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Relativity & Time Dilation: Einstein's Wisdom for Your Health & Fitness

Yes, we want to look fabulous and feel even better, no matter our age. That’s the right outlook to have, but it’s important that we don’t hustle backwards in pursuit of the goal. Assessing your health and fitness is more about the relative than the absolute. As such, a 45-year-old would be hustling backwards by comparing themselves directly to someone who’s twenty years younger.

It’s not that it’s impossible to look and feel as good as someone decades younger; it’s just misguided and even a bit silly to be intentionally and directly comparing and competing. The 25-year-old should be aspiring to get where the 45-year-old is, not the other way around. So, if you’re the one who’s older, your role is to be the inspiration and the template for the person who is much younger. I should add that the same principle applies if you’re comparing the you of today to the you of yesteryear. There’s no shame if you can no longer run the 4-minute mile after twenty years.

The idea of relativity is about understanding how you stack up compared to peers in your age group. But the basis of it is the theory of relativity, introduced to the world by the great Dr. Albert Einstein. Among other things, it posited the concept of time dilation. The gist of it is that the faster a person moves through space, the slower the person will experience time elapsing. At the extreme end, which is the speed of light, the person would experience no passage of time at all.

For instance, a time lapse of 15 minutes for Person B might be experienced as only 10 minutes by Person A. It all depends on how fast they’re moving relative to one another. This is difficult to grasp for the layperson, especially without an understanding of the mathematics underlying it, but the phenomenon of time dilation has been verified through experiments to be real.

For our purposes, the important thing to understand is that it’s not just weird physics. The same phenomenon applies in a real way to your health as well. Whether you are proactive or passive regarding your health outcomes, it will correlate to your fitness age. That’s an estimate of your cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and general physical robustness, expressed in years. It gives an indication of whether your body is old or young for the actual chronological age you’re at.

From a health and fitness perspective, being in the habit of physically moving more and faster will slow the passage of time relative to other people who are less active. For example, you and a cousin could both be 50 years old chronologically. But if your cousin is a couch potato, whereas you're in the habit of exercising regularly, then your fitness ages will be different. Your cousin is likelier than you to feel and appear to be closer to 60, while you’re more likely to feel and appear to be closer to 40. That’s a pretty big difference in vitality and a good indicator that you’re likely to live longer and stronger than your cousin will.

Remember, it’s all relative, and that’s where your advantage lies. Just look out into the world at the people in your age group. You’ll see so many who have sedentary lifestyles. They’re spending their time being distracted, passive, and lackadaisical about their fitness. The bar for overachieving is so low that if you’re exercising vigorously for a mere 30 minutes a few days per week, you’re easily ahead of the average Joe and Jane. So keep on moving your body with intent and gain that most precious of riches: time.

Sayonara until next time.

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