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How to slow ageing?

What happens to our bodies as we age? Is it possible to slow ageing? And if so, how?

Time cannot be stopped – we are all subject to it, and whether we like it or not, we are getting older.

The clock is ticking, and with each tick, we change.

If we manage to avoid serious medical problems – the changes in our bodies happen slowly and gradually, if not – our appearance and well-being change faster.

This article is about what happens to our bodies as we age and how we can slow/delay this process.

 

What happens to our bodies as we age?

Some age-related changes start as early as 25-30 years of age – for example, after reaching the age of 25-30, the average maximum achievable heart rate decreases by about one beat per minute every year.

And.

Consequently, the heart’s maximum ability to pump blood decreases by 5-10% per decade. A healthy 25-year-old heart can pump about 2.4 litres of blood per minute, a 65-year-old heart can pump no more than 1.4 litres per minute and by the age of 80 only about 0.9 litres per minute.

In everyday life, this reduced aerobic capacity leads to fatigue and shortness of breath – physical activity becomes a burden, we try to avoid it and thus our condition deteriorates even further.

 

After middle age, our blood vessels gradually become less elastic and our blood pressure often rises, because the blood itself is also changing – it becomes more viscous (a bit thicker and stickier) and harder for the heart to pump through the body.

 

In most cases, after 50 we start to gain weight – on average by 0.45 to 0.9 kilograms per year.

And.

That is fat because around this age we also tend to become more sedentary ( losing muscle).

This extra fat contributes to an increase in LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and a decrease in HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. This is probably why after 50 blood sugar levels rise by about 6 points per decade, making type 2 diabetes alarmingly common in the elderly.

 

Muscle loss continues and contributes to weakness and, in some cases, disability. Muscles and muscle ligaments are becoming increasingly stiffer.

After the age of 50, around 30% of women and 20% of men develop osteoporosis – a gradual decrease in bone density, making bones very porous and brittle. This is largely due to sedentary behaviour (reduced muscle mass leads to bone loss and increased fragility, staying indoors reduces vitamin D intake needed for calcium absorption, etc.) and changes in dietary habits.

 

The nervous system also changes over time. Reflexes become slower, coordination skills decline and memory problems appear.

We also tend to sleep less and less well in maturity than in youth.

 

It sounds bleak – and these changes are inevitably happening to all of us.

But.

While we cannot stop time, we all can slow ageing and live full lives even in our 80s and beyond.

Research shows that many of the changes associated with ageing are, in fact, largely due to lack of exercise.

This is not a new finding.

As early as the 18th century, the Scottish physician Dr William Buchan wrote: “Of all the causes which conspire to render the life of a man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise.”

 

Exercise is not the elixir of eternal youth, but it is a good source of vitality helping us to stay healthy, beautiful and well for longer.

And to convince those who are doubtful.

Here’s a unique study that shows how important exercise can be.

 

The Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study

In 1966, five healthy 20-year-old men volunteered for a study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

They spent 3 weeks in complete bed rest, with no weight bearing allowed

After this bed rest, their cardiopulmonary function was evaluated by determining their maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) during a stress test to exhaustion.

And.

Devastating changes were found: faster resting heart rate, higher systolic blood pressure, reduction in the maximal pumping power of the heart, increase in body fat and reduction in muscle strength.

In other words, in just three weeks, these perfectly healthy 20-year-olds developed many physiological characteristics of men twice their age.

 

Participants were given an 8-week training programme.

And.

Exercise not only reversed the deterioration caused by bed rest but even improved some health outcomes compared to what they were before bed rest.

 

Follow-up assessment of study participants at the age of 50 years

To estimate the effect of ageing on the cardiovascular response to acute exercise, the same five men were re-assessed 30 years later.

And.

The main finding was that 3 weeks of bed rest at 20 years of age led to greater deterioration in cardiovascular and physical performance than 30 years of ageing.

