REAL AGE continued

Fit for Youth


So you think you don't have time to exercise? You don't have time not to. Time spent exercising actually gives you more time. It not only increases longevity, making your RealAge years younger, but it also gives you more energy so that (like other Age Reduction choices) you actually feel years younger, too. By adopting a three-pronged approach for boosting your physical activity, you can reduce your RealAge by 8.1 years. A moderate and balanced exercise routine is an integral piece of your overall Age Reduction Plan, and it's easier than you think to integrate into your everyday life.

Boost physical activity. You don't have to run marathons to benefit from  exercise. Just taking a twenty-minute walk every day can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 15-30 percent in just twenty weeks. And it makes your RealAge one year younger. Make physical activity-—-walking to work, taking an evening stroll, or pedaling the exercise bike while watching the evening news-—part of your daily life, slowly building up to a goal of expending 3,500 kcal (kilocalories) a week. It will make your RealAge 3.2 years younger.

Difficulty rating: Moderately difficult

Build stamina. Through vigorous exercise-—-whether it's aerobics classes, swimming, jogging, tennis, or anything else that makes you break into a sweat and causes your heart to beat faster—you can reduce your RealAge. Exercise strengthens your heart, arteries, and lungs and delays-—and may even reverse—arterial and immune system ageing. Exercises that cause you to sweat have a double benefit: They not only count toward the sixty minutes of stamina exercise required per week for optimum Age Reduction, but also burn extra calories toward your 3,500-kcal-per-week goal. Stamina exercises can make your RealAge as much as 6.4 years younger.

Difficulty rating: Moderately difficult

Build strength and flexibility. Keeping your body strong and flexible helps fend off the wear and tear that make us older. Doing strength and flexibility exercises three times a week keeps your muscles supple and strong. Stretching, weight lifting, and yoga all promote a younger body. You don't need to invest that much time to benefit: Lifting weights for ten minutes just three times a week makes you 1.7 years younger.

Difficulty rating: Moderately difficult

When it comes to fitness, remember the number three. There are three basic types of physical activity that make you younger-—general physical activity, starmina-building activities, and strength and flexibility exercises-—-and each affects your ageing process differently. To get the maximum Age Reduction effect from your fitness plan, you need all three.

First, there is just general physical activity-—walking, gardening, bringing in the groceries—anything that uses your muscles, no matter what it is. Just boosting your overall activity level—not even breaking a sweat—can earn you 40 percent of the Age Reducing effect normally attributed to exercise. Raising your overall caloric expenditure to 3,500 kcal a week makes your RealAge 3.2 years younger. A kcal is the same amount of energy as a calorie, except that, for some reason, the custom is to use the term calories when we're talking about food and kcal for the same amount of energy when we're talking about exercise. Therefore, a donut is said to contain about 400 calories, and swimming is said to bum 400 to 600 kcal an hour.

Second, there are activities that raise your heart rate—the so-called stamina activities. This is what most of us think of when we think 'exercise'—jogging, biking, swimming, aerobics, a 'workout.' This kind of exercise contributes another 40 percent to the Age Reduction that can be tied to physical fitness.

Third, there are strength and flexibility exercises. Building and strengthening muscles and keeping them in top form through weight lifting, stretching exercises, or other activities contribute just 20 percent to the overall Age Reduction effect of exercise. But don't be fooled; it's a critical 20 percent. These activities provide a kind of insurance policy for the body, helping you to avoid injury and skeletal weakening and allowing you to continue your overall exercise routine without the disruptions caused by pulled muscles or broken bones. Strengthening exercises are especially important for women. To protect bone mass and density, women need to lift weights even more than men. Lifting weights for just thirty minutes a week makes your RealAge 1.7 years younger.

The best fitness plan is one that builds on all three components. One without the other two will provide some, but not the maximum, Age Reduction effect.

Exercise and Longevity: The Basic Facts

How many times have you told yourself, 'I will start exercising'? How many times have you finished that sentence with 'tomorrow'? Although more than 90 percent of Americans agree that exercise is an important part of healthy living, only 15 percent get as much exercise as they should. More than 76 percent fail to do even one vigorous activity a week. Over two hundred fifty thousand deaths a year, 12 percent of the national total, are attributable to the lack of regular physical activity. Despite the sports fashion boom of the 1980s, Americans seem to be exercising less and less. As a nation, our fitness level is declining. Fewer people are fit in the 1990s than they were in the 1980s, and fewer people in the 1980s were fit than in the 1970s. Although Americans spent more than $40 billion on fitness equipment in 1995, much of that equipment is gathering dust in the basement.

