Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Slowing down your biological clock- How does Tom Brady do it?

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I want to be the type of freak that Tom Brady is. Even though I’m not a football fan, I’m in awe of this elite athlete who’s achieved some of his best stats in the last year. Of course, the depressing reality is, “Aging is associated with an inevitable and inescapable physiological decline,” says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, a kinesiology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who is just full of bad news. “No one has ever escaped from that physiological decline — the only way to escape it is to die.”

Just the same, you can actually improve your performance with age, just as Tom Brady has. That’s much more interesting to me than the raw science that warns of inevitable decline.

Go to https://apps.bostonglobe.com/sports/graphics/2017/01/tom-brady-superfreak/ to read the full article.

Let’s take a look at some physiological changes, what we can do to defy them, and how to continue to up our own game, in accordance with our own needs and lifestyle:

We rely on several essential organs and systems for healthy functioning: our brain, eyes, digestive, muscles , cardio/lung capacity, and bones to name a few. Our DNA and genetics also play a role, but I’ll leave that for another post. There’s a lot we can do to take care of these systems.

Brain- although the number of neurons begin to decline at about age 30, wisdom and experience can make up for the changes. Cognitive processes such as moral decision-making, regulating emotions and reading social situations actually improves in middle age, likely due to previous similar experiences and categorization of people and problems. For someone like Brady, reading the defense, knowing a coaching style and predicting reactions of fellow players compensates for brain volume loss.

Eyes- Although visual acuity declines as we age, predicting what’s coming your way as well as knowing familiar patterns and routes will make up for this visual loss.  Of course glasses go a long way towards correcting this problem. Wearing  UV sunglasses most of the time when outside will delay cataract formation and age-related macular degeneration.

Digestion- Current research indicates your immune system resides largely in your gut.  Decreasing inflammation through avoiding sugar and fatty foods, and consuming plenty of foods which are plant-based and/or high in probiotics can go a long way to keeping your gut healthy.

Muscle strength – Although muscle mass declines each decade, you can counteract these effects with regular strength training, but you MUST challenge yourself in order for this to be effective. Making sure you weight train at least twice, but ideally 3 times a week, can make up for age-related changes.

Heart function- Brady does a maniacally intensive cardio workout several times a week to maintain his elite status as one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, but you don’t need to work quite as hard. You do, however, need to seriously challenge your cardiovascular system by making sure you do intervals of intensive cardio work while you’re doing your walking, running, cycling, dancing, or whatever other heart pumping activity you’ve chosen. If you don’t stress your lung capacity,  it will decline more precipitously.

Bones- Your bones and joints also stay healthier when you stress your muscles by doing weight training. The strain you place on your muscles will create pull on your bones, causing bone cell deposition and increased mass. Walking, jumping, dancing, weight bearing and strength training are all ways to keep bones healthy, along with a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D. Check with your doctor to see if supplements are in order if you’re not absorbing enough calcium through your diet. Note that the efficacy of vitamin D and calcium supplements has recently been questioned .

Being diligent about preventive measures and annual doctor’s appointments  are some sure-fire ways you can improve your chances of staying healthy. There are many preventive steps we can take like using sunscreen, wearing a seatbelt, limiting alcohol and drug intake, exercising, eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and lean protein, and maintaining a weight that is within 10-15 pounds of your ideal weight.

Let’s think a moment about your biological clock. We often think of the biological clock in terms of fertility for women, but it encompasses much more. Some people age faster than others, and much of it depends on lifestyle, sleep, nutrition and exercise.  “Just as a healthy lifestyle can keep one’s “fitness age” below biological age, some experts believe people have internal aging clocks that tick away at different speeds. “We’re just beginning to understand the aging clock, but there are people who have clocks that go slower,” said Stuart Kim, a professor emeritus of developmental biology at Stanford who researches genetics and sports.”

There are some basic tenets that can help you be one of those people whose “biological clock” ticks more slowly.

  • Rest and recovery- The hard science points to the importance of giving your neuromuscular system a chance to rejuvenate through taking time off, getting enough sleep and making sure you’re not exhausted on a regular basis.
  • Expectations about changing abilities – If you manage what you think is the “just right” challenge, regarding the difficulty and amount of time to exercise, along with how your body is changing, you’ll be more satisfied and fulfilled about your abilities.
  • Knowing your limits- This dovetails with managing expectations- if you expect to keep up with your children or grandchildren in their abilities, you will be disappointed. I remember cycling up a steep hill in Vermont with my husband in the midst of our training season, and as I called back to see how our 20 year old son was doing, he whizzed by us- very humbling. We kept huffing and puffing up the hill (as if we had a choice)!
  • Maximizing natural gifts- Use those inherent talents you have to find exercise you enjoy. I have clients, who at age 70, are still hoisting 15, 20 and 25 pound dumbbells, while others can pick up new sequences of dance steps in a heartbeat. Know what you can do, and dive in and enjoy it.

Although the ship may have sailed to reach Brady’s status as an icon of physical health, there’s a lot we can still do to maximize our health for our own needs. What will you do to slow down your biological clock?

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