“I'm too old to exercise”. Who among us has not heard this excuse? It’s too bad that people take the path of least resistance as they grow older. Perhaps they are defeated inside and think there is nothing they can do to change their health. Not only is this thinking wrong, it can also negatively impact how fast they age.
Can Exercise Slow Aging?
Let me share the results of a 6-month-long study where researchers compared muscle strength between healthy, sedentary younger and healthy, active older men and women. Skeletal muscle biopsies of the vastus lateralis (a quadriceps muscle) were also taken. The exercise program consisted of 3 sets of a total body strength training program starting at 50% 1RM and progressing to 80%. Exercise machines (not free weights) were used. People exercised twice a week.
Prior to exercise, the older adults were, on average 59% weaker than their younger counterparts. After 6 months of strength training, older adults were only 39% weaker. So, they became stronger! No surprise there. Several other studies have also noted that older adults (even older than 90 years old) can improve their strength by resistance training.
What makes this investigation even more intriguing is what the researchers saw in the muscle biopsies.
The researchers noted that resistance training changed the way genes were expressed. Specifically, genes that were normally turned on with the “healthy aging” were turned off by exercise training; conversely, genes that would normally be turned off by aging were activated again. In other words, the older adults effectively started to grow younger at the genetic level!
Many people have heard about DNA and genetics. But, few have heard the term epigenetics.
Think of it this way. Your computer has an operating system (Windows or Mac) that contains instructions on how to do things. Your computer also has software (like Microsoft Word for example) that tells the operating system what to do and when to do it. We work the same way.
Think of your DNA as your operating system. What you do with your life – eating right, reducing stress, not smoking, etc. – actually influences your DNA such that “bad genes” can be deactivated and “good genes” can be turned on. The result – a healthier,”younger” you!
Conversely, being unhealthy turns on bad genes (cancer, etc.).
What’s even spookier about is that what you do now not only appears to affect your genetic expression BUT ALSO your children AND grandchildren too!
Research with rats seems to show this to be true and its possible the same thing happens with us. OK, so much about your decedents, what about you right now?
Is Exercise The Fountain Of Youth?
America is currently a nation “growing old,” with the fastest-growing segment of the older population being those over the age of 85. Unfortunately, many people residing in nursing homes are also over the age of 85. So, medical technology helps us live longer, but for many, the quality of those lives leaves a lot to be desired.
Sarcopenia –this is muscle loss as we grow older and it has profound negative implications for not only long-term quality of life but in my opinion, national security as well.
I’m very serious when I say National Security! Think about it; who will fight America’s wars in 50 years if we are all too old and weak to do anything?
Most people have never heard of sarcopenia – a condition that everybody eventually gets! Why have so few people heard about a disorder which starts in our 40s? Sarcopenia increases the risk that other diseases will kill us. For this reason, I call sarcopenia a “gateway disorder”.
In this age of universal health care, the estimated cost of treating sarcopenia-related health issues is approximately 18 billion dollars a year. This cost will grow over the next decade. As we move less the rate of diseases increases so sarcopenia is a “gateway disorder” that increases the risk that other conditions will kill us.
What if there was a drug that we could take that would significantly reduce the risk of all major diseases? That drug exists right now and it's called exercise. Let me prove this fact to you.
Research proves the exercise can reduce the risk of all of these:
- Heart disease (the #1 killer of Americans)
- Cancer (the #2 killer of Americans)
- Stoke (the #4 killer of Americans)
Reducing the risk of the 3 leading causes of death would significantly reduce healthcare costs and help people stay healthier. But the benefits don't end here. Exercise also reduces the risk of:
- Type II diabetes
- Alzheimer disease
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Colon cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
Exercise also improves HDL levels. HDL is called “good cholesterol” because it transports excess cholesterol out of the blood so it can be recycled. But HDL also helps us by improving levels of Nitric Oxide, which keeps blood vessels open. This helps reduce heart disease.
The list goes on and but you get the picture. We are never too old to exercise.
The fact is that people have within their grasp right now a Free Medication that not only can keep many out of nursing homes but, according to many studies, can help them literally grow younger!
If a drug was invented tomorrow that did this, how much would you pay for it?
I strongly feel that the message about the benefits of physical activity does not get out to the American public as aggressively as it should. This is a spectrum-wide defect that impacts most of the health care industry – including personal trainers.
For some reason, we place the benefits of pharmaceuticals and other “after ailment” treatment options ahead of cheaper, more effective preventative strategies like exercise and eating well.
If you are a personal trainer, health is your business! You are on the front lines of educating people about how to stay healthy. If all you do is make people work out you are not helping them. In fact, you are hurting them because if people don't know the reasons why they have to do something, they won't keep doing it.
Ask people– no matter what their age – if they know that exercise can alter their genes and help them grow younger and reduce the risk of practically every major disease. I'll bet most people have never been empowered with this message. That's probably because there is no “National Grow Younger Day.” And that’s sad.