Why Compression of Morbidity Matters AND Why People Ignore it

If I could give everyone in the world one thing, what would I choose?  Not money, cars, or houses.  I would choose health—and more specifically, compressed morbidity.  James Fries, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, talks about the concept of compressed morbidity through preventative medicine.  Fries’ idea of compression of morbidity is “to squeeze or compress the time horizon between the onset of chronic illness or disability and the time in which a person dies.”  This idea is very related to the idea of healthy aging.  We all know that aging is inevitable, but making the process as painless as possible for as long as possible is not something that people think about often, or take active steps while they’re young enough to achieve.

All the time I hear my clients say “kill me before I can’t wipe my own ass” or “I don’t want to live if I can’t get dressed in the morning.”  And frankly this is something that I only hear my older clients saying.  I want to start the dialogue with younger clients and to encourage them to think in their mid-20s or 30s about healthy aging.  What can I do today to make the aging process relatively painless?  How can I use a fitness program and a coach today to push the day where I can’t shower on my own further into the future?  No one knows how long they will have to live, everyone recognizes how much harder daily life will be at an older age, and yet very few young people actively prepare their body to live a long, comfortable life. 

The truth is, it’s hard to focus on long-term goals over your short-term goals.  At 25, you spend a lot more time picturing what you will look like, how healthy you will be, and what your daily life will be like at 28 than at 75.  What you want is to be your ideal weight now, look good for your friends or significant other now, and get that revenge body now, without thinking about the long-term consequences.  Sure a 7-day juice cleanse might have you looking your best on vacation in Cabo next month, but it certainly is doing nothing positive to your body in the long-term.  And it certainly isn’t helping your mental state when you regain all that weight as soon as you start to eat solid food again.  And let’s face it—it’s especially hard to focus on the realization that your long-term future involves aging and your body starting to break down....So for many of us we just ignore it, and as a result, our aging process accelerates and becomes that much harder.

Maybe taking care of your body today involves running 5 miles every morning, eating paleo, or practicing mindful eating.  All of these can contribute to your health in the future, but they’re not the only piece of the puzzle.  No amount of cardio is going to train your body to do the little things in your daily life when you’re older that you take for granted today.  At some point, you have to practice Turkish get-ups to get out of bed, squats to get on and off the toilet, deadlifts to pick up your shoes, upper body mobility so you can wipe your own ass, and breathing to control all of these movements!

If you haven’t done these movements before (what is a Turkish get-up?), this can be overwhelming.  And although the thought of learning these movements and preparing yourself for the aging process is definitely hefty, it’s vital to take action today.  Remember you are not alone with the uncertainty of what the future brings.  But you can invest in yourself and your future now by outsourcing.  You outsource many things in your life to professionals....Why not outsource the one thing that will affect every aspect of your daily life the most?  With a professional, you should be able to learn the basics of most of these movements in your first week. 

If I videotaped your posture and movement patterns for a day and asked you to watch it, you would most likely say “I hope that person isn’t me.”  But it is you, and you’re not getting any younger or any better at movements that you aren’t practicing regularly.  Go see someone that is going to make you move properly, i.e., better than how you’re moving right now.  

Like I said, if I could give everyone one thing, it would be health.  I try to coach as many people as I can, but it is ultimately your choice to give yourself health and physical fitness.  Money definitely can’t buy you everything, but having a capable body might give you everything you want.  Invest in your body to compress your morbidity and in turn, get the peace of mind that your aging process can be healthy and comfortable.  Getting older is inevitable, but it is also easy to ignore in the short-term.  Acknowledge the fact that you will age, and have an honest conversation with yourself about how important it is for you to have a high quality of life when you are much older.  

Jack Ryan