An Iowa girl at heart, I’ve had the pleasure of spending nearly the last three years in Boulder, Colorado. This utopia I’ve come to call home has no glass ceiling on age. It’s reminiscent for me of the Ron Howard movie Cocoon from decades ago.
The Boulder community is full of athletes — elite athletes. As I write, several members of the club where I work are preparing to prove themselves in Kona at the World Ironman Championship.
Beyond the pros in Boulder, however, is a unique and extremely active community of older adults who think nothing of participating in Ironman distance competitions, training for their first ever short course triathlon at 60 or first half marathon at 62. They are out on the trails hiking, biking or skiing daily, depending on the season. There doesn’t seem to be an inactive senior in the bunch. I’ve looked!
So what’s special about them? They’ve discovered the secret to longevity… which is: There is no secret.
There is a realization that environment plays a bigger part in the aging process than genetics. And there’s proof — not only in looking at people from Boulder to Iowa — but in recent research…
Disproving aging myths
At one time, we accepted that breathlessness was the result of a “natural” age-related decrease in a person’s oxygen-carrying capacity. But recent studies suggest that older-aged men were just as able to improve their oxygen-carrying capacity as young men. It’s a matter of staying active and allowing yourself to act your ability rather than putting limits on your age.
Until recently, it was also just assumed that memory would diminish with age. The hippocampus — memory central — does in fact shrink naturally in size each year, especially if you literally sit idly by and let it happen. But a group of older adult exercisers, who walked 40-minutes three times a week, actually grew their hippocampus. Movement matters, and just might help you remember where you put the keys or parked the car. (Your remote was not meant to be a GPS).
The crippling danger of muscle loss and a corresponding gain of fat mass is another huge health threat older adults face. Largely this is due, not just to a lack of movement but to a lack of adequate protein and quality calories in our diets. Studies from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) have, since 2009, found optimal muscle protein synthesis happens with at least three meals of 30gms of protein a day.
That’s a lot to swallow (pun intended) if you’ve been taught RDAs and or have for decades cut out protein to cut out calories and fat to lose weight. You’ll have to “unlearn” those old habits. Across genders, ages, and activity levels, in adulthood the same intake applies. It’s based on getting adequate amounts of essential amino acids at one time. Can you take in 90gms of protein total and get the same results? No.
A study in 2014 compared the 3 x 30gm formula to the way many Americans eat with a 65gm protein meal at night, moderate protein lunch and minimal breakfast. The group with 3 x 30gms did far better with muscle maintenance, weight loss and control.
So, you see, there really is no longevity secret. Now that you know, don’t keep it a secret…
- Surround yourself with active older adults.
- Find a way to be active if you’re limited by a condition or joints. There are endless ways of reducing the pain so you can keep moving.
- Eat to win, not to lose. Focus on making your calories count rather than counting calories.
- Aim to be strong and vibrant over slim and you’ll likely achieve both.
- Choose a personal challenge rather than simply attending an exercise class or lifting weights. What’s your next challenge?
We don’t stop moving because we get old. We get old because we stop moving.
Editor’s Notes: Balancing your body’s master hormone is another way to slow the hands of time, avoid age-related disease and live a longer, healthier life. People all over the world are discovering the key… That’s why blue zones, communities where above-average numbers of people live to 100 and beyond, are growing. To learn how they’re doing it, click here.