Getting older is not something people in our culture like to talk about; however, we are all aging from the minute we are born. Evi, my 14 year old client reminds me each time we train (beginning in April) that her birthday is coming up…..in December. I’m not sure when we make the transition from feeling excited about our next our next “upcoming” birthday to “dreading” our upcoming birthday, but Evi reminds me weekly that we were ALL at one time excited about the “aging” process. Personally, I believe I made this switch in my early 30’s. That’s when I began celebrating my 28th birthday over and over again. But, the funny thing is, I LOVED my 30’s.
Today I prefer to celebrate my biological age more than my chronological age. I decided many years ago to refuse to allow our culture to determine how I feel and the state of my health and strength because of my age. Instead, I choose daily actions that will help my body to remain strong and vibrant and to age as slowly as possible and without limitations. This is actually what is what the human body was designed to do.
On a daily basis I hear phrases like, “Getting old sucks!” My clients report to me that their doctors told them that their Osteoarthritis is just a symptom of getting old. Women are told that losing weight after age 40 is difficult at best but generally impossible. We believe as a culture that heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, dementia and lethargy are consequences of aging. Many people believe they are victims of an uncontrollable aging process. But this is not true. Although, it’s true we are going to “age” no matter what, age is not the enemy. What takes you out of the game too soon, is losing your ability to function AND that IS something you do have control over.
Beginning in your 20’s and 30’s your habits will begin to determine how you look and feel as you age. If you want to lose your ability to function, wrinkle like a raisin, lose your brains and make yourself more prone to lifestyle related diseases continue sitting for six or more hours a day, eating all of the processed foods you desire, sleeping too little, allowing your hormones to be out of balance, letting your fat stores build up and letting stress rule your life. It’s easy to shorten your health span.
Did you know that signs of osteoarthritis have been seen children and teenagers? (See references at the end of this article for more information) Humans aren’t so different from nice cars in terms of wear and tear. The harder you are on your brand new car, the quicker it will wear out. The same is true for our bodies. Both over use and under use are hard on your body and wear your cells down more quickly. Believe it or not, sitting for hours at a time every day is one of the hardest things we do to our joints and body systems. Sitting too much creates movement patterns that cause pain in your neck, shoulders, low back and hips, and it sends the message to your brain and body that you are decaying. The same is true if you pound yourself into the ground everyday by over exercising and under-recovering. Eating too much or too little, living on processed foods, creating more stress than you can handle and not sleeping enough are all actions that will accelerate your aging process by turning on genes that accelerate aging and by making you more vulnerable to heart disease, obesity, osteoarthritis and dementia.
I am a fan of Dr. Sara Gottfried. Her newest book is called, Younger: A Breakthrough Program To Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years
According to Dr. Gottfried there are five culprits that can speed up your aging process and make it miserable if ignored or abused.
1) YOUR MUSCLES:
If you ignore your muscles, meaning you are choosing a sedentary lifestyle and you are not training your muscles at all. You are choosing to ALLOW your muscles and your strength to fade away. You are giving away your ability to live a long HEALTHY life. The human body is built to move. Generally speaking, aging begins in your muscles. If you aren’t maintaining or building muscle you will lose about five pounds of muscle every decade (beginning in your 30’s.) To top that off, ignored muscles become doughy and fatty, like a marbled fatty piece of steak. Yup! I just wrote that! Nobody likes fatty gritty meat.
Do you sit for more than six hours a day? Before you answer that, add up ALL the sitting you do each day. Make sure to add in the time you sit at a desk, drive in your car while traveling to and from work and driving the kids to their sports and lessons, sitting for dinner, helping your kids with their homework, when you are out to dinner and at home sitting in front of the TV and the computer.
Here’s a few more statistics about prolonged sitting (for six or more hours a day) and how this translates to increased risks for several bad scenarios.
- Prolonged sitting increases the risk of diabetes by 112%, the risk of cardiovascular disease by 147%, the risk of cancer by 29% and the risk of dying due to a disease or accident (like falling) by 50 percent.
- Just one day of prolonged sitting (6 hours or longer) lowers your insulin response, making it more likely that you’ll store fat instead of burning it.
- Sitting for long periods is a direct cause of disc compression and a stiff spine, leading to major low back issues.
- Prolonged sitting causes varicose veins.
- Lack of exercises weakens your bones, which is called osteopenia (thinning bones). Osteopenia bones are thin and crispy….they break easily and don’t repair well.
When you ignore your muscles they shrink and you lose your strength to get up off the floor, take the stairs and to play with your kids and grandkids. Walking through Disneyland becomes very difficult if not impossible, getting in and out of your car hurts, and you throw your back out reaching for the toilet paper. Losing muscle as you age makes you more prone to falling and when you fall you are more prone to breaking your hip. Remember that 20 percent of people who break their hip die within a year due to lack of movement. If this is not okay with you, then stop telling yourself you’re going to start “Monday” and start today.
2) YOUR PLIABLE BRAIN:
In the absences of injury and disease the human brain will age gradually and it will maintain its cognitive abilities. Taking care of your brain over your lifetime actually increases your language skills, vocabulary and even your problem solving skills, as you age. Yes, as you age! Think about it: as we get older, we are no longer “new,” to problem solving, words and language. We become more advanced.
The key is to focus on helping your brain to keep regenerating new neuropathways and to keep it malleable (like Playdough) as you age. A ridged brain is a dying brain. Your brain, like your muscles will actually atrophy without stimulation. Below are more ways to keep your brain healthy as you age:
- Regular physical exercise,
- Eating clean and keeping your insulin levels low (fasting 70-85mg/dL)
- Continuously educating yourself (taking continuing education classes, mastering your craft, learning new skills)
- Positive social ties, surrounding your self with people who lift your spirits and raise the bar (and I don’t mean the drinking bar!)
