Age-busting fitness has three key elements: aerobic exercise, weight training, and stretching. Please read Chapter 6 in Ten Years Younger for details.
In the Ten Years Younger program, your aerobic workout refers to raising your heart rate, preferably to 70 to 80 percent of your maximum rate and keeping it in this range for 30 to 60 minutes 5 to 6 days a week. So when focusing on the aerobic element, you’ll walk, jog, swim, or bike daily to burn calories and maintain your resting metabolic rate. And you’ll improve quickly, progressing from the First Phase of 20 to 25 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week to 40 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity six days a week.
You’ll engage in strength training twice a week during Phase 1, but by Phase 3, you’ll have advanced to strength training three times a week. As you’ve just discovered, muscles are much more than just bulky tissues that surround your skeleton. Not only do they impact your metabolism and rate of calorie burn, provide proteins in the form of amino acids to repair tissues, fight infections, and create anti-aging compounds essential to life, but they also help you move. With toned, well-maintained muscles, you can move gracefully, smoothly, and painlessly. When you lack muscle tissue your joints hurt, you lose mobility, and you risk falling and breaking bones.
Which muscles will we focus on in the weight training aspect of age-busting fitness? While you have hundreds of them, you’re going to aim at building an even dozen: those around your knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows, and ankles. For the knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows I’ll emphasize extension and flexion activities that build the BIG power muscles in your body, namely your hamstrings, quads, calves, back, abs, gluts, deltoids, biceps, and triceps. While you may not know where all these muscles are just yet—and believe me, you will once you get started on the program–they are the power plants that not only move you through space, but burn the most calories when you exercise and even when you don’t! If you want the biggest bang for your exercise buck, you’ll focus on these major hitters because they burn most of the calories, are essential for major movements, and enable you to look and feel trim and fit. They also make you shapely and provide definition and sex appeal—a real plus!
In addition, I’ll focus on muscle groups that are essential for independence as we grow older. Those most commonly associated with disability include the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint, the back, the knees, and your pelvic floor. The latter are critical for sexual function and urinary and bowel control, so we certainly won’t neglect these areas in your training program. I’ll also add an exercise for your shoulder’s rotator cuff that will stabilize your shoulder movements and some trunk-twisting activities to help support your spine.
The exercises are organized in an even and balanced way. You’ll work on your quadriceps, the large muscles in the front of your thighs but also your hamstrings, the muscles at the back of your thighs. You’ll strengthen your chest muscles for a firm, lifted look but also on the opposing muscles in your upper back, to ensure good posture.
The program is designed to help even the most deconditioned participants start rebuilding their lean muscle mass in a way that’s gradual enough not to cause injury but yields remarkable results. And even though five days may seem like a lot, it’s gentle consistency that does the trick. Weekend warriors who push themselves to complete exhaustion once or twice a week deplete their antioxidant defense systems, and consequentially, get sick more often—not a Ten Years Younger goal! As always, I recommend that you work with a medical provider to ensure that your goals are realistic and safe.
And for safety’s sake, I’ll also ask you to stretch every day after your workout, keeping your muscles flexible and supple as well as strong. Stretching helps prevent the kinds of injuries that would undermine your progress. That’s the third element of Ten Years Younger age-busting fitness,
So let’s look at these three elements more closely to understand why these anti-aging allies are important and how you can incorporate them into your daily life.
AEROBIC EXERCISE: IT KEEPS YOU YOUNG AT HEART
As we age, we typically see a gradual drop in our fitness levels. But researchers have shown that regular physical activity actually slows this process.In one study conducted on a group of aging runners, those who maintained their lean body mass through aerobic exercise lived longer and better.
Indeed, of all the options for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease in both men and women, the single most effective choice is not medication but aerobic exercise! People who walk, jog or swim regularly have 40 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes, and cases of sudden cardiac death.
How vigorously should I exercise? This is an area of keen concern. While for a competitive athlete the phrase “no pain, no gain” might make sense, it may not apply to expanding your lifespan or health span. Can you push it harder and lose more weight? It’s possible, but it’s not a good idea. If you exercise aerobically in the range above 85 percent of maximum heart rate you will generate a great deal of free radicals–more than your antioxidant system can handle. The harder you push, the more calories you burn after exercise, but at the risk of aging yourself in the process. It’s just not worth it.
How should I feel after a workout? You want to feel energized. If you’re tired and beat, maybe even exhausted, then you overdid it. You should be able to talk while exercising—if you can’t, you’ve gone beyond your limit. Slow and steady wins the race. On the other hand, if you are able to sing, you need to pick up the pace!
Am I too old to begin age-busting fitness? It’s never too late! In a study of 72,488 female nurses, those who had been sedentary but became active in middle or late adulthood cut their risk for future heart attacks and strokes significantly.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR A SHAPLIER YOU
Strength or weight training helps you lose weight too, but it also creates a shapelier body—probably two of your most important Ten Years Younger goals. We all want to feel good in our clothes and look great, and strength training can slim you down and bring back the muscle tone of younger years. How? Because muscles burn calories. In fact, one pound of muscle burns about 35 to 40 calories a day. That means one extra pound of muscle could burn an extra 1,000 calories a month, or 12,000 extra calories a year. And in the course of that year, that single pound of muscle would burn 3.5 pounds of fat! So if you were to add five pounds of muscle to your frame–a realistic goal after several months of strength training–you’d lose 17.5 pounds of extra fat a year. Imagine! That’s more than the volume of four footballs.
While you might believe that strength training is something only “body-builders do,” in fact, it’s one of the most important ways to become ten years younger. Women, in particular, benefit from the effects of weight lifting and strength training, mostly because they usually have much less muscle mass than men. (And no, you won’t end up looking like Arnold Schwartenegger!)
I’ve known many women who run on a treadmill machine for 30 to 45 minutes every day but complain that they can’t lose any weight. When I measure their body composition, I discover that their muscle mass is grossly depleted. It’s like they’re driving a car, but they only have a tiny lawnmower engine burning gas. They can drive all day and barely put a dent on the gas gauge. But once they build up a decent muscle mass, they find it much easier to burn calories. In fact, I’ve known many women who needed to gain a few pounds of muscle before they finally succeeded in losing weight.
When you work with fixed weight machines (such as Nautilus or Hammer Strength systems at a gym), you flex and extend your muscles. But, in real life, that’s not enough. You have to stabilize your joints, not just flex and extend them. You need to keep them from twisting and falling from side to side. That is why the age-busting fitness program encourages you to work with free weights rather than machines, and why many of the exercises I recommend require you to stand on the floor or incorporate the help of an exercise ball.
Lifting free weights and doing your exercises on a ball force you to use the little muscles that provide balance and joint stability. I’ve also thrown in some twisting activities to ensure your trunk is strong, so you can accommodate all the activities that are essential to functioning optimally in a busy day. All and all, you’re aiming to build your stabilizing muscles while you work those big power-hitting muscles.
For details on precisely how you should perform strength training, please refer to Chapter 6 in Ten Years Younger.
Stretching after exercise decreases your risk for injuries and improves exercise performance, making workouts more fun. The most common injuries are to the back, and people with tight hamstrings, in particular, run an increased risk for lower back pain and other injuries.