Growing Young, while Getting Old
How to age like an athlete.
By Bill Nurge, M.A. Exercise Physiology, Head Coach HardCore Training Center
What if I told you that there was a major scientific breakthrough, in the form of a magic pill that you could take 2-3x/week, which would make you look and feel younger? It would accelerate your metabolism and melt fat off your body, make your brain sharper and improve memory, increase muscle mass, and make you stronger. Would you take it?
What if it would also make you less likely to have a catastrophic fracture by increasing bone density, elevate your anabolic hormones so you have more energy, and improve your balance and coordination by making your nervous system more intelligent? In addition, it would significantly lower your risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, depression, and just about every preventable malady known to mankind. Now, would you take it?
Before you answer, you should know that it has some serious side effects: it’s highly addictive, energizing, and will most likely render a mild state of euphoria that lasts all day.
Having spent more than half of my 55 wakeful years on this planet diligently doing research and development on how to make humans younger, better, and happier, I can offer up some bad news and some great news related to the magic pill. The bad news (at least for those who enjoy supporting the pharmaceutical industry) is that there is not—and more than likely will never be—a magic pill that reverses aging and improves the function of virtually every system of the body. The GREAT news (especially for those of us who actually enjoy physical exertion) is that all of the ameliorative and age-reversing compensatory changes listed in the first paragraph, can be effectively garnered from 2-3 hours per week of physical activity.
But herein lies the rub: not all physical activity is created equal, especially when it comes to keeping your body and brain young, optimized, and disease-free. So here’s what you need to do—and what we do in every HardCore Training workout—to grow young, and age like an athlete.
Hold on for a minute... Before we get to the fun stuff, I’m pretty confident that at least 90% of you—that’s the percentage of Americans who don’t consistently engage in life—altering physical activity—are already thinking you don’t have the time or financial resources to devote to the non-pill version of a younger, better, happier you. Let’s put the 2.5 age-reversing hours into perspective. First off, it's less than 1.5% of the total hours in a week; and infinitely more fun than being in the hospital, or doctor’s office, or dead! Secondly, the average person spends 2 hours per week on their hair, 2 hours per week getting dressed, 3 hours per week taking care of the dog, 1.5 hours per week cleaning their body, and 3/4 of an hour every week on brushing and flossing their teeth. I’m not saying don’t spend 10 hours/week grooming, dressing, cleaning, and taking care of your dog. I’m simply pointing out that if it’s a priority, you will find the time to do it.
And taking care of your physical “house” should be priority #1 because nothing else matters if you’re too sick, weak, and debilitated to enjoy what you have. If everyone tended to their health, fitness, and bodies as well as their investments, possessions and pets, the world would be a much different, albeit healthier place. Like it or not, your brain and "heart" need to be attached to a strong, sturdy, happy body to function optimally. Invest in yourself... You deserve it!
CHOOSE YOUR TRAJECTORY
Long before most doctors adopted a single-minded myopic focus on treating and curing diseases, their main goal was to keep people healthy. Even back in 400 B.C., doctors knew that diet and exercise were the best ways to do that. "Eating alone will not keep a man well, he must also take exercise” Hippocrates famously wrote. For millennia, physicians were the vanguards of physical education; the original PE teachers. Now it’s up to Fitness Professionals to help people maximize their health-span.
Year after year, there are studies demonstrating that the most potent and effective way we can improve the quality and duration of life is intelligent—and consistent—physical activity. Equally compelling are the numerous studies which show that as our weekly minutes of physical activity decrease, risk of premature death significantly increases. People with low levels of physical activity are at higher risk for many different kinds of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and early death by any cause.
Fortunately, aging is not a fixed process; you can change the trajectory of your health-span. Our bodies are depreciating assets but you can significantly lower the rate of depreciation—aging—by consistently doing the right types of training: specific exercises at specific intensity levels that optimize body composition, maximize muscle mass, aggrandize bone density, heighten the connectivity of the brain and nervous system, and elevate anabolic hormone levels.