- Keeping inflammation in your body LOW
One of the best exercises to build neuropathways in your brain is to take dance lessons with a partner or box with a partner, because you have to learn new movements in your own body while anticipating your partner’s movements.
3) YOUR HORMONES:
Hormones are the messengers to almost all of the life sustaining processes in our bodies. Mood swings, fatigue, low sex drive and weight gain are not conditions that can be cured with a drug. These are also not aging issues. Instead, they are hormone imbalance issues. Your environment, your mindset, the amount of stress in your life, your food choices and even the chemicals in the lotions, soaps and other products you apply to your skin daily can affect your hormone levels.
If ignored and abused your hormones will wear out as you age. In fact, hormonal problems are one of the top accelerators of aging. Eating the right foods, sleeping seven to eight hours every night, exercising daily and surrounding yourself with the right tribe can all reverse many hormone imbalance issues associated with aging.
4) YOUR GUT:
Your gut health is a huge factor the acceleration or deceleration of your aging process. About 70 percent of your immune system can be found within the lining of your gut (see references at the end of this article.) Excess inflammation and autoimmune conditions actually begin in your gut.
Between your mouth and your rear end, your gastrointestinal tract should contain three to five pounds of microbes, mostly bacteria that actually keep your body functioning at optimal levels. Research continues to show that your microbiome greatly affects your hormone levels and functioning, which of course affects your aging process, mood, immunity and way more.
As a culture, we place so little emphasis on what we put in our mouths as a determinant of our over all physical AND mental health. As I’m writing this I am sitting on an airplane and the food people are eating makes my arteries hurt! This lack of understanding or willingness to understand is making people fatter at an extraordinary pace and aging us equally as fast. The term, “You are what you eat,” is more true than we give it credit for. If you want to feel better, look better, increase your immune system function and lower your risk of many PREVENTABLE diseases it’s time to start paying attention to what you are putting in your mouth everyday, including “quick fix,” medications.
5) GETTING AND KEEPING THE TOXINS OUT:
We all know that fat is a storage molecule. What you may not have thought about fat this way before. It’s important to understand that toxins from your environment can accumulate in your stored fat cells. Scientists call these toxins gerontogens, which are similar to carcinogens. Gerontogens like carcinogens can increase your risk of cancer and accelerate your aging process at the same time. Examples of some of the toxins that can accumulate in your fat cells include cigarette smoke, heavy metals, contaminated drinking water, plastics, preservatives, pesticides, UV rays and pollution.
I understand that some of our exposure to certain toxins may not be unavoidable, but you do have control over how much fat you allow to be stored on your body. My genetics are geared to make my body prefer to store fat, so I learned many years ago, as teenager, that if I didn’t want to add to my fat stores I had to watch what I put into my mouth and I had to exercise daily. The type of food you choose to put in your mouth and how you choose to move your body everyday can either set off or quiet the genetic flaws (like the tendency to store more fat) that may cause you to accumulate these toxins your body. That said, belly fat is the type of fat you need to focus on burning first.
Belly fat is the type of fat that stores toxins, its biochemically different than subcutaneous fat (the fat right under your skin.) Subcutaneous fat is the kind of fat that makes up the “bat wings” (on the under part of arms) and the fat on thighs and butts. Belly fat, is called visceral fat. This type of fat is found deeper in your abdomen. It can surround your organs and it produces a chemical concoction of inflammatory chemicals that accelerates aging while making you feel crappy at the same time. You want to keep this type of fat low. Good news though, visceral (belly) fat tends to burn off before your body will use the “subcutaneous” fat found under your skin.
Don’t wait until you have significant health problems to start taking care of your body and brain. The first step you can take is to get on your path to aging gracefully AND increasing your healthspan is to find a strong community of support (people who are on the long HEALTHSPAN path.)
I tend to be the type that creates more stress than necessary and loves to exercise hard (sometimes too much) and I’m still practicing and learning the whole balance thing. My point is that I understand how difficult it can be to change habits whether you are trying to incorporate exercise into your life, create a more balanced exercise routine, incorporate clean eating into your life or you are trying to integrate some sort of meditation practice into you life.
It is true that after age 40 we tend to take longer to recover from an injury than we used to, and indulging in a piece of cheese cake with your friends may show up on places on your body much more quickly than it did in your 20’s and 30’s. However, we do have choices about how quickly and painfully our bodies and minds will age. Heart disease, diabetes, dementia and certain cancers don’t just hit us one day for no reason. These diseases take time to brew and develop in our systems….they are generally caused by the small daily choices we make that make up our lifestyles. There are definitely genetic contributions to diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease but over and over and over again research shows that 90 percent of our aging process is dependent on our environments, lifestyle and every day behaviors.
This information can empower you or piss you off. Most importantly, you have the choice to ignore this information or to act on it. Complaining won’t help the process, but action will. It doesn’t matter if you live a long life if you can’t function and you spend the last years of your life incapacitated. Instead chose to take small actions today and everyday after to increase your HEALTHSPAN, your ability to live a long and functional life. I will be following this article with many practices for you to start incorporating into your life to THRIVE instead of just survive!
Oregon State University. “Gut microbes closely linked to proper immune function, other health issues.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 September 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130916122214.htm
Arthritis In Children and Adolescents, Special Report https://www.hss.edu/conditions_arthritis-children-adolescents.asp