Aging Like A Fine Wine
By: Amy Chang Radosevich, MA, ACSM, ACE, AFAA
Typically, I’d write about setting resolutions and making them stick at this time of the year. If that’s what you’re interested in reading, check out my article from last January as I think it’s still highly relevant and a fun read. I know writing about aging seems morbid or depressing for the start of the year, but we all age and perhaps I can help dispel some of the myths or long held beliefs so we can feel more in control of this journey called life.
Most of my clients not only want to look better, but more importantly feel healthier, more energized and experience fewer aches and pains. They want to be able to live and enjoy life after years of hard work to get themselves financially established. It is my mission to help them move better, get stronger and perhaps be fitter than they have ever been despite the passing years. So, understanding the aging process and the roles exercise and nutrition play in it is paramount.
From a physiological standpoint, as we age, here’re some of the “enemies” we might come across:
1. Sarcopenia (a.k.a. age-related loss of muscle mass) This process starts after age 35 and progresses at an average annual rate of 1 to 2 percent until age 60 and accelerates to 3 percent per year after that.
2. Chronic Inflammation This can cause a decline of muscle strength to as much as 50 percent with increasing age. In other words, the same amount of muscle mass can’t generate as much force as before. This inflammation may be attributed to changes in our endocrine system, or what we typically refer to as hormonal changes.
Cliff Notes For Your Endocrine System And What Aging Has To Do With It
Since chronic inflammation is a result of changes in our endocrine system, it’s helpful to know a few key players, their basic roles and how aging affects their ability to do their job.
1. HPA Axis HPA stands for hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. These are all glands that secretes hormones that interact with one another. The interplay of these 3 glands dictates how well we respond to stress. As we age, the homeostasis of this axis tends to be compromised, thereby exposing us to more oxidative stress and increased inflammation.
2. DHEA and Cortisol Both DHEA and Cortisol are stress hormones of the HPA axis. But, just like we have the good cholesterol HDL and bad cholesterol LDL, DHEA is the good guy that protects our immune system and our brain and Cortisol is the bad guy that suppresses our immune system and causes degeneration in our brain. Sadly, DHEA peaks at age 20-30 and progressively decrease over the years, getting to only 20 percent of peak by age 70-80. Cortisol, however, doesn’t experience the same decrease and our cortisol-DHEA balance gets skewed overtime, leaving us more susceptible to muscle loss, bone loss, memory loss, sleep disorders and weakened immune system.
3. Estrogen I’m sure this hormone is quite familiar to at least the female readers in the group, and the significant others who have to live with the effects this hormone has on women going through menopause. Turns out this hormone does do wonders as it has similar protective qualities as DHEA. Postmenopausal women therefore may experience a higher stress response than older men because of the significant loss of estrogen during menopause.
4. Testosterone We obviously can’t not talk about testosterone after estrogen. Perhaps not as obvious as the effects estrogen loss has on women, loss of testosterone is more gradual. After men turn 30, testosterone levels decreases at 0.4 to 2 percent annually. The main effect of this decrease is losses in muscle mass and strength.
5. Growth Hormone (GH) and Insulin-Like Growth Factor Type 1 (IGF-1) These two work together to promote muscle growth and repair. GH also helps our bodies burn fat. GH production decline as much as 14 percent per decade after age 30 and even more so in men after age 50. The combined decrease in testosterone, estrogen and GH levels contribute to an increase in visceral fat in the abdominals, putting us more at risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
Are We Doomed?
Sorry for breaking all the bad news at once, but now we can focus on developing strategies to offset or delay these declines.
1. Sleep Research has shown that sleep and exercise are the two most powerful non-pharmacological stimuli of GH secretion. So make sure you get that 7 to 9-hour muscle building rest each night.
2. Exercise Intensity, type and duration of exercise all matter when it comes to stimulating the optimal hormonal responses.
Intensity High and moderate intensity resistance training were correlated to a 50 percent reduction in risk of functional limitation and disability. Acute bouts of heavy resistance training triggered an immediate and significant increase in testosterone, DHEA and GH and a decrease in cortisol.
Type While heavy resistance training may be most effective at boosting our testosterone and GH response, a combination of resistance and aerobic training seem to produce the best functional outcomes, or in other words better at performing activities of daily living. Specificity of the exercise is also key in driving improvements in functional outcomes. For example, walking and core instability training is a better choice than swimming when it comes to improving function because the former engages muscles in a way that’s more specific to performing activities of everyday life. Research has even shown that walking 4 to 7 times per week at a pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour can reduce onset of disability by 50 to 80 percent in older adults!
Duration Even though every little bit count, and doing something is always better than nothing, research has shown that each exercise bout should last at least 10 minutes to trigger a positive hormonal response. Aim for a combined weekly volume of 150 to 180 minutes. And when it comes to following a resistance training program, the longer the program, the better the gains. So make it a year round commitment to incorporate resistance training in your exercise regimen.
3. Nutrition Emphasize fresh whole foods filled with vegetables, fruits, nuts and omega-3-rich foods while avoiding processed foods and foods with added sugars may be the simplest way to make sure we are eating an anti-aging diet. Both the Mediterranean and Norwegian diets fit the bill. Also, any foods that are good for our brain are good for the rest of our body and our hormonal system. Afterall, our brain is a muscle. Examples include fatty fish (salmon, sardine, mackerel), walnuts, olive oil, avocado, cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, beans, beets, grapes, berries, peppers, tumeric, green tea, coffee etc.. Load up on these high octane fuels for your body so you can function like a well-oiled machine!
Hope this article has been informative and help you come up with practical strategies to live the best quality life possible. Last but not least, our mindset, attitude, and ability find the good in every situation maybe even more powerful than all of the above. Cheers to aging like a fine wine and enjoying every sip while we are at it!
- Luque, M., Functional Aging And Hormone Health. IDEA Fitness Journal, November - December, 2018.
- Yakimchuk, K., Your Brain On Food. IDEA Fitness Journal, November - December, 2018.