Health Perspective for Every Stage of Life: Part 1

aging2Through my personal experience and through coaching and working with thousands of people over the years, I’ve had the privilege (and sometimes surprise) of more or less seeing it all. And, I’d like to think I’ve picked up some helpful perspective along the way. I thought I’d highlight some of that perspective on the unique challenges or “spirit” of health at each age—how to live well and take care of yourself through each of life’s phases. Look for part two next week!

Childhood – (a.k.a. Play Is All You Need)

Let me jump right in with the young ‘uns….

You lucky ones are as close to Grok instinct as it gets. Embrace it for all it’s worth. Don’t be in a rush to surrender your inner cave child.

Get muddy. Get sweaty. Climb trees. Build forts. Skip stones. Make plenty of dirt pies (and don’t hesitate to taste them). Stay outside as long as your parents will let you. Play as hard as you can. Run so fast that your legs feel like they’re going to propel right out from underneath you.

These years aren’t the time for life or health to feel too complicated. In fact, don’t worry about what it means to be healthy for now. Just try to understand that you’ll thank your parents and/or other adult figures for limiting your junk food and pushing meat and vegetables. Cave children need these. Teddy Grams and Gold Fish won’t help you reach your wild potential. That would be a major shame and so not worth the sugar crashes.

Think instead about pushing your limits, discovering your abilities, reveling in all that you notice about yourself and the world around you. Explore—and experiment—as much as you can. Discover awe in small things the way Grok Jr. would’ve—in animal encounters, cloud formations and large sticks.

Childhood should first and foremost feel like a rush—hitting up against your limits, pushing them further. Ask yourself—and test—on a daily basis—how high can I jump, how far can I throw, how long can I run, how fast can I climb?

Sure, some wet blanket people may try to tell you that play isn’t productive. I’m not suggesting you get yourself in trouble with these folks, but don’t believe them, okay? The outdoors calls you—although school gyms and trampoline parks can be fun, too. Still, spend as much time under the sun as you can.

And for the record, you’re right: recess is the golden part of the day, and it should be. Trust me—that’s the stuff you’ll really use the rest of your life. If you make recess a daily habit throughout your entire life, you’ll give me and every other person on this site a major run for his/her money. Keep up the good work!

High School Years – (a.k.a. Challenging the Adolescent “Everything Goes” Attitude)

You’re coming off those years when you played hard and slept hard. Now you probably just want to sleep period—until noon anyway.

Life is, most likely, much busier than just a few years ago. With homework, activities, an after school job and friends, health may not command much (if any) attention. Maybe you even consider it something “old people” (i.e. people over 25) think about.

It’s true you’re still in the thick of growing—pretty quickly actually. It probably feels like the adults in your life endlessly fuss over you with this rule or that. From your perspective it’s totally unnecessary and annoying. You seem to bounce back from whatever choices you make with no perceptible effect. Energy drink? Pizza for lunch three days in a row? Your friend’s brother’s cigarettes? What’s the big deal?

These might seem like Teflon years—when you can do what you want without noticeable consequences. Save the salads and exercise for when you get older and need to take your body seriously, right?

However, these are the years when you’ll see some of your peers (or yourself!) begin losing their grip on vitality if you can believe it. Maybe you observe it already. Certain friends have started to put on extra weight. You see some people struggle on the more intense gym days.

Recess is no more. After school doesn’t mean playing outside. Riding the bus or commuting by car is the norm for getting to and from. At home there’s plenty of homework and an array of online diversions to keep you sedentary. Food is often whatever friends are grabbing at a drive-thru or from concession stands. Caffeine is the thing to drink—and even show off (how grande can you go?). This is the life of the every-teen, isn’t it? No biggie.

Except you deserve better. And there’s the rub….

Take that in for a minute. You deserve better. Absorb it. Consider what it might mean for you. Make a point of remembering it—even if you aren’t ready to act on it or even claim it yet. Carry it with you until something in your life or thinking brings it to a head—tomorrow, next month, next year, two decades from now. Trust me—this truth will change your life someday—maybe many times over.

For now, imagine you aren’t just sauntering around the school halls each day. Picture yourself on a class trip climbing a 14,000 foot mountain in the Rockies. Would you be able to do it? Be honest, and don’t automatically assume yes. I’ve seen these kinds of trips pick off a surprising percentage of teenagers (not to mention adults). Your little kid self probably would’ve been pumped at the opportunity. How much have you—your motivation and your abilities—changed?

