In the past, aging has often meant a gradual loss of health and vigor as the years progress. But with the recent advances in research on aging, we now know this slow decline is no longer inevitable. With the right exercise and nutritional program, even an unfit person can turn around most of the consequences of aging.
We know, for example, that VO2max, the single best measure of cardiovascular fitness, decreases about 10 percent per decade once you’ve reached 30 years of age. And while we’ve all heard the 30-minute recommendation of moderately intense cardio from the ACSM, new research suggests that your health and fitness benefit most from short bursts of high intensity exertion – intervals.
The most likely reason is that intervals stimulate your body to release growth hormone (HGH), the anti-aging hormone in adults. It signals the body to burn fat and grow muscle. Researchers report that this hormone is released in direct proportion to the intensity of the exercise being performed. And, that a 30 second all-out sprint can increase your HGH by as much as 530 percent!
Loss of lean body mass, another consequence once considered a natural part of the aging process is now thought to result more from disuse and lack of exercise rather than simply getting older. Researchers have found that the fast twitch muscle fibers, the ones we use for speed and quickness decrease the most. The good news is that with the right type of exercisehigh intensity weight training, lifting heavier weights for fewer repsyou can minimize or even reverse this trend.
While it’s vital to get your training on track, your nutrition is equally important because your diet directly influences inflammation, or as itxs recently been coined, inflamm-aging. Controlling inflammation will not only reduce your risk for many of the modern degenerative diseases, it will also decrease pain and stiffness in your joints, accelerate your recovery from injury and improve your overall mobility.
Andrew Weil discusses theories of aging in his latest book, appropriately titled, Healthy Aging. One theory explored is the glycation theory of aging. Weil likens the process of glycation to carmelization, or the browning of sugar in a pan. He suggests that the same thing happens in our bodies when therexs enough sugar present in the blood. The sugars bond or gum up adjacent proteins, forming advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are deformed proteins that promote inflammation.
Our bodies produce the hormones that control inflammation using the essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are called essential because the body can’t manufacture them on its own; they must be obtained from food. Weil explains that, hormones made from omega-6 fatty acids upregulate inflammation, while those made from omega-3 fatty acids downregulate it.
Weil recommends the Anti-inflammatory Diet, which includes lots of foods rich in omega-3 such as salmon, herring, black cod, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs as well as an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. He also suggests using the glycemic index (which measures how fast a carbohydrate raises your blood sugar) for choosing carbohydrate sources and reducing or eliminating consumption of the kinds of carbohydrate foods that produce rapid increases in blood sugar.
Fitness theorist, Art De Vany, brings together the idea of a high-intensity exercise program with a diet rich in plant foods, protein and healthy fats in the context of our evolutionary past. His theory is based on the premise that our bodies and minds are product of millions of years of evolution. And since our genes haven’t changed over the last 40,000 years, our DNA is that of the hunter-gatherers.
De Vany explains that our genes were forged in an environment where activity was mandatory you were active or you starved or were eaten … Diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance, heart disease and whole modern panoply of chronic, long lasting diseases are the product of genes that require activity for healthful expression. He theorizes that exercise should mimic the activities of our ancestral past and “the key is to hit the right balance of intensity and variety… Intensity is the key to reaching the fast twitch fibers of the muscles, which are the key fibers to staying young.”
Let’s face it, none of us want to age. Getting wiser sure is nice, but why can’t it come without the accompanying wrinkles? Unfortunately, there is no golden elixir or miracle pill for eternal youth. But until there is, making an effort to eat a variety of fresh produce and getting the right exercise can help you feel and look younger, longer. Salmon and Cranberry Walnut Salad for dinner anyone?
Article published in Spring 2008 issue of SB Fitness Magazine