Even modest physical activity can make your RealAge younger—substantially younger. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one of the key reasons Americans don't exercise is the common misconception that a person needs to do taxing and rigorous workouts to reap benefits. That's simply not true. Almost all of us would benefit greatly by just boosting our overall physical activity. In fact, a recent policy statement from the Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Sports Medicine suggested that getting just half an hour a day of moderately intense activity, such as walking, gardening, or housecleaning—-that is, burning just 200 kcal a day (or 1,400 kcal a week) beyond the 'resting metabolic rate'—can provide many of the health benefits attributed to exercise. Even getting just 750 kcal a week of physical activity—that means about two ten-minute walks a day—-makes your RealAge 0.9 to 1.7 years younger than if you did nothing. If you get an hour's worth of physical activity a day—and that includes such things as walking up the stairs or taking a couple often-minute strolls—you can reduce your RealAge two to five years. That doesn't mean hard-sweat exercise, just anything that uses your muscles. In fact, I often don't even use the term exercise, preferring the term physical activity. Physical activity—just boosting your overall activity level—is a key component of Age Reduction.

Who should exercise? Everyone. Who can exercise? Everyone who is not seriously incapacitated. Just two decades ago, many doctors and scientists believed that heredity determined your ability to do exercise and to benefit from it. More recent studies have indicated that choices and habits—-that is, your own desire and resolve to stay in shape—determine, by more than 70 percent, your ability to achieve and maintain physical fitness. The first step is changing your frame of mind.

Even if you have a health problem—especially if you have a health problem—you should integrate exercise into your life. Exercise makes the RealAge of those who are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses disproportionately younger. You get the biggest benefit if you begin exercising before you have a major health problem or, as I like to think of it, an ageing event.

People who start exercising or doing even moderate physical activity in midlife have a decreased rate of ageing. In fact, you are never too old to begin. Fitness researchers have even found that encourageing the frailest nursing home residents—people already in their nineties and even as old as one hundred—-to lift weights actually makes an astounding difference in the quality of their lives, enabling some to move out of their wheelchairs and back on their feet. In fact, I've been told that the nursing home where these studies were done had to close a wing after the studies were finished because so many of their residents got well enough to go back home. No matter what your age or physical condition, exercise almost always makes you younger. What is most important about fitness is that you continue to exercise. Studies have found that within five years of giving up their sports and exercise, college athletes were no more fit—and no younger-—-than those who had never exercised. Exercise keeps you young only as long as you keep doing it.

Exercise and Disease: Lowering Risk, Getting Younger

Exercise is a whole-body phenomenon. It doesn't just make your muscles stronger, it slows down the ageing of your entire body. Exercise affects everything: your cardiovascular system, your immune system, your musculoskeletal system, and your emotional well-being. It affects you all the way down to your cells. Let's consider the scientific research on exercise as it pertains to various health conditions.

Coronary and arterial ageing. People who exercise regularly have significantly less cardiovascular ageing and are at a far lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, regardless of their genetic background. Exercise lowers blood pressure, raises the levels of protective HDL cholesterol, stimulates weight loss, and helps prevent blood clots. The Harvard Alumni Study found that the incidence of heart attack was inversely proportional to the amount of exercise performed: Men who exercised less than 2,000 kcal a week had a 64 percent higher risk of heart attack than those who exercised more than that. Studies have also shown that a three-month period of intensive activity, like that experienced by military recruits, can result in an increase in HDL ('healthy') cholesterol of as much as 33 percent and a decrease in LDL ('lousy') cholesterol of 9 percent. Even moderate amounts of physical activity are shown to lower total cholesterol rates and to lower LDL/HDL ratios, although the results are not as dramatic. Exercise is a-way to control cholesterol without medication and to make your RealAge younger.

Immune system ageing. Physical activity affects you even at the cellular level. It reduces the rate at which your cells age, meaning that you are less likely to develop cancers and that microscopic cancers that do exist are less likely to spread. Exercise also improves the overall functioning of the immune system, increasing the production of 'watchdog' cells that seek and destroy invading disease cells and cancer cells. Those who are physically fit have fewer colds and other illnesses.

