Life sends you reality checks when you least expect them.
Just recently I had one when I saw that Arnold Schwarzenegger just celebrated his 70th birthday. 70 years old, the Oak? Didn’t he just win his last Mr. O like a couple of years ago? Talk about aging fast!
Actually a back-to-back slap in the face was that the movie “Predator” came out 30 years ago. So yes, life goes fast and you sometimes have to stop just to witness it. This is why planning ahead with training and dieting can go a long way in keeping you younger for a long time.
Aging is still a poorly understood process. We know a couple of things about it, but we are far from having the whole picture. Genetics, lifestyle and a slew of metabolic processes play a role in this, and they all interact in ways we do not yet understand.
What we know for sure though, is that a couple of key factors are major influences in this complicated phenomenon. They are: inflammation, stress, and blood sugar imbalances. Lets see how they play out and what you can do to keep them in check in order to have a better aging process.
1st Pillar of Aging – Inflammation
We all know that inflammation has a part in wound healing and diseases. If you get a bruise, the redness and swelling is caused by local inflammation. This local, acute inflammation, will cause blood vessels to dilate, thus explaining the redness. It will also draw fluid from the blood, which you notice as the swelling.
But inflammation is also a systemic phenomenon, meaning it affects the whole body. Silent sub-clinical inflammation in particular, is a kind of inflammation that can cause damage in the long run. There can be a variety of causes, from poor sleep to smoking, to food intolerances or toxicity in the body. But the “sub-clinical” part means it hasn’t reached levels where it’ll cause problems right now.
What is a concern though, is that it can do major ravages in the body if left unchecked for a long period of time. It has been associated with every major degenerative diseases known today. I’m talking about the heavy hitters here, such as: diabetes, obesity and cancer. But also things like Alzheimer’s, asthma and arthritis, for example. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should make you take inflammation seriously.
2nd Pillar of Aging – Stress
I already gave a simple, plain explanation of what can cause a person to be stressed, whether one feels it or not. What I didn’t mention was that the stress hormone, called cortisol, has a major impact on a lot of other hormonal cascades, such as insulin regulation, sex hormones production and thyroid health. It is also a major player in other very important functions such as microbiome regulation, cognition, memory, digestion and absorption and immune function, to name a few.
It can virtually affect every other system in the body. Feel bloated when stressed out? Or maybe you have trouble making decisions or remembering what you did just minutes ago? Can’t go to sleep at night? Maybe you can’t see someone coughing 20 feet away without catching it, too. All of those are related to stress. It can be the cause or at least a causal agent in virtually every health issue we have.
3rd Pillar of Aging – Blood Sugar Imbalances
Do you deserve your carbs? No? Then put that donut down!
Carbs are not evil but they have to be earned! This has been my long-standing position in nutrition and it caught me a lot of flack for the traditional nutritionists. Good thing that science caught up and has shown that carbohydrates aren’t all sugar and spice and everything nice as they were depicted for the longest while.
So what happens when you eat carbs you don’t deserve? Your blood sugar will turn into a roller coaster and your insulin will be all over the place. This has several important implications for your health. First, your energy levels will crash down, causing you to run to the nearest coffee machine. You will also notice you crave sugary foods a lot more. Then, if you have too much carbohydrates at dinner, it will negatively impact your sleep, which in turn will negatively impact your insulin sensitivity and thus create a vicious cycle. This is one of the main cause of the issues associated with aging.
Insulin Resistance -The Sliding Slope
Brutal spikes in insulin level have their consequences, too. The more insulin you produce over time, the more your cells will become resistant to it. Have you ever had to deal with a disturbing background noise? You react to it in the beginning, but after a while, you become accustomed to it and you stop noticing it. Producing high volume of insulin is just like that. Insulin is a signal, just like a noise. If it’s presented too often, for too long, your cells will grow desensitized, and your body will need to produce more of it for the same amount of carbohydrates.
Insulin resistance is the first step to fat gain, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. It will negatively affect your health markers such as triglycerides, cholesterol (HDL to LDL ratio) and, more importantly, to HbA1C.
HbA1C, otherwise known as glycated hemoglobin, can best be described as caramelized red blood cells. And I mean this quite literally. Glycation is the interaction of carbohydrates with protein that ends up producing molecules that “gum up” your body structures such as capillaries, nerves and eyes. They are thought to be the major cause of the damage related to diabetes, as they get caught in the small vessels in the extremities, eyes and kidneys.
As I always say: insulin is the hormone of aging. Producing more to function normally is NOT good news.
Solutions You Can Implement
Some of these solutions should be self-evident if you read this blog. Others might need more work but are still big building blocks of a healthy lifestyle that will make you age more gracefully.
