Pumping weights and running marathons won’t help you beat Father Time. Instead, choose the battles that make you grow wiser.
Many people see aging as something to fear or regret. On the surface, there is little fun about a body returning ever-diminishing levels of everything we hold dear, from looks to performance to health. But I see getting older as something to embrace.
My son Huckleberry likes to count the lines on my face and the crow’s feet around my eyes. I like to tell him how each one of those lines holds an adventure, a memory, a friendship, an achievement, a lesson and an experience, which is why I like them.
We all have our physical quirks (my nose gets increasingly wonky with the years and my left foot is so mashed it is ridiculous), but all these things remind me that I’m a survivor. Think of it like this: over the hundreds of thousands of years that we have existed, the average human rarely lived much beyond the age of 35. When you make it past that age, you’re already in the elite.
The other aspect of aging, for me, is that all my near-death experiences have made me incredibly grateful for life. Those that haunt me are not always the dramatic, well-documented ones. For example, when I was preparing to paraglide over Everest I did a test flight in the UK with our new supercharged paramotor. The director who was filming the mission asked me to do a second flight so he could get one final shot. My instinct was to say no, but I agreed and foolishly made the flight without a reserve chute. When the filming helicopter passed in front of me, at 3,000 feet, I flew straight through its wake, somersaulted over the top of the parachute and started tumbling to the ground with half the chute wrapped around itself. The paramotor smashed as I hit the ground, but somehow I survived. I remember being curled up on the ground in the middle of a field, tears filling my eyes, knowing I should have died, that I’d been stupid and incredibly lucky. And not for the first time.
Such moments remind me that life is a gift never to be taken for granted. Our response should be gratitude and joy. My Christian faith also reminds me that we are on a journey and we shouldn’t fear the road. I’ve had my fair share of scars and bruises and I don’t regret any. (Well, maybe the odd one.)
The Bible talks about our bodies being like clay jars “which are wasting away on the outside, so it often looks like things are falling apart on us. But on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.” That’s a great promise to hold on to as we get ever older.
With age, however, we need to develop an awareness of our bodies’ limitations and keep ourselves injury-free as far as we can. I found it inspirational spending some time in the wild with Roger Federer, who even towards the end of his career is outperforming and outlasting so many younger players. We agreed that it’s all about pacing yourself; about understanding, as my mum always used to say, that life is a marathon, not a sprint.
I try to incorporate this attitude into my own training by making it sustainable. Pumping massive weights all day or doing ultramarathons is never going to be good for your body in the long term. Extremes aren’t good for longevity. That’s why I train using short, sharp 30-minute bodyweight-type exercises that keep me lean, fit and flexible. This approach is important for ensuring that you can still adventure as you get older. (I’ve written a book about this, called Your Life: Train For It, which explains the approach in more detail.)
In life, as in the wild, we have to choose our battles. The battle against aging is one we are never going to win, so don’t fight it too hard. Instead, see the years as a chance to gather wisdom and skills, friendships and experiences. See it as an opportunity to grow braver, kinder, more resourceful, more sensitive and more respectful as each year passes. These are qualities that can only be developed with age. Embrace that.
The Bible talks about our bodies being like clay jars “which are wasting away on the outside, so it often looks like things are falling apart on us. But on the inside, where God is making a new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.” That’s a great promise to hold on to as we get ever older.