50 Years Young: The Enduring Vitality of Vegans

For many vegans, age does not mean illness, but an opportunity to run more marathons, write books, and live a richer life.

Mike Fremont started running at 36 years old as a way to relieve stress after his wife passed away. At age 69, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The disease spread to Fremont’s lymph nodes, and doctors told him that if he didn’t get an operation, he would be dead in three months. Rather than head to the operating table, Fremont cracked open The Cancer Prevention Diet by Michio Kushi, which inspired him to fight his disease with a fork instead of a scalpel. He began to follow a vegan macrobiotic diet and was able to resume competitive running after a year and postpone his operation for 27 months—a delay he credits to veganism. 

Forever in Motion
Contemporary culture suffers from an anxiety of the hourglass, where people mourn their birthdays rather than perceive them as milestones and treat age as a burden to bear instead of the gift of extended life. The fear of time passing is the product of our youth-centric society that uses barely-legal celebs as a basis for beauty and portrays seniors as inept, dependent, and culturally irrelevant. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In lieu of chasing the specter of eternal youth, we can ward off the debilitating health conditions that perpetuate the illusion that age equals antiquity by bolstering our physical and mental well-being—the true foundation of enduring vitality. At the base of this foundation is a healthful diet. As age-related ailments such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes continue to afflict large numbers of the fifty-plus crowd, it’s increasingly apparent that an alternative to the Standard American Diet is imperative for improved quality of life. Enter: veganism.

While many people are fortunate enough to never face a cancer diagnosis, they do have to deal with the imminent wear and tear that comes with time. The medical industry is quick to prescribe medications or suggest a costly procedure, but some active individuals turned to their dinner plates for the cure. Physical Fitness Hall of Fame inductee Jim Morris has a string of accolades tied to his body building career—in 1973, he became the oldest and the first openly gay man to win Mr. America, and he bested his opponents by the largest winning margin in the competition’s history. For people like Morris, fitness is more than a hobby—it’s a way of life that doesn’t fade with age. Morris began experiencing nerve problems in his left arm, and switched to a plant-based diet in 1999 to relieve them. He’s been in impeccable shape ever since, and at 77 years old he continues his personal training career. “What keeps me going strong with this diet is the total improvement in my health,” says the champion body builder. “As I progress in age … I am still able to do all the activities I enjoy.” 

The Infinite Opportunity of Age
Veganism is not only a cure, but a vaccine: an effective method to keep enfeebling ailments at bay. People like Mark Sutton, author of Heart Healthy Pizza, who have subscribed to the meat-free lifestyle for decades are testaments to its enduring health benefits. At “57-years-young,” Sutton claims he has had only two colds within the last 30 years and he sees himself as an example of how age isn’t necessarily synonymous with illness. “The dementia, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension that the medical establishment yammers about to expect when you get older, is based upon their unconscious premise that we are all continuing to eat too much salt, sugar, fat, meat, and dairy,” he says. “But it doesn’t have to, and I’m one of many proving that.”

This sustained vitality afforded to vegans creates a new conception of getting older. Rather than a downward trajectory into stagnation and sickness, it’s an extended opportunity to live life to the fullest. Long-time vegan Mimi Kirk, who won the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50 award in 2009, is proud that she is still going strong after 75 years. The mother of four and grandmother of seven has lived a dynamic existence: Las Vegas showgirl, stand-in on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, nonprofit event coordinator, and environmental newspaper editor. Currently, Kirk is a raw food chef, author, speaker, and consultant, and the only thing her future holds is more opportunity—she recently finished her second book and is learning to play guitar.

While Kirk and her fellow vegans’ vigor is proof of a cruelty-free diet’s benefits, the comparison between vegans and their peers may be the most telling. “I’ve seen men and women in senior care homes younger than me using walkers,” Kirk says. “I know food can make a big difference how well we age. Living long isn’t the prize. Living long and being healthy is.”

At 91 years old, Mike Fremont echoes these sentiments of longevity. After defeating cancer, Fremont broke numerous marathon records throughout his eighties and early nineties, and is now years ahead of the competition. “Those in their seventies and eighties are slower than me … They are going downhill faster, and then they’re gone,” he says. “The vegan diet has kept me above ground and sassy … A half-marathon is a walk in the park. It’s the diet!” 

The fountain of youth may be a myth, but it’s increasingly apparent that the secret to a long and healthy life is found not in a pill bottle or on the operating table, but the produce aisle. 

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