The Lonely Majority

How loneliness could be changing your brain and body.

“A  2018 study. . . found that 54% of 20,000 Americans surveyed reported feeling lonely. In the span of a bit more than a year, the number rose to 61%. Generation Z adults 18-22 years old are supposedly the loneliest generation, outpacing Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, despite being more connected than ever.”

Wowza. The silent, underreported epidemic.

“Loneliness might conjure images of being apart from friends and family, but the feeling runs much deeper than not having plans on a Friday night or than going stag to a wedding. Evolutionarily, being part of a group has meant protection, sharing the workload and increased odds of survival. After all, humans take a long time to mature. We need our tribes.

‘It’s very distressing when we are not a part of a group,’ said Julianne Holt-Lundstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. ‘We have to deal with our environment entirely on our own, without the help of others, which puts our brain in a state of alert, but that also signals the rest of our body to be in a state of alert.’

Staying in that state of alert, that high state of stress, means wear and tear on the body. Stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine can contribute to sleeplessness, weight gain and anxiety over extended periods of exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic.”

What to do? Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna:

“‘We need to reach out to some friends and make sure we maintain those connections and have meaningful conversations. It’s important for all of us to be comfortable asking other people how they feel.”

And for the lonely majority to risk being vulnerable when asked.

How To Avoid Weight Gain In Later Life

This post was inspired by reading a LetsRun.com forum thread on the subject. Here are two contributions that stood out to me:

The first.

I’m 6’1″ and ran competitively until my early 30’s. You can see what scaling back the running and getting older does.

Age 18: 117
Age 25: 140
Age 35: 160
Age 45 (now): 190

Know what happens between age 35 and 45 when you pretty much quit running? 30 pounds. That’s what happens. Fortunately I have plateaued at right around 190 for the past few years. Not surprisingly people tell me I look better than I did when I was 120lbs and looked “sickly.”

As you get older it is easier to put the weight on, and significantly harder to lose it. I now sport a ‘Dad Bod’ like many guys my age. I’m not an obese slob but I could certainly stand to drop 20 pounds.

The second.

The margin of error disappears after 40. In my 30s, I could pig out now and then without any consequences. Since turning 40, one big desert or dinner and I will gain a pound or two on an otherwise light 5’8″/135-40 lb frame. When i am injured or just lazy, I will very quickly gain weight and level off just below 150. It then takes about 1 month to lose 2 lbs by watching diet and running 50-70 mpw.

As mentioned previously, there is a self regulating aspect to getting old. If I eat a sugary desert and drink a lot of booze at dinner, I will wake up around 3 am feeling like I just drank 3 cups of coffee due to all the sugars suddenly metabolizing. The result is that I rarely have deserts and have cut back a lot on booze.

Three suggestions.

1. Most importantly, decide if it matters. Unless you have a compelling reason or two to not be overweight in later life, you will be, because as the LetsRunners make clear, overtime metabolism slows and self discipline erodes. A double whammy.

I suspect I’m unique in this respect. It’s nice that the Good Wife digs my slender self, but truth be told, my main motivation is running and cycling well. By which I mean maintaining some sort of rhythm running and cycling longish distances with others who still run and cycle pretty damn fast. Even more specifically, I enjoy running and cycling uphill which is hard enough without an extra 5 or 10 lb. pound spare tire.

For most the question is whether a general appreciation for better mobility and physical and mental health is sufficient motivation. Based upon my people watching, it doesn’t appear to be. If you can’t write down a specific and compelling reason or two to avoid weight gain in later life, you may as well skip the rest of this post and enjoy a Big Tom’s milkshake or giant snack of your choice.

2A. Don’t buy your favorite processed sugary snacks and alcohol unless your young adult children are visiting. Also, “they” are right to recommend eating before grocery shopping. “They” are also right to say always use a list.

But even in later life, everything in moderation. I enjoy a beer, or chocolate covered raisins, a piece (or two) of cheesecake, a bowl of ice-cream, but only on days when I’ve burned quite a few more cals than normal. Typically, weekend afternoons after a long or especially hard run or ride. I’ll deny it if you tell her I told you, but the always slender and sexy Gal Pal has a soft spot for Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches.

2B. Eat on the road and in restaurants in moderation. Take charge of your food purchasing and prep.

3. Switch your dishes out. I’ve learned the only way I can control my portions is to use smaller bowls. Now it’s to the point where I have winter bowls and summer bowls. Two winter bowls = one summer bowl. In the summer, I cycle further with much greater intensity. Last night, for example, I burned 3K calories on my 54+ mile team ride. I weighed 169 pre-ride, 164 post. This morning’s bowl looked like a replica of Mount Rainier, Raisin Bran, Honey Bunches of Oats, raw oats, washed down with a large smoothie. In a few minutes, pistachios, banana with pb, huge serving of pasta. On the way home from work, pretzels, Cliff Bar, and then I’ll graze before dinner.

It’s painful switching to the winter bowls, which I should probably do a month from now. You would chuckle if you could see me try to max that baby bowl out without having the contents overflow the sides. Like playing Operation, the key is the first, delicate spoonful. Winter also means next to no desserts, very little beer, no joy in Mudville. And I still gain a little weight.