By Dr. Mercola
Almost from the beginning of time, people have been looking for a fountain of youth, or at the very least a magic potion that can keep you feeling and looking forever young.
The potions usually come in a bottle or a jar — or from plastic surgery — but as it turns out, we've been searching in the wrong places.
Instead of running to the nearest outpatient center for plastic surgery or to the store to buy a "potion," we should be looking no further than our running shoes and workout clothes.
Exercise is One of the Best Ways to Slow Aging
According to new research published in the American Journal of Physiology,1 the best way to stay young is to simply pick up your feet and start exercise training. The training triggers mitochondrial biogenesis, a decline of which is common in aging. This reverses significant age-associated declines in mitochondrial mass, and in effect, stops aging in its tracks.
This is not the first time researchers have linked exercise to mitochondrial changes. A 2011 review in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism2 points out that exercise induces changes in mitochondrial enzyme content and activity, which can increase your cellular energy production and in so doing decrease your risk of chronic disease.
Aside from impacting your skeletal muscle and fat tissue, researchers noted that exercise induces mitochondrial changes that may also benefit your liver, brain and kidneys. The mitochondria is the "power plant" of your cells, responsible for generating the energy that drives all metabolic functions.
Increasing mitochondrial activity is extremely important because free radicals, which are toxic byproducts of metabolism as well as exposures to chemicals, pollutants and other toxins, can overwhelm your body's defenses, leading to oxidative damage to cells and tissues that can destroy cellular proteins, lipids and DNA; this process often leads directly to the loss of mitochondrial function. In the long-term, irreversible damage in the mitochondria can occur, leading to:
- Impaired ability to utilize carbohydrates and fat for energy
- Insulin resistance
- Lower threshold for physical exercise
- Excessive weight gain
- Accelerated aging
At least two additional studies, one in the Journal of Applied Physiology3 and the other in Neuroscience,4 also showed that exercise induces mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain, with potential benefits such as reduction or reversal of age-associated declines in cognitive function and helping to repair brain damage following a stroke, respectively.
What's One of the Best Anti-Aging Exercises?
Make no mistake — virtually all forms of exercise are beneficial, provided you're challenging yourself without overdoing it. Overdoing it, particularly with long bouts of traditional cardio, can actually damage your mitochondria and should be avoided. According to fitness expert Ori Hofmekler
"When done chronically, it [aerobics] causes accumulated oxidative stress in the mitochondria with increased risk of oxidative damage. And when chronic aerobic overtraining comes along with inadequate nutrition (such as with those dieters who obsessively run on a treadmill to burn excess calories they get from a bad diet) the results could be even worse...
The combined effect of bad nutrition with bad training can be extremely destructive, and may lead over time to irreversible damage in the mitochondria along with a total metabolic decline."
The end result is not to shun all forms of aerobic exercise, but to learn how to do it wisely. This brings me to my most preferred form of anti-aging exercise, which is Peak Fitness, or high-intensity interval training. High-intensity interval-type training boosts your body's natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), a synergistic, foundational biochemical that addresses the serious muscle loss and atrophy that typically occurs with aging.
Your production of vital human growth hormone increases by up to 771 percent during a Peak Fitness workout because you are stimulating your fast muscle fibers, which are rarely used during most exercise programs. The higher your levels of growth hormone, the healthier and stronger you will be. Once you hit the age of 30, you enter what's called "somatopause," at which point your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This decline of HGH is part of what drives your aging process, so maintaining your HGH levels gets increasingly important with age.
The longer you can keep your body producing higher levels of HGH, the longer you will likely experience more robust health and strength. Some athletes choose to inject it for this very reason, though it is a banned substance in nearly every professional sport. I do not recommend injecting HGH however, due to the potential side effects, the cost and, more importantly, it is likely to cause more long-term harm than good. Fortunately, your body produces HGH naturally when you exercise your super-fast muscle fibers during vigorous, high-intensity exercise like Peak Fitness.
Because these exercises are so intense, you only need to do them three times a week, and the entire workout takes just 20 minutes. Doing them more often can actually be harmful, as your body will not have enough time for recovery. Here's a summary of what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds
- Recover for 90 seconds
- Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times
As you can see, the entire workout is only 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! That really is a beautiful thing. And within those 20 minutes, 75 percent of that time is warming up, recovering or cooling down. You're really only working out intensely for four minutes!
Keep in mind that you can use virtually any type of equipment you want for this – an elliptical machine, a treadmill, swimming, even sprinting outdoors (although you will need to do this very carefully to avoid injury) — as long as you're pushing yourself as hard as you can for 30 seconds. But do be sure to stretch properly and start slowly to avoid injury. Start with two or three repetitions and work your way up, don't expect to do all eight repetitions the first time you try this, especially if you are out of shape. For an in-depth explanation of Peak Fitness, read this past article, and watch my video demonstration below.
