Exercise is the Only Way to Defy Aging
Regular exercise done the right way can and will slow the inevitable effects of aging
Aging is an inevitable part of life. But how we age — and how much we enjoy the aging process — is within our control. The natural deterioration of our bodies — which is said to begin as early as 30 — cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed. And slowed significantly for that matter. Using exercise to ‘treat’ the aging process is not unlike using exercise to treat any chronic disease.
As an Exercise Physiologist, I use exercise to treat arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few. The list goes on and on. The evidence is clear that exercise has a profound effect on these conditions. Aging is like a whole bunch of conditions happening gradually, all at once. Exercising can have a hugely positive effect on aging. This article will point out the three keys reasons exercise is truly the only way to defy aging.
We Must use Exercise to Maintain Muscle Mass
It’s a natural fact of life that muscle wastage occurs as we age. But by performing regular resistance training, we can really put the brakes on this process. The loss of muscle due to aging is called sarcopenia. Skeletal muscle makes up roughly 30–40% of the human body. It should be alarming then that muscle mass loss occurs at 10% per decade, which is only accelerated further by failing to slow the loss.
Regular resistance training has the ability to significantly reverse age-induced reductions in muscle mass. And it’s never too late to start either. Because of the ability of older adults to achieve muscle protein synthesis — the process required for muscle growth — it’s always a good time to start performing resistance training. It’s crucial we keep as much muscle as possible to ensure we can maintain our mobility, and ultimately our independence.
Furthermore, more muscle means more calories burnt. Because muscle is living tissue — as opposed to entirely dormant body fat — it requires blood and nutrients. For this reason, just having more muscle means we burn more calories. More calories burnt at rest means it's easier to maintain a healthy weight, whilst potentially being able to eat more food.
To ensure you do maintain a healthy amount of muscle mass, it’s a good idea to prioritize consuming a good amount of protein in your diet. This macronutrient is the most important nutritional consideration for building and holding onto our precious muscles. Better yet, consuming a high protein diet has also been found to be an excellent way to lose weight, and maintain it in the long run. Multiple studies have found that a high protein diet is great for weight loss as it can decrease appetite, boost your metabolic rate, and help to maintain an optimal body composition — one that contains lots of muscle.
I have an 83-year-old client who trains at the gym three times a week and has been doing so for over a decade. He can perform Bulgarian split squats. He can push a heavy sled. He can row 1km in under 4 and a half minutes. I’m certain this is the reason he still lives in his own home, can mow his own lawn, tend to all the maintenance around the house, and can walk his dog every day for half an hour without a single worry.
Exercise Puts the Body Into Positions we Must Maintain
Being able to maneuver into cars, and in and out of chairs means we must maintain a solid level of mobility. Exercise allows us to work on this every time we clock on for a training session. Squatting translates into many real-world situations, like the ones mentioned above. I once had a Muslim client, who at 73 years old was no longer able to move into the various prayer positions required for him to practice his religion. Being of great importance to him, he found this quite distressing. By identifying where his limitations were, a targeted exercise program was able to remedy this problem.
The ability to get on and off the ground, in my opinion, should be viewed as a skill. A skill we can take for granted and one we should never want to lose. By exercising, specifically those exercises requiring spending time on the ground, we can regularly train this skill. There are several positions we need our bodies to get into as humans. Be it kneeling to maintain the garden, or lunging to reach an awkward power socket. Regular exercise can help to restore and maintain these movements. It may be the difference between you being able to join in on the grandkids’ game or not.
The Undeniable Mental Benefits of Regular Exercise
Exercising for its physical benefits is just as important as exercising for the mental benefits. The much-studied effects of exercise on improving the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression paints a clear picture. Exercise can and does benefit all of these conditions, both in the short and long term. But let’s not forget about the cognitive component of exercise.
We’re told to do crosswords and puzzles to help stave off age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's. Well, exercise offers this cognitive challenge in the form of remembering what an exercise is and how exactly to perform it. To do an exercise, you must first recognize its name, the equipment you need, and finally — what to do. This may seem silly when you’re younger, but this display of memory and comprehension is helpful as we age. I’ve seen my older clients completely blank on what a squat is.
What to do to Slow Aging
- Train all major muscle groups at least twice a week with resistance training.
- Perform vigorous cardiovascular exercise that gets you to 85% (unless advised not to by your doctor) of your maximum heart rate at least once a week (track your resting heart rate to get a gauge on your fitness level — the lower the better).
- Perform core-specific exercises at least three times per week.
- Move every day even if it is just walking to encourage your blood vessels to dilate, reducing your blood pressure.
- Stand more often; always be looking for ways to reduce the time you spend sitting.
Father Time is coming, that much is certain. But you do have control over the toll it takes on you. Choose to exercise regularly and you can minimize the effects of aging to lead a longer, more independent life.
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