When was the first time you realized you were getting older? Was it the time you felt out of breath after finally getting the old lawn mower started? Or the day your new broker confused Simon and Garfunkel with Rocky and Bullwinkle?
Let’s face it, we live in a youth culture that insists we somehow stop aging or get out of the way. But what if you knew of a surefire way to slow down the aging process? No, not some miracle fountain of youth. No, not a full body nip and tuck.
The one proven anti-aging remedy is a lot cheaper, safer, and easier to come by. It’s exercise. And many experts on aging say it may be the next best thing to a fountain of youth. “By taking yourself from a sedentary state to a physically trained state, you can, in effect, reduce your biological age by l0 to 20 years,” says Roy Shepard, M.D. Ph.D., a professor of applied physiology at the University of Toronto.
It is often said that exercise, if it could be bottled, would be the most potent prescription we have for a healthy existence. Study after study bears this out. For example, researchers measured the effects of aging on 756 athletes, aged 35 to 94, who participated in events such as rowing, swimming, and track and field during the 1985 World Masters Games. “We found some people in their late 60s and 70s who had about the same cardiopulmonary fitness as you would expect from sedentary 25 year olds,” says Terence Kavanagh, M.D., director of the Toronto Rehabilitation Centre. When compared to sedentary people their own age, they averaged twice the cardiovascular fitness.
Maybe it’s no surprise that amateur athletes are in better shape than the rest of us, but what is astounding is how little effort went into getting them into such good shape, says Dr. Kavanagh. Most trained less than seven hours a week in preparation for the games. “These weren’t fanatical trainers in any sense,” he says. “They were more typical of the average recreational sports person than of the elite athlete. It seems that even modest exercise can push aging back.”
As a bonus, exercise can also help you live longer. In one study, l6,936 Harvard alumni, aged 35 to 74, were followed by Stanford University researchers for 12 to 16 years. Death rates were up to a third lower among those alumni who burned more than 2,000 calories a week exercising. For an average size man, that’s equivalent to running or walking 3 miles a day.
If you mix exercise with other healthful practices, your prospects for a longer life become even greater, says Kenneth Manton, Ph.D., professor and assistant director of Duke University’s Center for Demographic Studies.
Manton came to this conclusion after using an innovative computer program to reanalyze data from several major population studies, including the famed 20-year Framingham Heart Study. He concluded that a healthful lifestyle including regular exercise, begun at age 30, has the potential to extend the average life expectancy in the U.S. by as much as 15 years.
But it’s exercise itself that many doctors believe will help make all your years–no matter how many there are–productive and disease free.
Consider what can happen to the body when it stops exercising. A Swedish physiologist asked five young men to remain bedridden 24 hours a day for three weeks to study their body’s physiological response. All of the men experienced a drop in their aerobic capacity equivalent to almost 20 years of aging!
“A lot of the effects of aging are self-inflicted,” Dr. Kavanagh says. “The less you do, the easier you fatigue. And the more you fatigue, the less you are able to do. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Breaking that cycle is critical. “I think it’s just common sense,” Dr. Kavanagh says. “Just look around you and you’ll see that the people who are physically active work harder, tire less, and enjoy themselves a lot more.”
Regular physical activity is excellent for everyone,” Dr. Kavanagh says. “But it has to be regular; it can’t be inconsistent. It needs to be something that you do at least three times a week.”
Which brings us to the question: What kind of exercise is best to hold back the aging process? First, anything aerobic. Huff-and-puff exercise, such as swimming, running, cycling and walking, is the most powerful weapon we have to combat many of the effects of aging, according to the numerous studies. Aerobic workouts are important because without adequate oxygen, the body doesn’t perform at its best, Dr. Kavanagh says.
“If you let yourself go to pot, you’re artificially reducing your oxygen uptake. If you do that, you really can’t function well. You think slower, you move slower. You’re just less capable of taking advantage of this world.” he says.
So, how do you take advantage of this high-octane energy booster? What do you do if you’re already slumped into a sedentary lifestyle?
Start slow. You don’t have to get off the couch and launch into a 5-mile run on your first day. Brisk walking is an excellent aerobic exercise for beginners, doctors say, because it’s easy and can give you all the health-enhancing and age-resisting benefits of more strenuous aerobic activities, such as jogging and stair climbing. Walking will also get you in condition for more rigorous activities such as running, biking, and swimming.
Aerobic exercise is just one component of an anti-aging package. You should also consider some form of weight training, experts says. Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that weight training significantly improved the muscle strength of 12 previously sedentary men aged 60 to 72. During the three months of weight lifting, muscle strength increases ranged from l07 percent to 226 percent, and then total muscle mass increased by an average of l0 percent. These gains were similar to those reported by healthy younger men undergoing a similar training regimen.
The bottom line: Activity beats aging. Working out will not only help you feel younger, it’ll make you look younger, too.
Reduce your biological age 10 to 20 years, add ten to fifteen years of quality living to your life while you enjoy life more–all through exercise. If you’re not already exercising, do it now!
Don’t look at exercise as hard work or a bother, but rather concentrate on the good health, vitality and enjoyment of life it can bring. Think and visualize all the good exercise can bring and it will never be work but a part of your life.
If you don’t take care of yourself–who will?
If you don’t want to exercise, at least do it for your family or loved ones–they need you!