Fasting, and Fasting Before Exercise, Might Give You Even More of an Anti-Aging Boost
I have recently begun integrating Peak Fitness exercise with intermittent fasting, as it appears this will greatly catalyze the potential of exercise to reduce your risk of chronic disease and help keep your body biologically young. Simply put, exercise and fasting yield acute oxidative stress, which actually benefits your muscle.
Ori explains that acute oxidative stress is:
" ... essential for keeping your muscle machinery tuned. Technically, acute oxidative stress makes your muscle increasingly resilient to oxidative stress; it stimulates glutathione and SOD [superoxide dismutase, the first antioxidant mobilized by your cells for defense] production in your mitochondria along with increased muscular capacity to utilize energy, generate force and resist fatigue. Hence, exercise and fasting help counteract all the main determinants of muscle aging. But there is something else about exercise and fasting. When combined, they trigger a mechanism that recycles and rejuvenates your brain and muscle tissues."
The mechanism he refers to is triggering genes and growth factors, including IGF-1, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and muscle regulatory factors (MRFs), which signal brain stem cells and muscle satellite cells to convert into new neurons and new muscle cells respectively. This means that exercise while fasting may actually help to keep your brain, neuro-motors and muscle fibers biologically young. Even if you take the exercise component out, modern science has confirmed there are many good reasons for fasting, including:
- Normalizing your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance (which is what you get when after prolonged periods of over-secreted and elevated insulin) is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
- Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as "the hunger hormone"
- Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage
There's also plenty of research showing that fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity in animals. There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one, but fasting also complements the insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) and mTOR pathways, which plays important roles in the repair and regeneration of tissues for sustaining a youthful body.
Aging is associated with a substantial decline in IGF-1 and mTOR expression and fasting can help reverse this process. Furthermore, fasting has also shown to inhibit the over expression of IGF-1 and mTOR, such as in the case of chronic inflammatory disease or cancer, which are often caused by age related metabolic disorders and immune deficiencies. The fact that it improves a number of potent disease markers also contributes to fasting's overall beneficial effects on general health.
Interestingly, one recent study that included more than 200 individuals, found that fasting also triggered a dramatic rise in HGH—1,300 percent in women, and an astounding 2,000 percent in men!5 The only other thing that can compete in terms of dramatically boosting HGH levels is high-intensity interval training, as mentioned in the section above.
Intermittent fasting isn't as hard as it may sound, as it includes either fasting completely or simply minimizing your food intake during the day to small servings of light, low glycemic, mostly raw foods such as fruits, vegetables, whey protein or lightly poached eggs every 4-6 hours. You then do your workout while fasting (30 minutes after your latest snack) followed by a very important recovery meal (whey protein) and then have your main meal at night. For more information on healthy, safe intermittent fasting, read this.
What Else Does an Anti-Aging Lifestyle Entail?
That said, longevity is the result of an overall healthy lifestyle, so in addition to exercise, these additional strategies can further help you stay young and vibrant, longer:
- Optimize your insulin and leptin levels – Of all the healthy lifestyle strategies I know of that can have a significant impact on your longevity, normalizing your insulin and leptin levels is probably the most important. There is no question that this is an absolute necessity if you want to slow down your aging process, and that means modifying your diet to avoid excessive amounts of fructose and other sugars, grains, and other pro-inflammatory ingredients like synthetic trans fats. Aside from avoiding grains and sugars, exercise is one of the most effective ways to regain insulin sensitivity.
- Learn how to effectively cope with stress – Stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day, so developing effective coping mechanisms is a major longevity-promoting factor.
Meditation, prayer, physical activity and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden emotional problems.
- Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels to between 60 and 80 ng/ml using safe sun exposure, a safe tanning bed, or a vitamin D3 supplement.
- Animal based omega-3 fats – Correcting the ratio of omega-3 to healthful omega-6 fats is an essential component in helping people live longer. This typically means increasing your intake of animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, while decreasing your intake of damaged omega-6 fats (think hydrogenated oils and rancid vegetable oils).
- Get most of your antioxidants from foods – Good sources include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beans, and artichokes.
- Get your resveratrol naturally – Because resveratrol appears to be so effective at warding off many diseases associated with aging, it is often referred to as a "fountain of youth" that can extend lifespan. Good sources of naturally occurring resveratrol include whole grape skins and seeds, raspberries and mulberries.
- Use coconut oil – Another excellent anti-aging food is coconut oil, known to boost heart-protective HDL cholesterol and stimulate brain metabolism in a way that may protect against Alzheimer's disease, among other things.
- Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible – This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Avoid unnecessary prescription drugs – Pharmaceutical drugs kill thousands of people prematurely every year. And, if you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you most likely will never need any of them in the first place.