Do you still want to stay young forever? Well, then, you’d better exercise.
No, you don’t have to kill yourself in the gym for hours a day or transform into a hulking bodybuilder. In fact, that level of overkill might be counterproductive to long-term wellness and longevity. But you will need to get up off of the couch and move around. Regularly.
In fact, that right there is the most important thing to focus on when it comes to your exercise: consistency. It’s far more important than how intensely you exercise, how long you exercise, what kind of exercise you do, or anything else. Getting out there and doing SOMETHING, consistently.
For strictly health and longevity reasons, even just a two-mile walk daily is sufficient to dramatically increase lifespan. The key to that is not the “two-mile walk”. It’s the “daily”.
Remember last time, when we talked about how the nature of health is really about maintenance? This is it, folks. The boring old day-to-day. It’s those daily habits that will determine in large part how long you live and how young you stay.
So for starters, when you ask yourself what’s the best kind of exercise for you to get, the main answer, the most important answer, is “what will you do consistently for the long term”? The most amazing, results-grabbing exercise program in history won’t do a thing if you only do it for a week and then go back to sitting on the couch watching re-runs of “Golden Girls”.
DON’T KILL YOURSELF TRYING TO STAY ALIVE
From an anti-aging and health perspective, as we just mentioned, super-high-intensity workouts are not where you need to be. For starters, most people aren’t going to keep up with a high-intensity program for the long term, unless they’re competitive athletes. Why not? Because they’re usually too busy with life!
There are a couple of good arguments for keeping your exercise intensity moderate. As we just went over, you are less likely to get burned out and give up on it. A second big one, especially as you get out of your teens and twenties and get a little older, is that you’re less likely to injure yourself.
Look, it’s true that the more intensely you train, the better results you’re going to get, generally speaking. You’ll get stronger, faster, or lose more weight. But, it’s also true that the more intensely you train, the more likely you’ll hurt yourself.
Don’t shrug this training factor off. Injury prevention may sound like you’re “wussing out”, but injuries are serious business. Plenty of athletes have had their careers ended by injuries. Plenty more have never reached their desired goals because of injuries. And plenty of non-competitive athletes- everyday folks like you and me, who just want to stay in shape- end up not being able to do whatever physical activity they love to do, because they over-did it and hurt themselves in such a way that they can’t go back.
It’s a sliding scale, with no injuries but no results on the zero intensity end, and great results but a super high risk of show-stopping injury on the other end. From a longevity perspective, it’s best to stay in the moderate results part of the scale, so that you can continue to reap the benefits of exercise for an entire lifetime. Remember consistency?
By the way, intensity isn’t just about how hard you exercise on one particular day. It’s also how often you exercise. Your body needs time to recover after you push it, so the more intensely you exercise, the longer you will need to rest before your body is ready to go again.
WEIGHTS? CARDIO? BOTH? NEITHER?
We’ve already said that the best exercise for you to do is the kind that you’ll do consistently. Having said that, there are two basic forms of exercise- resistance training and cardiovascular training. Let’s quickly discuss the health benefits of each.
Resistance training is typically thought of as “weight training”, and conjures up images of bulging, veiny dudes throwing small cars at each other. But really, anything that involves moving your body under more resistance than simple gravity exerts on your body can be called resistance training. So body weight-based exercises like the push-up or pull-up can also be called resistance training, just like exercise machines instead of so-called “free weights”.
The human body responds really, really well to resistance training. Studies show that even the elderly get significant benefits from an appropriate resistance training program… in fact, one study showed the participants’ muscle cells actually getting younger as a result!
Metabolic rate increases. Bones and ligaments get stronger. And growth hormone levels increase- that hormone is what it sounds like. It’s a so-called “master hormone” that controls a lot of others, and is responsible for turning baby people into grown-up people and keeping grown-up people young and strong.
Growth hormone levels tend to decrease with age, not surprisingly. One of the best ways to increase growth hormone levels is with resistance training. Another is with so-called “surge training” or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
SPRINT, REST, REPEAT
When it comes to cardio, science is starting to show that intermittent sprinting is more effective than steady-state (long and slow) cardiovascular exercise. Of course, this is talking from a health and longevity perspective. If you’re a competitive distance runner or triathlete, of course, your training is going to reflect that.
For those of us that are just trying to stay as young as possible, as long as possible, the science suggests that HIIT works more quickly and more effectively. It works like this. Rather than run or bike or swim at the same speed for a long, long time, you run (or bike or swim) as fast as you can for a short distance- say 60 seconds or so. Then you slow down to a much easier pace for a little bit (between one to four minutes) and then take off sprinting again for another 60 seconds. And you do that for several cycles until you learn to hate your running shoes.
HIIT seems to boost those growth hormone levels that we’re so interested in. It also has the effect of keeping the heart rate elevated over a longer period of time.
Of course, we need to remember our discussion on intensity. If you haven’t been exercising for a while, you don’t just jump into sprinting as if Godzilla is chasing you, and doing it until you’re seeing stars. That’s just a recipe for disaster. You would start off with less intense fast runs, longer rest periods in between, and fewer cycles overall.
But that basic philosophy of “surging” your efforts off and on seems to have a greater benefit from an anti-aging perspective than the old school, long and slow method of cardiovascular exercise. And, it’s over much more quickly, which makes it more likely that a busy person can include it in their life.
JUST GET OUT THERE
Remember, the number one rule of exercise is consistency, so whatever it is that you want to do to keep moving, just get out and do it. So many people allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the need to attack themselves with a crazy, intense, overwhelming exercise plan, that they abandon it after a few weeks… or never even start.
Don’t freak yourself out. Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good”. Remember that just walking two miles a day provides a measurable health benefit. So even if it isn’t much, go do something, but do it consistently.