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Healthy Aging by the decades: Your youth

I believe that when we celebrate our birthdays, we get to reflect on what we have accomplished in our life so far – and have become – as a result of the choices we have made over the years. Fitness for me was always a choice that was a “given” – one that I am truly grateful I never had to think about making because it was “who I was” on the inside. 

I have to thank Jack LaLanne for this idea. He was a role model for me due to his great success: he passed away in 2011 at the age of 96 and was training right up until the end. He was an inspiration to generations of people – especially those of us who were able to see him when we were children through his TV show. He was the father of the fitness industry and throughout the course of his long life demonstrated to all of us why choosing a fitness lifestyle is so beneficial and helpful to living a purpose and fulfilling life, as well as following one’s dreams.

He created birthday celebrations throughout his life that showed that “age is truly just a number” and he received much in return in the form of the lives that he touched (like mine) and helped influence – and inspire – in the years that followed. I am one who can say that I carry his legacy within me and owe him a debt of gratitude for inspiring me to live the best life I could – physically, mentally, and spiritually. I celebrate getting older now in the way Jack did – by the years and decades of my life. I also remember to share what I have learned in order to help those coming of age behind me that becoming older can be a good thing – to be celebrated – and not feared. But how can you prepare for this perspective?

The decades of our life

I would like to share with you some of the thoughts on the decades of my life to help you see your own aging process as a gift to be embraced and treasured. Starting with my youth, the first article of this series, I will guide you through the most significant lessons I have learned and applied in my own life so that you can prepare for the decades to come. I intend to be like Jack when it comes to celebrating my birthdays by inspiring people of all ages to be the best that they can be – living lives that are rich and filled with all the good things that life has to offer.

What I learned in my youth

The time when we are children to the time we graduate from high school are the pivotal years of our lives. During these years we learn from our parents, teachers and friends – and other significant people – that we have value. In making our choices during this time of life we are confronted with many uncertainties and questions and if we find something within us that gives us strength to choose our path – we tend to become healthy and fit.

The challenge during this time is to arrive at some form of value system that we can adopt and that works for us. If parents are encouraging and can set the right example we can become committed to fitness through sports programs or other activities that inspire us to learn about teamwork, cooperation and support which will serve us for the rest of our journey.

Through my swimming training and competition on Maui before the age of 10 – and later through Little League on Oahu – I learned the value of focus, discipline and commitment to my sport. This understanding became a part of my mental makeup and served me well over the years by giving me the strength to rely on my own “sense of self” and love for being active.

Take time to reflect on the children in your life and how they are being influenced by the world of technology to NOT be active. What can be done to inspire them toward appreciating their body and helping them develop the important skills that I learned in my own youth? We owe our best efforts to help this generation (my grandson’s) not become the first to die before their parents, as President Clinton said may happen if we stay on the path we are on. But how?

Some suggestions for a healthy youth

The suggestions below are specific to the problems I have observed in the USA but some can be applied elsewhere:

  • Get physical education back into schools;
  • Give annual fitness tests such as the President’s Fitness Test that I had to take back in my intermediate school years;
  • Employ the resources of every level of government, school district, the community of non profits and spiritual centers, as well as fitness and medical professionals to take charge of their local programs and encourage participation in fitness activities;
  • Develop nutritional awareness programs that focus on healthy lifestyles for families;
  • Have classes available to all who wish to learn more on health and fitness related activities and choices outside of work that support healthy living.

If we lose these formative years of our youth we are in for big trouble later. My youth activities set me up for a life of wonderful results in running and weightlifting over the following decades of my life. The power of being fit cannot be overstated as Jack showed throughout the course of his long and fruitful life. We ALL need to be the “example of the change we wish to see in the world” if we are to raise a generation of healthy, happy and fit young adults.

What I learned from my 20s

My 20’s were a decade of growth and exploration. Half of the decade was spent in the U.S. Force where I became a Titan II Missile Combat Crew Commander for Strategic Air Command. The Vietnam War pretty much decided this path for me as I never wanted to be killed in a foreign war. This time of my life was spent in training and operations and managing a multi-million dollar strategic missile complex in Kansas.

I didn’t die in Vietnam and had to learn to live “by the book” – operations manuals – and following orders. Stress was a constant in my life and as a result I spent time drinking at the Officers Club with other crew and support personnel – and running in the Kansas winds for relief. The good news was I continued the running program I had started a few years before at Syracuse University.

Getting out of the Air Force at the age of 26 (1972) showed me I had not prepared well for life after my military service. Living “by the book” and following orders no longer served me (there is no book on how to live life). I had to decide for myself what it was I wanted to accomplish and that did not go well. I got my MBA in the latter stages of my 20’s but nothing professionally was working well for me. I started to lose my way and sense of self and became quite unhappy (although at the time I was totally unaware of this gradual change). My choices were not being made thoughtfully and my professional and personal life were floundering. Family life was OK but not flourishing – just like the rest of my life.

Staying engaged in my running program was the only constant I could rely upon and so my life progressed in other than fulfilling and rewarding ways. I could sense a feeling of “emptiness” creeping into my life and I did not know what it was or where it was coming from – so I kept running.

Some suggestions for your 20s

Everything in our 20’s is setting us up for life to come. Prepare physically as hard as you can for the trials to come because they will come. Develop habits that support healthy living by engaging in – and choosing – things that stimulate you mentally, physically and spiritually. Find your purpose in life, dedicate yourself to personal growth and find a path that suits you and embrace it fully. Upon entering your 30’s  you want to be happy with who you are, what you are becoming, and excited about your future.

Physically work hard on building a foundation of strength, flexibility (in thought as well), power, and finally develop a program that addresses your personal and physical needs. Pay attention to excessive behaviors and comfort zones you may slipping into while also developing friendships and support in your life. This will be important as you go through the stages of your development. Training begins here so do not waste time with online activities that don’t help you find a way to also “live in the real world”. Make sure to find the time for fun and create time in your life to explore new ideas and possibilities.

Develop a fitness plan, financial plan, and personal plan that inspires you and sets you up for a life of contribution, adventure and accomplishment – don’t waste this time or this decade. Take yoga classes, run, master something that brings you joy and stick with it for the rest of your life.

Read other articles int his series:

Healthy Aging by the decades: Your 30s and 40s

Healthy Aging by the decades: Your 50s

Healthy Aging by the decades: Your 60s

About Nicholas Prukop

Nicholas Prukop, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer & a Health Coach, is a fitness professional with over 25 years of experience whose passion for health and fitness comes from his boyhood in Hawaii where he grew up a swimmer on Maui. He found his calling in writing his first book "Healthy Aging & You: Your Journey to Becoming Happy, Healthy & Fit" and since then he has dedicated himself to empowering, inspiring and enabling people of all ages to reach for the best that is within them and become who they are meant to be – happy, healthy and fit – and be a part of a world where we can each contribute our own unique gifts to life. Recently, he has written a series of 50 articles for the website askthetrainer.com outlining the key ideas and knowledge contained in his book and which will assist anyone – of any age - to “grow older – and not old”. Nick is excited to be a part of Healthynewage as it moves forward to change lives and leave the world a little bit better than we found it.

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