- By: Harry Johnson Jr
By Harry Johnson Jr, 1998 Body For Life Champion, Certified Personal Trainer
Weakness and frailty are not inevitable parts of aging. Most often, weakness is due to physical inactivity.
If someone has to stay in bed for a while, all of the changes that typically occur with age happen within a matter of days, even if the person is young.
These changes include:
Shift in the ratio of body fat and muscle mass, in favor of fat.
Drop in aerobic capacity
Rise in blood cholesterol
Increased tendency to develop dangerous blood clots
Calcium loss from the bones
Decreased ability to control blood sugar
These same things also happen to the astronauts I work with when they are subjected to the weightless environment of space.
Fortunately, these effects can be halted -- and reversed -- at ANY AGE through physical activity and diet.
William J. Evans, PhD, director of the Nutrition, Metabolism and Exercise Laboratory at the University of Arkansass for Medical Sciences coauthored "Biomarkers: The 10 Keys to Prolonging Vitality"
In it he says through exercise and sound nutrition you can alter your body's aging process by changing 10 key aspects of good health. He calls these factors biomarkers.
Biomarker 1: Muscle mass. In general, Americans carry too much body
fat and too little muscle. Rather than simply trying to lose weight William (and I) advise building muscle at the expense of fat.
Reason: People with high ratios of muscle to fat have higher metabolic rates, and don't have to worry a lot about gaining weight. A muscle that is pushed to the limits of its capacity through regular strength training will grow in size significantly, even in elderly people.
Biomarker 2: Strength. As we age, we lose the use of some motor units -- groups of muscle fibers that are linked to a certain nerve ending. This neurological loss, along with reduced muscle mass, contributes to some loss of strength as people age.
However, studies have shown that age-related declines in strength can be dramatically reduced or reversed with strength training -- elderly people can experience the same gains in muscle size and strength as younger people.
Biomarker 3: Basal metabolic rate. Basal metabolic rate is the
amount of calories burned when your exertion is minimal, e.g., while sleeping or watching TV.
This rate tends to fall with age, reducing your food needs and making weight gain more likely. For instance, the average 70-year-old needs 500 fewer calories a day than the average 25-year-old.
This decline, too, is far from inevitable. Research now suggests that this reduction in basal metabolic rate is almost wholly caused by a loss of muscle mass -- a loss that can be reversed by weight training exercise.
Biomarker 4: Body fat percentage. Obesity puts us at risk for other ailments, including heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, most of us add fat as we age, even if we haven't gained weight.
Again, this is why I advise forgetting about losing weight and concentrating on shedding fat and gaining muscle mass. Do that through a combination of aerobic and strength-building exercises and moderate calorie restriction.
Biomarker 5: Aerobic capacity. Most people's aerobic capacities -- the amount of oxygen the body can process in a given time -- decline with age, typically dropping by 30% or 40% in men and women by age 65. However, this decline is significantly smaller in people who exercise regularly. Intense exercise will almost eliminate any decline at all.
Biomarker 6: Glucose tolerance. Glucose tolerance is the body's ability to control blood sugar. This ability tends to decline with age -- often with no visible symptoms -- causing the body's insulin production to rise (in which the overworked pancreas often shuts down and stops producing insulin).
By age 70, about 20% of men and 30% of women have an abnormal glucose tolerance, leaving them vulnerable to diabetes, and also contrubuting to high cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease.
However, scientists now believe decreased glucose tolerance is caused not by age, but by increased body fat, physical inactivity and a diet rich in saturated fat. Switching to a high-fiber diet, combined with strength training (which increases muscles' sensitivity to insulin), can improve glucose tolerance in a few weeks.
Biomarker 7: Total cholesterol/hdl ratio. Total cholesterol levels in the US have been dropping steadily since the early 1970's -- but a low total cholesterol level is no guarantee of protection against heart disease. To be safe, you must raise your HDL cholesterol, which works to cleanse your arteries...while lowering LDL cholesterol, which causes waxy buildup in your arteries.
Biomarker 8: Blood pressure. People in the US tend to have higher
blood pressure as they get older. If your blood pressure rises above 140/90, you are considered hypertensive and your risk of a stroke or heart attack increases significantly. However, other, more active populations show no such age-related increase.
Regular exercise can help you keep blood pressure at safe levels as you get older.
Biomarker 9: Bone density. There is an unavoidable age-related decline in the mineral content of the bones, leaving an older person with a weaker, more brittle skeleton than a younger person. In its extreme form, this is known as osteoporosis.
Weight-bearing exercise -- such as lifting weights, walking, cycling or running -- can reduce the rate of bone loss, even among post-menopausal women, the group most at risk for osteoporosis.
Reason: Exercise fosters the body's absorption of dietary calcium, which is stored in the bones. A brisk daily walk helps maintain strong bones. Daily calcium supplements of 1,200 mg also helps. Just remember, calcium alone will do you
little good. You have to create a ''demand'' by your body to absorb and use the extra calcium.
Exercise creates this demand. So, when you exercise then supplement with extra calcium you are much more likely to increase your bone density. Without this demand your body is likely to use little if any any extra calcium you ingest.
Biomarker 10: Temperature regulation. Our ability to control our
internal body temperature declines as we get older, due to a reduction in our ability both to shiver, which raises body temperature, and sweat, which lowers it.
This means cold and hot weather pose a danger to elderly people. To some extent, this can't be avoided.
Regular aerobic exercise and interval weight training causes you to sweat more readily whenever you exert yourself, not just during exercise. It also increases your total blood volume -- which will make you less likely to overheat or dehydrate in hot weather.
Important: Force yourself to drink during exercise, even if you're not thirsty.
Bottom line: Regular exercise and a proper diet will do wonders for not only your outer physical appearance, but also the quality and length of your life here on earth.
Do yourself a favor and make it a goal for yourself to finally start (and stick with for good) an exercise program combined with a good diet.
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