Looking at the performance of masters athletes, it’s easy to see what optimum aging looks like and what most humans desire: maximize health-span by reaching a high level of physical fitness, and then maintain it as long as possible in a concerted effort to compress ill-health into as short a time-frame as possible. It’s NEVER too late to change your trajectory for the better. Studies have demonstrated that even nonagenarians can improve their strength and overall fitness from relatively small doses of the right kinds of physical activity.
Being overweight is quickly eclipsing smoking as the leading preventable cause of cancer. A review of more than 200 studies revealed a powerful link between excess body fat and an increased risk of 11 cancers. Considering that 2 billion adults worldwide are overweight or obese, this is a serious problem of epidemic proportion. Losing weight and reducing your risk to cancer isn’t that hard if you eat right and do the right types of exercise. What is hard, is figuring out what’s right for YOU, because every body is different and responds differently to the same diet and exercise program. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t get to, and sustain, your optimum body fat percentage/weight. It’s just a matter of finding the right blend of total-body resistance training, high-intensity interval training, and a clean diet.
MAXIMIZE YOUR MUSCLE MASS
Use ‘em or lose ‘em. If you don’t give your muscle fibers a reason to stick around they will simply hitch a ride off your body and get replaced by their nemesis, fat. Being in the top 25% of muscle mass for your age-group is a significant positive predictor of longevity. Having more functional muscle is associated with a total-body neuro- protective effect, and muscular strength appears to play an important and independent role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, most adults are inadvertently succumbing to a silent and debilitating disease called sarcopenia: an age—and lack of resistance training—related diminution of skeletal muscle mass and strength resulting in up to a 50% loss of muscle tissue by the time you’re 80. Given that muscle accounts for more than half of body mass, pathological changes to this important metabolically active tissue can have profound consequences. Sarcopenia is associated with rheumatologic conditions, poor circulation, reduced immune function, and can place us at risk for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, falls, and mortality.
Fortunately, if you do it “right,” twice weekly total body resistance training—you don’t ever need to touch a weight or kettle bell— will build and preserve the muscle-mass you need to function at a high level late into life. In addition to a diet with adequate protein and nutrients, the exercises need to be of sufficient tension, range of motion, and variable velocities to elicit increases in muscle density and strength. The amount of “weight” doesn’t matter; what matters is how much total time you spend dynamically working against medium-high tension.
And it’s worth noting that the type of resistance training we employ at HardCore doesn’t increase body size. In fact, replacing fat mass with muscle mass, will actually make your body denser and more “toned” but smaller in size; not bigger!
JUMP YOUR BONES
Close to 10 million Americans have osteoporosis—a condition in which your bones become weak and brittle. Another 43 million have low bone density, which can then lead to osteoporosis. This condition is a particular threat to aging adults because it leads to serious bone fractures. More women over the age of 55 are hospitalized every year in the US due to an osteoporosis-related fracture than heart attacks, strokes or breast cancer.
The good news is that numerous studies have demonstrated that jumping and “jolting” type exercises can boost new bone formation in several different ways; and there’s a definitive link between strong muscles and strong bones. Research published in the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrates that jumping 20 times a day may have a significant impact on your risk of osteoporosis. After just eight weeks, researchers found a demonstrable change in bone mineral density in their subjects. So to keep your skeletal system smiling and supportive for the long haul, combine lots of whole-body, high tension resistance training, single-leg jumping, and upper body “jolting” exercises.
HIIT YOUR CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
Everyone knows that aerobic exercise is good for you... But what type of training is best for older exercisers? A recent Mayo clinic study demonstrated that high-intensity interval-training (HIIT), can actually reverse some cellular aspects of aging. Mayo researchers compared high-intensity interval training (HIIT), resistance training, and combined training. All training types improved body composition, but only high-intensity and combined training improved aerobic capacity and mitochondrial function. Older HIIT participants saw a 69% increase in mitochondrial capacity as well as muscle density.
The take-home message for aging adults is that the right dosage of high-intensity interval training confers both metabolic and molecular level benefits that effectively reverse some of the effects of aging. The tricky part of adding HIIT to your training regime is reaping the rewards without getting injured. In addition to a progressive warmup, choosing the proper exercise modalities and work/rest intervals is imperative to getting better without getting hurt.
