Renowned Kinesiologist Michol Dalcourt reveals which workouts help turn back the clock.
For a society obsessed with youth, we often overlook the most important panacea to the aging process: movement. Movement forces the body to gather sensory information and mechanical energy in order to fire up the muscles. Staying active, researchers repeatedly find, is the key to aging well.
Sound obvious? Sure. But the question remains: How much should you move and what kind of movement best staves off the aging process?
First, consider the bad news: At around age 40, our body’s muscular system begins to atrophy due to the slowing of muscle protein synthesis; our nervous system thins its dentritic branching and loses its active synapses (which makes us move more slowly); and our connective tissue becomes less vibrant and springy (reducing joint mobility). Battling this aging process takes concentrated effort, and — even for those of us who exercise regularly — we may not be doing enough.
The key: Blending resistance training with dynamic moves (lunges, shuffles, group fitness classes) allows you to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of movement — which counteracts the negative toll the stress hormone cortisol can take on both the muscle and nervous system, speeding aging. Weights and cardio alone can’t compare.
Consider this your anti-aging checklist:
1. Choose neuromuscularly dense exercises
These are movements that require a high involvement and recruitment from the entire body. A squat in combination with a shoulder press, a lunge in combination with a biceps curl, for instance. Studies have shown that when using neuromuscular dense exercises at intensity, balance improves, cognitive function improves (by the release of agents such as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and hormones are released that support and maintain muscle tissue.
2. Move throughout the day
If you cannot make it to the gym multiple times a day, take every opportunity to move when possible. Use stairs. Walk with a headset when on the phone instead of remaining seated. Take brain/movement breaks all day. By moving our bodies on a regular basis—not just at lunch or after work—we encourage positive adaptive changes in our nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Day by day, movement by movement, this enhances our vitality.
3. Stand up
We sit too much during the day; stand up during your workout. You’ll ease pressure on the spine and increase foot strength—something that’s essential to maintain or develop as we age.
For every 30 minutes of training, take 5 minutes of rest. This work/rest ratio allows tissues to recover and rehydrate, slowing the aging process.
5. Systematically progress
Start with basic drills before adding complexity. This will ensure that the neuromuscular system can adapt appropriately. For example try a forward lunge before a transverse plane lunge. Planar progression ensures that the body can adapt based off of a successful movement pattern. This is called motor learning. 'Chunking' the exercise into bite-sized pieces makes this learning occur more quickly with increased effectiveness. Progress too quickly, and you will only confuse the nervous system and positive adaptations will not take place.