The science of aging and how to age gracefully and successfully continues to evolve, and the results are amazing. The accepted norm for an aging adult is crumbling before our eyes! This is such a wonderful time to grow older! Many age-related declines can be counteracted with exercise, diet, and lifestyle modifications. What are my top 10 anti-aging tips? Let’s get started!
- Improve your growth hormone production – Strength training (focusing particularly on large muscle groups with appropriately heavy loads) has been proven to improve growth hormone levels. High intensity training (HIT) performed once or twice per week may also help to increase growth hormone levels. A proper diet is also the key to improving hormone levels by including adequate protein and fat levels while avoiding excess sugar. An adequate amount of sleep also plays a major role in growth hormone production.
- Regulate your insulin production – Strength and endurance training have a positive effect on your body’s ability to regulate insulin levels. Strength and cardiovascular training are a critical part of a maintenance program for diabetes. To maintain an even energy level throughout the day, a stable insulin level is critical. Diabetes prevention is important in order to avoid cardiovascular disease and dementia.
- Maintain your strength – Although all muscle fibers show some decline as you age, the fast twitch (Type II) fibers show the most decline. Again, strength training is a critical component to maintaining and growing additional Type II muscle fibers. The stronger you are, the more resistant to injury you are. Also, strengthening of the core area (the abdominals and back extensors) helps to manage low back pain.
- Keep your heart healthy – Decreased stroke volume, cardiac output, and a decreasing maximal heart rate are all age associated declines. These declines affect your ability to perform maximum efforts. Strength training (particularly incorporating large muscle groups such as performing squats and HIT) can insure the heart remains strong by maximizing its ability to pump blood. HIT appears to be one of the best methods available to slow the progression of a decreased maximal heart rate. Strength and endurance training cause the heart muscle to hypertrophy. The heart is capable of growing stronger just like any other muscle.
- Perform high intensity training (HIT) – As you age, your VO2 max can decline. VO2 max is the maximal amount of oxygen you can uptake during exercise or activity. HIT has been proven to increase a person’s VO2 max, so incorporating all types of HIT is important. Activities could include CrossFit, running intervals, or hill repeats. Perform your cardio in short bursts (ranging from 30-60 seconds at a time) followed by a one to two minute recovery. The 30-60 seconds should be at a high intensity, meaning your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is high. You should be breathing heavy. If you are overweight or have arthritis, HIT may be performed while using a stationary bicycle or in the pool. You can also walk uphill at a quick pace, then stop and rest.
- Use a foam roller – As a person ages, the body tends to become stiffer as it loses elastin. This negatively affects a person’s range of motion (ROM). It also makes the muscle and tendon fibers more likely to tear if overstretched. I recommend that everyone participate in a flexibility program. (The older you are, the more important this becomes.) Mobility and flexibility become more difficult if you aren’t purposefully working on it. Yoga is an excellent choice as well as utilizing the foam roller. Using a foam roller can help keep tissues pliable. Regular use may also beneficial as it helps improve arterial stiffness and can improve arterial and vascular function. To learn how to use a foam roller, please refer to Does Foam Rolling Help or Hurt Your Performance?
- Manage your weight – Excessive body weight causes abnormal wear and tear on your body (particularly in the knees and feet). It also places additional strain on your cardiovascular system and increases your risk of diabetes—thus increasing your risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia. As we age, our metabolism begins to slow. Maintain a diet rich in protein (particularly plant based protein as well as healthy fats such as olive oil or avocados) while avoiding processed foods and excessive carbohydrate intake. A strength training and high intensity training (HIT) program can help you to maintain a suitable weight by insuring your metabolism stays elevated and your hormone levels remain balanced.
- Stimulate mitochondrial growth – Mitochondria are known as the power plant for your cells and are responsible for much of the energy production in cells. Endurance exercise stimulates mitochondrial growth. Keep moving! Also, foam rolling can help to promote more blood flow to the muscle tissues by bringing in much needed nutrients while removing wastes to help promote cell health.
- Stay active and cross train – As a person ages, the nervous system can slow and the muscular system can also decline. Balance and mobility can suffer. The best way to combat this decline is to continue to move. Move in various ways and cross train. Participate in activities like yoga and tai chi to gain the balance and motor control as well as strength and cardiovascular training. Eating adequate amounts of healthy fats also helps to support nerve function and avoid excessive carbohydrate (sugar) intake.
- Drink more water – The human body is primarily made of water, which is critical for all body functions. Adequate water intake is critical to avoid dehydration, which can be a common problem for older adults. Water intake supports proper brain, muscle, and hormone function as well as lubrication of the joints and skin appearance. Skip the fancy drinks with ingredients that you can’t pronounce and drink more water! Your body will thank you.
Many medical conditions can make aging gracefully more challenging, but don’t let it deter you from trying! Engaging in an exercise program may even help you to manage your medical condition. A lifestyle that includes a well-rounded exercise program and healthy diet can push you to the next level as you optimize your health. It is never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle!
If you are over age 50 or have never exercised before, I recommend that you take a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). The PAR-Q has been designed to identify the small number of adults for whom physical activity may be inappropriate or those who should have medical advice prior to initiating in physical activity.
With a proper exercise and nutrition program, we can strive to age gracefully and successfully and continue to enjoy our favorite activities well into our senior years. For inspiration regarding the aging process, I recommend reading Ken Dychtwald’s Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old.
What does it mean to YOU to age gracefully and successfully? Whether or not you’re still running or CrossFitting into your senior years, I’d love to hear your thoughts on aging. Please submit your comments below.
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