Throw Down The Gauntlet

I was reading an article today on masters athletes over 65 years of age; people who defy aging as we normally know it. These athletes, many from non-athletic backgrounds prior to their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are ‘growing older competitively’ which is fast becoming more the norm than the exception.

Many of us have heard of Triathlon champion Sister Madonna Buder, 86, the new face of Nike fitness, or how about Cross-fit champion, Jacinto Bonilla, 77, who adds reps to his workout every birthday: 77 squats, 77 pull ups, 77 dead-lifts and 77 push ups. And, what about Ultra-marathoner Arthur Webb 74, who has competed in the Badwater Ultra marathon-the toughest footrace in the world, 15 times. These older athletes and many more are pushing the boundaries of what it means to age.

So, why do some people live to be 100 with relatively few health issues and even thrive and others can suffer much of their lives?

The answer is in the science and…a little bit more.

As Harvard Professor Dr, John Ratey suggests in his book Spark, “to understand how aging takes divergent paths, you need to look at life and death at the cellular level.”

Ratey explains that when we age, the cells throughout our bodies gradually lose their ability to adapt to stress. Older cells have less ability to fight molecular type stressors like free radicals or excessive energy demands. Plus, the genes responsible for producing proteins slow down leading to cellular death. As the damage builds up, so does the inflammation which can become chronic and eventually lead to numerous unwanted health issues. With the aging process, our bodies start to weaken and energy levels decline making more extreme challenges difficult. But just because we are aging, isn’t enough reason to stop throwing down the gauntlet.

Challenges are important because they boost resilience and test and reward our abilities.

Plenty of research in the past decade has shown that Exercise is one of the easiest and best ways to reverse cell deterioration associated with aging and give us that natural boost to keep our bodies and brains youthful, astute and strong.

Studies by Neuroscientist Carl Cotman demonstrate a connection between the genes that control growth hormones and the genes’ ability to be stimulated by exercise. Cotman suggests this may show a way to determine how much and what types of exercise may help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, in an American Academy of Neurology study, older people who exercised showed a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occur with aging, than non exercisers.  The study showed that people who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise.

Wouldn’t everyone like to slow aging down by ten years?

I personally like the way that sounds. Imagine being healthier, stronger and fit for a significantly longer period of your total lifespan. And, who knows maybe you can throw in a few extra years along the way.

Regardless of whether you exercise a little or a lot, physical activity is making a come-back into the North American culture especially as the Boomer population is pushing the ‘older adult’ name-tag further and further out.

So, if you are not quite ready to take on the exercise challenge, have a look at Dr. Ratey’s top 9 ways exercise can improve your lifespan and slow down aging. If you are not convinced after reading the list that a little more movement can go a long way towards a healthier, happier, longer life than…step back, those 80 year old athletes are running your way

Top 9 Ways Exercise Slows Aging by Dr. John Ratey

  1. Exercise strengthens your cardio vascular system resulting in less strain on the vessels in the body and brain, boosting blood volume and increasing the release of human growth factors.
  2. Exercise regulates fuel. Exercise increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor which regulates insulin in the body and improves the synaptic plasticity in the brain.
  3. Exercise reduces obesity naturally by burning calories and reducing appetite.
  4. Exercise elevates your stress threshold by fighting the effects of too much cortisol (a product of chronic stress in the body) which is linked to depression.
  5. Exercise lifts your mood, enhances neurotransmitters and connectivity in the brain reducing the brain atrophy associated with depression and anxiety.
  6. Exercise boosts the immune system. Moderate exercise can strengthen the immune systems antibodies and T cells, which are important to alerting the body to negative conditions such as cancer. Exercise also keeps an equilibrium in the immune system to combat inflammation and disease.
  7. Exercise fortifies bones. Some form of exercise or strength training provides a positive stress on the bones helping the body’s carriage stay strong for continuous activities and warding off osteoporosis.
  8. Exercise boosts motivation by counteracting the natural decline of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in the motivation and motor systems in our bodies.
  9. Exercise fosters neuroplasticity. Aerobic exercise strengthens the connections between brain cells, creating more synapses and pushing new brain cells to divide and become functional neurons. In other words, exercise improves your brains ability to learn, remember and execute higher thought processes.