Posted by: drwbortz | April 8, 2010

As we grow older, what is our most important organ?

I am a geriatrician, an old folks’ doctor. I would guess that you maybe have never seen one of me, or at least never met one of me, because there aren’t many of us out there. Despite a huge constituency not many doctors choose to go into geriatrics. The reason for this is the same as why Willie Sutton didn’t rob banks that were empty.

The young physician usually faced with a large medical school debt, gravitates logically to a career area that promises relief from the red ink, and geriatrics is at the very bottom of such options.

Despite such disincentives, those of us who are out here pursuing our task receive rewards that are far more meaningful than money. We are privileged to look into the deep recesses of what it means to be human and find rich answers. For me one of these unique perspectives is an understanding of which organ is the most important of our body as we age. Most of us would guess the heart or the lungs or the brain. All wrong. The most important organ in the body as it grows older, are the legs. As they stay sturdy and active the rest of the body pretty much takes care of itself. On the other hand, when the legs start wobbling and lose their support function, then the rest of the body starts to unravel. The circulation slows, digestion is sluggish, and even the brain loses its sharpness. Inactivity is hazardous to your health.

This profound truth has old roots. For our Paleolithic ancestors movement was the central survival strategy. Hunting and gathering provided the nutrition. Not being eaten for some other creature’s food was the other side of the equation. When our ancient forbearers’ legs gave out the tribe walked away, driven onward by energetic imperatives. Movement and purposeful survival were intimately linked then, much as they are now.

The contemporary lesson for us creatures who were born free on the Serengeti but now confined to the TV armchair existences we live is to honor our legs. They are our most important organ.



  1. No more skipping my exercise walks for me! Thanks for this information, reminder, and motivating nudge.

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