Create Your Best Body For Ageing
By Anne Laing
Which would you rather look like? Which looks healthier?
Let’s start with a bit of straight talking. Getting healthy and staying healthy takes work. You live in a body that was designed to work hard, yet you live in a world where strenuous work is discouraged.
We have elevators, escalators and cars to replace the tedium of physical movement, and food is easy to find, and easy to eat. It is so over-processed; I call it pre-chewed un-food.
Most of us work at jobs that require very little physical movement, and we bathe our entire bodies in chemical stand-ins for our own immune system.
We humans have actually achieved many of the goals that living organisms have sought over millions of years of evolution: an easy procedure for staying alive with minimal energy exerted, and a vastly reduced chance of being killed by another life form, big or small.
So congratulate yourself. You represent the pinnacle of evolution. You! It makes yourself feel a little better when you look at yourself naked in the bathroom mirror, doesn’t it?
No? Not really?
Well, that’s because there’s another side to this story. Although we as a species have attained a degree of evolutionary nirvana, our bodies didn’t get the memo. They forgot to show up to the meeting, and as such we are all still walking around in last year’s model.
Well, actually, it’s a little more than last year’s model. The body, brain, nervous system, digestive system, reflexes, musculature and everything else that makes up “you” and “us” hasn’t changed much in the last 50,000 years.
The model you are wearing is used to scrabbling around looking for food that is really tough to chew and digest. It is used to walking many miles in search of this food, as well as for shelter and safety; and it is careful to store extra energy around the midsection for use in those lean months when food is nowhere to be seen.
And it is used to movement, lots of different movement
So when this old-model human body finds itself in the prosperous age of the 20th and 21st centuries, it has a hard time shifting gears. Our plentiful food supply is stored as efficiently as ever – as fat – securely wrapping itself around our waist, legs and organs, and meanwhile our innate desire to store energy makes it very easy to slide into a sedentary life where only the texting thumbs are kept busy.
Is there any good news in all of this?
Actually, it’s all good news. Your body is a remarkable device. It has the power to heal and to take care of much of what comes its way. It listens and it learns. When you use it, it grows stronger and better. When you give it a chance to clean out the pollutants and replace them with healthy foods, it responds vigorously and rewards you with all kinds of perks, such as greater energy, vitality, sexual drive, charisma, better, skin tone, vocal power, and posture; clear thought, better memory, better sex, better sleep, longer life, the list goes on and on.
You can do this but it is hard, which makes perfect sense because as an evolutionary precaution a body will not change without effort.
To work your body means to move against the instinctive desire for rest, but to also move with the instinctive desire for health. Exercise, diet and discipline are not about self-punishment, they are all about self-respect.
Solely running to lose weight or to stay fit are all admirable goals. But there are many dangers associated with doing just aerobic/endurance training.
The commonly-held belief is that you should do 45 minutes to an hour or more a day of intense aerobic activity, however this has led to an over-trained, flabby, immune-compromised population of exercisers.
We see men and women, season after season, plodding the streets or pounding the treadmills but getting very little in payback.
Aerobic-only training causes you to lose muscle, and go from a big apple to a small apple, from a big pear to a small pear…if you’re lucky.
Aerobic exercise is important, but it won’t keep people from getting weak as they get older.
This is because we are not designed to run for long periods without the extra conditioning that high-intensity strength activities provide, (lifting, climbing, pushing, dragging, fighting and throwing).
There are many physical issues caused by more endurance training to the exclusion of strength;
Osteoarthritis . . . even at a younger age
Tendonitis and other repetitive strain injuries
Increased oxidative damage (free radical production)
Susceptibility to injury and to infections
Loss of bone density
Depletion of lean muscle tissue
Suppressed metabolic function
The days of only doing aerobics for “fitness” are long gone and archaic.
Why then do some people charge into their senior years being active, mobile, alert and fun until the end, yet others labour their way through later life becoming ever more weak, fragile and sick?
Staying strong and optimally-nourished is the answer! It is weakness that robs women and men of their youth.
Firing up your metabolism
Do you find that you can’t eat as much as you used to without getting fat?
Does it seem that you have less energy than you used to?
Are you not as strong as you used to be?
Do you ever say “I know I should exercise, but don’t have the energy”?
Do you feel tired and worn-out at the end of a normal day?
Do you feel tired and worn-out at the start of the day?
Do you feel older than your years?
Do you ever look at older relatives and wonder if this will be you in years to come?
These problems all have a simple explanation sarcopenia – (atrophied muscles!) Muscles shrink as you age. An efficient muscle is like an efficient car engine. Even at idle, toned, active muscles burn calories. But if you have less muscle, this causes your metabolism to slow.
Your metabolism slows each decade starting in the mid-20s, and this loss accelerates as we age, depending on our lifestyle.
So, it stands to reason that if, through exercising in the right way, you can slow or stop this muscle-loss, you can keep your metabolism as speedy as it was when you were younger. Target training your muscle has many benefits.
Helping balance your hormones
Scientists have found that long-term weight-training increases the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – your anti-ageing hormone!!
Researchers are just beginning to understand the importance of this hormone made in the pea-sized pituitary gland at the base of the skull. In women growth hormone has an important role in retaining muscle tone and bone density, for which men rely more on testosterone.
Growth Hormone helps fight general tissue breakdown which also improves many metabolic functions – including weight control.
Growth hormone is responsive to heavier exercise regimes of 3-10 repetitions when weight training.
Keep this as part of your exercise routine and you can eliminate many of the markers of ageing observed in poor posture, a thickening waist, wrinkling knees, jowls and loss of energy …to name just a few!
