I was in Equinox the other day, doing push-ups and kettlebell swings with my trainer, Ian, (he is also my frisbee guru, pictured in this post) when he happened to casually mention, “You know that what we’re doing is the Fountain of Youth, right Steph?” Ah, pardon me, what? Sorry, I don’t believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy, or Ponce de Leon’s magical elixir, for that matter.
Turns out, though, Ian’s claim is not hocus pocus. He may be a jock, but he is also secretly a science geek. He’s working on his Master’s of Applied Sports Physiology at Columbia (stats, labs, research…) and he has hard medical research to back up his statement. Lots of research, in fact. As wild as it sounds, exercise, especially circuit training and weight training, slows down the body’s aging process.
I’ll break it down for you. I got these facts from the Tufts Health and Nutrition newsletter, an excellent resource. Here’s some of what exercise does in relation to age. The benefits are almost shocking they are so amazing.
- SERIOUSLY decreases risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and Parkinsons.
- Protects against early Alzheimers and REVERSES mental decline.
- Prevents or slows the buildup of belly fat in women (inelegantly called, “Middle Age Spread.”)
- Slows age-induced weight gain.
- Protects against bone loss.
- Lengthens life expectancy.
- Lifts depression.
But you already knew all of this, right? What you may not know is that when women reach their mid-30’s and early 40’s, we naturally begin to lose a quarter pound of muscle a year. That slows our metabolism and weakens us. But evidence indicates that if we do strength and resistance training, just once or twice a week, we can stop or reverse this loss. This is important to understand so I’ll repeat it: working out stops the body’s tendency to fall apart. Awesome!
In fact, muscle builds on itself over time – you keep ramping up and getting stronger. As my friend (and incredible athlete), Jeanne Meyer, likes to tell me, the hardest age division for female triathletes when they race is the 40’s – they have the best time overall (fastatfourty). Take that, nubile 20 year olds! Again, awesome.
Here’s more: exercise slows aging on the chromosomal level. As we age, our DNA strands start to get ragged and frayed at the ends and this means our skin wrinkles, eyesight and hearing start to fail, our brains slow, organs crash – OY! – I am getting dry mouth just writing this. The great news is that exercise has been found to slow this breaking down process: twins were compared, and the one who did three hours of activity a week was found to be 9 years younger biologically than his/her sedentary sibling. Read this story for more: Exercise – aging, Washington Post
-We need to rethink aging: A lot of our perception of aging has to do with inactivity. We think we need to stop moving as we age and this leads to, well, more inactivity. This couch potato behavior builds on itself and muscles weaken, tendons tighten, flexibility goes and the day comes when you pick up a tennis racquet or go for a brisk walk and your body fights you and YOU FEEL OLD. An inert body will slow down, and this rate quickens as you age. The lean muscle you lose will naturally be replaced by fat (my dry mouth is coming back…). “Move it or lose it” really does apply – do nothing and the downward slope of the graph is not pretty. We take ourselves out of the game…and we shouldn’t and don’t have to.
The great news – and I do mean great news – is that it is never too late to get your groove back. An oft-quoted study shows that inert 90 year olds who BEGAN resistance training in their nursing home showed an average improvement of 30% more muscle mass in 8 weeks. WOW. A number were able to ditch their walkers and walk unassisted for the first time in years. If immobile 90 year olds can get the spring in their step back, imagine what that means for the rest of the population?
What does this mean for you?
- Stay active and muscle will stay healthy and strong for far longer than you’d think. Exercise slows aging.
- Stay active and you’ll look good, inside and out.
- Even if you have not worked out in years, it is literally never too late to soak up the benefits of exercise if you add it to your life. It will be the best gift you ever give your body.
A lot of women can’t find their strength. They think they never had it or they lost it or it’s just too hard to reconnect with what was once inside them. Well ladies, it’s there, waiting for you. So take yourself out for a spin. You’ll enjoy the ride. xoxSteph