A Centenarian’s Decathlon

Do you want to live to be 100?  Assuming that I have all my faculties and my health, I sure would love to be around in another 20+ years.

Those are two huge assumptions.  One, that I have all my faculties.  This to me means that I can read and write, communicate, remember a little bit, know who I am talking to, enjoy a joke, love my children and grandchildren, go to a movie, eat out a restaurant, watch a show on TV, engage in a conversation about current events, and the like.

The other assumption is that I have my health.  This to me means that I am still alive, can see, smell, taste and hear.

But, after reading Dr. Peter Attia’s book entitled Outlive, I am now convinced that when I am talking about my health it really means a lot more than what I just mentioned.

He talks about the four great threats to life – cancer, diabetes, heart/cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.  One of his main points is that these four “killers” do not just happen all of a sudden at an advanced age, but rather they develop over time slowly for decades.  His point is that there are steps that we can all take, especially younger adults, that will delay the time when these four killers happen later in life.

He specifically outlines some tests that we should be taking to determine, for example, the state of our metabolic function or dysfunction.  He is at war with what he calls Medicine 2.0; he cries out for what he labels Medicine 3.0.  The difference being what I ran into the other day in my doctor’s office.

I asked my regular doctor, whom I have been seeing for years, during my regular annual check up to have certain tests done – ones that Dr. Attia had recommended – and my doctor’s response was to the effect of… (these are not his exact words but what he conveyed to me was) “Neil, my job is to do blood tests to determine if you fall within the acceptable ranges on a whole series of measurements.  This is done to determine if you have a “problem” that needs fixing.  In other words, my job as your doctor is to let you know if you have a problem, and then to figure out how we fix it.  my job is not to figure out if you might have a problem in the future.”  This approach, to wait till a medical problem shows itself and then try to fix it, is what Dr. Attia labels as Medicine 2.0.   What he is arguing for is to look much more proactively into the possible warning signs way ahead of a “problem” surfacing.  He calls this Medicine 3.0.

I am bound and determined to find a way to get these other tests that Dr. Attia recommends done somewhere, somehow, but that is another story for another blog.

As we age, the fact of the matter is that there is deterioration in three categories over the decades of one’s life – cognitive, physical and emotional.

Focusing on the physical, each decade as we age we lose a certain amount of muscle mass and strength, along with bone density, stamina, stability, and balance.

To deal with this Dr. Attia suggests that each of us who wants to live to be 100 identify at least 10 different fitness activities that we want to be able to do at the age of 100 – a decathlon of sorts.

Once we have done this, we then have to work backwards to determine how many of each item we need to be able to do at different ages in order to be able to be successful in doing them at 100 years of age.

For example, to be able to do 5 pushups at 100, you need to be able to do 9 at 90, 15 at 80, 22 at 70, 32 at 60, and so on.  You get the point.

I have been trying to identify the 10 physical activities that I want to be able to do at 100 years of age – my own decathlon.

I have come up with 18 so far.  I still need to narrow my list down to 10.  But I thought I would share with you what my list includes so far.

  • Balance on one leg for 30 seconds (with eyes closed for 15 seconds)
  • Carry two bags of groceries weighing 5 lbs each for 3 blocks
  • Hike 1.5 miles on a hilly trail
  • Get up from the floor using only 1 arm
  • Able to get up from a chair without using my hands or arms
  • Do 5 push ups
  • Climb 4 flights of stairs in 4 minutes
  • Be able to walk down 4 flights of stairs without holding on to railing
  • Do 20 consecutive jump rope skips
  • Play 18 holes of golf walking without a golf cart
  • Walk 8,000 steps a day
  • Be able to get into and out of a kayak, and paddle with arms and feet
  • Have sex
  • Be able to open a jar
  • Ride a bike for one hour covering at least 10 miles
  • Play pickleball (doubles) for one hour
  • Swim 8 laps in the pool
  • Able to perform a full squat, holding 20 lbs.

I am sure that you will have some comments on my list, but more importantly, I hope that you will develop your own list.  I would love it if you would be willing to share some of your list with me.

I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I am pretty excited about having a decathlon to reach for when I am 100.

I am reminded of an inscription on my college campus…

Climb high, climb far

Your goal the sky, your aim the star

3 thoughts on “A Centenarian’s Decathlon”

  1. Sorry to pour just a dash of cold water on your view of Dr Attia. But he puts me in mind of another 50ish year old Guru called Jim Fixx. His mantra was jogging-the be all and end all, Remember his best selling book? He virtually single handedly popularized the sport of running.
    Well, yes he got the “end all”, dying at 52 from a heart attack, ironically—–while running on a road in Vermont!!!!
    Similarities between Fixx and Attia are that they both wrote books in a quest for profit at about the time the Middle Age Crisis sets in. Attia born in the USA but Fixx born in Toronto Canada later perhaps became an American.
    It would be interesting to see Attia and hear his views once he is in his 80’s as I am. Those are mighty lofty centenarian goals Neil, some of them, just like how running fixed up Jim Fixx can be detrimental too if overdone. You may wish to revisit them and perhaps taper a few of them back.
    Sincerely though, I do wish you well in your noble quest.

  2. Wow, Neil, think you really missed the boat on this one.

    My dad lived to 101 and lived with Sandy and me for three years. What he was grateful for and still able to do had zilch to do with your list of physical skills.

    I will email what I believe pop would have had on his list had I asked him to compile one.

    Cheers and thanks for bring this up.

    1. rich,

      agree with your point about “much more than physical”. i just chose to focus on the physical for this post, but, to your point, there are the cognitive and the emotional components of the aging process that are crucial.

      thank you and Sandy for caring for your Dad during his last three years. what a treat to have a centenarian in the house!


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