Just a Number

July 4, 2015

Super Mamika, Sascha Goldberger, 2010*

The idea of a “fitness age” has been floating around for a while now. When I took the online test, my result placed me at less than half my age. Flattering, but what does that really mean? My training at times takes age into account, but I have never felt constrained by it (and as a competitor, my age as given me an advantage, since I’m one of the youngest in my bracket). Is younger necessarily better?

Of course, what’s excited scientists about “fitness age” is its apparent correlation with a low risk of premature death. And I am really happy that in those terms, I’m as low-risk as it gets, even without my so called “fitness age” achievements: my lifelong habit of (mostly) clean living has rewarded me with with longevity-promoting levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. But why equate youth (the lower your age, the better) with vigor or longevity; what matters is what we do with what we are given, from our stage of life to our abilities.

I’m neither a gifted athlete nor preternaturally strong, and my build is average, maybe a little tall. Whatever I have “going for me,” I earned by working for it. Because I have made fitness my goal, I think I am as fit as a 60-year-old woman of my genetic makeup can be. I’ve had the time, the resources, the curiosity, and the discipline to maximize my own potential. So am I proud of myself for halving my chronological age in this test? Not really. But I am proud of the fact that, in spite of the myth that we can’t improve past a certain age, I continue to challenge the edges of my genetic potential every day.

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Super Mamika and Friend, Sascha Goldberger, 2010.

*These photos, by the French photographer Sascha Goldberger, are part of a larger series called “Mamika,” which feature his grandmother Frederika.

Happy Independence Day to you all!

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