taken you to hospital we’d have been immobilized and missed the opportunity. As it was, you carried me up and down over Pen-Y-Fan all those times, doing it back-to-back in under regulation timing (both times!) with that 24kg Bergen. Somehow you arranged things so that the right arm is still as strong as the left despite what it said on the Internet and what that doctor said later, so well done, Body. Good job and gold stars all round!
Since then, though, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been a lot more careful with you. I’ve learned that those ligaments and tendons are a lot fussier than they used to be when we were both young. I’ve learned that we need to stretch more, so we’re doing that every day now. I’ve learned that I can’t just ignore it when you get a back twinge in the middle of a heavy deadlift — I know it’s time to stop, rather than carry on, because stopping means only a couple of days of painful recovery whereas carrying on will put us in bed. And not in a good way.
So I’m trying to play my part, Body.
I know as you age your digestive system becomes less efficient. I understand all about mitochondrial loss and degradation of collagen and all the other biological phenomenon that collectively signal the gaping grave is there waiting for us up ahead, just round the next corner or, at best, the corner after that. So I’m trying to give you what you need at this stage in our lives: more nutrients per calorie, more time to recover, a greater appreciation of your needs.
But we also know, don’t we, dear old Body-of-mine, that while we’re slowing down and not running as quickly or lifting as heavy as we used to a mere decade or so ago, we’re not stopping either. I know all the science about gene expression profiles and bone density and protective muscle mass and know that daily exercise is essential for staving off all those age-related injuries, decrepitudes, and illnesses that most people seem to think are inevitable.
I know that strenuous exercise results in all those biochemical signals that prime you for wanting good nutrition rather than McSlop and Cola, and that exercise (both physical and mental) also holds off neurodegeneration. So I’m playing my part too, Body, to keep us going a while longer. I know you sometimes think I’m too gung-ho and that it would be easier to stay in bed rather than exercise, but let’s be honest: you always feel better after we’ve done something good for ourselves. And isn’t it fun to be learning Russian once again?
Additionally I’ve never made you smoke nor consume lots of alcohol and I’ve avoided ruining your eyesight (and brain) by not gawping at television. We’re not dependent on medications to make it through each day, and I’ve never abused you except on that survival course, but we both learned some important lessons there, didn’t we? And I don’t think you can really call all those years of unarmed combat abuse. More like a quirk, a foible, a je ne sais quoi. In summary, I feel we’ve made a good team, you and I. You’ve been good to me and I’ve been good to you, and that’s probably how it should always be.
I promised you years ago that I’ll look after you at the end. I’m not going to let you decay piece by piece and turn into little more than a shambling mass of illness, discomfort, and pain, to end up lying helpless in an anonymous hospital bed with wires and tubes protruding from everywhere. When the time comes I’ll make it quick and painless. You know you can trust me, as I’ve always been able to trust you.
So, Body, let’s see if we can get in at least another ten years before it’s time to call it a day and head off for that final one-way trip to the mountains with the loaded gun. What do you say?
Oh yes: Time for a run!
And off we go again….