The Difference: Growing Old vs Staying Young

Look at the photos that accompany this blog and ask yourself what the individuals all have in common.  Yes, the more cynical amongst you might drop in the odd “cosmetic surgery” comment, but forget about Stallone’s face as that’s way beyond the comfort zone of this writer and instead focus on the bodies. I’ll even see if I can pull up some video to really get my point across.  You see there IS an elixir of eternal youth, it’s just a bit left of field from where Ponce de Leon once sought for it.  The Holy Grail of reverse-aging can’t be found in the bottom of a syringe or via the surgeons knife, but rather it can be found in very specific lifestyle choices.

No doubt you’ve read an awful lot (hopefully on this here personal training blog!) on the longevity benefits of good food and clean living, so I’ll leave that particular part of the subject for another day.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for this last twenty years or so you should know the basics anyway – fresh air, eight hours sleep, fruit and vegetables, unprocessed foods, and NO (or at least minimal) grains.   My focus today will, surprise surprise, be all about weight training and why I think it is the absolute key to both anti-aging, and in certain cases, reverse-aging.  Think about these two phrases for a second as they don’t mean the same thing.  Anti-aging is all about age prevention, reverse-aging means actually turning the clock back…

Sylvester Stallone - not bad for 64 years old!!

Before we delve into reverse-aging with exercise let us look briefly at a little science.  There is an often cited Tufts University study looking at the ten key markers to aging.  Nothing too fancy there, but the perhaps surprising news (to you not me, we will get to why that’s the case a little later) is that the top two markers for predicting the rate of age related decline came out as being a loss of muscle mass and a loss of muscle strength.  Now hanging your hat on this study and saying that keeping your muscle mass and strength high will stop you from growing old is kind of like looking at the world through a straw, and there is much more to it than that of course, but it damn well should stop and make you think.  It should make you ponder even harder when I tell you that researchers from the University of Texas confirmed what some of us gym knuckleheads have been observing for years – that weight training (in this case a 12 week study) can actually reverse the aging process in senior citizens and that a 2007 Canadian study (on reverse aging with exercise) came to the following conclusion:

“To be honest, we were expecting some indication that the exercise program improved strength,” says biologist Simon Melov, director of genomics at the Buck Institute in Novato, Calif., and coauthor of the reverse-aging with exercise study. What the scientists didn’t expect was what they actually found—that after six months of resistance training, there were dramatic changes at the genetic level. As Melov puts it, “The genetic fingerprint [of the elderly participants] was reversed to that of younger people—not entirely, but enough to say that their genetic profile was more like that of young people than old people.”

All that science aside, I don’t always hold much truck with studies, especially on a subject that is right before the eyes of someone such as myself who has been living in a gym for over twenty years.  So what does my own real world experience bear out? Over the years it has been a privilege and an honour to interact with, learn from, and observe men who have been weight training for thirty, forty, and even fifty years.  They don’t do it because of some anonymous study, they don’t even do it for the myriad of health benefits, although that obviously helps, they do it because it’s in their blood.  They just don’t know any other way.  And to a man these individuals share one common characteristic.  They have a vitality, a physical energy and and presence that can make a fifty year old seem like a thirty year old, and a seventy year old seem like a mere stripling at forty years old! OK, I will caveat that in just one place as there isn’t a whole lot that the gym can do about your wrinkles.  So these guys are more like Monets…perfect from a distance but not quite as beautiful close up!

Bodybuilding Legend Robby Robinson is 60 Years Young!

And the reason for this shared youthfulness is, yes you guessed it, weight training. Some might say it’s a shared mindset, and the weight training is symptomatic of that, but although there is truth in this comment I would beg to differ.  Too often have I encountered wildly different characters amongst senior trainers.  Just like the rest of us there are the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, the ones who eat super clean and the ones who stray once too often into the biscuit barrel.  The key to their physical success is very simple – they like to exercise and a good deal of what they do in the gym is resistance training based.  They have stronger bones, infinitely better posture, carry themselves like much younger people, and always, because of the positive metabolic by-products and hormonal stimuli of lifting weights at a certain high intensity (in this case degree of intensity is defined as being how close you are to lifting a load that represents your one repetition maximum) have an energy, enthusiasm and zest for life that normally dissipates as testosterone, thyroid and Growth Hormone levels decline with age.  These are the guys (and increasingly the girls) who “get it”.  The ones who appreciate the fact that science now bears out what they have long known instinctively – that properly conducted resistance training sessions can profoundly improve one’s quality of life by boosting all the key aforementioned hormones associated with vitality and youth.  In other words a well thought out and consistently applied weight training plan will put both a spring in your step and lead in your pencil!  Anti-aging certainly, reverse-aging potentially.

All this clinical and anecdotal evidence only leads me to ask the one question – why on earth isn’t everyone lifting weights?  I myself don’t ever want to grow old…instead I plan on aging well!

And if you are not convinced by my words then take a look at this video below to see “reverse aging with exercise” in action: