Ever wonder if there was one thing you could do to maintain your youth and avoid the aging process?
Although healthy nutrition, great sleep, and managing stress are all key for anti-aging, exercise is the magic bullet. With the right training program you can keep bone strong and dense, muscle intact, and fat at bay. Exercise keeps the joints supple, skin buoyant, and cells youthful. The only question is how to get the greatest benefits?
Should you pound the pavement, start cycling, or hoist heavy weights? Will pilates and yoga do the trick? Can you get away with tai chi or walking?
This article provides the answers to those questions by giving you an overview of what kind of exercise will give you the biggest anti-aging effects for your efforts.
Start With Strength Training
The first line of defense against aging is strength training. The two strongest predictors of longevity are muscle mass and strength. Not only is strength associated with mobility and the ability to perform essential functions of everyday life, but the stronger you are, the lower your chance of falling and breaking a bone. Muscle mass also has a protective effect, helping people survive cancer and other diseases.
Another benefit of muscle is that it drives your metabolic rate. Because muscle tissue is a major metabolic organ and the primary consumer of glucose in the body, it also protects against diabetes. Lack of muscle means the body won’t cope well with the surge of glucose into the blood after high-carbohydrate meals. Over time poor glucose tolerance is associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
Get Started: Adopt a program that targets the whole body, emphasizing multi-joint movements such as squats, lunges, step-ups, presses, and rows. Use a variety of weights in periodized fashion (changing weights and reps every 3 to 4 weeks): Include heavier loads and fewer reps (2 to 8 reps) and lighter weight with more reps (8 to 15 reps).
Emerging research shows that maintaining the energy factories in your cells, known as mitochondria, has a powerful anti-aging effect. Exercise, in particular, intense interval training, optimizes the function of existing mitochondria and triggers the birth of new mitochondria, making it an essential part of every workout program.
You may remember learning about mitochondria—your body’s energy factories—in elementary school science. Mitochondria are mini organs in every cell that have the challenging task of converting the fat, carbs, and protein from the food we eat into usable energy. Aging causes mitochondria to die off, starving cells of energy and reducing our physical function. Interestingly, loss of mitochondria also has an aging effect: When scientists study mice with mitochondrial dysfunction they find that that they experience premature aging with graying fur, loss of hearing and eyesight, decrease in lean muscle and bone, and accumulation of body fat.
Interval training can halt the negative effect. In one recent study that compared intervals (4 minutes hard effort interspersed with 3 minutes active rest) with strength training and combined training (30 minutes of aerobics and 2 days of strength training), results showed that interval training increased mitochondrial function the most –by a whopping 69 percent in adults over age 64. Combined training produced a moderate increase in mitochondria and strength training gave mitochondria a small boost.
Get Started: The great thing about interval training is there is no end to training options. You can do interval walking in which you hoof it up a hill as fast as possible and then take it easy on the way back down. Track sprints or cycling intervals are another good option. The key is to choose a program that meets your needs.
Here are some workout idea: try stationary cycling in which you intersperse 8-second hard efforts with 12-seconds of active rest repeated for 20 minutes. Another option is 30-second all-out sprints interspersed with 4 minutes easy activity. If you like to take things more moderately, try up to 4 minutes at a high-intensity pace alternated with 3 minutes active recovery.
Focus On Flexibility
In recent years as fitness has become more popular, flexibility and stretching have taken a back burner. But flexibility, which is best described as full range-of-motion around the joint, has a large impact on physical performance. And it’s one of the first things we lose as the years go by and we become less active.
Good news is there are a number of ways to maintain and increase flexibility. Regular stretching in which you hold a static position for 30 seconds went out of favor a few years ago in athletic performance circles due to the fact that studies show stretching before a workout can decrease power and strength. However, that doesn’t mean there is not a time and a place for it: Stretching after workouts or separate from training sessions can help avoid overly tight muscles, which is important for preventing tendinitis and inflammation in connective tissue.
Other options for improving flexibility include yoga and dynamic stretching. Eccentric training, in which you slowly perform the lengthening motion of an exercise has also been shown to increase flexibility. For example, to increase range-of-motion in the hips, you could do an eccentric squat by taking 6 to 10 seconds to lower yourself into the bottom position. Then you would come back up (this is the concentric phase) as quickly as possible. One study found that this type of training was 50 percent more effective than static stretching for increasing flexibility.
Get Started: Adopting a 15 to 20-minute static stretching program a few days a week after workouts a good way to overcome tight muscles. Perform 2 to 3 sets of each stretch and hold stretches for at least 30 seconds to get the best results.
Maintaining your balance is more than just being able to stand on one foot while you pat your head. Having good balance means that you have a strong vestibular system—a sensory system that allows you to maintain spatial orientation and a sense of balance. The brain uses information from the vestibular system in the head and from proprioception throughout the body to keep you upright and agile as you move through the world.
Studies show that having a baseline level of strength is necessary for good balance, and it also shores up the brain—muscle connection. Moving in multiple planes of motion (side to side, forward and backwards, spins and circles) is also necessary because it activates the vestibular system.
Get Started: For many people, strength training and staying active will take care of their balance training needs. However, if you feel you need a little extra stimulus, try tai chi, dancing, or agility exercises to get yourself engaged in multiplanar movements that target the vestibular system. Another option for older individuals is a vibration platform: Available at physical therapy studios, vibration platforms challenge proprioception, while actively requiring your muscles to flex in response to stimulus.