Many people ask me for my “number one” piece of anti-aging advice. I echo the sage recommendation of authors Crowley and Lodge in their wonderful book, “Younger Next Year”, which is this: do some vigorous physical exercise an hour a day, six days a week, for the rest of your life. You don’t really have to enjoy it; you just have to do it! As you age, focus on lower intensity and lower impact, but increase the duration.
In terms of disease prevention as well as the maintenance of healthy body weight and composition, nothing beats regular exercise. On average, we lose at least three pounds of muscle every decade of our adult lives. Most don’t even notice their muscle being replaced with fat because it happens so gradually.
So what is the right kind of physical activity to do for building real muscle strength? Dr. Gareth Jones, a UBCO professor, has demonstrated that aging is the study of “drooping lines” as our functions decline toward disability. How can we prevent this inexorable decline? Exercise truly is “the elixir of youth”, and Dr. Jones focuses his research on the frequency, type, and intensity of activities that best keep us from crossing that disability threshold. The best way to build muscle strength, he says, is through vigorous physical exertion. You want to put your body through natural patterns of movement, and there are many ways to accomplish this. Dr. Jones recommends a combination of strength training and calisthenics, together with endurance and interval training, stating “one must take daily exercise, which is as necessary as daily hygiene.”
Strength training can involve working with weights such as dumbbells or a “universal gym”, or against the resistance of elastic bands. Calisthenics refers to moving against the resistance of your own body weight, including pushups, sit-ups, and yoga. A recent development in calisthenics is the use of webbing straps with handles called “TRX” available at many gyms including the YMCA. Examples of endurance training include cycling, running, swimming, and brisk walking (like you’re late for an appointment!). To get the most mileage out of your endurance training it is important to also include intervals of higher intensity followed by periods of relative recovery.
How much exercise should one try to get? For those who are accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, I recommend starting with 30 to 40 minutes 3-4 times a week and gradually working up to 45 to 60 minutes 5-6 times a week. One of the best ways to get started is with a gym membership and a personal trainer. A coach will ensure you perform exercise with the correct body mechanics, will motivate you when needed, and will help monitor your progress. People who workout in groups stick to their goals more consistently than those that workout alone, so consider joining an exercise class.
For over a year now, I have been working out regularly at a studio in Kelowna called Orange Theory Fitness. This studio offers 60-minute workout sessions split into intervals of cardiovascular and strength training with heart rate monitors to track intensity and maximize metabolic burn. Heart-rate monitored training is designed to keep heart rates in a target zone that stimulates metabolism and increases energy. Working out in a group provides accountability and structure to help me achieve my fitness goals. I find I am more likely to get a great workout and better results from the well-rounded sessions and pace direction I get in the group setting at Orange Theory. Having a coach motivates me to pick up the pace and reach beyond plateaus.
Additional benefits of exercise include reduced susceptibility to disease, lower blood pressure, better HDL cholesterol, better reaction times and mental clarity, better quality of sleep, improved balance and coordination, relief from stress, and improved wellbeing and outlook. The choices you make now will pay big dividends in your health over the decades to come. Don’t put this off: think of it as a job you need to accomplish. Keep your routine varied and interesting, but carve out the time to include regular exercise as an essential part of your week. Remember: your body is the only place you get to live, so you need to look after it!
Your partner in Living Longer Better,
Dr. Grant Pagdin, MD
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