See, it’s so easy at this age to let peer behavior influence our choices and coerce us into letting go of so many things about ourselves that we should never surrender—aspects of ourselves and our best interest we’ll regret giving away one day. Yet, in the social moment, no one wants to look like they care too much. As “old” as I am, I get it.

But try to care about your bigger (and not just social) self-interest. Try to see that what you do today matters for how you can live your life now (and, yes, what will come down the line for you later). But focus on today. When we’re honest, that’s usually the better motivation for all of us.

What are you putting your time and life into these days? What is it asking of you? How is it pushing you to develop your physical potential? How is it encouraging you to enjoy exercising that? You can probably see that screen time, junk food and all the other common adolescent traps don’t offer very inspiring answers to these questions.

You’re at an age when intellectualizing health won’t make much of an impact, but living it should. Enjoy what you used to enjoy as a younger kid in a renewed way—whether in team sports or in your own pursuits. Trust me, you aren’t limited to what’s being offered in school. Seek out martial arts, parkour, community running and walking clubs, biking events, community swim times, hiking and other outdoor activity groups. You’re no longer a child, but don’t be so quick to cede your wild, primal potential. Casting off your ability to play means abandoning yourself at a fundamental level. Don’t surrender your physical vitality and creativity before you even graduate high school.

As you grow into your interests (a big part of life at this stage), decide (or find!) what stokes your inner fire. Don’t apologize for your choices if they aren’t what your peers or parents would choose for you. What will YOUR active, adventurous life look like? There’s no need to have it all figured out at this point, but begin to ponder it. Envision claiming it. Step toward that however it makes sense each day.

College Years (a.k.a. Forging Your Primal Path)

So, you’re no longer under your parents’ roof. You have a totally new level of autonomy—and some new responsibilities.

You’re suddenly in a position to make (much of) your own weekly schedule. Maybe you even make your own food (or at least eat at the cafeteria where you have a plethora of choices). The fact is, no one is watching or directing or dictating whole aspects of life anymore. A skeptic might joke, “What could possibly go wrong?”

On the one hand, I tend to think we expect too little at this age. Older adults in our lives assume we’ll make stupid choices and generally chalk up this time of life to burning off one’s inner dumba$$ instinct. It might sound like a heyday at the outset, but is that ALL you really want from life today?

You’ll see plenty of people your age, maybe even good friends, organize these years around short-term gratification (e.g. Captain Crunch at every meal and frequent Mountain Dew pick-me-ups) and even varying levels of self-destructiveness (e.g. binge drinking, drug use, chronic sleep deprivation, risky sexual behavior). Underlying this tendency, I think, isn’t just entitlement to sabotage but also maybe the sadder belief that this is your last/only chance to “live it up.”

We perpetuate an enormously destructive lie in this culture—that these years will be your best. Trust me, if you’re living your life to its full potential and aren’t beset by horrible tragedy just after graduation, this won’t be true. Believe it now, and you’ll coerce yourself to live with a pressured immediacy that can end up narrowing your experience almost as much as the opposite extreme of the spectrum—where people can’t loosen up enough to step away from the term papers and service projects. Either extreme offers an impoverished and caricatured vision of what this stage can be.

I’m not preaching the straight and narrow route here. By all means, use the time to explore and enjoy yourself. However, develop the discernment to imagine what you want out of these years (in health and other terms) and the self-discipline to make sure you’re acting toward those purposes most days.

So, let me ask you this question. What condition—physical and psychological do you want to live your way into during college? This isn’t a hiatus from life after all—what happens in college stays at college (as much as the culture talks about it this way). I’m sure you could come up with a hundred jokes and many more examples of this principle. Suffice is to say, those “freshman 15” will likely be coming with you post-graduation unless you do something about it. The other effects of a sedentary 4-year college career will leave with you, too.

The fact is, here’s the chance to make your life your own. Remember that very personal question of what your active, adventurous life will look like? Are you planning on living that—or holding yourself captive on some socially dictated detour for 4+ years? This is the time to understand that living your own life to its healthiest (and generally most successful) potential means accepting the responsibility of creating your own path rather than tagging along with the crowd.

Getting Married (a.k.a. Negotiating Personal Boundaries and Partner Dynamics)

So, you found your true love, and now you’re living in holy matrimony or a romantic agreement in which you’re both on the lease. Unlike the string of roommates you’ve had over the years, now there’s this vague expectation that you share everything—share food, share meals, share free time, share responsibility, share social lives, etc. Some elements of this arrangement go better than other. Achilles’ tendon? It just might be a Primal versus non-Primal showdown.