Stress reduction, mood improvement
Weight lifting is one of the best ways to naturally improve mood. It reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and creates a sense of happiness.
If you’re stressed, feeling irritable or low simply do a quick, intense work out. Like a runners high this stimulates endorphin production. Researchers have found that light-to-moderate weight training or cardiovascular exercise doesn’t produce endorphins, only heavy weights or training that incorporates sprinting or other anaerobic exertion.
Don’t be put off; this is always based on your own level of strength fitness. It will literally make you feel 100 times better.
Lowering your blood sugar
As muscle mass shrinks, blood-sugar levels can increase even if you don’t have diabetes.
By age 70, an increasingly number of men and women have an abnormally high level of sugar in the blood after a big meal.
Why is the sugar level higher?
Well, muscle is the primary place the body puts the sugar you eat in the form of Glycogen. If you’re active, that sugar is burned by muscle immediately or stored as reserve fuel. If you’re sedentary, the excess sugar is circulated back to the liver and converted into fat.
Also, as a person becomes fatter and less muscular, insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, doesn’t work so well. So as you get older, fatter, and less muscular, your blood sugar will rise.
Strengthen your frame
Working-out against significant resistance increases bone weight and density more effectively than swimming or running. This type of activity loads most major bones in the body, which makes them, adapt, thus offering protection against osteoporosis. A person at any age can do it. It is not just for the young, or for fitness junkies.
Improve your appearance
Most exercise taken by the sedentary or the aged is a “waist-down” effort but little is done for the upper body and posture. There is no better solution to the slouch-shouldered, potbellied, bent-over look of person approaching middle-age than an increase in muscle mass. Poor posture is ageing!
It is all about self-respect
Weight lifting gives you tremendous control over how you look and feel. Muscles get stronger, your posture straightens and the bulges disappear. It’s something you can do for yourself at your own pace, in your own time; that achieves fast, gratifying results.
No matter how old you are, you can expect to feel changes occur almost immediately when you start to train, as new brain, muscle and nervous system connections are made.
It’s also awakening new parts of the muscle that have fallen idle. By the six-week mark after commencing a strength-training regime, you will be feeling toned, stronger and have better balance.
The strong stay young…!
Every decade you lose muscle. This may not be particularly noticeable, because fat often replaces the space and weight previously occupied by your muscle.
The average 35-year-old man is 18% fat, but by age 65, he’s 38% fat, and often weighs less! The less muscle you have, the less you can eat without getting fat, since you have less active tissue to burn calories at rest and during exercise.
It’s a “use it or lose it” phenomenon
A testimonial to weight training – Dr. Bob Arnot
“I’m a lifelong, self-described aerobic animal. I’ve raced rowing shells, mountain bikes, road bikes, kayaks, canoes, rollerblades, cross-country skis, and speed skates. I’ve competed in 500-mile road races, marathons, Iron man contests, and climbed Himalayan peaks. I, and people I hang out with, have long expressed contempt and disdain for weight training. I now know that was a terrible mistake.
I now know that if you plan to undertake only one single step to get in shape – to feel better, look better, and live longer – you should build new muscle.
For all the exercise I’ve done, starting a weight-training program has had the single most profound effect on my physical appearance, performance and attitude in 20 years.
A year ago, I had an unattractive roll of fat around my middle, complete with love handles, sloppy posture, and twig-like arms. I was an athlete in attitude but certainly didn’t look like one. I couldn’t bend my knees to play tennis or ski properly. I felt middle age finally pulling me down and reckoned the changes were irreversible. I considered surgery on my knees and right shoulder.
Now I have explosive leg power and the knees of a 25 year old, even though I’m 51. I’ve perfected the tennis shots I couldn’t do a year ago because I lacked the strength. I can relentlessly attack the steepest, iciest ski slope run after run. I have vastly improved metabolism, which keeps my energy high all day long and keeps fat from creeping around my midsection. I feel like I’ve shed 20 years.
What I experienced is the power of completely changing the way I look at fitness.”
In a major policy shift, the American College of Sports Medicine now recommends weight training for every adult.
Unfortunately though, people do age. As you get older, and as you collect more and more sedentary years under your ever-expanding belt, you become less active, less strong, less able to commit the time it took to be fit. You become less lean and as less hard as you were back in the day.
It’s a trap to think that a little change here and a little change there will be enough to reverse the damage that those years of sedentary living has wrought and bring you back into a hard athletic condition.
If you want to reshape your body, but are forced to remain in the sedentary environment you operate in today, something has to give. There has to be a point where you are prepared to commit total effort to adjusting the way you do things.
To change the result, you must change the data. If you want to be lean you must cut out the things that make you soft and fat. Look, it’s great if you want to cut down a little on bread, cheese, butter, wine, and sugar, and to add a little exercise into the mix, and to be sure, this will produce some changes in your body.
But you must understand that the degree of change you are prepared to make is always proportional to the degree of result you will get. Change a little – get a little. Change a lot – get a lot.
If you start walking and continue to walk, you will become fit enough to walk. But that’s it. However if you then push yourself on to a slow jog, and then to a run, there is no limit to how fit you will become because you will be constantly challenging yourself to improve.
If you really want to get a result that will make a significant difference, then you must be prepared to sacrifice some of the things that have made you soft and fat, and embrace the things that will harden, toughen and define your physique – and your mind – in the way nature designed them to be.
Remember “Strong People Stay Young”, and to get strong you have to get tough. Ageing well isn’t for the weak.
Created for the British Longevity Society international magazine