Colon cancer. The rate of colon cancer is significantly higher in highly industrialized, affluent societies. Why? Researchers blame our fatty diets and sedentary lifestyles. Several studies have shown that individuals who are physically active have much lower rates of colon cancers; a study in Sweden found that those with low levels of activity were three times more likely to get colon cancer.

Breast cancer. Preliminary studies show that women who exercise regularly have an incidence of breast cancer that is almost one-third lower than that of women who do not exercise regularly. One Norwegian study found that among women who exercised, the risk was reduced by 37 percent. Unfortunately, many questions still exist about the relationship between breast cancer and exercise. Some scientists hypothesize that women who exercise more have lower fat stores and, hence, less long-term exposure to impurities stored in fat cells. Others hypothesize that endurance training helps increase the number of immune system cells that are known to kill off potential cancer cells.

Prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is linked to elevated testosterone levels, and regular vigorous exercise reduces such levels. Men who exercise consistently have much lower rates of prostate cancer. The Harvard Alumni Study found a significantly reduced risk of prostate cancer among men who exercised more than 4,000 kcal a week and an increased risk for men who expended less than 1,000 kcal a week. The risk was nearly 50 percent lower for men over age seventy and more than 80 percent lower for men under age seventy. Although other studies have confirmed the link, there is still debate over the exact relationship between exercise and prostate cancer.

Arthritis. Practically everyone over age sixty-five begins to show some sort of arthritic symptoms. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who had osteoarthritis can and should exercise. Moderate to vigorous exercise, in conjunction with strengthening exercise, eliminated many of their symptoms and made their joints younger.

Weight management. By burning calories and increasing your metabolic rate, exercise helps you lose weight and replace fat with muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when you're not exercising. Strengthening exercises are particularly important because they build muscle.

Diabetes. Exercise helps increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. This increased sensitivity to insulin, in turn, lowers blood sugar levels and decreases insulin production. Active people, even if they have a genetic predisposition to the disease, are much less likely to develop adult-onset (Type H) diabetes. Furthermore, if symptoms do occur, exercise helps diminish their ageing effect.

Osteoporosis and loss of bone density. Any resistance activity—walking up a hill or lifting groceries—-strengthens muscles and, just as important, increases bone density, making bones stronger and less likely to fracture. Indeed, resistance activity actually increases the calcium content of bones. Although strengthening-—or weight-bearing—exercises are the best for improving bone strength, new evidence shows that exercises such as riding a stationary bicycle and water aerobics may also increase bone density. Take note, however: Some new studies warn that people who exercise vigorously need to get proper amounts of calcium—1,000 to 1,200 mg a day-—to ensure that enough calcium is available for the bones to build density. During intense training, large amounts of calcium are lost through perspiration.

Falls and broken bones. Each year, approximately 30 percent of people over age sixty-five fall down, and 15 percent of those who fall suffer serious injuries. More than 6 percent of all medical care dollars spent on people over age sixty-five involve fall-related injuries. Hip fractures and other bone breaks age a person significantly. It's not just the bone breaks that age, but the long periods of immobility that often follow. Studies of the elderly population have found that those who exercised, particularly those who did balance-building exercises, such as tai chi chuan, were much less likely to fall or to sustain fall-related injuries.

Sleep-related disorders. Studies done at both Stanford and Emory Universities found that adults who exercised fell asleep more quickly and slept better than their sedentary counterparts.

Depression and anxiety. Exercise has significant emotional benefits: It helps ease depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. Depression is a widespread, though often undiagnosed, problem among older people. Doctors have known for years that exercise, particularly when done in a social environment, helps relieve clinical depression. Exercise also reduces anxiety disorders and improves mental health in other ways. Even for those who have not been diagnosed as having a psychological illness, exercise is a known mood lifter, helping them feel happier and more upbeat.

Stress management. Regular exercise decreases the stress response, meaning that you are more relaxed, feel better, and are better prepared to cope with life's stressful events. We all have stresses, but by staying fit, we are better equipped to avoid their ageing effects.

Long-term memory. Exercise helps improve long-term memory and brain function. It helps prevent the arterial ageing that contributes to the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Tobacco use. Increasing exercise levels helps people quit smoking. Regular exercise diminishes nicotine cravings.

As this list shows, exercise clearly helps us stay young. But how are we to motivate ourselves to take on a real exercise regimen?