How can it be that someone who makes us so happy can also challenge our efforts to stay healthy? It just happens.

Primal couples exist, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. More are made after the vows, but the majority of married Primal folks, I’d easily venture, go it alone. Perhaps many of their partners exercise and/or eat reasonably cleanly, but many others don’t.

Sure, there are strategies you can employ involving separate shelf space, co-existing food budgets, overlapping food preparation/meal planning that calls in your Venn diagramming skills.

The number one tip I’ve gleaned from coaching Primal clients with non-Primal partners: take independent responsibility for yourself.

I know too many people who have put too much energy into cajoling or complaining about their partners. Some of it comes from feeling like they’re being cheated of convenience they feel they should have. (Why should anyone feel entitled to this?) Some of it comes from feeling like they’re missing out on support. (This is certainly nice, but you partner isn’t responsible for emulating or cheerleading your choices.)

Finally, others feel they’re missing out on a sharing and bonding experience over what some Primal types consider deeply held values. While I get this, I also think people have the choice of sharing instances or elements of their commitments (e.g. now and then sharing a meal—or most of a meal—that fits both tastes, enjoying after-dinner bike rides or weekend hikes together) without requiring mutual adherence to appreciate the occasion.

Some people might call this approach harsh or unsympathetic. I call it realistic and, ultimately, respectful. I’ve seen a lot of people lose the forest through the trees focusing on a tallied list of differences. They took their partners’ choices as personal slights or, even worse, evidence that the other person didn’t care about their relationship. In other words, they wanted to see change—in the other person.

Whether it’s a question of food or the proverbial toilet seat, we all have a choice in long-term relationships to stew in a cauldron of resentment and discontent about our partner’s lack of compliance or “good sense.” Alternatively, we can let that $#!% go—really go—and focus on ourselves.

Are there cases in which partners are so far apart on the spectrum of valuing themselves and their health that not enough is left holding them together? Yes, I’ve seen these cases. And, it’s really not my business whether someone leaves their marriage or not.

That said, I think we benefit when we embrace our own independence within a relationship and demand less from the other person, particularly when our interest is in making them more like ourselves. I’ve suggested to disgruntled clients that for one month they let go of attachment to the idea their partners have any role in their choices—or in their own sense of contentment with life as well as health.

Yes, this flies in the face of what our culture teaches us, but see how it works—30 days or your full-blown misery back!

After battling some inner resistance, it’s amazing how many of them have come back to me happier in their marriages, more centered in their own choices—and (further down the road if they keep it up) in more productive (not perfect, but progressing) collaboration with their partners. The power of self-focus in health as in life—with its emphasis on boundaries and responsibility—can’t be overestimated.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. As mentioned, look for my follow-up on the remaining life stages next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on health, wisdom and well-being in early life. Share your comments, and enjoy the end of your week.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

TAGS:  Aging

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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31 thoughts on “Health Perspective for Every Stage of Life: Part 1”

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  1. I love this!! I am going to have my kids (7 and 9) read the relevant parts tonight.

  2. Great stuff, Mark. With two kids, the 11-year-old who just chose to go Primal with me (I’ve been at it over 3 years with great results), I’m definitely thinking about these things–but at 51 myself, really looking forward to your next post on this–what changes as we get into our 60’s and 70’s?

  3. Childhood, play is all you need, great in theory, but today’s reality is not what is pictured above (which is what I grew up with). My first grader, gets 30 minutes TOTAL recess all week (if not rained out which has been many days so far this year). “PE” she has daily per her school schedule but it does not happen. She has an hour plus homework per day (but she often stretches it out, that’s her way) plus she is learning the piano. There is no option where we live to run around outdoors on her own, so she swims 2x per week and we go to the park at least once (plus weekend activities). I am on a school committee so I can get to the bottom of this and maybe inject some primal sanity, but the reality of what I grew up with (and pictured above) just does not exist for many. And, some of those kids have been unvital and overweight since Kinder (my non-primal niece) and now are sedentary highschoolers who will likely never develop the physical potential. Somehow we need to incorporate the activity back into our life way but things are moving the opposite direction. I am not sure what I expected from this article but it’s not realistic to me.

