I stood facing the aerobic room mirror dressed in my competition bikini and my high heels with 15 fellow fitness competitors flexing, fake smiling, and sweating all at the same time. We were practicing our posing routines for the millionth time. The goal was to commit these poses to muscle memory so we hit the perfect poses when these mirrors were replaced by competition judges. Suddenly one of my teammates complained that the “tiny boppers” had it so much easier. She felt college students had a leg up just because of their age. As a young medical student myself, I had no place to say she was wrong but I did wonder was this 40-year old female complaining or was there science to back-up her thoughts? What can be done to reduce the effects of the natural aging process?
The Natural Aging Process
Time is one thing no one can change. Although the body is resilient, with time cells age and the ability to replace those cells with perfectly good ones becomes more difficult. Muscle cells are greatly affected. Every decade after the age 30 you can lose 3-5% of your muscle mass. Bone cells become more fragile and with age there is an increase chance for broken bones from falls. Most of these changes can be attributed to various hormone changes. In men and women there is a natural decrease in testosterone and estrogen which can cause a decrease in muscle mass, decrease in metabolism, and decrease in energy.* One other mechanism of cell damage is an increase in free radicals. Free radicals are nasty atoms rampant in the body usually increased after a toxic trigger. Triggers for free radical release are smoking, alcohol, drugs, medications, processed foods, air pollution, and ultraviolet (UV) sun rays.
Behaviors That Can Accelerate Aging
There are behaviors that can accelerate the aging process. A lack of sleep has been directly correlated to poor memory and slow processing of information by the brain. In addition, not getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night can increase medical problems such as cardiovascular disease and obesity. Another behavior that will speed up aging is not working out. A lack of exercise will promote muscle mass loss, body fat increase, and decrease energy levels. Poor eating habits can also send negative messages to our bodies. Eating very few, but large meals per day can create a slow metabolism which will push your body into “starvation mode” and cause weight gain. A slow metabolism then makes it harder to drop those excess pounds. And the final behavior to address is exposure to ultraviolet sunrays. The amount of sun exposure needed to cause cell damage is variable dependent upon genetics.
How to Feel and Look Younger
What can you do to reverse the aging process? How can you regain your ideal physique, increase your energy, and decrease your chance for medical problems? You have to change your daily habits. Fad diets, gimmick beauty products, and complex surgical procedures absorb lots of money with high probability for only short term results. The earlier you start, the greater the affect you can have on the aging process. Your daily habits should include 8 hours of sleep per night, exercise, and frequent, fresh and small meals. If you suffer from sleeping difficulties consider talking to your primary care provider about proper sleep hygiene and consider a sleep study to assess for apnea prior to trying medications. To protect your skin use sunscreen even on overcast days. Try using products such as retinol and glycolic acid to trigger collagen production on your face. Your daily vitamin should help you get sufficient vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene which are antioxidants to slow the free radical damage. Although, the best way to decrease the free radicals in your body is to avoid the primary causes by limiting alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco products, using sunscreen to limit the effect of UV sunrays, and avoiding over processed foods.
After 13 years of competing with some of the most amazing athletes in the nation, I can say that I have seen a lot of older athletes win over younger athletes. I think the reason for their wins is definitely not short of hard work and discipline, but their lifestyle undoubtedly plays a large role. Whether your goal is to look hot in a swimsuit on the beach, to have younger looking skin, or to have more energy, you have to commit to some healthy habits. Start with one behavior change and challenge yourself to do that one very well, and then take on another. Over time these habits will become natural and your body will thank you for a lifetime.