What We Can Learn From Dogs


This is the republication of a blogpost I put up here in March of 2014, titled “Fit After 50.” Yesterday, we said goodbye to Zeb, but the words I wrote more than two years ago are still true today, so I thought I’d share them with you again. Peace, Zeb.

This is my dog, Zeb. He’s 105 in dog years. He still gets up every morning looking forward to the day, cheerily tackling whatever life throws at him. I like to credit his healthy diet and a reasonable amount of exercise with his longevity and his great quality of life. I often find myself admiring him, hoping I’ll be in half as good a shape as he is when I’m 105. I think we can all learn a thing or two from him, so here are the big lessons from Zeb, as I see them.

1. Do What You Can Until You Can’t Anymore – A lot of people slow down as they age. They move less, sit more. “I’m takin’ it easy,” they might say. But all that lack of movement actually results in a life that is harder. Inactivity leads to weight gain, muscle loss and, most markedly, a loss of function. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there is no known association between hormonal changes and weight gain in older adults. So if you’ve been blaming a drop in your estrogen or testosterone levels for your expanding waistline, I hate to tell you, but it’s just not true. We gain weight as we age because we become less active. Not only do we exercise less, or less vigorously, but we’re just not as busy running after the kids or otherwise expending the energy it takes to maintain a full household. We think, “Hey, these are my golden years. I’m takin’ it easy.” Zeb says that’s a bunch of bunk – you’ll have plenty of time to take it easy when you’re dead.

2. Quit Worrying About Stuff – I asked Zeb what time it was the other day and he said, “What are you talking about? It’s now.” Then I asked him if that was his potty on the floor and he stared at me blankly and picked up a toy. He really had no idea if that was his potty on the floor because his memory only goes about 15 minutes into the past. When I asked him if he wanted to go to grandma’s house tomorrow, he walked over to the treat basket and stood there expectantly.

Ignorance is bliss, it’s true. As humans, we can’t live our lives pretending that time doesn’t exist (can we?), but we certainly can stop living in the past and worrying about the future. How much stuff do you worry about that you don’t even have any control over? Stress is one of the biggest contributors to a host of adverse conditions and diseases, including weight gain. Spend some time learning how to let go and unwind. Get up and move, breathe some fresh air, sing or dance. Zeb knows better than most of us that life is short, so you should enjoy it while you can.

3. Don’t Eat the Stuff They Scrape Off the Floor – After a couple of Zeb’s dog siblings died of cancer many years ago, we got serious about our diets around here. No more cheap kibble made from the scraps that end up on the meat-packing floor. It’s true, Zeb’s food costs more than mine does, but that’s mostly because I’m vegan and he’s not.

Seriously, though, do you know what’s in the food you eat? Really? Chances are, if you bought eight pounds of it on sale for six dollars, it’s probably not the top-grade stuff. That’s not to say that you have to spend a lot of money to eat well. You can read my recent post on how to eat healthy on a budget. The bottom line is, be a little more choosy about your nutrition; read the labels; count grams of fat and added sugar; and don’t eat stuff that comes in a box or a bag. That’s not food. Most of it never even used to be food. Maybe a tiny part of it used to be food a long time ago, before it underwent a hundred different phases of processing, but if it doesn’t still look like food – like the stuff that grows in the ground or on a tree, stem, stalk, bush or vine – then it probably isn’t. So why are you eating it? You’re a member of the most highly evolved species with the entire food chain at your disposal. Think about that the next time you open your mouth to put something in it.

Well, I’m sure this isn’t the kind of “Fit After 50” blogpost you were expecting, but I figured the last thing anybody needed was one more click-baity article beating on that old drum. It’s pretty simple: If you’re over 50 and you feel like you’re starting to slide, it’s because you are. A lifetime of less-than-perfect eating has joined forces with the natural tendency to move less, which comes with age. The result is your expanding waistline. The decades-long accumulation of dings and injuries have taken their toll, too, so even if you want to move more, it really is more difficult.

Zeb is in the same boat as you, my friend, and you know what he’ll do about it? He’ll get up every morning and do as much as he can until he can’t any more. He’ll eat his healthy food, enjoying every crunchy mouthful, and he won’t worry a bit about yesterday or tomorrow. He’ll pick up his toy and stare at me until I play with him or take him for a walk. Speaking of walk…

What are you waiting for?

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