50 going on 30: Turning back the clock through exercise

Published 8:58 pm Friday, January 8, 2016

Getting older can almost be summed up by a joke a friend of mine once said: “At this age when I get out of bed and something doesn’t hurt, I check to make sure it’s still there!” — a clever quip and a novel anecdote followed up by squats, burpees, pushups and other metabolic boosting actions in her normal routine.



Did I mention she was in her 60s? You wouldn’t be able to tell, because stacked up with other 20- and 30-year-olds that I know, she would give them a run for their money. This is not an anomaly, but this is the conditioned response to exercise. More specifically the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes of cardiovascular aerobic exercise three to five days per week, and strength training two to three days. Flexibility is a daily requirement for successful aging. Cramer et al, reports that by the year 2030, one in five people will be over the age of 65. Athletes hold a faithful moniker: “Father Time is undefeated.” However, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! I want to teach you how to use exercise as a means to slow the negative effects of aging, and strengthen a resurgent population. It all starts with identifying the benefits.

Exercise vs. Aging

Every negative effect of aging has a counterpart benefit from exercise. Aging increases your resting heart rate, muscle stiffness, blood pressure, body fat, and risk of depression while exercise slows and even decreases them. Helen Hayes nailed the expression, “resting is rusting.” Exercise will increase your bone strength, muscle mass and strength, your metabolic rate, and good cholesterol. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the top three leading killers in our nation, and all can be greatly reduced with controllable factors like exercise and proper nutrition. In Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, they found that highly active men are 47 percent less likely to develop colon cancer than inactive or sedentary peers. So in order to age successfully, you have to recognize two definitions: chronological age and physiological age. Chronological age is defined as the number of years a person has lived, while physiological age is determined by function and degree of anatomical and physiological development. For example, you may be 30 years old chronologically, but have the heart of a 55-year-old physiologically due to a sedentary lifestyle. There are three main ways to reverse the clock through exercise: manage your metabolism, increase your cardio, and strike-up strength training.

Manage your Metabolism

Most often your metabolism is labored because of factors including but not limited to: poor food choices, timing of meals and a lack of exercise. Your metabolism is the sum total of all chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells, and the organism (you). Your metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy according to the Mayo Clinic. So the first rule to increase your metabolic rate is to eat proper foods (lean meats, leafy vegetables, whole grains), smaller portions, and every three to four hours.

Increase your Cardio

The greatest way to burn calories, in specific time is through cardiovascular exercise. Walking, jogging, swimming, even bike riding are all amazing ways to increase your metabolism. The higher the intensity of exercise, your body creates a thermic effect that will over time increase your ability to burn more calories at rest. Aiming for at least 250-300 calories burned in a 30-minute session can help you establish a benchmark to increase your metabolic rate.

Strike-up Strength Training

I had the privilege of attending a seminar on “Functional Fitness after 40,” by Michael Krackow, PhD. One of the points that he drove home was the amazing effect strength training and weight lifting has on the human body. He expounded on Wolfe’s law and how the body responds to the stress it is under. He was convinced that weight training keeps your metabolism higher over a period of time more than any other thing, and that it reduces the loss of bone density, and muscle mass as we age. Studies revealed that people over the age 60 who strength trained three times per week were able to increase the time they walked on a treadmill, showing lean-mass gains and cardiovascular endurance.

Rewind and Revitalize

The goal is not to beat the clock, but to remain as strong, healthy and vibrant while it still ticks for each of us. There are 24 hours a day, 168 hours in every week, and time passes for each and every one of us. We don’t need more time, but we need to become more functional and effective with the time given. The question can be asked, “Would you rather live to 100 years old, frail and riddled with disease, or to 70, strong and vibrant?” We can choose the best of both, recognizing that to each individual is given a gift of every day and what we do with it as stewards of the body can prepare us for the future. I hope I can have the strength, energy and drive of my friend because she has truly aged with dignity and grace. With healthy choices and consistent exercise we can take full advantage of the day, because the time is now.

Derrick Boyce, exercise physiologist and coordinator of exercise programming at Vidant Wellness Center of Washington, can be reached at 252-975-4236.