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In 2011, the anti-aging industry–with all of its creams, serums and cosmetic procedures–was valued at $80 billion and is on course to reach $114 billion by 2015. But Dr. Eric Plasker, author of The 100 Year Lifestyle and a Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member, says there are better, cheaper and more natural ways to reverse the signs of aging and live a longer, healthier life.
“The fact that 100-year-old people are the world’s fastest-growing population segment shows us that we are able to live long, healthy lives,” he says. “Premature aging is often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.”
To demonstrate this point, a revolutionary new fitness tool is being rolled out in many Gold’s Gyms nationwide. By putting some basic information about yourself into a program called the Gold’s Gym Visual Fitness Planner, you will receive a full health-risk appraisal and learn your Health Age–a number that factors in not only how many candles topped your last birthday cake but also your level of fitness, your family history and your lifestyle habits.
For example, a 25-year-old female in Chicago found out she had a health age of 45. It surprised her because she was only 10 or so pounds overweight. Her shocking health age was due in part to a family history of cancer and heart disease, but also to her lack of exercise and a smoking habit. She quit the smokes and started working out more often. In nine months, she lowered her health age to 28.
With the help of Plasker and Adam Friedman, a certified personal trainer, licensed nutritionist and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member, we’ve mapped out four steps to turn your body into its own rejuvenating Fountain of Youth.
Step 1: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
We probably don’t have to tell you that exercise has all kinds of incredible health benefits. Like drastically reducing your risk of developing major chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. That’s old news. But did you know that regular exercise fights off the effects of aging?
“Exercise improves our circulation and moves lymph tissue, a fluid in our body with a high concentration of white blood cells,” Friedman says. “It helps accelerate healing and boosts our immune system to fight bacteria and cancer cells.”
In his book The 100 Year Lifestyle, Plasker prescribes a four-times-a-week exercise regimen that incorporates cardio, strength training, and core and balance work (see “The Fountain of Youth Workout” for details). “Working out takes you off the weight-loss, weight-gain roller coaster and regenerates your body to keep it young,” he says.
Step 2: Eat Like an Infant
It seems counterintuitive, but when it comes to managing healthy weight, babies have it all figured out. They eat small but nutritionally dense meals every three to four hours and stop when they’re full.
“They didn’t learn this,” Friedman says. “It’s just what their body is telling them to do; it’s instinctive. We get conditioned to do breakfast, lunch and dinner because that’s what society says we do, not because that’s what our bodies want.”
Friedman recommends that adults adopt a similar schedule in order to maintain stable levels of blood sugar. When your blood sugar crashes, your body enters starvation mode, and it is likely to take what your body doesn’t use for energy and store it as fat.
Every three to four hours, reach for a snack that combines lean protein, good carbohydrates (like those found in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables), and some fats. And, Plasker adds, avoid the “white devils”: white flour, white sugar and white rice.
After about a month of eating this way, Friedman says, your body will come into balance and begin to naturally release excess body fat, instead of storing it.
Step 3: Stand Up Straight
Your mother was right: It turns out that good posture is key to counteracting the effects of aging. “The spine protects the nervous system,” Plasker explains. “So damage to the spine can affect every cell of your body in a negative way.”
Plasker says it takes a conscious effort to recognize and correct bad posture habits such as slouching, sleeping on your stomach and sitting all day long.
“We know that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to rapid aging and disease,” Plasker says. “The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports estimated that excess sitting will cost the U.S. more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years.”
So what is perfect posture? Stand up straight with your head up, earlobes aligned with the middle of your shoulders. Lengthen your neck and pull your head toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulders back, your knees and your back straight, and your abdominal muscles tight.
Step 4: Think Good Thoughts
If you need proof that stress is a primary factor in aging, just count the number of gray hairs on any U.S. president’s head after his first year in office. But new evidence from the University of California at San Francisco reveals that exercise can reduce the effects of stress-induced aging at the cellular level. Scientists at the university found that as little as 42 minutes of physical activity over the span of three days reduces the wear and tear on telomeres, segments of DNA linked to several health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
“Exercise is an incredible outlet that counteracts the effects of stress,” Friedman says. “It supports being happier because there’s a great post-workout euphoric feeling that’s addictive in a really good way.”
Another study, from Purdue University, adds credence to the saying “You’re only as old as you feel.” In the survey of about 500 people ages 55 to 74, respondents who felt young for their age said they had greater confidence in their cognitive abilities later in life.
The Fountain of Youth Workout
Adapted from Eric Plasker’s best-selling book The 100 Year Lifestyle, this full-body workout incorporates Plasker’s formula for longevity: endurance, strength and structure. The endurance comes from doing cardio, which supports a healthy cardiovascular system. The strength you gain from weight training enables you to maintain a greater level of independence as you age. Structure refers to a healthy spine and nervous system; both are maintained by core work, which reduces back pain and helps you gain a greater sense of stability and remain active no matter how old you are.
20 to 30 minutes
Warm up the muscles by walking, jogging or cycling on a stationary bike. Start at a low-intensity pace and gradually build up to moderate intensity.
Choose three exercises and do three sets of 10 to 15 reps each with proper form.
Begin in a standing position with feet apart. Squat and place your palms on the floor in front of you. Kick your feet back as if you were going to do a push-up. Quickly return to the squat position and then stand up. Repeat.
This is not recommended for a beginner.
Benefits: This all-over body exercise incorporates upper and lower body muscles and gets your heart rate up.
Stand holding dumbbells at your sides. Step forward with one leg. Land on your heel, then on your forefoot. Lower your body until the knee of your rear leg is almost in contact with the floor, then stand on the forward leg with the assistance of the rear leg. Lunge forward with the opposite leg.
Benefits: This classic move strengthens your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.
LAT PULLDOWN MACHINE
You may sit or stand for this one. Grip the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, arms straight up and palms facing forward. Pull the bar down to your chest, elbows out. Return slowly to the starting position, arms straight.
Benefits: This machine works almost all of your back muscles–especially your middle back muscles–and a strong back helps you maintain good posture.
Position your hands shoulder-width apart behind you on the edge of a secured bench. Walk your feet out in front of you until you are resting on your heels. Lower your upper body toward the floor by bending your elbows. Slowly press off with your hands to push yourself back up to the starting position.
Benefits: Dips zero in on your triceps, the muscles on the back of your arms. Strong triceps prevent saggy arms and help you hold and grasp objects.
CORE AND BALANCE
Lie on your stomach with arms bent, palms and forearms on the ground, fingers pointed forward, legs extended and toes tucked under. Work your back and abs by contracting your core muscles and slowly lifting your entire torso off the floor, keeping palms, forearms and toes on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Benefits: The plank pose strengthens your arms, shoulders and core, all of which help maintain good posture.
Lie on your back with your legs bent, hands behind your head and feet flat on the floor. Lift your knees in a smooth arc toward your head, contract the abs, then lower your feet back down, making sure not to touch them to the ground. That way abdominal tension will be maintained.
Benefits: Strong stomach muscles help stabilize your torso and reduce pain in your lower back.
10 to 15 reps
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor six or seven inches from your buttocks. The lower back should be slightly elevated. As you exhale, rock your hips toward the ceiling and hold for five seconds. Release as you inhale.
Benefits: This subtle move strengthens the lower back and abdominals, which can reduce pain or tension in the lower back.
A personal trainer can help you tailor time, reps and intensity to your fitness level. End your workout with five to 10 minutes of gentle stretching.