I’m sorry, but I have to get this off my chest. I came across some incredibly irresponsible and short-sighted ‘journalism’ today (Thurs may 20th, 2010) in Adelaide’s The Advertiser. On page 3 of the ‘news’paper the first paragraph of the centre story states that “the secret to old age could have nothing to do with lifestyle and everything to do with genes.” the rest of the story goes on to celebrate a lady who has just had her 101st birthday (a very happy birthday and congratulations to her!), and to report that scientists have identified the “Methuselah genes”, named after the oldest person in the Bible, who lived to be 969.
I guess that perhaps our public is not confused enough about what to believe about their health, so we might as well tell them now that they don’t have to do anything at all! its all out of their control!! after all, these genes are found in only 10% of young people, and in 30% of centenarians – what more evidence do we need for crying out loud!!! and we have all heard of someone who was a fit marathon runner and died of a heart attack! and better still, we all have an uncle Albert who drinks and smokes a pack a day and just turned 92, don’t we?!
Well, I guess this begs the question: how did the other 70% get to be centenarians?? why is it that the highest concentration of centenarians occurs in non-developed Western countries/regions? could it also be that Methuselah’s contemporaries (and she would have had a few!) got to live as long as they did because they weren’t exposed to the stresses of modern western environments, or the processed foods, or the degrees of sedentary behaviour our communities experience? could it be that they experienced a degree of spiritual health not found in our society? could it be that perhaps their lifestyle had something to do with it? Have we wondered why most (if not all) centenarians are thin? maybe its because their overweight counterparts don’t get to live that long?? or wait, maybe its just genetics that keep them thin!! because in the absence of any real genetic shift in humans for thousands of years, our genetic pool has suddenly altered in the last 6 or 7 decades.
My goodness, I hope you excuse my sarcasm, but a pen (or press) can be a very powerful weapon, and we should’t be handing licenses to use them publicly so easily.
So, lets follow on with our journey through the benefits of exercise, and here is one that is going to get you listening! exercise will slow down and even reverse the effects of ageing! and in particular, this is related to resistance training, or the lifting of weights.
We know that when we lift weights we ‘damage and tear’ muscle fibres. this is that feeling of muscle soreness (not to be confused with joint or injury pain) that we get 24-48 hrs post exercise. Our body repairs these muscle fibres in such a way to protect them from being damaged by similar loads again in the future. this is done by building new bigger muscle fibres.
Now, we know that the amount of muscle we carry is imperative to our health. It not only helps us burn more energy on a daily basis but a lack of it is associated with many chronic diseases such as diabetes.
As we age we tend to lose muscle mass, at the age of 60 we tend to lose 1% per year which doubles into our 70s. The great news is that resistance training can help slow this rate of decline and has even been shown to increase muscle mass in 70-80 year olds!
So, not only do we increase the size of our muscle as it rebuilds, but we can actually make it look new again through resistance training.
Lets take a quick detour through micro-biology to better understand this outcome. as we know, all cells in our body are in a constant state of repair and replication, and this happens through the copying of our DNA code. as we age and continue to go through this replication process, the DNA code becomes damaged, so the quality of new tissue is likewise damaged.
There’s a specific structure in muscle fibres called a mitochondria, which is where energy is produced (this is one of the reasons why increasing muscle mass is so important for weight management). as mitochondria replicates, it also degrades in quality through this process, which leads it to produce an increasing amount of ‘damaged’ by-products. Of particular interest are ‘free radicals’, which create a an oxidative (or rust like effect) on cellular tissue, thus further degrading it (this is the reason why we are encouraged to consume ‘anti oxidants!).
So, back to our muscle rebuilding story. when a muscle is damaged, its mitochondria are totally destroyed, so they can’t replicate anymore. So in the new muscle fibres the mitochondria are built using genetically untouched mitochondrial DNA.
It’s effectively like we are using new parts to build our muscle rather than recycling the old ones. Therefore our muscles look younger under a microscope, they function better which makes us feel like we have more energy on a daily basis.
So make sure you include resistance based training into your weekly schedule. The Australian Activity guidelines encourage us to exercise on most days of the week, but the American guidelines also include a recommendation for 2-3 weights sessions a week. make sure you look for registered Exercise Professionals to ensure you get the most out of your exercise sessions!