Last week ABC TV (Australia) ran a program on their Catalyst series of science programs revealing how we can all "improve our healthspan by making simple changes to the way we live our lives" (watch or download the program here).
The show featured retired newsreader Ian Henderson on a quest to find "the secrets of ageing healthily" - a subject close to my heart. I must say that as someone well-versed in the "secrets" I heard only one new one, which I'll explore below. But it is fantastic to see these ideas put out into the mainstream and made more accessible to everyone. I enjoyed his discoveries and his enthusiasm, and the more of these kind of practical education shows the better.
I'll summarise his key findings here, accompanied by my own insights in also discovering and applying these things over the last 20 years. That might help fast-track you to picking up on those which appeal to you most and also those which give you the most bang for your exercise buck.
Below are the "non controversial" secrets he discovered. Then I will discuss the diet discoveries as that's where things became a little more confusing:
I've quoted below the most significant comment in the entire program - because this is not well known. This role of mitochondria is one the fundamental reasons that attention to building strength and stamina are essential to living longer better, and, in fact, managing diseases like Type 2 Diabetes. I worked this out after I was diagnosed with T2D in 2000 - which was the fright which actually kicked off my 20 year path to better health and fitness.
The intense exercise puts my body through a brief moment of stress, and that amplified chemical reactions inside my cells, which repair and rejuvenate vital structures called Mitochondria. Mitochondria act like power plants, converting the food you eat into energy, and their ability to do this declines as we get older. But intense exercise like this has been shown to help stop or even reverse this decline and help fight ageing. ...pushing yourself to this intensity may not be for everyone. But older people who are able to manage high intensity training have been found to get a 69% increase in the capacity of their mitochondria.
Now, moving on to the diet segments - this is where things became a little more confusing, even for me.
Diet distractions - which, what, when?
The show discussed two different diet "discoveries".
The first came from Professor Luigi Fontana who advocates that the "right diet" is to not keep your metabolism running at full speed. Eating fully constantly produces a lot of waste products and accumulates metabolic and cellular waste which ages us. Prof Fontana recommends putting our bodies into "maintenance mode" a couple of days a week, which accelerates repair. He recommends that for 2 days each week we eat only non-starchy vegetables - as much as we want - along with generous dabs of olive oil.
That makes sense to me as it follows the same principles as the many fasting diet variations, and is an easier option. If you like this option then my recommendation is to go further than avoiding starchy vegetables and to include more resistant starch foods.
Don't restrict calories but eat less protein
In the final segment of the program Professor Steve Simpson and Dr Sam Solon-Biet from the University of Sydney discussed their research on varying our macronutrient balance as we age. Their hypothesis is that the ratio of protein to carbohydrates in our diet changes the rate of ageing. They also wanted to examine the possibility of continuing to "eat normally" without having to impose periods of calorie restriction e.g. the fasting methods of Professor Fontana mentioned above.
In a nutshell, they advocate that eating a lower ratio of protein to carbohydrate as we age will slow down the rate of ageing.
So firstly in the program it was recommended that we fast, or eat a lot less, for 2 days, and then it was recommended that we don't impose calorie restrictions but eat less protein as we age.
Here we have the classic problems of conflicting information and too much information - which inevitably leads to people doing nothing.
My recommendations for taking action
Here is what I recommend if you want to start now and take action, based on my experience of the last 20 years of learning how to lower my body age (plus I'll call on my Professional Diploma in Sports Nutrition):
I believe that we actually need a higher ratio of protein as we age, not least because we become less efficient at utilising protein as our metabolic processes rust. I aim for around 2.2g / kg each day, and that is a young athlete's usual target and represents around 25% of daily energy intake (depending on your activity level). Then add in your carbohydrate requirements, and the residual daily energy requirements from fat - good fats. My preferred ratio is about 25% protein, 50% carbs, and 25% fat - with more carbs if you are doing intensive exercise. (If you prefer Professor Simson's advice and you are over 60 then you would adjust this to 15% protein or less, 65% carbs, and 25% fat.)
Don't sweat the details - start small and progress
But here's the bottom line - these details don't matter too much for the first 1 or 2 years of starting to eat and exercise more healthily.
In that time you need to be resetting your overall nutrition to improve its quality and reducing its volume (for most people) - based on the standard guidelines. You need to be making exercise part of your daily lifestyle, and learning to become more body-aware. Attempting to change too much too soon inevitably results in you giving up, as it becomes all too hard.
Watch the show, pick those things that motivate you and will get you started on a new routine of nutrition and fitness, and then fine-tune little-by-little each three months to improve your potential outcomes.
The most important thing is to start, and to limit your initial ambitions to what you know you can do consistently and turn into a habit. The hardest thing is to know how to start, and the show gives some good tips.
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What I knew about my eldest brother (Harry) was relatively little. Only that he'd had a brutal upbringing - at the hands of both our mother and our father. He'd learnt to box at an early age at the Botany Boys Club and this catalyzed in him an intensely deep-seated sense of manhood.
He went on to ride motorbikes before he had a license, knocked out two of my father's front teeth in one of their confrontations, and had been stabbed in the back by a large kitchen knife thrown at him by my mother as he ran from her rage.
He left home before I was born, was in trouble with the law, spent time in Pentridge Prison. and had fled to work in New Britain (Papua New Guinea) for 15 years in about 1960 (shortly after Mum died - after spending time in a psychiatric institution).
The phone call
I knew that Harry had been living in Darwin for decades - 3,200km from me in Melbourne as the crow flies and 40 hours by road. When my phone rang 4 weeks ago with a caller id of "Darwin" I wondered what was coming.
Over 50 and hit a plateau? Here's what to do
You're consistent with your training, but losing your motivation because you've hit a plateau.
Sound familiar? If you are consistent it should, because it happens to us all. I've noticed over the last 20 years of training that as we get older the plateaus get longer. I've had a few people lately express frustration with their plateaus, but don’t give up - all will be well. It's by perseverance that your fitness will get to the next level of reward for you.
Things to try, to avoid medication
Unfortunately stress and anxiety are the hallmarks of the 21st century. Just before Xmas 2018, on a local TV show, 3 soccer moms were discussing their plans in the lead-up to Xmas. What kind of shocked me was when they all agreed that there was "so much pressure, so much stress".
Objectively, Xmas is a neutral event. It is not inherently stressful nor without stress. It is our beliefs and reactions which are "stressful", not the event. But knowing that that wouldn't help the three moms. The tips in this post will help to relieve this type of stress, which is an outcome of our beliefs.
In addition to these societal changes it is well know the rate of depression increases as we age. This is a complicated process with some key factors driving it being imbalances in neurotransmitters, atrophication of the amygdala - the region of the brain most important for controlling mood - and a shrinking hippocampus. Research shows that the hippocampus is smaller in some depressed people. These factors are all "natural" by-products of aging.
Here's the good news. You can slow the rate of aging and combat some of the effects of stress and depression - whatever the cause - using the following four techniques.
Watch your grip!
Joining a "Men's Challenge" obstacle course race last weekend was great fun. I haven’t had such a good excuse to play up to my armpits in mud since I was a kid.
Being me, I was particularly curious about how this group of 50-year olds and I would compare in overall fitness - me being 20 years older. I found two key differences, and one encouraging lesson.
Balance - not as easy as falling off a log
First off - disappointment !! The first obstacle to run over was all about balance. The leading few stepped their way across with ease. I fell off 3 times on my way over, and the followers made their way at various levels of competency
An under-appreciate benefit of HIIT exercise
Arterial stiffness occurs as a consequence of biological aging and arteriosclerosis. What is often not well appreciated is that exercise can make a significant contribution to reducing arterial stiffness, and thus mitigating the adverse health consequences.
How does that work?
Exercising makes the heart work harder and this sends more frequent pulses of blood out into the arterial system. These "pulses" are not just pushed along by the force of the heart, as in a pump pushing water through a hose. The blood is pumped along by the muscles in the arteries contracting and squeezing like squeezing toothpaste.
This exercises the arterial and vascular muscles! The exercise reduces their "stiffness', just like other muscles.
And in addition, as you exercise your heart it becomes stronger and able to pump out bigger pulses of blood with each stroke. That's why your resting heart rate drops as you get fitter. These bigger pulses make the arterial and vascular muscles work even harder to push the bigger pulses of blood along, and they get even less stiff.
I'm a male and not really a "runner"
I only started running at Xmas time 2018, so that's about 15 months ago. I'm probably not what runners call a runner. I run 5km twice a week to supplement my gym exercise program.
And although I've perused many articles online, I've never read a running book.
So what possessed me to buy Running for Women
I'm a curious person. Running For Women popped up as a suggestion in my Thriftbooks app (because of the many other exercise and fitness books I've bought).
I thought to myself, why not learn more about running, and also from a woman's perspective to see what differences are important to know (and might give me extra knowledge to help others).
I'm glad that I did. It's a very practical book. I notice on Goodreads it only has 4-stars, but I gave it 5-stars.
Here's a summary of things I think it covered really well.
These superfoods are easy to include in your diet
You've heard a lot about superfoods. Often it is an exotic list of foods that you might try once, but are unlikely to add to your regular diet e.g. ginseng, pomegranate, quinoa.
Here is a list of "everyday" common foods that contain some superfood qualities that are great for your body. These are among the healthiest foods that you'll see on your everyday supermarket shelves. There is no doubt that these foods all either contain important and hard-to-find nutrients OR have high levels of what’s called nutrient density. Nutrient density refers to how much nutrition you get in a given number of calories. Foods that have a lot of nutrition in a really small number of calories are considered ‘nutrient-dense’.
Add as many as you can to your weekly diet, and you'll be taking advantage of their unsung benefits for your health.
The simplest at-risk check for type 2 diabetes
Measuring your waist sounds like a very simple and perhaps innocent activity. But in fact it can tell you much more about your health than standing on the scales. After all, when you think about it, weighing yourself tells you very little. It tells you nothing about your body composition and nothing about what risks you have from, say, fat deposits in high risk areas (where you carry fat on your body is extremely important).
On the other hand, a waist measurement tells you important details about the location of fat and has proven correlations with future health risks. It reflects both health and nutritional status, and when associated with the shape of your body generalised health outcomes can be predicted. The reason is that under the skin of your tummy the intra-abdominal fat builds about around your organs, and this is what leads to the health problems (so-called metabolic fat).
Why It Is More Important Than You Might Think
At the gym I see lots of middle-aged people spending lots of time in the aerobics room, and few of them building strength in the weights area. Those that are in the weights area are more often than not sitting on machines taking a rest. It's not hard to conclude that most people past 45 don't place a high value on all-round body strength. Yet, all round body strength is one of the most fundamental physical assets that will help them improve their quality of life.
And my observation over 20 years at the gym is that, in particular, most mid-life women limit their understanding of "exercise" to cardio like biking or running. The idea that they could actually become strong perhaps seems absurd to the point that it never strikes them as a real possibility. But more than men, women 50+ need strength training to regain essential components of their degenerating musculoskeletal system.
Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building body-shaping training for people our age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter