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vi·tal·i·ty: noun. The state of being strong and active


What does it mean to have vitality? Take a look at the definition above. Being vital means to have energy, to be strong and active. Do you want to have vitality? Vitality sounds wonderful to me, and as I get older and feel my body aging a bit, I think more and more about what I want to be able to count on my body to do. It turns out I have lots of plans, and I would like my body not to be a limiting factor to what I would like to accomplish. I definitely want vitality. And I believe you should want vitality too.
In the past few posts, I have been writing about the idea that we should be purposeful about our health. Rather than letting good health or bad health “happen to us,” we should be active to actually set goals, monitor progress, make changes as needed, and thereby set ourselves up for our best possible future health. Today I want to introduce you to a concept called the vitality curve in support of this idea. (FYI, if you like to google things, this is a  different concept than the economic vitality curve.)


Imagine Functioning at 100% of Your Potential

For a moment, I’ll ask you to think about what your body is capable of. If you had no limitations – no pain, no fatigue, no injuries, no illness, no changes of aging, no excess weight – what could your body do? And now let’s suppose you trained your body to be in good physical condition. You did exercises to reach near your peak state of endurance, strength, and flexibility. Let’s call this level of performance, what you could do in this state, as performing at 100% of potential. If you were to rate your current function, what percent would you be?
Now take a look at Diagram 1. This is an example of the vitality curve I mentioned in the opening. What it shows is that when we are young, we tend to function at the high end of the curve, up toward 100%, but as we get older, performance drops off. It doesn’t really matter who you are, when you are 80 years old you will not run as fast or lift as much or even sleep as well as you did when you were 20. Everyone will lose vitality with aging. If we live long enough, there is likely going to be a time where we are functioning at the very bottom level of this curve.

Diagram 1

How to Add Years to Your Life

But here is the critical concept for today. You can influence how long you stay at a high level. Take a look at Diagram 2. This shows another example of vitality curves, now for two different people. One person, Mrs. Active, is living what we will call a healthy lifestyle. She is eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep, doesn’t smoke, and is maintaining a healthy weight. Another person, Mrs. Sedentary, is generally doing the opposite. She is not exercising, she is eating unhealthy foods, she is short on sleep, maybe she is a smoker, and she is overweight. The curve shows that although both Mrs. Active and Mrs. Sedentary lose function
over time, Mrs. Active maintains her function for about 10 years longer than Mrs. Sedentary.
Stated another way, when Mrs. Active reaches age 70, she will have about the same level of function as Mrs. Sedentary has at age 60. Studies suggest choosing strategy to take care of our bodies can add approximately 10 years of functional life. Choosing a strategy to take care of our bodies will help us maintain vitality!


Diagram 2

“You’re How Old?”

Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone you thought was 70 years old, and when you started talking discovered he or she was actually 83? Or how about the opposite? You met someone you thought must be 80 or 85, and then you found out he or she was only 68. These people have different levels of vitality. I’d like to show you a visual example of what this might look like in your body. Diagram 3 is an MRI picture of the thighs of 3 people, a 40-year-old triathlete, a 74-year-old sedentary man, and a 70-year-old triathlete.On the MRI, fat shows up as white, and muscle as gray. I’d like you to see 3 things:

  1. the 40-year-old triathlete has a thigh which is mostly muscle with a thin band of fat at the
  2. the 70-year-old triathlete has a thigh which looks very similar, and
  3. the 74-year-old sedentary man has a thigh which is mostly fat

Diagram 3


Comparing the men in their 70’s, who do you think is more functional? Who has more vitality? Which thigh do you want when you are in your 70’s? Now I’m not suggesting we all need to do triathlon training, but I do encourage us all to be thoughtful and proactive about how we maintain our vitality. Making time for exercise, paying attention to nutrition and sleep, avoiding cigarettes, and trying to achieve a healthy weight now are all strategies that are likely to pay off in the future with more vitality.


Being Purposeful About Maintaining Vitality

Take the time today to think about your long-term health, and especially your vitality – the state of being strong and active and having energy – and start setting health goals that will help you have the function you desire in the future.

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