Are You Getting Older or Aging Gracefully?

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My arms are literally on fire. I’m trying to move them but I fear that I’ve overworked them so much that they’re as useful as overcooked noodles in a pasta buffet. Meanwhile, I have sweat stinging my eyes and I can feel the tap coming. For those thinking “what the heck is this guy talking about?,” I’m referring to tapping out in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This means that someone manipulated one of your joints into a submission or placed a choke on you, and thus you’re surrendering with a rather gentle, and quick, tap out.

So I end up tapping out, rolling to me knees, fixing my gi (the formal uniform worn in jiu jitsu), and checking with my sparring partner. He’s all set and ready to go. The guy must be a robot or something. I think about getting some water, but my opponent shows no signs of slowing down. He’s also nearly twice my age. Something in my gut is trying to tell me that I’m going to be tapping out a few more times before this session is over.

Yes, that’s not a typo – the sparring partner tossing me all over the place was nearly twice my age. He has the endurance of the Energizer Bunny and seems to be getting better with time. Talk about aging gracefully. Is he some form of genetic freak? Is he actually a real life Benjamin Button and is actually getting younger as he ages? I think not. But this does beg the question: is getting old an acceptable reason for falling out of shape?

My answer is a definite No. You can even etch my answer in stone. While some of us are blessed with better genetics than others, there really is no set of genes that works against you and fights your body to the death over every single pound you try to lose. Certain lifestyle choices may have made life more difficult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t slowly turn back time. Like Lenny Kravitz said, It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over. The hardest working clients I have ever worked with tend to be older (some even senior citizens), because they’re more mature and understand that they have real world responsibilities that are partly dependent on their health status.

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If you take anything away from this article, this is it: the body systems work in sync with each other. What I mean by this is that there are a whole host of reasons that you may feel sluggish, weaker, or less energetic than you used to, and the simple fact of getting older isn’t enough to explain it. Some may feel weaker because of postural issues that have affected flexibility and cause imbalances between their muscles. Others may feel weak because of poor sleep habits, while still others are in the situation where their stress hormones have simply outworked their growth and repair hormones. Plus you have to throw into the mix other lifestyle choices, like your diet, smoking, and how many wild nights you had while you were in college. Roll all of this into a ball and see how your body responds to this. So, you can see that any issues that you may have are far more complicated than just I’m getting older. (If anything, that’s a cop out!)

Your first priority is to begin a strength training regimen. After the age of 30 your body begins losing muscle mass at a rate of 1% per year. The good news…this is completely preventable with two to four days of training a week. Losing that 1% of muscle per year means a slow and steady drop in your metabolic rate as well as making you less functional. This slow loss can lower your metabolism by 4 – 6% per decade. You may not feel it at the age of 30, but the things you took for granted and could do with ease suddenly won’t be so simple to perform.

Your best bet is to resist boot camp types of classes – these don’t teach proper form, nor do they focus on strict tempo and the proper amount of sets and reps. You want each rep to count because a proper strength training program can do wonders for finding the fountain of youth. An interesting study took subjects (with an average age of 68 years old) began a 26 week strength training program. At the end of the study, researchers had found that the training had reversed the process of 179 genes associated with aging (1). That means that the subjects had literally reversed the aging process!

Resistance training is your key to staying young and living a healthy life. Want to lose weight? Strengthen your heart? Get flexible? Then strength training is your golden ticket. In yet another study researchers took postmenopausal women through a strength training program. After 24 weeks, subjects increased their conditioning level as well as improving their bone density (2). Three days a week is all you need to lose weight, get in shape, and have strong bones? Sounds like a winner to me.

None of this work means anything if your diet isn’t on point. The challenge lies in fixing lifestyle issues. Chances are you have spent the last twenty years of your life taking care of a family and prioritizing your own needs last. Many clients that come to me have gotten into the habit of hardly eating. I once worked with a 270 pound man who only ate an apple for breakfast, and didn’t eat again until he had dinner. As a result, he had sagging energy levels and a metabolism about as active as a politician in the last year of their term.

Studies done on low calorie intake have confusing results; subjects may lose weight in the short term, but end up doing more harm than good. In a study where subjects followed a very low calorie diet for 12 weeks, their metabolism was actually lowered by 23% (3). We learned earlier that a lack of strength training will slow your metabolism, so don’t make it worse by skipping meals and eating too few calories.

Like the saying goes, better late than never. Just because you think you’re old doesn’t mean that you have to live a life walking around with pains and sapped energy levels. Two to four days a week of strength training is all you really need to obtain your own fountain of youth.


[toggle title=”References“]

1. Kravitz, Len. “Yes, Resistance Training Can Reverse the Aging Process.” (2008) IDEA Fitness Journal 5;8, 21-23

2. Brentano, M.A., Cadore, E.L., et al. “Physiological Adaptations to Strength and Circuit Training in Postmenopausal Women with Bone Loss.” (2008) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22;6, 1816-1825

3. Burgess, N.S. “Effect of a Very Low Calorie Diet on Body Composition and Resting Metabolic Rate in Obese Men and Women.” Journal of American Diet Association. 1991. 91:4. 430-434 [/toggle]


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