Bernard Salt on the future; Natasha Robinson on exercise and long life
I HAVE a friend who wears a most annoying T-shirt when exercising. “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP”, says the logo emblazoned across her visible sixpack. These days, it seems, I can barely escape this kind of motivational mantra, which the zealously fit insist on broadcasting from any available medium.
How refreshing, then, to wake up one ropy Sunday morning recently to a backlash of sorts from a girlfriend who had posted on her Facebook newsfeed: “Sure, sure ... you’re all RUNNING and embracing FITNESS,” said my friend Kate. “Meanwhile, I have woken up with France Soir specific food cravings. If only they did home delivery steak bernaise and frites …”
For those unfamiliar with the Parisian bistros of Melbourne’s South Yarra, France Soir is a den of food iniquity where saturated fat is consumed by the kilogram and wine flows freely before midday. A place where giving up and giving in is delectably and delightfully fun. A place where you might even eat cheese. Luckily on this wintry Sunday morning, Kate had a rare friend who was not staring into a mirror at the gym or posting motivational messages, who happened to fancy a big fat steak too.
Next thing, the pair was posting photographs of juicy steak, gourmet fries and buttery sauces, with the caption: “And this, my friends, is called giving in to your desires.”
That this kind of ritual is seen as somehow countercultural says a lot about how obsessed we have become. I know we’re all so much fatter than we used to be. But is flogging ourselves to train harder, eat cleaner really the answer? The truth is that those who have managed to crack the code of successful ageing have not been those who follow a prescription of 45 minutes, four times a week of huff and puff, which is apparently what women over 50 are supposed to do these days.
Look to our centenarians. The University of NSW recently studied a group of Australians over 100. And although this group was far from couch potatoes, none of them had a track record as a marathon runner either.
Charlene Levitan, the academic who headed up the project, says personality factors are key — those who grow to a grand old age tend to be low on neuroticism and high on optimism. And they’re probably not the kind to heed the messages of motivational posters.
“They are people of moderation, they are not people of extremes,” Levitan says.
“They would not be advocating vigorous aerobic exercise. None of them would say take exercise out of your everyday life, but it’s rather something that needs to be integrated into your lifestyle.”
In other words, get off your bum and take your kid to the park. Or go take a walk to your local France Soir. There’s nothing that inspires an optimistic outlook quite like a block of creamy camembert.