SCHOOL YOUR NERVES
Human beings evolved to move. Our bodies, including our brains, were fine-tuned for endurance activities over many millennia of stalking and chasing down prey. Movement is literally medicine for the body, particularly the nervous system and the brain. As you age, what you don’t move, eventually won’t move. So it’s important to include lots of different asymmetrical, unilateral, multi-dimensional movement patterns—up/down, side-to-side, forward/back, rotation—in your workouts so you can maintain coordination, balance, and agility. Even if you’re not an athlete, you need to keep working on activities that improve your total-body coordination, dynamic balance, and agility. Move it, or lose it...
If you can’t seem to get excited about making your body younger and better, let’s shift gears and talk about your brain on exercise. A few things happen in the exerciser’s brain that make the organ appear younger. Research shows that aging exercisers have increased gray-matter volume in regions associated with general intelligence and executive function—the very same regions that tend to be hit hardest as we age—which encompasses everything from attention to planning, to problem-solving skills. A lot of studies also show that aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus—which is really critical for memory—and reduces the risk to Alzheimer’s.
HACK YOUR HORMONES
Those of you who "go hard—enough—or go home” a couple times per week in your HardCore Training sessions are happily familiar with the blissful hormonal high that is the guaranteed reward for your efforts. Post-workout endorphins, growth hormone, and testosterone levels are elevated for hours resulting in a feel-good body/mindset for the rest of the day. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the acute anabolic response to HIIT and high-tension/high volume resistance training is critical for exercise performance and subsequent training adaptations. By planning your workouts intelligently, you can naturally manipulate your hormonal system to get an optimal testosterone and growth hormone response, which aid in delivering the age-reversing effects of the training session.
One study showed that High-Intensity Interval Training consisting of 8 sprint intervals—with a brief rest between each—increased human growth hormone levels by an average of 771%. This increase more than likely contributed to the significant amount of body fat subjects lost during the course of the study. Conversely, studies have shown that too much high-volume (lots of hours), medium intensity, hiking, biking and running, can reduce anabolic hormone levels by up to 40%.
In order to take full advantage of your natural-given performance enhancers, shoot for 2 sessions per week of multi-joint, big muscle, high-tension, high volume, resistance training with short rest periods. Pair that up with High Intensity Intervals on the SkiErg, Row Erg, Schwinn Air Dyne and treadmill, lots of fun jumping, agility, coordination and balance training, and you’ve got yourself an age-reversing life-altering HardCore Training session. Of course to avoid injury, the intensity, load, and volume of each exercise need to be perfectly scaled to match the capabilities of each person.
And after you’re done training, don’t forget to take care of yourself for the other 23 hours of the day. Eat well, avoid alcohol—an ill-reputed testosterone assassin—and take advantage of rest days to give your body a chance to use that hormone surge you worked so hard for. And because the highest levels of growth hormone are achieved while you sleep, remember to get plenty of shut-eye to maximize the adaptations from your efforts.
TRAIN SMART TO GROW YOUNG
There are many different ways to exercise your body. As long as you’re having fun, and not getting hurt, you’re probably doing yourself some good. But it’s important to keep in mind that just because you’re “exercising,” and moving, and pushing some weight around, and holding a hard pose, and sweating profusely, and getting sore, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing the right work, at the right intensity, and the right volume, to stimulate your bones, muscles, cardiovascular system, hormones, brain and nervous system to GROW younger, better and happier. The anti-aging training program that we employ takes into account the latest scientific research and marries it to the movements and exercises that provide the greatest reward with the least amount of risk and time commitment.
Do what you love, but make time to do the work that keeps your body and brain optimized for the long haul... And we—my wife (who happens to be an incredible athlete with a B.A. in Engineering, M.B.A., and is a certified Personal Trainer) and I—will do everything we can to make the HardCore Training anti-aging pill easy to swallow. Have a nice July, and reach out if you’re interested in turning back the clock and finding the younger, stronger, happier version of yourself :)