Do you ever feel old or yearn for younger days? Why do some people seem young all of their life while others at a young age look and act much older? Since we all age does that mean we all will be old? What does it mean to be old?
I think the issue is not adding years to your life. We all age but not all of us grow old. The issue is energy. "Older" people seem to have drained their batteries. They move slowly, think slowly and talk slowly. Their balance is tenuous. Their world shrinks and along with it they lose their joy. They are not fun anymore. They're grumpy. Grumpy sometimes because they do not feel good and sometimes because they mourn the loss of their freedom but internalize it, push it down and try to bury it. What remains is a bitter crust. Growing old is not always genetically programmed. It is also from choices we make.
The difference between aging and growing old is in four things: nutrition, specific youth enhancing exercise, your mental attitude and your genetic profile. Today's View is about specific youth enhancing exercise.
Youth enhancing exercise does two things: promotes the production of a specific hormone and keeps specific connections in the brain active. In recent years, there has been a high degree of interest in a special hormone. The fountain of youth is Human Growth Hormone (HGH). The pituitary gland, a small region in the brain, releases HGH. HGH levels peak around the time of puberty and then decline. HGH does several things for you. It helps regulate lipolysis (the breaking down of fat stores for energy) and promotes muscle growth. It helps maintain elasticity in your skin and elevates your energy level.
The connections in the brain which seem to weaken with aging and effect movement are in the cerebellum. One of the main functions of the cerebellum is to help you balance. When you must stand on one leg, bend and pick up an object, it is the cerebellum that coordinates the muscles. The more you sit and the less you challenge your balance, the less the cerebellum does. The synaptic connections gradually fade away.
What can you do to promote HGH and strengthen the connections in the cerebellum? Exercise. But, not just any exercise. You must do two types to retard the effects of aging. The first is balancing drills. While using machines helps you grow stronger, you must also add balance as in Tai Chi or martial arts. You can start with something as simple as balancing on one leg. Stand on one leg with your eyes open. Bend the non-weightbearing knee to 90 degrees. You should be able to balance on one leg for at least 30 seconds if you are between 20 and 59 years of age. From age 60-69, your time should be 22 seconds and beyond age 69, 14 seconds. Balancing forces the cerebellum to do its job and maintain vital connections as the years go by (to read more about how to improve brain function with aging, read Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot by Richard Restak).
The second type of exercise is short duration, high intensity movement like sprinting. After sprinting for only 30 seconds (which if you have not sprinted in a while will feel like an hour), HGH levels are elevated 25 times resting values and are four times resting values an hour later. Resistance training using a load which causes fatigue within 10 repetitions also increases HGH levels although not as dramtically as sprinting. If you prefer not to sprint, any short duration, high intensity burst will boost production of HGH levels.
What's the best choice then for youth enhancing exercise? Combine high intensity, short duration bursts with balance. Check out Gary Gray's Matrix drills (http://www.functionaldesign.com), or add speed to Tai Chi or even try Tae Bo. Remember though, if you have not exercised in some time, go easy at first to give your body time to adapt. No point in ending up in bed trying to stay young.
If you want to feel young as you age, perturb yourself a little (no transformation without perturbation). Force yourself to the edge and watch what happens. You might be surprised at how growing older can feel good.
Make today count.
Author. Teacher. Therapist.
References: Adams, G.R. (1998). Role of IGF-1 in the regulation of skeletal muscle adaptation to increased loading. Exercise & Sport Science Reviews, 26, 31-60.
Nevill, M.E., Holmyard, D.J., Hall, G.M., Allsop, P., van Oosterhout, A., Burrin, J.M., & Nevill, A.M. (1996). Growth hormone responses to treadmill sprinting in sprint- and endurance-trained athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 72, 460-467.
Rudman, D., Feller, A.G., Nagraj, H.S., Gergans, G.A., Lalitha, P.Y., Goldberg, A.F., Schlenker, R.A., Cohn, L., Rudman, I.W., & Mattson, D.E. (1990). Effects of human growth hormone in men over 60 years old. New England Journal of Medicine, 323, 1-6.