In 1948, just a year after Jackie Robinson became the first Black ballplayer in the major leagues, Negro League legend Leroy “Satchel” Paige became the seventh such player. At 42, he was also the oldest rookie to ever play pro ball. Overall, he started pitching professionally in 1926 and exited his last professional game for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 at the ripe old age of 59.
When sportswriters of the day would ask Paige about his age, which he often claimed not to know, he was fond of saying, “If someone asked you how old you were and you didn’t know your age, how old would you think you were?”
The best answer is something else Paige liked to say: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
He was living proof of these words. In 1952 and 1953, he was selected to the American League All-Star Team — his age 45 and 46, in those seasons. From there, he played in the minors and in exhibition barnstorm tours throughout the world until his 60s. All the while, his fastball didn’t suffer much with age. Joe DiMaggio described Paige as “the best I’ve ever faced — and the fastest,” and fellow pitching ace Dizzy Dean once opined, “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we would cinch the pennant by July 4th and go fishing until World Series time.”
Better yet, Paige didn’t really train, famously avoiding any strenuous exercise whenever he could. Or as he put it, “I don’t generally like running. I believe in training by rising gently up and down from the bench.”
Wisdom like this flowed from him with as much speed as his fastball. Not surprisingly then, to sportswriters of the day, he was a quote machine, always ready with a soundbite for them. In fact, even if you’ve never heard of Paige, you’re definitely familiar with at least one of his aphorisms. For instance, Paige was the person who first said, “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”
As you might imagine, though, he was most trenchant on how to push back the hands of time, and over the years, six bits of his life philosophy have been loosely cobbled together in what could be considered “Satchel Paige’s Six Rules for How to Keep Young.” It isn’t just folk wisdom either. When you weigh his advice against modern research, you find that Paige was absolutely spot-on.
Check it out…
Rule #1: “Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.”
This one should be self-evident. But let’s check the data anyway. “For both men and women, a diet composed of high amounts of fried and processed foods and sweetened beverages was the greatest factor associated with why Blacks are at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure compared to whites,” reported a 2018 National Institutes of Health study.
Essentially, think of your body like a car engine. You put in fuel, and you burn the fuel to provide energy. But what fuel you select determines how well your engine runs. “If you have a diesel engine, don’t put gasoline in your diesel tank because it’s going to ruin the engine,” Stephen Kopecky from the Mayo Institute has explained. “[It’s] the same thing here. We’re not used to eating fried foods, so when we start eating something different, it clogs up our pipes, or our arteries.”
Rule #2: “If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.”
Over the last few decades, the many health benefits of meditation have been confirmed. It can release tension, reduce anxiety and promote a healthier immune system. It can also be used to calm the body, just like Paige suggested.
According to this 2017 study, “The Effects of Stress and Meditation on the Immune System, Human Microbiota and Epigenetics,” researchers discovered that “during stress, an altered gut microbial population affects the regulation of neurotransmitters mediated by the microbiome and gut barrier function. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.” It concluded by recommending “the integration of meditation into conventional health care and wellness models.”
Rule #3: “Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.”
When Paige says “keep the juices flowing,” he doesn’t mean just your blood. And when he says “jangling around gently as you move” his advice takes on many layers of meaning. For one, we know that stretching is key to a man’s health. Young things bend, old things break. So we all want to stay pliant and bendy, like a sapling. We also know that it’s vital to keep moving. Tai chi offers ancient evidence of how beneficial movement is to a human body’s higher functions.
But beyond all of that, there is a component of health we typically overlook — the lymphatic system, the body’s quiet immune function. “The lymphatic system is stimulated by moving your muscles and getting your heart rate up. All these things stimulate the lymphatic flow,” is how senior physical therapist Sarah Cleveland explains it. Lymph is a fluid called chyle, which is composed of immune cells. It’s found all throughout the body— your brain fluid, your spinal fluid, etc. — and its primary function is to help remove toxins from the body, and to spread immune cells to where they’re needed to stave off infection, illness and disease.
Unlike your vascular system, however, it doesn’t have a central pump like the heart. The movement of your muscles and your breathing are what “pumps” the lymph through your body. Thus, as Paige suggests, “jangling around gently as you move” is among the best things you can do for the lymphatic system.
Rule #4: “Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.”
This life advice seems surprisingly puritanical for an athlete. But Paige wasn’t one for the high life, like many of his teammates. And while it’s not super sexy to say, moderation is important in all things, which, of course, flies in the face of our culture, where more is not less, it’s better.
“We have a ‘more is better’ algorithm built in,” explains Glen Geher, a psychologist at SUNY New Paltz. “This attitude extends to all things — for instance, our food choices. We evolved to like fatty food, but too much isn’t good. Many substances or stimuli are beneficial in certain amounts, but then reach a tipping point after which they become harmful.”
Or in plainer (Paiger?) terms: “Go very light on the vices.”
Rule #5: “Avoid running at all times.”
This advice may seem to contradict most advice about the importance of exercise. But I must point out — as have many comedians — that Jim Fixx, the man who invented jogging as a health trend, died of a heart attack, at age 52. The real kicker: He was jogging at the time.
Rule #6: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Some people tend to focus on their mistakes. Others let time pass and regret what they didn’t do. This often happens because they worry about what others might think and say, limiting themselves in the process. As science and medical anecdotal evidence confirm, the things we regret most aren’t our mistakes, but our missed opportunities — you know, the things we put off and never do.
To avoid regrets, to keep bitterness from overtaking your mind and heart, the key to a good life is as simple as Paige suggests: Stay in the moment, while looking to the horizon. Or as he once put it another way, “Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit and grieve. Find another way.”