The fountain of youth. What would you give to have access to physical and mental longevity? Many would spend a pretty penny for the ability to stay young forever, or at least look it. Unfortunately, I do not have access to any such fountain. At least not the type you probably had in mind.
What I can share is an inexpensive – most of the time free – means of staying and feeling young without having to spend significant amounts of finite resources.
The process of aging brings with it biological, and aesthetic consequences. Old age can paint a picture of wrinkles, weakness, and fragility. Frequently however, we fail to ponder the mental, cognitive, and physiological implications that comes with such a grim picture.
Aging can be done in an artful fashion no doubt. There is nothing wrong with a little gray hair. In fact, some may argue that an aged person is the reflection of experience, wisdom, and intellect; I agree. Still, most experienced individuals would comment that physical deterioration does not feel good. Just ask anyone who you consider of a vintage age. In clinical practice, I cannot tell you how many elderly patients I come by that tell me, “Getting old sucks…don’t get old.”
We may not mind a little gray hair here, and a few distinguished wrinkles there, but the idea of feeling old might bring out significant concerns. Feelings of fatigue, weakness, loss of stamina, slowed cognition, loss of clarity, or even memory loss is what makes aging a concern. Feeling old is the problem.
So although some may cringe at the idea of wrinkles, gray hair, or no hair, I would say that the worst part of getting older is the sudden awareness that you are deteriorating. An awareness that stems from not being able to perform tasks you at one time completed with ease.
Here is where exercise comes in handy. Exercise yields plenty of benefits. Many you are very much aware of, such as, keeping your heart and vessels healthy. This results in better blood flow throughout the body helping prevent a number of cardiovascular illnesses. Other benefits include the reduction in risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Discussed below are the benefits exercise has on our mind, energy level, and mobility. These benefits help counteract the “getting old feeling” we mentioned earlier. My hope is that this will be both insightful and motivational. That it empowers you to make changes, and take control of your current and future well-being. May we recognize age is just a number, and that there is no reason why we cannot age gracefully.
BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is a critical brain-growth protein. BDNF has been known to be involved in neurogenesis (the process by which new neurons are created), and the protection of existing neurons. This results in the survival and promoting of synapses (connections) between neurons. Synapse formation is important for thinking, learning, and other high levels of brain function.
Several neurologic conditions have been linked to low levels of BDNF. Some include Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, depression, schizophrenia, and OCD. Researchers studying BDNF, suggest that it could play a role in the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that BDNF has been known to increase with aerobic exercise. Studies also reveal that other benefits of aerobic exercise include improved memory, enhancement of mood, and assistance in alleviating long-term depression.
The mitochondrion is the organelle that powers every cell in our body. Think of the mitochondria as the digestive system of the cell. They take the nutrients, break it down, and create energy. A process known as cellular respiration.
As scientists have found, the mitochondria do not only power the cell, but also play a significant role in the rate we age and the length of our lives. In essence, this power house organelle that reside in every one of our cells, can help keep us young (as long as we protect and nurture them).
Most cells have a few mitochondria. However, muscle cells house approximately 95 percent of the body’s supply. This is why muscle cells hold the key to staying, and feeling young. The mitochondria become activated with movement, and a sedentary lifestyle deactivates them. By participating in daily exercise we can increase the quantity of mitochondria in our muscle cells. This results in more energy we can use. The opposite happens when we allow our muscles to become weak. Fewer mitochondria mean less energy.
It is not wonder then that sedentary individuals are often found lacking in energy. Those who live sedentary lifestyles make their bodies aware that they are in no need of their muscles, and trigger cell death. This process is significantly sped up once we turn the big 4-0. You know the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” We now know that the message of atrophy, or cell death is transmitted to muscle cells only when they are not being used. This can lead you into a vicious cycle: less energy that leads to less movement, that leads to less energy, that leads to less movement.
Joints are made up of two or more articular surfaces surrounded by ligaments, tendons, muscles, and fascia. Together, all these structures create a beautiful piece of machinery. They allow us to be mobile and perform our daily activities with ease – that is of course, if they are working properly. Like any piece of machinery, it requires lubrication. Inside every joint is a lubricating substance called synovial fluid; produced by synovial sacs in the surrounding joint capsule.
Surrounding all these structures is something called fascia. Fascia is a stretchy connective tissue that surrounds, and protects every tissue in the body. Inside the fascia not only lie the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints, but also an oily substance that keeps everything outside the joint lubricated. We need this oily bath so that all structures can move effortlessly.
The trouble is, that when we live sedentary lives this oil becomes hardened. Think coconut oil. Without friction, coconut oil loses its lubricating type consistency – becoming hardened. Thus, when the same happens to our joints. When they remain unused and without friction, it will leave you feeling tight, stiff, and old.
Similarly, movement within the joint stimulates the production of synovial fluid. To sum it up, without regular movement and exercise of each joint, you risk becoming stiff and immobile. This results in greater expenditure of energy, and effort when performing daily physical activities.
Exercise is a fundamental element to maintaining optimal holistic wellness. Humans were never meant to live sedentary lives. The countless studies on the benefits of exercise when compared to the detrimental effects of a sedentary lifestyle, prove that many times over. So take action, and enjoy the physical, mental, and soul like anti-aging effects of exercise. An investment that pays big dividends.