Remember the shock you felt when your grandmother pulled out her dentures for the first time in front of you? That kind of full body shake of horror and bewilderment?! Well, prepare yourself, because I’m about to shock you on that level. I hope you’re sitting down…
Juan Ponce de Leon never searched for a fountain of youth! As it turns out, in 1511, the Spanish explorer was involved in a messy political squabble forcing him to surrender the governorship of Puerto Rico. As a consolation prize, King Ferdinand offered him Bimini (an uncharted land that we now call the Bahamas). Ponce de Leon just had to finance the voyage and actually find it. He landed instead in Florida where he staked a claim for the Spanish Crown and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, where did the Fountain of Youth come in to play? Again, politics. No mention of a Fountain of Youth occurs in any documents until after his death. A Spanish court chronicler of the time didn’t like Ponce de Leon and noted that he was gullible, egocentric and dull-witted. He wrote a ‘history’ book claiming Ponce de Leon was deceived by Indians and went off on a futile hunt for a Fountain of Youth. This was a literary way to make him appear foolish, but the idea stuck from that point on.
Today, hundreds of tourists a day drink from the stone well at St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in Florida. These dreamers are misguided. I’m here to tell you about the real Fountain of Youth.
As opposed to drinking water from a well once, exercise is not a quick fix. It is in our nature to want a quick fix (that’s why the story of Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth stuck). I’m here to tell you, though, there is no quick fix when it comes to health. Exercise is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factor positively impacting long term health.
In the United States, 31% of men report regular physical exercise (at least 20 minutes 3x/week) whereas 40% of adult men report no physical activity at all. There’s strong evidence from dump truck loads of studies for the benefits of exercise. To name some, exercise lowers the risks of early death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, falls and weight gain. It improves heart and lung as well as overall muscle fitness. It reduces depression and improves cognition.
Ever heard of ‘runner’s high’? There some truth to it. When you exercise, endorphins are produced. This leads to improved mood and decreases risk of depression.
My wife observed early on in our marriage that if I exercised, I tended to be less cranky. Sometimes, when we’re talking (read: arguing) about something, she’ll ask me to go running then we can talk about it when I get back. You know what? I flat out feel better afterwards and can enter a conversation with her much more objectively and selflessly. Why? Simply put, improvement in mood as a direct result of exercise.
Some will say, ‘that’s great and all, but I’m too old to start exercising’. I would argue against that – you’re never too old. In one study, men who started exercising between the ages of 50 and 60 had a 49% lower death rate than those who continued to stay inactive! Another study showed if you are active more than 7 hours per week, there’s a 40% lower risk of dying early compared to those who are active less than 30 minutes per week. Also, in general, the risk of death from coronary artery disease is nearly double for inactive or sedentary adults compared to active adults.
You may argue, though, that you don’t have the energy to start exercising and that’s a very valid argument. Here’s the flip side, though – the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have. Is it easy? Usually not – especially at first, but the short and long term benefits are worth it. Again, it’s not a quick fix. Also, some folks don’t know where to start. There are all kinds of exercise books, videos, commercials, advertisements, podcasts and on and on. It’s information overload. I would suggest start simply with walking or even a couch to 5k program. Find something you think you would enjoy and go for it. As I said above, you’ll flat out feel better not to mention the things you’ll prevent long term. Exercise needs to be a part of your weekly and even daily routine. We’re all (I hope) in the routine of brushing our teeth. It’s a formed habit – we do it without thinking – it’s expected. Why do we do it, though? Because we’ve been told all kinds of bad things will happen if we don’t. Well, I’m telling you, all kinds of bad things can happen if you don’t exercise and all kinds of good things can happen if you do! We’re in this together. Ponce de Leon, as it turns out, didn’t search for or discover the Fountain of Youth. You don’t have to drive to Florida to drink from the well. As it turns out, you are the great explorer. You’ve found this fountain – now drink!
Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.