“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.” — Jack London, Call of the Wild
Usain Bolt is 36 years old as I write this. He’s a young man, nowhere near his peak in life, but well past his peak as the fastest man alive during a string of unforgettable Olympic performances. Some people, like gymnasts and figure skaters, reach their physical peak even sooner than sprinters. Are they all past their moment of ecstasy? I should think not. They’ve descended from that summit and begun their climb up another.
There are naturally many peaks and valleys in a lifetime, but two obvious benchmarks are physical fitness and mental fitness. When do we reach our peak with each? Physically it’s likely when we’re younger, relative to a lifetime. Mentally, well, who’s to say we can’t reach our summit towards the very end of life? The combination of the two equals a level of vibrancy worthy of the pursuit, for in pursuing vibrancy for our entire lifetime we’re extending the potential of ecstatic living well beyond the norm.
In my mind, there are few sins so egregious as extending life without health. This is important. It does not matter if we can extend lifespans if we cannot extend healthspans to an equal extent. And so if we’re going to do the former, we have an absolute moral obligation to do the latter.
David A. Sinclair, Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To
If there’s a call to arms in Jack London’s Call of the Wild quote, it’s to remember that we’re alive for a very brief time, and we ought to work to extend our functional vitality for as long into our senior years as possible. And as Sinclair says, there’s an obligation to improve health for the long haul, not just the healthcare industry’s obligation, but ours. That begins with fitness and nutrition, exploration and stretching our perceived limits, and of course moderation and omission. We weren’t put here to live in a bubble and eat nothing but kale, that’s not ecstasy, instead we ought to seek activity that enriches us, gaze upward and climb towards higher summits than we might have otherwise. And in the process, use the climb to look around and appreciate just how far we’ve come.