Sweat: The Fountain of Youth

Gretchen Reynolds of the NY Times reports about some very promising experiments with mice that indicate vigorous exercise slows and, in some cases, reverses the negative effects of aging. What surprised the investigators was that exercise not only had an age retarding effect on muscles, including the heart, but all the tissues in the body.

This is promising news. Too many people (a much higher percentage than exercise hard) are preoccupied with hiding the surface effects of aging. Superficial stuff like face lifts, human growth hormone injections, botox injections, and laser vein removal are a multi-billion dollar business. But those are all only skin deep and have nothing to do with health and maintaining your ability to live independently as you age. What's really important to your long term well-being is what's going on under your skin.

The big three debilitating conditions of old age are:

Muscle Loss - You can't lift groceries or walk to a car. You lose your balance and become prone to falls.
Brain Shrinkage - You can't remember things, get confused easily, can't manage your money.
Bone loss - You become prone to fractures when you fall.

Yes, there are some others like a lower sex drive or less bladder control, but those are inconveniences when compared with the life-altering problems caused by the big three.

A TOJ practices a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, especially resistance, to delay the big three. The variety of exercises is fun, but, more importantly, cause more beneficial results in your body. Sometimes you read that an everyday activity such as walking 30 minutes is enough keep you strong and healthy. I have a hunch it takes more than that. Exercise physiologists have known for a long time that it's necessary to interrupt the routine equilibrium of the muscles for them to grow stronger. As you age, you must make them work in different ways just to maintain their strength and mass. The good news is that you can sustain much of your muscle strength and function well into old age.

Focus on your muscles and most other things will take care of themselves. When you work the muscles hard you will also keep invigorating blood flow to the brain (and stimulate Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, the elixir of brain health) and place stress on the bones, which naturally stimulates them to grow stronger. Your exercise must be supported by a diet with lots of protein, minerals and phytonutrients found in vegetables and fruit to provide the rebuilding in your tissues which occurs after exercise.

You don't want to be one of those people who suffer the big three because they just assume that as you age you are supposed to be more sedentary and let your body fall into disuse, as if  your natural role is to spend all your time sitting on your butt playing chess or poker. Resist the stereotypes you see on TV. Ignore the absence of grey-hairs in sports magazines.

Reynolds reports that one of the professors in charge of the study was impressed how the older mice who exercised had still kept their hair. His younger graduate students were more impressed by how the mice's ovaries and gonads had maintained a healthy size. Now all the grad students exercise. Yep, makes you want to pump some iron.

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