Attia came up with a list of 18 things he wanted to do when he turned 100. He then chose exercises, like a 30-pound goblet squat, to mimic those activities and called them his “Centenarian Olympics.” Attia’s ‘events’ replicate everyday tasks like carrying groceries up flights of stairs, putting a suitcase in an overhead bin and getting off the floor with a single point of support – all things that Attia believes will help him prepare to live the life he wants to at 100. Even though the events comprise ability a young athlete might for granted, they’re challenges for a century-old body.
That’s why Attia wants to start practising now.
‘Never too late’
Of course, not everyone lives for a century.
“Despite all the preparation and trying to prevent diseases, there’s no guarantee to reach 100,” says George Leeson, the director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. But, he adds, strength is key to staying physically independent later in life. “The research would suggest that even minor improvements in muscular strength will let us maintain independence and strength and push back frailty and instability in a person.”
As we age, our bodies start to lose muscle mass and bone density. Research shows that people can lose up to 5% of their muscle mass every decade after the age of 30. Lost muscle mass can be regained through training, and Leeson says studies have shown men tend to retain more muscle mass than women. The solution is to stay active, build muscle as early as possible and focus on maintaining it.
“Ideally from birth, we should prepare to live to 100,” says Leeson. “Of course, the earlier one starts to maintain muscle mass, the stronger one will be later in life and the easier it will be to maintain. But it’s never too late to start.”
Still, even though the body changes are gradual, there are harsh moments when people realise they can’t do things they easily did when they were younger. For Wilder, this moment came on when she was doing one of things she loves most, travelling. “I was having a hard time lifting a suitcase into an overhead rack, and realised that’s a disability. The inability to do something I used to do,” says Wilder. “Disability sneaks up on people.”