All five were healthy and none needed long-term treatment, but over the years they had gained an average of 22.67 kg or 25% of their weight at age 20. Average body fat doubled from 14 to 28% of body weight, resting heart rate was higher, maximum heart pumping capacity was lower, and blood pressure was higher than at age 20.

However.

The figures were still better than when they came out of three weeks of bed rest in 1966.

The researchers asked them to start a gradual 6-month programme of walking, jogging and cycling exercises.

On average, the men lost only 4.53 kg of excess weight, but their heart rate, blood pressure and maximal pumping capacity returned to their original levels – what they had when they were 20 years old.

In other words, exercise 100% reversed the age-related decline in aerobic capacity.

And.

Although these 5 men did not regain their peak performance, they demonstrated to everyone how important exercise is for our health and that ageing CAN BE SLOWED.

 

Physical activity and ageing

 

Effects of ageing

Effects of physical activity

Heart and circulation

 

 

Resting heart rate

Increase

Decrease

Maximum heart rate

Decrease

Slows the decrease

Maximum heart pumping capacity

Decrease

Increase

Heart muscle stiffness

Increase

Decrease

Vascular stiffness

Increase

Decrease

Blood pressure

Increase

Decrease

Blood

 

 

Number of red blood cells

Decrease

No change

Blood viscosity (‘thickness’)

Increase

Decrease

Lungs

 

 

Maximum oxygen uptake

Decrease

No change

Intestines

 

 

Emptying rate

Decrease

Increase

Bones

 

 

Calcium content and strength

Decrease

Increase

Muscles

 

 

Muscle mass and strength

Decrease

Increase

Metabolism

 

 

Metabolic rate

Decrease

Increase

Body fat

Increase

Decrease

Blood sugar

Increase

Decrease

Insulin levels

Increase

Decrease

LDL (“bad”) cholesterol

Increase

Decrease

HDL (‘good’) cholesterol

Decrease

Increase

Sex hormone levels

Decrease

Slows the decrease

Nervous system

 

 

Nerve conduction and reflexes

Slows down

Slows the decrease

Sleep quality

Decrease

Increase

Risk of depression

Increase

Decrease

Memory disorders

Increase

Decrease

 

Physical activities to slow ageing

  1. Endurance or cardio exercise, such as walking, running, swimming or cycling, strengthens the heart and lungs. As a result, the ability of the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and to eliminate waste products improves. Endurance training also helps maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  2. Strength or resistance training, such as weight lifting, and exercises with your body weight or resistance bands, helps build and maintain muscle mass and improve strength and endurance, which are essential for mobility, balance and functional independence in old age. They also stimulate an increase in bone density thus reducing the risks of osteoporosis and fractures.
  3. Flexibility training (stretching and mobility exercises) focuses on improving joint mobility and range of movement. They help to maintain joint flexibility, reduce stiffness and prevent injuries, especially in older people. Flexibility exercises can also relieve muscle tension and improve posture, reducing the risk of musculoskeletal problems.
  4. Balance and stability training includes exercises that help improve balance and coordination, for example standing on one leg, walking on your heels or standing on a balance board. These exercises help improve proprioception (the body’s awareness of its position in space) and neuromuscular control, reducing the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.
  5. Mind-body exercises (yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates) combine physical movement with mental concentration and relaxation techniques and improve strength, flexibility, balance and mindfulness, promote stress reduction, relaxation and emotional well-being.
 

Key takeaways

One of the most impressive results of the Dallas study was that men’s bodies responded to exercise almost as well at age 50 as they did at age 20.

In other words, it’s never too late to start and we can benefit from exercise at any age.

 

Ageing is inevitable, but it has an undeservedly scary reputation. No one can stop time, but most can slow it down and enjoy life, ageing slowly and gracefully.

A wealth of research confirms that physical activity is the best investment we can make in our health.

Exercise cannot improve our eyesight or hearing or, say, keep testosterone levels high in men.

But.

They can help to significantly delay both physical and mental ageing and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction in men.

In other words, to keep your body as young as possible for as long as possible – move!

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