Friday, October 24, 2014

Turning Back Time

While our brains track birth dates, our muscle cells rely heavily on heart and muscle activity level to track time. If older adults spend a lot of time being in active, their muscle cells might conclude chronological age is 90. Muscles not activated with regular aerobic and strength activity respond by losing mass and wither.

On the other hand, someone 75 who regularly runs and swims may trick his muscles into thinking they're much younger than their biological age. Muscles constantly stimulated with vigorous activity respond by regenerating, adapting and preparing for the next episode of exercise.  This further highlights the importance of exercise at any age to help improve longevity and quality of life.

Below are some strategies identified by Susan Dawson-Cook, MS on how to turn back time.

The VO2max Factor
Aging occurs because of a variety of factors, some of which we have little control over. Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), one of the measures of a person's aerobic fitness, peaks at age 35 in women and 20 for men.  Declines in VO2max occur most rapidly in sedentary individuals. This explains why the deconditioned often get breathless walking short distances or up a stair or two.

Although some decline in VO2max is inevitable, aerobic activity dramatically slows this process by improving function and efficiency of muscle cells and keeps illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and high blood pressure in check.

Antioxidant Boost
Regular exercise and eating healthy are keys to preventing damage to the body's cells. Moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (brisk walking, easy jogging, bike riding, and swimming) and a diet rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, helps build the body's antioxidant defenses.

Mitochondria Power
Regular exercise improves the function and efficiency of muscle cell mitochondria. The powerhouses of the muscle cells, the mitochondria can increase energy output 400 times during activity (compared with rest) and stimulate cell growth and replication. Containing their own DNA, mitochondria increase in size and number under the proper circumstances.  The more exercise you get, the more mitochondria you get, the stronger you become.

Interval Training
Interval training slows aging by increasing oxygen demand and causing adaptation responses in muscles.  Intensity can be raised by increasing speed, incline or resistance. Increasing speed is most likely to cause injury and is only recommended for well-conditioned individuals free from musculoskeletal injuries. Intervals can be less traumatically done while swimming, cycling, walking, stair climbing or elliptical training. During the "on" intervals, participants do "high-intensity" exertion to raise the heart rate followed by periods of active recovery to let the heart rate subside. Do 2-3 sets of intervals per session.

Strength training
Strength training has been shown to reduce markers of oxidative stress and increase antioxidant enzyme activity which leads to muscle deterioration.  Adding a strength or resistance training protocol 2-3 times per week to a regular exercise program can prolong muscle degeneration and even improve muscle mass at any age. 
Getting in shape today can be the first step toward a longer and more fulfilling life.  According to Dawson-Cook, an inactive older adult can potentially decrease biological age by 10 or more years and gain back 12 years of independent living by embarking on an aerobic exercise program now.  Need proof? There were two individuals in their 80’s that competed in the IRONMAN World Championships this year in Hawaii!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Group Exercise Instructor, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.