A key to having a quality life is having a fit life. Have you thought about what things you would like to continue to do in the latter years of your life? Considering these things can give you clear goals for driving actions that can make those things a reality.

In a previous post, we discussed several negative consequences of having poor exercise and eating habits. Sometimes, staying motivated and setting goals for yourself is difficult if you are “just doing it because you know it’s good for you.” It’s more motivating for most people to move toward a goal than it is to avoid something. What follows is one of the most powerful methods I’ve come across to do just that regarding fitness.  

Dr. Peter Attia, in his book “Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity”, outlines a powerful thought exercise called “The Marginal Decade.” This exercise helps you create tangible long-term goals and then develop appropriate short-term goals to keep you motivated for the rest of your life.  


First of all, what the heck is the Marginal Decade?

The Marginal Decade is the last ten years of your life. Nobody knows precisely when this is, but you will probably know when you’re in it! The exercise then is to think about what kinds of things you want to be able to do in this last decade of your life. 

Here are a few practical considerations. Which would you choose?

  • Do you want to be able to walk at a brisk pace?
  • Do you want to be able to go on a hike in the hills?
  • Do you want to be able to carry the groceries up the stairs in both hands without using the handrail? 
  • Do you want to be able to lift your great-grandchildren? 
  • Do you want to be able to squat/kneel to work in the garden? 

You get the idea. Focusing on these things can make improving fitness a permanent priority for you! 


Get a grip!

A second concept that Dr Attia shares is “The Centurian Decathalon,” which looks at your life as an athletic event—one you want to finish well in your own Marginal Decade. Several metrics that measure functional ability have been discovered over the years. 

These include:

Grip strength – surprisingly, this is one of the most important

  •  VO2 max-the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise
  •  Number of push-ups-40 for men are associated with a 98% reduction in cardiovascular events than those who can do 10 or fewer.
  •  Carries (carrying dumbbells in your hands for time), 
  •  Hanging from a pullup bar, 
  •  Wall sits-2 minutes

These are strategic qualitative measures of overall function. These metrics naturally decline as we age–the idea is to slow the RATE of decline. These are typically not measured until people are in their 70’s, meaning they have missed 30-40 years of working on them!

All of these tests have been tied to enhanced function as we age; in other words, the ability to do the physical stuff that makes life worthwhile. 


Some are not obvious, like grip strength

For example, taken in isolation, grip may not mean much besides maybe the ability to open jars. But, if you think about it, grip is a strategic metric when it comes to your overall condition. 

Unless you have been sitting around in a recliner doing grip exercises and nothing else, a strong grip indicates that you do a lot of moving around, picking up stuff, and etc. In other words, you’re actively engaged. 

Activity improves overall strength, especially the right kind. If you have good upper body strength, you’ll also have a strong grip. 

Quick story: I developed a performance testing protocol for athletes years ago. In my research, I came across a fascinating bit of information: the most universal measure indicative of success in the NFL for all positions was… grip strength!

I initially had the same thought you probably had about healthspan: “How is that the most critical measure, particularly across all positions?” I was thinking squat, deadlift, vertical jump, 40 times, or something like that. But, in analyzing all those things, grip strength ties back to them directly or indirectly.  

So, “getting a grip” on these measurements means more than awareness. It means determining where you are and taking specific actions to maintain or improve them as you age.

These thought exercises or frameworks will motivate you to focus on things that will help you increase your healthspan. 


So, what exactly is healthspan?

Healthspan simply means the span of your lifetime spent in good health. That is, the amount of time you feel good and move well.

When you think about it, a better question is, how much of your life do you want to spend feeling bad?

For the vast majority of people, physical decline is inevitable and surprisingly predictable: 

They enjoy good health from the time they’re born and through their mid-twenties. They then experience a decline that continues for the rest of their lives. Ultimately, some form of chronic disease severely limits healthspan in their seventies.

This process accelerates in the 50s, typically resulting in some form of chronic disease and decreased mobility beginning in the seventies and sometimes sooner.  


It doesn’t have to be this way

It is possible not only to survive but THRIVE throughout your lifetime and even the majority of the marginal decade. 

So, let’s talk about what you want.

By now, I hope you genuinely believe you have a choice. Now might be a good time to think about what you want in your marginal decade, find out what you need to work on to allow you to do those things, and set goals to move you in that direction. After all, working on these things can delay the decline and make it much sharper, meaning the last decade can be primarily good rather than a struggle! You can continue to DO–take the steps to make it so today!.