    1. Everything you said plus the fact that people are afraid to let their kids out of their sight these days, even to just go out and play in the backyard. Used to be we were sent outside after lunch and told to be home by supper time or before dark, whichever came first. We roamed all over the neighborhood, which was a friendly place in those days. Not any longer. Predators are bold and kids are naive–a frightening combination. In many homes both parents work. This often means that free-time activity consists of TV or computer games, with strict orders to stay inside with the doors and windows locked. Not at all the childhood I knew…

      1. Totally agree. That’s sad… I hope we will never get to that level. Here in most African countries, life is still a little “wild”. Kids can go out and explore. There’s sand and dirt everywhere, fruits trees, soccer games barefoot and with no shirt, several games they can play in the sand, hunting rats or birds, walking long distances to go to school, eating almost no sugar at all and “poor” but actually very healthy food, etc. Kids coming from less wealthy families are very primal and healthy.

        Those coming from wealthy families have everything at home and barely move out of the living room. Their parents won’t let them even if they wanted to. Internet, TV, Video Games. Chocolate and candies are everywhere, pizzas and burgers are preferred, transportation means are right there in the garage…

        And those poor kids dream to have all what those rich kids have… If only they knew how lucky they were…

      2. “Predators are bold and kids are naive”. Actually, if you look at the statistics we live in a safer society now than we did 30 years ago. It’s just that the media reports every salacious story on a national level, so you come to believe the outlier event is “normal”. It’s sad that so many parents share the myth of “the psychopath on every corner”, and as a result coddle and protect their kids to unhealthy levels.

      3. This is still a possibility today! I am only 22, so it couldn’t have changed that much. I see people doing these things, but only because they think its the only way or that it is better. It seems like they just need to become aware of the consequences of the nature-deprived, play-free, helicopter parented lifestyle. After this experiment is played out, I am betting it will transition back to the childhood our genes expect.

      4. This is why homeschooling is at an all time high.
        We homeschool in RI and the numbers of homeschooling families are growing by leaps and bounds.
        Thanks to homeschooling, when it’s not too cold, my kids spend most of their time outside. Sure they still play computer games and use devices, but its balanced by having the time to play outside and be kids. (I think my 2 yr old would live outside if he could)
        Now to conquer their eating habits lol. Seriously I wish I had found primal when they were younger.

    1. Great article…but the graphic is totally CV of what old age looks like. Where’s the old guy who drops dead while hiking?

  4. This is great. I wish I could get my 14 year old son to read this. However my PRS(Primal Resistant Spouse) would make an all out effort to discourage him from doing so without any consideration of the message. Perhaps the positive approach is to let it go and lead by example? Self-improvement requires a personal commitment.

    1. 14-year-old son–that I assume eats junk– and a PRS is me EXACTLY! Good thing my PRS at least makes the kids always be involved in sports and they both enjoy it.

      1. Yes the PRS supplies sugary “sports drinks” by the gallon and her meals are not complete without a pound of pasta or two cups of rice. Both of which he consumes in one sitting. The only saving grace is he plays water polo and is in the pool 10 hours a week. However, the PRS thinks kettle corn is a performance food and fails to recognize the kiddie crack induced hyperactivity between games and the subsequent sugar crash that occurs during them.

  5. I hear you, Jack Lea. I’m cutting and pasting the bit for a fifteen-year-old and hoping, hoping he’ll read it. Mine lives in the great stone tower with the Not-So-Evil Witch. When he visits me up north on the reefs, he parkours over the rocks and over the ancient cabin, though he has yet to take his shoes off for this. Nevertheless the blandishments and spells of the stone tower are many, and amongst the turrets of that rich place he is in danger of falling into the flat world. It’s just as Mark says: he thinks he can undo the damage of bad food and the flat life of screens when he’s older. A fat wastrel lives inside his slim body and seeks an absurd and monstrous homeostasis. Avert.

  6. Thank you! The section about being recently wedded and learning to live with someone who doesn’t quite “get” the primal lifestyle has particularly resonated with me. At least my husband is supportive and always positive and curious, just not ready to fully participate. I do feel let down a bit leaving him behind so often when I am off on my next “adventure,” but I now I feel that as usual, Mark’s words of wisdom have given me a better perspective.

  7. Such a relatable post – Love the childhood section, it is so important that kids learn to have fun and importantly from my point of view, don’t get pushed into one sport too early as early specialization (and pressure) leads to increase risk of injury.


  8. Super-cool post, Mark. So fun to remember where I was during those first three stages. And wow, would’ve been great to read this when in high school or college (my lunches at that point consisted of super-sized Diet Cokes, cafeteria subs and ginormous chocolate-chip cookies…then came grad school, when I “moved on” to veggie burgers and granola).

    Also fun to think about my husband’s 16-year-old, and how his diet has changed this past year…shifting from Monster drinks and Dunkins to 80-20 primal—all because eating that way made his acne go away:) Hey, whatever works!

