How exercise hacks the aging process

Don’t you LOVE good news – especially when it relates to what you might already be doing or might start doing, that benefits your health and wellness?  Science has proven that there is no silver bullet to anti-aging but has also shown that the closest thing to it is exercise!

For decades,  research has related the effects of certain behaviors on heart disease. The 3 main questions studied were, 1) Do you smoke 2) Do you drink 3) Do you exercise? The results showed that you had healthier outcomes if you avoided 1 and 2 and did number 3! Seems like a no-brainer but times have changed.

Current studies have added that besides dying young, quality of life can be improved with regular exercise by slowing brain related diseases like Alzheimer’s.  We know that blood flow is improved, inflammation reduced and that exercise helps remove plaques and toxins from the body that can contribute to aging and early death of the cells….whew, if that not enough to get you to spin class tonight…there might be no hope left for you…just kidding! But seriously, you know the facts, and now you need to figure out the right balance for you and your lifestyle.

Here are some of my favorite quotes I recently read (some might surprise you):

  • If you want more energy…do any kind of exercise 3 to 4 times per week
  • If you want to limit your doctor’s visits..count your steps with Fitbit
  • If you want to ease a chronic health problem…see a pro and go slow
  • If you are trying to lose weight or keep it off…combine strength training and cardio
  • If you want to be less stressed or depressed…exercise regularly – but not too hard

These are simple thoughts with profound results and exactly why we practice strength, cardio, and flexibility training at Agility Studio. And the reason we tailor specifically to a custom vs. one size fits all approach – everyone is trying to reach a different goal!

graphic by Aaron Steckelberg for the Washington Post

When the athletic woman hits menopause and the waves of estrogen finally cease for good, you just have to figure out your new normal. The great news is that there are so many pros to combat the many cons. I’ve compiled a few worth mentioning from a recent article in the Washington Post:
MOJO wanes, the engine slows, “Menopot” belly happens, bones get thinner, muscles shrink, sleep quality suffers, heat is harder to handle, and flexibility decreases…just to name a few….YIKES!!!!

WAIT!! Before you close this post…here’s my money$$$$ paragraph about how exercise hacks the aging process. This is something that affects all of us including the menopausal woman -according to Belgian researchers, we need more NRF1! That’s Nuclear Respiratory Factor which protects sections of the chromosomes called telomeres (telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips of a shoelace) from getting shorter and shorter. The shorter the telomeres, the older the cell and its effect on the aging process.  Genetics, sleep, diet, stress, and exercise all play a role in the NRF1 relationship….now back to how exercise can help the menopausal woman and her symptoms.

“Exercise is a known stress reliever and mood booster to help you deal with the fluctuating levels of estrogen that can make you cranky.”

“Exercise is a known stress reliever and mood booster to help you deal with the fluctuating levels of estrogen that can make you cranky.”According to Monica Serra, research scientist at the VA Maryland Health Care System who has written about post-menopausal competitive athletes, “You feel better about yourself because you’re accomplishing what you can..and that makes you more able to deal with stressors.” When you think about it, that’s huge because some things are still in your control and that makes you feel better when your body continually seems like an out of whack mystery.

With the 5-9% drop in aerobic capacity beginning in your 30s, this is a huge motivating factor to know that athletes have a greater blood volume than those who don’t exercise and is encouraging for women to keep moving and be regular with cardiovascular exercise like spin or speed walking.

Dr. Elizabeth Vliet, author of women, weight, and hormones, writes, “From an evolutionary standpoint,  the challenge of breaking down carbs and storing them as fat was designed to save our lives as we aged because food was scarce and harder for us to forage. These days, food is overly available, we don’t eat as naturally, have too much sugar, don’t get pregnant as often, are living longer, and have an increase in overall stress. Consequently, some of the natural roles of our hormone metabolic effects (fat storage) are working against us.”

Studies have shown that women who exercised 4-5x per week have less total body fat than women half their age and visceral fat (fat stored in and around the organs vs subcutaneous fat underneath your skin) stores were similar to sedentary women a third their age! NICE!!

In the 5-7 years postmenopause, a woman’s bones can lose up to 20% of their density. I have worked both with women in their early 40s with severe osteoporosis and women in their early 70s with no sign of it. Is it diet? DNA? A life of exercise previous to hitting the change? It can’t hurt to shore up your body with good bone density habits inside and out in the early years to protect vulnerable areas like the hips and spine. Get in your 40 jumps per day, yay!

Heat can be hard handle! I asked Tori Hudson, well-known  OBGYN, author, and women’s health expert the simple question of what can I do to help my menopausal clients from overheating? She told me to “…get them sweating and often!” I loved that answer, it’s like a reset of the internal core temp. I also asked this question to my first Pilates instructor that ran marathons on 7 continents as a senior citizen and she told me she was too busy sweating to notice a hot flash which makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. The more we baby the symptoms and feed into the “something is wrong with me” mentality and run from it, the more you might find yourself sweating through your business clothes wishing you were some place else. I am no doctor but common sense tells me that sweating more on purpose might just be a natural remedy for hot flashes! 🙂

People who exercise regularly generally sleep better, although, I have had many clients, both men and women, that try just about everything natural and still struggle with the imbalance of naturally occurring melatonin. Magnesium, low lights, routine, golden milk with turmeric, stretching, listening to Enya, reading, meditation… these can all help, but it’s best to try to be consistent with what is modifiable – exercise, food, water, caffeine, and the times to affect sleep and to see what you are really working with before taking supplements.

My least favorite thing to mention – but also something I am most curious about observing in my own body – is the fact that our muscles shrink and flexibility decreases. Will I notice it from the outside with my eyes, or will I feel it “missing” one day? The most important concept to address with aging is our eating because we can’t just work out harder as we age, it just doesn’t make sense. I have pictures of 80-year-old dancers and triathletes in my head, as well as women who have aged gracefully, that continue to hike and stay active to the best of their ability.

There is so much we can do to ward off the decline of our form and function with continued strength and flexibility training, along with adequate protein and nutrition. One of the hardest things to do for athletes of any age is to stay balanced and in the “truth zone” of where you really are, what you are capable of, and knowing if what and how you are doing it is building you up or breaking you down.

My parting thought is this…just when you get prepared to start slowing down or adjusting to your new normal, check the finishing times in triathlons and hard endurance bike races just for perspective. Women in their 40’s and 50’s can hold some of the most competitive times! Go figure.  The older we get, the better, the wiser, more seasoned, more balanced. No pressure to keep up with anyone but your own truth, your inner athlete, your personal goals….cheers to aging gracefully and welcoming new chapters??

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