Bending the Aging Curve
Live Like You Can
By Janis McDonald
One of my long time gurus in the health and fitness field is aging researcher and lecturer Joseph F. Signorile, PhD. Signorile is a highly regarded professor of exercise physiology at the University of Miami. I first met Dr. Signorile in 1990 when I heard him speak on high-speed training and the older population. At the time, I thought, “No way, we can’t add speed because older people will get hurt or fall down.” After almost 25 years of following Dr. Signorile and his research results on the mature person and speed training, I am completely convinced this type of training will actually prevent falling, increase mobility, lengthen later life independence, and “bend the aging curve” as Dr. Signorile has so wonderfully explained in his book, Bending The Aging Curve.
Dr. Signorile often quotes the Castrol oil company’s advertisement slogan, “You could spend a few dollars to change your oil now or you could spend a few thousand dollars later to change your engine.” As our muscles age, we slowly lose the ability of our nerves to fire or activate our muscles. The muscles then become less quick to respond, atrophy and become smaller. Next we start to lose the number of muscle fibers we have available. The process is called neuromuscular aging and happens to all of us. Fiber type plays an important role in this process. Slow-twitch fibers are small and fast-twitch fibers are large. The slow-twitch fibers are the endurance fibers and don’t generate much force. Fast-twitch fibers are the strength fibers. The loss of muscle size with age is virtually all due to the shrinkage and death of fast-twitch fibers. Translated to the activities of everyday life, this means the untrained person becomes slower and weaker and independence suffers over time.
Let’s take a look at Dr. Signorile’s chart illustrating how our muscle mass decreases with age and how exercise interventions can slow and even bend the aging curve. The black line is the “normal” decline in muscle mass due to aging without exercise. The person with the dash line, who begins, for example, at 40, shows a relatively flat line until the 70s, when the line begins to curve down, however, not at the sharp increase of downward angle as the non-exerciser. The lifelong exerciser soars above the rest, peaks at around 50, then begins the inevitable decline that does occur leaving the 75-year-old lifelong exerciser at a level equivalent to an untrained person at 20. At 90, the lifelong trainer is at a level equivalent to an untrained person 30 years younger.
Certain types of exercise can keep our fast-twitch muscle fibers alive and well, having the positive effect of conserving the communication between the nerves and muscles. Dr. Signorile recommends many types of training to prevent the lost of fast-twitch muscle fibers. His personal favorites are resistance, speed, whole body vibration, and interval training. I have personally experienced the positive effects of fast-twitch muscle fiber training. My mature clients want to speed up, not slow down and know that whatever age you begin, the trending downward aging curve can be delayed and possibly reversed.
Lifting rocks will make us stronger! Standing on a Power Plate will increase the neuromuscular communication in 90+ percent of the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Interval training and moving quickly with power will increase our body’s function in the “real world.” Bottom line, find one you like, stick to it and watch your aging curve flatten out.
Janis McDonald, Functional Aging Trainer and Certified Professional Coach
152 0457 Private Gym, www.livelikeyoucan.com