The Age of Exercise
Did you know that by 2024, the “Anti-Aging” market is estimated to exceed more than 271 BILLION dollars!? With already nearly an 8% increase in the industry since 2013, I think it’s safe to say that America is hooked on either rewinding or freezing time in regards to their looks, but, what about their bodies?
From the age of 30 on, we lose 3-5% of the muscle mass we naturally carry, and with the loss of muscle mass comes the loss of muscle function. This process is called sarcopenia, or “muscle loss with aging”, and -just like the visible effects of aging- these physical effects of aging can be somewhat prevented and slowed down, just not through creams, serums, and lasers.
When it comes to the body, we can turn back the clock on aging through good, old-fashioned exercise.
Unfortunately, many of us hear that we will lose muscle as we get older and we choose to simply lay down (literally…) and accept it, and that’s part of the problem!
Yes, sarcopenia is real for everyone, but slowing down our lifestyles and becoming less and less active simply because another year has passed only exacerbates the problem. What we chalk up to be signs of “aging” are actually signs of inactivity!
Continue moving/exercising and you’ll be shocked by what you find. In fact, an interesting new study found that the muscle of active men in their 70’s who have been lifting weights for 15-20 years resemble those of 20-year-old men in terms of strength and size. As well, they weather inflammatory damage much better than the muscles of sedentary 70-year-olds. With that type of evidence out there, can we really blame muscle loss on aging?
Resistance exercise is one of the most essential aspects of reversing or freezing the signs of aging. It is with this that we can build and maintain muscle mass at all ages, allowing us to remain strong, stable, and agile, and reducing our risk of bone loss.
“What? Bones? I thought we were talking about muscles?”
We can’t talk about muscles without bringing up bones! Muscle loss and bone loss are closely related. Much like how strength training increases muscle mass, it does the same to bone density- helping us avoid brittle bones and providing us with a strong, more injury-resistant muscular-skeletal system.
In other words, think of fitness as your “preventive cream” for osteoporosis and arthritis.
On top of fighting bone and muscle loss, physical fitness can fight chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, and Alzheimer's. While it cannot be promised to completely prevent all diseases down the line, it has been shown to seriously compress the time in which someone is likely to spend being debilitated during old age.
In a study ranging from 1970-2009, done by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas, 18,670 men and women were initially screened and then categorized based on their health. What researchers found as time went on was, while most still developed some serious or chronic conditions as they aged, those originally in the ‘least fit’ category developed these conditions in the early stages of aging whereas the ‘fit’ and ‘most fit’ categories saw the onset of such diseases/illnesses much later in life- typically the final 10-15 years of life.
The study also suggested that someone who moved from the "least fit" category to any one category above that during midlife got many benefits in regards to starving off chronic diseases. It is truly never too late to start! As long as you’re moving and exercising consistently, you can reap the “fit” benefits down the road, enjoy your health, and live comfortably and well during your older years.
In a crazy twist of fate, during the time that I was reading all these studies, an awe-inspiring man walked into my high-intensity interval class at the gym. His name is Jerry, he is 81 years old, and he did every last burpee, pushup, and sprint with all of the other 20-30-some year-olds in the class-- and he did them with ease! Since that first class, Jerry has become a regluar and only seems to be getting stronger and faster with each passing visit.
Allow me to introduce to you the living embodiment of everything I’ve talked about so far; the man reversing any signs of physical aging...
Friends, meet Jerry!
M- “Jerry, when did you get into the health and fitness world, and how?”
J- “I first got into health and fitness in 1983 after undergoing life-saving surgery. I had always wanted to accomplish certain things in my life, one of which was to run a Marathon. Although I had kept somewhat active with squash and racquetball and ran a few miles on weekends, I had never devoted myself to actual training. I ran my first Marathon (Philly) in the fall of 1983, 6 months after surgery and without proper training, but finished (painfully).
