Ageing Like a Good Whiskey?

Think and enquire where does the final purpose lie? It lies in seeking longevity and keeping a youthful appearance.

                                                                                                                                                Song of the Thirteen Tactics


Up to 30% of our muscle fibres may disappear between the ages of 30 and 80. Once lost, these cells cannot be replaced. With the loss of muscle fibres comes a diminution of strength… these changes are not inevitable or irreversible; muscle performance can be improved through exercise at any age and this can compensate for loss of muscle fibres that has already been sustained.

                                                                                                Open University SK277 Human Biology Book 2


The second quote caught my attention while I was studying recently and reminded me of the statement from the Song of the Thirteen Tactics. The emphasis on the need for regular (ideally daily) exercise shocked me a little. I guess we’re all familiar with the effects of aging, but the statement that muscle fibres, once lost, can never be replaced was new knowledge to me. Never? What? Never-ever?

It may be because I’m turning forty soon, but I don’t like that fact. We should age like whiskey or wine, gaining depth, complexity and flavours. Not like eggs. That annoys me (probably because I’m getting grumpier as I get older) but things aren’t completely bleak. There is some comfort in the fact that we can increase the strength of remaining muscle fibres and that exercise, any kind of regular exercise, helps. As the classic claims, longevity is the final purpose of Tai Chi* and with regular exercise, we won’t even lose these muscle fibres! Good.

Talking to friends who have practiced Tai Chi for a number of years and are more – how to say this? – well, ahem, experienced, they feel stronger, fitter and healthier than their non-Tai Chi practicing friends. They are also able to continue training the softer aspects of the art and enjoying the benefits of exercise when the knees, joints and bodies of their otherwise engaged peers are, to be blunt, worn out. Tennis elbow or joggers knee are relatively common expressions suggesting how common these ailments are for those who practice these sports, but while I’ve heard of Tai Chi balls, they’re nothing to do with a health complaint.

So while I may be busier than the proverbial bee, I have new impetus to find time for practice. It is very encouraging to think that we can retain health through appropriate exercise.


* To be honest, I take the quote with a pinch of salt. This is the classic I am least comfortable with. My teacher, Dan, describes it as the ‘least substantial’ of the classics and I tend to agree. However, while I might find greater elucidation of concepts in other classics, longevity is certainly one of the central aims of Tai Chi and fits into a whole tradition of Taoist exercises and practices. I think that the ‘final purpose’ is open to interpretation by individuals (and personally I like that about Tai Chi). Taoism may be the study of the ‘way’, but whoever said there is only one way?