Is It All Downhill As We Age?
My husband is simply mad for Life Extension, using a number of their products and reading their magazine. Over the years I have fallen for this company as well, with their impeccable research. So when I saw an interview in the latest issue called “Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging” I was intrigued.
The interview was with the authors of a new book called “Choosing the Strong Path” all about a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle and strength called “sarcopenia.” Due to long term inactivity and poor diet, the authors insist this condition develops because of lifestyle, not aging itself…and it’s not inevitable.
Now you might be thinking that this doesn’t apply to you. You’re younger or you’re already fit. But most of us have older family members or friends and this disorder goes further than weak muscles. Much more than limiting someone’s mobility, loss of strength or an increased tendency to fall, sarcopenia is associated with an increased risk of infections, pneumonia, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. No matter how young you are, you can’t begin to prevent these plagues early enough!
The theory that drives the authors’ thinking is that we can choose to fight aging or we can embrace it, making our later years the best they can be. Reading this interview made me think of my lovely husband. A runner for more than 42 years, Robert is completely committed to fitness and thinks it’s as an important a driver of his wellness and strength as is our diet.
Robert and I have always controversially said that if we had to choose between eating well and exercise, we would choose exercise, as important as food is to us. We both hold to the idea that lack of exercise has significant negative effects on us as humans. We don’t think that anyone is placing the focus strongly enough on the detrimental impact of sedentary living…at all.
Statistics back us up. More than one-third of adults are inactive; another one-third is not active enough to make a difference in their wellness. We see the results: bone troubles are rampant; obesity is a modern plague as is heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. These conditions contribute to chronic inflammation that robs us of our health and vitality.
Look, all of us are prone to sarcopenia as we age if we aren’t vigilant. But experience shows us that we don’t have to become frail as we age. It’s not pre-determined. In fact, it’s possible to be stronger as older adults than we were as younger adults. It all depends on how you train your body.
We begin to lose muscular skeletal strength in our 30’s. Yup…our 30’s. Without care, we become weaker each year, with the process accelerating in our 50’s, speeding up even more in our 60’s with an exponential loss of lean tissue after 75. If we don’t commit to strength and fitness in our youth, a deadly spiral begins. We’re weaker, so we don’t work out. We don’t work out and we get weaker. By the time we’re older, we’re weak and sickly.
You might be thinking big muscles are not your goal. You don’t care to look like Ah-nold. Okay, I hear you. You do want to be strong though, right? There’s nothing sexier than a strong body. And remember that muscle tissue is the primary reserve of amino acids, which are key to the health of our immune system. Do I have your attention now? There’s no downside to being strong. And as my trainer famously says, you get bulky from what you eat, not what you lift.
What if you’re right at the beginning of working out? You know nothing about it and worry you’ll hurt yourself. If you have the resources, join a gym and hire a trainer for a few sessions to ensure your form is correct so you can safely build your strength. If you’ll be working out at home, watch a couple of videos on form and start small. Try 1-2 pushups, a few bicep curls and a couple of squats and build from there. The most important thing, whether you’re at home or at a gym is to be consistent. My husband always says that working out should be like brushing your teeth: you wouldn’t even think of skipping it. And the best news is that if you commit and work out every day (6 days actually, with 1 day of rest), in a mere three weeks, it will be a habit and you’ll be hooked for life. You’ll build your strength and continue to challenge yourself each day, week, month and year, becoming your strongest as you age.
What role does diet play? Do you need to abandon your lovely, compassionate plant-based diet for a high-protein caveman approach to eating in order to get and stay strong? Do we need to supplement out the wazoo for strength?
I train hard, 4-5 days a week and I walk 6-7 days a week. I am on my feet most of the day and I teach on weekends. My life is deliciously physical and I would not have it any other way. I feel as though my day is not quite complete unless there’s a trickle of sweat running down my back.
I take a few supplements, mostly for my “maturing skin.” (Hahahahahahahaha…) I also supplement with injections of vitamin B 12 because my body doesn’t store it, but I travel with My Kind B-12 Spray by Alicia Sliverstone (and I love it). I take vitamin D since no one in the Northeast (or so it seems) gets enough sun, despite what the new studies have shown. (Critics say the study asked the wrong questions so who knows?)
Mostly, I take my strength from my food. I get plenty of protein in the form of beans and bean products at two meals a day. I eat whole grains once a day (millet and quinoa are superb sources of protein) and lots of seasonal vegetables cooked in a variety of ways…or uncooked, depending on the vegetable, the dish and the day. I do find that I need more salads when I train hard to help my body to relax post-session. I eat more fruit than I did in years past, mostly for energy pre-workout and for a boost post-workout. And soup, always soup, daily, despite the weather.
I have found that my plant-based eating leaves me with flexible muscles and no hardness in my body (or veins and arteries). Now lest you think I am going all vegan on you, let me be clear: I’m going all vegan on you. Nothing nourishes the body better than an animal-free diet. I know what we read and hear, but honestly, I can’t think of anyone sane endorsing more meat in our diets. The World Health Organization says that humanity would be healthier and the planet would be better off if we ate less…or no meat or animal foods. If all of us ate one meatless meal a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 4-6 million cars off the road.
So…conclusion? Working out creates long term strength and wellness and healthy vegan eating is the icing on your vegan cake.
Just do it…as the saying goes.