    I’m sort of thankful I didn’t start eating primal until my 30s—as a result, I sure do appreciate the difference! Love your advice to couples following different eating patterns…but reading about that also makes me so grateful that my husband converted to primal eating after being with me for a year. Makes everything so, so much easier, I find…whether we’re eating at home or out. Plus, he feels tons better and came to it on his own after watching me, so there’s no pressure involved.

    One of my favorite things at clinic is when couples or an entire family—of all ages—are eating primally or moving in that direction together. Makes things so, so much easier…and way more fun.

    Looking forward to Part 2!

  9. Great writing, very wise and inspirational. Can’t wait for the article relevant to our age Mark!

    I’m in pretty decent shape for my age but not Sisson-caliber.

  10. I’m disappointed. This stopped before you reached elderly. Those of us who are less mobile with reduced fine motor skills could use some guidelines, too.

  11. Some people here are disappointed because your “part 1” didn’t make it to “elderly” or even just older people… But I think you missed a huge gap in there between finishing university(which I did at 21), and falling in love and starting a life with someone (which I have started only this year at 28). What about the inbetween years that are dictated by the building of a career, money, house, car… living the fast life starting work at 7am and finishing at 9pm trying to make a name for yourself? I would’ve thought there were an awful lot of lessons to be gleaned from those years… (at least in my very humble and minute experience)

    1. +1! As someone currently in this stage of my life — “trying to adult”

  12. I am living a very primal, healthy and active life. Married with 2 daughters 11 and 16, my girls are not into this lifestyle although they do see the reward. As far as diet, the only meal I can control is dinner that I cook and the odd breakfast. They know how I feel about diet, health and fitness, but I only lead by example( for the most part-watching people gorge on garbage is so gross). I love what I do but having no like minded people around gets tough sometimes. I see so much potential in my kids. Wish they would do more with it. I am lucky that I love my independence and don’t let other’s opinions mean much. Part 2 should be good too:-)

  13. I totally agree with you, Mark, about being responsible for your own choices and leaving your partner to follow their own path. I’m the one who shops and cooks dinners, so my husband gets healthy, primal food at least once a day when we’re home. But when we go out, or what he buys to have for breakfast and lunch, are his to choose – he’s an adult after all! He loves the outdoors so we share the hiking, biking, and camping (I bring beef jerky, he brings sandwiches. We both eat my homemade apple almond cookies…). I’ve noticed he asks for his smoothies without sugar at our favorite juice bar and a side of salad instead of fries with his burgers, so maybe he’s evolving ….

  14. This is the best article I’ve read for a very long time—anywhere. As a 53 year old, single (divorced) woman who has a sitting job in a cubicle, with an 11 year old still at home (who sits at school all day and all too often has to miss her one recess to make up computer work)…I was inspired after reading this and am looking forward to the follow up article. I love the idea that we have to make our choices and be responsible for ourselves independently. I get frustrated by the consant junk food that coworkers bring in, order in and push on others (I am very good at saying “no”, however) and often wish for support. I can do this on my own! Without my adult kids being on the same page, or my coworkers, or my non-exisitant partner. And actually, ny 11 year old is pretty supportive and I know that I can influence her the most by the examples I set—I need to remember that. Thanks for a great article and as always, for the inspiration!

  15. This article makes me wish I could be a kid again and do it all over (with the benefit of knowing what I know now).

    Thinking it might have been really difficult to be a paleo child at Halloween, though.

  16. I haven\t even read the article because the graphic shown with it is depressing.
    Now why deprive myself of the occasional strawberry-cheese-cake if I end up in a wheelchair anyways.
    I’ve been primal for 5 years now…I was primal 100% the first 2 years then slipped off when raw milk was available. The raw milk packed on 20 lbs…which I’ve lost 10 so far and the other 10 won’t budge.
    I wasn’t overweight to begin with, I only had health issues that cleared up going primal…but now I’m overweight because my metabolism slowed down from not eating enough carbs for a long period of time (the first 2 years).

    My willpower only lasted 2 years…am now 80% primal (eating the occasional no-bake cookie and having coffee with raw honey and cream), but I cannot lose the extra 10 lbs I’ve gained.

    A Primal eating Habit needs to be started early in life so the person’s brain won’t remember how awesomely cool and refreshing an ice cold Coca-Cola is on a hot summer evening. It’s tough.

  17. Great article…will have my 12yr old twins read this; at least through to the college years, as that is so well written and I feel the “livin’ it up” attitude is prevalent movies especially and begins to be ingrained as one grows up thinking that is the way!