I felt I could do better and ran one Marathon a year for the next 4 years, including 2 NY Marathons, each with better times and easier recovery. I stopped when I turned 50. I thought that was old. For the next decade or so, I continued to run with a group once a week plus several local races, and progressively began to recognize that the races were getting harder, I was getting slower, and that at each annual physical I was a few pounds heavier.
At the beginning of 2000, I joined several members of my weekend group who ran at 5am every day and after a while, I was running 25 miles a week, which was then considered a good base for Marathon training. I casually mentioned that to some younger men I met at a social event. They responded that they were training for the NY Marathon that year and why didn't I join them? After passing a stress test, I agreed, and that led to a more directed running regime, which eventually led to daily early-morning running, 17 more marathons and numerous other races over the next 15 years.
As I passed 75, my wife was concerned about the punishment a Marathon imposed on my body and wanted me to run shorter races. I realized that I was getting slower and spending more time on my feet in running a Marathon. So, we agreed that the 2013 Boston would be my last Marathon. But, I was unable to finish that race because of the tragic explosion that year, which occurred 5-10 minutes before I finished (I heard the explosions, but thought they were firecrackers, so I continued to run until the turn to the finish line when the police stopped me). I then received a reprieve until 2015, when I ran Boston again and retired with my best Boston age group placing.
Since then I still run but not as much. I only enjoy running with company, but having slowed down, I know my younger friends have to slow down to run with me. Once I retired from work in 2012, I also lost the desire to awake at 4:40 am to run with my early morning group. So about 3 years ago I started taking classes at AFC (local gym) to make up for the lack of running. I still do about 5-6 races a year, but since the 2015 Boston Marathon, my longest has been the Broad Street 10-miler."
M- “Quite the list of accomplishments! As well, you have so much drive. What motivates you to live such a healthy and active lifestyle?”
J- “I feel better physically and mentally. When I pull myself out of bed early in the morning to run in the dark and cold, I often think I am crazy, but when I finish and feel "up" for the rest of the day, I know I am not crazy. I also enjoy the ability to do physical things, such as running races with my grandchildren, singing "Hold that Tiger" to great-grandchildren while holding and dancing with them just as I did 25 years ago with their parents."
M- “Awesome answer, I agree 100% with everything you just said! Exercise is insurmountably beneficial for both the mind and the body. As well, the muscle it builds keeps us strong, burns calories, and helps us maintain our weight-- it is also an essential contributor to our balance and bone strength. Without it, we can lose our independence and our mobility. So, it’s phenomenal that you’re prioritizing an active lifestyle and, in turn, giving yourself the ability to continue doing all those physical things you love!
You gave us a good gist of this already, but what is your typical workout regimen looking like these days since running has slowed down a little?”
J- “Strength and cardio classes at my gym 2-4 times a week, a Sunday run of at least 5 miles with friends, about 5-6 races a year.
Being over 80, there are not too many runners in my age group (usually 5-10), although sometimes the group is defined as 75+, so I often get first place (Broad Street this year, Philly 10k last year), but I have also become less competitive, often running races with slower friends just for the company. I have run over 20 of each of Broad Street, Philadelphia Bar races, and the Fairmount Park Turkey Trot and I used to run the old Philadelphia Distance Race regularly.”
(Jerry crossing the finish line at the 2015 Boston Marathon, sporting his 2013 shirt)
M- “Well, it definitely sounds like you’re keeping busy! What tips do you have for others out there that may have slowed down and/or given up on their fitness as they've gotten older?”
J- “It is never too late to come back! Start slowly, keep it up and you will gradually improve. When I started to exercise at AFC, I had never stretched or exercised other than running, and there were many exercises I could not do. The highest weight I could use was 5 pounds and I could barely do one push-up. I now can do most exercises, even if clumsily, using 12 or 15-pound weights, and can even do some balancing exercises without holding on.”
“It is never too late to come back,”- I couldn’t have said it better myself. Muscle mass and endurance can increase at any age in response to exercise! That being said, what do you have to lose starting tomorrow?
Put away the creams and serums because one of the best anti-aging solutions out there is also the cheapest one- weight training and cardiovascular exercise.