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Find your fountain of youth

This is an excerpt from Smarter Workouts by Pete McCall.

The effects of the aging process can greatly diminish the mechanical, metabolic, hormonal, and neural systems that help our muscles control movement. However, regular exercise and physical activity, especially of moderate to high intensity, can help ensure that these systems function at an optimal level of performance as we get older (Taylor and Johnson 2008).

From plastic surgery to Botox injections to anti-aging clinics that specialize in prescribing injections of anabolic steroids, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year pursuing the elusive fountain of youth. The harsh reality is that until time travel is invented the aging process cannot be stopped (and getting older certainly beats the alternative). The good news is that a healthy lifestyle that includes high-intensity metabolic conditioning and strength training can help slow down the aging process and be the proverbial fountain of youth. And here's a little secret: Rather than expensive, invasive medical procedures or costly and painful injections, invest your time in moderate to vigorous exercise to minimize those effects of aging. High-intensity strength training and metabolic conditioning programs can be the stimulus to produce the hormones that promote muscle growth (Candow et al. 2011; Godfrey and Blazevich 2004). If you follow the workouts in this book, you can increase the level of difficulty and intensity to the point where exercise can have a significant impact on your quality of life, helping to maintain or retain your youthful energy and appearance.

What's Age Got to Do With It?

We are all familiar with chronological age, which starts the moment we are born and is measured in years. Biological age refers to the condition of tissues and physiological systems; healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce our biological age, meaning that even though an individual could have a chronological age of 65, her biological age could only be 45. Functional age is a combination of one's functional work capacity and physical ability, and in many cases can be years younger than the actual chronological age (Taylor and Johnson 2008). We all know those individuals whose energy, enthusiasm, physical ability, and overall zest for life are years younger than their actual age. Chances are that those people are probably very active. Being active is the true fountain of youth. Being fit means being healthy and having the ability to perform physical tasks, not having a particular appearance or shape. The true sense of being fit is having the energy and ability to enjoy your favorite activities throughout your entire lifespan.

Exercise Throughout the Aging Process

Following an exercise program that includes progressively challenging workouts for both strength (the core strength programs in this book) and power (the metabolic conditioning programs) can help minimize the normal physiological effects of the biological aging process and improve your quality of life.

To provide you with a little extra motivation for starting and adhering to a long-term exercise program, table 7.2 gives an overview of the benefits of exercise during each decade of the adult lifespan.

Note: Cancer and other chronic conditions were specifically omitted from table 7.2 because they can strike at almost any stage of life. While there is no cure for cancer, establishing healthy behaviors and avoiding or limiting certain activities such as smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, and remaining sedentary for extended periods of time can certainly lower the risk of developing it and other conditions. There is no sense wasting any energy worrying about cancer; do your best to be as active as possible and make healthy choices in an attempt to reduce your risk.

Certain Exercise Programs Can Slow Down the Biological Aging Process (Really!)

Being older does not mean you can't do high-intensity exercises. Older adults can and should participate in higher-intensity exercise as long as there are no medical concerns and they follow an appropriate progression of intensity. Strength training can improve the force output of muscles, independent of age and gender, especially when there is a sufficient intensity of exercise (Hakkinen 2011).

Higher-intensity exercises like those done in metabolic conditioning and core strength training programs can promote the production of anabolic hormones that provide important anti-aging benefits.

Exercise not only creates better-functioning muscles but also a brain capable of maintaining its optimal performance throughout the aging process (Chaddock, Voss, and Kramer 2012). Research on the effects of resistance training on older adults and cognitive function has shown that resistance training has a positive effect on cognition, information processing, attention, memory formation, and executive function (Chang et. al 2012). So, as you get older, be sure to include high-intensity exercises and strength training as part of your overall training plan.

What the Science Says: What an Old Car Can Teach You About Your Body

Rebuilding and restoring an old car to like-new condition often requires replacing many worn-out parts and repainting the exterior. Even though medical technology has madeimportant advances in the area of prosthetics, due to cost and the painful recovery process, simply replacing old parts isn't an option as we age. However, gradually progressing the intensity of an exercise program to where you are strength training to a point of momentary fatigue or creating significant metabolic overload can help add new muscle, which can significantly improve your appearance in much the same way that a good paint job can help an older car look like new. In their research on how older males respond to resistance training, Izquierdo and colleagues observed that the skeletal muscle of older adults seems to retain the capacity to experience hypertrophy when the volume, intensity, and duration of the training period are sufficient (Izquierdo et al. 2001).

Just as properly maintaining the engine, waxing the paint, and storing it out of the sun can greatly enhance the longevity of an automobile, exercise programs that stimulate the production of the hormones T, GH, and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) can improve our appearance and extend our functional life span as we age.

More Excerpts From Smarter Workouts