We’ve all seen the outliers: People who are in their 70's, 80's and 90's that just look like they’ve aged better than everyone else.
Not only do they seem physically healthier, but they’re mentally very sharp.
Early on in my career as a physical therapist, I had the opportunity to work with one such man. His name was Charlie and he owned a mechanic shop in New Braunfels, Texas. When I saw him, he was 85 and was coming in because of some hip pain.
I was blown away by how physically active and quick-witted he was. He still worked full time in his mechanic shop with his two sons. The main reason for him coming in was that his hip pain was limiting him when it came to climbing into his deer stand.
To make him even more impressive, he was on zero medications; he had never had a significant health issue; and lived independently. If you’ve been around people in their 80's, being on zero medications is incredibly rare in its own right.
I ended up working with Charlie for a few months and every time I saw him I picked his brain on life and how he was so healthy and active at his age.
Over the course of our time, I picked up 4 Key Habits that had contributed to his remarkable physical and mental health at his age. If you want to age like Charlie, stick to these four habits:
Habit 1: Move a lot
Charlie never did one day of structured exercise in his entire life, except when he was in the Army early in his life. Moving is what Charlie did best. He started his mechanic shop in his 30's and had been doing that pretty much everyday for 50 years.
This is a physical job to say the least, so he had a lot of movement built into his day. He also was a big believer in walking. He would walk 3-5 miles every morning with his dog.
You don’t have to exercise much, if at all, when you move and are active all day long.
Habit 2: Have something to wake up for
I thought this was a really interesting piece of advice he gave me. He gave me this nugget of advice as he was describing the new computer software they were using for his mechanic shop.
In his mid-80's, he was learning a new software program to help his shop run more efficiently. He was so excited about the changes they expected to see with this new upgrade.
What I found out was that he loved what he did. He was obsessed with cars and making them run better. He had done what very few people every accomplish: he had matched up his interest in life with how he made his living.
He got up early everyday so he could be at his shop to open up and greet the first customer. What really resonated with me was Charlie's ability to constantly try to improve and his drive to wake up early and seize the day.
Think about how many people hate their jobs. The internal stress created with hating what you do, yet having to go and do that everyday is significant. Charlie was onto something and it was one of the big reasons for his long term health.
Habit 3: Eat like you have Type I Diabetes
Charlie’s wife had died about 10 years before I met him. She was born with Type I Diabetes and had lived an incredibly long life for someone born in the early 1900's with Type I Diabetes.
Charlie credited the way his wife had the family eat to much of his own health. Because his wife had to be very strict about what she ate, the entire family just ate the way she did.
There were two big nutrition components to how he ate:
First, he ate minimal to no sugar besides fruit. He chose black coffee, a banana on his oatmeal instead of brown sugar and he never ate desserts.
Second, eat nothing white. Charlie explained that his wife would have big insulin spikes when she would eat white bread, rice, or even drink milk. Recent studies have shown that a cup of milk causes the same insulin response in the body that eating a piece of white bread does. He and his wife just figured this out by tracking her insulin response to food.
Other than that he ate pretty much whatever he wanted. He was a big fan of the brisket from Rudy’s BBQ, which was right down the road from our clinic. He was also an avid hunter and would eat a lot of venison as well.
Habit 4: Go to sleep early
Charlie swore that going to sleep early was important. To put this in context, he usually got to his shop around 7am and they didn’t open for business until 8am. He would get up around 5am every morning to take his dog on a walk before going into his shop. He would usually go to bed by 9:00pm. That meant he usually was getting about 8 hours of sleep per night.
We all know sleep is important. Often one of the most difficult parts of sleep for people is actually getting to sleep at a decent time. Follow Charlie’s advice and start waking up earlier. You do that for a week or two and I’m sure you’ll be ready to go to be once it’s 9:00 or 10:00pm.
I know these 4 habits seem simple, and they are. Your health doesn’t have to be complex. There’s also no magic supplement you can take that will give you longevity like Charlie.
In an age of Bird Scooters, Amazon delivering your groceries, and having an app for everything, don’t forget the basics.
Move often, have something you're excited to wake up for, sleep and eat well.
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Thanks for reading,
Dr. Danny, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.