Is Exercise the Elixir of Eternal Youth?

At present there is no scientifically proven pill, surgical procedure or other shortcut to retaining our health and wellbeing as we age.  However there is huge amount of evidence that exercise and activity can help us maintain our wellbeing and independence with each extra candle on our birthday cake!

What happens as we age?

i. Muscles shrink with age, especially if they are not stressed positively. Key to maintaining their plumpness is fast twitch muscle fibre – these are responsible for muscle growth, speed and power. We will all experience a 10% decline in muscle mass between the ages of 25 and 50 and a further 45% shrinkage by our eighth decade, if we do nothing about it.

The solution: weight train with medium to heavy weights. Do: 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps at 70-80%. 1 rep maximum.

ii. Muscle building hormones decline with age, especially Human Growth Hormone (HgH) and testosterone.  These ‘chemical messengers’ are stimulated by
exercise and will improve all manner of aspects of physical performance and wellbeing.

The solution: workout, but the more intense the exercise the greater the stimulatory response.

iii. Loss of fast twitch muscle fibre.

Fast twitch muscle fibre is crucial for producing speed and power; it declines to a much greater extent than endurance producing slow twitch
fibre as we age. 

The solution: as 1 above and also, if you are able, perform sprints and dynamic movements.

iv. Decline in strength and power producing muscle compounds such as creatine phosphate. With less of this quick release energy in our muscles, we’ll be less able to tackle high intensity sprint type workouts as we age.

The solution: do interval training, for example, cycle for 30sec at 90% effort, recover for 30 sec and repeat this cycle for 3-10 reps, depending on your fitness.

v. Declining flexibility

With age our soft tissue (muscle, ligaments and tendons harden) and our joints stiffen. This can significantly impinge on everyday activities let alone fitness training.

The solution: stretch and do regular yoga classes. Also consider doing Pilates as this will help to strengthen the deep core, upper and lower back muscles which will all help maintain spinal stability and strength. Pilates will also help to keep the chest lifted, which in turn will help with breathing, as the bent over kyphotic posture pulls the ribs downwards, shortens the rectus abdominus, lengthens the erector spinae and trapezius which leads to an inability to use the intercostal muscles properly.

vi. Reduced heart and lung capacity

The sedentary could experience a 10-15% drop in CV ability for every decade after 30 and perhaps more importantly a less efficient and potentially more disease prone heart.

The solution: CV train – heart and lung function can be significantly improved by regular CV training, irrespective of age. There is evidence that a sensible CV programme can stop or reverse the decline of function.  HIIT Training can be particularly effective.