Lifting is the best form of activity as it is controlled in all aspects. It’s not related to weather or any other environmental parameters contrary to most sports. You have total control on your routines and the execution of the exercises. And virtually any goals can be attained. Want to look good naked? Lift! Want to lose weight? Lift! Want to be stronger? Lift heavy stuff! Want better conditioning? Lift faster! Want to live longer? Lift… your ass off the couch!
So if you want to stay strong as you’re aging, LIFT! Quite simply, for health and wellness, if exercise could be put in a pill, it would blow every other pharmaceutical compounds out of the water: it has dramatic effects on your physical health, but also on your mental health. It’s more potent than most anti-depressants for light and moderate depression. Lifting improves cognition and mood. It increases sex drive. It is also a great stress reliever and will increase your testosterone levels. There are entire books written about this, so this is just a short list of course.
Need I mention that exercise will mobilize the anti-inflammatory systems of the body, (*which) is, bar none, the greatest factor to improve insulin sensitivity, and a great way to relax for all the stress you have? It’s also worth mentioning that lifting will have a positive impact on your health and hormonal status, contrary to cardio.
But whatever you do, ex-er-ci-se. The real enemy is sedentary lifestyle. In fact, it’s actually better to get off your ass and walk then (THAN! Come on!!!!) eating an apple if you want to keep your doctor away. SO. JUST. MOVE!
This is another self-evident one, so I’m only going to insist on two major points, besides the already mentioned management of carbohydrates in your diet. And that is the eating of healthy fats and consuming antioxidants.
Yes, fats! Even the saturated ones, which have been rehabilitated after decades of being needlessly vilified. Fats play a key role in hormonal productions, and are an integral part of your cell membrane. They compose about 40% of the weight of your brain and are essential to nerve function. They are also the favored metabolic fuel of the aerobic system, the one we use for everyday tasks and just, you know, living.
So go ahead and include fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, olives and a variety of healthy oils in your diet. You’ll be healthier for it and find aging less aggravating.
Rust-Proof Your Body
Antioxidants are molecules that will prevent your body from the effects of oxidative damages. Free radicals cause your body to rust, just like iron. Ok, not just like iron, but quite similar. If you cut an apple in two, it browns after a few minutes of being exposed to oxygen. This same phenomenon happens more slowly in the body. By eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables of different colors and spices and herbs, you get a wide spectrum of those molecules that not only add flavor to your meals, but also offer a great protection from free radicals.
Additionally, having an improved food selection will help prevent food intolerances. Better food choices, more variety and nutrient-dense foods will help bring down your inflammation and your blood sugar.
I’ve already written about how sleep can impact your health and your insulin sensitivity. Mike Mahler also made a great case of sleeping more/better to optimize androgen production. Just like eating and moving, sleeping is one of the big rocks of life and aging well. It’s literally invaluable to your health, not just for your mood the day after a bad night of tossing around in the sheets too much.
For trainees, it’s also been my experience that poor sleep is one of the most frequent hurdles in gaining mass. If you eat right and in enough quantity, train hard and still haven’t gained an ounce of muscle since the Reagan administration, try improving your sleep.
Get Away From Electromagnetic Pollution
We live in a world of waves. Wi-fi is now everywhere and we are plugged 24/7 on our devices that emit radiations. Be it your cell phone or your tablet, the TV or the radio, we are swimming in invisible waves that do have an effect on our health. The biggest one for the purpose of this article is that in certain individuals (studies suggest up to 35% of the population) who are sensitive, electro-pollution can increase insulin resistance.
Hence standing next to a machine or device that emits an electromagnetic field can worsen diabetes symptoms. It can also speed up fat gain or prevent fat loss. So think about it next time you want to go on the hamster wheel and do 30-45 minutes of mindless jogging on a treadmill.
Avoid Blue Light
This one is directly related to the previous point. Most electronic devices that have a screen use blue light technology. This wave length affects the brain and stimulates the pineal gland. This gland is the master regulator of your daily activity, known as circadian rhythm. This helps explain why people who spend a lot of time on their computer or reading on a tablet at night before going to bed have either more problem falling asleep or report poor sleep quality.
My typical recommendation for clients who don’t sleep is to avoid watching a screen three hours before going to bed. If you read, use an old-fashioned book. See if that does improve your sleep. Avoiding blue light will help master inflammation that comes from disrupted sleep pattern and messed up circadian rhythms. A large number of companies offer lights that do block blue light, and have been found to enhance quality of sleep.
There are plenty of things you can do to prevent the causes of rapid aging, and putting the simple tips described in this article will go a long way in making sure you age well and can kick ass at an advanced age.
Lift long and proper
Strength Sensei CP